Is Obedience to God Necessary?
There are conflicting views about obedience in the religious world dating back centuries. Does God require obedience? What does the Bible say about obedience?
People are a mixed bag when it comes to obedience, even in the secular world.
Some strictly obey traffic laws, while others ignore them whenever they seem inconvenient. Some employees follow every little detail outlined in their company policies, while others view policies as nice suggestions but not really necessary.
God speaks for Himself in straightforward terms through the pages of the Bible.
What does the Bible say about obedience?
Bible verses about obedience
Here are just a few of the many scriptures from the Old and New Testaments that address the need to obey God:
- Deuteronomy 4:2: “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.”
- Deuteronomy 11:1: “Therefore you shall love the LORD your God, and keep His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments always.”
- Jeremiah 7:23: “Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.”
- Ezekiel 20:19: “I am the LORD your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them.”
- John 14:15: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
- 1 Corinthians 7:19: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.”
Dozens more can be cited, but these references alone make the subject as clear as day: God commands and expects obedience to His laws.
How do people argue against obedience to God?
Unless one embraces the convoluted theological reasoning that obscures the plain meaning of these passages, obedience is the only conclusion.
Remember, the Bible is the inerrant and consistent Word of God.
The following are proper explanations of the passages that anti-law proponents use to claim that obedience is no longer required.
Romans 6:14: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
Some say that this verse proves Christians are not obligated to obey the law of God. But if we follow that line of thinking, we must also conclude that the apostle Paul was downright confused and possibly even unstable, because in the very next verse he says, “Shall we sin [break the 10 Commandments] because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:15).
Paul did not say, “For you are not obligated to obey the law.” He said, “For you are not under law.” In other words, Christians are not under the condemnation of the law.
The law has power. It can pronounce a sinner worthy of death (Romans 6:23). When someone sins, the law, in a sense, hangs over him, and the violator comes under its penalty.
Here, Paul reminded the church in Rome that they had been pardoned from death thanks to the grace of God. They had repented, been baptized and given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and had Jesus’ shed blood applied to them. In God’s eyes, they were no longer on spiritual death row, but were free men and women.
But ask yourself, Does freedom grant someone a license to go out and commit the same sins that landed him or her under the power of the law in the first place? Some mistakenly believed that back then, and many believe that today. That’s why Paul clearly said we should not sin.
For more insight on this passage, read “What Is the Grace of God?”
Galatians 2:16: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.”
This translation may be misleading and invites some to think that obedience to God has no influence whatsoever on salvation. The original Greek says, “A man is not declared righteous by works of law, if not through the faith of Jesus Christ” (Young’s Literal Translation, emphasis added throughout).
Faith and obedience are not contradictory—they are complementary. Obedience is a sign of true belief, and true belief is necessary for genuine obedience.This verse is not saying obedience is unimportant or unnecessary, but that obedience must be coupled with faith in Jesus Christ. All the law-keeping in the world will not result in one iota of justification without faith. Likewise, all the belief in the world will amount to nothing without action or “works.”
Faith and obedience are not contradictory—they are complementary. Obedience is a sign of true belief, and true belief is necessary for genuine obedience.
Paul later confirmed the relationship between faith and obedience: “For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified” (Romans 2:13). James also wrote, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).
To learn more about building genuine faith in your life, read “How to Build Faith.”
Colossians 2:14: “Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
What exactly was nailed to the cross? The 10 Commandments? The law of God? Elsewhere Paul called the law “holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12). So what exactly is "the handwriting of requirements that was against us"?
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says the phrase “the handwriting of requirements,” refers to “a memorandum of debt.”
Spiritual debts are created when we sin because sin costs us our very lives (Romans 6:23). But when Christ was nailed to the cross, He made it possible for all of our debts to be transferred onto Him (1 Peter 2:24). He settles our spiritual accounts with His shed blood as the full payment. If we genuinely repent, His sacrifice cancels out our sins.
Paul’s point was: Repentant Christians don’t need to carry around guilt for their previous sins because Christ totally wiped out the note of debt that was against them. Because of His sacrifice, they are now in right standing with God.
For a more thorough explanation of this verse, read “What Was Nailed to the Cross in Colossians 2:14?”
Any attempt to use these verses to argue that the New Testament absolves Christians of their duty to obey the 10 Commandments is dishonest. It’s impossible to find scriptural backing for what is, in fact, heretical.
Obedience to God is both necessary and beneficial
Obedience to God is clearly in our best interests, as observation and experience would tell us.
Remember, the groundwork for our present misery-ridden society was laid long ago by our first parents, Adam and Eve.
When their teeth sank into the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they essentially put themselves in the place of God to decide what constitutes good and evil. Adam and Eve foolishly rejected the knowledge that God alone could give and committed the fatal error of believing they could figure it out themselves.
So God sentenced them and their descendants to a millennia-spanning journey of experimentation, to form their own governments and societies in which they would act as the ultimate arbiters of good and evil, right and wrong.
The Bible calls those negative effects curses.
They are the visible, painful consequences of ignoring the good God says to do—outlined in His law—and following what God says not to do instead. Curses are the physical penalties for breaking the eternal laws God inscribed into the fabric of human existence—laws that regulate peace, happiness, safety, contentment and so on.
Most have elected to suffer curses rather than reap blessings—choosing to learn from the cruel teacher of experience.
On the other hand, a small minority humbly acknowledge their human limitations to discern right and wrong. They view God’s laws for what they are: a guardrail for life. God is a loving Father who, like a human father, provides His children guidelines to help them safely navigate the treacherous world around them.
His laws help us, and may we all come to understand that.
Can you be saved without obedience?
A wealthy young man once searched for the key to eternal life, and he asked Jesus Christ what he could do to obtain it. The response he got could not be more clear. Jesus told him, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).
God will not grant someone eternal life unless he or she learns to value obedience.
Consider the world before the Flood, when men and women lived for hundreds of years before they died. The combination of their long life span and rebellious human nature resulted in rampant wickedness and corruption that pervaded the globe (Genesis 6:5). Scripture even indicates that man’s condition became so vile that “the LORD was sorry that He made man” (verse 6).
The fact that all life had to be wiped out by a flood illustrates the terror that results when human beings are permitted to be disobedient for long periods of time. Imagine the horror if they had lived for millennia, let alone forever.
God wants us to understand that sinful disobedience is totally inconsistent with the vision He has for His Kingdom, where only righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).
In order to be a part of the Kingdom of God, obedience must be learned and practiced during this physical life, which is the gist of what Christ told the young man. As John records in the book of Revelation, “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14).
Does God provide help to obey Him?
Beyond the fact that obedience is still necessary, this blog post has also shown that there are additional, immensely helpful reasons for obedience.
Still, God knows that obeying the 10 Commandments is not as simple as flipping a switch. A theme of the Bible is how utterly powerless human beings are to completely obey God on their own.
That is why He offers His Spirit, which He calls the “Helper” (John 15:26).
Then, and only then, will He grant His Holy Spirit to imbue an individual with the strength to exercise the kind of obedience needed for eternal life.
Eternal life in the Kingdom of God will only be given to those who faithfully obey God’s 10 Commandments.
That is why obedience to God is necessary.