The Commands: Jesus Christ's Handbook for Personal Transformation and World Change

It is the one terrible heresy of the church, that it has always been presenting something else than obedience as faith in Christ.
— The Truth in Jesus, by George MacDonald

The Reformed theology that dominates Christianity in America is highly suspicious of anything that smacks of ‘works-based’ righteousness, and fond of emphasizing that salvation is through faith alone, not works. Reformed theologians generally cite various verses from Paul’s epistles as the basis for their beliefs; but one can “prove” any number of dubious propositions through isolated proof texts. One issue is what is meant by “faith.”

Consider the following excerpt from an excellent article entitled “Linguistic complexities of Biblical interpretation” (

“Take, for instance, the Greek word ‘pistis’ πιστις as it appears in Paul. ‘Pistis’ is most directly translatable as “faith,” though in the Pauline gospel it is employed as a complex noun-verb hybrid. Romans 1:5 for example speaks of grace and apostleship as bringing about “the obedience of faith” or more accurately, “obedience which is faith.”

While many would be quick to say that the theme of Romans is ‘salvation by faith alone,’ it’s noteworthy that Paul not only begins, but ends his letter to the Romans with “the obedience of faith,” strongly suggesting that is the dominant message. We live out our faith through our willed obedience to the Lord; that is why there is perfect harmony between Paul’s letter to the Romans and James’ affirmation that faith without works is dead.

I note also that in John’s Gospel, the Apostle uses the verb form, ‘pisteuo,’ (“to receive and accept information, and have enough confidence to be willing to act on it”) nearly one hundred times, but doesn’t use the noun form at all.

All very well, but what of the words of Jesus Himself? In George MacDonald’s novel Guild Court, the protagonist’s mother, who is steeped in hyper-Calvinist theology, wants her son to read Romans (with the proper Reformed interpretation, of course) rather than the Gospels. Hardly a surprise; as Michael Phillips so aptly puts it, “Jesus taught behavior and attitudes, not a doctrinal belief system. He did not teach ideas or theology…he taught conduct.”

All of which brings us to The Commands, “assembled and with notes” by Michael Phillips, a book that is not nearly as well known as it ought to be. As Phillips points out in the Introduction, “[a]ll Christians are familiar with Christ’s Great Commission—his final charge to make disciples of all nations and take his gospel to the ends of the earth. What has gone undetected, however, is the roadmap he gave detailing exactly how this world-changing enterprise is to be carried out.

“The world will come to Christ as Christians DO WHAT JESUS SAID.
“Christians will reflect Christlikeness in their personal lives as they DO WHAT JESUS SAID.

“This is why his Great Commission contains the words, ‘…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’”

What Phillips has done—and it’s astounding that, to my knowledge, he’s the first to have done it—is to assemble one hundred twenty commands of Jesus and provide perspective and commentary on each one. The first command he cites is all all the evidence we ought to need to realize the value of making a book like this an integral part of our lives:

If you love me you will keep my commandments
— John 14:15

How do we love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our strength, all our soul? We strive with everything in us to do what he has commanded us to do. That is living our faith. That is faith.

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