This is a critical question, isn’t it? Sadly, I talk to people every week who have no idea how to answer it. If you’re thinking, “Hey, I’m one of those!”, then I pray this helps. There are some relatively short statements that truly are a matter of life and death.
Added April 14, 2012: This is the best sermon I’ve ever heard on the role of obedience, and is far better than what you’ll read below.
6 Crucial Truths.
1) Your obedience to God does not earn (or in any way contribute to) your salvation. You are saved by God’s grace (i.e., unmerited favor) alone through faith alone in the sufficiency of Jesus’ obedience on your behalf (2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 2:15-16, Eph. 2:8-9).
NOTE: Embracing this truth will guard you from the legalistic “gospel” of self-justification, which is the belief that your obedience at least in part earns your salvation rather than Christ’s obedience alone accomplishing your salvation.
2) Obedience is, nonetheless, required (Jn. 14:21, 15:1-6, 1 Jn. 3:6-10).
NOTE: Embracing this truth will guard you from the “gospel” of libertinism, which is the belief that the Gospel is essentially a get-out-of-hell-free card that will be useful after death, but has no real effect on the way we live now.
3) You must pursue obedience (Mk. 16:24, Mk. 8:34, Lk. 9:23, Phil. 2:12, 2 Pet. 1:5-11).
NOTE: Embracing this truth guards you from the let-go-and-let-God “gospel,” which is the belief that people have no responsibility to pursue growth in Christ.
4) God ultimately produces obedience in the lives of His people as evidence that He has all ready saved them (Rom. 8:29, Gal. 5:22-23, Phil. 1:6, 2:13).
NOTE: Embracing this truth will guard you from the legalistic “gospel” of self-sanctification, which is the belief that while God saves people by grace, those people grow into Christ-likeness by earning.
5) Even as a Christian who is justified by God’s grace through faith in the work of Jesus on your behalf, who is pursuing obedience and who is increasing in holiness by God’s grace, the reality is that you will never reach the state of sinless perfection before you die (1 Jn. 2:1).
NOTE: Embracing this truth will guard you from the “gospel” of despair, a) enabling you to take heart since you will be judged by God based upon the righteousness (i.e., perfection) of Jesus (!), and b) encouraging you to press on toward Christ (Phil. 3:13-14).
6) Misunderstanding the previous points is lethal (Gal. 1:6-9, 2:21, Rom. 6).
Be Honest With Yourself.
Is your hope to be with Christ based solely on Jesus’ works on your behalf? Do you see that faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, brotherly affection and love “are yours and are increasing” (2 Pet. 1:5-8)? Does either your belief or your practice need to change?
Do you agree or disagree my thoughts? Do you think I’ve lost my mind? Would you have said anything differently? As always, I would love your thoughts.