Requirements for salvation (6)

To God's elect… who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father… to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood. (1Pe 1:1–2)

Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name's sake. (Rom 1:5)

We are looking at the requirements for salvation with reference to Old Testament believers. In this sixth study we are going to look at the subject of obedience.

In the fourth study we saw that obedience is part of discipleship, but the subject is so important that it deserves a study of its own.

Obedience leads to righteousness

In the previous study we saw that righteousness is necessary for salvation; but Paul tells us that obedience leads to righteousness, righteousness to holiness, and holiness to eternal life (Rom 6:16,19,22). So righteousness—indeed eternal life itself—begins with obedience (Rom 5:19).

By faith Abraham believed what God said to him and it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen 15:4–6). That was the righteousness that comes from faith.

He then obeyed God by preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac on an altar (Gen 22:1–18). That act of obedience was also considered as righteousness (Jam 2:21). It was the righteousness that comes from what we do (Jam 2:25), and it made his faith complete (Jam 2:22).

Abraham is presented in Scripture as the father of all who are saved by faith (Rom 4:16), so what was true for him, in that respect, is also true for us. Faith must be accompanied by righteous acts to be complete in the sight of God, and those righteous acts come from our obedience to him.

Not everyone who calls him Lord

Jesus said:

'Many will say to me on that day [the Day of Judgement], "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" ' (Mat 7:22–3)

When Jesus said, 'Away from me, you evildoers!' he was referring to those who had not obeyed his words. He then went on to reveal what will happen to such people (v24–7): their houses (their lives) will fall with a great crash (be completely destroyed; Luk 6:49).

Christians have wondered how anyone could perform miracles in the name of Jesus Christ without him knowing them. They conclude that they must have been nominal Christians (people who thought they were Christians, but were not) performing miracles through the power of Satan without realizing it.

It's true that Satan can perform miracles on earth (Exo 7:8–8:7; Job 1:6–2:7; 2Th 2:9–10), but he will never drive out demons (which is what these people were doing) otherwise his kingdom will be ruined. The only way demons will come out of people is by the Spirit of God (Mat 12:22–8).

These were born-again people, driving out demons in the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of his Spirit. They were doing the things Jesus said would accompany those who believe (Mar 16:17–8). That is why they were so surprised by what he said to them.

For Jesus not to know them doesn't mean they weren't born again. The Greek word used is ginosko. It means to know someone in the sense of having an intimate relationship with them. The same word is used in 1Co 8:3 where it says that those who love God are known by God.

In order to be known by Jesus in this way we must love him, and Jesus said that those who have his commands and keep them are the ones who love him (Joh 14:21). We show our love for Jesus by our obedience to him.

These Christians had performed miracles in his name, but had never obeyed him, which showed they'd never loved him (1Jo 5:3); consequently he'd never known them.

A person is not saved through faith in Jesus Christ, plus the operation of spiritual gifts. A person is saved through faith in Jesus Christ, plus the obedience to him that comes from their faith (see opening texts).

Jesus said that not everyone who says to him, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven (will finally be saved), but only those who do the will of his Father in heaven, ie those who obey God (Mat 7:21). These people had not obeyed God. Obedience is necessary for salvation.

Obedience of the prophets

Apart from Abraham, were there any others in the Old Testament who obeyed God? Yes, there were many. With the odd exception, the prophets showed exceptional obedience to God.

Isaiah walked around barefoot and naked for three years in obedience to God (Isa 20:2–4), Ezekiel lay on his side for 430 days in obedience to God (Eze 4:4–8), and Hosea married a promiscuous woman in obedience to God (Hos 1:2–3). All of them knew what obedience means.

Elijah was fed by ravens

Many of us have thrilled at the way Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel—taunting them to call upon their god, and then praying and seeing the fire of God fall and consume his sacrifice (1Ki 18:19–39). But how many of us know what came before Carmel? It was the Kerith Ravine.

The biblical account of Elijah begins with obedience. God told him to hide in the Kerith Ravine. There he would drink from the brook and be brought bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening. It would be a basic existence; and to make matters worse he would be fed by ravens (1Ki 17:2–6).

Those who are familiar with God's Law will know that ravens were unclean birds. Every Israelite was to avoid them; they couldn't eat them or touch them (Lev 11:13–5,24). And here was this holy man of God, sitting on a rock, eating food out of the beaks of these creatures.

Do you think he enjoyed that? Why didn't God send doves (clean birds) to feed him, or cause manna to come down from heaven? He could have done that easily; but God was testing him to see if he would obey him.

God tests our obedience by telling us to do things we don't want to do. He tested Abraham by telling him to offer his son Isaac on an altar (Gen 22:1–2); he tested Elijah by sending him to the Kerith Ravine; and he tested his own Son by sending him to a cross.

Where are the Elijahs?

Many years ago I read of a brother who, grieving at the lack of power in the church, gave himself to prayer and fasting. He resolved not to stop until he'd received a word from the Lord. After many days he cried out, 'Where is the God of Elijah (2Ki 2:13–14)?' And God said, 'Where are the Elijahs?'.

James tells us that Elijah was a human being, just as we are. He prayed and it didn't rain; again he prayed and it did rain (Jam 5:17–8). And we say, 'Lord, I want that power!'

It's true that Elijah was a human being, but how many of us are like Elijah? Are we prepared to obey God no matter what he tells us to do? Elijah wasn't perfect, he had his failings, but he was obedient; and God moved through him powerfully and used him.

Every time we obey God it's considered as righteousness (Jam 2:21), and the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (Jam 5:16b). Power in prayer comes from righteousness; and righteousness comes not only from faith (Rom 1:17), but also from obedience (Rom 6:16).

Michael Graham
December 2009
Revised September 2020

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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