Chapter 8 of Saving Faith

Obedience: Evidence of a Saving Faith

by Bernie Koerselman
  



Table of Contents
 Evidence of a Saving Faith  

At the outset we must understand what we are saying and what we are not saying.  This is because there are recurrent attempts in many denominations and sects of the Christian religion to create a "works" theology in which we must do certain things to be saved.  Usually those "Christian" groups will agree that Jesus' death reconciled us to God, but they will usually say there is something more we must do to be saved.

The extreme opposite is that believers don't have to do anything, that salvation is all by the grace of God, and that if anything were required of a believer it would create a salvation by "works" and thus deny the grace of God.

I experienced that extreme position in a Friday morning Bible study I attended.  The leader's first statement was, "People just don't realize how simple the gospel is, that all anyone has to do is to accept Jesus as their Savior in order to have eternal life."

I thought to myself, "This is starting badly."  You know from this book's earlier chapters that there is no basis whatever in Scripture for his statement -- that eternal life results from accepting Jesus as Savior.  But it got worse.

The leader then said, "The next problem people have is in believing that salvation is a free gift, that there is absolutely nothing for us to do."

Another fellow chimed in. "Yes, once you accepted Jesus as your Savior you're just along for the ride."

Contrary to those statements, in order to be a believer we do have to do something.  That something is to have a saving faith. But what we do isn't to earn salvation; it is to qualify for it.  All are not saved; only those with a saving faith have eternal life.

Let's look at an example to see what it means to qualify for salvation through faith.

Consider the following hypothetical situation.  Suppose I owned a vacant lot.  A church wanted to buy the lot from me, but I refused to sell.  Instead, I offered the church the lot free, as a gift.  I included in my offer, as a condition of the gift, that the church could have the lot only so long as they continued to use it as a place of worship.  To satisfy the condition, three criteria were established by the gift deed.  The church was required to construct a building, hold regular weekly worship services in it, and continue to maintain the building in a presentable fashion for worship purposes.

My gift to the church was absolutely free.  The church did not pay me for the lot nor could they earn it.  The church happily accepted my terms, built a sanctuary, and held regular weekly services for years.  The church grew and finally outgrew the sanctuary on my lot.  The church leaders decided to build a new larger sanctuary elsewhere as my lot was too small to accommodate it.

The church built the new facility and began to hold their worship services in their new facility.  The sanctuary on my lot was no longer used; however, the church wanted to continue to have the lot available to them.  They invited me to special meetings and gave me special favors.  Women from the church brought pies to me from time to time, and boys from the congregation came by and mowed my lawn.

The ownership of the lot, however, reverted to me.  The condition of the gift deed had been that the church continue to use the property as a place of worship.  One of the criteria to satisfy that condition was being violated: the church no longer held regular weekly worship services there; therefore, the church was no longer obedient to the condition.

Just as I gave the church the lot (which the church was unable to buy) on which to build, so God gives us the free gift of salvation, which we cannot buy or earn by our efforts or good works.

Just as I established one condition for the gift of my lot to the church, God established one condition – a saving faith – for his free gift of salvation.  No amount of church attendance, church membership, generous gifts, Sunday School teaching, church pastoring, or missionary work will qualify us for salvation.

As we've seen in the prior chapter, believers are not just along for the ride.  A saving faith will be expressed in visible ways.

James said that our faith – if it is a saving faith – must be visible. I see three visible signs of a saving faith – obedience, fruit, and good works – three different perspectives2 by which anyone can tell there is something different and special about us because of our faith.3  Let's look at them in what I perceive to be the order of their emphasis in God's Word.
 

Obedience That Comes from Faith

After Paul told the Romans about the call on his life, he explained that the Lord Jesus Christ appointed him an apostle to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.4  What kind of obedience?  The obedience that comes from faith.

Paul closed the book of Romans with a similar thought.  In a doxology of praise to God, he said that Jesus Christ was revealed so that all nations might believe and obey him.Paul didn't say just "believe" or just "obey."  First we must believe.  From our belief comes our obedience – the obedience that comes from faith.

"That comes from" are key words.  From a saving faith come the signs that make the faith visible.  When it's the other way around, people may strive to have the signs and not have the faith.6

The signs come naturally from a true saving faith.  A striving Christianity isn't true Christianity.  Jesus said his yoke is easy, his burden is light.7  We know Jesus doesn't lie.  If I find being yoked to Jesus isn't easy, if my burden isn't light, it's time for me to find out what I'm missing in my faith, or what's wrong with my faith.8

 
 What Are We to Obey?
After his resurrection, Jesus gave instructions to his disciples; future generations have called them the great commission.  He said, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."9

How is what Jesus commanded related to the commands of God?  Jesus told us, "For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.  I know that his command leads to eternal life.  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say."10

Jesus, the perfectly obedient son who is our model, did and said only what God, his Father, told him to do and say.  Thus, all the teachings and commands of Christ are also the express will of God the Father.
 

