This column by the late Executive Editor ofCHRISTIANITY TODAYis reprinted from the October 25, 1963, issue.
We usually associate Abraham with faith, and rightly so. He is spoken of as the “father of the faithful,” and three different religions claim him as such.
The Apostle Paul argued justification by faith on the basis of Abraham’s imputed righteousness, the result of his unquestioning belief in God and His promises.
Martin Luther stood immovable on the affirmation, “The just shall live by faith,” and this sublime truth became a cornerstone of the Reformation.
We Christians rejoice in the fact that we are saved by faith, not works; that it is the pure grace of God through faith on our part which makes us whole.
But strange to say we often overlook the necessity for obedience. Obedience is faith in action. What validity can there be in a profession of faith that is not confirmed by obedience to the will of God? Are there not many Christians who are living in a state of suspended spiritual animation, truly accepting Christ as Saviour, but living without obedience to his revealed will and therefore never having him as the active Lord of life?
Years ago, Saul, king of Israel, disobeyed God, saving some of the spoils of a victory even though he had been commanded to destroy all. His excuse: he had preserved the best of the flocks to be used for a sacrifice to God.
But we read: “And Samuel said [to Saul], Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to harken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
Many a Christian is covering up disobedience under the false front of supposedly Christian activity. We fool ourselves by deliberately disobeying God and engaging in frantic work for the Church or some other Christian cause, thinking our duplicity is unnoticed by God.
The Bible is full of references to obedience, of the importance of man’s recognizing God’s authority and submitting to it. But there is entirely too little said nowadays about obedience as an integral part of the Christian faith. The confession of the lips and belief in the heart must be validated by obedience of the will.
God is sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Such attributes should in themselves elicit obedience. For where he is sovereign, we are dependent; where he is omniscient, we are ignorant; where he is omnipotent, we are powerless; where he is omnipresent, we are limited by time, space, and circumstance. Furthermore, despite the grandeur of his Person as Creator, he deals with us, his creatures, with infinite love and patience. Certainly at no point are we more foolish than in our disobedience.
Little wonder that we Christians repeatedly find ourselves in difficult situations! Living in rebellion to God’s perfect will, we bypass him and go our own ways—only to meet frustration and defeat. Even animals can be taught obedience to commands or gentle pressures. But we stubbornly take the bit in our own teeth and then complain because of difficulties that are the natural result of our own disobedience.
Obedience has its reward, now and for eternity. Disobedience is deadly, its effect going on forever. We live in an age of disobedience. Delinquency, adult and juvenile, stems from a willful rejection of the laws of God in favor of one’s own way.
Obedience requires knowledge of God’s will, faith in his goodness, and confidence in his promises. The Bible is wonderfully explicit in many areas and in others lays down principles that are to guide our lives. Obedience therefore requires knowledge of and faith in the written Word.
Our problem is not so much to know what the will of God for us may be as to be willing to obey that will. God has not left himself without a witness; by clear and direct leading of the Holy Spirit, in Bible study, during prayer, through contacts with others, by combinations of circumstances, God makes his will known. But knowing his will, what are we doing about it?
We started this discussion with Abraham as an example of faith. From his faith there proceded an obedience that in turn led to a promise and a covenant, “because thou hast obeyed my voice.” Who can fully imagine the anguish of Abraham’s heart when he was told to offer his son as a sacrifice? But the writer of Hebrews describes his faith in these words: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (Heb. 11:17–19).
Here faith and obedience are so intermingled no one can say where the one began and the other ended. Abraham’s confidence, his assurance, his faith acted to effect an obedience which God honored, both for Abraham’s good and for His own glory.
We should search our own hearts to find out whether we are holding back something we should be yielding to God in obedience. God is never unreasonable, nor does he ever make a mistake. Although we readily acknowledge this fact as a concept of God, we often deny it in practice.
Obedience is a matter of outward action and of inward discipline. There are many things we should do or not do in the realm of personal habits and interpersonal relations, but obedience also involves something more. Paul writes: “Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defense that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4, 5, Phillips).
Authority! Authority demands obedience, and that is where we fail. We confess Christ as Saviour, but we deny his authority to command our obedience to his will.
For Christians this should be a matter of deep concern, for peace of heart and mind, along with usefulness in the work of God’s kingdom, is at stake. We cannot prosper in our spiritual lives so long as we are disobedient to God’s revealed will. Nor can he use us for his glory while we knowingly live in a state of rebellion.
Obedience is a matter of sanctification, of growing in our knowledge and performance of God’s will. At times it involves taking a step in the dark; but that matters little, for the One who commands is also the One who will guide and strengthen, and out of obedience there surely comes the outpouring of God’s blessings—blessings reserved for the obedient heart and will. L. NELSON BELL
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