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Is Obedience to the Gospel Essential to Salvation?

Must We Obey Jesus to Be Forgiven of Sin?

Must we obey the Bible to be saved?Can a person be saved and receive eternal life if he does not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is obedience necessary to salvation and forgiveness of sins? Does the blood of Jesus save those who love or believe or "accept Jesus as Savior," even if they obey no commands? 

Does the Bible teach justification by "faith only" or "faith alone" apart from works? Is salvation conditional or unconditional? How important is obedience?

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Many religious people deny that obedience is essential to eternal life.

Hiscox' Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, says: "Baptism is not essential to salvation, ... but it is essential to obedience, since Christ has commanded it" (via Handbook of Religious Quotations p. 21). This admits baptism is essential to obedience, but denies baptism is essential to salvation. The necessary conclusion is that obedience is not essential to salvation.

An article reprinted in Pulpit Helps (7/84) tells this story: "A small boy asked the preacher, 'Sir, What can I do to be saved?' The preacher replied, 'Son, you're too late.' 'What!' exclaimed the boy, 'too late to be saved?' 'No,' said the preacher, 'too late to do anything. You see, son, Jesus already did it all two thousand years ago." (via The Christian Chapel Bulletin, 1/92)

Sam Morris said: "We take the position that a Christian's sins do not damn his soul. The way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people has nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul. All the prayers a man can pray, all the Bibles he may read, all the churches he may belong to, all the services he may attend, all the sermons he may practice, and all the debts he may pay, all the ordinances he may observe, all the laws he may keep, all the benevolent acts he may perform, will not make his soul one bit safer. And all the sins he may commit from idolatry to murder, will not make his soul in any more danger." (via Truth Magazine 3/22/73, p.3)

The purpose of this lesson is to study the Scriptures to determine whether or not obedience is essential to receive eternal life.

We agree that no man will be saved by living a perfectly sinless life (Rom. 3:23). And we agree that no man's obedience earns, merits, or deserves eternal life. So, no man will be saved without grace and faith. But having committed sin, are there things man must do, in addition to grace and faith, to receive forgiveness of sins?

We agree that the blood of Jesus is the only power that can forgive sins. Once a man has sinned, nothing he could do could make up for sin without the blood of Jesus. However, we are asking whether or not the Bible teaches that certain acts of obedience are necessary as conditions in order to benefit from the cleansing power of Jesus' blood.

In particular, we seek to study basic Bible requirements that religious people generally agree are necessary to salvation. Then we will attempt to see how these doctrines relate to obedience. Do they prove obedience is not essential to salvation, or do they confirm that it is essential?

I. Obedience and Accepting Jesus As Lord And Savior

Some people tell sinners, "You don't need to do anything to be saved. Just accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior." But is it really possible to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior to receive His salvation without obeying Him? What does it really mean to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior? Consider:

A. What Does It Mean to Accept Jesus as Lord?

"Lord" means ruler, master, one who exercises authority. So to "accept Him as Lord" means to obey His rules and submit to his authority.

Luke 6:46 - "But why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say?" Your master is the one you obey (cf. Rom. 6:16; Matt. 6:24). What right do you have to claim Jesus is your Lord, if you don't obey Him? None! If you don't obey, you have not accepted Him as your master.

Matthew 7:21-27 - To enter the kingdom of heaven, it is not enough to call Jesus "Lord, Lord." Remember, the preacher we quoted earlier said there is nothing to do. But Jesus said one must do the will of the Father (v 21).

Hearing and doing what Jesus says is like building on the rock. If you hear and don't do, you are building on the sand. Note that Jesus is discussing how to enter the kingdom of heaven (v 21). To enter, you must do. Your claim to accept Him as Lord is empty till you obey His teachings.

Acts 10:35 - To be acceptable to Him, one must fear Him (respect authority) and work righteousness (obey authority).

When a person claims that one must accept Jesus as Lord to be saved but does not have to obey Jesus to be saved, he contradicts himself and He contradicts Jesus. It is like claiming you are lying in bed and running an Olympic marathon at the same time. One cannot run a marathon lying in bed, and one cannot accept Jesus as Lord without obeying Him.

[Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 12:47f; 17:9f; 1 Cor. 7:19; Col. 3:23f; Heb. 13:20f; John 8:31]

B. What Does It Mean to Accept Jesus as Savior?

To accept Jesus as Savior, you must come to Him to receive the forgiveness of sins. But if He is the Savior, then you must come on His terms. He is the one who determines whom He will save and what has to happen in your life for Him to save you. What does He say about this?

