WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTENT MAY CONTAIN SNARKINESS
Recently, I read a couple things about obeying God. Both were clear obedience was not required for salvation. So far, so good. But the writings didn’t stop there: God provides for us and blesses us only if we obey; if we don’t obey, we won’t grow in holiness. One of the authors went so far as to say that the gift of the Holy Spirit, the revelation of Jesus, and God’s love depended on us obeying. I found all of this troubling.
Over the years, I’ve heard many variations of this thinking. I always feel the same objection: we cannot say God saves by grace but bases the rest of spiritual life on behavior. Two things don’t change after salvation: God, and our need for Him.
When I asked the Lord about these things, Matthew 5:45 came to mind immediately–“He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Similarly, Jesus asks if 18 people crushed by a falling tower were more sinful than others. His answer? “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well!” (Luke 13:4-5). But don’t things go better if we obey God? Well, let’s get to the end of this post before deciding.
Paul asked the Galatians, “So then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:5). This is an excellent question for anyone thinking God gives His Spirit because we obey. Scripture actually says the opposite: “I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes” (Ezek. 36:27). It turns out the gift of the Spirit is required for us to obey, not the other way around.
Relatedly, we are told growing in holiness is God’s work (Php. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:23). Elsewhere we learn Christ *is* our wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).
Will Jesus not reveal Himself unless we obey? Let’s ask Saul of Tarsus (AKA the apostle Paul). He was knocked down by a blinding revelation of Jesus while hell-bent on jailing and killing Christians (Acts 9). Paul went on to preach that, as Jesus is revealed within, our minds are renewed, and we are transformed into His likeness (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18). We cannot change or obey apart from the revelation of Jesus.
It is a wonder we even have to address whether God’s love is dependent on obedience. John 3:16 is, arguably, the most quoted verse in scripture: “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Was the world obeying when God loved it? If so, why did He need to send Jesus to save the world from perishing?
After saving us because He first loved us, does God ration out love in proportion to our obedience? Isn’t this the drug-pusher model of relationship? Jesus, our drug Lord, gives free samples of grace until we’re dependent, then we have to pay with good behavior? Hmmm…
Anytime we think our obedience secures a divine payoff we have put the cart before the horse. If we need more proof, consider Jesus: He perfectly obeyed. What did that get Him? Crucified.