The Christian Walk: Lesson 6 Walk in Obedience

The Christian Walk: Lesson 6 Walk in obedience

The biblical authors use a variety of expressions to describe the same idea: obedience. All the below expressions are essentially equal in meaning. God clearly expects his people to obey him.

  1. Expressions
    1. Walk after the Lord (Deut 13:4; 2 Kings 23:3)
    2. Walk in his way/in all his ways (Deut 5:33, 10:12, 11:22, 28:9; Josh 22:5; 1 Kings 2:3, 3:14, 8:36; Ps 119:3; Jer 7:23; Hos 14:9)
    3. Walk in/after/according to the law/statutes/judgments/ordinances/commandments (Exod 16:4;Lev 18:4; Deut 13:4; Ps 119:1; 1 Kings 6:12; 2 Kings 10:31; 2 Chron 6:16; Neh 10:29; Ps 89:30; Jer 26:4; Ezek 37:24; 2 John 6)
    4. Walk as taught by him (1 Kings 8:36; Isa 2:3; 30:21)
    5. Walk according to this rule (Gal 6:16; Phil 3:16)
  2. Definitions
    1. Law (torah) – direction, instruction, code, custom, manner, body of teaching. Law may be defined as “the revealed will of God with respect to human conduct.”[1] The vast majority of the occurrences of the word ‘torah’ in the Bible refer to God’s instructions to Moses at Sinai that were transmitted to Israel. These instructions or commandments became Israelite law and the stipulations of the covenant. They were all-important, since they were the specific manifestations of God’s will. Since they were God-given, they were obviously good, and obedience would result in long life, prosperity, health, and happiness. Disobedience would be punished with harm, barrenness, exile, destruction, and death.[2]
    2. Ordinance (chuqqah) – statute, limit, something prescribed
    3. Commandment
      1. mitsvah – law, ordinance, precept
      2. peh – lit. “mouth,” signifying the source of the command
    4. Statute (choq)  – appointment, allotment, ordinance, limit, something prescribed, due, conditions, decrees
    5. Judgment (mishpat) – decree, justice, ordinance, verdict, decision, privilege, right
    6. Rule (kanon) – lit, a rod or straight piece of wood to which anything is attached to keep it straight; a measuring rod, carpenter’s line, measuring tape; any rule or standard, limit, boundary line, fixed area of influence

 

  1. Principles
    1. Obedience is very important to God. The sheer number of admonitions to obey and the variety of expressions calling for obedience shows us how vital obedience is to God. Thus, the Christian walk must entail strict obedience to God’s revealed will. Sincerity or good intentions do not justify disobedience. Biblical examples show us this truth repeatedly—e.g., Saul (1 Sam 15), Uzzah (2 Sam 6:6-7), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).
    2. To walk in/after/according to the law/statutes/judgments/ordinances/ commandments signifies doing/keeping/executing/performing/observing/ hearkening to God’s commandments. Just as there are many synonyms for “law,” so there are many synonyms for “obey.”
    3. To “walk after the Lord” seems to refer to the totality of a right relationship with God—reverence, obedience, service, and commitment. The phrase indicates mature, committed faith and the resulting performance of covenant obligations.
    4. Believers are obligated to obey God’s direct commands/laws/statutes/ ordinances—the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” contained in Scripture. Such directives leave little flexibility; one either obeys them or does not. God presents a particular “way” in which he wants his followers to walk. The Christian walk demands that we follow the direct commands that pertain to us.
    5. Obedience, especially in the OT, was directly related to physical prosperity and success (cf. Deut 28:1-14; 1 Kings 8:36). Failure to obey resulted in cursing and removal from the land (cf. Deut 28:15f; Jer 6:19).
    6. The repeated admonition to “walk in all his ways” implies obedience to all God’s commands. However, the “ways” of God would seem to extend beyond the commands and encompass any behavior that would be pleasing to God. Mere obedience is not enough; we should be striving to do that which is well-pleasing to God in every area of life (2 Cor 5:9).
    7. Are NT Christians obligated to obey all the OT commandments? No, Christ “abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph 2:15). Paul repeatedly affirms “…you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14). The author of Hebrews explains how the levitical priesthood and its ordinances were temporary and have been superseded by the work of Jesus.[3]

This does not imply that the OT has no continuing value for the NT believer. The OT contains much we can learn from (cf. 1 Cor 10:11; 1 Tim 3:16). However, NT Christians are not obligated to obey the particular stipulations prescribed for OT Israel. Further, the fact that NT Christians are “not under the law” does not mean that they are lawless. In fact, John defines sin as “lawlessness” (1 Jn 3:4). Some mistakenly teach that, as long as they love others, they are not required to “keep the rules.” They misrepresent any such admonition to obey biblical commands as legalism. The desire to obey is not legalism as long as we recognize that obedience adds nothing to our salvation.


