Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Maybe Obedience Isn't a Dirty Word After All

One of the passages of scripture I've used frequently discussions with fellow Christians objecting to LDS beliefs comes from Deuteronomy 4:2. I've often used that in clarifying some Book of Mormon issues (what does John mean when he warns others not to add or subtract to the words of his book? is he saying that God cannot or will not continue to speak?). Today, though, I'd like to call attention to the last phrase in the verse:
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
Today I'd like to speak to some of our Christian critics by putting in a good word for keeping the commandments. I think many Christians will naturally agree, but there are those who get bent out of shape by the excesses of critical theology.

For some, the phrase "keep the commandments" immediately smacks of denying the grace of Christ and proudly relying on works for salvation. This is often fueled by misunderstanding that the "law" that is so clearly abandoned in the New Testament refers to the Law of Moses, the system of rites, including animal sacrifices, and detailed rules that was a schoolmaster to prepare a hard-hearted generation for the coming of Christ and the higher laws of the the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Laws and commandments are still there, and obedience to the will of God is still asked of those who wish to received the unlimited grace Christ offers. It's not that anything we can do can wash away our sins, or earn the infinitely precious gift of resurrection or eternal life. But the blessings of grace are extended to us in the framework of a covenant relationship. If we follow God and worship Him in a covenant relationship, He offers His blessings to us in return. It is all by grace, but there are conditions upon which the gift is given.

By understanding that, we see that all the teachings in the Old Testament about following God and repenting of sins weren't abominable tripe, but truly were a schoolmaster to bring people to God.

When God spoke to Moses about our need to "keep the commandments," it wasn't a cruel joke. That phrase, used so many times in the Old Testament (e.g., "Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God" in Deut. 6:17, with related language in many other places), is no more irrelevant today than the statement, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments," as spoken by Jesus Christ in Matthew 19:17. Some of the commandments have changed, and our understanding of their role and our relationship to God has been greatly clarified, but the principle of obeying God has not been abandoned. His grace is essential for us to overcome our failures and sins, and to gain strength to overcome and follow Him, but the standard remains there and we are asked to obey Him with faith and diligence.

While there are numerous New Testament passages that speak of the importance of obedience by Christians, here are a few using "keep the commandments" terminology that may be helpful reminders:
1 John 5:2, 3 - "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous."

Rev. 12:17 - "And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." (Nice mix: the combination of commandment keeping and people with a testimony of Jesus Christ.)

Rev. 14:12 - "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." (Yes, faith and commandment keeping do belong together among those who follow Christ in a covenant relationship, known in New Testament times as the Saints.)
Of course, neither the New Testament nor Old Testament are misleading people in stressing the importance of obeying God and keeping His commandments. It's part of what God asks of those who wish to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That concept is abundantly expressed not only in the New Testament, but also in the earliest Christian writings after the New Testament, such as in the collection known as the Apostolic Fathers, where we find many sermons that often sound rather like modern LDS General Conference sermons to the Saints rather than lectures on the irrelevance of obedience.

One of the most self-evident reasons why Mormons aren't Christians, according to one local pastor who wrote a letter to the editor in my community on this topic a number of years ago, is our Third Article of Faith:
We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
He cited that as if it removed all doubt that we aren't Christian. The idea that we should strive to keep God's laws and commandments to access the power of the Atonement clearly meant, in his opinion, that we Mormons, in spite of worshiping Jesus Christ, had flawed theology and thus couldn't be Christian. We would fail the Great Theology Quiz on the day of judgment and suffer eternal doom (not to mention flunking the Big Quiz for not embracing the most up-to-date metaphysical formulations regarding the Trinity).

I think he's wrong, and would encourage him to think more openly about what the Bible is teaching. Just read the Gospel of John, for example, and look at the numerous teachings of Christ, and then see if the Third Article of Faith really is so apostate after all. We may have difference nuances on how we interpret the workings of grace, the judgment of God, and the role of human free agency in this process of mortality, but isn't is possible that there can be different understandings by people who still truly believe in and seek to follow Jesus Christ? Even those who seek to follow Him by seriously trying to implement His teachings in what may look shamefully like obedience, even intentional obedience? But there's nothing to be ashamed of: obedience is not a dirty word, but one that Christians should use proudly. No, humbly. That's it. Humbly. Humble obedience is the call, actually, and the great example set by Jesus Christ:
Philip. 2:8 - "And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

Hebrews 5:8 - "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered."

