When Obedience is Disobedience: A Gospel Primer

“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19 ESV)

The difference between demons and the children of God is not in their “beliefs”, but in their “lives”.

God demands PERFECT obedience. So does this mean that we are to always do right and never fail or fall at any point? That sounds quite… UNREALISTIC. No human being can do that, at least not from my own experience.

I have found the Bible’s requirement of PERFECT OBEDIENCE to be unrealistic only when we confine the command to our own human and philosophical definitions of “perfect obedience”. It is good to cultivate the habit of attaching God’s commandments to God’s conditions and God’s contexts. Otherwise our human presumptions will keep clashing with God’s prescriptions and we will end up the more frustrated than anything else.

The Bible is not just a list of “dos” and “don’ts” with the ones doing the “dos” getting into heaven and the ones failing to do fueling the fires of hell. The Bible is about people who keep failing to do the “dos”. The Bible is also about what God has done and provided for this REALITY of sin in our nature.

In the Old Testament, we see the 10 commandments AND we also see numerous provisions for the times those 10 commandments will be broken. In fact, we see provisions for the many times the 613 Jewish regulations will be broken.

God not only knew people would break the 10 commandments when He gave them, He provided a way of dealing with this failure. All the additional regulations about the sacrifices or atonement for sins and failure are included in the law of God. They are not outside the law. They are the law. I would even dare say the law of God would be IMPERFECT without these provisions.

Therefore, perfect obedience, at least in the OT times, meant:

  1. Knowing and striving to obey the 10 commandments,
  2. Realizing we are unable to obey the 10 commandments, and
  3. Applying the sacrificial remedies provided for that failure.

The three are a trinity. They go together. The moment we look at and strive to keep only one part of the package, we are no longer “perfectly” obeying the God of the Bible.

In the same way, perfect obedience in the post New Testament age is about striving to obey the 10 commandments, realizing we are unable to obey the 10 commandments, and applying the sacrificial remedy for that failure. That sacrificial remedy is Jesus Christ.

If we only strive to obey the 10 commandments without considering the reality of our inability and the remedy of Christ’s death, we are being disobedient. Even if we could actually “perfectly” keep the 10 commandments, we would be going against what the Word of God teaches. We would no longer be obeying God but following our own twisted definition of “perfect obedience.”

In other words, our perceived obedience could actually be an act of disobedience. We go against the Word of God if:

  1. We ignored the striving after the 10 commandments and only focused on the sacrificial remedy for our failure, or
  2. We only focused on what Jesus has done for us and neglected the 10 commandments.

So let us strive to do right, brothers and sisters. Let us:

  1. Do all we can to obey the law of God, to love our neighbours, care for the orphans, give generously to the needy.
  2. Become vividly aware that despite our best efforts we will not love our neighbors as we ought, we will not give as we ought or care as we ought.
  3. Always remember that God has provided a way that both rids us of the guilt of our failure and equips us with strength to obey the law of love.

Let us remember that obedience of the 10 commandments is mandatory, failure is inevitable and the Cross of Christ is what reconciles this paradox. Freedom is found in Christ alone and nowhere else, no one else.

For the fame of His name.


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