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.

Are there different levels in heaven?

Many years ago I was given a booklet that claimed certain Christians would have positions of great benefit and joy in heaven. The rest of the saved would be in heaven, but would not have the joy of being always in the presence of God. Certain religious groups teach that only a select few will enjoy the New Jerusalem, while most will live in a new earth. Does the Bible teach that certain saints will have higher positions, better mansions, more importance or greater joy in heaven than others?

The Bible teaches of a time coming when Jesus will reign over the world from Jerusalem. Jesus’ earthly kingdom is not heaven or eternity. Jesus’ kingdom is an empire that will cover the earth and last for a thousand years. During His rule over the world, certain faithful disciples of Jesus will be given positions of leadership and responsibility in His kingdom. Some will be entrusted with greater positions of service in Jesus’ millennial kingdom. Jesus’ empire will never cease, but the thousand year kingdom will end with another rebellion from Satan and the total destruction of the universe as it currently exists. After the final destruction of the universe, God will create a new earth and new heaven. The new heaven and new earth are the places of eternal bliss most often described when one talks about heaven and eternal joys.

The Bible does not give much information about what things will be like in heaven. What it does say does not give any indication that there are different levels in heaven. Sometime after death, God’s servants are rewarded for their faithfulness in service to Him. However, the Bible indicates that these rewards are not kept but are given back to Jesus as an act of worship recognizing that He alone is worthy to be praised. (Revelation 4: 10) In the eternally perfect universe, heaven, the Bible doesn’t say anything at all about certain people having positions of special privilege or rank. The clearest teachings in the Bible about the eternal state are found in Revelation 21 and 22. Describing the saved who inhabit heaven, Revelation 21 says, ” Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” Revelation 22 says, “And his servants will serve Him, and they shall see His face.” It seems that in heaven those who are saved will have equal status as God’s servants and equal access into His presence. All will share equally in eternal bliss. None will be in greater joy and none will be closer to God than others. There will not be any low level Christians nor VIP saints in heaven.