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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

Do Christians Really Have to Obey Jesus?

In today's anti-authoritarian world, where the line between cultural Christianity and authentic discipleship often blurs, here's a blunt question: Do Christians really need to obey Jesus? This question isn't just academic, is it? No. It strikes at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

do Christians really have to obey Jesus?

I’m Darrell Stetler II, and I’ve served as a pastor and disciple-maker for over 20 years. I’m also the creator of NewStart Discipleship and the Obedience Challenge, a 90-day study on the commands of Jesus and how to obey them. The Obedience Challenge is used by churches all across the US (and several other countries), to help new Christians learn to obey the commands of Jesus.

Why Obedience to Jesus Matters

When I first created the Obedience Challenge, I told someone about it, and their first reaction was “Do you have to call it that?” 

I guess “obedience to the commands of Jesus” doesn’t immediately sound compelling. 

In fact, a lot of Christians basically view Jesus as something like a personal coach: someone to give advice and be a guide, but when you’re on the field, you’re down to your own opinions and reflexes.

But that’s not how Jesus views his relationship to you and I.

He’s not just a coach. He’s a King, with a right to rule and command.

Jesus' own words in Matthew 28:19-20 offer a compelling starting point: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…” (If you’re reading KJV, it will say “power,” but it’s not strength or ability. The word authority is from the Greek word exousia, which means "a kingly right to rule and command.")

It’s significant that immediately after this he says: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Notice the emphasis on teaching new disciples to observe, or obey, Jesus' commands. This isn't a coaching suggestion for greater effectiveness…  it's a directive from Christ Himself!

Here's the bottom line: Obedience is a fundamental aspect of discipleship, and it’s Jesus' right to receive your obedience, because he’s got the authority!

But there’s more to this question.

The Misunderstanding of Discipleship & Obedience

Our culture often champions a version of Christianity that emphasizes grace to the exclusion of obedience, suggesting that since we're saved by grace, our actions thereafter bear little consequence. However, this overlooks the transformative power of grace, which not only forgives but also empowers us to live lives that reflect Jesus' teachings and commands.

Grace isn’t just “unmerited favor.” It is more than that. It’s also “enabling power.” After all, Paul the apostle, formerly a Christian-killer, met Jesus and was transformed into the greatest proponent of Christianity of his day. And what accomplished the transformation? “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10, ESV)

No one would claim that Paul should been allowed to fail to obey Christ in continuing to kill Christians, or use their death for his own political advancement… yet many people who claim to be disciples of Christ minimize the importance of obeying him as the key component of their discipleship. 

This ought not to be so!

Obedience as Relationship, Not Rule-Keeping

Now let me emphasize: Obedience to Jesus isn't about adhering to a set of rules out of pride or fear. It's about love and relationship with him. 

I talked about authority earlier. But it isn’t just authority that gives Jesus the right to be obeyed by his disciples. It’s also love! In John 14, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV)

Just as children show love through their willingness to listen to their parents, our obedience to Jesus is a response to His love for us. It's about aligning our lives with His will because we trust Him and recognize His lordship over our lives.

The Role of the Holy Spirit

Fortunately, We're not left to navigate this path of obedience alone. The Holy Spirit plays a crucial role in guiding us into all truth (John 16:13) and empowering us for godly living. Through the Spirit, we gain the reminders of Jesus’ commands, plus strength to overcome sin and live out Jesus’ commands in our daily lives.

Practical Steps to Obedience

Let’s make it practical.

So how can I obey the commands of Jesus?

1. Find out what they are: Understanding what Jesus commands starts actually looking at what he commands. Few Christians have ever done a deep dive into the Gospels to find out exactly what Jesus commands. It’s popular to talk about being Christlike, without actually referencing any of his commands. 

2. Pray for Wisdom and Strength: We need divine help to live obediently. Regular prayer keeps our hearts tuned to God's voice and strengthens us for the challenges of living out our faith.

3. Stay in Community: Discipleship wasn't meant to be a solo journey. Engaging with a community of believers provides encouragement, accountability, and wisdom as we strive to obey Jesus together.

