The Role of Obedience in Salvation
by Jack Holt
Obedience is an obligation each human being sustains to God. This is so because God is the Creator and Ruler of the universe, and we are his creatures.
Beyond the fact that God is Creator and Ruler, love places us under a moral obligation to obey. As creatures with moral ability love is our axiomatic duty. Love obligates us to seek the welfare of all above the welfare of self, and the glory and honor of God supremely because He is the supreme originator and sustainer of life.
But sin has entered the picture. We all have sinned (failed to obey). This is where our differing theologies begin to cloud our view of obedience and its role in man’s life. Determinists understand sin to have rendered man incapable of doing anything but sin—in other words, he cannot obey. Thus, he is born guilty of sin and is incapable of doing anything but sin until or unless God acts directly upon his heart to change him.
Those, such as I, who advocate choice, see it differently. We believe sin is a choice the individual makes to disobey God. While we believe all men sin, we don’t believe any man has to sin in the sense that he doesn’t have a choice in the matter, and we certainly do not believe men are born guilty of sin.
Beginning at such widely diverse positions on sin itself cannot help but result in radically different views of the role obedience plays in redemption. Both views agree that man cannot earn his salvation through obedience — the only way to do that is to obey perfectly and never sin. Beyond that, however, there is little agreement.
Determinist believes obedience plays no role in being saved, and after one is saved the role of obedience is minimized. They view the obedience of Christ in going to the cross to be substituted for the disobedience of the believer.
Advocates of choice see the matter much differently. They understand Christ’s death to be the means whereby God extends the grace of forgiveness. However, God conditions that grace upon a choice by the individual to repent — to return to devotion to obedience; and by a choice by the individual to adopt faith as the basis of his relationship with God. Faith trusts God to forgive and it obeys God, not because obedience earns or merits salvation, but because God has said that if we by faith obey what He says He will bless and work through that to accomplish salvation.
Consequently, choice advocates believe one must obey on the basis of faith to be saved (i.e., receive the initial forgiveness of sins and enter into a relationship with God), and that after one is saved he must continue to obey by faith to be saved (to be saved finally in heaven). Again, it is not the concept that our obedience saves us; it is the concept that through obedient faith God works to sanctify us and mold us into the image of Christ.
It seems to me that determinist have a mystical idea of how God works, while the Bible presents a very practical concept of how He works in our lives. To the determinist conversion comes as a result of a mystical, direct act of God upon the heart of the individual. Likewise, the Christian life involves trusting God to work in a mystical way to change the person.
To advocates of choice conversion comes as a result of moral persuasion. God attempts through providence and His word to convince the sinner of the error of his way and to persuade him to repent and put his faith in Him. After becoming a Christian, this same process continues. God urges the Christian to simply follow his will, or pattern if you will, of life and conduct, and promises to bless obedience with the transformation of the individual into the image of Christ. This model is still a faith model, not a works model, because it continues to rely upon God through faith for forgiveness and for direction in life.
Because the determinist model holds to a mystical working of God as the method He uses to save the determinist holds to the “once saved, always saved” idea. Man plays no role in his salvation, and thus it is all God’s work. No sin can separate the determinist from God. One of their own put it this way:
"We take the position that a Christian's sins do not damn his soul. The way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people has nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul. All the prayers a man can pray, all the Bibles he may read, all the churches he may belong to, all the services he may attend, all the sermons he may practice, and all the debts he may pay, all the ordinances he may observe, all the laws he may keep, all the benevolent acts he may perform, will not make his soul one bit safer. And all the sins he may commit from idolatry to murder, will not make his soul in any more danger."
Choice advocates, however, believe the Bible teaches that abandoning
obedience on the basis of faith will result in an individual returning
state of alienation from God. In other words, we believe man will be
on the basis of his deeds. If he chooses to obey on the basis of faith
will be blessed. If he chooses to disobey then he will be condemned.
The question the reader must ask is, “Which of these two models does the Bible advocate, or does it advocate a third unmentioned model?” It seems to me the passages below demonstrate that the choice model is the model the Bible teaches.
"Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation" (Hebrews 5:8-9 NASB).
"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36 NASB).
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17 NASB).
"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you" (Titus 2:11-15 NASB).
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling" (Matthew 23:37 NASB).
"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15 NASB).
"If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10 NASB).
"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3 NASB).
"For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29 NASB).
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NASB).
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences"
(2 Corinthians 5:10-11 NASB).
"Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31 NASB).
"Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every
man according to what he has done" (Revelation 22:12 NASB).