The Bible has much to say about obedience. In fact, obedience is an essential part of the Christian faith. Jesus Himself was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). For Christians, the act of taking up our cross and following Christ (Matthew 16:24) means obedience. The Bible says that we show our love for Jesus by obeying Him in all things: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). A Christian who is not obeying Christ’s commands can rightly be asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
Obedience is defined as “dutiful or submissive compliance to the commands of one in authority.” Using this definition, we see the elements of biblical obedience. “Dutiful” means it is our obligation to obey God, just as Jesus fulfilled His duty to the Father by dying on the cross for our sin. “Submissive” indicates that we yield our wills to God’s. “Commands” speaks of the Scriptures in which God has clearly delineated His instructions. The “one in authority” is God Himself, whose authority is total and unequivocal. For the Christian, obedience means complying with everything God has commanded. It is our duty to do so.
Having said that, it is important to remember that our obedience to God is not solely a matter of duty. We obey Him because we love Him (John 14:23). Also, we understand that the spirit of obedience is as important as the act of obedience. We serve the Lord in humility, singleness of heart, and love.
Also, we must beware of using a veneer of obedience to mask a sinful heart. Living the Christian life is not all about rules. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time relentlessly pursued acts of obedience to the Law, but they became self-righteous, believing they deserved heaven because of what they had done. They considered themselves worthy before God, who owed them a reward; however, the Bible tells us that, without Christ, even our best, most righteous works are as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). The Pharisees’ external obedience still lacked something, and Jesus exposed their heart attitude. Their hypocrisy in obeying the “letter of the law” while violating its spirit characterized their lives, and Jesus rebuked them sharply: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which indeed appear beautiful outside, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so you also appear righteous to men outwardly, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:27–28). The Pharisees were obedient in some respects, but they “neglected the weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23, ESV).
Today, we are not called to obey the Law of Moses. That has been fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 5:17). We are to obey the “law of Christ,” which is a law of love (Galatians 6:2; John 13:34). Jesus stated the greatest commands of all: “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).
If we love God, we will obey Him. We won’t be perfect in our obedience, but our desire is to submit to the Lord and display good works. When we love God and obey Him, we naturally have love for one another. Obedience to God’s commands will make us light and salt in a dark and tasteless world (Matthew 5:13–16).