GRACE, OBEDIENCE, AND SALVATION….THE NARROW ROAD
I believe in eternal security for those who are truly saved by the free gift of grace, through the blood of Jesus Christ. The bottom line: no one can snatch us out of Jesus Christ’s or the Father’s hands – not even we ourselves in our foolishness.(John 10:27-28). He will keep us and protect us to the end, faithfully completing the good work he began in us. Please see the top of my blog, which explains exactly what I believe about salvation.
14 Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served … or the gods …in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24: 14-15
28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.30 I and my Father are one. John 10:28-30
6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6
14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Hebrews 10:14
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10
It is extremely disappointing that in many churches today there seems to be an inordinate emphasis on the beautiful gift of salvation by grace alone, and yet there is so little teaching on the corresponding doctrines of obedience and fruit bearing through the spirit. The interplay between those concepts is divine and in my view, is not fully comprehendible to our finite minds. Yet we all need to seek the truth – the whole counsel of God(Acts 20:27) – on these critical issues, ignoring easy, trite, christian cliches and pithy phrases that satisfy our desire for a quick answer, but may not fully capture the intention of God. Only the scriptures, viewed in-full, can truly teach us God’s definition of grace and what He requires of us as believers…not as works but as evidence of salvation.
In the writing below I am setting forth several key passages on the topic of grace, obedience and the call to bear fruit for the kingdom. Titus 2:11-12 describes as clearly as possible, what the saving grace of Jesus is supposed to accomplish in our lives:
11″ For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world….”
I view the scriptures as flames of truth, and as the burning bush spoke to Moses, so the word of God speaks to us – and it is telling all of those who call on the name of the Lord to: believe, surrender, repent, love, obey, and be holy – and I know that I can’t do any of that without calling on the Holy Spirit to help me put my proud and selfish ways aside. God doesn’t want an intellectual “decision.” He wants our hearts, our souls, and our minds. In other words…he wants our lives.
Grace and the Narrow Road….
“…Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto to life, and few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:14
I believe that anyone who takes the time to read the scriptures for themselves will see clearly, that Jesus (and Paul, Peter and James) speaks frequently and with great earnestness, about how loving God in spirit and truth results in obedience and fruit-bearing …. not as works, since we are saved solely by his free gift of grace, but as evidence of a sincere love for him – or as evidence of our faith. Jesus seems to equate love for God and salvation with obedience – especially in John 14:15-29(I will quote it below) and 1 John 2:3-4. How could a good and “just” God allow someone into heaven through his bloody, brutal death who didn’t actually love him but simply used him as a free ticket to heaven? I believe that the scriptures state without equivocation, that He can’t…and He won’t. He doesn’t want our words, He wants our undivided hearts set on him…and he will help us by the Holy Spirit once we have committed ourselves to him in truth.
There are two categories of scripture, which I think are important for understanding what it means to be a true disciple of Christ. One involves what it means to actually be saved, and the other involves the nearly 100 verses that don’t tie salvation to obedience, but make it abundantly clear that, as disciples, we are called, loudly and frequently, to flee sin and to obey. Isn’t that what we should want to do anyway if we really believe that Jesus had spikes hammered through his feet and hands, and hung cold, naked and humiliated on a cross for us in the presence of his gloating enemies??
In this writing, I am going to focus on the first category, going through the New Testament book by book after a few thoughts on “belief.”
What exactly does “believe” mean when Paul says in Romans 10:9-10, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
I think James, the brother of Jesus says it best when he says that even demons “believe” that Jesus is God (James 2:19). Thus, an intellectual belief alone is clearly not a “saving” belief. We must believe more deeply than with our minds – we must believe in our hearts, not just that Jesus is our saviour but also that he is our Lord. It is not a surprise to me that the new Bible versions delete out “the Lord Jesus Christ” many times, and simply put “Jesus” or “Christ.”
James seems to define what a “belief” leading to salvation is in James 2:14-24(and1:22), where he famously says, “faith without works is dead” and that we are justified by our actions and not on faith alone. Does this mean that we need works to be saved? No. It means that works, obedience and fruit-bearing are evidence that we really are saved because they shows that we truly understand, in our hearts, the meaning of the life, death and love of Jesus Christ. Belief as evidenced by actions seems to be the difference between believing in our hearts that he is Lord, versus only believing with our minds, as even demons do.
