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10 Key Bible Verses on Obedience

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

No Longer Slaves

We are no longer under Old Testament law; but as believers, we are still marked by our obedience to Christ. We are no longer enslaved to the law, but set free to honor the Lord with our lives. Be encouraged by reading the following Scriptures with commentary from the ESV Study Bible.

Deuteronomy 6:4–9

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4 is called the Shema from the Hebrew word for “Hear.” The Lord alone is Israel’s God, “the only one.” It is a statement of exclusivity, not of the internal unity of God. This point arises from the argument of chapter 4 and the first commandment. While Deuteronomy does not argue theoretically for monotheism, it requires Israel to observe a practical monotheism (cf. Deut. 4:35). This stands in sharp contrast to the polytheistic Canaanites.

That the Lord alone is Israel’s God leads to the demand for Israel’s exclusive and total devotion to him. “Heart. . . soul. . . might.” All Israelites in their total being are to love the Lord; “this is the great and first commandment” (Matt. 22:38). In Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27, Jesus also includes “mind.” In early Hebrew, “heart” included what we call the “mind”. “Might” indicates energy and ability.

“On your heart” is the demand is for a heart that totally loves the Lord. Deuteronomy anticipates the new covenant, when God’s words will be truly and effectively written on the heart (Jer. 31:31–34; also Deut. 5:6–8).The two pairs of opposites (sit/walk, lie down/rise) suggest any and every time, place, and activity. Many Jews have fulfilled these commands literally with phylacteries (Deut. 6:8) and mezuzot (Deut. 6:9), i.e., boxes bound on the arm and forehead or attached to doorposts containing Deut.6:4–5 and other Scripture verses.

Psalm 1:1–2

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

The truly happy person is happy because God showers him with favor. Jesus uses the Greek equivalent in Matthew 5:3–11; cf. also James 1:12. The Latin translation, beatus, is the source of the word beatitude. “The man”—a specific, godly individual (Hb. ha’ish, “the man”)—is held up as an example for others to imitate. Such teaching by use of a concrete example is common in Old Testament wisdom literature. “Wicked. . . sinners. . . scoffers” are people, even within Israel, who refuse to live by the covenant; the godly person refuses to follow the moral orientation of such people’s lifestyle. Some have seen an increasing level of sinfulness in the terms “wicked-sinners-scoffers,” together with an increasing loyalty in the metaphors “walk-stand-sit”; however, it is likely that the terms “wicked” and “sinner” here are equivalent, while a “scoffer” is certainly more committed to evil.

“The law of the Lord” could be taken as God’s instruction (Hb. Torah, which often designates the Law of Moses), particularly as he speaks in his covenant. For this reason no one should ever think that such a person receives his blessedness by deserving it, since the covenant is founded on God’s grace. Meditates describes an active pondering, perhaps even muttering to oneself in pursuit of insight. Some suppose day and night speaks of the work of professional scholars who spend all their time pondering the words of the law, but in view of the similar instruction in Josh. 1:8, readers should see this as setting the ideal of facing every situation, be it ever so mundane, with a view to pleasing the Lord by knowing and following his word.

James 1:22–25

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Hearing the word without action is self-deceptive, while hearing that results in doing the word is a blessing. Being doers of the word, and not hearers only is the only proper response to the word of God (not only the gospel but the entirety of Scripture), allowing it to take root in one’s life (James1:21).

Looking intently at his natural face in a mirror and then forgetting what he was like demonstrates the folly of examining oneself in God’s “mirror” of the “implanted word” (James 1:21) and then doing nothing about it (James 1:22). When one sees imperfections (as when looking in a mirror), common sense says something should be done about it.

Matthew 7:24–27

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

A parable brings the Sermon on the Mount to a close as Jesus calls for his audience to decide between himself and the religious establishment, drawing a dividing line between himself and any other foundation for life. The evidence of whether one is truly a believer is in whether one does the words of Jesus (cf. James 1:22–23 and 2:20–22 and notes on these verses). Disciples who build their lives on the bedrock of Jesus and his message of the kingdom of heaven are truly wise, regardless of the shifting cultural or religious fashions.

