WHY “must” we obey?

There are several scriptures that say we “must” obey, expectations we must meet. and obligations we must fulfill, as in Colossians 3:8, “But now YOU MUST rid yourselves of all such things as these,” followed by a list of 6 things we should get rid of. And Ephesians 5:3, “But among you there MUST NOT BE even a hint of…,” followed by another list of 6 things we’d better not do. And there’s another list of 6 things we must get rid of in Ephesians 4:31 too.

Romans 8:12 also bluntly states that “we have an obligation” to not live according to our sinful nature, and it’s up to us to “purify ourselves by obeying the truth,” 1 Peter 1:22. There are tons of scriptures saying what Christians must do.

But WHY must we do all these things? It’s not for our salvation because “it is by grace you have been saved,” Ephesians 2:5, and salvation can’t be “attained by human effort,” Galatians 3:3, including our efforts at obedience. So if we’re not obeying to gain salvation, why all these lists of things that WE MUST do?

Because Paul had learnt by experience what a Christian is capable of when he’s “been crucified with Christ” and the resurrected Christ now lives in him, Galatians 2:20. He’d learnt an amazing “secret,” as he called it, the secret being, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength,” Philippians 4:13. There wasn’t any sin, or temptation to sin, that Paul couldn’t handle. He could respond to it exactly as Jesus himself would have responded. It was an amazing discovery that made him want to know a lot more of “Christ and the power of his resurrection,” Philippians 3:10.

And he discovered that “(all) the righteous requirements of the law” could be “fully met” in him, Romans 8:4, and “by the Spirit” he could “put to death (all) the misdeeds of the body,” verse 13. In other words, he could obey God in every circumstance. So when he wrote that “we must” obey, it’s because he’d discovered “we CAN” obey – because Christ is now living HIS perfect life in us through the Spirit.

Everything Paul tells us we must do, therefore, is actually a promise of what the SPIRIT will now do in us. So our focus is not on trying our hardest to obey, but to recognize – and keep recognizing, Colossians 3:2 – that “Christ is our life” now, verse 3, and because he’s our life HE is now transforming us into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). In what ways? They’re all listed for us in those “must” and “must not” commands in Paul’s writings. Every one of them is what Christ through the Spirit is now making possible in those who trust in him.


Must we obey to be saved?

In “Work out your own salvation. Who me?” (March 9/12), I thought the answer to “Who, me?” was “Yes, you!” – because I firmly believed it was up to me to make my salvation work.

And how was I supposed to make it work? By following Jesus’ example of obeying all God’s requirements and expectations, no matter how much hardship, stress and suffering, because wasn’t that how HE became perfect? In Hebrews 5:8 it says Jesus “learned obedience through suffering,” and that’s what made him “perfect,” verse 9. It was his obedience that “saved him from death,” verse 7, and obedience that made him “the source of eternal salvation,” verse 9. Obedience was clearly the key.

I took that to mean, therefore, that obedience was the source of my salvation, too. Obedience saved Jesus, so obedience would save me. Following his example I’d also be saved from death and made perfect by obeying – especially if I learned to stay obedient when stress and suffering hit, just as he did. But isn’t that what Jesus boiled everything down to in Matthew 19:17? “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments,” he said. Obedience to all that God commands, no matter what sacrifice and stress that involves, is the key. It certainly was for Jesus, so why would it be any different for me?

But it is different for me, because Jesus obeyed perfectly and I haven’t. So if my salvation depends on following Jesus’ example of perfect obedience, I’ve already failed. I began to wonder, then, if I’d understood Hebrews 5 correctly: How could it be talking about saving ourselves by our obedience when all humans have already failed the obedience test? We’ve all sinned and fallen short. And we all soon learn, by hard and frustrating experience, how impossible it is to be perfectly obedient all the time. In my case it was killing me.

And then it dawned on me: Hebrews 5 isn’t about “saving ourselves by OUR obedience,” it’s about Jesus saving us by HIS obedience. It’s talking about HIS perfect obedience becoming the “source of our salvation.” It’s got nothing to do with my obedience saving me, it’s about his obedience saving me. My salvation comes from Jesus’ obedience, not mine. And he obeyed perfectly. My salvation, therefore, has already been taken care of, because all the obedience I need – and will ever need – has been totally done by him.

What on earth does “Work out your own salvation” mean, then, if Jesus has already done all the obedience necessary for my salvation? What is there left for me to do if he’s done it all for me?….(continues on March 16/12)