Believing in Christ is not just mental, it is intentional. The Bible makes it clear that God links belief to obedience.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5)
Those who wish to follow Christ must be careful to avoid building their faith on isolated passages of scripture. If we don’t take the time to fully explore God’s word, we’re more likely to adopt false beliefs.
Some false beliefs we take on can cause confusion. Others can rob us of the abundant life that Jesus offers His disciples. Most tragically are those that can hinder our understanding of salvation, to the degree that we believe a false gospel.
This is one of the many reasons we should immerse ourselves in the abiding disciplines – spending time in submission to Christ in prayer, learning about Him through scripture, and experiencing the fellowship of mature believers will help us to grow in understanding of our faith.
As for today’s topic, let’s consider a passage that unfortunately, many who are interested in following Christ take to mean that mere belief in Christ is enough. If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Taken alone, one might think that this means a “decision for Christ” is all that one needs to make It to Heaven. Yes, there is going to be a turning point where we move away from our will and towards God’s. But the decision must take root in your life (Matthew 13:1-23). The truth is, God links belief to obedience – to an active, intentional acting upon our faith. Romans 10:9 does not change this.
What Does Romans 10:9 Mean?
Paul is indeed contrasting obedience to the Law of Moses with saving faith in Christ in Romans 10:9. In doing so, Paul is not abolishing the need for obedience, because God links belief to obedience. Rather, Paul is moving the focus of life with God from the lens of the Mosaic Law to trust in Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross, available to any who would believe, Jew and Gentile. But obedience is still an expected reflection of trusting in Christ for salvation.
How can we know this? One way is to read in context. A few sentences earlier, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 30, where it speaks of God’s command – where God gives His followers a “choice between life and death”. And the command is to love God and keep His commands.
This is the same correlation we see in today’s passage. John closely links belief and obedience.
Jesus Himself tells us that those who love Him are those who obey His commandments (John 14:21).
God’s Invitation in the New Covenant
Obedience is still part of that life with Christ, because God is consistent throughout eternity (Hebrews 13:8). His approach – His covenants – may be revealed in different ways throughout time, but they all call us to the same thing; faith, repentance, and obedience.
In return, we can expect the blessings promised in God’s covenants. When God makes a promise, he keeps it (Numbers 23:19).
The New Covenant in Christ means that those who follow Christ can expect the blessing of eternity with Him in Heaven. But following Him is about more than simple belief. It is about obedience, too. Because God links belief and obedience.
How did Christ introduce the New Covenant? By preaching repentance to those who would wish to experience the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 4:17). Christ calls us to turn from our wickedness, and towards Him – giving up our own way and following Him in obedience. Faith in Christ is not created through obedience; it is verified by it.
How God Balances Belief and Obedience
The gospel of Christ goes beyond simple belief. Otherwise, how does faith in Christ differ from mere mental ascent? Saving faith is evidenced by our obedience to Christ’s commands (James 2:14).
Unfortunately, James 2:14 gets misused as well. If Romans 10:9 is used to tilt towards a “belief only” view of faith, then James 2:14 is used just as much to lean into a “works salvation”. If you read one passage exclusive to the other, you run the risk of imbalance, and worse, misconstruing the true gospel.
It is only when we balance out these 2 notions that we have a proper view of salvation in Christ. God links belief to obedience, and so we should seek to understand the necessary relationship between the two.
James is not preaching a salvation reliant on what we do. What James is saying here is that an authentic love for Christ will be evidenced by our actions. Our faith in Christ is evidenced through actions of obedience to Christ’s commands, starting with the two greatest commands.
How God Links Belief to Obedience
While there are several places in the Bible that helps us see how God links belief to obedience, today’s passage is one of the more intricate. John poetically interweaves the concepts of belief and obedience with love for Christ here.
Go back and read through it and see how many times you find the words (or their derivatives) love, obedience, and belief. Semantically, they aren’t interchangeable, but conceptually, they are linked concepts in God’s eyes.
Have you found yourself leaning into an “all you need is to believe” mentality of faith? This will lead to seeking your own will and bringing dishonor to God. Living for our own will leads to a defeated life.
Or do you lean into a gospel of your own making, relying on your obedience to earn salvation? This is a path to legalism and judgementalism, driving people away. We can’t earn salvation through obedience.
Either one is allowing sin to have mastery over you at the very least. At the most you are in danger of having faith in a false gospel, which will lead to eternal judgement just as if you had openly rejected Christ. Christ warns us of this (Matthew 7:21).
If you see yourself in either of these, please go back and seek understanding in the true gospel of Christ. Both for your sake and the sake of those whose example of Christ-likeness is you.
More verses about how God links belief to obedience:
Psalm 112:1; Jeremiah 7:23; Luke 6:46-48; John 14:23; Romans 6:16; Hebrews 5:7-10; 1 John 3:24