In Deuteronomy 28:1-13, the rewards and blessings of perfect obedience to the law are listed. However, since no one, except Jesus, has ever obeyed the law perfectly, we all are disqualified from these blessings based on our performance. The Good News is these blessings are part of our inheritance because we’ve been given the gift of the perfect obedience of Jesus. We are not blessed because we obeyed perfectly. We are blessed because Jesus obeyed perfectly.
One of the questions that many people have when confronted with the Gospel of grace is ‘How does obedience fit into this new covenant?’
What Does It Mean to Obey?
18And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? 19So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:18-19)
We need to note that God equates unbelief with disobedience. For Israel, not trusting in God’s promise and ability was disobedience. Because of unbelief/disobedience, Israel did not enter the Promised Land and the corresponding rest from their enemies that God had promised. If Israel’s unbelief was called disobedience, then belief on their part would have been obedience.
In the same context, God went on to say that His rest is still available to people, and “we who have believed do enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:3). In fact we are exhorted to “be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11).
In the light of God equating belief with obedience, our actions are not the first place where obedience must occur. Obedience begins in the same place where everything in our relationship with God begins – THE GOSPEL!
Consider the Galatians when Paul wrote to address a drastic problem. They had received the Gospel; they had received the freedom of Christ and were in fact “running well” (Galatians 5:7a). But something happened – they had come under the influence of religion. They had been “bewitched” into mixing Jesus (grace) with human performance (legalism). And what did Paul have to say about it? “Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7b). If the Galatians were not obeying, they must have been disobeying. And what they were disobeying was the truth of the Gospel. Paul did not write to them about any commandments they were violating or any traditions they weren’t keeping. He wrote to them about standing “in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (Galatians 5:1). For the Galatians, and for us today, obeying God was and is a matter of believing the Gospel.
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (Romans 6:16)
“Obey” it’s the Greek word “hypakouō” which means “to listen, to harken.” Harken means to pay attention to or to heed what is being said. So, literally Paul is saying: “You are slaves to whomever you pay attention to. You are slaves to whomever you listen to and heed what they are saying.”
Paul is not talking about performance and obeying the law here, but it’s talking about the message that we are listening to; he is talking here about what we BELIEVE – ‘Are we listening to the one whose sin was unto death [Adam] or to the One whose obedience is unto righteousness [Jesus]?’ In other words, ‘Do you believe that you are still in Adam’s sin as a sinner? Or do you believe you are in Christ’s righteousness as a saint?’ (Romans 5:18-19)
The church, as a whole, doesn’t understand the fact that we are under grace. Grace is all about supply. Law is all about demand. The law demands righteousness from man, and man could not obtained it because it was a perfect righteousness. But under grace, God supplies that perfect righteousness through Christ to be received as a gift.
The Bible says that we are made righteous freely (Romans 3:24). This word „freely” is the Greek word „dorean” and means freely without a cost. We are all justified in God’s eyes, made righteous, without a cause in us. There’s no reason in you for God to declare you righteous. All the reason is in Him. „By one man’s disobedience, Adam’s disobedience, many were made sinners. By the obedience of one man, Jesus Christ, we’re all made righteous.”
To confirm that it’s what you believe, Romans 6:17 says: „But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed [listened to, harkened to] from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were [past tense] delivered.”
Doctrine is the Greek word “didache” which means teaching. “Obeyed (believed, listened to, gave attention to) from the heart this teaching to which you were delivered” is the process of the renewal of our minds to the truth of our new identity in Christ as His righteousness (Eph. 4:23-24). The teaching of the New Covenant shows us that He alone is our righteousness. He lives in us and we are one with Him. We are a new creation, formed in true righteousness and holiness; we have the mind of Christ; we have a new heart and a new spirit within us, etc.
How God Deals With Disobedience In The New Covenant?
Sin and disobedience are not the issue. God has already dealt with those things through the obedience of Christ and has ‘sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.’ (Isaiah 54:9). Christ has already dealt with our sins on the cross, and He desires for all men to come to the knowledge of this through a full revelation of the New Covenant. (1 Timothy 2:4)
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me;” – John 16:8-9
What matters (as in the primary focus) is not your lifestyle, but your belief system, because what you believe will directly influence your behavior. This is why Jesus in verse 9 states that the Holy Spirit convicts non-Christians of unbelief. Another thing to note is that the word for convict used in this Scripture is the Greek word ‘elegcho,’ which means ‘to convince.’ God desires to convince non-Christians of their unbelief, so that they can come to believe and rest in the all-sufficiency of Jesus more and more, and find the successful, abundant life that God desires for them to have!
The solution to any and all areas of wrong behavior, of toxic emotions, and of failure is the finished work of Jesus, and hearing of the beauty and love of God as displayed in Christ. Hearing the good news will always inspire faith in our hearts, transforming our beliefs and giving us the abundant life freely (Romans 10:17; John 10:10).