Is It Hard to Obey?

I get many different responses from people whom I confront with the idea of obeying the teachings and commands of Jesus.  It has always surprised me that most responses are highly defensive:  "No one can perfectly obey" or, "It's not possible to obey."  Others object, saying "That's legalism."  Are their responses true?

Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."11

It is Jesus who said we're to obey.12  He doesn't think it an impossible task.  Just the opposite.  Jesus said it's easy, a light burden.  He said we'll find rest for our souls!

The Apostle John understood this when he said:

"This is love for God: to obey his commands.  His commands are not burdensome."13
Perhaps it's hard to obey if our spirit isn't right.  On the other hand, if we seek to obey the Lord Jesus because we believe in him as our Lord and because we trust him and love him, it's not hard.  Under those circumstances, to disobey is unnatural; to obey is natural.  Once we have become a new creature in Christ, our nature is truly changed.14  We no longer wish to follow the old sinful nature.  We now wish to follow the way of the Spirit.15

Paul concurred.  When he talked about obedience, he often contrasted the old nature – the sinful nature – with the new nature of the Spirit.  He said, "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace."16  A life of obedience is characterized by life and peace.

I think we can agree that the Spirit of God will not tell us that it is difficult, hard, or impossible to obey the teachings and commands of Christ.  Which spirit(s) do you suppose would say such a thing?

 
Whom Do We Obey?
Many would say they obey no one but themselves.  The New Age movement teaches that we're all gods.  Naturally as gods we'll obey only what we determine is right and good for ourselves.

Scripture says otherwise.  Paul gives only two alternatives.  He says we all obey.  In fact, he says we're all slaves to the one we obey.  We're either slaves to sin17 or to obedience (to God),18 which leads to righteousness.19

Paul contrasts our choices still another way.  He states that the nonbeliever offers the parts of his body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness.  He states the believer must offer the parts of his body in slavery to righteousness20 leading to holiness.21  Peter said that we actually purify ourselves by obeying the truth.22

Perhaps Paul chose the term slave because the paramount characteristic of a slave is obedience.23  The Master of true believers is the Lord Jesus.  He asked, "Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?"24  Jesus regards it as hypocrisy to call him "Lord" but not to obey him.  Perhaps the ultimate oxymoron is to call Jesus "Lord" but claim there's no need to obey him.
 

Christians Will Obey

How can I be sure that Christians will obey?  Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command."25  If God is our Father,26 we will love the Lord Jesus.27  If someone truly loves Jesus, he will obey him.

Your logical response may be, "I know lots of people who claim to be Christians but don't obey Christ's commands."  Jesus responded to that. "He who does not love me will not obey my teaching."28

Suppose you say, "I'm a Christian but I don't obey Christ's commands."  In that case, Jesus said you don't love him.29  Do you really think you can be a Christian and not love Jesus?

 
Christ's Command: Love One Another
There were many teachings and commands that Jesus gave his disciples and one great command summarizes all of them. Jesus said,
"A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another."30
Do you remember that our obedience comes from our faith and that faith is to be visible?  See what Jesus said after he gave this command: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."31

Our faith is visible through our love for one another in obedience to the Lord's command.32  Jesus said it will be.
 

God's and Christ's Example

God requires that our faith be visible, that we have an obedience that comes from faith, and that we be obedient to the command to love one another.  That means that the love we have, one for the other, must be shown through our actions.

God gave us an example to follow.  It was how he showed his love for us.  He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.33  His coming was not a secret matter.  No, God publicly became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, an historical figure who was seen and touched.34  God showed us that this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.35

Did Jesus publicly show his love for us?  Indeed he did!  All of his miracles demonstrated his love.  He healed the sick, he fed the hungry, he raised the dead.  He gave us the ultimate example of what love is and how to show our love:  He laid down his life for us in a public spectacle on a cross.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.36

Each time we see a cross, it should remind us of God's love for us in giving his Son, of Christ's love for us, and his example of how we are to love each other.

 
Definition of Love
The meaning of love as used in Scripture to define the love relationship between God and man, man and God, and us to others is very special.  It comes from the Greek word agape.  It expresses that highest and noblest form of love which sees something infinitely precious in its object.37

That definition isn't hard to understand when we think of our love toward God.  If we know God, he is infinitely precious to us.  Isn't it wonderful to think that God thinks of us as infinitely precious in his sight?

Perhaps the most life-changing love is when we are able to love others by seeing them as infinitely precious to us.  How differently we treat people when we think of them in this way.  How different their response is to us when we speak and act that way.

This is the love to which we are called by Jesus.
 

