The Obedience of Faith

Study of Romans as given by Dr. James Montgomery Boice: Romans 1:5

5Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.

“It is a puzzle to me that whenever I write about the lordship of Jesus Christ, as I did in the previous chapter, stressing that one must follow Jesus and submit to him to be a Christian, some people always object that an emphasis like this destroys the gospel.” This is the opening sentence by Boice concerning Romans 1:5. Those who object do so because they want to only believe in Christ, but not follow Christ. Their argument is that if we must follow Christ then are we not mingling works with faith as a means to salvation? True biblical faith or the act of regeneration includes both obedience and faith. True regeneration brings about faith and a desire to be obedient, they cannot be separated. We’ll pick up on this idea later in my personal reflection as we look at not only what Paul says about faith and obedience, but also what Peter has to add to the topic at hand.

Paul probably had these difficulties as well, in fact we discussed this issue when we looked at Romans 1:4 in the last study. Paul ends verse 4 with “Jesus Christ our Lord” as this is the point the previous versus were leading us. Paul knowing how people think when confronted with the issue of Christ as Lord wants to amplify his statement. “Must Jesus be Lord if one is to be saved by him? If he must, this will have an effect on the way we understand the gospel and obey Christ’s command to evangelize the world.”

  1. Disobedience and Obedience

    1. Two ways the phrase “…to the obedience that comes from faith” can be transalted:
      1. It can be interpreted as referring to the obedience which faith produces or in which it results.
        1. Boice does not think this is the way it should be interpreted.
        2. Even if this is the correct translation, it doe not diminish Boice’s point as Paul would be saying that true biblical faith produces obedience.
        3. If the “faith” one has does not lead to obedience, it is not the faith the Bible is talking about when it calls us to faith in Jesus Christ.
      2. The phrase should be interpreted as “…unto obedience, the very nature of which is faith” or simply “faith, which is obedience.”
        1. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “The Apostle says…’the obedience of faith’ in order to bring out this point-that he is talking about an obedience which consists in faith, or if you like, an obedience of which faith is the central principle.”
        2. John Murray: “It is…intelligible and suitable to take ‘faith’ as in apposition to ‘obedience’ and understand it is the obedience which consists in faith. Faith is regarded an an act of obedience, or commitment to the gospel of Christ.”
        3. Charles Hodge: “The obedience of faith is that obedience which consists in faith, or of which faith is the controlling principle.”
        4. Robert Haldane: “The gospel reforms those who believe it, but it would be presenting an imperfect view of the subject to say that it was given to reform the world. It was given that men might believe and be saved. The obedience, then, here referred to, signifies submission to the doctrine of the gospel.”
        5. F. Godet: The only possible meaning is: the obedience which consitst of faith itself.
        6. Martin Luther (contrasting Paul’s demand with human arguments): Paul here speaks of ‘obedience to the faith’ and not of obedience to such wisdom as first must be proved by arguments of reason and experience. It is not at all his intention to prove what he says, but he demands of his readers implicit trust in him as one having divine authority.
        7. John Calvin: By stating the purpose of his call Paul again reminds the Romans of his office, as though he were saying, ‘It is my duty to discharge the responsibility entrused to me, which is to preach the word. It is your responsibility to hear the word and wholly obey it, unless you want to make void the calling which the Lord has bestowed on me.’ We deduce from this that those who irreverently and contemptuously reject the preaching of the gospel, the design of which is to bring us into obedience to God, are stubbornly resisting the power of God and perverting the whole of his order.””
    2. This is an extremely important matter that Christians should get right. It is important because it affects how we understand the gospel and how we seek to obey Christ’s command to evangelize.
    3. How is evangelism conducted today? For the most part the gospel is offered to people as something that is good for them and will make them happy, but that they are at perfect liberty to refuse!
    4. The Holy Spirit would never coerce anybody. With a framework like this, sin becomes little more than bad choices and faith only means beginning to see the issues clearly.
    5. What is missing in this contemporary approach is the recognition that sin primarily is disobedience and that God commands us to repent and repudiate it.
    6. When the gospel is preached it must be preached not merely as an invitation to experience life to the full or even to accept God’s invitation. The gospel must be preached as a command.
    7. The weakness of much of our contemporary Christianity can be traced to a deficiency at precisely this point. By failing to present the gospel as a command to be obeyed we minimize sin, trivialize discipleship, rob God of his glory, and delude some into thinking that all is well with their souls when actually they are without Christ and are perishing.
  2. Pelagius and Jonathan Edwards

