Obedience: The Christian Apologetic

Walk in to most Christian bookstores or pick up a Christian book catalogue and you most likely will find a section entitled “Apologetics.”  Christian apologetics is that discipline which seeks to offer a positive defense for the Christian faith using philosophical arguments along with historical and physical evidences (generally categorized as ontological, teleological and cosmological arguments).  I had classes at both the undergraduate and graduate level dealing with this subject and I do believe there is a place for this discipline in the study and advancement of the Christian faith.  But is this the best apologetic we Christians have to offer an unbelieving world?

This morning I was reading from the Gospel of John, chapters 13 and 14.  This section begins with Jesus washing his disciples feet and ordering them to do likewise, since no slave is greater than his master and no pupil is greater than her teacher.  This is followed by Jesus’ prediction of his death and his command that his disciples love one another.  The fourteenth chapter follows with Jesus reassuring his disciples that he is the way and that those who love him will obey him.

However, in the middle of chapter fourteen, Jesus is posed a question.  After offering his own evidence to show his disciples that he is indeed from the Father, Jesus is asked “…But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world” (Jn 14. 22)?[1]  In typical fashion, Jesus gives a very direct but unexpected answer.  His reply begins… “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.  My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.  These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (Jn 14.23-24).  Jesus goes on to promise the coming Holy Spirit who will remind his disciples of this need for obedience and his promised return – a promise assuring his disciples that obedience will not go unrewarded.

Do we hear the call to obedience?  That word – obedience – is sometimes avoided in contemporary Christian thought out of some wrongheaded view that being obedient disciples is a works oriented salvation.  Not only is this wrong, it is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as “cheap grace.”[2]

We want the world to become believers in Jesus Christ, hence the reason for Christian apologetics.  The question being asked of Jesus in 14.22 is why he doesn’t show the world who he is, assuming that if he does then the world would believe.  Jesus’ reply is that if his disciples, then and now, would have the world to believe in him then they and we need to be obedient to him.  Plain and simple, there is no substitution for obedience.  Obedience is the disciple’s best apologetic.  If we want to know what that apologetic looks like in practical use, we need to look at Jesus taking on the role of a servant and washing his disciples feet a week before he takes on the ultimate act of obedience by laying down his life on the cross in obedience to his Father’s will.

The Christmas/Holiday season is approaching soon.  Like the last several Christmas seasons, there will be a large debate over whether the public greeting should be the more generic term “Happy Holiday’s” or the more Christian influenced “Merry Christmas”.  Some Christians would have us to respond by going so far as to boycott those businesses that do not greet or well wish others with the phrase “Merry Christmas.”[3]  Why?  What is it that they are after by engaging in the practice of boycotting?  I assume they ultimately want everyone to come to faith in Jesus just like the rest of Christianity does.  Will that really happen by boycotting, by playing the political power-play games all too common in our secularized world?  Or will it happen when we learn to be obedient unto Jesus before the world, taking on the form of a servant and even laying our own lives down (metaphorically or otherwise) for the very people who wish to avoid the term “Merry Christmas” during the holiday season? 

Let the Gospel of John remind us once again: obedience unto Jesus Christ as his disciples is the very best apologetic we have to offer the world that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God!


[1] All scripture quotations are taken from Today’s New International Version.

[2] “…cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 43-44.

[3] See http://action.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147487233.

4 responses to “Obedience: The Christian Apologetic

  1. Very good post. I think the old song had it right: Trust and Obey. We try to complicate things, but it really comes down to that.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Hey, Rex,

    Can we get together on another day, I have a meeting at Denver Sem that morning at 7:30am and do not know how long it will be. What is your number and I will give you a call. We might be able to do something, just do not know and might enjoy it more when I have more time. Thanks.

  3. Excellent post! That was a great read.

    In the beginning, Adam and Eve were asked to be obedient in only a few things. But Satan offered a “better” system for living life — a quest for knowledge. Knowledge versus obedience. And mankind chose knowledge. Sounds familiar…

  4. Pingback: A Word on the Purpose of Christian Obedience « Kingdom Seeking

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