Faith cannot exist apart from obedience. To believe in Christ is to obey Christ. Belief and obedience were never meant to be two separate actions when it comes to our faith, but somehow, Christians have created a “cheap grace,” in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, where belief does not require obedience, but simply requires confessing Jesus as one’s Savior and going on with life until it is time to go to heaven. This is unbiblical theology and is certainly not found in the pages of the Bible.
You may have at some point pondered the seemingly conflicting words in the Bible, where James says works are necessary for faith (James 2:17-26) and Paul says all you need is faith to be saved (Eph. 2:8-9). I have spent a long time wondering how these truths fit together, as they are both in the inspired Word of God, but they seem to say different things. However, when you look back into the gospels and the early church, belief implied obedience. Read Matthew 4:18-22. In these verses, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew out of their boats to follow Him. What do these two men do? Do they say, “We believe you are the Christ, but we think it’d be better if we stay in our careers as fishermen”? No, it says, “at once they left their nets and followed Him.”
Obedience presupposes faith.
Paul, the one who wrote many verses saying that believers are saved by faith alone, was also the one who gave his life to the call of the gospel, sacrificing even himself through martyrdom for the sake of proclaiming the name of Christ. That was not just because he felt like that is what he wanted to do with his life. It was because of the inner work of the Holy Spirit cultivating a faith in him that resulted in him obeying the call of God for the rest of his life.
Subsequently, faith produces obedience. They go hand-in-hand, and you cannot have one without the other.
Find one person in the New Testament who simply believed Jesus was who He said He was but did not obey the commands of Christ and was not condemned for it by Jesus himself or by one of the apostles. You probably cannot find one because there was not anyone who lived like this. What has changed that has resulted in such a culture of this faith without obedience today?
We have sacrificed on the altar what putting one’s faith in Christ truly means for the sake of trying to see the maximum amount of people come to “put their faith in Christ.” We have substituted costly grace for cheap grace because costly grace is just that—costly. It requires “too much” of us—it is costly because it calls us to follow, but it is grace because of who it calls us to follow, Jesus Christ.
Cheap grace is easier, allowing one to maintain the life they lived before Christ for the most part. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that “cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner… it’s the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” It is the deadly enemy of our Church, but one that we have allowed in.
So, what’s the cure? We must cultivate in the church a true meaning of what it means to believe in Christ.
To believe in Christ is to be a disciple of Christ. A disciple is someone who is learning to follow Him in obedience.
Following Christ leads to a rich, costly grace, one full of repentance, discipline, confession, discipleship, the remarkable beauty of the cross, and an intimate relationship with the one who continually calls us to Himself. How much more beautiful it is to lay down one’s life in pursuit of Christ rather than living for our own selfish desires. It cost everything for Jesus to lay down His life for ours, so why would we not desire to give Him ours in return for the costly grace He so lovingly gave us undeserving humans?
However, we cannot just change the culture of cheap grace overnight. We must take practical steps to create this environment of costly grace in our own lives. For you, this may mean learning the discipline of studying your Bible daily as we step into the new year, so you can learn what Jesus actually calls us to do. It may look like calling or texting someone who is a newer believer than you and asking them if they would like to get lunch so you can pour into them, as the Bible calls us to do. Discipleship looks like teaching others to follow Christ as you are continually learning how to follow Christ yourself. It may look like crying out to the Lord, repenting of an unconfessed sin that you have held onto for so long, trying to justify it by saying God’s grace covers it, when in reality, you know you must give it over to Him if you truly believe that believers are “dead to sin” (Rom. 6). Whatever it may be, we must all take steps to reorient the church to what being a believer truly means—being an obedient follower of Christ.
“Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If you enjoyed reading this, go pick up a copy of The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man who gave his life in the midst of the holocaust to proclaim the name of Christ where it was needed most.