The Law of Christ

There is a new law since the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul called it Christ's law38 and he described how to fulfill it:  "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.39  He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.40  Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."41

Paul said of Christ's law, "The entire law is summed up in a single command:  "Love your neighbor as yourself."42

James agreed.  He said that if you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right.43

John said that was the theme of Christ's teaching:  "This is the message you heard from the beginning:  We should love one another."44

 
Christ's Law Is God's Command.
John said that God commanded two principal things of us:  (1) To believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and (2) to love one another as Jesus commanded us.45
 
Are We Known for Our Love?
Jesus said we are to be known – visible – because of the love we have for one another.  Am I known for my love?  Are you?  What if we are not?  Shouldn't that be reason to take stock of ourselves?  Paul exhorted us:
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?46
One of the tests is how we fulfill the law of Christ – to love one another – by helping our brothers.47  Such a test was stated in parable form by Jesus.  The setting was the final judgment when Jesus (the King) will separate the people before him as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.  The group on the King's right fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, invited in strangers, clothed those who needed clothing, and visited the sick and those in prison.  The group on his left didn't.  The King rewarded with eternal life those who helped their brothers.  He condemned the others to eternal punishment.48

At this point we must be very clear.  Did Jesus grant eternal life to those on his right for their works?  Absolutely not.  Their reward was for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ which was shown to be real – mad>by actions.

Let's go back and look at the example James used.  "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, `Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?"49  James concluded:  "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."50

The parable of the sheep and the goats describes James' teaching.  When those on the King's right found a brother or sister without clothes and daily food they gave that person clothes and food.  The ones on the left didn't.  They may have said, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed."  Those with faith accompanied by action had a living saving faith.  Those who had no action had a dead faith and were condemned by the King.

We are talking about faith, not works.  We must have a visible faith – one made evident by our actions and speech in our daily life.

 

Salvation Is for the Doers of God's Will

Jesus emphasized that everything he taught was the will of God.   He said that everything he did and everything he said was only what God told him to do and to say.51

Christ's command that we are to love one another is the command of God.52  Jesus taught us what God the Father told him to say.  Consider then this warning from Jesus:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."53
Christ's law, given by God the Father, is that we are to love one another as Jesus loves us.  That is God's express will for all true believers.  According to the above scripture, only those who do that will enter heaven.

Those who don't do God's will – love one another – are like those in the parable of the sheep and the goats who didn't show their love toward their brothers by their actions and who were condemned by the King.  Read what Jesus said will happen to those who don't do God's will.  Again the setting is the final judgment where Jesus is judging:

"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 perform many miracles?'
"Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!'"54
Did we read that right?  Those people addressed Jesus as Lord!   They prophesied in Christ's name, drove out demons and performed many miracles.  And yet they were condemned!?!  How can that be?

The answer is simple.  The law of Christ is to love one another.  No matter what we do, even if it appears to advance the kingdom of God, if it isn't done in love, God doesn't count it.  Does that sound familiar?  The Apostle Paul said the same thing:

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.55

That's exactly what Jesus said.  Though the people appearing before Jesus in the judgment prophesied in his name, drove out demons and performed miracles, Jesus said he never knew them.  They didn't obey his primary command to love one another.56  And they were condemned.
 

Can Everyone Do God's Will?

 Without question, there is no one incapable of doing God's will in the manner God intends.57 Paul said, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."58  He expressed what is available to all of us.  When he speaks of doing everything, he's not talking about flying to the moon without a rocket.  He is talking about doing anything and everything God wants him to do.  God never asks us to do anything for which he does not provide sufficient power and strength.  He may ask everything we have as well, but we can know that he will supply all that we lack.
 
The Process of Obedience
All of us have bad habits.  New Year's resolutions often express the desire to correct them.  So it is with sin and disobedience.  We have bad habits from our sin nature.  Even though we've submitted willingly to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we've got those terrible old habits in our lives.

Paul recognized that when he urged the Romans, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will."59  As we are transformed, as our mind is renewed, we will see more and more clearly God's will for our lives.  Paul said we are being transformed (a process) into the likeness of our Lord Jesus.60

When we try to get rid of bad habits, it's a training process and sometimes a difficult one.  So also for the Christian.  The mature Christian is one who has trained himself to distinguish good from evil.61

Getting rid of bad habits can be discouraging.  A habit occurs naturally, without our thinking about it.  We must gain awareness of it in order to be able to defeat it.  Witness the countless people who've tried to overcome smoking or substance abuse.  Ingrained sin62 can be as difficult to overcome.  Perhaps that's why Scripture speaks so much of the need for encouragement and that one of the gifts of the Spirit is encouragement.63  Instead of judging one another, let's do the loving thing; let's encourage one another and build each other up.64  Together we can live to please God.65
 

Salvation for Those Who Obey

We saw in the prior section examples of the parables of the sheep and the goats and of the people rejected at the judgment who didn't do the will of God.  Both showed that those who refused to obey Christ's commands were condemned, but that those who showed their love for their fellow man by their actions were granted eternal life.  It is those whose faith was visible – shown through their obedience – who were saved.  They were the ones who did God's will.  By their actions they showed their love for one another.

