Why Are We Told to 'Obey God Rather Than Human Beings'?

Many Christians have been attacked for their faith, threatened for worshiping God and speaking the truth of God’s Word, and persecuted for their obedience to God not man. Obedience involves submission and surrender, trusting that God’s ways are better than our own.

Person standing with the Bible

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the Council. The high priest interrogated them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this Man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27-29).

In the face of persecution for proclaiming Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Son of God, Peter and the apostles had a difficult choice to make. 

Would they bow to the authority of those in positions of earthly power and stop preaching to secure earthly favor, safety, or security; or would they submit to the authority of their savior and king and risk certain persecution, imprisonment, and possibly death?

For the apostles, the choice was clear.

What Does it Mean to Obey God?

Peter and the rest of Jesus’ disciples had walked with Jesus, seen His miracles, listened to His teaching, and encountered the glory of His resurrection. The truth of the gospel and promise of salvation and forgiveness, which Christ offered, were too precious to be silenced by any mob, religious leader, or earthly ruler.

The apostles would be obedient to Christ and their commission to preach the gospel, even if it led to their death.

When the Pharisees previously told Jesus to rebuke His followers for worshipping Him in public, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these stop speaking, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:39-40).

Many a follower of God has been attacked for their faith, threatened for worshiping God and speaking the truth of God’s Word, and persecuted for their obedience to God not man. In the power of the Holy Spirit, however, many Christians have withstood the threats of man and continued to testify of the wonders of God.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him nor speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am tired of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9).

Habakkuk also wrote, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Likewise, the disciples would not be silenced or bullied into submission because others refused to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord or accept the reality and consequences of their sin.

The disciples had seen the glory of the kingdom of God at work in their lives and the lives of countless followers. They were not about to trade the eternal riches of Christ’s love for the temporary comforts of this life.

Obedience to God means obeying him fully--regardless of the circumstances. Trust in God leads to obedience.

Examples of Obedience

The disciples' obedience was not unlike the courage of Daniel, who refused to stop praying, even when threatened with the lion’s den; or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image under threat of being thrown into the fiery furnace.

They had said, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods nor worship the golden statue that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).

In their lives, these followers of God, like the disciples of Jesus, accepted the cost of discipleship and obedience as a price they were willing to pay.

Jesus had said, “If anyone want to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, this is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

Jesus was also clear that those who wished to be called His disciples would face persecution in this life.

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you,” He said. “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own, but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, turning you over to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors on account of My name. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony... you will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, other relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all people because of My name. And yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:12-19).

The Apostle Paul also wrote“All who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:10).

To the disciples, however, persecution did not stop them.

Why Should We Obey God?

Their love for Jesus Christ, joy in their salvation, and hope in eternity far outweighed any threat of man. As Jesus had given His life to save man from his sin, so Christians have historically been willing to sacrifice their own life for the sake of the gospel, unashamed to proclaim the truth and obeying the commandments of God no matter the cost.

Jesus’ final command was clear, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Obedience, by nature, involves submission and surrender, trusting that God’s ways are better than our own. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ means to follow in Christ’s footsteps and do as Jesus did. Christians, therein, are called to do more than just believe in Jesus Christ.

They are instructed to follow His commands and submit to His authority. Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). This includes the command to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, love God, and love others.

Obeying God rather than man may prove costly in this life, but to those who believe in Jesus Christ, submit to His authority, obey His commands, and persevere through all trials and persecution, they will inherit a new life born of Christ.

As James wrote, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

Though Christians are called to respect earthly authorities, their loyalty and obedience must be rooted in Christ. We are called to obey God rather than man, not out of obligation or compulsion, but joy.

Why Does This Matter? 

For in Christ, we find the hope of salvation and new life; and in God’s Word we find wisdom, knowledge, and eternal truth. As it is written, “The world is passing away and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God continues to live forever” (1 John 2:17).

For further reading:

What Is Obedience? How Do We Obey God?

What Does it Mean to Obey the Laws of the Land?

Should All We Do Be Done in Love?

Can Nothing Really Separate Us from the Love of God?

Are We Called to Please God?

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/priscilladupreez


Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s author, artist, professor, and speaker who is passionate about helping young writers unleash their creativity and discover the wonders of their Creator through storytelling and art. In his blog, Perspectives off the Page, he discusses all things story and the creative process.