As we learned in the last entry, the Christian life is a long and exciting walk of faith, but it is also a walk meant to produce obedience toward God. God intended our faith to lead to obedience to His commands. This is very important, because there are many today who claim to have faith in God but who do not do what He says. This can be confusing and disheartening to new Christians. So you need to know that a person’s constant disobedience reveals that his/her faith is not genuine. Jesus even warned about people who make a profession of faith and ignore His commands. In Matthew 7:21 He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
Of course, nobody perfectly obeys God. No one is even close. We all have much sin to shed and much obedience to learn. You will need to be patient with your progress and remember sometimes you will sin badly even as a believer. However the kind of faith which is genuine learns to obey God over time.
One distinction needs to be made here. Obedience is not the same thing as faith but it is closely related to it. In the early part of his letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul wrote Romans 1:5 “through (Christ) we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake” The Gentiles are all the nations outside of Israel. (So most of us are Gentiles). Paul knew that the purpose being an apostle of Jesus was to bring about “the obedience of faith” among all of the nations. Christ gave him grace to teach the Gentiles and bring about an obedience which springs from faith. In other words, once the Gentiles believed in Jesus, obedience would begin to emerge in their lives.
The phrase “obedience of faith” is used again at the end of Romans in 16:25-26. Paul writes there that the gospel “… has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith.” It is not just that the intent of preaching the gospel is obedience, but that it actually does lead to the obedience of faith. Those who truly believe, begin to obey.
The fact that Paul wrote this phrase at the opening and close of his greatest epistle shows that it is an important concept in Paul’s understanding of faith. Faith is not stagnant nor benign. It is dynamic and energizing. Matthew Henry in his commentary writes this about it, “Christ is salvation to all nations. And the gospel is revealed, not to be talked of and disputed about, but to be submitted to. The obedience of faith is that obedience which is paid to the word of faith, and which comes by the grace of faith.”
Because the obedience of faith is so important, it is worth digressing a bit to make sure we do not read the phrase the wrong way.
The correct understanding of this phrase is that faith leads to obedience and even stimulated obedience. It is the obedience which springs from faith and finds its origin in faith. Faith causes and motivates obedience. Obedience is the natural result or consequence of faith.
It does not mean that faith is the same thing as obedience. While it is true that God commands the Gentiles to believe, it would be wrong to construe it to mean “the obedience which is faith.” Faith and obedience, while certainly being related, are not the same thing. Faith is trust in God. Obedience is doing what He says. They are not synonymous. Paul’s writings emphasize that believing is to result in continued obedience not that believing is obedience.
Nor does this phrase mean “obedience to the faith.” Faith, in this view, would be the objective body of truth. It would mean obedience to “the Christian faith.” This interpretation is not likely because the article “the” is absent in both verses. It is not “the formal faith” Paul has in mind but the exercise of one’s own “faith.”
To clarify the meaning further, here are two insightful quotes from respected commentaries on the book of Romans:
Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, “Paul saw his task as calling men and women to submission to the lordship of Christ a submission which began with conversion but which was to continue in a deepening lifelong commitment . This obedience to Christ as Lord is always closely related to faith, both as an initial decisive step of faith and as a continuing faith relationship with Christ. We understand the words ‘obedience’ and ‘faith to be mutually interpreting: obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience. They should not be equated, compartmentalized, or made into separate stages of Christian experience. Paul called men and women to a faith that was always inseparable from obedience – for the Savior in whom we believe is nothing less than our Lord – and to an obedience that could never be divorced from faith – for we can obey Jesus as Lord only when we have given ourselves to him in faith. Viewed in this light, the phrase captures the full dimension of Paul’s apostolic task, a task that was not confined to initial evangelization but that included also the building up and firm establishment of churches.”
Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans, “We are not saved in order to have a set of theological principles in our heads. We are saved in order to surrender our lives to Christ. … We must understand that Satan has two different counterfeits of the obedience of faith. He has one set of men who want doctrines without obedience, and another set who want obedience without doctrines. The first become fundamentalist charlatans, the second become modernistic seducers. For doctrine and doing are like the two parts of salt: salt is composed of two poisons, sodium and chlorine. If you should take either of the two poisons, you would die. But if you combine them properly, you have sodium chloride, and that is common table salt, without which there is no savor for our food, and, indeed, no life and health to our bodies. Let us be careful, then, not to seek a religious life without being surrendered to the great doctrines of revealed truth. Let us also be careful not to hold the great truths of orthodoxy without surrendering our bodies, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable, our spiritual service.”