Is Obedience Reasonable?
The book of Isaiah begins with a description of ancient Judah as a very sinful nation. God’s prophet seeks to bring the rebellious nation to repentance. His appeal to them could have been based on many things. He could have appealed to their sense of shame. He could have appealed to their identity and proud history as God’s chosen people. He could have appealed to them to live up to the example of their great leaders such as Moses, Joshua, Samuel or David. He chose, however, to appeal to them on another basis.
God’s prophet appeals to Judah on the basis of reason. Isaiah 1:18 simply states: “Come now, and let us reason together.” The sinful behavior of the nation was a fact the prophet had clearly established (Isaiah 1:1-15). To maintain their current path of immorality, hypocrisy and idolatry would lead them to sure judgment and destruction (1:24-25). Reason should have led them to repentance. Judah, however, proved to be unreasonable, thus forcing a just and reasonable God to destroy them. Jerusalem was soon thereafter destroyed, its inhabitants carried off into captivity by the invading army of Babylon.
Like ancient Judah, many religious people today mistakenly overlook the importance of reason in their response to God. Many believe that religion is a personal matter and should not be reduced to the objective dictates of reason. Others believe that an emphasis on reason would annul the grace of God. Still others prefer to think of religion ultimately as an expression of emotion to the exclusion of reason.
I believe, however, that the Bible requires God’s people to be a thinking, rational and reasonable people. As we have noticed, the obedience of ancient Judah was solicited on the basis of reason. Our response to God now must be one of obedience, also based on reason. Consider the following evidence for drawing such a conclusion.
Jesus appeals to his disciples on the basis of reason. In Luke 24 he goes back to the Old Testament, expounding, explaining and opening their understanding concerning His identity. He also points out that repentance and forgiveness of sins should indeed be preached in His name. (Luke 24:25f ; 44f). Their willingness to reason along with the arguments of Jesus led to their ability to comprehend his message.
The Apostle Paul was highly educated, more advanced even than his peers in the strict academic traditions of the Pharisees (Acts 22:3; Gal.1:14). He was truly a man of reason. As a gospel preacher, he appealed to prospective converts on the basis of reason. Acts 17:2-3 refers to his custom of reasoning, explaining, and demonstrating in his effort to convince others that “this Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” He appealed to reason in Romans 1:4 in stating that the resurrection declared Jesus to be the Son of God.
Paul sought to convert people to Christ through a process of logical thinking. He expected people to mentally weigh the evidence for Christ’s deity and draw the only reasonable conclusion – Jesus is the Son of God and every person must be faithful and obedient to Him. Again, the facts of the gospel, i.e. the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus served as the basis of Paul’s preaching to the Corinthians. These same facts also served as the basis for their response to Paul’s preaching. They believed, obeyed and were saved. When undeniable facts are presented, a reasonable person will respond to those facts in a reasonable manner – as did the Corinthians in obeying the gospel.
But let us continue to reason together, offering more scriptural evidence as to the necessity and reasonableness of obedience.
If obedience is not necessary, why did Jesus say it was His duty to obey. “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). Obedience to and dependence upon God’s will summed up Jesus’ whole life. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (6:38).
Furthermore, if obedience is not reasonable and necessary, why did Jesus require that we follow His example of obedience? Luke 6:46 says, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’, and not do the things which I say?” Peter reminds us to follow the Lord’s example. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1Peter 2:21).
Reasoning together and concluding that obedience is both reasonable and necessary can also be applied to the examples of conversion in the book of Acts. Why, for example, did alien sinners ask what they needed to do in order to be saved if obedience was not necessary? In Acts 2:37 those to whom Peter preached responded by asking, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” In like manner, the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30)
If obedience is not reasonable and necessary, why were the questions of these sinners answered with instructions as to what they must do. Peter told those on the day of Pentecost “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins . . .”(Acts 2:38). Paul responded to the jailer’s question by stating, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. . .” (Acts 16:31).
Continuing to reason, is it not appropriate to ask further, if obedience is not reasonable and necessary, why did these sinners obey, doing what they were told to do? The Jews in Acts 2 repented and were baptized in keeping with the inspired Apostle’s instructions (Acts 2:41). The jailer in Philippi also obeyed (Acts 16:33). Not only did they obey, but they did so immediately. There was an urgency in their response to the gospel message. Acts 2:41 points out that the sinners on the day of Pentecost were baptized that very same day. The jailer in Acts 16 was baptized immediately. Also, consider the immediate urgency in the obedience Saul (Acts 9:18); the Samaritans (Acts 8:12); the Ethiopian (Acts 8:35-39); Cornelius (Acts 10:47-48) and Crispus (Acts 18:8). Looking at these examples of conversion, can we conclude anything other than the fact that obedience to the message of the gospel is both necessary and reasonable?
We might also ask in reference to the issue at hand, “If obedience is not necessary and reasonable, why will everybody be judged according to their deeds? 2 Cor.5:10 states, “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” In reference to the resurrection John states, “Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn 5:28-29).
Furthermore, “If obedience is not necessary, why does God state in His word that those who do not obey will be punished with everlasting destruction?” 2 Thess.1:7-9 states that Christ will return “. . . in flaming fire taking vengeance of those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” John 3:18 similarly states, “. . . he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Truly, and especially without obedience, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hand os the living God” (Heb.10:31).
The undeniable truth of the matter is that obedience to God is both necessary and reasonable. In fact, there is no reasonable alternative. God exists. His word is true. Our obedience is as much a necessary and reasonable part of the saving gospel as is the grace of God.