Ephesians 6:1

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

A family relationship illustrating submission to proper authority (Eph. 6:21) is that of children and parents. The Mosaic law prescribed death for the child who struck or cursed a parent (Ex. 21:15, 17; Lev. 20:9), and Paul lists such disobedience as one of many grave sins (Rom. 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:2). However, Paul urges in Ephesians 6:1–3 the positive duty of children to obey their parents. Obedience is due to both parents; the mother’s submission to her husband does not remove her parental dignity but rather increases it. In the Lord modifies the verb “obey.” What makes such obedience “right” or “just” is that it conforms to God’s holy commandment, quoted in Ephesians 6:2–3.

Children obeying their parents (Eph. 6:1) is in part how they honor them; see also Proverbs 31:28, which describes children rising to bless a wise and godly mother. promise. There were earlier commands of God with promises (e.g., Gen. 17:1–2), but this is the first and only of the Ten Commandments to contain a promise (see also Ex. 20:12). In the new covenant the promise of the land is not physical land on earth but eternal life, which begins when one is regenerated here and now and comes to full reality in the age to come. Paul is not teaching salvation on the basis of works. The obedience of children is evidence that they know God, and it results in receiving blessings from God.

John 15:10–14

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

Obedience is not to be equated with drudgery; it is all about joy. The Old Testament prophets envisioned a period of great end-time rejoicing (e.g., Isa. 25:9; Isa. 35:10; Isa. 51:3; Isa. 61:10; Isa. 66:10; Zeph. 3:14–17; Zech. 9:9). God threatened judgment if his people would not serve him “with joyfulness and gladness of heart” (Deut. 28:47–48). Just as Jesus had great joy in obeying his Father even in the midst of opposition, so Christians will have joy in obedience.

“You are my friends” implies a stunning level of comfortable personal interaction with one who is also the eternal, omnipotent Creator of the universe (see John 1:1–3, 10). In the Old Testament, only Abraham (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8) and by implication Moses (Ex. 33:11) are called “friends of God.” Here Jesus extends this privilege to all obedient believers.

Romans 2:6–11

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

Paul establishes the principle that judgment is according to . . . works. The structure of the passage is clear. Romans 2: 6 enunciates the principle. Romans 2:7–10 work it out more specifically with an ABBA pattern (a chiasm). Romans 2:11 then explains why God judges according to works (because he is impartial). When Paul speaks of those who are rewarded for doing good works (Rom.2:7, 10), is he speaking hypothetically or of real obedience? The hypothetical view fits with the theme of the section as a whole (Rom.1:18–3:20), where all are condemned for sin, and righteousness does not come by works of law. It seems more likely, however, that Paul is speaking here of real obedience that is rewarded on the last day—such obedience being the result of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, as Paul explains at the conclusion of the chapter (Rom. 2:26–29). Impartiality in judgment (Rom.2:11) is a regular requirement in the Old Testament (see Deut. 1:17; 16:18–20), reflecting the righteousness of God’s judgment (Deut. 10:17).

Genesis 22:17–18

I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.

The divine oath recorded in these verses should not be overlooked, for it brings to a climax a process that started with the conditional promises made by God to Abraham in Gen. 12:1–3. The fact that God swears by himself gives to these words a unique authority, assuring Abraham that they will indeed be fulfilled (see Heb. 6:13–18). The oath falls into two parts: whereas the first half focuses on Abraham’s many descendants, the second part concentrates on a single descendant who will overcome his enemies (Gen. 22:17) and mediate blessing to all the nations of the earth (Gen.22:18). Although the second half of the oath is often taken to refer to all of Abraham’s descendants, Genesis as a whole is interested in tracing a single unique line of offspring that will eventually bring forth a special King who will rule over the Gentiles, and the reference to “his enemies” points in this direction. This is why Paul (Gal. 3:16) can insist on one offspring, who is “Christ” (i.e., the Messiah; cf. Gen. 3:15; 24:60 for “offspring” as a particular descendant). And this explains why Isaac is clearly set apart from Ishmael as Abraham’s heir. From the perspective of the whole Bible, this oath to Abraham comes to fulfillment in Jesus Christ (Acts 3:25–26; Gal. 3:16).

