Shepherds Conference 2024 General Session 1

March 6, 9:30 a.m. 
Speaker: John MacArthur
Topic: The Triumph of Obedience
Passage: 2 Corinthians 10:1–6


Message Summary: 

Throughout most of my years in ministry, I have felt that the church has suffered from an inadequate understanding of the doctrine of sanctification. In general, we do well with the doctrine of justification. We even do pretty well with the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. We’re comfortable with those doctrines.

Where the church seems to lose its way is in the matter of sanctification. We so often see not only indifference toward the idea of obedience but resistance to the idea of obedience. This is a critical issue because the function of the church is to address the issue of sanctification in the lives of God's people. 

There are people who think they’re protecting justification by faith by protecting the idea that obedience is not a requirement of Christians. They suggest that obedience is an affront to God if enacted under a sense of duty. This antinomianism is an old heresy and it continues in the present day.

Faith and Obedience

It is vital for the church to rightly understand the relationship between faith and obedience.

The Christian life is a life of obedience to Christ, whom the Christian loves. The believer loves Christ not because he has the capacity in his humanity, but because he has been regenerated to love and obey the Lord. 

The believer’s relationship is to the Lord, not to the law. But because he loves the Lord, he loves the Law of the Lord (Psalm 138:2). He has a love defined by obedience. 

Sanctification is growing devotion to Christ—it's loving Christ and being formed into His image. Christlikeness is the goal of the Christian life. And to be Christlike is to be obedient to Him.

Saving faith is about obedience. We do not have to run from that truth. We have been rescued from captivity to sin, gaining a new allegiance to be obedient to a new captor. Our lives are defined now by obedience to Christ.

The Role of the Pastor

Our goal as shepherds and pastors is the sanctification of our people—conformity to Christ. The whole ministry that you’re engaged in is to take people on the pathway to Christlikeness. You’re there to enrich their relationship with Him. And the more your people love Christ, the more they know Christ, the more eagerly they will obey His commands.

Paul describes his duty to "tear down speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, [being] ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Cor 10:5–6). I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of ministry like that, but that’s what Paul says God requires. 

We have the mind of Christ because we have the Bible. We know what He wills, what pleases Him, what honors Him. Our calling is to speak that truth, countering anti-God lies, and helping to bring our people to the place where every thought is captive to obedience to Christ. 

Obedience prompted by love is the character of the Christian faith and the reality of sanctification. The work of justification and glorification are God’s work. We have the responsibility in the middle to strive toward perfecting of the saints to Christlikeness.

The Law of the Lord

Antinomianism is an old heresy and it will not go away. It survives in every generation. It suggests that a person could be saved and not be transformed and not necessarily continue to believe. It argues that there is no connection between salvation and good works as a fruit of salvation.

Antinomianism comes in many forms, and all of them lead to confusion regarding sanctification, denying the believer’s duty to obey. They seek to eliminate obedience to the moral law of God and His holy will, and in doing so, they attack God Himself.

The Bible reveals that the law of God has three purposes: 

  • Convict and condemn the sinner
  • Provide Law and order as a common grace in society
  • Reveal the commandments that all Christians are called to obey

Throughout the entire Bible—the law, the Psalms, the prophets—God makes clear that He wants obedience from the heart. The law was not just external in the Old Covenant, it has always been practiced in the heart (Ps 119:97–103). This truth is so obvious that Jesus says, “Why do you call me Lord and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:45–46). 


Paul's ministry gives us an example to follow:

Paul was compassionate — As he called people to obedience, he sought to demonstrate the compassion, meekness, and gentleness of Christ. 

Paul was courageous — Even as Paul was compassionate, he was not weak. He was willing to be bold and courageous, and to confront those who undermined the truth.

Paul was competent — Paul had a massive arsenal of divine truth at his disposal. He was competent in wielding the truth, with such effectiveness that it destroyed the lies he was faced with.

Paul was committed — Paul was ready to punish all disobedience. Such an interesting statement, as if the pastor is to be the one inflicting punishment, for the sake of the purity of the church, Paul would do that, did do that

Paul was cautious — He waited for all who were obedient to be known. The people who are obedient don’t need to be punished. The people who are not obedient are the ones who need to be dealt with. Paul was committed to doing what he needed to for the purity of the church, but not until it was clear who were the obedient ones and who were the disobedient ones. 

As we see Paul's approach to ministry, we must allow it to shape our own.

And as we think about the triumph of obedience, the central importance of obedience in the Christian life, we must introduce that back into the vocabulary of the church.