To obey or not to obey the Lord Godthis has been and is the crucial question for every human being. Obedience as opposed to disobedience is a life-and-death issue. God has given humankind the innate power of choice: the choice of obedience leads to God's promised blessing of life; the choice of disobedience leads to curse, judgment, and death.
God's clear instructions to the very first human beings in the garden of Eden was to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil ( Gen 2:16 ). He expected their obedience. They disobeyed, thereby losing initial favor with God. Nonetheless, they were restored to favor when God granted them the privileged role of being the first parents of all subsequent generations of humankind.
The obedience of Abraham is perhaps most exemplary in the Old Testament. On two occasions, he demonstrated total submission to God's will. First, he obeyed God's command to go to a new land ( Gen 12 ). This response meant leaving Ur of the Chaldees, a highly developed city, to go to the unknown, unfamiliar land that God would show to himthe land of Canaan. Abraham's obedience results in his being elected a chosen one for a special role in God's salvation-plan for humankind. Second, he obeyed God's command to offer his son as a sacrifice ( Gen 22:1-19 ).
Obedience was a main concern during the time of the encampment of the people of Israel at the base of Mount Sinai, to which God directed Moses to lead them after their deliverance from the Egyptians. There God, with Moses as mediator, provided the people with general and specific stipulations for conforming to his will. At Mount Sinai God established a special covenant relationship between himself and the people of Israel. He also gave them the Decalogue or "Ten Words" ( Exod 20:1-17 ), which constituted a list of basic moral and religious guidelines for those who were in this special relationship with God.
The call to be obedient underlies two or more key verses of the Pentateuch. One is Leviticus 19:2: "Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy." Obedience should emanate from a commitment to live a holy life before God and others in the covenant community. A second key passage is Deuteronomy 6:4-5: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." This is a divine call, urging a total love for God that results in unhesitating obedience to his will.
Unfortunately, obedience on the part of Israel was preempted by disobedience as the predominant characteristic of the nation's history. Only a small segment of God's chosen people chose to follow his word. During most of the two-kingdom times, gross apostasy and disobedience were widespread. During the course of Israel's history, Deuteronomic theology (see Deut 28:15-68 )if obedient, blessing; if disobedient, then curse/judgmentremained operative. The massive turning away from God and the refusal to heed the prophets' warnings left God no alternative but to exercise his judgment and to destroy both kingdoms.
The prophets called for a new covenant, which would resolve the problem of failure to remain obedient to God. Jeremiah, after denouncing the unfaithfulness of God's people, made the pronouncement of this covenant ( 31:31-34 ). This covenant would be placed in the people's minds and in the people's hearts. Jeremiah provides details of how in "new covenant" times obedience will have first and only place. The law of God in hearts and minds will preclude any sinful Acts against God and fellow humankind.
The reality of this new covenant was portrayed in Jesus' supreme example of obedience to the heavenly Father, when he gave himself as the ultimate sacrifice for atonement of sin.
Jesus' emphasis on being born again underscores the need of atonement for effecting forgiveness of sins. Jesus talks to Nicodemus about being born again or "from above" as the requirement for entering the kingdom of God ( John 3:3-6 ). The way of death would be thus changed to the way of life.
Jesus prayed that his disciples would be sanctified, be made inwardly holy, and thereby be enabled to live a holy life outwardly ( John 17:6-19 ). Provision for this inner holiness and cleansing requisite for true obediencewas effected by his atoning sacrifice on the cross.
The Holy Spirit is provided to all who believe in Jesus. The Spirit's abiding presence enables all God's people to carry out God's will and to live obediently before him.
Harvey E. Finley
Bibliography. W. Brueggeman, Interpretation and Obedience; P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy; W. E. McCumber, Holy God, Holy People: Holiness in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; R. S. Taylor, Exploring Christian Holiness.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Obedience'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".