“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision…” (Acts. 26:19)
The core of the Gospel of grace is that God loves us unconditionally, independent of our works or performance. We can approach God – not based on our own righteousness – but based only on Jesus’ own righteousness, which is a free gift that we receive the moment we believe in Jesus.
However, does this mean that obedience is not important “under grace”, and that we can live however we want and still expect to see God’s purposes and plans for our lives come to pass?
Firstly, if we are truly living under the influence of God’s grace, this will not lead to a life in sin or unrighteousness. On the contrary, God’s grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and live righteous and godly lives, pleasing to God (Tit. 2:11-12).
Secondly, the truth is that we all, constantly, are failing at being perfect in ourselves. If it is all about us being perfect for God to be able to use us and work in our lives, there is not one single person on earth qualified. Not even one. To the extent we actually manage to obey God, this is a result of God’s grace, and not something we can boast about. Paul said that he had “worked more than everyone else”, but not by himself, but by the grace of God that worked in and through him (1 Cor. 15:10).
Thirdly, God does not measure our level of obedience on a scale and say: “Bob hasn’t been good today, and therefore I am not going to heal his back”. No, healing and everything else we receive from God, we receive by grace – not based on our performance, but based on faith in what Jesus has done for us. The Bible says in many places that Jesus “healed all” that came to him (see for example Mt. 8:16 and Lk. 6:19). Never did Jesus say, “You were rude to your neighbor yesterday and therefore I am not going to heal you”. No, He healed everyone that came to Him with an attitude of faith – despite their imperfections and inability to measure up to a certain religious standard.
However, obedience is important under grace, in the New Covenant, for a number of reasons. We are called to glorify God with our lives, and if we live in sin and immorality this certainly does not glorify God! If we live wrong, our lifestyle might lead to tragic consequences for ourselves and others, and of course God does not want that.
If we want to see Gods plan for our individual lives, and for the nations of the world, come to pass, obedience is not only important – it is necessary. For God’s will to happen, we need to follow the direction and promptings of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. God does not necessarily bless our own plans or ambitions; He blesses His own plans and ambitions. The key to receiving the full backing of heaven is that we walk in accordance with God’s will.
The Gospel must be preached in the power of the Holy Spirit to the whole creation. For that to happen, we obviously must cooperate with the Holy Spirit and follow His instructions. Remember, though, that the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Hebr. 10:29). He does not work in our lives based on our performance but based on His grace.
Obedience under grace is thus not only important – it is necessary. However, it is only by the grace of God – His undeserved favor – that are we capable of obeying God in the first place. Therefore, we cannot boast about how good we are at obeying God. No, all the glory goes to Jesus who lives and works in and through us.