If God saves us by grace, apart from the good works that we do (Titus 3:5), why should we obey him? If there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) and our salvation is not in jeopardy, why should we struggle to obey?
1. The simplest reason is: It’s our duty. Through his death on the cross, Christ has purchased us (Acts 20:28), and it is only fair that we do what he says. We are children of God, and we are to do what he commands. Of course, we do not obey in order to be saved. Salvation comes first, and obedience should follow. But obedience goes deeper than duty. Obedience should come from the heart, done because we want to, not grudgingly, because we have to. So why should we want to obey? There are three main reasons: faith, hope and love.
2. In faith, we believe that God’s commands are for our own good. He loves us and wants to help us, not to give us unnecessary burdens. As our Creator, he has the wisdom to know how we should live, what works best and what causes the most happiness in the long run. We have to trust him in that; his perspective is much better than ours. Obedience expresses faith in his wisdom and love. Obedience is what he made us for (Ephesians 2:10), and life works better if we are in tune with the way we were made.
3. Obedience also involves hope in a future blessing. If there is no future life, then Christianity would be foolish (1 Corinthians 15:14-18). Jesus promised that his disciples would find that eternal life is worth far more than anything they might have to give up in this age (Mark 10:29-30). Everyone who is saved will have the joy of knowing God forever, but there are also rewards in addition to eternal joy. Jesus encouraged his disciples to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-21). Several of his parables indicate that we will be rewarded for what we do in this life. God rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).
Paul also wrote about rewards: “The Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does” (Ephesians 6:8). This is not talking about salvation, but about rewards in addition to salvation. He described the judgment as a fire that tests the quality of every person’s work. “If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward” (1 Corinthians 3:14). If it is burned up, he will lose it, but he will still be saved (verse 15).
4. But reward is not the only reason we work, for we are children of the King, not employees who do only what we get paid for. Our fourth motive for obedience is love. This includes love for God, and for the people around us, because they will be better off if we obey God than if we do not. God’s instructions are sensible, not arbitrary rules. They help people get along with each other.
But most of all, it is our love for God that causes us to want to obey him. He has done so much for us, that we cannot help but be thankful and want to please him. “If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” (verse 23). John later wrote, “This is love for God: to obey his commands” (1 John 5:3). “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar…. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him” (1 John 2:4-5). When we are united to Christ, we will be more like he is.
5. Our love for God means that we want to bring him favorable publicity, so that others will come to love him, too. Obedience serves as a witness to God and the gospel. Obedience says that God is great and good and wise, and we adore him. Obedience says that God is important, that he is valuable, and that he deserves our loyalty. Let your good deeds be seen, Jesus said, so people can see them “and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
A bad example will bring the gospel into disrepute (Titus 2:5). But a good example can help people be favorably disposed to God. “Live such good lives among the pagans,” Peter wrote, “that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). Help the gospel be associated with good things, not bad.
6. This is the life of the age to come. If we really want to enjoy life in eternity without lying, cheating, stealing and other such behaviors, if we really want that sort of life, then we want it now, not just in the future. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit invite us into a life of love and goodness, not a life of selfishness and sin.