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What does the Bible say about obedience?

The Bible tells us that obedience is essential for a Christ follower. Even Jesus was "obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). But how is obedience defined for us? What does it mean to obey? Who should we be obedient to? How do we become obedient? Should we always obey those in authority over us—no matter what?

What is obedience?

Obedience is defined as "dutiful or submissive compliance to the commands of one in authority." That means it is our duty to submit to and follow the commands of those who have authority over us. As we live our lives as Christ followers, our duty is to submit to God's authority.

Jesus says that those who wish to follow Him must "deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). Acting in obedience to God means that we choose to follow what the Bible says to do and surrender to God's commands out of love for Him (John 14:15, 23-24).

Perfect Obedience NOT Required

Now, being a Christian does NOT mean that we must strictly obey a list of dos and do-nots or else God will strike us down. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day thought that obeying the Mosaic Law perfectly could earn their way into Heaven. They called themselves righteous because they could check off all the boxes, believing that God owed them a reward for their obedience.

Did we mention that the Pharisees would also pick and choose the parts of the Law they wanted to follow? They would split hairs about what exactly they should tithe to the church, yet completely ignore being merciful, just, or faithful (Matthew 23:23). Jesus pronounced woes upon these hypocrites for their insincere attempt at "obedience" (Matthew 23:27-28).

The Bible says that, without Christ, even our most righteous acts are seen as dirty rags (Isaiah 64:6). Following the Law perfectly is impossible and could never earn God's forgiveness of our sins. Thankfully, a simple faith in Christ DOES grant salvation (Galatians 2:16). God's grace for the process of our journey to be like Jesus is limitless (Hebrews 4:16).

Obeying the Law of Christ

Today, Christ followers are not bound to the Mosaic Law that God's people had been submitting to. After Jesus shed His blood for us, we entered what is called the New Covenant with God. Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Law, removing the requirement to obey those Laws to receive salvation (Matthew 5:17). This means that those who trust in salvation through Jesus are under the "Law of Christ," which grants us salvation through God's grace alone (Galatians 3:23-29).

Love is the foundation of the new commands that Jesus gave us (John 13:34). When asked, "What is the greatest commandment," Jesus answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40). Our job is to love God fully and completely and to love others as ourselves. When we follow Jesus’ commands to love, we are acting in dutiful obedience to God.

Defining Duty & Submission

Duty can also be seen as "obligation," but our obedience to God should not be seen as a burden or something we do begrudgingly. Ultimately, as Christians, we obey and submit to God not only out of duty but because we love Him (John 14:23).

God is a trustworthy authority over us (Proverbs 3:5-8), and His ways are greater and wiser than our own (Isaiah 55:8-9). We submit to God’s commands by putting aside a stubborn allegiance to our will and submitting to His. Jesus gave an excellent example of this when He knew He would face torture, ridicule, and death, yet He prayed, "Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine" (Luke 22:42 NLT). If we refuse to obey God, we are refusing to submit to His will (Luke 6:46).

Obeying Other Authorities

So what about obeying your parents? Your teachers? Your employer? Your government?

The Bible gives some specific instruction about obedience within the family. For example, Ephesians 6:1-3 says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.'" Loving parents have their kids' best interests at heart when they make rules for them to follow. Obeying your parents is an expression of love.

Obeying your teachers, your employer, or your government all kind of fall under the same category that is explained in Romans 13:1-7. When there is an authority over you, your duty is to submit to the rules and laws of that authority because God has put that authority over you. If there's a dress code at school or work, follow it. If there's a law that says to pay your taxes, then pay your taxes.

The only time we're allowed to disobey an authority in our lives is when that authority commands us to go against God or God's Word. When Peter and the apostles were told to stop teaching about Jesus, they responded, "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29).

As Christians, we must obey God in everything He commands in His Word, submit to His authority over us, and have a willingness to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Those who love God will have a natural desire to obey Him and His teachings. No, we won’t ever be perfect in our obedience to God, but that's OK. We can try our best to be obedient to God, and God will see and honor our efforts.

Obedience to God can be seen in our lives as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and in the way we love God and other people. Obeying Christ helps us to be a light to the dark world (Matthew 5:14-16).

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TL;DR

As Christians, obedience to God and submission to His authority is our duty. We obey God because it's our responsibility, but also because we love Him (John 14:23). We must also obey the authorities that God has put over us, including parents, teachers, employers, etc.—so long as they do not command us to go against God (Romans 13:1-7; Acts 5:29). Salvation cannot be earned by following the law perfectly. We are under the Law of Christ, which grants salvation through God's grace and commands us to love (Matthew 5:17; John 13:34).

By: Vivian Bricker

Vivian loves learning, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She is dedicated to helping people learn more about Jesus and is ready to help in any way she can. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, cooking, drawing, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, you can find her soaking up the sunshine or going on an adventure.

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