The disciple learns obedience (Hebrews 5:8)

POST OVERVIEW. An article on how we as disciples can learn obedience and thus have victory over persistent sins. These ideas will be included in my future book on discipleship.

Obedience is one of the most fundamental characteristics of the disciple of Jesus. In fact, to profess to follow Jesus as His disciple and to be disobedient to His commands is impossible. The disciple cannot continue in sin (Romans 6:2). Jesus makes it clear that to be His disciple is to be obedient to His commands (John 15:14). And these are just the very tip of the iceberg. It is without question that a disciple of Jesus will be obedient to Jesus.

But regarding obedience we find that Jesus not only demands obedience from His disciples, but Jesus also learned obedience. “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Yes, the incarnate Son of God learned obedience. Of course, Jesus sinlessly and perfectly learned obedience. He obeyed without ever once uttering a word or having a thought that was not perfectly in accord with His Father’s will. At no moment was there ever the least element of disobedience from the Lord Jesus. But Jesus was called to fulfill His mission by “being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8), and so He had to learn perfect obedience to atone for our sin.

In this post, I want to show that the disciple of Jesus must likewise learn obedience.


Before the year is out, I hope to write a book on the subject of discipleship and obedience will certainly occupy a prominent place in that work. In discipleship, the goal is growth in Christlikeness, and that involves growth in four areas.

  • KNOWLEDGE. Obedience is only possible after knowledge of God’s commands is obtained, so knowledge is primary. The primary and authoritative source of the disciple’s knowledge is the word of God, the Bible.
  • OBEDIENCE. When man’s will joyfully does what God commands. When knowledge of God’s commands results in doing what God commands. When the Spirit-given desire to please God is fulfilled by willful, joyful acts.
  • HOLINESS. When persistent, ongoing obedience has begun to transform the heart and mind of the disciple such that their presence exudes godly behavior.
  • USEFULNESS. When the disciple performs good works (Eph. 2:10) which edify other believers and which bear fruit for the kingdom of God.

Here, we are going to focus on the area of obedience.

Obedience is usually measurable. “Here is the command. It applies to you. Are you doing what the command says? Yes or no.” Obedience grows as knowledge of God’s commands grows. The more commands you know, the more you can obey. Therefore, the disciple must spend much time in the Word learning what he is expected to obey.

But obedience also grows as we learn to obey. Let’s consider an example. In Matthew 6:25, the Lord gives the command, “Stop being worried.” Now let’s assume that a newly converted disciple who is in the habit of worrying and being anxious reads Matthew 6 and discovers this command. Now the disciple has gained the knowledge of this command from his King and now knows that worrying is a sin. Since worrying is a sin, the disciple should obey and stop worrying. But despite the knowledge of sin and despite the disciple’s desire to obey God, what may occur is that the disciple continues to experience worry and anxiety. That is, the professing disciple of Jesus continues in disobedience. What is going on here? For Paul says in Romans 6:2, “How will we who died to sin (were saved) still live in it?” It is a rhetorical question that demands the answer, “We cannot continue in sin if we are a disciple of Jesus!” So, how do we explain this situation where a professing disciple is not seeing victory over this sin of worry?


First, ongoing sin is always a serious concern in the church of Jesus Christ and any situation of ongoing disobedience needs to be addressed. Also, we should acknowledge that there are several possible explanations for this, including the possibility that this person is not genuinely converted and therefore is unable to repent of their sin. But there is also the possibility that this is a genuine disciple of Jesus who has never learned obedience. That is, this disciple has not learned how to vanquish the sin so that he can obey. What I am suggesting is that, for sins that are deeply ingrained or that are difficult to identify by individual acts, obedience may be delayed because the disciple needs to be coached or discipled in their obedience.

To illustrate this, let’s go back to the person who is disobedient with regard to anxiety and worry, and this disciple knows that it is sinful. The first necessary ingredient is the disciple’s own desire for victory over the sin and his desire to walk in obedience. Assuming there is an earnest desire for obedience, the first step would be for the disciple to confess his sin and acknowledge his sin to God (Psalm 32:5) and to others (James 5:16) and thus bring the sin out into the light (1 John 1:7). “Yes, Lord, and yes, brothers, I know this is sin and I hate this sin.” Just this obedient confession of the sin will drain the sin of at least some of its power.

Next, the disciple learns from the Puritan, Thomas Watson, by reading his book Doctrine of Repentance and discovering the power of genuine repentance and putting that power to work against his worry. Additionally, the disciple develops a specific strategy for “fleeing” the sin of worry and anxiety when his “anxious thoughts multiply within him” (Psalm 94:19). So, when he begins to feel anxious or worried, he responds with his strategy. He consciously, willfully turns his mind until it is fixed either on an obedient action or on a God-breathed truth. For me, since I want to keep my strategy as simple as possible, my defense strategy consists in executing an obedient action. So I think, “Rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16). Then I spend the next five minutes reading Psalm 148, out loud if possible, and praising the Lord for all the good things He has given me and has done for me. And the sin that was trying to insinuate itself into my mind and cause me to disobey is expelled.

The point that I am making is that the local church should be aware of the need to instruct especially newer believers in the path of repentance so that they can see victory and learn obedience.

It is extremely discouraging, even depressing, and even eventually faith-threatening for the disciple of Jesus to continue long in “unwilful disobedience,” to long engage in what the disciple knows to be sin while his earnest longing with heart and soul is to be rid of the sin and to be obedient. The ideas presented in this article should help in training disciples how to learn obedience.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 3/17/2023                   #632