Hebrews 5:9 - He is author (source) of salvation to all that obey Him. To accept His salvation, you must obey. If you believe obedience is not necessary, then you have not accepted the Savior according to the terms He requires in Scripture.

Romans 6:17,18 - To be made free from sin and become servants of righteousness, people in sin must obey the teaching delivered. When were people made free from sin? When they obeyed the teaching. That's what the Savior says. Do you accept Him as Savior? Then you must accept what He says about the conditions of salvation. [Cf. v16 and v23.]

1 Peter 1:22,23 - You purify your soul and are born again by obeying the truth. When people claim that obedience is unnecessary, they often emphasize being "born again." But how is a person "born again"? By obeying the truth, the Word of God. The Bible doctrine of the new birth requires obedience. [Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:27; 2 Cor. 5:17]

Acts 22:10 - When Jesus spoke to the lost sinner Saul, Saul asked, "What shall I do, Lord?" The preacher we quoted earlier would have replied, "It's too late to do anything." But Jesus said to go into the city and "you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do" (9:6).

The Lord then sent Ananias, who told Saul to "be baptized and wash away thy sins" - 22:16. The Savior does not agree with those who say there is nothing to do to be saved. He says sinners must do something to be saved.

Jesus is the Lord and Savior. To be saved, you must accept Him as Lord and Savior. But you must accept Him on His terms as revealed in His word. His word says you cannot accept Him without obedience.

If you believe obedience is not essential to salvation, then according to Jesus' word you fail to understand what it means to accept Him. As in Matthew 7:21-27, He will say, "Depart from me..."

[James 1:21-25; John 15:14; Phil 2:12f; Acts 2:40; 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Pet. 2:20-22]

II. Obedience and Loving Jesus

All people recognize the importance of love. 1 Corinthians 16:22 - If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed." [1 Cor. 13:1-3.]

When discussing obedience, some say, "I don't think it matters how you serve the Lord or what you do in His service. All that matters is if you love Him." But is it possible to love Him if you don't obey Him? Consider:

A. Love Is a Form of Obedience.

Matthew 22:36-39 - The two greatest commands are to love God and love your neighbor. So, if you believe that love is essential to salvation, then you must believe that obedience to commands is essential to salvation, because love is a command that must be obeyed!

John 13:34; 15:12 - "This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you."

Love is essential to salvation. But love is a command. Therefore, obeying commands is essential to salvation, for here is one command all agree is essential.

The man who says obedience to commands is not necessary, is saying love is not necessary, for love is a command. It is the greatest of all commands.

[John 15:13f; 1 John 3:22-24; 4:21; 2 John 5; 1 Tim. 1:5; Jas. 2:8]

B. Love Requires Us to Obey Other Commands.

John 14:15,21-24 - "If ye love me, you will keep my commands." One who loves Jesus is one who keeps his commands (v21 & 23). One who doesn't love, doesn't keep His commands (v24). Conclusion: The person who says obedience is not essential, is saying (unintentionally) that you can please God and be saved without loving Him!

1 John 5:3; 2 John 6 - "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." [cf. 1 John 5:2]

1 John 3:18 - "Let us not love in word, neither with the tongue, but in deed and truth."

Love must show itself in our actions. We must obey God's commands. If we don't obey, we don't really love. So obedience is essential to love. But love is essential to salvation. Therefore, obedience is essential to salvation. Instead of proving obedience is not required, the Bible doctrine of love proves the opposite: obedience is required.

[Rom. 13:8-10; 1 John 2:5; Rev. 2:4,5; 1 Thess. 1:3; John 15:10; Luke 6:27-36]

III. Obedience and Believing In Jesus

All who claim to be Christians agree that one must have faith to be saved (Heb. 11:6; Mk. 16:16; John 8:24 etc.). But some claim that faith makes obedience unnecessary. "We are saved by faith alone. As long as you believe in Jesus, it doesn't matter whether or not you do these other things." When some people are told about the need for obedience, they begin describing people who believe in God and Jesus, as though that is all that is necessary to salvation. But is this a correct conclusion?

A. Faith Is a Form of Obedience.

1 John 3:23,24 - God commands us to believe in Jesus; we must keep His commands to abide in Him. If we recognize the importance of faith, we must recognize the importance of obedience, since faith itself is a command from God that we must obey.

