By Ken Yates
A reader recently sent in a question to GES: “Could you point me to Bible references in which the blessings for the obedient Christian and the curses for the disobedient Christian are listed? Thanks, T.V.” I will attempt to answer that question in this article.
The Bible is crystal clear that works of obedience have nothing to do with obtaining eternal salvation (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). All who believe in Jesus for eternal life receive it as a free gift. Since we did no works to obtain this life, we can do no works to keep it. That being the case, eternal life can never be lost because retaining it does not depend upon us in any way (John 4:14). The bottom line is that good works have nothing to do with where a person will spend eternity.
Once a person understands these Biblical truths, the question automatically arises, “What role do works play in the life of a believer?” That is really what is behind this question sent in to GES. Even though we cannot earn our salvation from the lake of fire by works, good works are important. The whole Bible teaches that good works result in blessings, and evil works have negative consequences.
EXAMPLES FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT
Probably the key passage of blessings for obedience for God’s people in the OT comes from Deuteronomy 28. As the Jews were about to enter the Promised Land, God told them that if they obeyed Him by keeping the Law, all kinds of blessings would come upon them. It is important to understand that these blessings are not the same thing as receiving eternal life.
The blessings included having many children. The animals of their herds would also multiply. They would have plenty to eat. Their enemies would be defeated before them. The land would produce abundant crops. Other nations would look up to and borrow from them. They would fulfill their purpose of being a light to those nations (Deut 28:1-14).
If they disobeyed, however, the exact opposite would occur. There would be severe negative consequences. This was the case, even though they would remain the chosen people of God. The offspring of their bodies and their herds would be diminished. They would experience pestilences and disease. The heavens would withhold rain, thereby destroying their crops. Their enemies would defeat them, even taking them far away as captives and making slaves of their children. Instead of admiring them, other nations would pity and mock them. The nation Israel would need to borrow from other countries. They would become so oppressed, they would even resort to eating their own children when their enemies put their cities under siege. Large numbers of adults would also lose their lives (Deut 28:15-68).
A few chapters later, the Lord added some other negative consequences of sin. If the Jews were disobedient and fell into idolatry, the Lord would send famine their way. Wild beasts would devour them, and poisonous creatures would bite them (Deut 32:24). In Leviticus 26, regarding their obedience and disobedience, God stated the same things to His people that He did in the book of Deuteronomy.
The prophets of the OT often reminded the people of these realities. They pointed out that the tribulations the Jews encountered were because they had forgotten the Law of Moses and disobeyed it. Jeremiah, for example, was a prophet sent to the nation to tell them that the Babylonians were going to defeat them and take them into captivity as slaves because they had rebelled against God. Even though the Lord would not destroy His people completely (Jer 4:27; 5:10, 18), the negative consequences spoken of in the Law of Moses for rejecting the Lord had come upon them (Jer 3:3; 4:6-7; 5:17). If they obeyed, the blessings mentioned in Deuteronomy 28 would be theirs (3:12, 16, 22; 5:24).
We must always remember when interpreting the Bible that Israel is not the church. The promises of blessings for obedience, as well as the warnings about the consequences of disobedience, made to Israel in the OT most often focused on national things. The church is not a nation. The NT believer is not under the Law of Moses. He is under the teachings of Christ and His apostles, which are found in the NT. Like the nation of Israel in the OT, the individual Christian will be blessed if he obeys what Christ taught. That is the emphasis in the NT. These blessings often involve spiritual benefits. In addition, the believer will suffer negative consequences if he does not obey.
BLESSINGS FOR OBEDIENCE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Many passages in the NT speak of the blessings that the individual believer will experience if he walks in obedience. Numerous verses tell us that obedience will result in eternal rewards in the world to come (Matt 5:12; 25:20-21; Rom 8:17; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 Cor 5:10). In this section, I will address a select number of passages. These passages, however, speak of blessings experienced in this life.
Obeying the Lord will result in being closer to Him. The believer will become more like Christ (Luke 6:40; John 15:14; 1 John 1:7). The Lord says that such a Christian will bear much fruit (John 5:8). This fruit is best understood as the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that these blessings include love, joy, peace, longsuffering (or patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).
A major emphasis in the NT on the importance of obedience for the child of God is that such obedience will result in abundant life. Every believer has eternal life that can never be lost. But this life is not static. It can “grow” in the sense that one can have a greater enjoyment of it. Some believers have a more abundant experience of that life (John 10:10). Many of us do not speak in these terms, but when a Christian walks in obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit, he walks in and enjoys in a deeper way the life Christ has given him (Rom 8:6).
The Jews under the Law of Moses in the OT who obeyed that law would be given a greater enjoyment of physical life. The NT believer who is obedient to Christ will have a greater enjoyment of the spiritual life that was given to him when he believed.
CONSEQUENCES FOR DISOBEDIENCE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
In the OT, we saw that the consequences of disobedience were the opposite of the blessings for obedience. Disobedience often resulted in the loss of physical life. The NT believer can experience a similar thing.
If the obedient Christian has a greater experience of life, the proper way of describing the result of disobedience would be death. This is exactly what Paul calls it. The believer who lives according to the flesh in disobedience to what Christ has taught lives a kind of life that in reality can only be characterized as death (Rom 8:6). It is devoid of the life that the believer will have for eternity. It does not produce the fruit of the Spirit.
What does such an experience of death bring forth? Paul lists these negative consequences as well. They are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contention, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambition, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and other such things (Gal 5:19-21). It is plain that all these things are “dead” because they will have no part in the coming eternal kingdom of God. The believer who experiences them is experiencing things that are momentary and will pass away.
It is noteworthy that the NT teaches that for a believer, such an experience of walking in death can actually result in physical death. In Acts 5, there is a believing man and wife who, in an example of jealousy, greed, and pride, lied to the Holy Spirit. These fruits of death led to their dying under the discipline of the Lord (Acts 5:1-10). In the church at Corinth, others walked in death by causing divisions in the church by despising the poor. While doing so, in their arrogance, they even became drunk at the meeting of the church. This cost some of them their lives as well (1 Cor
In whatever age, God’s people are blessed if they obey Him and suffer the consequences if they don’t. This is true even though these things involved the nation of Israel in the OT and involve the members of the church in the NT. The specific blessings and consequences are different for each group, but the principle of blessings and negative consequences remains.
The author of Hebrews understood this was the case and saw the Jews in the OT as pointing to this reality. The Jews foreshadowed such things. He was writing to NT believers who were thinking of abandoning God through an extreme act of disobedience. He warns them that if they do, God will judge them in a terrifying way. He then quotes from Deut 32:36, where God had warned the nation of Israel what would happen to them if they rebelled against Him. The point is clear—God might not bring hungry lions or poisonous snakes to attack the original readers of Hebrews, but if they disobeyed, they would experience the discipline of God, nonetheless.
In the case of the Jews in the OT, obedience to the Law of Moses would result in long and healthy lives in the land. Their nation would be prosperous. Disobedience would result in physical destruction and the loss of life at the hands of their enemies and through other means. While sin in the life of the NT believer can also result in the loss of physical life, the emphasis is on something else. Even though eternal life can never be lost, works of obedience lead to a richer experience of the life we have in Christ. Disobedience leads to the absence of that intimacy with the Lord and can only be described as an experience of death. Disobedient believers are really like dead men walking. Obedience is a matter of life and death.
Ken Yates retired as a Lt. Col. from the Army after 20 years as a chaplain. He and his wife, Pam, live in Columbia, SC, but will soon move to Indianapolis to be around their grandkids. Ken leads the GES international ministry.