Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 13, 1958

Obedience -- What Is It?

Every Bible student knows that obedience is a cardinal principle of the Bible. In all ages God has required obedience of man in order for man to be acceptable to Him. No man has ever pleased God who did not submit to His will in loving obedience, whatever may have been required. It was required of Adam and Eve that they obey God. Their disobedience brought upon them death, both spiritual and physical, and it subjected all of their posterity to the consequences of their act. Abraham was blessed of God "because thou hast obeyed my voice." (Gen. 22:18.) The children of Israel were required to obey God's law given by Moses. (Exod. 19:5; Deut. 11:27-28.)

Obedience is likewise demanded of all in this dispensation or age. No one can please God today who does not obey His voice. God no longer speaks to man through Moses or the prophets; therefore, from them God's will for man today can not be learned. In Heb. 1:1-2, we learn that God speaks to us today through His Son — Jesus Christ. God said: "This is my beloved Son . . . hear ye him." (Matt. 17:5.) To this Son "all authority . . . in heaven and earth" hath been given. (Matt. 28:16.) Peter tells us "to him shall ye harken in all things whatsoever he shall speak unto you." Moreover he tells us what the result will be if we do not harken to or obey this prophet: "And it shall be, that every soul that shall not hearken to that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people." (Acts 3:22-23.) From all of this we should learn that in order to obey God today we must obey His Son. Obeying Moses or his law does not constitute obedience to God in this age.

In Heb. 5:8-9, we are told that Christ is "the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost in sin. He is the savior of all men, having died for all (Heb. 2:9), but only those who obey Him will be saved. Since obedience is demanded, it is necessary that we learn the meaning of obedience if we expect to obey Him and be saved.

What Is Obedience?

Webster defines obedience as:

"Compliance with command, prohibition, or known law and rule of duty prescribed; the performance of what is required or enjoined by authority, or the abstaining from what is prohibited in compliance with the command or prohibition. To constitute obedience, the act or forbearance to act must be in submission to authority; the command must be known to the person and his compliance must be in consequence of it, or it is not obedience."

This is a clear statement of the matter. Note especially these three things: (1) The act of forbearance to act MUST be in submission to authority. In other words, the doing of an act commanded by God or the refraining from doing what God has forbidden is not obedience UNLESS the person actually acts out of submission to God — with the purpose of obeying Him. (2) The command must be known to the person. This means that one cannot obey God who does not KNOW God's will, even if he were to do things God has commanded. We do not ACCIDENTALLY obey God! (3) The compliance of the person with God's will must be in consequence of God's command; meaning that this is the reason the person has so acted. All of these elements are necessary in order for any act to be true obedience.

Obedience Must Be Learned

Obedience does not come naturally nor easily. It is natural for the human will to assert itself. God has given man a will of his own and man can exercise that will as he pleases. This is seen in early child life; as when a child wants a coal of fire or something else equally dangerous. Such is not an indication of perversity, but shows that the child has will force. If the child does not learn he cannot always have what he WILLS to have; if he does not learn lessons of obedience, he may well destroy himself. Here is where parents play an important role in the life of the child. Actually, this is what takes place in our dealings with God. Unless man leans to submit his will to God's will and let God direct, man is certain to destroy himself.

Jesus had to learn obedience. (Heb. 5:8-9.) He did this by submitting His will wholly to that of His Father's — "not my will, but thine be done." Even so must we learn obedience in the same way. Our attitude must truly be: "What will THOU have me to do?"

Tests Of Obedience

The essence of obedience is willing submission to authority. One can do some things God commands without obeying Him in so doing. It is possible for one to do something God orders because of the pressure of the circumstances. It may be easier to do it than not to do it, depending on circumstances. Then one may do something God has required because he thinks it will mean gain in a business of social way. Perhaps at times human reason may suggest that such a course is proper and best. But in case one is motivated by any of these reasons or similar ones, such acts can not be said to be obedience. Because of this, God has in all ages had some test of obedience; some way to prove man's loyalty to Him and whether the man acts because of willing submission to Him.