The theme is recurrent in Scripture.  Those who believe in the Son (who have the visible obedience that comes from faith) have eternal life; but those who do not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on them.66  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.67  The Lord Jesus Christ became the source of salvation for all who obey him.68

 
We'll Be Judged by What We've Done
We're not talking about salvation by works.  Please remember that Scripture is clear that we are saved by faith.  Nevertheless, it repeatedly tells us that our faith must be seen through our actions.  Our actions show and prove our faith.

In the parables of the sheep and the goats69 and the account of the judgment of those who had prophesied and done miracles,70 the people who were condemned seemed surprised.  They seemed to think that their idea of what was acceptable to God was sufficient for salvation.  They seemed to think they could say they had faith and that was supposed to satisfy God.

They were warned.  Paul taught that God "will give to each person according to what he has done."71  What Paul said wasn't new; he quoted the Psalmist who had written the same hundreds of years before.72

When the Apostle John saw the vision of the Great White Throne judgment, he saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Another book was opened, which is the book of life.  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.73  The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.74

Jesus told the Apostle John, "Behold, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done."75

Action Means Doing
Paul explained that to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, God will give eternal life.  But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.76

What is "doing good"?  It is living in love, showing our love for one another by our actions.  That's why Paul exhorted us to not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we don't give up.  He said, "As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."77

The opposite are those who are self-seeking, who have self-love.  They reject the truth – Christ and his commands.78  They serve themselves and follow evil; God's wrath remains on them.79

It isn't those who sit in the pews every Sunday hearing God's word who are necessarily righteous in God's sight.  It is those who obey Christ's law to love one another who will be declared righteous.80  They will not be considered righteous for their obedience.  They will be considered righteous for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ which expressed itself in love for one another in obedience to his command.

Apparently speaking of those who were professing to be Christians, the Apostle John warned that we should not let anyone lead us astray.  He gave us a test:  "He who does what is right is righteous, just as God is righteous;81 you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him."82

 

The Disobedient Don't Do Good

The Apostle John also defined those who don't satisfy God's requirements.  He knew some people's belief is all talk.83  Of them he said that the man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.84  Of those who claim to love, but don't show it in their actions, he said, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."85

John knew about the churchgoers who claim to be Christians yet live worldly lives, who live in spiritual darkness.  Of them he said, "If we claim to have fellowship with God yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth."86

The opposite of doing good is doing what is bad, doing what is sinful.  John said:  "He who does what is sinful is of the devil."87

What about those who don't do what they know is right?  For example, those who know that Christians are to love one another, yet don't show love in their actions?  John was blunt:  Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.88
 

The Disobedient Hate Their Brothers

If true Christians love their brothers, what about those who are disobedient?  John had much to say about them.  He said, "If anyone says, `I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.89  Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness90 and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.91  Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him."92
 

The Disobedient Love the World

An alternative to loving one another is loving the world.  Where fun and riches abound, it seems easy to love the world.  But that is the opposite of loving one another. John warned us not to love the world or anything in the world.  He said that if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.93  For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.94  Everything in the world is self-centered, the opposite of the person who is known for the love he has for his brother.
 

The Disobedient Continue in Sin

The Apostle John revealed standards that are uncomfortable for the American culture.  For example, do you think the Apostle John would approve of the sexual sin in America?  Many so-called Christians do.  Attending church and claiming to be Christians, couples live together outside of marriage.  Others wallow in pornography, lust after the opposite sex, some are adulterers, yet hold themselves out as Christians.  Are they?  Do they have a saving relationship with God?  Are they merely backsliders?   Read what John said.
No one who lives in Christ keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.95  No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.96
A fair reading says that those people who continue in sin have no salvation.

Lest you misunderstand, John didn't say that true Christians would never sin.  He said if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.97  We are not perfect.  Yet for the Christian, John expects the pattern of sin to be broken, that sinning will be an infrequent event, not a continuous course of action as it may have been prior to following Jesus as Lord.

 

Blessings from Obedience

Those who obey Jesus with the obedience that comes from faith have wondrous special blessings.  The blessings include not only intimate relationships with Jesus but extend to salvation itself.  Let's look at some.
 

Friendship with Jesus Is for the Obedient

Can everyone say they are friends of Jesus?  I suppose they can.  But Jesus defined his friends this way, "You are my friends if you do what I command."98  What did Jesus command?  Jesus commanded that we are to love one another as he loves us.99
 

Being Set Free Is for Those Who Obey

Many Christians like to talk about how they are free in Christ.  Often they quote, "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."100

Few seem to know the condition attached to that blessing.  Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.101  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."102

What is the summation of his teaching?  Through his actions, his example, and his words, Jesus taught that we are to love one another.