34 comments:

Ryan said...

The Old Testament gets a lot of flak for not teaching Christ and the gospel, but it -- like the Law of Moses -- really is a schoolmaster to point us toward Christ.

For example, one of the best explanations I ever found for the whole grace/works issue is the episode of the flying fiery serpents: the people had been bitten, were poisoned and dying, and what does God (though Moses) say? "Look up at a carved wooden snake on a pole and you will be saved." For me this is clearly a symbol of the way God makes covenants -- He sets the terms, we do our part, and the promised blessing comes. Yet, the Book of Mormon tells us many were so hard-hearted they would not look and live, and few understood the significance their actions.

That episode makes it clear that obeying God in no way lessens the grace which he offers in return, because the action he commands could never bring healing on its own.

With the commandments it's no different, except God happens to require us to do something that's good for us in order to access His grace, which apparently muddies the situation for some folks.

The fact that some apparently miss is that no amount of obeying the commandments will cleanse us of our sins, nor will it change our nature. It just happens to make things less miserable for everyone along the way.

Robert Boylan said...

You might want to read, *Not by Faith Alone* by Robert A. Sungenis. Does a good job in showing how the Bible teaches works, within grace, are part of salvation.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I've also noticed that many Evangelicals see the "you must do X, Y, and Z" to be saved doctrine as a Fundamentalist doctrine. For a good example, see reviews of this book:

http://www.amazon.com/Hard-Believe-Infinite-Value-Following/product-reviews/0785263454/ref=cm_cr_dp_synop?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending#R2QZ3LQJPQ4N1R

InkMom said...

Excellent.

I grew up (and still live) in the south, and I remember being baffled by the weekend behavior of many of my high school friends who claimed so ardently to have been "saved". I think in their minds, once they had accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, their behavior and choices didn't matter any more. If they were accepting the same Savior as I was, why was I required to live such a higher standard -- one that didn't involve alcohol, promiscuity, or any one of an infinite number of activities that drive away the spirit.

I have learned a lot since then, thankfully. My understanding of grace did not really come until I was an adult. I had always sort of read and heard things on grace with half of an ear because I was afraid if I thought about it too much, I might raise some difficult questions for myself. But one day I was reading 2 Nephi, chapter 2 -- the one about opposition. Great chapter -- one of my favorite passages of scripture. Verse 7 says, ". . . they that believe in him shall be saved."

I read it over and over and over again. Had my friends been right? All they had to do was say they believed and that was it?

But here's the thing. If you truly believe, have a change of heart when you come to know the Savior, doesn't it make you want to serve Him, and do what He has asked of you? I have come to understand that good works are a product of your faith, and with increased faith comes a desire to do more good works, which in turn strengthen your faith even further. Your desire to be obedient becomes a personal barometer for your faith -- not something to be judged by here on earth, or by which to judge others -- but a personal means of evaluating your life to make sure you are staying on the path to exaltation. And faith you may have, but to bring about a change in your behavior, it must be sufficient.

And yet, it is still by grace that we are saved, because, as we also learn in 2 Nephi 2, it is impossible for any man (save the obvious exception) to live the law perfectly; as perfection is required to re-enter the kingdom of God, some means of intercession must happen on our behalf.

I have often thought of the Savior's perfect example as the straight and fixed lines of the x- and y-axes. If we are obedient, our lives are like a hyperbola that continually approaches the zero-line but never quite reaches it. Even as we redouble our efforts and come ever closer to the type, we can never get all the way there on our own merits. What beauty there is in the Savior's willingness to bridge the gap between earthly man and exalted man.

Sorry for the hijack. I do have a tendency to go on a bit.

Mormanity said...

I like comments that invoke mathematics. Thanks, InkMom!

Anonymous said...

Hey I just wanted to pose a rhetorical question. Which is better? An atheist who follows their own code of ethics that are acceptable by most of western religion, the society in which he or she lives, as well as the government? Or a church-going Mormon who breaks most of the rules without truly repenting?

Georgia said...

In reading the new testament we find that Jesus and peter in multiple places Jesus and Peter in the NT are concerned about Gods commandments vs. Mans commandments.

