Requirements for salvation: Obedience

…To God's elect…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, 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)

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him… (Heb 5:8–9)

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

Eternal life begins with obedience

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

Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham) believed what God said to him and it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen 15:4–6): that was the righteousness that came from his 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 came from what he did, 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 says to him, 'Lord'

'Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven [the one who obeys God]. Many will say to me on that day, "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 7:21–3)

Christians have wondered how anyone could perform miracles in the name of Jesus Christ without him knowing them (Jesus didn't deny their claims). Some have suggested that they may have been 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; 2Th 2:9), but he will never drive out demons otherwise his kingdom will not stand (Mat 12:24–6). The only way demons can be driven out of people is by the Spirit of God (Mat 12:28).

These were born-again believers who had been driving out demons and performing miracles, in the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of his Spirit. They had been doing what he said those who believed in him would do (Joh 14:12), which is why they were so surprised by what he said to them.

Jesus made it clear that only those who have believed in him can drive out demons in his name (Mar 9:38–40). If they'd tried to do it without believing in him, they'd have suffered the same fate as the sons of Sceva (Act 19:13–6).

For him to tell them that he never knew them doesn't mean that they weren't born again. The Greek word translated 'knew' is ginosko. It means to know, recognize, understand.

In this context it means to be recognized by someone as belonging to them. It's used in the same sense in 1Co 8:3, which says that whoever loves God is known (ginosko) by God: recognized by God as belonging to him [1].

To love God is to keep his commands (1Jo 5:3), and to love Jesus is to keep his commands (Joh 14:21). These believers had performed miracles in his name but had never kept his commands, which meant that they'd never loved him. Consequently he'd never known them: he'd never recognized them as belonging to him.

Spiritual gifts are not given to believers on merit: they are given, as the Holy Spirit determines, for the common good (1Co 12:7–11). Neither is a person 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 many will say to him on that day (the day when we appear before his judgement seat to give an account of ourselves to God – 2Co 5:10; Rom 14:10–2), 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Many will say that to him. Think about that.

Jesus concluded his teaching on this subject with a parable:

'Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice [obeys them] is like a wise man who built his house [spiritual life] on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house [God's judgement – Gen 6:5—7:24; Jon 1:1–12]; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice [does not obey them] is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash…its destruction was complete.' (Mat 7:24–7; Luk 6:49)

Jesus taught that only those who have obeyed his words will be saved when we appear before his judgement seat. Are we obeying his words? Are we being wise or foolish? For the importance of obeying his words see Mat 28:18–20. Obedience is necessary for salvation.

Obedience of the prophets

Apart from Abraham, were there others in the Old Testament who obeyed God? Yes, there were. With the odd exception, the prophets, who were Old Testament believers indwelt by the Spirit of God (1Pe 1:10–1), showed exceptional obedience to God.

Isaiah walked around stripped (Hebrew naked) and barefoot for three years in obedience to God (Isa 20:2–4); Ezekiel lay on his side for 430 days in obedience to God (Eze 4:4–6); and Hosea married a promiscuous woman in obedience to God (Hos 1:2–3). All of those men 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 on 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?

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. No Israelite could 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, but he was testing him to see if he would obey him.

When the brook dried up, God sent him to Zarephath in the region of Sidon to stay with a widow there (1Ki 17:7–9). He would continue to be fed miraculously (1Ki 17:10–6), but now he would be surrounded by Baal worshippers (Sidon was a centre for Baal worship). He wouldn't have enjoyed that either, but he went in obedience to God.

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 using ravens to feed him and then sending him to Zarephath; and he tested his own Son by sending him to the cross (Heb 5:7–9).

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 now is the Lord, the God of Elijah (2Ki 2:13–4)?' And the Lord said to him, 'Where are the Elijahs?'.

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

It's true that Elijah was a human being like us, 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 powerfully through him 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 in God (Rom 1:17), but also from obedience to God (Rom 6:16).

Michael Graham
December 2009
Revised February 2024

[1] Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible New International Version, AMG International, Inc, 1996. 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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