Ask Whatever You Wish if You Obey

Many Christians also like Christ's promise, "ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you."103  They often forget the condition preceding the promise, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you."104  What are Jesus' words?  We know they are summarized by his command:  Love one another as I have loved you.

The same teaching came from the Apostle John:  If our hearts don't condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.105  Perhaps John's teaching shows what it means to remain in Jesus and have his words remain in us.  There are three qualifications to the promise:  (1) we must not be in sin (or our hearts will condemn us), (2) we must obey the commands of God (whatever Jesus commanded and taught), and (3) we must do what pleases him.106

There are two commands of God listed by John:  (1) to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and (2) to love one another as Jesus commanded us.107
 

Special Love Is Given by God to the Obedient

God loved the world before mankind even knew him.108  But there is a special love that God has for the true believer, the one who is obedient to him.109  Jesus told us about that love and how it relates to obedience:
"Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.  He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."110
Jesus emphasized that truth by stating it again:
"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."111
God the Father and Jesus our Lord love specially those who obey the commands of Jesus.  They come to us and make their home with us through the Holy Spirit.
 

The Obedient Remain in Christ's Love

We all want the assurance of being loved by one another, of being loved by God, of having salvation.  We know that we are happiest when we feel loved and secure.

How can we have the assurance that we will be loved by God and will have eternal life?

Jesus promised, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love,112 just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."113

The Apostle John understood.  He wrote, "We know that we have come to know him (Jesus) if we obey his commands.  The man who says, `I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him."114

Our only requirement to remain in his love is to obey what Jesus has taught us.  Then we can experience his love, have security in our relationship with him, and our joy will be complete.
 

The Holy Spirit Is Given to Those Who Obey

To whom is the Holy Spirit given?  I've always heard that when a person is converted, God gives the Holy Spirit to dwell in him.  That is true.  I've also heard that all "Christians" have the Holy Spirit within them.  That is also true, but it isn't true for the large number who call themselves Christians but have never received Jesus Christ as their Lord.  I often wondered, before I undertook a study of this, why many people who claimed to be Christians had no evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  Let me show you what I found.

I was studying John 14 when I got the first obvious key.  First Jesus explained to his disciples that he was going to leave them and what would happen after he was gone.  Then he said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."115  Unmistakably, Jesus was telling the disciples how they would receive the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said if we love him we will obey him and he will do something for us.  He will ask the Father and the Father will give us the Holy Spirit.  That's a promise, but a conditional one.  We will receive the Holy Spirit from the Father if we love and obey Jesus.

I wondered if that relationship really was true, if I understood that correctly.  Then I came across the account of Peter defending the disciples before the Sanhedrin.  Speaking about the Holy Spirit, Peter said, "We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."116

That was exciting.  It stated that those who obey God receive the Holy Spirit; it fully corroborated the passage in John 14.

Further proof was found in John's letters.  "If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit."117  The condition, "if we love one another," is obedience to the law of Christ.  Jesus said he would ask the Father to give us the Holy Spirit if we obey his commands.  To love one another is Jesus' primary command to his followers.

Jesus restated his promise of the Holy Spirit another way.  "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."118  Jesus and the Father live within us through the Holy Spirit.

At least five times, Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey the teachings and commands of the Lord Jesus Christ.119

 

The First Commandment

Have we missed something?  If you're a student of Scripture, you may be uneasy, thinking that all we've said so far is true, but something is missing.

You are right.  Something was missing, but now you'll see how wonderful Scripture is, how God ties everything together perfectly.

So far we've really concentrated on man's relationship to man – Christ's command to love one another.  What about our relationship to God?  Isn't that the most important?  Of course it is.  When asked what the most important commandment is, Jesus replied:

"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.'"120
You may properly remind me that I've shown that there is a new law, the law of Christ, and we've seen that it is summarized by the command to love one another as Christ loves us.  You may be asking, "Where in Christ's law is the command to love God?"  But before I answer that question let's first consider what it means to love God.
 

What Is Love for God?

You and I think differently than God about what constitutes love.  Our culture has taught us that it may be equated with passion.  Sometimes it is defined as strong affection or caring deeply for another, usually in family or personal relationships.  Puppy love is infatuation.

Christians have sometimes attached their cultural definitions to their ideas of what constitutes love for God.  That is wrong indeed.  The only definition of love for God that we must use is God's definition.  That's different than our cultural views.

