A number of years ago I wrote an article for Signs of the Times® in which I said that obedience is not a condition of salvation. One reader took strong exception to this statement. He said that faith and obedience are like Siamese twins. If we separate them, we destroy both.
Webster's New World Dictionary defines condition as "anything called for as a requirement before the performance or completion of something else; . . . [a] prerequisite.” In other words, A is a requirement that must be met in order for B to be completed.
So is obedience a condition—a requirement—that we must meet before God can save us? Is God sitting up in heaven saying, “As soon as Marvin Moore obeys Me (or starts to obey Me), I’ll grant him My salvation”?
My response is No. Obedience is something we do after we are saved, not what we do in order to be saved. And the reason is quite simple. While true obedience includes our outward deeds, it is not just our outward deeds. True obedience is both the outward deed and the inner motive that prompts the deed.
A man who refuses to have an affair has obeyed outwardly, but he has not obeyed the way God requires if he harbors sexual lust toward another person in his heart. That’s what Jesus meant when He said that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). True obedience requires that we care enough about others not to want to have an affair.
Now it happens that many unconverted people are able to restrain themselves from committing the outward act of adultery, and we’re all glad for it. Their self-control makes for a well-ordered society. However, they have not obeyed in the biblical sense unless they’ve experienced the inner transformation we call “conversion” or the “new birth.” The only obedience that is acceptable to God is that which arises out of a converted heart.
And the point is this: Salvation has to happen first, and only then is this kind of obedience possible.
Allow me to use an analogy. Let’s say that, at the end of a hot summer day that I’ve spent working in my yard, I’m all covered with sweat and dirt and I want to take a shower and clean up. But suppose that the condition for getting in the shower in the first place was that I had to be clean. That wouldn’t make sense! The shower is where I get clean, so being clean can’t be a condition for getting in the shower.
In order to be saved a person must be converted, and conversion is what makes true obedience possible. Unsaved people cannot truly obey God. Therefore, God cannot require as a condition of salvation that which people can do only after they’ve been saved.
The condition—the basis—for our salvation is faith. The result of our salvation is obedience. Unsaved people can’t obey. Saved people will obey.