Active and Passive Obedience

If you have been reading my articles over the years, you have noticed that I talk a lot about the responsibility of Christ-followers to be obedient to Jesus and what He asks us to do if we become followers. I want to say right up front, that when I mention obedience I don’t mean we are expected to be perfect. 

I never thought about the two types of being obedient until I heard it mentioned recently by a fellow Christian. When I heard the term, naturally, I had to investigate it and decide where I stood Biblically on the subject. This is what I discovered from a secular viewpoint.

Passive obedience; Is when we are in the total submission to another, even if or when harm or suffering may be a result. Passive obedience means you will or probably suffer and or face tribulation.

Active obedience; Is when we actively obey the commands of someone else.

When confronted with being obedient in my worldly life my decision depended on the circumstances and how bad I wanted or did not want to do something. My allegiance was to me and what I wanted. This decided which type of obedience I followed. When I became a true Christ-follower and stopped trying to live for myself, I had to make a decision to whom my obedience lay, I chose Christ. I still fall short, but when I do I acknowledge my sin and repent. 


We are called to follow both active and passive obedience just as Jesus did; 

Jesus practiced both active and passive obedience. Through Jesus’ active obedience, He fulfilled the totality of the law’s requirements. He said, “I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29).

He also showed passive obedience, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

PASSIVE OBEDIENCE; Christians are called to passive obedience, that is, total submission to God; even if it may result in harm and/or suffering (Jesus was obedient even to death upon the Cross, Phil. 2:8). When we accept Jesus, we voluntarily commit to be passively obedient to His Word, no matter what.   

We strive to remain in a state of passive obedience even when; hardships come (James 1:2) remembering God works all things out for good (Romans 8:28), are tempted to pursue vengeance (Romans 12:19), and when we become weary (Gal. 6:9), along with a host of other areas. However, leading a Christian life does require that we perform certain actions (passive obedience) some of which we may fight against and want to ignore. For instance we honor God’s command (passive obedience), when we turn the other cheek and leave the judgment with God.

ACTIVE OBEDIENCE; Active obedience is when we obey the commands of someone else.

We are also called to active obedience. That means to actively be obedient and pursue holiness during our life on earth: Hebrews 12:14,”Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

We are actively called to obey the “law of Christ,” which is a law of love (Galatians 6:2; John 13:34).

Scripture does not make distinction between the two types of obedience but by the descriptions of things required of us by Jesus we can see there are two types. Regardless of how you interpret obedience we still must be obedient. 

God gives us specific commands He wants us to obey, and many of them are contrary to what we would naturally choose. Such as when Jesus told us that in order to follow Him we must “deny ourselves and take up our crosses” (Luke 9:23). Those are actions. Among other things, we are told to “be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians5:18), “flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18), “love one another” (1 Peter 1:22), and “pursue holiness” (Hebrews 12:14). Those commands all require active obedience. 

Scripture states in John 4:23, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him.” When we look at the lives of the Pharisees we see they were only partly obedient.  Their visual obedience still lacked something, and Jesus exposed their heart attitude (Matthew 23:23). They pursued holiness (active obedience) while ignoring the need for passive obedience, that is doing what is right no matter what the cost. They were also not worshipping in Spirit and truth.

Doing this study gave me a chance to check myself to see if I am truly worshipping in spirit and truth and am being totally obedient as described by Scripture. 

How and if we practice obedience in our secular life is another story and one for the individual and their Savior (if they have accepted Jesus) to discuss. That is why I did not address that topic.

1 John 2:4 gives the final answer to if we truly are obedient to Him or not; The one who says, “I have come to know him,” and yet doesn’t keep his commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

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