Do others know you obey God? The Bible indisputably teaches obedience is the expression of one’s faith. For example, Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jno. 14:15). James put it this way: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Jas. 2:18). Earlier, Paul noted the Romans’ faith was spoken of by others throughout the world (Rom. 1:8). People were talking about their faith because they knew about their obedience. Their faith was genuine because they obeyed the Lord. Obedience proclaims our faith, too. Just saying we believe is insufficient to save us (after all, “even the demons believe—and tremble,” Jas. 2:19). Our obedience to the Lord must be good and innocent (Rom. 16:19). The wisdom of the world calls evil good, and good evil (Isa. 5:20). Conversely, Christians shun such folly and choose to live by the wisdom from above (Jas. 3:17-18). We influence the world for righteousness when others see our faith by our obedience (Matt. 5:13).
15 Thus says the Lord: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” 16 Thus says the Lord: “Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. 17 There is hope in your future, says the Lord, that your children shall come back to their own border.” (Jeremiah 31:15–17, NKJV)
The horrors of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.) and exile were followed by a remnant of the people returning to their land (Ezra 1-2). God gave hope to the exiled people through Jeremiah, assuring them their “work shall be rewarded” and “your children shall come back to their own border.” It is telling the Lord said their “work” would be rewarded. (See Jeremiah 29:1-11 for a description of their “work” and God’s promised reward.) Many teach any rewarded work of man is meritorious and against the purpose of God. This verse teaches otherwise. So, the “faith only” people have a problem because Jeremiah said God would reward their work. There are Messianic undertones to the passage. Matthew applied verse 15 directly to Herod’s slaughter of the young male children in Bethlehem and its districts (Matt. 2:16-18). Jesus survived that horrific event, and our hope is redemption from sin’s captivity in Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:1-2, 8-11). Works of faith do not merit the reward God promises us any more than the remnant’s faith earned their return to the land. Works of obedience show our faith in God and the hope we have in Jesus (Jas. 2:17-18; Heb. 10:36-11:1). Remember, God rewards the faithful (Heb. 11:6).
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” (Romans 1:8, NKJV)
We can get caught up focusing on our personal condition, circumstances, and considerations to the neglect of others. One way to avoid self-absorption is to be thankful for others. The apostle Paul faced grueling opposition as he fulfilled his ministry. Yet, he took the time to be thankful for others. Here, he specifically thanked God for the faith of the Roman saints. Today, take time in prayer to thank the Lord for someone else’s faith. When you do, you will acknowledge the impact of their faith on yourself and others. And, by doing so, you will admit the nature of God-pleasing faith. Faith is not silent; it speaks. Faith is not dormant; it acts. Faith does not oppress; it influences. Faith is not invisible; it is seen (Jas. 2:14-26). The Romans’ faith was “spoken of throughout the whole world,” even as their obedience was known to all (Rom. 1:8; 16:19). “Faith that saves is faith that obeys” is not a cliché; it describes the essence of faith’s victory in Christ (1 Jno. 5:4-5). We thank the Lord for the countless brethren whose faith influences the world for truth and righteousness. Thank God we can find faith on the earth (Lk. 18:8). The world still has its salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). Thank you, God, for the faith of your people.
17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17–18, NKJV)
Obedience to God springs from the heart. Otherwise, it is not obedience at all, only an empty shell of pretense, self-righteousness, and vain ritual (Matt. 6:1-18; Lk. 18:9-14; 6:46). Today’s passage explains we are set free from sin when we obey the gospel (“that form of doctrine”) from the heart. Unquestionably, obedience is essential for salvation from sin. Now, back to the heart and our obedience. Scripture teaches the heart is the source of obedience to God. Belief is the result of the word of God acting upon the heart, and without faith, obedience does not occur (Rom. 10:10, 16-17). Love is an action of the heart (will) that Scripture shows to be obedience, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 Jno. 5:4). Love itself is obedience to God. Without the heart, obedient love is impossible. The fear of God resides in the heart that keeps God’s commandments (Eccl. 12:13). Faith, love, and the fear of God spring from the heart as necessary traits of obedience. Do not try to separate your heart from your obedience. Every attempt to do so results in faithless, loveless, irreverent, and futile attempts to please God.
15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15–16, NKJV)
This passage is not difficult to understand. Yet, it undergoes no end of abuse at the hands of those who refuse its teaching on how the gospel saves sinners. Christ’s commission to the apostles is forthright: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (v. 15). The gospel is for all, and the apostles made known its power to save “to all nations” (Rom. 1:16; 16:25-26; Col. 1:23). Responses to the gospel and their corresponding results are stated candidly in verse 16. The person who believes the gospel and is baptized will be saved from sin, but the person who does not believe the gospel will be condemned in sin. Believing the gospel of Christ compels one to be baptized to be saved. Yet, controversy arises over whether water baptism is necessary for salvation. Jesus said it is. Why? Because “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” and cannot justify the sinner (Jas. 2:17, 24). Water baptism is faith at work as one submissively obeys Christ’s command (Acts 2:37-38; 10:34-35). Obedient faith does not earn salvation (Lk. 17:10). When the believer obeys the gospel, God frees that person from sin’s bondage to become a slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18). Belief and baptism are essential to be saved. Unbelief is condemned. Instead of arguing with Jesus, we plead with the lost to believe and be baptized to be saved.