The central focus of God’s words to Abraham is on the way in which Abraham’s actions are a vindication of his faith (see Rom. 4:3, 22–23; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23). Many also see an allusion in Romans 8:32 to this verse.

Joshua 1:7–8

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Three times the Lord charges Joshua to be strong and courageous, words reminiscent of Joshua’s earlier commissioning under Moses (see Deut. 31:6–8, 23). Joshua will need strength and courage to accept his task (you shall cause this people to inherit the land; Josh. 1:6); to obey the Torah (Book of the Law [Josh.1:8]; most likely this would have included at least the book of Deuteronomy or portions thereof [see Deut. 31:26, “this law”]); and to resist being terrified (do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed; Josh.1:9). Most difficult of all will be the middle responsibility—namely, to make the Lord’s instructions (Hb. Torah) integral to who he is and what he does (Josh.1:8a), meditating on them constantly so as to do them (Josh.1:8b). Thus the middle exhortation is made emphatic by the addition of two small words: “only be strong and very courageous.” Given Joshua’s leadership responsibilities, this charge to be strong and courageous would be daunting were it not for the framing promises: I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you (Josh.1:5); and the LORD your God is with you wherever you go (Josh.1:9). Fortified by these assurances of the Lord’s abiding presence, Joshua is empowered to receive his commission with courage. The Hebrew terminology used in these assurances has nothing to do with worldly wealth or worldly success, but has everything to do with accomplishing one’s mission and acting with keen insight in any circumstance that presents itself. Only when one fails to “ask counsel from the LORD” (Josh. 9:14) is such insight lacking.

Romans 5:18–19

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.

Paul contrasts the consequences of the work of Adam and of Christ, showing their decisive roles as covenantal heads of the people they represent. Paul clearly teaches “original sin,” the fact that all people inherit a sinful nature because of Adam’s sin. Paul probably is also teaching that all people are in fact guilty before God because of Adam’s sin. Many (i.e., all human beings excluding Christ) died through Adam’s one sin. Death begins with spiritual separation from God and culminates in physical death. By contrast Paul emphasizes the lavishness of Christ’s grace bestowed on the many that belong to him.

The one trespass of Adam, as the covenantal head of the human race, brought condemnation and guilt to all people. In a similar way, Christ’s one act of righteousness (either his death as such or his whole life of perfect obedience, including his death) grants righteousness and life to all who belong to him. for all men. Some interpreters have advocated universalism (the view that all will be saved) based on these verses. But Paul makes it plain in this context that only those who “receive” (Rom. 5:17) God’s gift belong to Christ (see also Rom. 1:16–5:11, which indicates that only those who have faith will be justified). The wording “as … so” shows that Paul’s focus is not on the number in each group but on the method of either sin or righteousness being passed from the representative.

The first “all men” refers to all who are in Adam (every human being), while the second “all men” refers to all believers, to all who are “in Christ.”

Because of Adam’s disobedience, all people were made (Gk. kathistēmi, “cause[d] to be”) sinners. Thus, when Adam as mankind’s representative sinned, God regarded the whole human race as guilty sinners, thereby imputing Adam’s guilt to everyone. In other words, God regarded Adam’s guilt as belonging to the whole human race, while also declaring that Adam’s guilt does in fact belong to all. All are therefore sinners, and are born with a sinful nature that is set in the mold of Adam’s transgression.


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