Is There Any Room for Obedience?

Is there any room for obedience in salvation? I am trying to answer this question but I find many confusing answers in the protestant world. Some don’t seem to think obedience is important.

Some argue that we cannot obey God. Phil Johnson, himself a Calvinist, in arguing against an extreme form of Calvinism says this, “…the sinner’s inability to obey God does not nullify his duty to do so.” Notice the assumption that the sinner is unable to obey.

Boyce and Rykin in The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (page 70) echo the thought:

“Here we are dealing with the nature and extent of sin, and the point is that we are radically sinful, so much so that we cannot take even the smallest of steps toward God unless he first intervenes.”

The Southern Baptist Convention says this in their Baptist Faith and Message:

“Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God.”

Note that “only the grace of God” is needed to bring man into renewed fellowship. Later, the document says,

Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.”

That’s not too clear and it doesn’t answer the question. Is there room for obedience? Is there anything I must do to be saved?

The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) says salvation is simply based,

“The teaching of Luther and the reformers can be summarized in three short phrases: Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone.”

Again, I struggle to find what I must do to be saved. Is there something I must obey? I would add that I don’t understand how to have grace alone if I also need faith and scripture. That doesn’t seem to be alone to me.

Noted Baptist preacher John Piper puts it this way,

“We do not think that faith precedes and causes new birth. Faith is the evidence that God has begotten us anew.”

It seems that for Piper we sit and wait for some direct intervention or movement on the part of God. If it comes we are saved, if not we remain lost. He as much as says so:

“Man is dead in trespasses and sins. He cannot make himself new, or create new life in himself. He must be born of God. Then, with the new nature of God, he immediately receives Christ. The two acts (regeneration and faith) are so closely connected that in experience we cannot distinguish them. God begets us anew and the first glimmer of life in the new-born child is faith. Thus new birth is the effect of irresistible grace, because it is an act of sovereign creation—”not of the will of man but of God.”

That’s actually pretty good if we are defining words and terms the same way but I don’t think we are. Certainly man alone does not have the power to correct his spiritual condition. That requires God. But Piper is suggesting a direct and individual work of God on a sinner apart from any desire, intention or action that sinner might have.

What I Need From the Readers

I will soon post a Biblical discussion of obedience. I won’t be referencing anything other than Scripture. But until then, would you share your thoughts here? This is the simple question: “What must I do to be saved?” Please focus on the doing part. You can post your comments here. There is no need to register but you may if you wish.

baptism is no work

Is Baptism A Work?

8 comments On Is There Any Room for Obedience?

  • Bryant, I'm too busy right now to chew the cud myself, but this looks very good. it's helpful.

  • I am doing a lesson tomorrow that I will likely do an article on my blog about. The basic thought is this:

    The Battle between Armeniansism and Calvinism is reconciled in this thought. Our obedience does not save us in the sense that it provides the method or power of salvation. That is done in Christ, His blood, His sacrifice. Our Obedience saves us in the sense that it what Christ asks us to do in order to accept the covenant

    If we reject the obedience to Baptism then we are rejecting the covenant and the kingdom. We are lost not because God can’t save us but because we refused to accept his salvation.

    I’ll share the article when I get it done

  • You can't have one without the other

  • Colin Lambert

    The Gift of Salvation:
    There is always something to provoke us and test what we believe about the word of God. The sometimes apparent contradictions play with our minds and that is what our Lord wants because He wants us to seek Him earnestly.

    One of the things I’ve always found useful is passing my theology through the known character of God and the known character of man. Simply the character of God is all good and the character of man without Christ is all bad. If this is true, when it comes to salvation and you pass it through the known character of God, this remains: God does it all and as there is nothing good in me, there is nothing I can do to earn it. Therefore when it comes to baptisms (even baptism in the Holy Spirit), doing good things, or obeying laws and regulations none of this is of any consequence, or has any influence over what God has done. My responsibility is to simply reach out my arms to God and receive His precious gift.

    There are so many scriptures that relate to salvation being a gift and God’s grace plus nothing and not adding either baptism or obedience to them. There are only a few scriptures that seem to conflict with this.

    Not in this post but the next I want to discuss the meaning of Acts 2:37-38 and 1 Peter 3:21, which many people, assert shows that obedience to baptism is necessary for salvation. I don’t agree.