The pharisee followed commandments but Jesus said that unless we be better than these we would not enter into heaven. So they must have been following mans commandments.

I fear that denominations (including mormons) create commandments and we as individuals must be vigilant and search and abide by Gods commandments.

Shawn said...

Hi Anonymous!

That's a silly question. :) Better by who's judgement? If you mean better as viewed by some "Western-thinking, Judeo-Christian inspired atheist, obviously the "better" person is not the rule breaking, non-repenting, Mormon. :)

In my view, the answer would be similar if viewed by a truly repentant, yet-still-unable-to-be-perfect-and-not-break-rules Morman. The athiest might be in a "better" position. This is because your non-repentant Morman might be judged more harshly as a "son of perdition" and your athiest might accept the Gospel in the afterlife. Two principles of Mormon doctrine are at work here... one relates to accountability and continued acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Savior and the other has to do with the redemption of the dead. See your friendly local Missionaries for more info on the doctrines. :)

Additionally, if your unqualified "better" means one or the other is actually found worthy to return and live with God, the Mormon faith is the only Christian denomination that I am aware which can help an athiest return to God without invalidating John 3:5.

Of course, I'm looking at your athiest as more of an agnostic. Your athiest might be too proud in the afterlife and would prefer to not accept the temple work that hypothetically might be done for them. At that point, they are definitely not "better". :)

In any case all of this speculation is also silly because one; God is no "respecter of persons" (Rom 2:11) and two; the judgement thought Jesus Christ will be perfectly fair. Both your athiest and your Morman will get exactly what they deserve.

On a side note, I'd like to rant for a moment. The "acceptable code of ethics" by the groups you list always seems to forget the impact on society by the "acceptable" things "western religions" and our "government" currently tolerate. Premarital sex is O.K. and apparently adultry "happens". It's "acceptable" in our "Western" society. It never seems to get blamed for the millions of people killed by STDs, wrecked marriages, or unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions. Likewise the legal use of tobacco and alcohol are O.K. despite the secular fact that they kill 500, 000 Americans every year (CDC statics). Our "Western" society looks more and more like a decaying Roman society year after year. Eat, drink, and be merry... Blah, blah, blah. God bless those who are actually trying to live decent lives.

...

Regarding the original post, one of my favorite related scriptures is in Romans 3. It also has to do with one of those silly "better" questions. (Rom 3:9) Are those that were circumcised and have followed the law are "better" than the uncircumcised Gentile members of the early Church? Paul concludes by stated that faith is all that is required but the law (aka obidience) is still crucial. Romans 3:31... "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law."

Establish the law. Powerful stuff.

-Shawn

Eric Nielson said...

Excellent Post Jeff.

catholic defender said...

HI All,

Perhaps the question posed by anonymous would be better phrased this way. Who's leading a more Christlike life, the atheist who follows a code of ethics that shows love for his fellow man, treats others as he would himself be treated, and lives life to serve others before himself; or the church going mormon who appears on the right path on the outside, but is truly just going through the motions. In that case, I'd say the atheist is in better shape. I don't think anonymous' question was presented to criticize or humiliate. It actually seems to be presented to point out some of the flaws of adhereing to a strict code of obedience.

Obedience is something God expects from us, but its meaningless without a faith in God to begin with. Consider Mary's agreement to give birth to Christ. Is this truly about obedience or is there something more at work here? I say there's much more than obedience at work in that example.

Think about this, you're Mary, you're about 14, you're living in a time period where women were pretty much chattels, and being found pregnant out of wedlock was a capital crime. Now some angel comes down and says you're going to give birth to the Son of God...and everything is going to be okay if you just obey. That's an awful lot to swallow if you really think about it. So do you obey or don't you? The anwser to that question really depends upon faith, not a willingness to obey God.

If you have no faith, then you have no reason to trust the Lord's messenger, and you have no reason to be obedient. On the other hand, if you have a strong faith in God, then you have nothing to fear by obeying God. As I see it, what makes Mary...and all the other prophets and the apostles so remarkable, is not their obedience; its their faith. As I said before, obedience is important, but its meaningless without the faith to back it. Mary is amazing not because she obeyed God, but because she had such great faith in God, that she didn't have to question when it came time to obey...she just said yes. Its her faith that's most remarkable, not her obedience...that's just a symptom of her faith so to speak.