To paraphrase Jesus' most important command, "We're to love the Lord our God with part of our heart, with part of our soul, and with part of our mind."  Does that sound right?  That paraphrase seems wrong, doesn't it?  Have we ever considered that the paraphrase may represent how we actually love God, rather than as Christ commanded?

The command is to love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind.  How much is left over to love ourselves?  Nothing!  Scripture doesn't tell us to love ourselves.121  Instead, as an act of worship and love for God, we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to him.122
 

Obedience Is a Natural Expression of Love for God

The Apostle John, who wrote about love more than did all the other apostles, defined what love for God is:  This is love for God: to obey his commands.123

Obedience is love for God?  Yes, in the same way that our faith must be visible to be acceptable to God.  Obedience to his commands makes our love for him visible and proves it is real.

Though in Greek there are three words used for love, only one word is ever used to express man's love for God.  Doubtless you've guessed it is agape.  In the classical Greek, agape expresses that highest and noblest form of love which sees something infinitely precious in its object.124

If God is seen by us as infinitely precious in our sight, isn't it perfectly natural that we will obey him if he asks us to?  He has  asked.  He has commanded us to obey him, and to obey the teachings and commands of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thus, it's natural that the Apostle John can say that obeying the commands of God is love for God.  It's consistent with all we've seen before – our love for God is made visible by our obedience to his commands.

Just as faith without action is dead, so love for God without obedience is dead.  John warned that if anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother – disobeys God's commands – he is a liar.125

 
Related to Love for Others
It is obedience to Christ's law – his command to love one another – that constitutes love for God.126  John emphasized that whoever loves God must also love his brother.127  Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.128
 
God Rewards Those Who Love Him
God has special feeling – agape love129 – and blessings for those who love him.  Paul expressed his understanding this way, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."130  No matter how much you've tried to imagine the blessings and wonder of heaven, they are more than that.

The most practical day-to-day application of my faith is the promise told by Paul to the Romans:  "In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."131  Could anything be more reassuring?  No matter how grim the circumstances, I know that the Almighty God and my Lord Jesus will work that situation for my good and for his glory.132
 

Obedience to the Second Satisfies the First

God's word is incredible, isn't it?  By now you see that when we satisfy Christ's law, summarized by his command that we love one another as he loved us, we show our obedience to the first and greatest commandment, to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.
 
Proved by Salvation
Remember the parable of the sheep and the goats?  Jesus, as King, was judging the people.  He didn't separate them by who said they loved God and who did not.  They were separated based on those who had shown acts of love toward others and those who hadn't.  Salvation – eternal life – was granted to those who showed their love; eternal damnation was for those who did not.133

Likewise, Jesus taught that those who appear before his throne at the final judgment who have not done the will of God – not loved their fellow man – will never enter heaven.134  Their judgment will not be based on whether they professed to have a saving faith but on what they did, on their obedience or lack of obedience to Christ's law to love one another.

Over and over Scripture states that our faith and our love is demonstrated through our actions.
 

End-Time Prophecy Fulfilled

Referring to the time at the end of the age, Jesus said, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.135

To what could Jesus have been referring?  Do you remember what characterizes love for God?  Yes, it's obedience.  You remember that Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey me.136  Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me."137

Isn't it true that we observe less and less obedience to the commands of Christ among professing Christians?  Isn't it also true that many churches no longer teach the need to be obedient to Christ, instead claiming that all one has to do to have eternal life is to believe in Jesus as one's personal Savior?  Indeed, the love of most is growing cold.

Serious heresies within the church have led untold millions into a false faith, what James would call a dead or useless faith.  The heresies have caused people to have the wrong object of their faith, claiming that salvation may be had by accepting Jesus as their Savior.  They've further emasculated a saving faith by claiming that salvation is all from God, by grace, and there is nothing for us to do.

We've seen innumerable examples from Scripture that show that it is the visible faith that is a saving faith; faith that is visible from our actions.  In addition, we've learned that obedience to Christ's law is the way we show our love for God.  Just as a saving faith must be visible, so our love for God must be visible.