The Pharisees thought they were saved by their actions, without regard to their hearts. Now we have Christians doing the opposite. They say they are saved in their hearts, and yet they have no desire to honor the living God who made them, with their actions. Both are wrong and Jesus himself makes it clear on many occasions that salvation is not just an intellectual choice, but a decision of the heart. As John 4:23-24 says, the Father only wants those who worship Him with their hearts – in spirit and in truth. He has had enough of empty words….
Matt. 7:15-19 Jesus says that every good tree bears good fruit. You will recognize a good tree by its fruit. He goes on to say that every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So, Jesus Christ, the one who was in the beginning with God, the one who made all things, the one in whom is life and light, and who died for our sins and will judge us at the end…say, very clearly, that if we don’t bear fruit we will be thrown into the fire. Why? Because we were never truly saved in the first place.
Matt. 7:21-23 In this passage, Jesus says that not everyone who says to him “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact MANY (a lot of people who think they are believers) will say that they prophesied and cast out demons in His name (I find it interesting that he chose those as examples), but he will say to them, away from me evil doers! I never knew you. What we think about ourselves doesn’t matter. Our lives need to line up with the unchanging word of God to be saved. Obedience to His Word (and word) because we love Him and believe Him is how we do it. See, also 1 John 2:3-5.
Matt. 7:24-27 Whoever hears the words of Jesus and obeys them, will be safe when the storm comes because their foundation is God. Whoever hears His words and doesn’t obey them will be destroyed when the storm comes, because their foundation is like a house built on an unstable foundation of sand.
Matt. 10:37-39 Jesus says that whoever loves his father, mother, son or daughter more than Him is not worthy of him, and whoever does not take up his cross and follow Jesus is not worthy of Jesus. Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for His sake will find it….Jesus seems to be saying that salvation requires surrender – a willingness to lay down everything – even family and domestic comforts – to follow God. This directly contradicts those who say a simple prayer is all that is needed to be saved.
Matt. 11:28-30 Jesus says to all those who are weary, “come unto me.” He then goes on to instruct them to, “take my yoke upon you and learn of me….”…This call to come to God requires more than just an acknowledgement that He is God. It requires a willingness to take on the yoke of God, surrendering our volition and desires to Him. I love the image of Jesus taking the reins of our lives from us and steering our life for us while we remain fully submitted to His will. Paul describes it as servanthood (KJV) to God. Servanthood? Yes, but we are a bondservant to the only one who knows us fully and who loves us unconditionally.
Matt. 13:3-23 & Luke 8:13-15 The parable of the sower is powerful on the reality of salvation being evidenced by fruit bearing. This parable describes people actually receiving the word, and even holding on to it for a time….but then the deceptions and troubles of life come and choke it away. I think the hyper-grace people are those who will lose the seed when persecutions come. They don’t realize it now, but because they don’t really understand what Jesus did for them (for if they did they would long to obey Him), so when trouble comes, they will gladly water down the truth – or even deny it – to protect themselves from pain, since the little prayer they said long ago already saved them.
Matt 16:24-27 Everyone who desires to follow Jesus must take up their cross and follow Him. Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for the sake of Jesus will save it……Clearly, those who follow Jesus in spirit and in truth, understand that our best life isn’t now…it’s later, in heaven with Jesus and the Father, forever. James the brother of Jesus also made it clear that friendship with the world is actually hatred toward God (James 4:4). John said essentially the same thing in 1 John 2:15-17.
Matt. 18:21-35 If we do not forgive with our hearts, the people who sin against us, we will be cast into hell….So, to enter heaven, the owner of heaven(Jesus) tells us that we must follow His example and forgive others deeply, with our hearts. Only His spirit can get us to that place of forgiveness, but if we love Him we will ask Him to help us forgive even the ones who have abused us or rejected. If we don’t care to do that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will be cast into hell (vs. 33-35).
Matt. 24:9-13 Persecutions will come, and he who stands firm to the end will be saved….Again, salvation isn’t saying a magic prayer once. According to Jesus, it involves living a life of obedience and remaining in the truth all the way to the end….
