What role does obedience play in salvation?

The gospel message is God’s promise of full forgiveness of sin because of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection to life. Central to the gospel is the promise that salvation is received through faith alone apart from any individual effort to purchase, earn or deserve God’s salvation. Salvation is only by the grace of God and is never given as reward or repayment for good works. The classic way of stating this is that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. This is the most basic Christian teaching. One is not saved who believes salvation can be gained, whether partially or completely, through any meritorious deed.

Obedience will never bring salvation to a person. Obedience will never secure salvation. Obedience will never sustain salvation. Obedience will never strengthen salvation. All obedience necessary to save a person has been completely accomplished by Jesus. Some protest that such a full and free salvation would encourage men to receive salvation and then live a sinful life with no regard for obedience. Paul answers this exact objection in Romans 6, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!” The freeness of salvation is never an excuse to live wickedly. Since the obedience of the individual plays no role in gaining or securing salvation, what is the relationship of obedience to salvation?

Obedience shows the reality of one’s salvation. Obedience is the certain result of salvation. Many denominations and religions teach unbiblical ideas on this point, so clarity is crucial. Obedience is the inevitable fruit of salvation, just like an apple on a tree. The apple itself brings nothing to strength or stability of the tree. Fruit reveals the health of the tree. The gospel seed that is received in a believing heart will bear fruit. One fruit of salvation is diligence to obey the commands of God. The absence of obedience does not remove salvation from the soul. The absence of obedience does not prevent one from being saved. The absence of obedience reveals the person was never saved. 1 John 2:4 says, “He that says, I know Him and keeps not His commandments is a liar.”

Obedience is the inevitable fruit of salvation but this does not mean the saved person will never sin, nor even that the person will never commit serious sin. Peter is a powerful example of this. Many remember Peter’s denial of Jesus. Though He most vigorously and blasphemously denied Jesus, Peter remained a disciple. The book of Galatians describes an event many years later. After the gospel began to spread into the regions around Jerusalem Peter fell into an act of collusion with apostates who denied the gospel. The seriousness of his sin brought a stern and public rebuke from the apostle Paul. Peter’s sin was one that undermined the gospel, but he never ceased to be a Christian, nor even to be an apostle. Failures in obedience do remove salvation, nor do incidents of disobedience disprove salvation. Rather, a pattern of striving to obey God in all things is a mark of genuine salvation. A life of willful disobedience is evidence that a professing Christian has not actually been saved. Obedience is the evidence of genuine salvation, the by-product of the transformed heart.

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