John 6:28,29 - People asked what they must do to work the works of God [cf. 1 Cor. 15:58; 16:10]. Jesus said the work for them to do is to believe. [Acts 16:30f]

Faith is essential to salvation. But faith is a command - a work - something required in obedience to God. Therefore, obedience is essential to salvation, for here is another act of obedience that is required for salvation. If someone claims that works of obedience are not necessary, he is (unintentionally) saying that faith is not necessary. If he then says faith is necessary, he contradicts himself.

B. Saving Faith Requires Us to Obey Other Commands.

Galatians 5:6 - What avails in Christ is faith working through love.

James 2:14-26 - Regarding the saving of the soul (v14), faith without works is dead like the body without a spirit. It is the kind of faith that demons have. Works are necessary to complete faith (make it perfect). Without obedience, faith is dead and incomplete. The faith that justifies is the faith that leads to works.

Hebrews 10:39; 11:8,30, etc. - Here are examples of the kind of faith we must have to save our souls. All examples show that men received the blessings of God only after their faith led them to obey His commands. Faith that does not obey is faith that cannot save. [Vv 7,33,4,17,24f]

The Bible doctrine of justification by faith is like the doctrine of love in that, instead of proving obedience is not essential, it proves the opposite. It shows that faith will not save until it moves us to obey. Justification by faith includes obedience; it does not exclude it. We are saved by faith when that faith has moved us to obey the conditions of salvation. Without that obedience, we do not have a saving faith.

[Cf. Rom. 1:5; 16:26 - "obedience of faith." 2 Thess. 1:11; 1 Thess. 1:3 - "work of faith." See also Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 5:7; John 7:17; 1 John 2:29; 1 Pet. 1:14; Matt. 12:50; Luke 8:21; Acts 5:32 with Rom. 8:9]

IV. Obedience, Repentance, and Confession

Most people who study the Bible will agree that repentance and confession are essential to salvation. But what is the connection between these acts and obedience?

A. Repentance Requires Obedience.

Repentance is a Divine command that we must obey to be saved.

Acts 17:30 - God commands all men everywhere to repent. So, repentance is a command that must be obeyed.

2 Peter 3:9 - All must come to repentance or they will perish (Luke 13:3,5).

Acts 2:37,38; 3:19 - When people asked what they should do (about their sins), Peter taught that everyone must repent in order to receive remission of sins., so their sins may be blotted out. (Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31)

2 Corinthians 7:10 - Godly sorrow produces repentance unto salvation.

As with love and faith, repentance is a command that must be obeyed in order to receive salvation. If so, then here is another act of obedience that is necessary to salvation. To say that obedience is not necessary to salvation would be to say that repentance is not necessary to salvation.

Repentance also requires that people must obey other commands.

Matthew 21:28-32 - The son who had refused to obey his father afterward regretted it ("repented" - KJV, ASV) and went. He did the will of the father.

Luke 3:8,9; Acts 26:20 - Those who repent are required to bring forth fruits of repentance: works worthy of repentance. Those who do not bear good fruits will be cast into the fire.

Repentance is a decision - a change of mind or a choice - in which a person determines to turn away from sin and start obeying God. Like love and faith, it is an act of obedience in and of itself, but it also necessarily requires that we obey other Divine commands. The person who denies that obedience is necessary to salvation has not truly repented of sins, for if he truly repents he will acknowledge that obedience is necessary!

B. Confession of Christ Requires Obedience.

Confession of Christ is an act of obedience that is stated in Scripture to be necessary to salvation.

Romans 10:9,10 - In order to be saved, one must both believe in Christ in his heart and confess Christ with his mouth. Note that confession is here separated from faith: faith is in your heart, but confession is an outward act done with the mouth. Yet, the confession is made "to salvation."

John 12:42,43 - Some rulers believed in Jesus but refused to confess Him, because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Note again that confession is distinguished from faith. These people believed, but they refused to confess Christ. Were they saved?

[Matthew 10:32; 16:15-18; John 1:49; 4:42; 9:35-38; 11:27; 12:42,43; Acts 8:36-38; 1 Timothy 6:12,13; 1 John 4:15]

When people deny that obedience is necessary to salvation, generally what they are objecting to is baptism. But the gospel clearly states that baptism is essential to salvation, just as it does repentance and confession (see Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3,4; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21). In particular, confession involves a physical outward obedience just as surely as baptism does. If we understand that repentance and confession are necessary to salvation, why object to the idea that baptism is necessary to salvation?

For further evidence that baptism is a step that is necessary to salvation, see our article on the purpose and importance of baptism.

