Obligation and Grace

In the Great Commission Jesus instructs us to teach disciples to obey everything he has commanded. Obligation is intrinsic to discipleship. Yet elsewhere we are taught that we are not under law, but rather under grace.

How can that which is an obligation not be law?

The key is recognizing that law and obligation are not synonymous. The Law was a specific group of commands given by God to Israel through Moses. The standard argument goes that as believers, we are no longer under Law but under Grace, therefore obedience is optional.

To make that leap one has to assume that our obligation to obey God begins and ends with the Law. This is simply not the case. Obedience to God was required in Eden, and is part of the Great Commission, where Jesus instructs us to make disciples by “…teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.” Our obligation to obey is due to God’s authority, which is eternal, complete, and unchanging, not to the application of the Law. Since God’s authority is absolute and unchanging, the present reality of Grace does not negate the reality of obligation, accountability, and consequence. The good news about Grace is that through the full provision of Jesus, God’s Grace now works within me to enable obedience in a way the Law never could (Rom 8:3).

Obedience actually flows from the reality of Grace and is a fruit of the new life we receive by faith.

1Pe 1:2
2who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

So, the work of the Spirit actually produces obedience in us! Life and obedience go together hand in hand. There is no true life apart from obedience.

Ro 1:5
Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.

So, we do not obey in a legalistic way, for such a work would be an attempt to merit favor from God by our own righteousness. But we are nevertheless obedient, because God’s grace produces within the fruit of obedience. I do not obey to earn favor; I obey in acknowledgment of the unmerited favor I have already received and as a result of the transforming power of His grace in my heart and life. I am obligated to do so. How could it be otherwise? I am a debtor to His Grace.


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