  1. Are NT Christians obligated to obey NT commands? Yes. We are to walk according to the rules and traditions (2 Thes 2:15) established by Jesus and the apostles. The “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2), which is essentially the teachings of the NT, becomes the guidebook for the Christian life. Failure to obey Christ’s commands amounts to repudiation of Christianity (1 John 2:3-4). Failure to obey the apostles’ teachings and traditions likewise verges on apostasy (Rom 16:17; 2 Thes 2:15, 3:6). Thus, obedience to the commands of Christ and the apostles is what we expect of Christians. Habitual, unrepentant disobedience marks one as an unbeliever in spite of whatever claims he may make to the contrary.
  2. OT commands are still part of the Bible and reveal much about God and his will. We may discover great insights by meditating on God’s ordinances, statutes, and judgments from the OT. But the NT supersedes the OT and becomes the standard for the Christian walk.

Note:  We must guard against imposing OT regulations on NT Christians. Some (e.g., Bill Gothard) insist that we must continue to follow the OT as much as possible. That means attempting to apply OT regulations in our current situation as best we can. Such an attitude burdens believers with a “yoke” that the apostles specifically refused to apply (Acts 15:10-19).

  1. The “rules” that Paul mentions
    1. Gal 6:16—Circumcision is insignificant for the Christian life; what’s most important is being a new creature (6:15). To “walk” according to this rule means that Christians do not make circumcision a spiritual issue (cf. 1 Cor 7:19). This was an important distinction to make given the fact that the Jews typically invested that ritual with great significance. Under NT Christianity, circumcision is a matter of indifference (adiaphora).
    2. Phil 3:16—Live in accordance with apostolic teaching (i.e., that which has already been recognized and accepted). Such an attitude develops like-mindedness and unity among mature Christians. Minor differences among believers should not hinder harmony and love in a church when everyone is affirming the same doctrine (cf. Rom 14). Nothing outside of the apostolic tradition (“sound doctrine”) should be integrated into church teaching.
    3. John defines love as walking after/in his commandments (2 John 6). Love for God and obedience to him cannot be separated. Lack of one means lack of the other. Love for God always results in obedience to his word (cf. John 14:15). Justification results in sanctification; the two always go together.

A Final Note:  An ongoing discussion among conservative Christians centers on what place personal effort has in sanctification. Everyone agrees that justification is by grace through faith without obedience to the law (i.e., works). Both sides also agree that sanctification requires effort by the believer but not merely human effort. Both recognize the danger of imposing extra-biblical man-made rules (cf. Col 2:20-23) and agree that grace does not sanction disobedience (Rom 6; Titus 2). But questions remain regarding whether obedience to laws/rules furthers one’s sanctification/growth.

  • One side asserts that sanctification occurs almost automatically as we focus on God’s love for us in salvation. As we increasingly appreciate Jesus’ work, the Gospel, and justification, we will inevitably grow in our sanctification (2 Pet 3:18). We simply need to remember that we’ve been qualified, delivered, redeemed, and forgiven (Col 1:9-14). Christian growth in this model is not measured by behavior but by a deeper grasp of God’s unconditional love for us. Our position “in Christ” means that we can cease striving to please God (Rom 3:24). God is pleased with us because of our union with Christ; we cannot be more pleasing to God by keeping rules. Sanctification occurs as we receive Christ’s work and rest in our justification. Confident that we are not condemned (Rom 8:1), we go on to live in holiness. Thus, an emphasis on obedience to rules verges on legalism. Our emphasis should not be on rule keeping but on the fact that Christ kept the rules for us. Self-effort (“moralistic activism”) amounts to a denial of God’s grace.

Summary of model #1: Don’t worry so much about obeying rules; just love God, remember your salvation, and rest your perfect position in Christ. This will naturally result in holiness.

  • The other side argues that believers must “make every effort” (2 Tim 2:15) to “work out” their salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Simply remembering and appreciating our justification will not automatically result in growth or holiness. We must expend effort; we must obey; we must “put off” the old man and “put on” the new (Eph 4:22f). Growth in godliness is like a fight (1 Tim 6:12), a wrestling match (Eph 6:12), and a race (1 Cor 9:24f; Heb 12:1). We must trust, but we must also obey. We must, by God’s grace and with the Holy Spirit’s enablement, put the flesh to death (Col 3:5). Christian growth occurs as we work hard to stop sinning and start living righteously. Regenerated people do not automatically know what God requires of them. Thus, exhortations to obey biblical commands, rules, and standards of behavior help believers grow in godliness (e.g., 1 Cor 6:18). We glory in the cross, in salvation, and in our union with Christ, but that’s not all we do.

Summary of model #2: Obedience and effort are necessary elements of Christian growth. Sanctification comes through Spirit-enabled obedience to God’s revealed will as expressed in commands, principles, and rules.

The first model, although having much to commend it, often results in an anti-rule sentiment that sees exhortations to obedience as legalism. On this view, laws and rules become virtually hostile to the Christian experience. Grace cannot function with law; the two are mutually exclusive. Further, the first model may lead to a passive view of sanctification in which effort plays a diminished role. Model #1 is the more popular/prevalent among evangelicals today.

 



[1] Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 646.

[2] Paul J. Achtemeier and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 1084.

[3] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed., Baker reference library; Logos Library System (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996).

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