Editor’s Note: In this article, Dr. Michael Horton responds to common questions about obedience, salvation, and the role of the Holy Spirit.
Does God require our obedience for salvation?
Sure he does. But here’s the key thing to remember. God gives what he commands. In the old covenant, God commanded the nation of Israel to circumcise their own hearts (Deut 10:16). In the new covenant, God promises to do that himself. We can’t even believe in Christ unless the Holy Spirit gives us faith, according to Ephesians 2:1-10 and many other passages.
Furthermore, we can’t obey our way into God’s family. He adopts those whom he has chosen from eternity, without any merits or foresight of what we will do. It’s pure grace. He credits us with his Son’s perfect righteousness. That’s the only way we can stand before a holy God without any blame.
But God requires our obedience, just as any good father does. “If you love me,” Jesus said, “then you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). Imagine someone adopting a child into a great family full of love and grace. Then, after being written into the Father’s will, the young person says, “Glad to have the goods, but I don’t even know you. I’m gone.” Now, sometimes God’s children do actually go off to a far country into the depths of sin, like the prodigal son. They’re welcomed back, but as repentant children, just like the prodigal. The Father’s arms are wide open to receive prodigals back. But is obedience necessary? Of course, it is like in any good home.
Everyone the Father calls to himself by his Spirit through the gospel trust in Christ. And true faith always bears the fruit of love and good works. You can’t be united to Christ for justification and not also for sanctification. We’re justified apart from our own obedience precisely to become obedient sons and daughters in God’s worldwide family. But all of it, including our obedience, is a gift. When we sin, we still have an advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous. “When we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).
Are Christians under the Ten Commandments or are we only responsible to keep New Testament commands?
There are two ways of being “under” the 10 Commandments. The first is being under the moral law as the basis for our salvation. This is the principle of “Do this and you will live; break it and you will die.” But Christ fulfilled this law in our place perfectly. When we place our faith in Christ, we are given his status as the faithful law-keeper even though we are far from it ourselves. That’s why the New Testament tells us that we are no longer under the law but under grace (Rom 6:14).
In the gospel, we’re told not only that Christ lived and died for us but that he rose again for us and that we are baptized into his victory over sin’s guilt and tyranny. He sent his Spirit to us to give us a new heart and to unite us to Christ through faith, which itself is his gift. So we’re not under the law as a way of being accounted righteous before God. It can’t condemn us. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).