Matt. 28:19-20 I always forget that, in the great commission Jesus tells his disciples to make disciples by…“teaching them to observe [obey]all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Discipleship requires obedience! It is not just hanging around together and watching football while we drink craft beer and talk theology. If we are not encouraging and teaching obedience to the life-giving commands of our great and merciful God, then we are not really being disciples or making disciples.
Luke 6:46-49 If you hear my words “doth them” aka PUT THEM INTO PRACTICE, you are like a man who built his house on a rock. When the storm comes, you will survive, unlike the man who hears his words but doesn’t obey them. The storm will destroy his house and him along with it….Clearly Jesus is saying that storms will come to everyone – and if the Rock, who is Jesus, is not your foundation, then you will be destroyed.
In Luke 8:19-21, when Jesus’ family is trying to find Him and someone tells Him that they are outside looking for Him, He tells the multitude that those who HEAR and OBEY are his mother and brothers. Interestingly, in Luke 11:27-28, when a woman tells him that his mother Mary is a blessed woman, Jesus says, “…Rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and KEEP it.” So much for Mary worship.
Luke 12:35-48 This is one of the most instructive scriptures on the topic of obedience once we are saved since Jesus tells Peter – continue to obey me or even you will be cut to pieces and assigned a place with the unbelievers. It is impossible to read these words of Jesus Christ and not hear the call to obey Him, knowing that a life of disobedience, even for the Apostle Peter, means very bad things.
Luke 13:22-30 “Strive to enter in at the strait gate…” …. But we ate and drank with you, say the people. Away from me all you workers of iniquity, says Jesus… Entering through the narrow door does not consist of living like the rest of the world, while having an intellectual knowledge that Jesus is savior. The narrow door involves making Him Lord by taking his yoke upon us and forsaking the world. In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter says that we are “strangers and pilgrims” in the world. How then can we live like the world and be saved?? We are supposed to hate the world, not conform to it. See also, James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17; and Romans 12:1-4.
Luke 14:25-34 If you are not willing to give up everything for Jesus then you cannot be His disciple….Clearly Jesus is not looking for people who want to get away with as much drinking, sex, greed, pride and sin as they can and still be saved. He wants those who worship Him and His Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).
John 8:31 If you obey my teachings then you really are my disciples.
John 8:51 If you obey me you will never see death.
John 12:47-48 If you hear the words of Jesus and reject them, then you will be condemned by the Father on the last day.
John 14 is an excellent chapter on the love Jesus and the Father have for us….if we obey.
vs. 15-17 if you love me then you will obey me…and then(once you obey me) I will send you the Spirit, which the world cannot accept. vs. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will show myself to him. vs. 23 He who does not love me will not obey my teachings. These words are not my own but belong to the father who sent me. Then Jesus shows his own obedience to His Father in vs. 31. The glorious result of His life of obedience is beautifully and powerfully laid out in Philippians 2:5-11.
…If a person says that they don’t have to do anything to be saved except believe in Jesus intellectually,then they need to carefully study the words of Jesus in John 14. Jesus says, specifically, that you must obey his commands if you truly love him, and if you want his spirit. (Acts 5:32 reiterates the fact that we only receive his spirit if we obey him). John 14 is also a beautiful portrait of the intimate love both Jesus and the father have for us. Jesus wants to take us to be with Him…where He is. Jesus and the father want to make their home with us. Jesus will not leave us as orphans but He will come for us….
John 15:9-10 You will remain in the love of Jesus…if you obey Him, just as Jesus remained in his Father’s love via obedience.
Acts 26:20 Paul preached repentance for sins and told believers to…. do works consistent with their repentance.
Romans 1:5 Paul received grace and apostleship, not to call people to “decide for Christ”… but “for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name.” This passage makes it clear that obedience through faith, was the actual purpose of Paul’s great calling. Peter says that God chose us and sanctified us…unto obedience. 1 Peter 1:2. Peter says that God’s elect have been chosen “for obedience to Jesus Christ….” not simply to make a decision for Jesus then to live as you please.
Romans 6:1-7, and 11-14 In this passage Paul makes it clear that it is an absolute abomination to think that grace is a free pass to continue sinning. If we died to sin how can we live in it any longer? We were baptized with Jesus into His death, and just as Jesus was raised from the dead in glory, so we should walk in the newness of life. In verses 11-14, Paul goes on to state that we should consider ourselves dead to sin and thus, should not let sin reign in our mortal bodies by obeying its lusts. We are not to yield our bodies to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but instead we are to yield ourselves to God. For sin shall not have dominion over us any longer.
