Hearing (exposure to) truth is important. Understanding the truth one hears is, as well, very important. To complete the circuit and produce fruit, obeying or acting upon the understanding one gains is crucial. I would like to begin this consideration by suggesting that a poor understanding and representation of the topic of “works” has, often, discouraged obedience. It is common among certain Christian communities to emphasize that we are not saved by works. This is often communicated in such a way that one might get the impression that our behavior and obedience is unimportant or is a form of self-righteousness to be avoided at all cost. This flows from failing to understand Paul’s references to “works of the law” in their correct, 1st century, Jewish context. It is not obedience to which Paul is opposed but, rather, the effort of a guilty sinner to achieve and maintain right relationship with God by way of the external religious rituals practiced by devout, orthodox Jews. I would also like to clarify, as we prepare to consider a number of passages of Scripture, that I am not encouraging obedience that produces salvation but, rather, salvation that produces obedience.
A further clarification relates to the fact that not all obedience is manifest from a right motive of heart. When dealing with young people I’ve often presented a scenario involving three siblings interrupted while watching television by their mother asking them to carry the groceries from the car into the kitchen. One responds by carrying groceries (obedience) while grumbling and complaining about his mother’s request. Another carries groceries (obedience) because she thinks it will increase the chances of her mother allowing her to go to a movie with friends. The third recognizes and appreciates the hard work of her mother to earn money and spend it shopping for groceries to share with them and therefore, gladly carries the groceries (obedience) even putting them away. All three were obedient but only one acted out of love. It is important to emphasize that Christianity involves obedience preceded by or as a manifestation of love.
In Matthew 7:24, it is recorded that Jesus stated, “…everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man…” It’s not sufficient to simply hear, or even understand the teaching of Jesus. To produce the fruit of a changed life and the fruit of righteousness (Ep.5:9, Phil.1:11, He.12:11 and Jms.3:18), one must act upon, do, practice or obey His teaching. One might say instruction on how to live a life of love is the essence of the teaching of Jesus. By this, I do not mean the warm, fuzzy concept of love that most people improperly think of when hearing the word “love.” I am speaking of the well-rounded, challenging, self-sacrificial, sensitive, confrontational, highest-good-seeking love largely misunderstood by the vast majority of people.
To produce good fruit and press on to maturity, obedience is the necessary response to the truth one understands. Christianity is not simply a matter of intellectual assent to a body of information. It involves an obedient relationship to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. For those who confuse the “we’re not saved by works” doctrine with the appropriateness of obedience driven by love, I quote from Hebrews 5:9. “…having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation…”
None of these steps are automatic. If one does not make an effort to become exposed to newer and deeper levels of truths, it will not necessarily happen. If one does not think, reason and employ logic, analyzing what they’ve heard, it does not automatically produce understanding. Obedience requires effort, discipline and self-control.
Romans 1:18-21 – Truth is available. Suppressing truth produces a variety of negative consequences.
Matthew 13:19-23 – Only those who understand the word of the kingdom produce fruit.
Matthew 7:24-27 – Hearing truth and acting upon it produces stability.
Romans 10:13-15 – Preaching (teaching, proclaiming) truth is an important part of the process that leads to salvation.
Matthew 13:13 – Many people have been exposed to sufficient truth and yet do not understand and, consequently, do not obey it.
Romans 1:31 – Lack of understanding is characteristic of those living in rebellion.
Matthew 5: 21, 27, 33, 38 & 43 – The Jewish people had been exposed to great truth and yet twisted and distorted it.
Ephesians 4:17-19 – Once hearing and understanding truth, we are not to “walk” (live, conduct ourselves) as we once did.
James 4:17 “…to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
Proverbs 22:17 “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, and apply your mind to my knowledge…”
Proverbs 1:5 “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel…”
As moral agents, created in the image of God, truth plays a crucial role in developing proper character and producing good fruit. In Ep.6:13-17, the apostle Paul states that the first piece of the armor of God is truth and his final reference in this illustration is to the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (“Your word is truth” – Ps.119:160, Jn.17:17). One must use their God-given mental capacities to properly assimilate and understand truth. Once truth is understood, we must obey and live according to it if we are to “…bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Mt.3:8)
Next, Chapter Three considers the basics of moral agency.