Chicken or egg? What comes first? When it comes to living as God would have us, the question is much the same: love or obedience? Ron Coleman gives the biblical view.
The greatest gift anyone can give is love. The Bible says that of all the spiritual attributes a Christian can possess—faith, hope and love—the greatest is love (see 1 Corinthians 13).
And giving love is a fail-proof way to live. Love never fails, the Bible says. It also says that God is love, its origin and ultimate manifestation. Because He loves us, we love Him and give allegiance to Him. That’s what makes a person a Christian.
His Son, Jesus, who died for humankind, is our source of salvation, and those who believe in Him as Saviour will worship and obey Him (see Hebrews 5: 9). A person cannot call themselves a true believer—a true Christian, that is—and not demonstrate it by obeying His teachings (see John 14:23, 24), including keeping His commandments. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21), and a little further on, “If any loves me, he will obey my teaching” (verse 23).
Almost everybody obeys some of the commandments, even if in a faulty fashion, falling short of the standard Jesus outlined in His famous Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5 and 6). Most of us don’t murder or steal, but people do ignore some of them, either deliberately or in ignorance.
Among these is the fourth, which outlines God’s ideal for worship—the Sabbath—of Exodus 20:8-11. It commands us to remember and keep the seventh day as holy, and to refrain from our work and rest. The Sabbath commandment is often overlooked. And even among those who do give it some thought, it is misunderstood. Many people don’t know that it is the seventh day, Saturday, that is the Sabbath, not Sunday. In fact, many are surprised to learn this, having traditionally observed Sunday as Sabbath in the way God asks us to, without thinking to question it.
The truth of the Sabbath is strongly suggested in the accounts of Luke (23:53-24:1) and John (19: 31) of Jesus’ crucifixion. He was crucified on the “preparation day”—the Friday—and rested in the grave over the Saturday, rising on Sunday, the first day of the week.
The Saturday Sabbath was kept in Old Testament times. Jesus observed the Sabbath while on earth. It was kept in the New Testament, new covenant Christian times. The disciples kept it as such until they died many years later. The New Testament authors give no hint in their writings that the Sabbath day had been changed.
But there is more to the story. The truth of the Bible is testified to by the fulfilment of its many prophecies. One prophecy, also fulfilled, is found in Daniel 7:25. It speaks of a power that would arise, which would attempt to change “times and the laws” given by God. Human entities have done this, in particular in respect to God’s instruction (“law”) concerning the day (“time”) of worship.
Over the past 1500 years, many devoted Christians have been unwittingly misled in this respect, accepting a tradition perpetuated by their perhaps well-meaning leaders. But God cannot accept man-made, insubordinate changes to His commands. This is made clear at the very beginning of human history when He rejected the worship offering of Cain, who chose his own alternative to the sacrificial lamb, and brought an offering of fruit instead.
We glorify and worship God because we love Him and because He gives us salvation freely. We don’t need to do anything but obey Him. Nevertheless, it isn’t keeping His commandments that saves us. Rather, we keep them, albeit faultily, because we are saved and want to maintain that love relationship.
If we truly love Jesus, despite our human failing and faulty commandment-keeping, He accepts us. But there is no excuse for deliberate disobedience, for there’s no true love there. Jesus put it quite simply, saying, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). The apostle John, who really knew how to love Jesus, states, “This is love for God: to obey His commands” (1 John 5:3).
God’s commandments are not burdensome, as some might think. But we either keep them all or we break them all, as James points out: “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). We can’t pick and choose which we will keep and which we won’t and still be called part of Jesus’ flock.”
It is a sobering challenge to us all. Some people may call themselves Christians, but, according to Christ, they “worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matthew 15:9). We must examine our beliefs, our practice and our relationship with God. As Jesus also warned, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father” (Matthew 7:21).
So we owe it to ourselves to search out the truth from the Bible. But Jesus will not force us to follow what we find. Love demands free will—that choice is always ours.