Obedience in the Christian Life

Point of Disagreement


Churches today are filled with a generation of people reacting to the legalism of their predecessors and, whether or not we like to admit it, we tend to overcorrect. Many feel like the topic of sanctification veers into legalism. They end up emphasizing justification so fully as to do away with any good works whatsoever. While our salvation is not based on our performance, Scripture teaches that good works are meant to be a part of the Christian walk. So how do we balance our understanding of these topics? Pastors Kevin DeYoung, Richard Phillips, and Bryan Chapell take up the issue in order to clearly articulate the place of both justification and sanctification in the Christian life.

Kevin DeYoung is Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. Richard Phillips is the Senior Minister of the Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville, South Carolina. Bryan Chapell is the Senior Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois and former Chancellor of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.


How do you understand justification? What about sanctification? In what ways are the two distinct? How would you say they are connected?
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In what ways can you see a fear of legalism leading some to downplay the notion of obedience in sanctification? How does that fear lead to an overcorrection? What would you say a Christ follower loses when sanctification is devalued?
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John 14:15 (ESV)

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Clearly, there is a biblical precedent for obedience in the Christian life (see John 14:15, 21, 23; 1 John 5:3). God calls us to life change. As Bryan pointed out, many times the disagreement about good works is not centered on whether or not sanctification should happen, but on how the grace of justification motivates and empowers good works. Scripture offers numerous motivations for obedience (gain, blessing, discipline, etc.), but it is the love of God that serves as the primary motivating force for sanctification.

1 John 4:19 (ESV)

19 We love because he first loved us.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Matthew 22:37 (ESV)

37And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


As you consider your own walk with Christ, would you say your obedience is motivated by God's love? If so, how do your actions demonstrate this? Or do they reveal lesser motivations, like that of fear? If so, how?
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How does seeing God's love as the primary motivation change the way we read difficult passages, like the warnings against falling away? If those warnings come from His grace, what does that tell us about the character of God? In what ways does it cause you to see His warnings sourced in compassionate care?
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God justifies us on the basis of Christ's performance, not our own. How does this truth free you to pursue obedience to Him? How does it encourage you in your failures? What are some areas of your life where you need the love of God to motivate you more fully in obedience to Him?
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Kevin said, "We relate to God as His adopted children, not as our judge." Through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we have a new Father who adopts us as His own. Out of love, He calls us to lives of holiness. And as a Father, His warnings are not threats of rejection, but aimed at drawing us back from what would otherwise destroy us. When we love God, we set out to pursue lives defined by His standards and not our own. While works are not the basis for our salvation, they are the evidence of it. Take some time to rejoice in the fact that God has declared you righteous through His Son, Jesus Christ. As you reflect on that truth, let it motivate you further into obedience to His Word.


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