Footnotes

1. The Jews asked Jesus: "What must we do to do the works God requires?" The Jews were used to having to do many things, e.g. make sacrifices, tithe, etc. Jesus didn't say, "Nothing at all. It's all been done for you." No, he answered them directly: "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent" (John 6:28-29). Some could claim that Jesus said that is something God is to do, it is the "work of God." That is nonsense. God does not have to believe in the one he has sent. We do. That point is proved a few verses later when Jesus said, "My Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40). Our work (singular) is this: to believe - to have a saving faith.
2. Obedience, fruit and good works are different but can be related. They should not be thought of as rigid different categories, but rather as different perspectives by which the evidence of our faith can be seen. Obedience can be thought of as both a fruit of faith and as a good work resulting from faith. Nevertheless, it is treated separately in Scripture and is discussed separately here.
3. Life-style evangelism is the witness for the Lord Jesus Christ resulting from a life which displays visible evidence of a saving faith. Under extreme persecution, the early church when may have spread mostly from life-style evangelism because to openly speak of one's faith invited death. Even now, there is nothing more attractive to the unbeliever than the lives of those submitted to Jesus as their Lord. Everyone wants love and joy and peace; unbelievers want to know how they can have them when they see them in the life of a believer.
4. Romans 1:5.
5. Romans 16:26.
6. This result comes from Roman Catholic teachings. It has a series of requirements for its followers. When they do the signs, the Church claims they have will have eternal life. No longer is faith important; the signs are all-important. It becomes salvation by works.
I'm reminded of the fire in a fireplace. What results? If we stand close we feel radiant heat. There is the flicker of the flame. If wood is burning, there's the crackle and smell. But we can get simulated fires. It can look real, but closer it lacks the reality of a real fire, no heat or crackle or smell.
Works of a professing Christian who has no saving faith, who has not been born again, who is not a new creation in Christ Jesus, is like the simulated fireplace. At a distance he may look okay, but the closer we look, the more we notice reality is lacking. It may be the true love (the heat) is lacking. It may be his fire is inconsistent, seeming to be on one minute and absent the next.
7. Matthew 11:30.
8. The Apostle John assured us that Christ's commands are not burdensome (I John 5:3).
9. Matthew 28:19-20. We can read the Gospels and find out what Jesus said. The subsequent writings of the Apostles only expanded upon what Jesus said. All the New Testament is our guide.
10. John 12:49-50. See also John 14:10: "Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work." Jesus said it again, "He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me" (John 14:24).
11. Matthew 11 :29-30.
12. Two examples: John 14: 15, "If you love me you will obey my commands." Matthew 28: 19-20, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
13. I John 5:3.
14. Romans 8:9, 13-14.
15. Romans 8:5.
16. Romans 8:6.
17. Jesus taught the same: "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (John 8:34).
18. At Romans 6:22, Paul makes clear any ambiguity, stating that believers have become slaves to God.
19. Romans 6:16.
20. This is not imputed righteousness (Colossians I :21 -23), but rather John's definition: He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil (1 John 3 :7-8). These are the same contrasts Paul uses in the text.
21. Romans 6:19.
22. 1 Peter 1:22.
23. It's not attractive to think of being slaves to sin (or Satan). Yet, we're slaves either to sin or to God. More than that, Jesus said either God or Satan is our father. The setting was a dispute with the religious leaders. Jesus didn't pull his punches: "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. l have not come on my own; but he sent meYou belong toyourfather, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of liesHe who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God" (John 8:42,44,47).
24. Luke 6:46. When God spoke from the cloud when Jesus was transfigured, he told the disciples, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him" (Luke 9:35). The command of God is to hear and obey his Son.
25. John 14:15.
26. If God is our Father, then we have been born again and are new creatures in Christ.
27. Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me" (John 8:42).
28. John 14:24.
29. The inevitable result of John 14:15: "If you love me, you will obey my commands."
30. John 13:34.
31. John 13:35.
32. Jesus gave this command again, adding his own example: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15: 12-13).
33. 1 John 4:9.
34. One of the ways in which the Apostle John validated his testimony about Jesus. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:1-3).
35. 1 John 4:10.
36. 1 John 3: 16.
37. The New Bible Dictionary (1979), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan.
38. 1 Corinthians 9:21.
39. Galatians 6:2.
40. Romans 13:8.
41. Romans 13:10.
42. Galatians 5:14.
43. James 2:8.
44. 1 John 3:11.
45. 1 John 3:23.
46. 2 Corinthians 13:5.
47. Galatians 6:2.
48. Matthew 25:31-46. The parable is slightly different in its wording than many detect. Did you notice that Jesus did not use the term neighbor, but used the term brother. Further, he said "for one of the least of these brothers of mine." Who are the brothers of Jesus? Jesus answered that question by pointing to his disciples and saying, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:49-50). Paul taught the same: Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6: 10).
49. James 2:15-16.
50. James 2:17.
51. John 7:16, 12:49-50, 14:24, 31.
52. 1 John 3:23.
