When I was a child, we often sang a hymn that admonished us to “trust and obey,” assuring us that “there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.” The two verbs go together: we obey because we trust, and because we trust we obey. Trust and obedience are well-suited companions, but more. Related, but more. They live in symbiotic relationship, each nourishing and being nourished by the other, each simultaneously drawing life from and contributing life to the other.
Trust initiates obedience, activates and motivates it. Obedience expresses, affirms, and confirms trust. Neither is found in its mature state without the other. Hannah W. Smith, the Quaker universalist author of the spiritual classic, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, had it right when she wrote: “Perfect happiness is perfect obedience to one in whom you have perfect trust.”
Of course, not everyone appreciates such nuances and niceties. We all have heard some for whom obedience seems to have gobbled up anything even slightly resembling trust. They argue that anyone who enjoys God’s fellowship, either now or forever, must somehow merit his favor. Their confusion is called “legalism,” and it leads sober- minded people either to self-deception or to despair.
There are other folks so infatuated with what they call trust or faith that they rarely mention obedience at all. They seem quite confident that God’s grace makes obedience all but superfluous. Their confusion is known as “antinomianism.” Think of legalism and antinomianism as deep ditches on opposite sides of the gospel road. Each ditch is hazardous to spiritual health. Both need to be warned against and to be avoided at all costs.