Even as believers, we can sometimes believe, act, and live as if we were still in the domain of sin, but through the Gospel of grace message the Holy Spirit continually convinces us that in Christ, we have been rescued from the mess and mire of sinful, disobedient living (Colossians 1:12-13). Jesus has qualified us to live without sin and disobedience, to walk in step with His Spirit within us!
Another way that Jesus explained how God deals with those who are not producing healthy fruits (which many would view as disobedience) is in His metaphor of the vine and the branches in John 15:1-5:
1„I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
Pruning and being cut off (take away) sounds pretty painful, and legalists love to use this verse to say that unless we are obedient, we will find ourselves under the punishment of God. However, Scripture says no such thing. In fact, the Greek term for cutting off these unfruitful branches is actually the word ‘airō,’ which in this context clearly means ‘to elevate, raise up or lift up.’
The Wikipedia entry for vine training reveals that grapevines don’t produce fruit unless they are exposed to sunlight. If you don’t train/lift the branches, excessive shading will inhibit fruit production and encourage disease. A viticulturalist would never throw away a branch for that would be like amputating part of the vine. Unfruitful branches are lifted out of the dirt and re-dressed so they can be nourished by the sun.
In Greek, the word for pruning used in John 15 is ‘kathairō,’ more accurately translated in this verse as ‘cleansed.’ This is why Jesus declares to His disciples, who have been regularly hearing His words, ‘you are already clean (katharos) because of the word I have spoken to you.’ (verse 3). The pruning Jesus does is by renewing our mind or our thinking to the Truth. For example, after the disciples came back from being sent out with power and authority to heal and cast out demons (Luke 9:1), they started to argue about who was the greatest. Jesus corrected their thinking by saying that the one who is least among them is the greatest (Luke 9:46-48). By so doing, He pruned away their wrong thinking and He lifted the up to a higher place in Him!
So God’s cure for disobedience is heaping upon us grace after grace! (John 1:14, 16); it is to speak the Good News over our lives, elevating us with the message of Christ’s obedience on our behalf! As we soak up this message, we begin to understand how much God loves us, and we effortlessly manifest the fruits of God’s Spirit and walk in His obedience.
The Gospel message reveals to us the righteousness that we have obtained in Christ, and effortlessly produces God’s faith in our lives (Romans 1:17). Jesus does not want us to be self-focused – to live by faith in ourselves, where we are constantly under the mentality of ‘right vs. wrong’, or ‘disobedience vs. obedience’. Instead, as we remain in an atmosphere of grace, where we can hear and believe the Good News, that Good News continually convinces us to rest in Christ’s all-sufficiency, eradicating unbelief from our lives. Scripture calls this ‘the obedience of faith.’
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, (Romans 1:5, ESV)
25Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— (Romans 16:25-26, ESV)
- Faith comes from the Greek word pistis and it means “reliance upon Christ for salvation; constancy in such profession.”
- Obedience comes from the Greek word hypakoe and it means “an attentive hearkening to.”
So, the words “obedience of faith” in this verse means “an attentive hearkening to relying upon Jesus.” Obedience in the New Covenant is relying upon Jesus for your righteousness, provision, approval, blessing, favor, and strength to love others the way He loves us. It’s relying upon Jesus every moment of every day. You never stop relying on Jesus and what He’s done for you.
In addition, faith also means “constancy in such profession.” It means you are in constant agreement with the Father’s view of you in Christ. When you live by faith, you are constantly relying upon Jesus for everything you need, and speaking in agreement with who you are in Him. For instance, “I’m blessed because of Jesus;” “I’m righteous because of Jesus;” “I’m blameless, healed, whole and complete because of Jesus.” That’s faith because you are relying upon Jesus and not yourself.
The Gospel of Grace points us to Jesus and who we are in Him: we are perfect, favored, beloved, qualified, blameless and righteous in God’s sight because of what Jesus has done for us. Our righteousness is not based on anything we’ve done for Him, but based on everything Jesus has done for us.
So, obedience under the New Covenant is all about embracing grace. Every gift, blessing, and manifestation of our righteous, holy nature in the New Covenant comes through receiving, and not through achieving. Obedience is a gift of grace, springing forth from a revelation of how much the Father loves us. Obedience is received, not achieved, so, even our achievements are received through the finished work of Christ! Our lives are composed of grace through our Union with the God.
Branches cannot bear fruit but vines can and do so naturally, without any effort. As a branch you carry the nature of the True Vine in you and He will bear His fruit through you. He promised that! (Galatians 5:22-23)
The next time you’re faced with a problem or trial, take a moment to let Jesus love on you. Allow the Lifter of your head to turn your gaze from the dirt back to Himself and then bask in His love. He is already shining on you. He has already been gracious to you and blessed you and given you His peace. Receive it!