Faith, The Obedience of

Faith, The obedience of

by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (Jun. 15, 1994)

Faithís Obedience

Paulís great epistle to the Romans is the closest thing in all the New Testament to a systematic theology. In it he develops the theme of human redemption on the basis of Christís self-sacrifice at the cross. He explains how we are put right with God on the basis of faith in that event.

One of the most interesting lines in the letter comes at the very beginning. "Through [Jesus Christ our Lord] and for his nameís sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith" (1:5).

This translation, for the New International Version, takes the term "obedience of faith" as a subjective genitive that refers to obedience rooted in oneís trust in God. It may also be understood as an objective genitive that points to oneís obedience to the faith (i.e., a body of doctrine). It can even be taken as a genitive of apposition, making the meaning "obedience which consists of faith." In this instance, a fine point of Greek grammar is interesting but not momentous to understanding the apostleís point.

Here and elsewhere in Romans, Paulís point is emphatic: Salvation is received on the basis of oneís faith in the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, not from works of our own doing. All the glory for salvation belongs to God, for it is entirely of him. We neither devised the plan nor do we contribute anything to it. We can only trust God and receive it as his free gift to us. Yet such a faith will always evidence its presence through the obedience to God it prompts.

Faith generates obedience, but the obedience does not constitute works of merit. Good deeds come out of faith, but the good deeds are not currency to barter with God.

Paulís apostleship called people to "the obedience that comes from faith." In particular in Romans, he pleaded with believers in the empireís capital city to produce fruit that would demonstrate the genuineness of their professed faith. "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have returned from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness" (6:13).

If you have faith, there is evidence to support the claim. If you believe, you donít resist the divine will. If you are authentic in believing, you are prompt about obeying.

Reject baptism and neglect the Lordís Supper? Then you donít value the death, burial, and resurrection affirmed in these symbolic actions. Love some sin too much to abandon it? Then you have not died with Christ. Deal in attacks on your brothers and sisters? Then you do not participate in Christís new life.

Anyone refusing to do Godís will shows himself or herself to be an unbeliever. Itís just that simple. Itís just that scary.

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