Why Do You Believe “Obedience” Is Necessary to Salvation?

From Issue: R&R – January 2023


“I came upon your website due to the referral of a Christian brother who provided me a link to your article on John Quincy Adams’ views on Islam. Loved the article and will share it with others. When checking into your beliefs I note the following on your site under “What We Believe:’ ‘Salvation is by means of obedience to the Gospel system, involving faith in God and Christ, repentance from sin, confession of faith, and immersion in water for remission of past sins, coupled with a life of growing consecration and dedication.’ In all honesty, when I read Scripture I do not get that ‘salvation’ has anything whatsoever to do with a ‘Gospel system’ or ‘obedience’ thereof. Surely you cannot mean that our deeds and works can make us righteous or clean in the eyes of a perfect and entirely Holy God? Moreover, we cannot follow any kind of a ‘system’ or formula, regardless of how good it may be. Only Christ and His completed sacrifice, once for all, can save those who believe in Him, His Word, and His Resurrection. I think the most simple and direct quotes on how Salvation is ‘achieved’ (really awarded is the better and most accurate word) is from Romans 10:17 and Acts 10:34-46. In light of these verses, why would you take the stance you do on your website? Put another way, why do you believe salvation is had by any other way than as noted in the cited sections of Romans, Acts, and any number of other examples throughout Scripture of persons being saved?”

            P.L., Palm Desert, CA


It is true that the New Testament does not use the phrase “Gospel system,” but the concept is certainly biblical, even as we speak of the “Christian system” or the “Christian religion.” In Romans, the Gospel/grace system is contrasted with a strictly legal/law system. The point of Romans is that the Jews could not depend on their ethnic heritage (their genetic connection to Abraham with its covenant symbol of circumcision) or the Law of Moses to save them—because genetic connection is fleshly and avails nothing, and they did not diligently keep the Law of Moses given to them. No one can be saved by law alone, since everyone has violated God’s law and therefore stands condemned by the law. We needed a different approach to the sin problem, specifically, the Gospel (the good news that God inhabited human flesh in the person of His Son to atone for sin, i.e., our violations of God’s law). To be sure, the Gospel has law that we must obey, just like the Law of Moses; but it also has the means of ultimate atonement which the Law of Moses did not technically have (cf. Hebrews 10:4). Yes, the orchestration of that means of forgiveness is wholly God’s doing which we do not deserve. There is absolutely nothing we can do to atone for our own sin. This is the grace of the Bible (e.g., Titus 2:11).

However, it by no means follows that there is nothing that God requires of us before He will freely cleanse us. You, yourself, agree that a person must believe. So, you agree, in principle, with the idea that simply because there is action that a person must do to be saved, that action does not nullify the fact that salvation is a free gift and the individual does not earn or deserve salvation. The individual must believe—an act of human effort, called a “work” in John 6:29, i.e., a work that God requires humans to perform. Indeed, believing is also a command to be obeyed (John 8:24; 14:1; Acts 16:31; 1 John 3:23). But what does it mean to believe? It is not merely a mental act of accepting Jesus (as much of Christendom repeatedly affirms), since Paul defines the “faith” of Romans as an “obedient faith” (hupakoain pisteos) in 1:5 and 16:26. Romans uses forms of the word “obey” and “obedience” 10 times, and forthrightly declares that a person will be judged “according to his deeds” (2:6), and that “eternal life” will be given to “those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality,” while those who “do not obey the truth” will receive “indignation and wrath” (2:7-8). Romans 6:16 indicates that obedience precedes righteousness. So, yes, humans must perform deeds to be pleasing to God. The point that the Bible makes regarding those deeds is that they do not earn salvation for the individual; they do not wash away sin—since only the blood of Christ can do that. Christ’s blood is the cleansing agent. But when does God apply Christ’s blood to our sin-stained spirits? Answer: when a person “obey[s] the Gospel” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). How does one obey the Gospel? Acts is the “book of conversions” that gives example after example of instances wherein people obeyed the Gospel to become Christians. The chart below records only the explicitly stated actions that occurred in 10 cases of conversion to Christ in the book of Acts—actions that preceded salvation.

Romans was not actually intended to detail the conditions of salvation; rather, Romans explains the grounds/basis of salvation: the blood of Christ. Nevertheless, in passing, Romans happens to mention every single one of the prerequisite conditions of salvation with which humans must comply before God will grant forgiveness as a free, undeserved gift. Romans 10:17, as you note, indicates that a person must first hear the Gospel/Word of God, which is designed to create faith within. But Romans 10:9-10 makes clear that faith is not the only prerequisite to forgiveness. Oral confession with the mouth is also enjoined. Romans 2:4 indicates that repentance is necessary before God will forgive. And Romans 6:1-4 indicates that water immersion precedes salvation, since it is the contact point for the blood of Christ which was shed in His death. We must be baptized “into His death” to contact that blood. That is the point at which sin is washed away by the blood of Christ. No wonder, then, that Ananias told Saul/Paul to “arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). When does a person “call on the Lord”? When the believing, repenting, confessing person submits to water immersion (Acts 22:16). That explains why Peter declared that baptism “now saves us” (1 Peter 3:21)—in the sense that Christ’s blood saves us at the point of our baptism; and that is why that same Peter impressed upon those present in Acts 10 that the reception of Holy Spirit baptism directly from God upon the Gentiles was proof positive that Gentiles have the right to become Christians just as much as do the Jews. Once their eligibility for conversion was demonstrated by that miraculous act direct from God, Peter then pressed for their obedience in the words, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized…?” (Acts 10:47). Why even bring up water at that moment if water immersion was not prerequisite to their forgiveness?

So faith, repentance, confession, and baptism are all indicated to precede remission of sin. We must obey these acts—not to atone for our sin, for only Jesus can do that—but to comply with God’s stated conditions—conditions that He authored (not us) and enjoined upon all who wish to be saved. That is why the Hebrews writer stated forthrightly that Jesus is “the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). It is interesting that you quote Acts 10:34-35 which indicates that before a person is acceptable to Christ, that person must “fear Him and work righteousness” (vs. 35). “He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7). In other words, belief, repentance, oral confession, and water immersion are righteous actions that humans must perform in order to receive the free gift of salvation available only in Christ, and be counted by Him as righteous.

Jesus said, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Luke 11:28, NIV). He also said, “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” (John 14:23, NIV). Indeed, the day is coming when “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).

Denominationalism has manifested a persistent refusal to distinguish between the grounds of salvation and the conditions of salvation—the compatible, scriptural distinction between Christ’s atonement and man’s obedience.


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