The reason the ten commandments failed, and the jews struggled with obedience was because of the faith they had. When it was strong, they flourished, when their faith wained, so did their obedience and adherence to the law. Your church, as well as many other denominations, puts a great deal of emphasis on obedience, but its meaningless without faith. Consider the pharisees. They were obedient to the law...they followed the law to the letter. Their obedience meant nothing, because it was just that, obedience...there was no faith behind it. Without faith, there is no reason to obey.

Sincerely

Catholic Defender

Anonymous said...

Catholic Defender: To suggest that LDS church members do not act on faith is more than a bit ridiculous. Sorry, but you should probably either clarify your comment with some evidence or take some time to research the role of faith in the LDS religion. Many LDS scholars have written books on the subject, and faith is often the subject of lessons, hymns, and talks in church meetings held around the world.

If you are Catholic, I would recommend the book "Know Your Religions Vol. 1 - Mormonism and Catholicism," which was written by an LDS church member with a foreword by a Catholic bishop. This book compares the two religions and covers faith and many other points of doctrine which you may also misunderstand.

catholic defender said...

Dear Anonymous,

I hope that isn't what I said...I'm pretty sure that's not what I meant if it came across that way. I'll clarify though. Yesterday, your church's message was about obedience. Often I hear your members talk at great length about how important it is to be obedient to God. The WOW is all about obedience. Temple recommends are also all about obedience. Its that obedience to the word of God that makes you temple worthy. Obedience is great, but it isn't the most important aspect of Christianity. It starts with faith, without that the obedience is just blindly following the words, but its an empty act.

I know that your members act in faith. I don't doubt that at all. But, in the same token, a great deal of the discourse in your services and scholarly works are on obedience. The only point I was making is that if you focus too heavily on obedience, you're going to miss the whole point of Christianity. It really does come down to a matter of faith. If you don't have the faith, you don't have any reason to be obedient. Hopefully that makes sense.

Sincerely

Catholic Defender

bunker said...

CD, you are right, Faith does come before Obedience. As members of the LDS church we would be pretty foolish if we went around paying tithing, obeying commandments, teaching primary (shudder) :-) etc. if there isn't faith involved there.

Your comment

"Your church, as well as many other denominations, puts a great deal of emphasis on obedience, but its meaningless without faith."

is hinting that the LDS church doesn't teach faith in some way or doesn't teach it enough? I have to disagree. I don't know if you missed those weeks when it was taught but that is a MAJOR part of the LDS church teachings.

Bookslinger said...

I think a couple of you guys are reading CD's remarks in an uncharitable way. Give the guy a break.

He was responding to the anonymous who asked "Which is better? An atheist who follows their own code of ethics that are acceptable by most of western religion, the society in which he or she lives, as well as the government? Or a church-going Mormon who breaks most of the rules without truly repenting?"

That was a narrowly defined hypothetical situation of two people, and it didn't have any implications or accusations of atheists or Mormons in general.

CD confined his remarks to the narrowly-defined hypothetical question, again without casting any aspersions on LDS in general.

I agree with CD here. The atheist in the hypothetical situation is likely in a better position than the Jack-Mormon who breaks most of the rules and doesn't have an attitude of repentance.

I think both of them, the anonymous and CD, got jumped on for things they didn't say.

Mrs Chickadee said...

I absolutely believe that the grace-only-by-hook-or-by-crook doctrine is a very dangerous doctrine: A useful tool of Satan's to lead people carefully down to hell.

Lets just suppose for just a short minute that Jesus Christ's gospel was a combination of both - grace AND works (not JUST works by the way but grace AND works)....

If the adversary could convince people that all they had to do was accept Jesus Christ died for them and never do another thing in their life to act upon that knowledge, then he would have led them successfully away from the Lord.

However, if they accepted the Lord died for them and then set about living their lives like Christ implored them to do, truly becoming disciples of Christ in charity and humilty and faith then they truly could be called the Children of God.

Now on the flip side, if we consider for a moment that Christ's doctrine was absolute grace only and anything more than that was an abomination before God. Would we be wrong to want to become as Jesus was - an example of the believers, kind, charitable, faithful? Would that truly be cause enough to be sent to hell?

