Friday, April 11, 2008

The Obedience of Faith

By Bruce Mills
I have begun teaching through the book of Romans in my Sunday School class, and was quickly impressed by a statement Paul made in the opening verses of the first chapter. He stated that, through Christ, he had received grace and apostleship “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake” (v. 5).

That phrase, “the obedience of faith,” is an extremely significant statement. Paul was the apostle sent to take the good news of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, and he uses this term as a synonym for true, genuine salvation. So, we must ask, what then are the implications of that term? I think it is rather clear. Paul is saying that true faith will result in an obedient life. Genuine believers will struggle with sin, but the orientation of their life is toward Christ. As they grow in their knowledge of Him and His word, they will turn from sin and obey God’s moral standards because the indwelling Holy Spirit will give them a desire to do so.

This phrase is significant because it indicates that the person who claims faith in Jesus Christ but whose habitual pattern of life is utter disregard for and disobedience to God’s Word gives evidence that he has never been truly redeemed and is living a lie. Faith that does not manifest itself in obedient living is spurious and worthless (cf. James 2:14-26).

Don’t misunderstand: we are not saved by works, no matter how seemingly good; but we are saved to live a life characterized by good works. Genuine faith is obedient faith. It is not that faith plus obedience equals salvation, but that obedient faith equals salvation. True faith is verified in obedience.

By making obedience a part of genuine faith, Paul is letting us know that faith is not an easy out for those who find the strict moral standards of the Christian life to be a burdensome thing. When anyone is saved through faith, it is with a view to obedience. Faith, if genuine, always has obedience as its outcome; obedience, if it is to please God, must always be accompanied by faith. Faith and obedience are two sides to the same coin. They must be distinguished, but they cannot be separated.

Now, let me address a corollary issue. To belong to God in a relationship of obedience is to recognize that salvation includes being in submission to His lordship. When we come to Christ initially, we come to One who demands total allegiance. This allegiance is something we learn to live out as God begins His work of transforming our minds so that we do His will. But never can we obey without believing. If obedience is implied from the beginning of our faith, faith is always essential for any true obedience.

Some people who claim to be Christians may appear for a while to outwardly conform with the demands of the gospel. Not too long ago, I was involved in a situation involving a couple from another church who had separated. He claimed to want to reconcile the marriage; she showed no interest in doing such. He got involved in our church’s biblical counseling ministry, but after great efforts on the part of our counselors to work with this couple and the elders of their church to bring about reconciliation, in the end, both of them refused to obey the hard demands of the Word in regard to their relationship to one another. Two of the counselors involved told me, “After a while, it just seemed to become evident that regardless of how much they professed to be Christians, their refusal to obey Scripture demonstrated otherwise.” I’m not saying that I know they are both unbelievers. I can’t know their hearts. But the fruit they demonstrated in this situation indicated that regardless of what they professed, they may not have been genuine believers. If either of them are, then I would expect that others will begin to see the discipline of the Lord in their lives as He chastens His children in order to bring them back into conformity with His holy standards of righteousness (cf. Hebrews 12:4-11).

A theology that refuses to recognize the sovereign authority of Jesus Christ for every believer is a theology that contradicts the very essence of biblical Christianity. In Rom. 10:9-10, Paul declares, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

With equal clarity and certainty, Peter declared in his sermon at Pentecost, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). The heart of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is that faith without obedience is not saving faith, but is certain evidence that a person is following the broad road to destruction rather than the narrow path of righteousness that leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14).

On the other hand, merely calling Jesus “Lord,” even while doing seemingly important work in His name, is worthless unless those works are done from faith, in accordance with His word, and are directed and empowered by His Holy Spirit. That’s why Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21-23, “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. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

So, genuine faith issues from a heart which has submitted itself to Christ’s authority and the result will always be obedience to Christ’s commands. That’s what Paul meant by “the obedience of faith.” He presumes that those who are true believers will obey Christ. But those who claim to have believed yet are characterized by a lifestyle of habitual disobedience and a refusal to submit to God’s moral standards are not true believers.

1 comment:

Robert said...

How fitting that the act of faith in Christ is, in itself, an act of obedience!

Wait a minute, aren't you a Dallas grad? :)

Seriously, though, I fear for those who believe in salvation without giving up self for God. I have met so many missionaries and evangelist with this approach (others too, but these 2 groups tend to stick out the most in this area). While I know there are those who believe this false doctrine and also teach the true Gospel (not realizing the contradictions between the two teachings), starting down this road can lead to a false gospel...requiring only a single "confession" of faith, which upholds the "salvation" of the unrepentant. (eg. – “Of course I’m saved. I walked the aisle, prayed a prayer, and signed a card that says I'm saved!”) This is denying the essentials of the Gospel. (Here’s a link to an amazing message on the essentials by Steve Kreloff (spoken at this year’s missions conference, - you can right click and “Save Target as…” if you’d like to download it)

Makes me wonder…does this belief stem from a lack of understanding the Gospel, or from a lack of understanding God’s sovereignty?