Obedience: The Reality of FaithDo you believe that you are "doing enough" to enter into the kingdom of heaven? After we confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is our Savior, what else is there to ensure our salvation?This article talks about the importance of obeying and following in God's words. Even though we may confess with our mouths that we believe in the Lord Jesus, we still need to obey His commands and to carry out His commission for us. So how do we live out an active faith, and how does obedience play a role in our faith?
Believing in God’s Words
True faith in God invariably involves belief in His Word. The “Word” refers to both God Himself, as in “the Word was God” and God’s spoken and written revelation in the Scriptures.
There is an intimate relationship between God as the Word and the Word as revealed through the Scriptures—they are one and the same. God reveals Himself through the Scriptures, and the Scriptures, in turn, lead us to God.
While many agree with the concepts of God’s existence and the Christ’s divinity, they do not accept the Bible as the true and infallible Word of God. Such attitude does not qualify as true belief. It is through the message of the Scriptures that we obtain faith in God and His saving grace: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17).
Faith is accepting the entirety of God’s Word as true and trustworthy. It is also the conviction that the Bible is the authority that governs our Christian life and doctrines. In the New Testament, God’s Word often refers to the gospel of Christ’s salvation, which is also called “the word of truth.” God saves us by faith in the truth as revealed in the gospel.
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. (2 Thess 2:13)
Peter tells us that we received our spiritual birth through God’s word: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet 1:23).
The Scriptures provides us with the knowledge of God’s way of salvation. Paul reminded Timothy saying, “[you know] how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15).
God assigned the preaching of the gospel to the church. Paul addressed the church as “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), for it is the responsibility of the collective body of believers to preach the truth of salvation.
There is only one church, since there is only one gospel of salvation. Therefore, among the many churches nowadays that preach different messages on how to be saved, we need to pray and consider the message we have heard to verify that it conforms to the truth preached by the apostles.
Acting on God’s Words
Faith is accepting God’s Word and staking one’s whole life upon it. Simply agreeing with but not acting upon His words does not edify the listener.
Some of Jesus’ followers called Him “Lord” and “Teacher,” but their actions denied Him. So the Lord Jesus pointed out: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46) Then, He told the parable of the two foundations.
In this parable, two houses were built: one on a rock, which survived a flood, and one without a foundation, which collapsed completely. Those who hear and obey the Lord’s words are like the house built on the rock, whereas those who hear but do not obey are like the house without a foundation. Confession alone hardly qualifies as faith. It has the appearance of faith but is not built on Christ at all. Only through obedience to the Lord’s words can our faith be built firmly on Christ.
The people of Ezekiel’s time clothed themselves with piety and came to the prophet, saying, “Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.” But the Lord mocked them for their insincerity:
My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. (Ezek 33:30-32)
God gave us His word not for us to agree with but to put into practice. Nor did He save us so that we could continue to live in sin. We need to live a new life, reflecting the eternal life that we have received. The Lord said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Lk 11:28).
Faith leads to an obedient life. Paul explained that the goal of the gospel is to enable believers to live a life of obedience to God. “Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Rom 1:5). Therefore, faith and obedience are inseparable.
A Living Faith
True faith is a living faith— it grows. It is dynamic rather than static, because believers with a living faith actively live out God’s Word in their daily lives. In this respect, the Thessalonians church serves as a model for all other churches. The love, joy, and endurance displayed by the members helped the faith of the church to thrive during sever persecution: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more” (2 Thess 1:3).
In the Lord’s parable of the sower, the type of soil on which the seeds were sown determined their fate. Some never sprouted, some sprang up but withered quickly, and others grew but could not bear grain. But after the seeds fell on good soil, they “came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times” (Mk 4:8).
The good soil is the heart that harbors a true faith. Such faith not only enables the believer to grow stronger spirituallybut also directs him toward a Christ-like character, conduct, and lifestyle.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. (Jer 17:7-8)
Those who trust in God with a sincere faith naturally mature spiritually and bear the fruit of the Spirit, because they are rooted in Christ, the resurrected and living Lord: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life” (Prov 11:30).
Those who are righteous are those who stand in the covenant of grace and have been clothed by Christ’s righteousness. Their faith in God enables them to emulate God’s life. If we have been born again “through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet 1:23), our new life should be one that lives out God’s Word. Christians must not only know about faith, they must live by faith. For Paul, a life of faith is fruitful and pleasing to the Lord.
We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:7-10)
Paul himself experienced a new life of faith: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
Paul’s faith in the Lord was not only a conceptual acceptance, but also the denial of his own lifestyle for the life in which Christ reigns. The nature of faith is to direct our eyes to Christ. And that was what faith did for Paul. Paul’s faith made him “transparent.” In him, others did not see the mortal Paul but only the living Christ.
Practicing Faith in Real Life
Many Christians are led to believe that they don’t have to do anything to receive salvation, and once saved, they remain in God’s saving grace.
Although this concept seems to disprove the idea that salvation can be obtained through works of the law, it also contradicts the truth about faith. The problem with this statement is not its emphasis on the free gift of salvation but with the meaning of “don’t have to do anything.”
While such a teaching may be intended to uphold God’s grace in salvation, it actually does more harm than good. Some professed Christians brazenly indulge in sin, thinking that their actions do not affect their salvation because they have already believed and confessed Christ. Sadly, their false notion of belief and confession is not true faith at all.
Does the Bible really advocate a nothing-you-do-matters philosophy? What we do has a lot to do with our salvation. Isn’t the act of believing in God with our hearts or confessing with our lips “doing something,” as much as obedience is “doing something”?
The meaning of grace is not that we will not be held accountable for our deeds on judgment day but that we have a means of entering heaven, even though nothing we do could ever earn us salvation. And there is a world of difference between these two ideas.
God’s grace is a promise of heavenly mansions and a transformed life. Salvation is a life-long aspiration, one that takes more than a simple declaration of “I am saved” to achieve. God saves us through a lasting faith.
In Romans, Paul writes, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Rom 1:17). The NIV translates “from faith to faith” as “faith from first to last,” and NRSV as “through faith for faith.”
These different translations together bring forth the continuous nature of true faith. This faith marks the entire life of the righteous. Through this lasting faith, God reveals His own righteousness in the lives of the believers. Paul instructed Timothy to preach by the power of God:
Who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. (2 Tim 1:8-9)
Our salvation is not due to anything that we have done. But that does not mean that we can remain inactive. On the contrary, God has called us to a holy life. Any professed Christian who has no desire to obey God’s Word or renew his life should take a serious look at his own faith. He may still be a stranger to the covenant of grace.
Nothing is more miserable than an unsaved believer thinking that he is saved. Nothing is more dreadful than to hear the words, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt 7:23). True faith takes form in obedience; and only true faith saves.