Faith and Obedience are not the same thing

Years ago, when my family and I were under the teaching of a well-known legalist teacher, we learned that believing and obeying were the same thing.  The idea was that those who truly believed or had faith would, of course, obey.  Obedience was simply the working out of your faith.  So, those who wanted to show others how much they believed would work hard to obey the commands of the Lord.

But is this right?  Is obedience the same as faith?  It seems obvious that the two are connected, but isn’t there more to faith than obedience?  And what are the consequences of thinking they are the same?

Well, what the legalist does not understand is that faith and obedience are first opposites, then one proceeds from the other.  You see, you can come to the Lord in obedience or in faith.  Under law or under grace.  By your works or by trusting in His work.  This is an “either/or” proposition.  The Bible does not say that if you obey then you must have faith.

…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. Galatians 2:16

In fact, those who come to Christ by their obedience, their works, will find them to be insufficient—always.  There are not enough works for you to do to be saved.  Nor is your life long enough for your good works to overcome the effect of your sin.  The simple truth is that our faith is what opens the door to salvation, not our obedience.  The two are quite different.

In fact, our faith looks to Someone else’s obedience.  Jesus is the One who obeyed and won the victory for us.  We can only look to Him.  In this sense, our faith and our obedience are opposites.  They take our focus in different directions.

However, many legalists point to the letter of James where we are told that faith without works is dead.  They say, “See, faith and obedience are bound together as one.”  But that isn’t what James says.  James says that works/obedience proceeds from faith.  Faith is dead without works, like the apple tree is fruitless without apples.

Obedience is the natural fruit of faith.  If we trust Jesus, we will do what He says.  We ought to cultivate faith first, if we want obedience to result.  The legalist seeks to cultivate obedience and thinks that obedience and faith are the same.  That error leads people to discouragement and resentment.

When legalism pushes people to obey and disregards the priority of faith in the work of Jesus, it teaches them to focus on their works instead of Him.  Their only hope, His work for them, is forgotten in the striving.  Their peace, their joy, their rest, their assurance—are all to come from His work, but they will never have these things by setting their hearts on their own obedience.

So the goal of the Christian life is never to obey.  The goal of the Christian life is to grow in faith, in relationship with Jesus.  As we draw near to Him and walk with Him, we will find ourselves obeying almost without thought.  It will be natural for us.

Your thoughts?


Filed under Freedom, grace, Legalism, Relationship

10 responses to “Faith and Obedience are not the same thing

  1. oh boy…
    1. “Faith working through love”
    2. love means obedience to the commands and the Law, thus one is save.
    faith equals love
    3. saved by grace, but the saved will do good works unto salvation

    such and awefully aweful statement above I learned over the years. an in the process of unlearning them.

    “we are Justified by Faith alone, sola fide”

    – grace and peace

  2. I just came fresh from hearing Luther’s commentary on Galatians.
    so heres more.. 🙂

    Imitation of Christ does not Justify
    Following Christ does not justify
    Carying your own cross does not justify

    The holy Spirit does not come to those under the law

    for God to remember your failures or sin,
    is for God to forget what Jesus has done at the cross for you

    Christianity is build on Substitution, not morals

    The one who’s ready to die is the one who believes that
    Christ is the righteousness He needs and that Jesus have done it

    Christ is not the Law. He is not a work of the Law.
    Nor does He a new Law giver
    Christ is the divine redeemer for those who failed the Law

    – grace and peace

  3. Rebekah Grace

    The wrong thinking that got me running, though I didn’t know that was why I ran in the first place (I was too young), was still stuck in my head when I came Home. To this day, when I hear something ‘wrong’ or legalistic something happens to my insides, something no one understands unless they themselves have experienced it. It’s an emotional knee-jerk reaction that makes me want to cry, scream, spit and run all at the same time. Quite immature I know, but….it’s true. Dave, your blog, I can’t even express how grateful I am that God led me here. The things you write, the truth, it’s just good. And I wanted to come here to tell you that today. Thank you! Be blessed!

  4. IME (in my experience), I naturally want to obey Jesus. If I don’t it is because of old fleshly attitudes and unknown factors hidden from my view. I will keep my attention focused on Jesus, not the sin and not forgetting how He still views me as holy and righteous, expecting Him to remove my obstacles to obedience. I know this may take time. I completely reject the idea that I must rush to obedience to prove my allegiance and regain holiness. I am assured He and I can bear the time lag needed to wait for the right kind of obedience (obedience of faith as opposed to obedience of self will). As He tweaks my inward thinking and emotions, my obedience will fall into place without struggle. Outside observers may think I did it but I will know it is all from Him. I think the legalist will say I am only fooling myself and providing a license for sin to continue. When I didn’t have experience with obedience of faith I thought the same. It only took one time to test and prove what faith can do for obedience and I was convinced. It really does begin, proceed and finish in and through Jesus.

    • @”obedience of faith as opposed to obedience of self will”
      Amen bro! Not our obedience, but that of Faith’s

      “Jesus, whom we have received grace and apostleship to
      bring about the OBEDIENCE OF FAITH among all the
      Gentiles for His name’s sake”
      – Romans 1:5

    • “I completely reject the idea that I must rush to obedience to prove my allegiance and regain holiness.”

      Really like that! Instead, we rush to Jesus, not to prove anything, just to experience again His love.

  5. Theodore A Jones

    “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13 The law he is referencing is not the OT Mosaic code. Rather he is referencing a law that has been added regarding the sin of Jesus’ crucifixion.

  6. Pingback: sin, grace, and repentance [FEEL FREE TO DEBATE] - Page 10 - Christian Forums

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