Believers should be rightfully leery of anything that sounds like a works-based Gospel. However, obeying Christ is not earning our salvation.
“When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10).
Does that quote from Jesus sound harsh to you? At first glance, it can, until we put in the effort to understand what Jesus is driving at.
The Fundamentals of Obedience
We can understand and agree the Gospel to be grace-based. Christ’s act of sacrifice to make a way for us to inherit salvation required no effort on our part. It is freely offered to all of humanity. As we hear the message of the Gospel, we have the opportunity to repent and accept Christ’s sacrifice.
However, there is also an obedience component to faith in Jesus Christ. It is so explicit that, like in today’s passage, we have no reason to be proud of or expect praise for being obedient to Him.
Many times, God blesses us because of His goodness and His desire to do so. But we have no reason to do right with the expectation of rewards to follow.
The problem that some believers run into is that connecting obedience in any way to faith in Christ sounds close to a salvation that must be earned. And salvation that must be earned equates to a works-based Gospel, which is not really a Gospel at all.
It sounds so close to a works-based Gospel to some, that it can be tempting to move in a different direction. We may end up lumping Christ’s commands and religious rules together in the same basket and saying all that really matters is believing in Jesus Christ and trusting Him to pardon our sin.
There is a distinction we need to understand; obeying Christ is not earning our salvation; instead, obedience is Christ’s clearly stated expectation of those who claim to follow Him.
If we don’t take the time to process what this means, we run the danger of not having a full understanding of the faith we profess. And this could have eternal consequences.
Obedience to Christ is Expected
The bottom line is this: Jesus expects obedience from those who would call themselves His followers.
Jesus gives us very specific instructions on what to do and how to behave as His disciples. We are to do the will of His Father in Heaven.
If we don’t do His Father’s will, He will not claim us, even while we are claiming to be His followers. If we claim to know Christ after not doing His Father’s will, Jesus will say He never knew us, specifically calling us out for “break(ing) God’s laws” (Matthew 7:21-23).
These are the words of Jesus Christ. If He says disobedience is the reason some will be denied entrance into Heaven, then obedience absolutely applies to our lives.
If anything, Jesus takes the Old Covenant law and further amplifies its meaning, so that we understand that we cannot ever hope to earn our own salvation. In the New Covenant, the law is written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).
We have no hope of being righteous enough on our own. Our only path to righteousness is to put on the atoning work of Christ shedding His blood on the cross for our sins.
Obedience is not Atonement
Obeying Christ is not earning our salvation because our obedience is not what covers our sins. As today’s passage alludes to, we are not earning anything through our obedience, not even a pat on the back.
God is holy; therefore to enter into His presence, we must be purified. Under the Jewish sacrificial system, blood offerings were given over and over again to cover the sins of the people.
However, Christ’s death on the cross provided a sacrifice that cleanses us once and for all so that we may be in God’s presence (Hebrews 10:11-22).
That cleansing was made possible through Christ’s obedience, not ours. We know He asked that the need for His crucifixion be set aside, but ultimately Christ submitted Himself to God’s will in the matter (Matthew 26:39).
Our obedience is not what empowers Christ’s sacrifice; His sacrifice came first. It is His grace that gives us even the opportunity to accept His sacrifice for our sins.
So we can see that obeying Christ is not earning our salvation. Rather, Jesus says obedience is how we prove that we love Him, or don’t (John 14:23-24).
The Simplicity of Obedience
Since obedience is such a necessary component of our faith, how can we possibly remember everything Christ tells us to do?
The good news is, when we look at Christ’s commands, we can start with these 2 “greatest” commands: To love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbors as ourselves.
If we peruse all the commands of Jesus in the Gospels, we will discover that all of them are essentially covered in these 2 commands. We can understand the will of the Father through the lens of these 2 commands. See The Mark of a True Disciple of Jesus Christ for more information.
And the more we embrace the disciplines of being a disciple, the more we will be empowered to obey Him.
As we stay connected to Christ, He bears fruit in our lives. Then, the more the desire and ability to obey Him will grow in our hearts.
Now, we can call this simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It takes time and growing pains for God to transform us into His likeness as we obey Him (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So please, understand that obeying Christ is not earning our salvation. Rather, obedience is a necessary component to our faith walk that requires our humble submission before God.
Seek out Christ’s commands and joyfully obey Him.
More Bible Verses about obedience:
Deuteronomy 5:33; 1 Kings 2:3; Luke 11:28; Romans 6:16; James 1:22-25; 1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6