V. Obedience and Receiving Eternal Life At The Judgment

Anyone who is concerned about Bible teaching will be very concerned about the Judgment day and eternal life. Yet, note the connection between these and obedience.

A. We Will Be Judged on the Basis of Our Deeds, Works, and Obedience.

Romans 2:6-10 - God renders to each man according to his works (v6). Those who continue patiently in doing good will receive eternal life (v7). Those who do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness and work evil, will receive tribulation and anguish, etc. (vv 8,9). But glory and honor await all who work good (v10). The things we do determine our eternal reward.

2 Corinthians 5:10 - Before the judgment-seat of Christ, "each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad." Does it make sense for men to teach that there is nothing to do to receive salvation, when the Bible says the things we do will be the very basis on which our eternal destiny is determined?

Revelation 20:12,13; 22:12 - Every man will be judged according to his works.

Challenge: Can you think of any passage that discusses the judgment and says that we will be judged on the basis of our faith or love, or that says we will give an account for these? For every one you find (if any) there will be 2 or 3 others that say it will be on the basis of works, deeds, actions, or things done.

Why is this? It is not because faith and love do not matter, but because "works" include faith and love, and because "obedience" is the test and the measure of our faith and love [John 14:15; Jas. 2:18].

[Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 17:30f; John 5:28f; 1 Pet. 4:17f; Matt. 16:27; 24:46-51; Jas. 2:12; Matt. 25:21ff; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 2:23,26; 3:15].

B. Eternal Life Is for Those Who Obey God.

John 5:28,29 - All people are raised to life or condemnation depending on whether they did good or did evil.

1 John 2:17 - "He that does the will of God abides forever."

2 Thessalonians 1:8,9 - Those who obey not the gospel will receive vengeance in flaming fire. They are punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.

Romans 2:7 - Eternal life is for those who are patient in doing good.

So, our eternal destiny depends on whether or not we obey God's instructions. We must love and believe, we must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, but all these things require obedience; they do not exclude it.

[Luke 10:25,28,37; John 6:27; Rom. 8:12f; 1 Tim. 6:17-19; Gal. 6:8-10; Matt. 12:50; Jas. 4:17 with Rom. 6:23; Gal. 5:19-21; John 12:50; 2 Pet. 1:10f; Heb. 10:36; Eph. 2:2; 5:6; Col. 3:6; 2 Cor. 10:5f; Heb. 2:2ff; Phil. 2:12f; Rev. 14:13].


Consider the consequences if a person believes the denominational doctrine that obedience is not necessary to salvation:

* Since accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior requires a commitment to obey him, it follows that such a person has not truly accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

* Since loving God requires and includes obeying Him, it follows that such a person does not truly love God.

* Since saving faith requires and includes obeying Him, it follows that such a person does not have a saving faith.

* Since repentance, confession, and baptism require obeying Him, it follows that such a person has not truly repented. Furthermore, he has not been properly baptized, since true baptism requires the person to believe that the purpose of baptism is to receive forgiveness of sin.

* Since obedience is necessary for one to stand justified before the Lord in the Judgment Day, it follows that such a person is not ready to face God in judgment.

So, obedience is essential to salvation. We must be "doers of the word."

1 John 2:3-6 - To know Him and abide in Him, we must keep his commands, keep his word. If we are not doing so, but still claim to know Him, we are liars, and we don't abide in Him. [Note what happens to liars - Rev. 21:8; John 15:5,6.]

1 John 3:6-8,10 - If we want to be righteous, we must practice righteousness. If we practice sin, we are of the Devil. If we don't practice righteousness, we are not of God. [Cf. 3:24]

We have learned that the obedience that God requires includes love, faith, repentance, confession, baptism, and a faithful life (1 Cor. 15:58). Have you obeyed the Lord? Are you willing to do so?

Note: You may want to learn more about topics related to this study, such as baptism or salvation by faith. If so, please see the links below for a list of other related topics available on our web site.

(C) Copyright 2002, 2007,David E. Pratte;
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Topics for further Bible study

Salvation by "Faith Only" vs. Obedient Faith
Why We Need Forgiveness
Things that Are Essential to Salvation
Have You Been "Born Again"?
The Purpose of Baptism
Individual Responsibility in Salvation
Importance of Repentance
God's grace and mercy (law & works)
Should Babies Be Baptized?
Is Baptism Sprinkling, Pouring, or Immersion?
Should Alien Sinners Pray for Forgiveness
Pharisees: Who Were They Really?
What about the Thief on the Cross? - Return to the Gospel Way home page.

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