    Sacrificial love is all about unmerited favour and there it is all arguments about the theology of salvation stop there. This tells me that obedience flows from love and not the other way around. Consider this incorrect position: God only loves me IF I am obedient. Condition 1) I am only saved if I do good things for the rest of my life. Condition 2) I am only saved if I am baptised in water. Condition 3) I am only saved if I obey the Ten Commandments. Condition 4) I am only saved if I obey all of the conditions of 1), 2) and 3). No! No! No! God shows us He loves us in that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” The summary of salvation is simply. God has saved me.

    Now what of obedience? Does God want us to obey Him? Completely and totally His desire is for us to do that because He knows what is best for His children. However, obedience flows from love and again love is not conditional upon, or flows from our obedience. We should want to do what our Father wants because we love Him. Salvation is all about becoming God’s sons and daughters. Obedience is all about Christian maturity but it is not what makes us God’s son or daughter, that is simply about receiving His gift.

    Lord, tell Mum thanks for her amazing example. She would only want me to help her from love and a willing heart. If I didn’t have that heart, she didn’t want me to help. Her love covered my selfishness.

    Wow! God is good. Always!



  • Colin Lambert

    Acts 1:37:39

    “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
    38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

    In looking at the events preceding this verse, it can be noted that they were pretty upset because some of them now believed and understood their desperate position and had killed their Messiah. The issue is that they believed and as a consequence of what they believed they now should repent and be baptised. On the substance of the text you can’t assume that it necessarily links baptism as a requisite to salvation. It simply doesn’t mention salvation within the scripture and you can’t just assume it.

    If anything you could read verse 38 to imply that if you are baptized then you shall receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit because it is linked with Joel’s prophecy which took place on the day of Pentecost. (Peter had interpreted Joel’s prophecy to be those events). Note: the born again experience of receiving the Holy Spirit and the baptism in the Holy Spirit are mutually exclusive experiences although they can (but not necessarily) take place at the same time. Both experiences are received as a gift. No doubt that will stir the pot somewhat.

    It’s a joy hey?


  • Colin Lambert

    1 Peter 3:20-22

    “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
    21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
    22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”

    You can’t just read this passage of scripture as “…baptism doth also now save us…” Truly if you do you will completely miss the point. You would be failing to read that baptism in this instance is described as a “figure” or a picture of the reality. The reality is the substance of “a good conscience toward God” specifically stated in the scripture and again…as attained “by the resurrection of Christ” as mentioned in the rest of the scripture. The salvation part actually comes from belief in the merits of Christ’s resurrection and baptism is described as a figure or a picture of that reality. Not the reality itself.

    The significant issue here is that baptism is linked as a figure.

    The devil will always try to elevate the status of man and diminish the status of God just look at the cults. By adding baptism as a requisite to salvation, the devil dimishes the work of Christ and elevates the status of man in that man needs to do something to earn his salvation.

    I’m not saying that people who believe that they need to be baptised to be saved are part of a cult. I do believe that the devil has hoodwinked them.

    God bless all my brothers and sisters who have believed on the merits of Christ and who are baptised believing it to be a requisite of salvation. God bless all my brothers and sisters who have believed on the merits of Christ and are saved, then as a consequence follow the example of Christ and are baptised demonstrating the internal reality of what Christ has done.

    Obedience after salvation brings sanctification drawing us closer to Christ. But it is not and can never be part of the salvation process. Truth be known we probably sin every day and even quicker than that. If my obedience is requisite to salvation, frankly I am never going to be obedient enough and nor will you.

    Still love me? I love you disagree all you like.

    Always yours,

    Colin Lambert

    • A careful examination of the text will show that the type-antitype relationship with between the ark and baptism. The parenthetical statement does not change that relationship but explains that baptism is not about washing off external dirt but results in a good conscience toward God. Without it, what would you have? A bad conscience toward God? Now let’s be clear, baptism alone does not save like some would argue grace alone or faith alone saves. It’s is part of a divine process imagined by God and given by his blessed son. Why not just take the text in its ancient simplicity and read it as it is written? I will continue to pray for you, for me, and for all who read these words.

      • Colin Lambert

        Hi Bryant,

        Thanks for your reply, loving words and prayers. I can only say that my conscience is clear not by following an ordinance, but as a result in my belief in Christ. The ordinance of baptism is a physical picture of that clear conscience.

        The depth of the word of God is amazing and the aspects of baptism are pretty much covered. When I have perfect theology on the issue I will let you know. But I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

        You believe baptism is a requisite to salvation. I don’t believe it is a requisite to salvation but have been baptised reflecting what Christ has done for me. According to what we both believe we are saved.

        All my love in Him and I uphold you in my prayers. Not on this issue, but simply for life as you are my brother and I love you.

        Your friend and brother,


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