Obedience and Christian “Salvation”

What is salvation? I like to use the example of a saved drowning person. The saved person is the one who’s standing on the shore. The unsaved person is the one in the water, flapping their arms in the air and going under for the 3rd time.

It’s the same with Christian salvation. Peter likes to talk about escaping the corruption or pollution that is in the world through lust (2 Pet. 1:4; 2:20).  The writer of Hebrews describes people who are enlightened and taste of the heavenly gift and the power of the world to come (Heb. 6:4-5). Paul tells the Corinthians that they “were” unrighteous, but now they’re “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified.”

Those are impressive religious words, but if we don’t define them, then they don’t mean anything at all.

  • “Washed” means baptized. (Everyone–and I mean everyone–believed that from the time of the apostles until a 100 years after the Reformation. So if that’s not true, then the apostles didn’t know how to preach the Gospel.)
  • “Sanctified” means made holy. It means separated or set aside for the use of God.
  • “Justified” means made righteous. It literally means that. It’s a cousin to the adjective “righteous.” It’s popular today to define righteousness as nothing more than being seen as righteous by God. George MacDonald called this a “revolting legal fiction,” and that’s exactly what it is. “Justified” means to actually be made righteous so that you walk in righteousness (1 Jn. 3:7).

So how does one obtain all these things?

Obedience: The Path to Christian Salvation

The Bible makes the general statement that Jesus has become the author of salvation to all who obey him (Heb. 5:9). (Did you know the Bible said that?)

However, it has a lot more specific things to say about obtaining salvation by obedience.

At the top of this post, do you remember I defined salvation from drowning as standing on the shore? There are a lot of specific ways that you can see the fruit of your Christian salvation in the way of a transformed life. I’ve been listening to Psalms and Proverbs on tape the last couple days, and they have a LOT to say about that.

Obedience and Tangible Salvation in the Psalms

Let’s start with Ps. 111:10. It says:

A good understanding have all those who do his commandments.

I quote that a lot because Noah, the head elder of our church, quotes it a lot. What I didn’t realize is how often that’s repeated over the next 40 Psalms and the first few chapters of Proverbs.

It starts in the very next Psalm:

Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man that fears the Lord and takes great delight in his commandments.

His descendants shall be mighty on the earth.  The generation of the upright shall be blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in his house, and his righteousness will last forever. To the upright light will arise in the darkness; he is gracious, full of compassion, and righteous. (112:1-4)

Now that’s standing on the shore, rescued from drowning! That’s real, tangible salvation!

Psalm 112 goes on and gets better than that, but so do later Psalms. How about this incredible passage from Psalm 119. It’s not even just a promise. It’s what David says was his actual experience:

Through your commandments, you make me wiser than my enemies … I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients because I keep your precepts. … How sweet are your words to my taste! Sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding, therefore I hate every false way. (vv. 98-104)

Wow! You can’t beat that!

How’d David get so wise? How did he understand more than the ancients?

He kept God’s precepts.

A good understanding have all those who obey him.

Obedience and Tangible Salvation in the Proverbs

What sort of wisdom can you gain from Proverbs?

The proverbs of Solomon … to give subtlety to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear and increase learning; a man of understanding will obtain wise counsel to understand a proverb and its interpretation, to understand the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (1:1-7)

Proverbs is all about obeying God. Proverbs is practical wisdom. Leaf through the proverbs. They do not talk about esoteric things or deep theology. They talk about lending money, border disputes, laziness, getting up early, and a lot of other very down-to-earth, practical things.

But if you will obey, Jesus–who is the Wisdom of Proverbs–will give you understanding in all those other things.

If you try to get understanding of deep theology by study, then Paul tells you what will happen:

The purpose of the command is love out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have turned aside from this to empty words. The desire to be teachers of the law, but they don’t understand what they teach nor the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Tim. 1:5-7)

Solomon begins the Proverbs by telling his son–probably a general reference to any student listening to his Proverbs–to avoid stealing and murder and the people who steal and murder (1:10-18).

Pretty basic, isn’t it!

The fear of  the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, not deep study!

After saying only that, Solomon says that Wisdom is walking around in the streets, crying out to the simple, trying to get someone to listen.

So later, she says, when they are in trouble and crying out for her, she will not answer.

Why? Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord.

Discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you; to deliver you from the way of the evil man, from the man who speaks perverse things. (Prov. 2:11-12)

Do you want to be delivered from error? Obey God. Discretion will preserve you. Understanding will keep you.