    1. There might be an objection at this point and it comes from those wo know theology and are aware that, according to Pauls later teaching in Romans, everyone is so deeply ensnared by sin that even though the gospel may be preached to us, apart from the grace of God we are not able to repent and obey God’s commands.
    2. This is the point that bothered Pelagius and let to his errant theology and class with Augustine.
    3. Pelagius felt that if we are commanded to do something, then we must be able to do it. “Ought” implies “can”.
    4. Instead of thowing out the command (which is what most people seem to want to do today), Pelagius threw out the inability.
    5. Pelagius argued that we can turn from sin, believe on Christ, and pursue obedience in our own strength, entirely unaided by the Holy Spirit.
    6. The problem is that Pelagius was overlooking the nature of inability, which he would have understood better had he paid more attention to the command for obedience.
    7. The inability we have is not a physical inability, but a moral one. That is, we do not obey God, not because we cannot obey him physically, but because we will not obey God.
    8. It is this that makes the command to obey so important and our disobedience so reprehensible.
    9. Consequently, it is important for the gospel to be presented to the unsaved as a command and to have it stressed that God will hold us accountable if we persist in sin and refuse to bow before our rightful Lord.
  3. Apostle of God’s Grace

    1. Even though th demand that we repent of sin and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ is a command, it is nevertheless a command that comes to us in the context of the gospel.
    2. Remember, the gospel is not bad news; it is good news. It is the good news of God’s grace.
    3. The word “Grace” will appear 29 times in the letter and it appears here because even though Paul is stressing the Lordship of Christ and the necessity of obeying God in response to the demands of the gospel he is also aware that those who respond to the gospel do so only because God is already graciously at work in them.
    4. The gospel is itself the means by which the unmerited favor of God toward us is made operative.
    5. Grace is often defined as God’s favor toward the underserving, but to Boice it is more than that.
      1. Grace is God’s favor toward those who deserve the precise opposite of grace.
      2. We deserver hell. We do not deserve a chance to hear the gospel, let alone experience the regenerating work of God within, by which we are enabled to turn from sin and obey Jesus.
      3. We deserve God’s wrath.
      4. We deserve his fierce condemnation.
      5. Instead of wrath, we find grace.
      6. Instead of condemnation, we find the One who in our place bore God’s judgement and now lives to rule over us.
    6. Paul was keenly aware of the grace that was shown to him. He felt he did not deserve the title of apostleship, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect…”(I Cor. 15:9-10).
    7. Like all who were truly converted Paul could never forget what he had been apart from God’s grace:
      1. He had been self-righteous.
      2. He had been cruel.
      3. He had been fighting against the goads of God in his conscience.
      4. He had been trying to destroy God’s work by his persecution of the infant church.
    8. How could one so rebellious be brought to his knees before Jesus? Only by the grace of God. Only a gracious God would want to.
    9. We must find a balance in our preaching, in our presentation of the gospel to the lost. It is a balance between the grace of God and the consequences of rejecting God.
    10. Final point to make is that it is only the gracious love of God that motivates us to be his ambassadors.
    11. It is the grace of God that compels us to live the gospel when it seems the world no longer is in order, but is spinning out of control. It is the grace of God that reminds us of his sovereignty.

Personal Reflection

Faith and obedience, two terms that are enmeshed in the Christians life. Faith and obedience cannot be separated if you are a Christian. Here in Romans 1:5 we have Paul saying that faith is a part of obedience, faith is a command. What does obedience to God look like? We read that obedience includes loving our enemies and praying for them. We know that James talks about the work of taking care of our brothers and sisters who are in need by feeding them and clothing them (James 1:14-25). James’ bigger point is that faith produces deeds, deeds make up a subset of the evidence of our regeneration. More importantly, when we do the deeds of taking care of our brothers and sisters we are in obedience to God. We live out our faith in daily life by these acts of kindness to our brothers and sisters, and when we do this we show our obedience to God and it builds our faith.

Another part of obedience to God is to be a living witness to the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ. How are we living witnesses of the Gospel? We are living witnesses by showing our faith in a hostile world, through caring for the sick, the needy, the immigrant, the elderly, the fatherless, and the crippled. In short we become living witnesses to the Gospel by transforming our lives to fit the mold that Christ left for us, and that is the mold of the sacrificial servant. You see the part of being a living witness requires two things, caring for the needy and proclaiming the good news of the Gospel. This is obedience to God.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, we show obedience to God by loving God with all our heat, soul, and mind. In fact this was the first commandment according to Christ our Lord, “He answered: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 1027) The second commandment should flow naturally from the first. How do we love God? By keeping his commandments. By loving God and keeping his commands we are not only obeying God, but we strengthen our faith in God. This is why daily time with God and with His word are important.

We only come to know what God commands in our life if we have a firm grasp of what His word says, and this includes the entirety of His word. We cannot ignore one letter of His holy text, given to us by divine inspiration. We must ingest His word, hide it in our hearts, and let His word permeate every pore of our being. If we do this, then our mind will begin to be transformed to be focused on Christ and not on our own lives. We will have a desire to obey God and our faith will be strengthened as we are about the work that God has called us to. In doing this we become the living witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. We become a called people “to the obedience that comes from faith.”


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