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What is Obedience?

"For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous" (Romans 5:19).

Redemption, which is necessary because of the disobedience of man, is possible because of the obedience of Christ. Obedience is at the center of man's problem and God's solution. It is as we study the true meaning of obedience that we see the necessity of it for salvation, blessing and a God-honoring life.


When we generally think of obedience, we think of doing what one is instructed to do. In speaking to our children we may say, "Will you please obey me and do what you are told?" What we mean is, "Please carry out my instructions." Such uses are not far removed from the intended meaning of Scripture, but far enough that the true essence of the word is lost.

In Scripture there are several different words used for obedience. In order to establish the principal meaning of these words in our minds, we will look at two of them briefly.

Shama This Hebrew word is the primary one used throughout the Old Testament. The word has as its primary root the meaning, "to hear intelligently." Please note the word hear. It is central to the meaning.

Hupakouo This Greek word is used widely throughout the New Testament. The word is really made up of two words: hupo meaning under or beneath, and akouo meaning to hear. Thus the meaning of the word could be stated as, "to hear under." It carried with it the thought of subordination, or the recognition of authority and wisdom. It is an attitude of hearing.

Obedience, Legalism, Conformity

Obedience is an attitude of heart toward a higher authority. As Christians, that higher authority is God Himself. The Lord said in John 14:15, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." It also deals with the individual's own attitude toward God.

Legalism, on the other hand, places the commandment above the commander. It places the emphasis on the law itself, and the keeping of it for law's sake, rather than to the glory of its Giver. Those who are legalistic also tend to look at the activities of others rather than their own heart (attitude). We must realize that obedience is something we will want to question our own hearts about.

Conformity deals with the outside of a man. Many conform to laws outwardly in fear of reprisal; however their attitude is certainly not one of obedience. We have all probably driven our cars at the speed limit in fear of a fine, however in our hearts we would prefer to be going at a higher speed. Conformity to a law may be a means of avoiding punishment; however the peace and joy that comes from obedience is not there.

Demonstration of Faith

Somehow when we think of faith, we think of something like an invisible, but powerful gas. We, as does Scripture, often contrast it to visible works. Yet faith in the Scripture is also presented as a very visible thing. James 2:26 states, "Faith without works is dead." Faith must then involve action. This action may, or may not, be visible to man but is always visible to the ever-present and discerning eye of God.

No one chapter in the Bible is more known for faith than the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. We will therefore utilize this chapter to illustrate the relationship between faith and obedience.

"By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear [reverence], prepared an ark" (Hebrews 11:7). There are several things that immediately become apparent about Noah as we consider this verse: he had faith in God, he listened to God, he had a fear of God, and he acted for God. How do we know that Noah had faith in God? Did he fully understand the reason for building such a large ship in a place where it had never rained? Did he question God's wisdom or authority? No, Noah heard under. His trust was in God. What He said, Noah did. Note that Noah acted out of reverence for God. That is a holy fear, or recognition of the authority resident in his God. Is this true of us, or do we question the reason or want a full explanation before we act?

"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went" (Hebrews 11:8). Abraham, like Noah, did not question the directive of God. There is a very important lesson here for all of us. Obedience is not based on understanding, but on faith in God and in His wisdom.

How often our children respond, "Why?" when we instruct them to do something. Is that our reply to the directives found in the Word of God, or do we respond as these two men of God? Obedience requires a trust in the character and wisdom of the One in authority.

—Condensed from Obedience: The Key to Our Problems by Stephen J. Hulshizer. Published by Believers Bookshelf, Sunbury, PA.