“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations….” (Romans 1:1-5)
“Now to Him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)
Paul is the divinely inspired author of thirteen books of the New Testament. Unlike the original Galilean apostles, Paul was chosen as an apostle by Jesus after His resurrection. And unlike the original apostles, Paul was highly educated in the Hebrew scriptures – our Old Testament – and both Hebrew history and Hebrew law. (Acts 5:34, 22:3; Philippians 3:4-6) This, coupled with the direct revelation Paul received from Jesus Christ, empowered him to become our apostolic theologian. (Galatians 1:11-12)
Romans is Paul’s longest and most systematic work – an explanation of the “big picture”, if you will, as to why we needed Jesus, what Jesus has done, and what God expects of us. Both at the beginning and the end of Romans, Paul uses one phrase to describe what God has called him to bring about in all the nations: “the obedience of faith”.
What is the obedience of faith? Modern theologians seem to fall into two camps.
One group, fearing the error of “cheap grace”, wants to honor the principle of James 2:14-26 that faith without works is dead. True faith will be evidenced by obedience even though it will be flawed obedience due to our imperfect state.
The other group, fearing the error of legalism, wants to protect the principle of Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace and not by works. The obedience of faith is primarily seen as obeying God’s command to trust what Jesus did on the cross for us. (Romans 10:9-13)
There is some truth in each of these positions, but in my opinion, both fail to capture what Paul really means.
We must first understand that God has always wanted our obedience. The fundamental prayer lesson of Jesus is that we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10) There is no disobedience in heaven!
God is God and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:5) Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with scriptures calling for our obedience of God’s commands. (Exodus 19:5-6; Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 10:5-6; Hebrews 5:8-10; 1 Peter 1:2, 14-15) The issue Paul is addressing in the phrase, “the obedience of faith”, is not about whether we should obey or how much we should obey. It is about our motivation for obedience.
To a Hebrew people getting to know God after centuries of Egyptian slavery, God’s covenant of the law offered two types of motivation: the obedience of fear and the obedience of quid pro quo. (Deuteronomy 28) They would be blessed in a multitude of ways if they obeyed Him, and they would be cursed in a multitude of ways if they disobeyed Him.
The obedience of quid pro quo is like the obedience of a hired servant who expects their wages if they do their job. The obedience of fear is like the obedience of a slave who fears the whip. God’s goal all along, however, was the obedience of faith: the willing and even enthusiastic obedience of children who love and trust their heavenly Father completely. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Luke 10:27; Matthew 18:1-4)
Through Jesus and all the events leading up to Jesus, God has revealed He loves us beyond measure. He is all-good, all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful and, as a result, completely trustworthy in all He does and all He commands us to do. So why would we ever want to disobey Him?
And through the sacrifice of Jesus, God has revealed He is all-merciful to His children and will forgive us when in our weakness, we fail to obey. (1 John 1:7-9)
Fear becomes reverent awe. Quid pro quo expectation of reward becomes a willingness to sacrifice on earth for treasures in heaven. (Matthew 19:21) We obey the Lord because we have complete faith in a God who is always right and never wrong, and because we love Him. (John 14:21-24)
God bless you and God bless our community.