GRACE DISTINCTIONS #5 – by Jack Cottrell
V. OBEDIENCE TO LAW and OBEDIENCE TO GRACE. This next distinction grows directly out of the previous one. If there are two kinds of commands, then there must be TWO KINDS OF OBEDIENCE. Most of the time our obedience is the way we respond to the Creator’s law commands. We are simply obeying our everyday law code. E.g., every time we speak the truth, we are obeying a law command of God (Eph. 4:25). Honest payment of taxes is obedience to God’s law (Rom. 13:6-7). Living peaceably with our neighbors is obedience to our law code (Rom. 12:18). Not doing things that are forbidden by the Creator is also obedience to law commands (e.g., not stealing, not using bad language—Eph. 4:28-29). Our law code includes literally hundreds of such commands, and we are living in constant yet mostly unconscious obedience to them.
On the other hand, especially when we are in the process of becoming a Christian, we are obeying the GOSPEL commands. God gives us these commands not because he is the boss and not just because he wants to inform us of how a good human being is supposed to live. And we obey these gospel commands not simply to please our Creator, but because we want to be saved from our sins. These grace commands show us the way to be saved; they tell us what WE must do to receive salvation.
This second kind of obedience is called “obeying the gospel.” Twice Paul says that failure to obey the gospel is a main reason why people are not saved. Speaking specifically of Jews who were lost, he says, “They have not all obeyed the gospel” (Rom. 10:16, literally translated). Speaking in general Paul says that at Christ’s return he will inflict “vengeance on those who do not…obey the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8). See again 1 Peter 4:17.
Obeying the gospel includes doing all the things the Savior-God says the sinner must do to receive salvation. This includes believing on Jesus (John 3:16; Acts 16:31); repenting of sin (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38); confessing Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9-10); and being immersed into Christ (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16). Even as Christians we continue to obey the gospel commands to believe and repent, as we nurture in our hearts the ongoing attitudes of faith in Jesus and repentance toward sin.
Every act (and attitude) of obedience, including obedience to law commands AND obedience to grace commands, is a human work in the general sense of “something we do.” Faith itself is a work in this sense, as is baptism. Yet such “works” (things we do) are perfectly consistent with grace since they are not obedience to law commands, but obedience to the grace commands of God as Savior. (See the next entry.)
Obedience to gospel commands is like a rescuer saving a drowning man by throwing him a rope and yelling “Grab this rope!” Technically that’s a command, but grabbing the rope and being pulled to safety are pure grace. Another analogy is a group of fire-fighters on the ground holding a net under a third-story window in a burning building, and yelling “Jump!” to a woman trapped in the building. In this case “Jump!” is not a law command but a grace command, and the person obeys the command in order to be saved.