And would it be OK to accept Christ into your heart and then act cruelly and selfishly for the rest of your life?


Grace only doesn't make sense when you reason it out. And it doesn't make sense when you consider all of Jesus Christ's exemplary life and teachings.

I truly believe that Satan uses the doctrine of Grace-only as an effective tool for his own purposes.

Mrs Chickadee said...

I agree with Bookslinger. And I agree with Catholic Defender.

Obedience should grow out of faith otherwise it is unsustainable and joyless and doesn't save us in the Kindgom of God.

Just like we can do all the good works in the world but if they are not motivated by love, then once again, they are worthless.

This is where we often get misunderstood by other denominations. We surely believe in faith and grace. But we don't believe that faith, grace and good works are mutually exclusive. They grow out of each other.

Patrick said...

Faith is best used as a verb, rather than as a noun or as a synonym for belief.

I faithed today.
Today I will faith for Christ.
I am faithing with my family.

Faith is the turning of belief into action. When obedience is married with hope in Christ then you have faith.

Faith = spiritual creation, a manifestation of a future physical reality.(Evidence of things not yet seen).

Faith in Christ = a man saved from death and sin (the future physical reality)

bunker said...

I don't think anything I said was unfair, CD was clearly implying the LDS church doesn't place an emphasis on faith ,

"Your church, as well as many other denominations, puts a great deal of emphasis on obedience, but its meaningless without faith"

Just trying to correct erroneous statements.

catholic defender said...

HI All,

I suppose I will try to clarify again. By the way, Bookslinger thanks for getting my back. I did not mean to be disparaging in my comments. I am quite aware that the LDS church teaches a great deal about faith. So do all the other denominations. Much of the Christian religion is faith based. That said, I also think that a great deal of emphasis is placed on being obedient, over faith. That isn't just an LDS thing, its common place with all the denominations including my own.

Consider this for a moment. Each denomination has a set of rules or dogma that must be adhered to in order to be in good standing within that church. Your own church has rules about tithing, and following the WOW, believing JS to be a prophet of God, keeping the sabbath holy, etc. If you are not obedient to those rules then your righteous standing falls to the wayside and you become unworthy to enter God's temple. Observing this, and this is from my vantage point and may be biased, it seems that there is often more emphasis placed on obeying these rules than there is on faith. I realize that I may be looking from a skewed vantage point.

The point is, there is a danger to all this emphasis on obedience. That danger goes for any of the denominations, not just the LDS. If too much emphasis is placed on obedience, then we miss the entire point of Christ's message because we are too focused on obedience to exercise faith. That is what happened to the Pharisees. They were too caught up in the rule of law to grasp that the law means nothing if there is no faith in God behind it.

The example I gave of Mary shows that obedience grows out of faith, not vice versa. You must have the faith first. David going to meet Goliath. He didn't go out there because he was being obedient. He went out there because he had faith in God protecting him. His faith led to his obedience. Paul preaching to the masses. He got off to a rocky start mind you, but Paul going out and preaching is not an example of obedience, its an example of faith leading to obedience. Obedience starts with faith and the point I was making is that there is a danger in emphasizing so much on obedience. I think your church as well as mine sometimes misses the mark on this. Not intentionally, but it does happen.

Sincerely

Catholic Defender

Mrs Chickadee said...

CD, I thought I would test your hypothesis that our church doesn't teach faith enough.

So I went straight to this months First Presidency message in the Ensign. It can basically be considered the most recent teachings given on a churchwide scale.

Here are just a few sample sentences regarding faith from the article...

"Have faith and confidence in Him, and you will see miracles happen in your life and the lives of your loved ones. "

“Without the devotion and absolute testimony of the living God in the hearts of our mothers, this Church would die.”

" She was the humblest of the humble, the wisest of the wise, because she was willing and pure enough to believe when God had spoken."

These are just a few 'soundbites'. The entire article is permeated with beseeching the women of the church to enlarge and live by faith and testimony.

You can see it for yourself if you like. Just go to www.lds.org and look for the article on the top left hand side of the screen.

bunker said...