Romans 8:1 In the King James Version (which agrees with 98.02% of ancient manuscripts), but sadly, not in the other versions, Romans 8:1 says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. That last phrase was deleted from the Bible versions that flow from manuscripts Sinaticus and Vaticanus along with the 1881 edits by Westcott and Hort Those deletions change the meaning of the entire verse. We have been given free will, and for there to be “no condemnation” on believers, according to Paul, we must be choosing to walk, not according to our sinful nature, but in accordance with the Spirit which we have freely received from Christ. Romans 8:4, in most versions, goes on to affirm the point made in 8:1 by the KJV, by stating that the righteousness of the law is fulfilled…by those who walk after the Spirit and not the flesh.
Romans 8:7-8 The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God and those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
Romans 8: 11-15 Because Jesus is in us we have an obligation to put aside our sinful nature and, by the spirit, to put to death the misdeeds of the body. “If ye live after the flesh(sinful nature) ye shall die, but if, ye through the spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” So says Paul – the same guy who speaks so frequently and beautifully on grace.
1 Corinthians 7:19 The flesh means nothing. Only obedience counts.
1 Corinthians 15: 10 Paul states that the grace of God caused him to labor more abundantly than all of the other apostles. He was not bragging. He was simply illustrating how much he knew he needed the mercy of God and how grateful he was for it, since earlier in the chapter he expressed shame for previously persecuting the church of God. God’s grace did not whisper lies to Paul’s heart, like the serpent in the garden, to sit back and relax…not worrying about sin and disobedience. Instead It told him the profound truth that Jesus died a brutal death for HIM and that he was saved, despite his wickedness, by the merciful hand of Jesus Christ. This prompted him to, with great vigor, serve the Lord across the known world with no regard for his physical needs.
Galatians 1:6-9 Here, the Galatian believers were turning to a different gospel… a different Jesus. Paul makes it clear that if he or even an angel preaches a different Jesus or a different gospel… may they be eternally condemned. So…if we are pulled off into heresy, teaching and preaching a false Jesus Christ, they will end up in hell.
Ephesians 5:3-8 Paul states with great clarity that no immoral or greedy person will inherit the kingdom of heaven…no matter what prayer he prayed.
Colossians 1:21-23 We are holy in Christ’s sight and are free from accusation….if we continue in the faith, grounded and settled, not moved away from the hope of the gospel….not as works, but as evidence of salvation.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 Avoid sexual immorality since God called us to live a holy life. Paul then says that rejecting this teaching is rejecting God himself.
1 Thess. 5:8-11 says be self-controlled to avoid suffering God’s wrath…..Believer or not a believer, whether Paul or a young disciple, all of us must, through the spirit (Romans8:13), discipline our flesh by obeying the unchanging word of God.
2 Timothy 2:19b Everyone who confesses the name of The Lord must turn away from wickedness.
Titus 1:16 Titus is an excellent book on the life we are called to live as followers of Christ. Titus 1:16 says that some people claim to know God – but by their actions they deny him. Clearly our actions matter. Titus 2:11-12 teaches us exactly what the true, saving grace of God should look like in our lives…and it isn’t the freedom to enjoy sin:
11″ For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world….”
Hebrews 5:9 Jesus is the author of salvation for….all those who obey.…Salvation is not for those who simply have an intellectual belief in Jesus Christ. We must also obey, and we will if we are truly saved.
Hebrews 12:14 This verse teaches us that without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.
James 1:22 and 2:14-24 state very clearly that an intellectual belief in Jesus is not enough for salvation. We must prove our faith by our actions, since even demons “believe” or accept that Jesus is God. “Works” prove that our belief is real, but they don’t save us. Only faith in the blood saves us.
James 4:4-5 teaches us: 4 “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.5 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?”
