|A LIFE OF PRINCIPLED OBEDIENCE
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Aug 27 2010 08:00 A.M.
be merciful unto me according to thy word. I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. I
made hast, and delayed not to keep thy commandments."
What is the heart of true godliness? What is the essence of true discipleship to Jesus Christ? The Bible's answer is
clear and simple: the Christian life is a life of principled, conscientious obedience to God's will as revealed in the Bible.
The passage quoted above comprehensively and succinctly states the major ingredients of such a life.
Before we examine this text to see how it epitomizes the biblical view of the Christian life, I want to underscore the central
place that obedience has in the religion revealed in the Bible. At the very outset of our study I ask the reader to affirm
with me that the only religious truth and experience worthy of our consideration is that which is validated by the
testimony of the Bible. The opinions and experiences of men are of no value as guides to religious truth if they are not
in accord with the witness of the Holy Scriptures. Only the Bible is authoritative in determining what is true and
normative for the people of God. And again and again the Bible focuses our attention on the central place which
obedience has in true religion.
When God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden, he plainly revealed to them that all of the joy
and blessedness which they had come to know would remain only as long as they adhered to a path of obedience to his
Word. God gave them a simple and clear commandment: 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the
tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof [that is, in the day
that you cease to obey me with reference to this tree] thou shalt surely die' (Genesis 2:16-17). All of the blessedness of
life in the Garden of Eden, a life of unhindered fellowship with God, a life of true love toward both God and men, all
would come to a tragic end the moment Adam and Eve wandered from the path of obedience. Tragically, our first
parents disobeyed God! And when Adam stepped out of the path of obedience, as their representative he took all of his
descendants with him. Apart from the grace of God, every member of the human race is by nature a 'son of
disobedience' (Ephesians 2:2). Ours is a race committed to a course of disobedience to the revealed will of God!
The Bible affirms that when the Lord Jesus Christ came to redeem his people, he redeemed them in a path of obedience
to his Father. Whereas the first Adam had ruined himself and all his descendants with him by his act of disobedience,
the second Adam (Jesus Christ) secured salvation for his elect people in the course of his principled obedience to the
will of God. 'For as through the one man's [i.e. Adam's] disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through
the obedience of the one [i.e. Jesus Christ] shall the many be made righteous' (Romans 5:19). Note also the language
of Philippians 2:8, which teaches that the Lord Jesus, 'being found in fashion as a man, humbled himself, becoming
obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.'
The Bible clearly teaches that by an act of deliberate obedience to the will of his Father, the Lord Jesus poured out his
blood on the cross in order to secure the salvation of a host which no man can number. Obedience lies at the very
heart of the redemption accomplished by the 'doing and dying' of Jesus Christ. The Bible, however, does not stop here.
The Scriptures also assert that the salvation which Jesus purchased in the course of his obedience, he now confers only
in a way that makes all of its recipients obedient subjects of the living God. And thus in I Peter 1:2, the Bible speaks of
the people of God as those who are foreknown of God 'unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.' The
blood of Christ is never sprinkled on any man without Christ's saving work bringing that man into a path of obedience to
God. This is why the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews can write as he does: 'Though he [i.e. Jesus] was a Son, yet he
learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey
him the author of eternal salvation' (Hebrews 5:8-9). When the salvation which Jesus purchased is applied with divine
power, it produces in all of its recipients a course of principled obedience to the will of God that is reflective of the course
which the Savior walked in securing that salvation.
Furthermore, the Word of God describes the people of God as those who 'keep the commandments of God, and the
faith of Jesus' (Revelation 14:12). Christians are not self-righteous people who think that their imperfect obedience is
the basis of their salvation - no, they cling to 'the faith of Jesus,' the first rudiments of which is to confess one's own
sinfulness and inability to save oneself from the wrath of God upon sinners. And those who acknowledge their
sinnerhood who keep the faith of Jesus - they also 'keep the commandments of God.' They live lives of resolute
obedience to the will of God revealed in His Word. When anyone professes to hold ' the faith of Jesus' and to be a
recipient of Christ's salvation and yet obedience is not the basic pattern of his life, God calls such a person a liar:
'Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep [i.e. obey] his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not
his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him' (I John 2:3-4).
I hope that the portions of the Word of God cited above are sufficient to convince you that obedience is not a secondary
issue - not something that touches, as it were, obliquely upon the heart of true religion. Obedience to the will of God lies
at the very center of true biblical religion.
Having, I believe, established that the concept of obedience is central to salvation, we turn now to ask, what do we mean
by the term obedience? By obedience I mean a conscious, whole-souled conformity to the precepts of God
revealed in the Bible, with primary regard to the authority of God which stands behind those precepts. Perhaps
a practical example will help us to understand this definition of obedience. What is an obedient son? When Dad says,
'Son, it's time to come in from play,' do we regard a child to be obedient who, though he actually comes into the house,
yet comes pouting and dragging his feet in an evident spirit of rebelliousness? Can you imagine Dad saying, 'Thank
you, son. That was a wonderful display of hearty obedience to Dad.' No, of course not. The feet may be coming into
the house; but there is no sense that the child believes that Dad has a right to be obeyed because of who he is. At best
this kind of grudging, reluctant adherence to parental commands is concerned merely to escape the application of the
rod of correction; but there is no true biblical obedience, which has primary concern for the parent's God-given
authority. But if the child responds to his father's call with prompt and cheerful compliance, with a cooperative spirit as
well as cooperative feet, everyone senses the difference. In such a case there is a true heart obedience and not just a
kind of reluctant external conformity to parental authority.
