The Importance of Obedience to God

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.

Hebrews 5:8-9

Obedience…it is probably the hardest thing about Christianity, and the aspect of the religion which is least attractive to most people.  Generally speaking, we don’t like to be told what to do and we don’t really like doing what others tell us to do.  Given the choice between doing things our way or doing things someone else’s way, we’ll take our way any day of the week.

So it might come as a surprise that the founder of Christianity had to “learn obedience” (Hebrews 5:8).  Granted, Jesus is God (John 1:1, 14) and so he certainly knew all about obedience as deity.  Perhaps what the Hebrew writer meant when he wrote that Jesus “learned obedience” was learning what it means to obey God has a human being.  Being a man, Jesus was tempted in all things as we are (Hebrews 4:15).  He would have been tempted during times of suffering, pain, grief, mourning, and anger.  As you and I well know, it’s a challenge to obey God during such times.  Through his suffering, Jesus certainly came to understand what we go through. Thus, he was “made perfect” (Hebrews 5:9), “perfect” in the original language meaning “complete.”  Jesus now had everything he needed in order to become our high priest, our intermediary between God and man.

Yet despite being tempted and learning obedience, he still was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).  He always obeyed God.  At the end of his life, he could honestly tell his Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4).  As he told his disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

Being a Christian means to be a disciple of Christ.  Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).  If Jesus “learned obedience,” so must his followers.  If Jesus was obedient, Christians must be obedient too.  In fact, it is impossible to love God and Jesus without obedience.  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:15, 21).  The Bible says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).  What God wishes of us is not inherently hard to do.  It’s only hard when we don’t truly want to do it.  When we truly love God, we find obeying him much easier.

Some in religious circles think that obedience – or at least obedience to some things commanded by God in Scripture – is not connected with one’s salvation.  Such could not be further from the truth.  The writer of Hebrews made this clear when he said that Jesus is “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9).  The term “source” comes from a Greek word which literally means “cause.”  Jesus is definitely the cause of our salvation.  Without his atonement for our sins on the cross, we would have no hope of heaven.  Still, Scripture says he is the source or cause of salvation to a specific demographic: “to all who obey him.”

Jesus himself made this clear.  He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).  It is not enough to simply be religious and profess Christ as Lord.  It is not enough to be obedient to some of his Father’s will.  No, the source of our eternal salvation requires obedience to all of God’s will.

The beauty of Christianity is that God knows we will not be sinless and does not require such from us (1 John 1:8, 10).  All he requires is for Christians to be obedient and penitent when they fail (1 John 1:7, 9; 2 Corinthians 7:9-11).  His mercy and grace takes care of the rest.