The Tragedy of Sparing Others From Biblical Obedience

Pastors, we do no one any favors by sparing them biblical obedience. As a pastor of a young church, I’m often tempted to soften the call to obedience and excuse it by “playing the long game.”

The Tragedy of Sparing Others from Biblical Obedience

Pastors, we do no one any favors by sparing them biblical obedience. As a pastor of a young church, I’m often tempted to soften the call to obedience and excuse it by “playing the long game.” Now don’t get me wrong: The long game is necessary, and conformity to Christ requires pastors to demonstrate patience and confidence in the sovereignty of God. Yet this doesn’t permit a lowering of the standard.

People default to what’s convenient; that’s why it’s hard to tell someone they cannot cohabitate. People protect their sense of security; that’s why it’s hard to tell someone to give generously and regularly. People desperately want to belong; that’s why it’s hard to tell someone they can’t be a church member unless they’ve been baptized.

The list goes on and on. Simply put, the Bible makes difficult, counter-cultural demands. It poses to us a question: Do we believe obedience offers our people something better than the things we’re asking them to forsake? As pastors, we face this question in every sermon and every counseling session. Will we unashamedly call our people to obedience, even when—especially when—it comes with a high cost?


A dear friend of mine recently came to faith. Shortly after his conversion, he found himself in a crunch. He had a great job lined up, but he couldn’t start until a few details were ironed out. So, in the meantime, he figured he’d go back to his old line of work and make some money. After all, he needed this money. He’d been out of work for five months. His savings were gone and he needed cash.

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So he returned to his old gig. But there was a problem: This old gig required him to sin. So his conscience was pricked. After being told he shouldn’t return to his old job, he called me while driving back on his first day. Here’s what he said: “Everything in me is telling me to turn this car around. Should I?”

I confess. Here’s roughly how my thought process went: Is this really a big deal? It’s temporary. And maybe he’ll be able to avoid the ethically grey areas of this job. God, he’s so new to the faith. Is this too much to ask right now?

By God’s grace, my insecurity and fear of man lost out to God’s truth. I felt as though God was telling me, “Who are you to withhold from this man all that I have for him on the other side of obedience?”


In these moments, it’s helpful to remember what’s at stake:

  • Sanctification: All things are for our good and for God’s purpose, namely, our conformity to Christ (Rom. 8:28–29).
  • Love: God loves us so much that he did not spare his own Son (Rom. 8:32). God disciplines those he loves (Heb. 12:5). Hard obedience grants us the reality of God’s love for us.
  • Joy: Happiness is cheap. Give me joy, even it costs me everything (Matt. 13:44). If hard obedience is what it takes to have deep joy, so be it.
  • Testimony: When someone makes a decision to obey Jesus, people notice. Obedience gives believers a platform to testify to the faithfulness, worth and sufficiency of Christ (1 Pet. 2:12).
  • Glory: If we shelter someone from obedience, we aren’t only stunting their growth but we attempting to rob God of his glory (Is. 42:8).
  • Church: Can you imagine how much this will edify other brothers and sisters in Christ once word of this new believer’s obedience gets out? Don’t protect someone from obedience. It minimizes the church’s capacity to marvel in God’s power (Heb. 10:24–25).
  • Provision: I kept praying “God please provide a job for this brother—miraculously, seamlessly. I don’t know what he’ll do if you don’t.” But what if all he gets is Jesus (Matt. 9:20-21)? That alone would be worth it.
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And so I replied and told this brother to obey what the Holy Spirit had prompted him to do. I’m glad I did—and so is he. A few minutes later, he texted me: “I turned around and let them know I can’t accept the position. That is insane.” I replied, “How do you feel?” He wrote back: “I feel joy.”

We’re not doing anyone any favors by sparing them obedience, even when it’s hard, even when it feels “insane.” We’re only withholding from them everything on the other side.


This article originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

Joey Nickerson is the pastor of Citizens Church in Annapolis, Maryland.
  • Delwyn Campbell

    How interesting that you include baptism with cohabitation. The former is a means of grace, the latter is a gateway to fornication. Do you treat Holy Baptism, which is the means by which we are united with Christ in His death (Romans 6:3-5) solely as an ordinance to be obeyed, as many Baptists and members of the Campbellite Church of Christ movement do?
    In the Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confession of the Christian faith, we confess the following:

    [IX. Concerning Baptism]

    [1–2] Concerning baptism it is taught that it is necessary, that grace is offered through it, and that one should also baptize children, who through such baptism are entrusted to God and become pleasing to him.
    [3] Rejected, therefore, are the Anabaptists who teach that the baptism of children is not right.

    Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 42.

    Further, Luther’s Small Catechism teaches the following regarding Holy Baptism:

    The Sacrament of Holy Baptism:

    In a simple way in which the head of a house
    is to present it to the household


    [1–2] What is baptism? Answer:
    Baptism is not simply plain water. Instead it is water enclosed in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.
    [3] What then is this Word of God? Answer:
    [4] Where our LORD Christ says in Matthew 28[:19*], “Go into all the world, teach all nations,78 and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”


    [5–6] What gifts or benefits does baptism grant? Answer:
    It brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare.
    [7–8] What are these words and promise of God? Answer:
    Where our LORD Christ says in Mark 16[:16*], “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be damned.”


    [9–10] How can water do such great things? Answer:
    Clearly the water does not do it, but the Word of God, which is with and alongside the water, and faith, which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without the Word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the Word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life and a “bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit,” as St. Paul says to Titus in chapter 3[:5–8*], “through the bath of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, which he richly poured out over us through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that through that very grace we may be righteous and heirs in hope of eternal life. This is surely most certainly true.”

    [11] Fourth

    [12] What then is the significance of such a baptism with water? Answer:
    It signifies that the old creature in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily contrition and repentance,82 and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
    [13] Where is this written? Answer:
    [14] St. Paul says in Romans 6[:4*], “We were buried with Christ through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we, too, are to walk in a new life.”

    Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 359–360.

    This is the historic confessional teaching of the Christian Church, as given by the Lord Jesus Christ, passed on by the Apostles to the Fathers, and confirmed in the Reformation. Unfortunately, it was denied by those who denied the Historic faith of the Church and embraced innovations of human origin, such as restricting baptism to those who could either explain the faith, or had attained to a certain so-called “age of accountability,” or treating the Eucharist as simply a ritual that has no power, but must be obeyed as a part of a “new Law.” ?In such churches, “Sola Scriptura” has been replaced with the shifting winds of doctrine, “sola Gratia” has been replaced with a legalism that obscures the pure Gospel, and “sola Christi” has been buried under enthusiasm in the guise of seeking a “Secret Power” from the Holy Spirit.

  • Delwyn Campbell

    The proper distinction of Law and Gospel resolves all of these issues with which you have struggled, and it has been with the church for over 500 years since the obscurantism propagated by the Papacy/AntiChrist dogma that replaced repentance with penance and grace with indulgences. Return to the Pure Gospel, and you will preach that which is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

  • Bold article! Well written. I love your “What’s at Stake” points. Truth is still truth. It is unchangeable even when society says they don’t want it. It is the Church’s job to continue to teach the Word of God. It may not be popular, but it is right and many people are longing to see what truth and conviction really look like. Truth is the Word and the gospel is to never be watered down to fit what society thinks is right. We cease to be the Church if we do not teach the whole Word of God with compassion and great love for people. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”