Once again someone telling us what we believe.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Catholic Defender - thank you for your well thought out comments. We don't want to become like the Pharisees - so caught up in the rules that we miss the mark. But, with faith, we also have the added perspective that the Lord is trying to make us more like him, so what we do (works) is training to make something of us. We just have to be careful about forgetting how crucial faith is in all of this.

I have heard too many discussions about how we need to help so-and-so to quit smoking. In reality, that isn't a big sin. If only the really serious ones were more evident to others, we might get the help where we really need it.

There are other ways in which we, as Mormons, miss the mark. When was the last time you sat in a sacrament meeting and it was all about Joseph Smith and the only mention of the Savior was in the prayers. While discussing the contributions of Joseph Smith isn't a bad thing, we need to remember who we are there to worship, and it is not him.

We can also get so caught up in the scholarly aspects of our religion that we miss the real meat of it - what it can do for our lives - and focus instead on how many facts we know.

bunker said...

Yes CD you are right, us LDS folk do not believe in Faith only strict adherence to President Monson. You are so wise. joking of course

I think it is hilarious how you talk about how the LDS church doesn't stress Faith enough (when we do) I agree with your idea that faith goes along with obedience but not with the idea that we don't stress it. That is very subjective and not substantiated.

"That said, I also think that a great deal of emphasis is placed on being obedient, over faith." (keeping a tally sheet are we?)

Obedience and faith go hand in hand. If we have faith and aren't obedient is it just as bad or worse?

Bookslinger said...

Bunker, CD is a frequent attender of LDS sacrament meetings. His observations may not hold church-wide, but he does have a point. He's giving his viewpoint from where he sits in one of our chapels observing us.

And, I have to give him the point on this. When I think of all the "exhortations" that I've heard in sacrament meetings and conferences over the years, though I haven't kept a scorecard, my gut-feel is that exhortations to keep the commandments have exceeded exhortations to have faith. That may not be true in fact, but it's the impression I get.

CD, The temple-recommend questions are in Gospel Principles chapter 38 on eternal marriage. The first question is supposed to be whether one has faith in and a testimony of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Sustaining the prophet comes next, then commandment-keeping questions.

bunker said...

I know that CD sits through Church with his wife. I have been following this blog for years. My name used to be Latter-Day James, sorry I changed my name a few months ago.

Anyway, I get what he is saying, faith is important, but I also say that obedience is too otherwise what is the point of faith? ie I have faith (testimony)of the Law of Tithing but I don't actually pay it. So how important is that faith now? I haven't obeyed or followed that faith. Yes I know faith should come first, but obedience is just as important.

I still think that claiming that obedience is taught more than faith can't really be shown. Anyway I guess I don't care as long as they are both taught and shown to be important to us as you mentioned in the temple recommend question.

I think CD is a good guy and all I just don't agree with how he approached it, it sounded like we did things all wrong, but what do I know, I just have Faith that I belong to Christ's church here on Earth and is led by inspired leaders. Leaders that teach us correct principles including faith AND obedience.

Ryan said...

CD is right that you tend to hear lots of exhortations to obedience from LDS pulpits. The question is whether that's a bad thing.

You also tend to read lots of exhortations to obedience in the scriptures. Old testament, especially. I haven't actually done a tally, but my gut feeling is that, in the Gospels, Christ said more things to do than to believe. As CD and others have said, increased faith definitely leads to a desire to obey, but the converse is also true: disobedience leads to a decrease in faith. Think of the parable of the talents: "it shall be taken away even that which he hath."

While it's certainly non-optimal when we struggle to obey without relying on God's grace to bring the change of heart and added strength we'll need to actually succeed, even that has its good points. Paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, faith in Christ comes after the "great disaster" -- realizing we can't succeed on our own -- which leads us to seek God. Personally, I think it's great when people "hit bottom" by realizing they can't obey fully on their own, rather than wallowing in grievous sin and "hitting bottom" that way. The latter route usually has lasting consequences which repentance does not erase, and the repentant sinner will still have to learn eventually that, like forgiveness for sin, true obedience comes only through Grace.

jackg said...