Uprightness and Righteousness

This is really important. I don’t know where to put it or how to phrase it so that its importance is properly emphasized, but this is really important:

Uprightness is a choice; righteousness is a gift.

And the gift of righteousness is given to the upright in heart.

Ps. 36:10 reads:

Prolong your lovingkindness to those that know you, and your righteousness to the upright in heart.

Ps 112:4 says:

To the upright light arises in the darkness; he is gracious, compassionate, and righteous.

All these things are another way of saying what Hebrews 5:8 says. Jesus is the author of eternal  salvation to those that obey him.

Faith and obedience were intertwined in the Hebrew mind. Only we western legalists could conceive of something so utterly ridiculous as claiming to have faith in someone and then ignoring what he tells you.

Imagine a guide on an African safari. He’s leading a group through the jungle. One of the guys keeps patting him on the back and telling him, “I have faith in you.” However, the next time the group stops to rest, and the guide calls an end to the break and starts forward, Mr. I-have-faith-in-you says, “Hey, I thought this trip was by faith. I don’t have to do what you say.”

What do you think? Spiritual? Or just ridiculous?

  • The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them. (Prov. 11:6)
  • Righteousness keeps the one that is upright in the way. (Prov. 21:18)
  • He became the author of eternal salvation for them that obey him. (Heb. 5:9)
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10 Responses to Obedience and Christian “Salvation”

  1. Pingback: Finding the Truth: Do We Have Assurance or Must We Merit Salvation | The Rest of the Old Old Story

  2. Shammah says:

    I don’t think the Bible promises the kind of “definite” assurance you’re talking about.

    1 Pet. 1:17 says we’re supposed to be afraid because we’re going to be judged by our works. We may not like that, but that’s what it says.

    2 Pet. 1:5-11 says that we “make our calling and election sure” by “giving diligence” and “doing these things.” These things are adding to our faith virtue, knowledge, etc.

    This does not mean that God is a hard taskmaster with a big stick ready to bash you if you fall out of line. We are called to live in the favor of God, to know that if we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, and to know that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins.

    We have to get in line with what’s true, not panic and make the fact that we have to repent and live righteously into something awful and impossible.

    I do have confidence about my salvation. My brothers and sisters testify to the fact that the Spirit of God is working in me. The Spirit of God testifies that I’m God’s child.

    I do sin. In fact, compared to the great men and women of God that I admire, I’m a really awful Christian. I do have confidence that God is merciful. In fact, he abundantly pardons, and his mercies are new every morning.

    There’s a balance. We have to walk with God, let his Spirit assure our hearts, and live in the wonderful mercy of God. But we can’t make nothing of the Scriptures that say that only those who are worthy will walk with him in white (Rev. 3:4). There are so many Scriptures like that that there’s no way I could list them in a comment on a blog.

    I’m going to make my next blog post cover a lot of those Scriptures, though.

    One more thing. You said that an over-emphasis on works for assurance can lead to bondage and despair. Of course that’s true! If it’s an overemphasis, it’s true. But it’s the Bible that says that those who practice righteousness are righteous as Jesus is righteous (1 Jn. 3:7). It’s the Bible that says that those who practice the works of the flesh won’t inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21). We can’t ignore those things, and looking at them is not an “overemphasis” on works.

  3. Mark says:

    I personally fail to see how one’s obedience can give any definite assurance as it is always going to be imperfect no matter how good we are.

    I admit I do have an overly sensitive conscience, but it seems to me that an over emphasis on works for assurance (not obedience in general which is good) can easily lead to fear, bondage and despair – similar to the experience Luther had in his early days. It’s very difficult to love and serve God whole heartedly if one thinks he’s a hard task master with a big stick ready to bash you if you fall out of line.

    If I may be so bold as to ask this question, Shammah.

    Are you confident about your salvation? Are you living righteously enough to pass the judgement?

    Sorry if I sound a bit passionate, but this is a crucial issue for me.

  4. Pingback: The Rest of the Old Old Story » What Is the Gospel?

  5. Shammah says:

    Those are both legitimate questions.

    1. I do believe in assurance of salvation on the basis of 1 Jn. 1 John was written to give assurance of salvation (5:13) to those who obey Christ’s commands (2:3-4) and practices righteousness (3:7).

    Sorry if that’s frightening, but really, it’s stated so clearly you can’t miss it.

    I would add that if we sin, we have an advocate with the Father (2:1-2), and that if we walk in the light we can experience continual cleansing from sin (1:7).

