How Exactly, is One Supposed to ‘Obey the Gospel?’


i_dont_know_woman_1209x800The gospel, simply stated, is the ‘good news’ that God has sent his son Jesus Christ into the world in order to reconcile Creator to creation. It is a powerful message (Romans 1:16), that brings salvation.  It is a communiqué that regenerates people’s hearts through the Holy Spirit and renews all of God’s creation as He establishes His Kingdom through King Jesus. It is the truth that Jesus Christ was sent from the God the Father, empowered by God the Spirit, lived a sinless life, died on the cross for the atonement of sinners, and rose from the dead triumphing over satan, sin, and death in accordance with the Scriptures. It is a narrative about the God who looked with compassion on people and entered into history to change it and the future.

Since the gospel is both story and news, it is somewhat distinct from the commandments given to Moses for Israel and even, apparently, different from all that Christ commanded. It is easy, at least intellectually, to understand how one must obey commands. It’s a bit more difficult to understand how to obey a story or news. None the less, the scriptures call us to ‘obey the gospel.’ Here are some examples:

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

As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. (2 Corinthians 9:13 NLT)

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (2 Thessalonians 1:8 NIV)

For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17) NASB

“Obey” is one of those words which makes people cringe. Properly, it is to obey what is heard… literally, “under hearing,” or listening to the one giving the command (order). It suggests attentively listening, i.e. a fully compliant (response). It can also be considered an “intensification” of the simple verb “to listen.”

In the second passage above (2 Corinthians 9:13 NLT), some versions use the word “obey” and others do not. What is clear in that passage is the idea of “obeying the confession of the gospel while in the service of others.”

The last passage (1 Peter 4:17 NASB) doesn’t actually use the word “obey,” but “disobey” apeithéō – literally, refuse to be persuaded (by the Lord) and it’s where we get our word “apathy.”

I can ‘work’ towards obeying commands, but ‘obeying’ the gospel? Surely the gospel is a message of Grace and of Hope and of Kingdom and of Peace and of Reconciliation. It exemplifies both messenger and message, and is the power of God unto salvation for those that believe (Romans 1:16), but how does one ‘obey’ that?

Last thought; We don’t obey a command of God and say we’re finished. Likewise I don’t believe that we can say we’ve obeyed the gospel by responding, ‘accepting Christ into our hearts,’ or believing the message once. Whatever it means to ‘obey the gospel,’ it is certainly an ongoing process.

But, how do you suppose the Gospel is to be “obeyed?” How does one obey ‘news’ or a story? 

Reposted and slightly revised from an early blog of mine. Please be sure to check out the comments.

9 thoughts on “How Exactly, is One Supposed to ‘Obey the Gospel?’

  1. Jeremy says:

    Miguel – Be encouraged! I look forward with excitement to your blogs. I find them both uplifting and so full of truth & grace. Be blessed in Christ – Jeremy

  2. Alan Knox says:


    This is another very good question.

    First, that translation of 2 Corinthians 9:13 is strange indeed. It leaves out at least one important concept (confession – profession) and it combines the two parts of a compound object.

    Similarly, the term in 1 Peter 4:17 (as you pointed out) is different. It’s the negated form of “to believe” or “to trust.”

    However, in the other two passages, Paul does talk about “obeying the gospel.” Like you said, this term “obey” is an intensified version of the verb “hear.” In fact, “hear” is the primary translation of the verb. I think this makes sense, especially in that culture where “hearing” = “responding.” If you do not respond, then you did not hear. For example, one dictionary gives this as an explanation of the verb translated “obey”: “of one who on the knock at the door comes to listen who it is.”

    It reminds me of the many times in Scripture we read something like this: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

    So, in this sense, “obeying” the gospel is the same as responding to the gospel – living according to the gospel – even believing/trusting in the good news.


  3. Carlos says:

    Hi Miguel,

    I was just thinking of this today as me and a friend are going to start giving away cold water bottles on the beach to engage unbelievers and share the Gospel. But unlike the norm in today’s Christian practice we will encourage people who respond positively to become Christians by being baptized on the beach.

    Right then. Immediately. In front of their friends and whoever is around.

    New Testament Christianity was an all or nothing proposition not an addendum to bring something nice to what was otherwise a self-centerd life.

    That’s how we are going to present it.

    To obey the Gospel, in my understanding, involves a willingness to act on truth regarding who Jesus is and what He came to do.

    Romans 6:17 talks of becoming obedient to a form of doctrine. That is conforming one’s life and outlook to be in line with the Gospel message and what reconciliation to God is all about – namely respecting Him and doing things His way instead of our own.


  4. Eli says:

    the term obedience also makes me uncomfortable… in part because of the rebellious selfish side of me, add to that often not being sure exactly what that obedience is supposed to look like from day to day. The other side is that obedience and obeying is often presented in a narrow and rigid way as opposed to encompassing the entirety of what it means to respond to gods movements in our life and the lives of others. So obedience gets watered down to either be an emphasis on living out some sort of new testament list of laws… or to hearing some sort of mystical inner voice which then gives us directives we must act on. Both are more a burden than anything else… either highly subjective or objective in a bad way. Whole denominations have been formed and defended on this basis.
    Back to your question. The english translations are a bit confusing… add to that we should read that in context. By responding to god the father and living in the reality of jesus as lord, we obey the gospel… we believe it, we proclaim it, we live it.

