The Apostle Paul wrote of the gospel by which one is saved by grace through faith in Ephesians 2:8. This good news involves belief, and this belief requires, or results, in obedience. The Son of God made a direct connection between loving and obeying Him: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”1
And it is just the opposite for the one who does not love Him: “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.”2
This is why Peter, when speaking to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5 of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, could proclaim, “We are witnesses of these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”3
He will certainly never save anyone who does not love Him! Salvation comes by His grace and through His faith, which is imparted to the one who hears and receives the true requirements of the gospel. The premier example of this in the New Testament is the three thousand who were saved on the day of Pentecost:
And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. (Acts 2:40-41)
Faith came to them by hearing the word of God spoken to them by men in whom was neither deceit, falsehood, nor self-seeking.4 And it was the grace of God to them to be in Jerusalem in the first place, and to be among the multitude attracted to the amazing sights and sounds that day.5 By the words of these true sent ones they were convicted of their sins and became keenly aware of their guilt in crucifying their Lord and Christ. Believing the message and cut to the heart, they cried out, “Men, brothers, what must we do to be saved?”6
First grace had come to them, then faith, and then belief, and then what? What was yet lacking? Obedience to the word they heard! They had asked the most important question anyone will ever ask – how to be saved – and they got the answer: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”7
After receiving the many other words,8 they were baptized in obedience to the apostles’ words. They appealed for a good conscience, and in answer, they were immersed into His Body on Earth,9 which was then only the Community of Jerusalem. Soon it would consist of communities just like it all over the ancient Roman world.10 It was only in such communities that disciples could obey the commandments of their Lord and Savior, being the “city” on the hill that could not be hidden.11
That the apostles were obedient to the Great Commission to “teach them to obey all that I have commanded you”12 is shown in the startling, beautiful life of love, devotion, and sharing that sprang up that day:
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers…. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. (Acts 2:42,44-45)
This was the witness of the Kingdom of God that was to spread to the ends of the Earth.13 A king’s domain reaches only as far as his word is obeyed, and it was their obedience to His gospel that caused them to live the way they did. It is only the disbelief of those who don’t obey Him, but claim to know Him,14 that explains why “believers” no longer live together, sharing all things in common.
The Consequences of Disobedience (Disbelief)
So Acts 2 and 4 describes some of those who “gladly received” the word of God. There are other stories in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles of those who went away sad, or mad, at hearing the good news. In testifying of the Savior, John the Baptist warned of the wrath to come for those who hear and do not obey Him:
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)
“Does not obey” is the Greek word apeitheo,15 meaning to willfully and perversely disbelieve, obey not, be unbelieving and disobedient. John’s dire warning made explicit the words of the Son Himself in John 3:18,
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
This is why the wrath of God abides, or remains, on such a one, for he or she has been judged already. The words of the gospel about “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come,”16 which were to convict them (as they had the three thousand at Pentecost), were instead willfully rejected. Therefore, their good deeds will not help them, nor their bad deeds further condemn them, for they have committed the chief and foremost of sins — rejecting the good news. This makes them one of the “cowardly and unbelieving” of Revelations 21:8,
But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
They are those who “have not obeyed the gospel,” which is so serious that when He returns He will “in flaming fire take vengeance on” them.17 Unlike those who believe and obey, who will never thirst again, their thirst will never be quenched. They refused the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the water of life.18 They did not overcome and so were unworthy to partake of the living water.19
Drinking the Water of Life
And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.” (Revelation 21:6-7)
Drinking the water of life requires that a man or woman obey the gospel, which is what the words “He who overcomes” mean. For the good news of salvation is the means by which a man lays hold of the free gift of God in Christ Jesus, just as the three thousand did at Pentecost. This requires forsaking anything that would keep someone from quenching his thirst, whether it be his own wife, children, parents, houses, lands, wealth, and status in society, “and his own life also.”20
None of these things can do what the Son of God can do: grant them eternal life. The rich young ruler21 had all these things, yet not eternal life, and so he sought the “good teacher” for what he did not yet possess. Yet he went away sad, in deepest gloom, for all these treasures became obstacles to him he would not overcome. They meant more to him than eternal life itself. He was led to the well of living water, but he would not drink.
The Savior came that men and women might thirst no more:
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)
So the living water is the Holy Spirit, who would be given to those who believe as the Scriptures say. Peter equated this “belief” with “obeying Him” in Acts 5:32. And Paul equated it with “obeying the gospel” in Romans 10:16. The one who thirsts must overcome all things that would keep him from drinking. This overcoming takes obedience to the gospel, and this is where the so-called “hard sayings” of the Gospels “kick in.”
What it Means to Obey the Gospel
Loving Messiah more than one’s relatives, even more than one’s parents, is part of what it means to obey the gospel. Indeed, not giving Messiah such preeminence makes one unworthy of Him:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37)
This should not divide nuclear families in the Body of Messiah, but it does and will divide the nuclear family in the secular society when the gospel is preached:
Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Luke 12:53)
This is explained in another “difficult” passage:
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
Here the word “hate” means to love less. You no longer give that person or thing the depth of the attention you once did. Those who are no more in the center of our affections often interpret this as “hatred.”
Yet, even when faced with the emotions of such personal relationships, no one can serve two masters, for “either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” The Son of God knew, along with the rich young ruler, what so many do not know today: “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”22
Love is the direction of your will. You love that on which you spend your time, money, and affection, whether the things of the world or the things of God. The first-century church was together, shared all things in common, and “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”23
Those devoted to these things will be devoted to one another, just as they were in Jerusalem and the other ancient churches. They created something so astonishing in their simple, humble life of love and service that it was said, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.”24
Have they come to where you live? Or do rich and poor, old and young, black, white, and Hispanic remain divided as they do in the rest of “the world”?