    2. When I say all that, it’s legitimate to ask, at what point are we obedience enough to Christ’s commands and righteous enough to have his righteousness.

    I have two answers. One, the “line” is up to the Judge. Jesus will judge us, and we are supposed to be frightened about that judgment (1 Pet. 1:17). I regret that everyone hates that teaching nowadays, but it’s Scriptural, and it’s historic. It’s what the church taught from the very beginning.

    Two, the Scriptures say that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our Spirit that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16). John acknowledges this as well, while tying it again to obedience to Christ’s commands (1 Jn. 3:24). Paul, too, tied that witness to putting to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:12-13; 1 Cor. 9:27). He also tied it to walking by the Spirit (Gal. 6:7-9).

  6. Mark says:

    Question:

    Shammah, do believe there is such a thing as assurance of salvation? How can one know one is being obedient enough to merit eternal life?

  7. By “Roman” i meant R. Catholicism. “Infused” righteousness, in which a actual change occurs and thus the believer is declared righteous, is contrary to “imputed,” in which righteous is credited to the believer. While under the New Covenant saving faith results in regeneration by the incoming of the Holy Spirit (or precedes it if the Calvinists are right), and thus a righteous disposition, the Old Testament example shows this declared righteousness to be something acreditted to the believing soul by faith.

    While Abraham was a relatively righteous soul, he was counted as righteous due to His faith in God, believing that God was both willing and able to do as He promised. So that souls who effectually believes on the Lord Jesus and His blood for salvation. (Rm. 4)

    However, the promise cannot be divorced from the just who the Promiser is, that is the Lord Jesus, and faith, like love, constrains obedience consistent with the desire of its Object, in accordance with the light and ability one has.

    But while the only quality of faith is one that follows Christ, – a complete faith as James conveys – and thus we are judged by our works, it is not the merit of works that saves us, which idea Trent promoted, but the faith which worketh by love.

  8. Shammah says:

    Daniel Hamilton wrote:>>That is the Roman idea of “infused” righteousness, which is wrong,<<

    Well, obviously, I don't think it's wrong, and everything I've ever read has suggested that Roman, western thinking introduced a legal way of thinking. Hebrew thinking makes things practical and spiritual, not just legal.

    Thus, I don't think there's justification for suggesting infused righteousness comes from later Roman thinking.

    In the end, though, you're saying the only real faith produces works. Once you do that, there's no sense dodging what the Scriptures say repeatedly, which is that we're going to be judged by our works. However they come, they are required (Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 2:5-8; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17; etc.).

    The best way for them to come is for us to experience deliverance from the power of the flesh by faith in Christ (Rom. 8:1-4). At that point, it is up to us, however, to choose to walk in the Spirit (Rom. 8:12-13; Gal. 6:7-10).

  9. > “Justified” means to actually be made righteous so that you walk in righteousness (1 Jn. 3:7).<

    That is the Roman idea of “infused” righteousness, which is wrong, even if it is separated from the error that baptized infants are born again, thru proxy faith.

    One is in fact justified by imputed righteousness, but the only KIND of faith that appropriates this is one that will follow Christ, as the defining characteristic of his/her life. The “these things” of 1Jn. 5:13 refers to what overall constitutes that faith, and I understand your contrast.

    In salvfically believing and calling upon the Lord Jesus to save them comes a recognition of who He is, and that faith works to bring one to act in accordance with that recognition, in gratitude and reverence of who He is, and which response will vary in accordance with both the gratitude and light of who God and His Divine Son is.

    As for baptism (or was that another page?) , that is wrongly minimized today, in response to those on the other extreme, who make it the only time when a soul can call upon the Lord Jesus for salvation.

    In seeking to reconciling both, and consistent with the requirement that faith be that of a confessional quality, (Rm. 10:9,10) I think baptism can be a “sinner’s prayer” in body language, and in the Bible that act is normally concomitant with salvation. Like a ring in a marriage, but by no means empty symbolism, anymore than failing to recognize other members of the body during the Lord’s supper. (1Cor. 11:20-30)

    Not that one cannot be born again before being baptized, as the Gentiles in Acts 10 were, (cf. Acts 11:14) but baptism is the initial official normative expression of saving faith, and which can take place anywhere, even in a desert, for those who repent and believe with all their heart, which excludes infants (who i do not think need to be saved). Praise be to God.

  10. Eliel says:

    Wow… good preaching….Shammah, lift your voice like a trumpet and declare what burns in your heart….”Do not fear the one who can only kill your body, but fear Him who can take your body and soul and cast it into Hades’….

    Eliel

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