The Nature of New Testament Faith (1)
Heartless obedience may be grovelling, it may be legalism, it may be self-serving, it may even be an expression of arrogant self-sufficiency--it may be a lot of things but it isn't what God wants.
The full-bodied teaching about obedience in the scriptures is a complex of truths and to treat it as if it had only one face is a serious misunderstanding of the matter. Obedience shouldn't be reduced to "complying with God's commandments" because it's much more than that.
Some of us that stress salvation by grace feel we must sever any link between obedience and salvation. We think if we say, "You must obey to be saved" that grace is denied and that God is robbed of the glory he so richly deserves. These same people insist that we must have faith if we're to be saved but they don't think that that robs God of his glory. They're right of course. The apostle who stressed the grace of God most in his writings is the one who stressed the need for faith if we're to be saved (see Ephesians 2:8; Romans 5:1 and elsewhere). Paul didn't think that requiring faith undermined grace because faith confesses and relies on grace.
Those of us that say faith is required for salvation and deny that obedience is required for salvation miss the faith-nature of New Testament obedience. Paul calls New Testament obedience "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5 and 16:26) and it's that obedience that he says is "unto life" (Romans 6:16). It's that obedience and not another kind of obedience that is "unto righteousness".
Those of us that stress the gracious nature of salvation are wearied when we hear people stress "the human part" in salvation. This is probably a bad phrase since it easily degenerates into the notion that there are two Saviours--God and man. There is only one Saviour--the God who has shown himself to us in and as Jesus Christ.
It's right that we who stress grace should correct a perverse understanding of the nature of obedience but the New Testament's view of obedience is not perverse. We are to hear and teach the word of God on the matter of obedience without fear that rich teaching on obedience will deprive God of glory. Correcting a perverse view of obedience is one thing; denying the New Testament teaching about obedience is something else.
It's right to be concerned that God get all the glory for saving us but it might be that an unwise stress on grace that sidelines obedience is depriving God of the glory he so richly deserves. Holy obedience brings God glory just as surely as the confession that trust makes. There was a time when Saul relied on sacrifice and God rebuked him for not giving obedience (see 1 Samuel 15:22). In this he denied God glory. A stress on salvation by grace that empties our relationship with God of its ethical nature may create the kind of people that "wish God well" in his endeavours and go on their own way rejoicing. This would not only be a perverse view of God's grace it would be a perverse view of obedience.