It’s important to understand that in all of my writings I use the words "repentance" and "obedience" in the context of living under the law, which is living by the knowledge of good and evil. This is how the words "repentance" and "obedience" are most often used in Christianity. These words are used to describe the effort of a person to do good and avoid evil. Many Christians today are obsessed with getting sin out of their lives and rely heavily on repentance and obedience to accomplish this task (for more on this see The Root of Sin). They want to repent of the bad things they are doing and try and obey what they perceive as good. I believe this leads to a lot of change that is nothing more than behavior modification. Humans can do almost anything they set their minds to, including climbing Mt. Everest. If people can set their minds to a task like climbing Mt. Everest, and succeed, they can also set their minds to overcoming fleshly sins and succeed. Changes in a person’s morality or behavior proves very little about what is actually taking place in the depths of their heart. There are countless numbers of moral people in the world that have nothing to do with the God of the Bible. I don’t mean to discredit all changes that take place in a person’s life, I simply mean that it can be an extremely poor indicator of things that are infinitely more important, such as getting close to God at the heart level. The prophet Isaiah wrote…
And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, Isaiah 29:13 ESV
It is absolutely possible to conform your words and behavior to a religious mold and at the same time have a heart that is distant from God. You can even have lots of prayer and scripture reading in your life and still be distant from God. Hardly anyone today fasts, prays, or reads scripture more than the Pharisees did, yet the Pharisees did not know God.
Do I disregard all repentance and obedience? No, I simply understand it differently. In many cases in the scripture the word “repentance” is used to describe salvation and a person’s initial decision to turn to Jesus. Furthermore the word “repentance” doesn’t refer to changing actions. The Greek word μετάνοια, translated as repentance, means a change of mind. The gospel, when seen by faith, changes a person's thinking and aligns it with truth. This renewing of the mind is how real transformation takes place (Rom 12:2). Just like repentance, I see obedience as something that takes place in the heart. In Romans 6:17 Paul talks about this.
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching [i.e. the gospel] to which you were committed, Romans 6:17 ESV
True obedience is obeying the gospel and submitting to its truth. In Gal 5:7 Paul rebukes the Galatians for disobedience. What kind of disobedience? He rebuked them for not obeying the truth of the gospel.
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? Galatians 5:7 ESV
In Hebrews 4 we see the same concept. In that passage the words unbelief and disobedience are used interchangeably. It was the disobedience of unbelief that kept the children of Israel from receiving the promises of God.
There was a time in my life when I decided to give up pursuing sinlessness and my own righteousness. I simply rested in God’s heart for me and the truth of the gospel. Overtime, I began to heal at the heart level. Through the love of God and trusting in Him I began to break free from sins and bondage that I never even realized was in my life while living under the law. These included things like fear, false humility, insecurity, desiring the praises of man, anxiety etc. It’s not that God was trying to reveal all of these things in my life. In fact, I would recommend that you don’t pursue freedom from these things, but rather let the healing take place naturally. When I began to see the love, freedom, and light of Christ it changed my thinking in those areas and brought me into more and more freedom. This process of greater and greater freedom continues throughout a person's life. Through the healing power of the gospel I’ve seen people get free from not only these bondages of the heart, but also bondages of the flesh, such as sexual immorality and alcoholism. Repentance and obedience to the truth of the gospel not only brings a person into true freedom, but it awakens their heart to receive the deep, healing love that God has for them. In this way, they can honor the Lord with their lips and have a heart that is close to Him. It’s not a person's behavior that brings them life, it’s the Lord who is life.