33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. 35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. 36 Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness. (Psalm 119:33–36, NKJV)
Living by faith is not a blind leap in the dark. Faith is the rationale response of the heart that longs for God, His ways, and His blessings. Note this as the psalmist implores God to teach him the path of divine statues, and he will keep them (v. 33). He pleads for an understanding of God’s law so that he may keep it with a heart that is enlarged and completely devoted to God (v. 34; Psa. 119:32). He yearns for the discipline that comes with divine instruction so that he will walk on the path of obedience (v. 35). He obeys the commands of God with delight because his heart is full of the love of God, not greed for plunder (v. 36). Like the psalmist, let us pray for understanding to keep God’s word with our whole heart (Col. 1:9-11). Obeying the gospel from the heart freed us from sin’s slavery (Rom. 6:17-18). Now, let us keep on learning and living the commands of God with our whole hearts “to the end” (v. 33). Problems of sin arise when we no longer want God to teach us. The heart hardens against the way of His statutes. The path of His commands is no longer delightful. If this is where your heart and life are, then repent (change your heart) and return to the delight of obeying God with your whole heart.
47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days. (Acts 10:47–48, NKJV)
Many Bible teachers say believers “should not be baptized” for salvation. Others confidently forbid water baptism for salvation, but then teach it is necessary to obey Jesus. This doublespeak fails to see the biblical link between water baptism and salvation. Does it harmonize with the Scriptures to separate water baptism from salvation while also commanding it as a mark of loyalty to Christ? No, it does not. The Bible answer is clear; Obedience by believers is essential to being saved by Christ. Scripture says, “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9). Christ saves those who obey Him. Peter had just preached that “in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:35). To work righteousness is nothing less than to obey the gospel (Rom. 6:17-18). If it is proper to exclude (forbid) the command of baptism from salvation, then no amount of obedience bears on one’s salvation (including “Lordship baptism”). Yet, Scripture affirms that saving faith includes obeying the commands to confess one’s faith, to repent of sins, and to be baptized. These works of righteousness are obeyed by believers who want to be saved (Rom. 10:9; Acts 17:30; Acts 2:37-38). And, Jesus saves them (Heb. 5:9).
10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matthew 15:10–11, NKJV)
When moral and religious disagreements arise we may demand that others hear and understand us. No doubt, good communication skills (like careful listening) are essential to resolving tensions. Yet, there is something even more crucial and fundamental to harmonious resolution. We must listen to Jesus, understand His word, and follow Him. How do I do this? First, I must believe that God speaks to me through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2 says God does). Many Scriptures confirm Jesus speaks to me and you through the inspired words of His apostles and prophets (Jno. 16:8-15; 1 Cor. 2:6-13; 14:37; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). I must listen to their writings, or I are not listening to Jesus (Jno. 13:20). Secondly, I must commit myself to the principle that God’s word is true (Jno. 17:17; Rom. 3:4). I must yield my will to His on “all things that pertain to life and godliness” to partake of His promises and nature (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Thirdly, I must agree that I can understand the Scriptures. As Jesus exhorted the multitude to comprehend His words, so also we are commanded to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). Fourthly, I must follow the word of Jesus (Lk. 6:46). Instead of demanding others focus on understanding me when tensions arise, I should focus on hearing, understanding, and following Jesus.
51 “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” 52 Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’ 53 Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?” (John 8:51–53, NKJV)
Jesus confidently taught that anyone who keeps His word will not die (“never see death”). Later, Jesus comforted Martha with this same truth following the death of her brother Lazarus: “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:26). Jesus was talking about escaping spiritual death, but His accusers could only think in physical terms. So, they charged Him with being possessed and controlled by a demon. It is false and futile to separate obeying Jesus from having eternal life, since Jesus linked obedience with victory over death. (Even His enemies understood Him to say people who obey Him would not die.) Why do so many teach that people “shall never see death” with faith only? This doctrine convinces millions that obeying Jesus is not necessary for salvation. Yet, Jesus said it is. We know who Jesus is, even though His enemies rejected Him and His teaching. He is the Christ, the Son of God (John 8:49, 54-55). Therefore, we believe what He said, and endeavor to keep His word to escape eternal death (Rom. 6:23).
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. (Romans 1:8, NKJV)
Paul was thankful for the faith of the Roman saints. More specifically, he was grateful to God that their faith was favorably spoken of throughout the world. Here’s a simple question to ask as we ponder the meaning of faith. If faith is only mental assent or agreement, then how would people throughout the world know about their faith? When faith is uncoupled from the works of faith (obedience), it is profitless and cannot save a person (Jas. 2:14). When faith is not active it is dead, because it is alone (“by itself,” Jas. 2:17, 20). When faith has no corresponding action, it is unseen (Jas. 2:18). When faith is defined as nothing more than agreement with some truth, it is no more than what the demons possess (Jas. 2:19). Faith is more than mental assent or agreement with some statement of truth. The faith of the Roman saints was observable through their obedience to the gospel. The Scriptures confirm their obedient faith: “For your obedience has become known to all” (Rom. 16:19). Their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world because it was known through their obedience. Your faith is shown through your obedience to Christ (Jas. 2:18). Saving faith is an obedient faith (Jas. 2:14, 24-26). Commit yourselves to showing your faith by always obeying the Lord.