We can see the reason for many things God commands and while we must in all cases do as He says, there is under such circumstances no real test of man's loyalty. If faith in or loyalty to God is to be tested, there must be no apparent connection between the act commanded and the result promised. There must be no outside influences compelling us. Our moving cause in such cases is simply our reverence for and devotion to God. In all God does He has man's present and eternal good in mind. Man can not direct his steps. (Jer. 10:23.) God, therefore, supplies man's greatest need — guiding and directing his steps.

Bible Examples Of Obedience

In the Old Testament we have numerous examples of people approved and blessed of God because they obeyed Him. These should serve as examples to us and they are recorded for our admonition. (Rom. 15:4.) From every example we learn that God blessed those who obeyed Him and condemned those who did not.

When the children of Israel were being punished because they "spake against God and against Moses," by the fiery serpents biting them, they asked for mercy. (Num. 21:4-9.) God extended mercy and told Moses: "Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live." Moses did as ordered and "if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." This was God's plan in the matter. God desired to test their loyalty to Him. The people had no choice in the matter — they must obey and live; disobey and die. The "cure" was a test of their faith — there was not apparent connection between the thing they were commanded to do and the end obtained! They simply had to take God at His word and do what He said. If some solution had been prepared and applied, they would no doubt have attributed the healing to the solution rather than to God.

The walls of Jericho fell down by faith WHEN Israel obeyed God. (Josh. 6:1-21; Heb. 11:30.) Their faith was tested by what God commanded them to do. There was no reasonable connection between what God ordered them to do and the overthrowing of the walls. Everyone knew that God threw down the walls — the power was in Him and not in what the people did!

Naaman was cured of his leprosy only when he had obeyed God. (2 Kings 5.) God had ordered that he dip seven times in the river Jordan. When Naaman heard it he went into a rage. It was so ridiculous and unreasonable! In the name of reason what would dipping seven times or a thousand times in the Jordan river have to do with removing leprosy? No wonder Naaman refused to do it! He was not then ready to submit to God's way and will. It was a test of his faith. Since there was no connection between the dipping and his being cured, Naaman had to dip simply because God ordered it. When he stood the test he was healed. Naaman did not think that such was "water salvation" or that the power was in the water.

A Test For Man Today

In every age God has blessed man when man obeys and He has always placed before man a test to prove man's loyalty to and faith in Him. This same principle is in force today. There is one command of Christ which becomes a real test of faith to all. There is perhaps no other command where the faith of man is so tested as in the command to be baptized. Jesus plainly said: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." (Mark 16:16.) Peter told the inquiring believers on Pentecost to "repent and be baptized .... for the remission of sins." Here the test was applied. How many would obey God? How many would turn away from such because they could see "no sense" in it? The record says: "Then they that gladly received the word were baptized." (Vs. 41.) Three thousand obeyed that day. The others did not obey — only those baptized did!

Is there any apparent connection between baptism and the remission of sins? Can reason suggest any relationship between the thing commanded — baptism, and the end to be obtained — salvation? Is there any power in water to remove sins? Certainly no more so than was to be found in the command to Naaman to dip seven times in Jordan. Like the command to Naaman, the command of Christ to be baptized for the remission of sins causes many today to go way in a rage or in disgust. The power to save today is in Christ — not in the water; but Christ has commanded it and in order for one to obey Him there must be loving obedience to His will at this point. Like Naaman of old, men today must take God at His word and do what He commands — whether we see any "sense" in the commands or not. In this way only does one obey God.

God is fitting and preparing a people for an eternal habitation with Him. In heaven God's will must be supreme and fully accepted by all. Joyful and loving obedience will be there, but it must be learned here. Let us be sure that we are properly preparing for that place by obeying Him here — fully and completely. C. A. H.