In one of my devotional books I was asked to answer the following question: Why is obedience so important in the Christian life? Without intending to be comprehensive and/or fully nuanced, here’s what I wrote down:
Obedience to God is important because it reveals that my heart has been made new. God gives us new hearts “so that” (purpose clause) “you will love the LORD your God” (Deut. 30:6; cf. Ezek. 36:26-27). God writes his law on our hearts (Jer. 31:33) so that we come to love his law (Ps. 119:97). A believer’s heart yearns and thirsts after God because his love is better than life (Ps. 63:1-3). His smile and approval is what satisfies us. Therefore, his law is our delight (Ps. 119:77); we love his law “above fine gold” (Ps. 119:127), and the cry of our hearts is “I am yours; save me” (Ps. 119:94).
To be clear: Our obedience is not a begrudging obedience; it springs from joy—like a person finding treasure in a field, who then “in his joy goes and sells all he has” (Matt. 13:44-46). A person with a new heart cries with the Psalmist “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Ps. 4:7).
Additionally, God promises to bless us in our obedience (Deut. 5:33; 28:1; Josh. 1:8; Prov. 10:17 to cite but a few). To be sure, this doesn’t mean that life will always be rosy; it may bring persecution and possibly even death. Even then, we walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7), knowing that we are more than conquerors in Christ (Rom. 8:37) and that nothing can separate us from his love (v. 39). No weapon formed against us can prosper (Isa. 54:17). Death, therefore, is not the worst outcome. We have no lasting city here anyway (Heb. 13:14).
Finally, it’s important to note that while faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:17) and faith working through love is what believers have been liberated to do (Gal. 5:6), it’s not the basis of my right standing with God. Believers are right with God because of Christ’s obedience—both active and passive (Rom. 5:19). As Paul notes, Christ “became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).
Theologian Sinclair Ferguson sums it up eloquently: “The Lord of the law has rewritten the law of the Lord onto our hearts by his Spirit. Empowered from within by the Spirit of the law-keeping Jesus, we love the law because we love the Lord.” (Taken from his article “Oh How I Love Your Law!”).
I’ll close with a portion of a prayer written by the gospelicous Scotty Smith based on Rom. 4:4-8:
Dear heavenly Father, this Scripture contradicts everything we assume about the way life is “supposed to work.” We expect to get what’s coming to us. We demand fairness—an honest return for our labor, time, and sweat. But the gospel flies in the face of conventionality, predictability, and normalcy. To which we cry, “Hallelujah!”
Thank you for not being fair with us. Thank you for being outrageously generous, immeasurably kind, and scandalously good. What we could never earn—your perfect righteousness, you have credited to us as a gift. What we fully deserve—to be dealt with according to the wages of our sin, you will never do so. What we cannot imagine—that you would justify ungodly people, you have joyfully and legally done.
Because of Jesus’ perfect and finished work, our transgressions are forgiven (all of them), our sins are covered (every one of them), and you’ll never hold us guilty for them. King David called such people “Blessed.” Because we are among “such people,” we are humbled and grateful, and free beyond our wildest imagining.