How Only the Resurrection Empowers Our Obedience
Christ calls us to follow him, and our faith in his resurrection fills us with power from the Holy Spirit to obey. In other words, Christ has a purpose in filling his followers with resurrection power—obedience. This is the “obedience of faith” that Paul writes about as he lays out the gospel in Romans 1:1-6. Unfortunately, some Christians have the resurrection power of Christ available to them, but they have a stunted faith in Jesus’ resurrection, leaving them unaware of the power at their disposal. It’s like they’re an electrical appliance but their cord is unplugged.
A lot of weird theology is floating around today about obedience. For example, some think that calling for simple obedience is tantamount to teaching works-salvation. Then, others think you can pick and choose the commands of Jesus that you like to obey and you only have to obey them when it’s convenient for you. Of course, they wouldn’t say this, but they live like it’s true. Still others focus so much on their sin that they think their self-absorbed obsession with sin is obedience. Whatever the case, bad theology and sometimes even out-right heresy abounds with beliefs about obedience. But the Bible clearly teaches that if you don’t obey Jesus, you’re not following him.
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Jesus was crystal clear about obedience, and his Great Commission is a prime example. He calls his followers to make disciples who “observe all that I have commanded you.” The word for “observe” here is synonymous with the word for “obey.” Jesus instructed us to obey all his commands. “All” means all—no matter how you slice it or dice it. In this way, Christ, who is the resurrected king of God’s kingdom, calls for complete obedience from his followers. On more than one occasion, I (Bill) have taught that you give up the right to say “no” to Jesus when you begin following him. If you don’t do what he says, don’t trick yourself into thinking you’re following Jesus.
In the midst of all this talk of total obedience, remember that Jesus commands only what he empowers. If he asks us to do something, he’ll provide the way for us to do it. That’s why, at conversion, God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit who comes to dwell in us, “to give life to your mortal bodies” (Rom. 8:11). When does this infusion of power occur? Dallas Willard’s words are insightful here: “The Holy Spirit meets us in obedience.”
This doesn’t mean that disciples always choose obedience. You only have to read the New Testament to see that the apostles themselves followed Christ imperfectly. As the Apostle John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Our point here is that following Jesus is defined by obedience, and if we have full faith in Christ’s resurrection, then we will believe that his resurrection power enables us to obey him daily. This is what “living in the power of Christ’s resurrection” means.
7. Dallas Willard, “Spiritual Formation as a Natural Part of Salvation,” lecture presented at the Wheaton Theology Conference, 2009.