Is There Such a Thing as Faith Without Obedience?

At North Coast Church I’ve long used the word picture of giving the steering wheel of our life over to Jesus to describe what it means to become a follower of Christ.

Periodically I get emails, letters, and comments on this blog from folks who object to that imagery. Usually, it’s from someone concerned about one of two extremes – either that I’m over-simplifying the gospel or adding something extra to it. Recently someone wrote:

I don’t see how Larry adheres to “faith alone in Christ alone.” In fact I expect he would admit that he sees that statement off the mark of accuracy. Alone still means “separate and by itself” right? It would be nice to hear that Jesus’ promise in John 3:16 is as simple as it sounds. Instead, I can grab a packet with hours of sermons to explain to me what “giving Jesus the Steering Wheel of my Life” means.

Of course, “faith alone in Christ alone” is not a phrase found anywhere in the Bible. It’s a theological summation. And it’s always interesting to me how we can get all worked up and divided over terms the scriptures don’t even use. But, still, it’s a legitimate question. Is faith in Christ enough or isn’t it? Exactly how do faith and obedience intersect?

Here’s my response:

I’m sorry, but before I can claim to adhere or deny “faith alone in Christ alone” I need to know what you mean by “faith alone.”

If by “faith alone in Christ alone” you mean an intellectual assent that matches the way the demons believe in Jesus (James 2:19) then I have to plead guilty as charged. I don’t buy it. If you mean that we can claim to have faith in Christ and live like hell (and still count that empty faith as saving faith) then you can count me out.

But if you mean by “faith alone in Christ alone” that salvation can only be found through faith in Christ and can never be found or furthered by our good deeds or the works of the OT law – then I’m all in. And if your definition of faith matches that of Jesus and the NT writers, I’m there.

Bottom line: When it comes to trying to figure out how faith and obedience intersect, it seems to me that we can’t improve upon the Apostle John’s simple test to determine if we actually know God.

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. 1 John 2:3-6

I see no reason to redefine or tweak his words – after all, they are scripture, and all of our theological ruminations are not.

And didn’t Jesus speak about a group of people who called him Lord but did not do what he said?  When it comes to determining the role obedience does or doesn’t play in our salvation, doesn’t it make sense to let his words speak for themselves?

Mentoring Leaders - Teaching them to Obey“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:21 -27

And finally, doesn’t the Great Commission conclude with a command to teach those who have come to Christ to “obey everything I have taught you”? Apparently, Jesus considers obedience to be neither “adding to the gospel” nor an extra credit add-on for those who are really into it.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

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So, when I speak of stepping over the line and giving God the steering wheel of our life, I’m not suggesting that we somehow work our way into God’s favor or earn our salvation. I am suggesting that genuine faith, by definition, includes a pattern of obedience.

Obedience is not a stairway to heaven – or the final steps that complete what Jesus started. But according to the Apostle John, it is the one test that distinguishes between genuine faith and counterfeit faith.

The Steering Wheel packets we provide at North Coast Church contain practical pointers to help new Christians know what following Christ looks like and how to grow in their  walk with God.

And according to Jesus and John (and the rest of the scriptures) this thing called obedience does seem to be a rather important by-product of genuine faith and belief.

This guest post by Pastor Larry Osborne was originally posted on his website, and appears here with the author’s permission.

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