There are two beliefs we must watch out for when we begin to understand how God’s grace transforms our lives and covers our sins. The first one we have already talked about, and that is the belief that we look to our own abilities to strengthen us and bring us to a place where we feel we are acceptable to God. It is the idea that we must become holy enough by what we do and by keeping the law, and we are attempting the impossible. Without Christ in our lives, the sin in our hearts and our own selfishness pollute everything we do. Realize that only the grace of Christ, through faith, is able to make us right with God.
The other belief we must be careful to avoid is the belief that Christ has freed us from keeping the law of God; or in other words, since God’s grace and Christ’s death have saved us and we can claim this salvation by faith and trust in Jesus, what we do—our actions—are no longer important.
However, we must realize that obedience is not simply an outward show of actions, but instead it is serving through a loving, transformed heart. God’s law is an expression of His character—every item displays true love—and it is the foundation of God’s kingdom. When our hearts are renewed and transformed into being like God’s own heart, with His love filling our lives, why would we expect anything less than for us to obey God’s law in our lives. When God’s love is in our lives and our hearts, and when it renews us into the image of our Creator, the new promise-agreement is carried out: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” (Hebrews 10:16). If God’s law is written on our heart, will it not have influence over our lives? Obedience—defined as loyalty and service with love—is the true sign of discipleship. So this is why we read in the Bible passages like, “Loving God means keeping His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3); and “If someone claims, ‘I know God,’ but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth.” (1 John 2:4). Instead of faith and grace freeing us from the law and from obedience, faith is the only way we can ever hope to achieve obedience.
We do not earn salvation by obeying; for salvation—being saved by grace—is a free gift from God that we receive by faith, but true faith results in and produces obedience. “And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in Him. Anyone who continues to live in Him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know Him or understand who He is.” (1 John 3:5-6). The true test of discipleship is this: If we live in and with Christ, and if God’s love is in our hearts, our feelings, our thoughts, our goals, and our actions will be aligned with God’s will for our lives as He has expressed in the rules of His law. “Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous.” (1 John 3:7). Righteousness means following the standard of God’s holy law—as He expressed it in the ten rules He spoke on Mount Sinai.
The faith that many believe that Christ gave, which implies freedom from obedience to God, is not really faith but presumption. It is true that the Bible says, “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8), but it also states, “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17). Jesus spoke of Himself before coming to earth, “I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions [laws] are written on my heart.” (Psalm 40:8), and just before ascending back into heaven, He said, “When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” (John 15:10). The Bible also teaches us, “And we can be sure that we know Him if we obey His commandments. If someone claims, ‘I know God,’ but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love Him. That is how we know we are living in Him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:3-6). “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps.” (1 Peter 2:21).
Next week, we continue and conclude our discussion about discipleship.
P.S. As always, if I missed something, or if you would like to respond on this topic, join the conversation below!