There’s an old joke about people who do CrossFit, and it goes something like this: “How do you know when someone does CrossFit? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!” If you’ve ever encountered an enthusiastic CrossFitter, you know why this joke is so humorous. It seems that all they can talk about is CrossFit and how it has changed their lives. And to a certain extent it has. It has allowed them to train their bodies to maximum effectiveness. The interesting part is that CrossFit’s success is less about some revolutionary training regimen and more about the positive vision it casts and the enthusiasm it generates. The enthusiasm is not simply for the payoff but also the process—as difficult and painful as that process is. As Christians, our attitude toward obedience can become like that of someone dragged to the gym by a well-meaning friend or family member—weary disdain. Instead, we need the same sort of positive vision and enthusiasm for Christlikeness as our CrossFitting friends have for a pullup. Let me therefore give you some positive principles for the pursuit of Christian obedience.


However, we need a quick caveat before we begin. Christian history is littered with those who would try to generate energy for Christian obedience only to find themselves exhausted and enslaved to a relentless master. We do not endeavor after obedience to the Lord that we may be justified before Him. Paul makes this incredibly clear in Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Well-meaning Christians, afraid that the radically free offer of the gospel will demotivate Christian obedience, have instead placed themselves on a hopeless treadmill of works-righteousness. This path robs them not merely of their joy in obedience but ultimately of their assurance in Christ. Rejoice, Christian, your obedience does not factor into your acceptance into the kingdom. What a freeing truth that is; yet it does not free us from obedience but rather puts us in a right relationship with obedience. For Paul finishes his thought in his letter to the Ephesians with this: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, emphasis added).

Obedience Increases Our Spiritual Fitness

Many Christians have come to believe in their heart of hearts that to obey God’s commands, to kill sin and live unto righteousness, will cause them to resent the Lord and love Him less. This is one of the oldest tricks of Satan to whisper in our ears that we cannot be happy without our pet sin, that we would be miserable if we did not allow ourselves room for this or that transgression of His law. The truth of the matter is quite different. Does killing sin sting? Yes! In the moment, it quite literally feels like death because we are killing something in us. But much like those that tear down their muscles in the gym only for them to come back stronger, more able, more fit for this physical life, tearing down sin in our lives makes us happier, more peaceful, stronger, and more fit for life this side of glory. More importantly, choosing to endeavor after spiritual health now helps to build up our ability to endure under more intense trial and temptation later. Like a soldier in the midst of combat relying on his training and fitness to help him survive, when we are in the habit of obeying God’s Word, we can rely on it when we find ourselves under spiritual attack. When we obediently meditate on God’s Word day and night (Ps. 1:2) we will, like Christ in the wilderness, run to it in the moments of our spiritual affliction (Matt. 4:1–11). When we pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17), we will cry out to the Lord in our darkest hours (Ps. 88). When we don’t neglect the coming together (Heb. 10:24–25), we will have our burdens borne along by one another when we are struggling (Gal. 6:2).

Obedience Increases Our Love

As image bearers, we have three facets by which we are shaped: our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions. At times our feelings lead our thoughts and actions. When they do and they are focused on righteousness, it is often the most efficient way of molding Christlike lives. For example, my heart is swept up by a convicting sermon and thus I endeavor to kill the sin in my life with vigor and enthusiasm. However, the most consistent way to shape our lives is not through affection or feelings but by action. When we act in accordance with Christ’s commands, we are making an internal declaration about our commitment and love of Christ. In one sense Christ’s exhortation in John 14:15 is “Since you love me, you will keep my commands.” And further in John 15:17, “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” Choosing to act in a way that expresses love helps to fan embers of affection to roaring flames. Further, while our feelings are by their nature dynamic things (changing in their intensity and focus), behavior can be very static—helping to ground our affections and giving them stability. When I choose to read my Bible, pray, and act with the sort of Christian integrity God calls me to, it helps keep my affections grounded in the love God has for me and the love I have for Him. While it is easiest to obey when I feel loving toward God, the truth is I often feel loving toward God because I choose to obey.

Let us not grow weary of well doing but with renewed vigor and positive vision run the good race till one day we receive our crown of glory.
Obedience Makes Us Better Witnesses

The world around us is full of folly, selfish ambition, conceit, malice, lust, gluttony, rivalry, and any other sin one can quickly call to mind. Obedience comes across as odious so often because it prevents us from giving into our sinful hearts and looking like the world. Conversely though, when we obey God’s Word (James 1:25), when we bless those who curse us (Rom. 12:14), when we pray even for our enemies (Matt. 5:44), when we go the extra mile (Matt. 5:41), treat all as neighbors (Luke 10:29–37), guard our hearts from sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), put away all slander (Eph. 4:31), etc., our Christian witness shines brightly in this darkened world (Luke 8:16). Having grown up in “the Bible belt,” I found that the thing that made Christianity seem so implausible to me as a kid was not its truth claims but the fact that the people who wore the crosses, went to youth groups, and made the public professions acted no different from the world. Conversely, as an adult I’ve had the opportunity to become close friends with a number of saints who strive day by day after new obedience to the Lord and His Word, and I’ve seen how transformative that is for me, the church, and a watching world. You never know who is watching and when. For some, your obedience may be an offense, pushing them away because they want to live in darkness and not the light (John 3:19). For others your obedience will be a comfort, drawing them in like a moth to the flame (1 Peter 2:9). Either way, when we obey God’s Word, it signals to the world that “there is something different there” that opens the door for genuine gospel-centered conversations and gives the credibility to speak truth into their life.

Obedience Is Always Rewarded

We may not see the results of our obedience immediately. In fact, we may not see the results of our obedience fully this side of heaven; yet obedience is always rewarded. Whereas the decisions we make about our earthly riches—whether to invest here or there; whether to take this job or that, etc.—are never guaranteed, our obedience to God and His Word is always rewarded. God promises as much in His Word, for He writes:

The rules of the Lord are true,

and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,

even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey

and drippings of the honeycomb.

Moreover, by them is your servant warned;

in keeping them there is great reward. (Ps. 19:9–11)

Christ reminds us that when we are persecuted because of His Word (in other words, when we are persecuted because we obey His Word), great will be our reward in heaven (Matt. 5:11–12). And He further enjoins us to seek that reward and store it up where nothing may destroy it or take it away (Matt. 6:19–20). In a sermon on Romans 2:10, Jonathan Edwards states: “The glory of the saints above will be in some proportion to their eminency in holiness and good works here. Christ will reward all according to their works.” He goes on to describe variation in rewards like the variation in the size of vessels in the sea—a sea of happiness—where some are the size of thimbles and others the size of tubs or more. Our obedience here prepares us to be the ocean liners in the sea of satisfaction available to us one day, and then forever, in glory.


Obedience is hard. Make no mistake about it. Yet it need not be drudgery. We are no longer slaves but are free to live as we were created to live and when we do, we find ourselves more spiritually fit, more in love with our God, more able to witness, and more prepared for heaven than we could ever possibly imagine. Let us not grow weary of well doing (Gal. 6:9) but with renewed vigor and positive vision run the good race till one day we receive our crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4).

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