The commands of God are not optional. They are necessary because they come from God. Obeying the commands of God expresses our love for God (1 Jno. 5:3). When we obey God’s commandments, we are following the example of Jesus (Heb. 5:8-9). When we obey God’s commands, we submit ourselves to His will as dutiful servants (Lk. 17:10). When we obey Jesus, we trust His word instead of our will (Matt. 14:24-33). We should not view God’s commands and obedience negatively. When Peter commanded Cornelius “to be baptized name of the Lord,” it was because the gospel says believers who are baptized will be saved (Mk. 16:15-16). The Holy Spirit had miraculously testified Cornelius and the others were believers (Acts 10:44-46). Therefore, to forbid baptism to believers (by telling them they are saved before and without obeying God’s command to be baptized) hinders their remission of sins (Acts 10:42-43; 2:37-38; 1 Pet. 3:21). Let us obey the commands of God in faith, trusting God’s will instead of our own.
32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him. (Mark 12:32–34, NKJV)
Obedience is worthless when it does not come from a heart given to God completely. The scribe in today’s text perceived this truth when Jesus told him the first of all the commandments was to love God fully (Mk. 12:28-30). May we grasp this fundamental truth; Out of the heart comes the obedience that pleases God. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jno. 14:15). Without love for God in our hearts, our outward actions of obedience are null and void. Christ calls us to be obedient children, so we will not discount the place of obedience in the Christian’s life (1 Pet. 1:13-16, 22). Obedience from the heart pleases God and frees us from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6:17-18).
21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” 22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:21–22, NKJV)
Wanting to follow Jesus is not the same as actually following Him. That may seem obvious, yet we easily convince ourselves we follow Him when the evidence says otherwise. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Doing the Father’s will begins in the heart and produces conduct consistent with the heart’s intention and devotion. This man had kept the commands of God from his youth (Mk. 10:19-20). But he lacked one thing. His heart was greedy and he trusted in riches more than God (Mk. 10:24). His love for personal possessions controlled his conduct toward others. His unwillingness to sell and give exposed his selfish heart. Why do we emphasize complete obedience to Jesus? Not because it earns us treasures in heaven, but because it expresses a heart that loves God “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30; Rom. 6:17-18). One thing prevented this man from having heavenly treasures. If even one thing is hindering your obedience from the heart, repent, and do what Jesus says (Lk. 6:46). Jesus knows our hearts just like He knew this man’s heart. Do we (2 Cor. 13:5)?
12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. (John 15:12–14, NKJV)
Jesus commanded His apostles to love one another as He had loved them. This commandment is equally given to every Christian (1 Jno. 4:21). We are to walk in love as Christ loved us (Eph. 5:2). We know love because He laid down His life for us. Therefore, “We also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jno. 3:16). Jesus Christ died for every person because we have all sinned (Rom. 3:23; 5:8; Col. 1:19-23). There is no greater love than His voluntary, sacrificial death. Jesus said we must do “whatever He commands” to be His friend (v. 14). That includes loving one another, but it does not stop there. Jesus taught much more than loving one another. He commissioned His apostles to teach disciples “to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). So, when we trust Jesus and do what His apostles command us, we are friends of Jesus. Abraham was “the friend of God” because he believed God and obeyed Him (Jas. 2:21-24). Faith in and friendship with Jesus means far more than a mental agreement of who He is and what He has done. Friendship with Jesus is far more than asking Him into your heart to be your Savior. Are you doing whatever He commands you? When you do, you are His friend, saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9; Heb. 5:9). Be a friend to Jesus. Obey whatever He commands.
9 As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:9–11, NKJV)
Jesus continued His final discourse with His apostles before being arrested, tried, and crucified. He had loved His apostles while with them, and He wanted them to abide in (stay in) His love. He had just said, “Abide in Me, and I in you,” which would occur when His words remained in them (Jno. 15:4, 7). They would bear much fruit by doing so (Jno. 15:8). In today’s passage, Jesus elaborated that they would abide in His love by keeping His commandments (v. 10). He had set this example for them (and us) by keeping His Father’s commandments and abiding in His love. Their joy would be full when they obeyed Jesus. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus coupled love and joy with obedience? Those who discount and disconnect obedience from salvation refuse to see this linkage. Obeying Jesus is not a way we earn blessings. It is the divine condition under which God gives heavenly blessings (Acts 10:34-35). Our faith in Jesus and His word convinces us to love Him by obeying Him. We rejoice in His promised love and presence with a joy that remains and reaches into eternity.
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.