  5. Jonathan says:

    in the 2 Cor. 9 passage, there is the sense of “acknowledge” in the word translated “obey” in the NLT. The entire chapter is an encouragement to live knowing that the power of the gospel is not just for the lost but for the sustaining/powering of our own work as believers.

    One of the gifts that my parents gave me was an insistence that I did my chores in the proper spirit. Doing the work spitefully showed a spirit of rebellion against their authority. The same goes for me even more so as an adult. I work as an engineer in a company that is not..umm…structured for the sake of the gospel. I do the work of an engineer and a corporate drone but I am there as an ambassador for Christ and his gospel. That has far reaching implications for me (attitude, ethic, commitment, etc…).

    Obeying the gospel in this context means to live as though the gospel is true, sustaining me, and powering me through all conditions. Especially when I fail at this. I am to not just obey in the sense of checking off the items on the list. I am to obey such that I am joyful. What I have discovered to be true is that this is not possible if Christ is a sideline concern for me. Fighting to remain in his presence at all time is crucial.

  6. Paul says in Romans 16:19, “Everyone has heard about your obedience,” so I think if we understand what the Roman Christians were doing to “obey” it might go a long way toward answering your question.. At the end of the letter, Paul is still speaking to the Romans believers, the same believers he admonished in Chapter 2 for “passing judgment” on others. Obviously, a perfect life of doing just the right things is not in view here. So what is?

    Paul spends significant time in this letter developing the concept of faith, which isn’t established on anything we do, but on God’s own faithfulness – faith as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Are we depending upon God’s faithfulness to us apart from anything we can do to earn a right standing with God?

    In Chapter 9 Paul goes on to contrast the life of faith to the Israelites, saying, they “pursued the law as the way of righteousness” but that they “have not attained their goal.” (Romans 9:30). When we think of obedience in terms of doing right, not sinning, a list of do’s and don’t we can and often do miss the one thing God is asking of us – the “just will live by faith” in Christ. That’s where Paul starts from in Romans 1:17. In fact, Paul bookends this letter by the phrase:”obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:26).

    This the begs the question, who are we relying on for our obedience? Our own ability or a gift from God. Once we understand the precious gift we have been given we can this live in response that that gift and will want to share it with others in response to Jesus mandate to make disciples.

  7. I agree with Alan.

    When I look down at the gas gauge and it says “EMPTY”, I can only be said to hear it when I change my behavior from driving to filling the tank. If I continue to drive, i may have intellectual knowledge of the empty tank but I haven’t “HEARD” the warning until I amend my ways (repent) and believe (embrace, respond) to the news being announced.

    Biblical hearing is responding to what is announced with an embracing heart and a changing behavior.

    At another level, the gospel is obeyed when we lean on the Holy Spirit to empower us to obey and begin to live passionately for and like the Savior.

  8. Tim C says:

    Great article here. Good questions! One of my favorite books that explores what it means to “obey” the gospel is Dying and Rising with Christ by Tannehill. It’s a bit nerdy, but it is such a good read about how Paul, mainly, sees us as participating in the death and resurrections of Jesus. Phil 3 would be the most familiar. Also, I think the idea of being persuaded by the gospel id dead on. The good news is setting forth a polarizing claim: Jesus is Lord (via incarnation, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension) and that is not just a historical or theological claim, it is also a metaphysical claim that we are invited to participate in by allowing ourselves to be persuaded by it, as well as enter into it, hence the notion of being “in Christ.” We get to participate in the same relationship Jesus enjoyed with the Father and the Spirit (via our union with him in e Spirit – adoption).

  9. Marshall says:

    Alan came close to bringing forward how υπαχουω, to hear-under, ought not be substituted for the western-English “obey”, as doing so invites confusion. Further-on, to the writing of more books which may attempt to make the error seem as if somehow plausible?!

    Both Catholic & Protestant religious tradition (long-overseeing most English Bible translation commonly used today) is comfortable with imagining obedience where attentive-listening is being referred. For such a long time, and to this day, religious leaders missing how-that in the New Covenant relationship we now know in Christ, to merely “obey” would not acceptable to God — it falls short of (sins against) the enjoining/engagement of the whole man; the whole mind & heart. example to metaphor: your dog obeys you; your young children obey you (may it be so), but your woman/bride need be more fully engaged; significantly more than executing orders.

    “the-full-portion not listening/hearkening to the evangel..”
    [Romans 10:16]

    “…your acknowledgment on-to the Good News of Christ”
    [II Corinthians 9:13]

    “…in fire of flame/blaze giving out justice to the ones having not perceived God and-also those not listening/hearkening to the evangel of the Sanctioner/Lord of us: Jesus Christ —
    [II Thessalonians 1:8]

    “…the accomplishing-goal of those unpersuaded to the evangel of The God”
    [I Peter 4:17]

    “…[as] slaves of the missing/sin, y’all listening/hearkening yet-of from-out of [a] heart on-to which y’all being given-over-close-alongside…”
    [Romans 6:17]

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