Why does our Statement of Faith (#10) on Christian Living in This We Believe keep repeating “As a result — not a cause — of redemption, believers should. . . .“ Doesn’t this water down the importance of obedience?
With you (the questioner), the Church of God affirms the high value Scripture places on obedience as a vital aspect of Christian faith and practice. Dozens or hundreds of Bible texts in both Testaments underscore the importance of keeping the divine moral law: the commandments of God and of Christ. The imperative duty of every man, woman, boy, and girl is to obey God rather than man. The entire Bible constantly conveys the idea that knowing and obeying the perfect Word and will of God is humanity’s whole duty.
Why, then, does the Church, as a uniform preface to her several sub-statements on Christian conduct, insist that human acts of obedience do not and cannot cause (i.e., produce, generate, or bring about) redemption (i.e., salvation)? Primarily, because we also recognize the biblical truth that obedience has its limits.
The limits of obedience are not due to flaws in the laws that define sin but to our human flaws — the sin that dwells in us all (Romans 7:12, 14, 16-18). Our inability to perform flawless obedience to the flawless law of God is inseparable from what it means to be human, though freely redeemed and fully justified in Christ (Isaiah 64:6; Philippians 3:9). Thus we affirm the priority of God’s unlimited grace to redeem and save His people through their faith in the perfect work of Jesus, rather than through the limits of their imperfect obedience.
This view protects the glory of God and rejects any human boast for salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29-31; Galatians 6:14; Ephesians 2:9). It recognizes that salvation and redemption require the perfect work of an almighty, sovereign God and that all human obedience and good works are less than perfect, tainted by the tendency to pride and selfishness. It harmonizes with the many Bible texts that indicate our own righteousness (obedience and good works) is insufficient to win the righteousness of God (Isaiah 64:6; Philippians 3:9).
We do not “water down” the importance of obedience to God’s plan when we recognize human obedience as subordinate to the divine mercy and grace received in Christ. Rather, a greater obedience may be enabled through love and gratitude toward God and Christ than can be generated through legal requirement. Properly taught, the gospel of God’s grace in Christ does not water down the beauty of holiness and obedience. On the contrary, grace establishes obedience, elevates its importance, and waters it up (Romans 3:31).
Earlier in our This We Believe book, Statement of Faith #4 provides a fuller explanation of what we understand Scripture teaches concerning salvation and redemption. “Sinful humanity may be saved from the penalty of eternal death and receive eternal life instead, solely by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from human merit, works, or ceremonies” (p. 47). With our salvation foundation laid squarely on God’s grace in Christ Jesus, we go on to affirm over and over that obedience and good works freely flow from that salvation, not the other way around.
— Elder Calvin Burrell
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