53. Matthew 7:21.
54. Matthew 7:22-23.
55. 1 Corinthians 13:2-3.
56. From that we know that such people did not love Jesus, God was not their Father, they were not born again, and they were not new creations in Christ Jesus.
57. This is not to say that we are to achieve perfection, that God expects us never to sin and always to be perfect in every aspect of our speech and actions. Quite the contrary. Our gracious God sent his Son to be in a human body, to be tempted as we are, though he was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus and God, our Father, understands our human condition. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4: 16). Jesus is our role model. We are to try to be like him. It is by sincerely trying that we will please our Heavenly Father. Most important is that everything we do and say be done in love. When all is done in love, we are doing everything within God's character; God is love.
58. Philippians 4:13.
59. Romans 12:2.
60. 2 Corinthians 3: 18.
61. Hebrews 5:14.
62. Examples may be anger, jealousy, gossip, negativism, unforgivingness, lust, and sexual immorality.
63. Romans 12:8.
64. 1 Thessalonians 5:11.
65. 1 Thessalonians 4:1.
66. John 3:36.
67. 1 John 2:17.
68. Hebrews 5:9. John heard the angel describe the saints as those who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus (Revelation 14:12). John also described the true believers as those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12:17).
69. Matthew 25:31-46.
70. Matthew 7:21-23.
71. Romans 2:6.
72. Psalm 62:12. At the conclusion of Ecclesiastes, in which Solomon considered the value of everything which he determined was meaningless, he summarized his understanding: "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:13- 14). This is precisely the same message taught over and over in the New Testament. We will be judged according to what we have done.
73. Revelation 20:12. That is what Jesus told the Church of Thyatira he would do: "I will repay each of you according to your deeds" (Revelation 2:23).
74. Revelation 20:13.
75. Revelation 22:12.
76. Romans 2:7-8.
77. Galatians 6:9-10. Here is another example of expressing our love toward our brother in Christ - the family of believers.
78. John 14:6.
79. John 3:36 Whoever rejects the Son will not see life' for God's wrath remains on him."
80. Romans 2:13.
81. 1 John 3:7.
82. 1 John 2:29.
83. 1 John 3:18: Dear children. Iet us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
84. 1 John 2:4.
85. 1 John 4:8.
86. 1 John 1:6.
87. 1 John 3:8.
88. 1 John 3:10.
89. 1 John 4:20.
90. 1 John 2:9.
91. 1 John 2:11. Darkness is often referred to as Satan's realm whereas God is light; to be in the light means to be a child of God; to be in darkness means to be a child of the devil.
92. 1 John 3:15.
93. 1 John 2:15.
94. 1 John 2:16.
95. 1 John 3:6.
96. 1 John 3:9.
97. 1 John 1:8.
98. John 15:14
99. John 15:12.
100. John 8:32.
101. John 8:31.
102. John 8:32.
103. John 15:7.
104. John 15:7.
105. 1 John 3:21-22.
106. See the section, "Bear Fruit."
107. 1 John 3:23.
108. John 3:16.
109. The Lord declared, "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word" (Isaiah 66:2).
110. John 14:21.
111. John 14:23.
112. This is the special love we spoke of in the prior section, "Special Love Is Given By God To The Obedient." See John 14:21, and 23.
113. John 15:9-11. This passage should be quoted by everyone who wants assurance of salvation. Jesus just gave the requirement and how to keep it. He wants all to have the joy which accompanies that assurance.
114. 1 John 2:3-5.
115. John 14:15-17.
116. Acts 5:32.
117. 1 John 4:12-13.
118. John 14:23.
119. In what appears to be an exception to the rule of receiving the Holy Spirit upon committing to obey Jesus as Lord, Peter taught, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Andyou will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). But is it an exception? Let's look closer. Baptism for believers is a command of Jesus (Matthew 28:19). Being baptized is thus obedience to a command of Christ. Peter said to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. We've learned that the Christ is Lord. We've also learned that to believe in the name of someone is to believe in all their attributes. Thus, to believe in Jesus as the Christ is to believe in him as Lord. To believe in Jesus as Lord carries with it the commitment to obey him as Lord. Any person who does not commit to obey Jesus as Lord has not received him as his Lord (Colossians 2:6) nor has he confessed him as his Lord (Romans 10:9).
120. Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, and Luke 10:27.
121. Scripture does acknowledge that we love ourselves, "In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself (Ephesians 5:28). However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself and the wife must respect her husband" (Ephesians 5:33).
Don't those verses show that it is natural that we love ourselves? I don't think so. The key to understanding is found in the different relationship God established in a marriage, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh" (Ephesians 5:31).
The husband must love his wife as his own body because they are one. He must love his wife as he loves himself because they are one. To not love his wife as he loves himself would be like loving your arm and not loving your leg. Both are part of one body, yet one is rejected and another is loved.
122. Romans 12:1.
123. 1 John 5:3.
124. The New Bible Dictionary (1979), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan.
125. 1 John 4 20.
126. 1 John 5:3.
127. 1 John 4 21.
128. 1 John 4:20.
129. John 14:21: Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father. and I too will love him and show myself to him."
130. 1 Corinthians 2:9.
131. Romans 8:28.
132. I add the last four words as I want everything in life to be for the glory of God, as do you.
133. Matthew 25:31-46.
134. Matthew 7:21.
135. Matthew 24:12-13.
136. John 14:15.
137. John 14:21.