Thursday, September 25, 2014

Obedience envy?

The calls for more obedience and more holiness keep getting more insistent as exhibited on a number of blogs, and in the comments to this post and this post. And we agree, as followers of Christ, we are called to holy living; a life that is normed by the moral law of God as given to mankind in Adam and as summarized in the Decalogue and, I might add, as given to believers in Christ. If we are going to emphasize obedience in some way as necessary for salvation, then the question is how much? For some perspective...
HC Question 114. But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments?
Answer: No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.
HC Question 115. Why will God then have the ten commandments so strictly preached, since no man in this life can keep them?
Answer: First, that all our lifetime we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin, and righteousness in Christ; likewise, that we constantly endeavour and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come.

WLC Q. 149. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A. No man is able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed.
WLC Q. 97. What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?
A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men [Q/A 95], it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same [i.e. their thankfulness] in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.
So… No one keeps the commandments even close to perfectly (far from it), which is the only kind of “keeping” the moral law recognizes. And that ought to daily stop us and always lead us into an attitude of repentance, seeing our need of Christ and how by grace both his passive and active obedience replaces our moral deficiency with his perfect sufficiency… and likewise lead us to greater thankfulness in that it is he who first loved us and laid hold of us, even while we were yet his enemies and dead in our sin. Then in thankfulness as we look to walk in the direction of his moral law, we can know that he accepts our imperfect and inconsistent growth in obedience inasmuch as it is sanctified by his blood – that God, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere [which sincerity by definition is always lacking due to the "corruption in every part"], although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections” (WCF 16.6)

In my mind this kind of levels the sinner/saint-obedience playing field for all concerned; and causes me to think, in light of Christ's perfect obedience for us, that my own (and yours) is not all that and a box of biscuits...

So what should the emphasis be? Grace or obedience? How about the full and free grace of God in Christ as proclaimed in the gospel, which gospel is the ground and even the Rock, upon which all obedience is commanded to believers and accepted by God. Again some perspective, this time from our tertiary standards in the OPC:
The preacher must, as Christ's ambassador, seek to build up the saints in the most holy faith and beseech the unconverted to be reconciled to God. Nothing is more necessary than that the gospel of salvation by grace be proclaimed without any adulteration or compromise, in order that the hearers may learn to rely for salvation only on the grace of God in Christ, to the exclusion of their own works or character, ascribing all glory to God alone for their salvation. The preacher is to instruct his hearers in the whole counsel of God, exhort the congregation to more perfect obedience to Christ, and warn them of the sins and dangers that are around them and within them. A preacher fails to perform his task as a God-appointed watchman on Zion's walls who neglects to warn the congregation of prevalent soul-destroying teachings by enemies of the gospel. [Directory for the Public Worship of God, Book of Church Order]
And now for the TWR benediction:
... and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1:14-17)


  1. We sinners love to pat ourselves on the back by always comparing ourselves favorably to others. Imagine that?

  2. Well said, Jack. If only the OB's would engage our biblical, honest, and humbling Reformed confessions re: sanctification & good works, I think the "more obedient than thou" tone might soften a bit.