Is Obedience a Christian Duty?
Posted on June 28, 2012
Mark Galli, Managing Editor of Christianity Today, writes:
We are in the bad habit of thinking that ethics is a REAL SERIOUS BUSINESS [his caps], that our welfare and the welfare of the world depend on its proper execution. Not quite. The gospel is the end of ethics in this sense. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself. The welfare of the world is a settled issue. Someone has already won the Masters [golf tournament]. The key question for believers is not “What are you going to do to earn God’s blessing, or to attain a good life, or to thank God for all he has done for you, or to make the world a better place?” No, it’s “What are you going to do now that you don’t have to do anything?”
The wonderful thing about the gospel is that it takes ethics away as duty and gives it back as joy—precisely because we don’t have to do it anymore but get to do it in freedom.
This is classic antinomianism. The epithet stings. But it is true. Antinomianism is not the notion that Christians should not obey God’s ethical standards; it is the notion that they may not obey them. In Mark’s words, now that you’re a Christian, “[Y]ou don’t have to do anything.” We don’t obey because God requires us to obey but because we want to — we delight to obey; we are not required to.
How, then does Mark explain texts like Hebrews 12:14, which asserts that without holiness, no one will see the Lord (the context makes clear that it’s existential or sanctificational holiness the author has in mind, not the imputed holiness of Jesus Christ)? What about Hebrews 6:1–12, which commands believers to strive in faithfulness so that in this way they can inherit the promises of eternal life? What about 1 Corinthians 6:9–10:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
If God prohibits drunkenness and homosexuality (for example) on pain of exclusion from Christ’s Kingdom, does he not also command us to abstain from these sins?
Mark writes that “gospel … takes ethics away as duty and gives it back as joy,” but Paul (for one) seemed quite willing to lay down ethics as duty. In 1 Timothy 6:17, he “charges” (paraggello, commands) the wealthy not to trust in their wealth, but in God alone. (There are many such explicit commands: see, for example, 1 Cor. 7:10; 1 Thes. 4:11; 2 Thes. 3:4).
Paul commands Christians to obey.
In the late 90’s I engaged in a debate with popular evangelical radio teacher Bob George over the validity of the Old Testament moral law. His position, which he declared plainly, was that in the Old Testament era God made demands of his people but “under grace” (the New Testament era) believers serve God out of gratitude and not out of duty. I reminded him (and the radio audience) that Paul no less than Moses made demands of his Christian audience, but George stuck by his guns of insisting that obedience is not a requirement in God’s gracious dealings with his people. So far as I can tell, this is Mark Gallli’s position also.
And it is wrong. It is lawless.
The Gospel liberates us from the penalty of sin — in this we can rejoice. But the Gospel does not liberate us from the duty of obedience.