From The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "Faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience."
Another way of saying this is a phrase I heard one of my Bible teachers quote years ago: "Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone."
We have celebrated Easter, or Resurrection Sunday. What does it all mean, and what does it have to do with the demand of obedience?
Who is this Jesus Christ who rose from the dead? He is God. We have two options in how we respond to this truth. We can reject it, and say: "Not for me." Or, we can obey Him. Faith without obedience is faith in something or someone else other than Jesus Christ. Faith without obedience may be foolish presumption, thoughtless self-confidence, or mindless group-think.
Do we want to be "saved?" What does it mean to be "saved"? Among many things, it means the freedom to do what is right, as defined by God and outlined in the Scriptures. Salvation means we want (for ourselves) obedience to His commands and His purposes, and the ability to hear Him and know what He expects of us. The faith that obeys when encountering uncertainty or fear and plain laziness is saving faith.
Easter is never about getting renewal to do our own thing. Easter is about getting renewal to do God's will. That means obedience. Obedience is not laying out our own plans and asking God to bless them. Tear up your five-year plan! Obedience is asking God what He wants of us and forging ahead with His plans.
In The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer warns us against getting suckered into "cheap grace." Even Jesus had to die on the cross before things could be made right between God and humanity. Do we really think we can get away with any less? He didn't stay dead, and neither must we stay dead. But we do have to go to the cross of self-will, die there, and become resurrected into obedience and into life.
Today (April 9, 2010) is the 65th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. He was hung in Flossenburg concentration camp in Germany. The U.S. Army freed the camp's inmates on April 23, 1945, a few weeks after Bonhoeffer's execution.