One of the trickiest realities we face as followers of Christ is the tension between what it means to accept the free gift of salvation and what it means to obey in the way Jesus commands. We see this coupling throughout Scripture, and it can be confusing when we don’t seek out understanding from the Holy Spirit.
Is salvation a free gift? YES! And amen!
Does Jesus call us to obey the Gospel? Yes. (But is obedience that important? Still yes!) An understanding of these two truths is crucial in understanding what it means to know the whole Gospel.
Drive around town for a few minutes, and you might spot a bumper sticker with the catchy line, “Jesus saves!” Or maybe you’ve seen it on a billboard or other brochure of some sort. We wholeheartedly believe this. Jesus does save! And He offers the free gift of salvation by grace alone. Praise the LORD!
As a sign of maturing in the faith, it’s evident throughout Scripture we are to bear or carry the fruit of the Spirit as we remain in Him. A natural response to God’s love is to obey Him. In fact, we are told very plainly in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 that there is punishment coming not only for those who do not know God, but also those who “do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This seems serious! We should be attentive to understand what it means to obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What obedience DOESN’T mean
Obedience isn’t a forced and pressure-driven checklist to make sure you make the cut when you walk up to the pearly gates. It’s not meant to be motivated by fear or by reward. It’s not even meant to be motivated by duty! So, what is obedience?
What obedience DOES mean
Obedience ends up being a reflection of what’s true in our hearts when our heart has been transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life. When we consider the God who has saved us and loves us and offered this free gift of salvation, a natural response will be to obey, if we truly love Him. We don’t need to be afraid and scrambling to earn anything. Rather, we should let the Holy Spirit work in us, as He promises to do when we choose to make Him our Lord and Savior! And in alignment with Scripture, the Spirit will lead you to obey all that Jesus commanded!
When Jesus first stepped on the scene, He immediately began proclaiming “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23). This good news was, when the King’s will is “done on earth as it is in heaven,” (Mt. 6:10) people and communities are transformed. This theme is the start to finish message from God to man, for this “gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world…and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). And when “the end” does comes, “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven…dealing out retribution” to those who did not believe in the Savior and obey the King.
This passage is one of the many signposts in Scripture that point to the Gospel as a compound concept. “Jesus saves” is the bumper sticker for modern Christianity. But this fundamental truth but does not stand in isolation as “The Gospel,” because believing is just the beginning of the story while following is the rest of the story.