Does God Require Obedience?

Christian Living, Law, The Gospel, Theology

law_gospelReformed Theology has always held the relationship between the Law of God and the gospel to be so tightly interwoven that to lose or disregard one is to misrepresent the other. It has become very unpopular in evangelicalism to speak of the Law of God in a favorable light, but there’s no doubt in reading the Bible that God actually does require something of His people!
The neo-Calvinism movement that seems to dominate the publishing houses these days appears to make the same mistakes as New Covenant Theology and her cousin, Dispensationalism. “Gospel-Centered” everything is easy to find, but while it seeks to keep the gospel central, the trend has actually migrated to gospel exclusivity. The Reformed Confessions have always highlighted the importance of an inseparable union between the Law and the gospel. John Coquhoun penned the classic, A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel and endorsed what was the mainstream puritan understanding as popularized by John Calvin with regards to a Christian’s relationship to the Law of God. Coquhoun wrote:
All who are united to Christ, and justified for his righteousness imputed to them, are dead to the law as a covenant; not that they may be without law to God, but that they may be under the law to Christ; not that they may continue in disobedience, but that they may be inclined and enabled to perform sincere obedience in time, and perfect obedience through eternity, to the law as a rule of life. One design of their being delivered from the obligations of the law in its Federal form is that they may be brought under the eternal obligation of it as a rule of duty in the hand of the adorable Mediator (p. 260).
Undoubtedly, the silent cancer of self-righteousness is an ever-present reality that Christians must be aware of and seek to destroy. Yet, a resolute striving for holiness is not the enemy! Indeed, as Coquhoun remarks, the Christian has an obligation to the Law of God as holiness is sought. Yes, we rely upon the imputed righteousness of Christ and not our own for our salvation. Praise God! But does that free me from an obligation to live according to God’s Law, not only out of a heart of thankful obedience, but also when I don’t quite feel like it?
The Bible repeatedly calls me to a morally upright life as I am sanctified by the Law of God, not so that God will approve and accept me, but because He already has. “We have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (Justification), therefore our lives are not to be lived as “to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4) (Sanctification). The Bible is filled with language that binds Christians to specific duties and moral obligations. These aren’t commands we ignore and say, “I can’t do these things perfectly, but thank God that Jesus did them for me so that I need not worry about them…” And surely we need not fall into moralism which teaches, “It’s up to me to do my part since Jesus has already done his.” Rather, we must balance our obligation to the law and our freedom in the gospel and say, “I will strive to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, realizing that I need Christ’s finished work applied and His ongoing grace to strengthen and enable me to live as obediently as I am able in this life, for His glory.”
(By: Nick Kennicott)
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3 thoughts on “Does God Require Obedience?

  1. Good article, Nick. You may want to clarify what you mean by the “neo-Calvinism” movement. For some, that refers to a kind of Kuypernian Calvinism. For others, it refers to the resurgence of Calvinistic soteriology among many churches and ministries today. There are some connected with that latter group which, I suspect, would agree with the trust of your article above.

  2. Great point Bob – thanks for bringing it up. In some ways, I guess it could refer to elements of both (how’s that for clarity?!), but obviously most notable is the common understanding of Neo-Calvinism a la Abraham Kuyper. I agree that some of the “new Calvinists” (I guess they’re now regularly called the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” crowd) would agree with the importance of maintaining the historic, reformed understanding of the Law/Gospel relationship, but among them I also see a growing number of men who are going in the complete opposite direction. I love the idea of “gospel-centered” but much of it seems to be of the Kuypernian mold which becomes “gospel-only,” and that’s troubling (take, for instance, a lot of what’s coming out of the gospel coalition blog, with a few exceptions).

  3. The Bible is clear in its teaching: the circle is that the Law points to Christ, and that faith in and love for Christ, results in obedience.

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