Responding to a gracEmail warning against trusting in our own performance to set us right with God, a subscriber asked the relationship between our obedience and salvation. He had heard someone else say that obedience has “nothing to do with salvation.” What does the Bible teach about this?
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Our obedience has much “to do with” our salvation — indeed, it “accompanies” it from first to last (Heb. 6:9-12). Jesus identifies his family as those who do God’s will (Mark 3:35). Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” enters the kingdom, Jesus warns, but the one who does the Father’s will (Matt. 7:21). The doer, not the idle hearer, builds a life that withstands the storm (Matt. 7:24; see Ezek. 13:13-14). The Great Commission includes teaching new converts to observe all that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:18-20). In Jesus’ mind, discipleship does not mean pious professions only, but also daily deeds.
Later New Testament writers echo Jesus on this point. Paul, the great apostle of grace, in the very Epistle to the Romans tells us that those who receive eternal life at the End are those who persevere now in doing good (Rom. 2:6-10). The author of Hebrews proclaims Jesus as the source of eternal salvation to those who obey him (Heb. 5:9). Peter writes that God’s people have been chosen to obey Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1-2). James warns that faith without works is dead (James 2:14, 20, 26). The one who does God’s will, promises John, will outlast this passing world (1 John 2:17).
How can God save sinners? Only by his grace, which is also his justice through the atoning work of Jesus Christ our representative (Rom. 3:23-26). Since both God’s grace and Christ’s work are external to our own performance, we cannot contribute anything to either, but we are called to trust unreservedly in both. We sinners receive God’s grace by trusting him for it, and in no other way. That is not inconsistent with saying that genuine trust produces obedience. To claim otherwise is to contradict Jesus and his apostles. It is to climb out of one ditch, only to fall into another.