Jeff,

I think you have written a solid post, even if I don't agree with your emphasis on obedience being the requirement to access God's grace. I see God's grace as a free gift to all, and that it is our free will either to accept or reject the free gift of grace which leads to salvation. It seems that you are presenting the view that obedience leads to salvation. Correct me if I am wrong in this conclusion. I, on the other hand, see obedience as the fruit of salvation. This means that I believe we are justified by our faith in Jesus Christ, which means that our faith saves us--not any works or obedience. Obedience is our evidence that we truly believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and LORD. I believe in the Work of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, and that as we are sanctified, we will be more obedient. When I contemplate obedience after reading God's Word, it is clear to me that the commands of God are simply to love God and neighbor as ourself. Having said this, I need to say that I see sin as relational and not a thing. Sin breaks relationship with God and man, and being made perfect in God's love, which is what I perceive sanctification to be, leads to one not breaking the 10 commandments. I believe that we don't have to sin, and that to say, "I'm human and I just can't help it" is to deny the power of God to save and to sanctify and to make us holy. So, I think we agree in a lot of areas, but our emphasis on obedience and, therefore, works is different in where we place them on the road to eternal salvation. Nevertheless, I think you did a good job to present the importance of obedience and the fact that God DOES call us to obedience, and that we can't get away from it no matter how much we talk about grace and mercy and love--it's just that it's a response and not a prerequisite from my perspective. BTW, I just preached on obedience and used a similar phrase to point out that we often think of obedience as a dirty word or a thing that is an affront to our freedom in Christ. :-)

Blessings...

Bookslinger said...

Ryan: actually that's the "contrapositive" not the "converse".

statement: if p then q
converse: if q then p
inverse: if not p then not q
contrapositive: if not q then not p

(from: http://www.jimloy.com/logic/converse.htm )

For the statement:
"increased faith leads to increased obedience",
the converse would be:
"increased obedience leads to increased faith",
and the contrapositive would be:
"less obedience leads to less faith" (what you said).

I think all three statements are true, as in what CD said how faith leads to obedience, what you say, that less obedience leads to less faith.

And the converse is true too: keep the commandments, and you'll obtain more faith. I think this is what the Lord meant in John 7:17, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. "

Ryan said...

Thanks Bookslinger... I always get those two mixed up.

Tony said...

I understand where CD is coming from, and he has already established that he is not implying that we do not teach about faith. Please, let's be civil.

Brother Lindsay, this was a wonderful post. Really cleared it up for me in a way only you seem to be able to do :D
Thanks!

Papa D said...

Fwiw, I see obedience as greatly different than a focus on works - and the two get mixed up regularly, as is proven in this thread.

Focusing on works is focusing on self; striving to be obedient is focusing on the one who is commanding - in this case, God. Greed or dedication can cause work, but it is faith that underlies and motivates intentional and "free" obedience. I just don't believe it is possible to separate faith "in the Lord, Jesus Christ" and obedience "to the Lord, Jesus Christ and His Father who sent him".

I believe this distinction is the difference between the fruits by which Jesus said we would be judged and the dead works that Paul told the Jews would not save them. If anyone is interested, I wrote the following last Saturday:

http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2009/08/producing-fruits-not-just-works.html

dennisd said...

Thanks for a good post. I have also enjoyed the discussion. The only point I can see to add has to do with the Temple recommend questions.

While it is true that many of the questions have to do with our obedience of specific commandments, the first is whether we have faith in, and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, and his son Jesus Christ.

As you've discussed, this question has to come first, because without the affirmative to this question, any amount of rule following is meaningless.

Ok, just one other thing--as I understand it, the other questions in the temple recommend are there because they are directly related to our worthiness, i.e., we "quench the spirit" if we participate in adultery, break the WoW, etc. Like PapaD said, I don't see keeping these commandments as "works" per se (I'd think of service, FHE, or home teaching), but more like a fulfillment of "be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord."

The Holy Cusser said...

Yes,obedience is a very dirty word. Obedience, in the way you all use it, is worse than d..n, s..t, h..l, f..k, or about anything else I can imagine.

Anonymous said...

Carlos U.

I've just had an email exchange with my non-denominational Christian brother (from my dad's 2nd marriage). He asked my opinion of what a pastor was saying on a Youtube video.

My answer, which he quite liked, was that every time Jesus Christ was asked by someone what they must do to have eternal life, He answered by listing the 10 commandments. He told this to the young rich ruler, and to the Pharise who then went on to ask "and who is my neighbour?". It's right there, in the red letters. Direct question, direct answer.