Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Obedience


Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:



Richard Hollerman

Do you sincerely seek to obey the Lord under all circumstances, at all times, regarding everything that He commands?  Or do you make choices in what you obey?  Obedience is a leading trait of one who loves and trusts God.  In the Hebrew Bible, obedience was a leading response of Israel to Yahweh God.

Moses says, “Now this is the commandment, the statues and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them” (Deuteronomy 6:1).  This was to be motivated by a genuine love for the Lord: “You shall therefore love the LORD your God, and always keep His charge, His statues, His ordinances, and His commandments” (11:1).  He was plain in his requirements: “You shall therefore keep every commandment which I am commanding you today” (v. 8). He promised blessing on those who would love and obey God: “If you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him,” then Israel would be blessed of the Lord (vv. 22ff).

God was utterly serious in his requirement of absolute obedience to the covenant: “See, I am setting before you today and blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God” (vv. 26-27).  The ESV uses the word “obey” instead of the term “listen” since the Hebrew word, sama, meant “to hear” or “effective hearing: one who truly hears will comprehend and will respond with obedience.”[i][i]

The New Testament also shows the importance of obeying God.  The first Greek word is hupakoe, meaning “obedience” from hupo, “under,” and akouo, “to hear.”  The verb is hupakouo, meaning “to listen, attend” and “to submit, to obey.”[ii][ii]  When we come to Christ in faith, our response is one of obedience. Paul reasons this way: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16).  We becomes “slaves of obedience” since obedience characterizes our life.  When you come to the Lord, “you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (v. 17).  Our initial faith response was one of obedience, with Paul referring to it as the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26).

When we respond to Christ, we come in obedience.  In the salvation event, we come “to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood” (1 Peter 1:2).  Our life henceforth is one of obedience, for Peter says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance” (1:14).  In coming to Christ, we come “in obedience to the truth” (v. 22).  Those who remain unsaved are said to be “disobedient to the word” (3:1).  Now, as Christians, we take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).  So vital is this response that the Hebrew writer can say that Jesus “became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (5:9).  Also, as followers of Christ, we are obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7), to the gospel (Romans 10:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8), and to the apostles of the Lord (Philippians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:14).

The obedience commanded of the Lord is not a cold and lifeless response, but it is one that grows out of our love relationship with Him. John emphasizes this in his writings.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).  He again made this connection: “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (v. 21).  Jesus continues, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (v. 23).  In contrast, those who refuse to obey Jesus reveal their lack of love: “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me” (v. 24).  You will notice the close relationship of loving God (and Christ), obeying God, and enjoying a union and fellowship with God.

The Lord Jesus put this requirement of obedience in other words: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love. . . . You are My friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:10, 14).  John also wrote, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3; cf. 2 John 6; 1 John 3:22, 24).  We can see that those who would claim to love God but fail to obey Him are liars.  This is just the point that John makes:

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.   The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.  By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked (1 John 2:3-6).

We are a liar if we live in disobedience and yet claim to know and follow the Lord Jesus.  We cannot love God and refuse to obey Him.  As lovers of Jesus, we must walk or live as He lived.

Other Greek words would be peitho, meaning “to convince” to “to persuade,” with the idea that one who is persuaded will obey.    And then there is peitharcheo, meaning obedience to one in authority.  The latter is one that Peter used when the Jewish authorities commanded him and John to refrain from speaking in the name of Christ.  Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  Indeed, if God is Lord, with all authority, we must obey Him regardless of the cost.  The apostle goes on to refer to the Holy Spirit, “whom God has given to those who obey Him” (v. 32).  We know that the Holy Spirit is given to the believer (cf. Galatians 3:2, 14; Ephesians 1:13), but He is given to the obedient believer.  Paul urges his son Titus to teach believers, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed” (Titus 3:1).  Our lifestyle is to be one of obedience to the Lord.  The Hebrew writer shows the close relationship between “disobedience” and “disbelief,” to the point of saying that one who obeys is one to believes, and one who believes is the one who obeys (cf. Hebrews 3:12, 18, 19; 4:2, 3, 6, 11).

One further point may be made.  Our obedience to God is coupled with obedience to those who are in authority over us.  The Christian is to obey civil authorities (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14), and must obey those over him in the realm of employment (Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22).  Just as “Saran obeyed Abraham, calling him lord,” so Christian wives are to be submissive to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1), and sons and daughters are commanded, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1; cf. Colossians 3:20).  It is quite clear that a faithful obedience is what characterizes the Christian.

[i][i] Richards, Expository Dictionary, pp. 461-462.

[ii][ii] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.


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