…If we are living, in large part, like the world and are fitting nicely into our sick and godless culture, something is wrong. We are to be set apart, not by legalistic actions, but by knowing God – by being holy, by exercising spirit-lead self control and by fleeing from the greed, materialism, drunkenness and lust that ties us tightly to this age. Each of us needs to test our actions in the light of the unchanging, everlasting word of the Living God. We must remember that Jesus told us very clearly in John 15 that if we truly love Him, then we will be hated by the world, and James 4:4-5 (above) tells us that friendship with the world makes us an enemy of God. That…is not something we can take lightly.
1 Peter 4:17-19 It is even hard for a righteous man to be saved so how much more the ungodly?
2 Peter 1:5-10 Make your calling and election sure by making every effort to exercise goodness, self-control and love.
Here Peter, as Paul frequently did, emphasizes that obedience is required to make our election certain. Again, I strongly believe that they are saying that, while “works” don’t save us, obedience and fruit are evidence that we truly believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord, and has saved us from the dominion of darkness through His blood.
1 John 1:5-7 God is light. In him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness we lie and do not live by the truth. …We can’t be in Jesus and walk unrepentantly in darkness.
1 John 2:3-6 Anyone who says that they know him but does not obey him is a liar and the truth is not in him. We know that we really know him if we obey him.
1 John 2:15-17 If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him.
1 John 2:24-25 If what you heard in the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the son and the Father…and you will have eternal life.
1 John 3:6-10 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has seen him or knows him. vs. 9 – No one who is born of God continues to sin. vs. 10 – Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God.
2 John 1:6 What is love? It is walking in obedience to his commands.
2 John 1:8-11 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for(meaning rewards in this context). Anyone who does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God.
Jude 1:3-4 We are instructed to earnestly contend for the faith, and avoid godless men who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality.
Sadly, this is what happens when people don’t take the grace of god and the call to obedience seriously. The brutal murder of Jesus for our sins becomes a free pass to do whatever we want. But, as Galatians 6 says, do not be deceived…God will not be mocked.
According to Jesus Christ himself, who alone is the author and perfecter of our faith, an intellectual belief in his life, death and resurrection for our sins is not enough to be saved. He wants our hearts, our minds and our eyes fully focused on who he truly is and what he did on the cross to redeem us from hell (Romans 15:6, Colossians 3:2, Hebrews 1:1-3). He wants us to continue in repentance and obedience, not as works but as evidence of our love for him. He also wants us to have a faith that overcomes the world, not one that conforms to the world… and He will help us to make it to the very end, for the one who called us is faithful(1 Thessalonians 5:24).
All of these verses, and many, many more, make it abundantly clear that Jesus doesn’t just want men and women of words. He wants and demands action – not to earn salvation, put as proof of a surrendered heart. The action required is belief, proven by obedience, which leads to fruit. He wants us to bear fruit, fruit that will last, and this is to His Father’s glory (See, John 15.) There really isn’t any way around these scriptures. So let us put aside all of the legalists who have hurt us and have turned us away from the commands of God, and let us all seek to obey Him, not because we have to or because it earns us anything, but because we adore Him and desire in the inmost places of our hearts to honor Him with all of our being…and Jesus and the Father will help us make it to the end….See, Making it to the End: Jesus Christ and the Father Will Help Us
Portraits of Jesus Christ in the word: Who Exactly is our God?
See, also...The Deceitfulness of Wealth: Your Best Life…Later Part 1 and The Loving Discipline of the Lord,
Teachers, Preachers and Mammon: Money and the Ministry
Hell and the Wrath of God-Almighty
What Is Important to God? Instructions For Life from Paul and the Apostles
3 thoughts on “GRACE, OBEDIENCE AND SALVATION: The Narrow Road”
Agree with the biblical premise that works (Obedience) is evidence of the changed heart of a born again believer who in indwelt by the holy spirit. According to the doctrine of sin, as Paul well taught, at the end of each day, we all may only have confidence in what Christ did alone for our complete salvation. We are not in any way saved by our works or unsaved by our sin as believers. If we begin to promote evidence of salvation by works, even ever so slightly, we have removed our eyes from the cross. Don’t we see that there is nothing that saves, save the blood of Christ and his grace alone through our faith alone.
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Amen. I agree 100%.
“He wants and demands action – not to earn salvation, put as proof of a surrendered heart.” Amen, brother! I wrote about this last year; take a look here if you’re interested: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/05/26/is-it-possible-for-jesus-to-be-your-savior-but-not-your-lord/
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