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Understanding the Two Kinds of Obedience in Scripture: External and Internal

The Concept of External Obedience

External obedience refers to the actions and behaviors that conform to God's commands as explicitly stated in Scripture. This type of obedience is often visible and measurable, such as the adherence to the Ten Commandments or the various instructions given to the Israelites through the Mosaic Law. For instance, Exodus 20:12 commands, "Honor your father and your mother," which requires a specific action that can be observed externally.

This form of obedience is crucial as it reflects a person's willingness to follow God's statutes. However, it can sometimes be performed without a true heart commitment to God's ways. An example of this is seen in the Pharisees, whom Jesus criticized for their meticulous adherence to the law while neglecting the underlying principles of justice, mercy, and faithfulness: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others" (Matthew 23:23).

The Concept of Internal Obedience

Internal obedience, on the other hand, involves a deeper, heart-level commitment to God and His commands. It is characterized by a genuine love for God and a desire to please Him that transcends mere external conformity. This type of obedience is driven by faith and love and is often less visible since it involves attitudes, thoughts, and motivations.

Internal obedience is exemplified by the greatest commandment, as Jesus stated in Matthew 22:37-38: "You shall love Jehovah your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment." This command calls for an obedience that originates from the heart and permeates every aspect of a person's life, influencing all other forms of obedience.

Differences Between External and Internal Obedience

The primary difference between external and internal obedience lies in the motivation and the depth of adherence to God's commands. External obedience is concerned with the outward observance and can sometimes be fulfilled without a corresponding internal commitment. It is possible for someone to obey externally without truly submitting to God's will internally, which can lead to legalism or superficial righteousness.

Internal obedience, however, stems from a transformed heart that seeks to honor God in all aspects of life, both publicly and privately. It is marked by sincerity and a desire to align one's entire being with God's will, as reflected in Psalm 51:10: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." This kind of obedience is what God desires most, as it reflects genuine faith and devotion.

The Interplay and Importance of Both Forms of Obedience

While internal obedience is the deeper and more genuine form of obedience, external obedience still holds significant value. It acts as a testimony to others and can lead to societal order and justice. However, for obedience to be truly pleasing to God, it must start from the inside and manifest outwardly. The prophet Samuel articulated this principle when he told King Saul, "Has Jehovah as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22).

In essence, both types of obedience are important in the life of a believer. External obedience serves as an initial step and a public testimony of faith, while internal obedience fulfills the ultimate goal of a heartfelt, comprehensive commitment to God. True biblical obedience integrates both aspects, leading to a fully lived faith that honors God in every action, thought, and intention.

About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is the CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220 books and is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).



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