4. Be (and Stay) Filled with the Holy Spirit: Christians through the centuries have found the wisdom in Paul’s admonition to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s simply impossible to imagine being able to be holy in your spirit, while limiting the control of the Holy Spirit in your life!

A Life of Obedience is a Life of Blessing

Far from being a burdensome demand, obedience is the path to true freedom and joy. In John 14:23, Jesus says, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." Obedience deepens our relationship with God and opens our lives to the fullness of His presence and blessing.

So, do Christians really have to obey Jesus? Absolutely. But let's not view this as a mere obligation. Instead, let's see it as an opportunity to grow closer to Him, to reflect His love more clearly, and to experience the abundant life He promises to those who follow Him wholeheartedly.

"Obedience is the true test of our love for Christ and the secret to discovering God's heart and His plans for us."

Let's walk this journey of obedience together, knowing that every step taken in faithfulness draws us nearer to the heart of God.

If you want to download a free copy of the Obedience Challenge, drop your email right here:

Introducing the Obedience Challenge: Why NewStart Discipleship Created This Essential Resource

In our pursuit of genuine discipleship and heartfelt obedience to Jesus, it's crucial to have practical tools that not only educate but also engage and empower us to live out the teachings of Christ. This is the heart behind NewStart Discipleship's creation of the Obedience Challenge, a 90-day Bible study meticulously designed to guide believers in obeying the commands of Jesus.

The Genesis of the Obedience Challenge

Out of my decades of pastoral experience and a desire to be an effective disciple-maker, I recognized a common obstacle among believers: the gap between knowing Jesus' commands and living them out in daily life. 

The Obedience Challenge was born out of a desire to bridge this gap, providing a structured, engaging way for Christians to internalize and practice the teachings of Jesus in a tangible, impactful manner.

The Heart of the Challenge: Practical, Everyday Obedience

The Obedience Challenge features a daily teaching video, inviting new Christians into a practical, obedient walk with Jesus. Over 90 days, it unpacks the commands of Jesus found in Scripture, offering insights, reflections, and practical actions that believers can incorporate into their daily routines. This approach ensures that obedience becomes more than a concept—it becomes a lived reality, deeply woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.

Empowerment through Scripture and Community

Central to the Obedience Challenge is the empowering combination of Scripture study and community engagement. Participants are encouraged to delve into the Word of God, discovering the richness of Jesus' commands for themselves. Simultaneously, NewStart Discipleship advocates for community support and accountability, recognizing that discipleship thrives in the context of relationships where believers can encourage, challenge, and support one another on their journey of obedience.

The Impact: Transformed Lives and Strengthened Faith

The Obedience Challenge has proven to be a powerful catalyst for spiritual growth and transformation. Participants report a deepened understanding of Jesus' teachings, a renewed passion for God's Word, and tangible changes in their attitudes, behaviors, and relationships. By focusing on the practical application of Scripture, the challenge equips believers to live out their faith with confidence and conviction, impacting their communities and beyond with the love and truth of Jesus Christ.

Join the Challenge: Step into a Life of Obedience

NewStart Discipleship invites you to embark on the Obedience Challenge, whether you're seeking to deepen your own faith or looking for a resource to enrich your church's discipleship efforts. By committing to this 90-day journey, you're taking a significant step towards a life marked by genuine obedience to Jesus, a life that not only hears His commands but joyfully and faithfully lives them out each day.

"Obedience is not merely a duty; it's a doorway to a deeper relationship with Jesus and a more vibrant, faith-filled life. The Obedience Challenge is your invitation to walk through that door."

Discover the transformative power of living in obedience to Christ. Sign up your church to participate in the Obedience Challenge and experience the joy, freedom, and fulfillment that comes from aligning your life with His commands.

Beyond The Obedience Challenge

NewStart Discipleship includes many tools for pastors to teach their new disciples to move toward full Christian maturity.

Here's a graphic giving the full picture:

If you're interested in more on this opportunity, you can learn more about this discipleship curriculum here, and download a free copy of the first step.

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