Now the obedience which characterized our Lord Jesus in the accomplishment of salvation and which, in the application
of salvation, becomes the distinguishing mark of the new hearts of his people is a conscious activity. Our Lord Jesus did
not float through life, much less go to the cross to die for his people, in a careless and thoughtless manner. His
obedience to his Father was conscious and deliberate; and his primary motivation was that his Father, who was worthy
to be obeyed, had commanded him to live and die as he did. And this kind of conscious, whole-souled conformity to the
precepts of the Word of God, with primary regard to the authority of God, is a distinguishing mark of those who are
saved by Jesus Christ. Jesus' true disciples are concerned to live as their Lord lived - as thoughtful and deliberate
servants of a worthy Master. And thus obedience, as we shall consider it, is nothing less than conscious, whole-souled
conformity to the precepts of God, motivated primarily by the rightful authority of God behind those precepts.
Now it is just this kind of obedience that unregenerate people cannot render to God. Romans 8:7-8 states: 'The mind of
the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the
flesh cannot please God.' This text teaches us that when unconverted men disobey God's Word, when they are not
subject to God's law, their dispute is not with the law of God but with the God who stands behind the precepts of his
Word; it is God himself who is the object of the enmity of their carnal minds. Furthermore, this text teaches that
unconverted men do not possess the moral ability to obey God or to please God. 'The mind of the flesh...is not subject
to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God.' The Bible here uses
words which denote inability. For the unregenerate man, obedience to God is a moral impossibility. With our
understanding of obedience, we can see why this must be so. If true obedience is a matter of the heart and not just a
matter of external conformity to the legal code, then surely it is clear that the unconverted man cannot obey God.
According to the Bible he has 'a heart of stone.' Before he can obey God in a way pleasing to God, he must have a new
heart which delights in God and his Word.
The marvel of God's unregenerating grace, the wonder of the new birth, is that God changes the disposition of the
heart. One of the great promises of the Bible is fulfilled every time a man or woman is born again by the Spirit of God
flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes,
and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them.
New creatures in Christ, who previously would not and could not obey God, have had their native enmity toward God
overcome by the mighty regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and they find themselves consciously and wholeheartedly
choosing to walk in the path of obedience to God's revealed will.
We come now to a point that is crucial to our consideration of the affirmation that the Christian life is supposed to be a
life of principled obedience to God's will as revealed in the Bible. Please follow closely, for this is the heart of the
matter! The new birth does not make obedience anything other than conscious, deliberate conformity to God's
precepts. The new birth creates a desire to be conformed to God's Word; it gives power to be conformed to God's
Word; it creates a new heart inclined to obey God; but it does not alter the basic psychology of obedience. Even for a
new creature with a new heart, obedience must involve a conscious, intentional choice to do what God says!
A pattern of deliberately choosing to obey the Word of the Lord is the very heart of a life of principled obedience.
Where obedience is rendered in this fashion habitually (i.e. as a pattern of life), a life of principled, conscientious
obedience exists. Where obedience is left to manifest itself according to any other principle than deliberate choice to
obey, a pattern of conscientious conformity to the will of God will not exist. The reality of the Christian life is just that
simple. The Christian life is not, 'Let go and let God.' It is true that in all our obedience we are to seek and depend
upon the power of the Holy Spirit; yet if we 'let go' (I.e. become passive nonparticipants in the war against remaining sin),
God will not do for us what He has commanded us to do. God will not obey for us.
We must not permit a life of principled, conscientious obedience to be overturned by unprincipled feelings or by the fact
of remaining moral corruption. If our obedience is accompanied by good feelings, wonderful. May God be praised! But
if we feel rotten, our duty does not change. If our remaining sin resists us in the path of obedience, we are not excused
from our obligation to obey God. And until we embrace this perspective with all of our soul, we will go limping and halting
all of our days. Unless we vigorously battle unprincipled emotions and remaining sin, we will know very little of a real life
of obedience to God.
Dear reader, what is the case with you? Do you obey God only when there is a comfortable confluence of your feelings
and other circumstances so that obedience is something into which you are floated, as it were, on a flowery bed of
delights? When your soul is battered by the storm of remaining sin, or your mind is under satanic assault, or your body
is weary, do you throw obedience to the wind and live like a pagan? Do you turn from the path of obedience because
you don't feel like obeying today? If so, if I have described you, I want by every means possible to turn you away from
that mentality. I pray that God will drive that attitude out of your heart and replace it with a spirit of principled obedience
that is determined to do the will of God no matter what the cost.
A LIFE OF PRINCIPLED OBEDIENCE, by A.N. Martin, Copyright 1992, The Banner of Truth Trust.
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