“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”

As I reflected recently on John 15, this simple yet profound chorus that I leaned on years ago flooded my mind. The recurring theme in John 15 is Jesus’ plea to his beloved disciples to abide in Him— that is, to stay vitally connected to Him so they may be assured of his love, experience his joy, and produce good fruit. I imagine like you, in days of clarity, there is nothing I desire more than to fully abide in Christ, to completely trust in my Savior’s unwavering love for me in all circumstances. But there are days, when I forget the mercy of God in my life and the how of abiding in Him eludes me. In John 15: 9- 11, Jesus reveals to his disciples a not-so-secret secret to abiding in Him, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”  There, we have it. Keep the Lord’s commandments and we will be assured of his tenacious love for us. We will be happy in Jesus.

Obedience is a Fruit, Not the Root

How inconsiderate it would be for me to stop there! Inconsiderate for many reasons but especially because I would be trivializing the fierce battle we face this side of heaven. Though the call to obedience is not complicated, obeying God’s Word, as we know all too well, is terribly difficult. Our soul’s trifold enemies— the flesh, the world and Satan—war fiercely against this call to obedience. Putting sin to death is painstaking work for fallen creatures like us. This said, sisters, we must endeavor to pursue holiness of life for the glory of God and the good of our own souls. The Lord promises that obedience enables us to abide more deeply in his love and experience his joy more fully. I have, by God’s grace, experienced this to be true in my own life and have seen it to be true in the lives of many I have counseled.

Before moving forward, I feel compelled to clarify. If you remember only one thing from this reflection, please remember this: Obedience is expected fruit in the believer’s life, but it is never the root. Our obedience, praise be to God, is never the ground of our salvation. As John 15 emphasizes, Jesus is the true vine, the one and only source of all that is good in us. The one who loves us as the Father loves Him. We are saved completely through his merit and work. It was hisobedience that purchased our redemption; it was his perfect obedience that fully justifies us. It is his ongoing intercession on our behalf that will carry us safely all the way home! Jesus words in John 15:5, just a few verses before he urges his disciples to “keep my commandments,” make this crystal clear, “apart from me you can do nothing.” The hymn writer got it right: trust in the work of Christ first and then obey!

Likewise, Paul, in his epistles, emphatically proclaims that salvation is all of grace. He never waivers from this. And yet he too never backs away from calling sinners to repentance and holiness of life. In Romans 6, following five chapters of pressing home the point that salvation is all of grace, Paul focuses in on what a sinful heart might do with the Lord’s all sufficient grace. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” The entirety of Scripture sees no dichotomy between salvation that is “all of grace” and the call to joyful obedience.

Grace for Obedience

I mentioned above that obedience is expected fruit in the life to the believer. Though obedience does not save us, it is evidence of our vital union with Christ. A branch that is united to the Vine will bear the discernable fruit of growing conformity to the Vine—conformity to Christ who calls us to keep his commandments just as he kept his Father’s commandments.  Jesus saves us “just as we are” but he doesn’t intend to leave us there. The Holy Spirit, the Helper promised by Jesus, sanctifies us, sometimes as we willingly participate in His work of grace (better option for sure), and sometimes despite our best efforts to derail it. Sisters, it is right and necessary to look for the fruit of obedience in our lives and to keep in step with the Spirit by putting to death all that displeases the Lord. This is not legalism; this is grateful submission to the One who died for us and now lives for us. Thankfully, we have not been left to do this in our own strength. We have been given ample resources to do this:

  • the Savior himself, to whom we are united and through whom we have direct access to the Father, sympathetically intercedes for us and is eager to be our very present help in time of need.
  • the Spirit who indwells us, convicts us of sin, reminds us we are children of God, and intercedes for us.
  • the living Word that instructs, comforts, confronts us.
  • the Sacraments that make sensible that which might otherwise be abstract.
  • the body of Christ that encourages us to “love and good deeds.”

The goodness and provision of our merciful God is beyond all praising!

So, the question remains: How does obedience help us abide in the love of Christ and experience the joy of the Lord? I would like to answer this question by sharing a personal story the Lord reminded me of as I reflected on John 15. Many years ago, during a time of deep rebellion that was accompanied by despairing doubt, my pastor said, “high degrees of assurance of faith are not consistent with low degrees of obedience.” This was followed by many more reminders to “make my election sure” by putting sin to death, all the while reminding me to keep my gaze fixed on Christ, the author and perfector my faith. The Lord, in his mercy, used this persistent, Biblical counsel to enable me to see that obedience was not a condition of my salvation but a precious assurance of it. For the first time I understood that to abide in Christ meant not only to trust Him for my salvation but to obey him promptly and sincerely. As Spirit wrought obedience grew in specific areas of my life, doubt slowly dissipated. I experienced in the depths of my being a closeness to Christ and a joy I had not experienced before. I experienced in my heart what was already objectively true: I am branch vitally connected to the Vine and nothing can ever tear me away! The Lord used the vehicle of obedience to get me there just as he promised to do. All glory to God alone!

I pray that the simple chorus from this old hymn will encourage you today to seek the Lord in faith and repentance for His glory and for your eternal good!

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”

About the Author:

CB Campano

CB lives in Lakeland, Florida with her husband, Frank, and daughter, Elizabeth. They are members of Covenant Presbyterian Church where Frank serves as a ruling elder and where CB has been on staff for 16 years as Congregational Care Coordinator. CB’s responsibilities there include Biblical counseling and serving as the mercy/care ministry coordinator under the direction of the diaconate and session, and as the women’s ministry spiritual formation coordinator,  responsible for women’s Bible studies and discipleship ministries.  CB holds a Biblical Counseling Certificate issued by Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). CB is deeply grateful for the opportunity the Lord has afforded her to serve Him and his church, both locally and more broadly within the denomination.