When a person begins to understand God’s grace, the idea of obedience to Him can seem stressful, especially if one is coming out of legalism. Why? Because obedience under law is done from an obligation mindset rather than a freedom mindset. The good news is that we have died to the law through our death with Christ on the cross. (Galatians 2:19) For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. (Romans 7:4) So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
After I first understood Christ as my life and who I am in Christ, I was turned off whenever obedience was mentioned. I’ve found that to be the case for many others who lived legalistically. When you are told over and over that you are to live for Jesus but never taught you are to live from Jesus in you, Christianity becomes a giant burden that gets heavier and heavier. That’s why people burn out on Christianity. Some even turn away from God for a while.
When I was teaching Romans 5-8 in our Advanced Discipleship class, a man named, Gary shared his story:
- Shortly after I came to faith in Jesus, I realized that the obedience to God I was being taught was required of me was impossible. My new found joy turned into utter discouragement. I decided I would quit attending church and just give up on the entire Christianity thing. However, Jesus remained very real to me. I tried to run away from Jesus but he didn’t run away from me. I worked as a nurse in a wing of a hospital where everyone was terminally ill. I couldn’t keep quiet and kept surprising myself by sharing the gospel with these dying patients over and over. After several months, I started reading the Bible again. Little by little, God started showing me the difference between law-based obedience and grace-based obedience. I’m now fully engaged in my church and have a tremendously satisfying relationship with God.
What is the difference in law-based obedience and grace-based obedience?
- Law-based obedience is an external standard I believe I must live up to in order for God to bless me and to become a better Christian.
- Grace-based obedience is living from the internal reality of Christ in me so I can live like who I am in Him.
- The first is a burden.
- The latter is a blessing.
- The first is bondage.
- The latter is freedom.
- The first is living from the flesh in hopes of living for Jesus.
- The latter is living from Jesus so I am enabled to live for Jesus.
- The first is trying to obey God so He will love and accept me more.
- The latter is obeying God because I’m confident He always loves and accepts me.
- The first is obeying God so I can complete what’s lacking in my identity as a good Christian.
- The latter is obeying God as an expression of my complete identity in Christ.
- The first is is obedience through “Try Harder Christianity”.
- The latter is obedience through “Trust Him Christianity”.
Which is more important to God? Obedience or dependence? They are equally important but we need to always start with dependence on Christ in us for the power to obey.
Here’s something you might want to do. Read Ephesians completely. When you do, you will notice some things. Chapters 1-3 tell us how God’s glorious grace has provided everything we need to live the Christian life. Chapter 4-6 tell us how to live that out. Every time we are instructed to do something in Chapters 4-6, we are being told to live like who we are in Christ from the power of Christ in us. In other words, we are being told we are now free to live for Jesus from Jesus in us. That’s the great beauty and freedom of grace-based obedience.
Live Free in Christ,
Mark Maulding, President & Founder