For the people of God, one principle has not changed throughout history. It is the principle of obedience giving victory. I cannot expect to live with God’s fullest blessing if I deliberately ignore what He commands.
And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. (Deuteronomy 4:1)
In the former covenant, God said that those who believed in Him must listen to His laws and obey them. If they did, they would not perish. In this verse, “live” is about physical life. That is, His food laws kept them healthy and His civic laws kept them orderly. His laws about worship kept them distinct from their enemies around them. In their obedience, God protected them from drought and famine and from being conquered and destroyed. He blessed them with victory after victory in taking possession of the land that He had given them, as long as they obeyed.
Even though the people of God wanted to do what God said, their sinful hearts kept interfering with their good intentions. Their ears would not listen; their obedience wavered. They were attacked and many were destroyed by war, famine and disease. They possessed the land, yet not fully. Sin was always their problem and at the root of their disobedience.
Yet in that old covenant, their eternal salvation was not about obedience but about faith. God promised a Savior, a Messiah and their belief in that promise was key to their eternal well-being.
In the new covenant, believers do not look forward to the promised Messiah but back toward the One that God sent, Jesus Christ. By faith in Him, sin is not only forgiven but those who believe in Him are given eternal life. This life goes beyond physical protection. That is, by listening to the Gospel and obeying what it says (believing in Jesus) no matter what happens to my physical body, I will live forever.
Jesus also enables victory. Because I have Him, I can take possession of all that God gives me. I can hear God speak and have a Holy Spirit-desire to do what He says. I am protected from my enemies. God even promises that nothing will happen to me unless He can use it for good in my life. That “good” is about being transformed into the image of His Son. When I am like Jesus, I am in full possession of the “promised land” that God has given me.
Of course, all of this asks for obedience from a willing heart. While God did ‘zap’ me in the sense that salvation is of Him and from Him, I have to cooperate. In saving me, He touched my heart with faith and understanding. That was a zap. He also bestowed new life and made of me a new creation. That was a zap. Yet when it comes to obedience, I am not a robot. I can go my own way and give into sin. If I want to really live in the power of God and take possession of this wonderful life that is mine, I must listen to Him and respond by doing what He says.
Obedience never earns salvation and a place in heaven, but it does make a difference in the life that is lived here on earth. The best part is that Jesus makes obedience possible.