Let’s Obey the Gospel

What does it mean for one to “obey the gospel”? We hear this phrase used often. I thought I knew what it meant, and never gave it a second thought until this past year. I was reading one of its occurrences in the New Testament in 2 Thess. 1:8. This passage challenged my previous understanding.

It struck me that “obeying the Gospel” is present tense for Christians. It means living for the Kingdom of God. Sure, it begins with baptism, but doesn’t end there. I want to explore this topic, looking at the biblical usage and the context for this phrase “obeying the gospel.”

To well understand the phrase, we should define our terms - obey and gospel. To “obey” is fairly straightforward – to comply, submit or behave in accordance with an authority. The Greek word for “gospel” literally means “good news,” and the phrases can be used interchangeably. Paul defines the gospel in 1 Cor 15 loosely as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is good news!
The “good news” of Jesus is not limited, however, to a set of historical facts – albeit awesome facts. In Acts 8, we see Philip tell the Eunuch the “good news of Jesus,” and the Eunuch responds by asking to be baptized. We see here that the “good news” includes our response to Jesus’ sanctifying work on the cross. So, the gospel message must include not just what Jesus did, but also His royal summons to lay down our lives and yield to His lordship. That seems intuitive as well… it is difficult to obey a historical fact, but we are called to obey the Gospel.

Next, let us look at the Biblical usage of the phrase “obey the gospel”. There are three occurrences in scripture I find:

“But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?'” (Rom 10:16).

"in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." (2 Thessalonians 1:8)

In 1 Peter we are similarly told, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1Pet. 4:17).

What strikes me when I see the three together is the tense of the phrases. In two of three instances it is mentioned in the present tense.  Peter tells us that judgment is coming for those who do not obey the Gospel – not for those who have not obeyed the Gospel. Did you get that? The difference is subtle but significant. A Christian begins to obey the gospel when he or she repents and is baptized, but it doesn’t end there. A Christian continues to obey the Gospel each day. In Luke 9:23, Jesus decrees: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Our obeying of the Gospel is an every day event for the Christian. We become Christians by clothing ourselves in Christ at baptism, but we abide in Christ by obeying the Gospel each day. 

So, if “obeying the gospel” doesn’t solely mean “being baptized”, what phrase should I use? The bible most often simply uses the word baptized, but here are some others:

  • Clothed with Christ: For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ - Gal 3:27
  • Buried with Christ: having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.  - Col 2:12
  • Born again: Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God - John 3:5
  • Wash away sins: 'Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.' - Acts 22:16

So, this is my encouragement for those of us who have been buried with Christ – let us strive to obey the gospel – putting to death the misdeeds of the body and living for Christ our Lord. And for those among us who have not yet begun to obey the Gospel, “why tarriest thou?” Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name!