I’ll be honest, part of me hates writing this. Because writing this means that I understand it, have told the whole world about it (or the 50 people that might read this), and now I’m more accountable for it.
The second biggest struggle I have as a parent is getting our toddler to obey the first time. He’s a great little boy. This is just part of life. The biggest struggle I have is realizing that him obeying me for the wrong reason isn’t really a win. Sure, obedience because he doesn’t want a spanking might be halfway there, but what parent wants that in the long run? I want our boys to obey because they know beyond any doubt that their mom and I love them and care for them, and that knowledge has led them to trust us. Obedience out of fear of discipline doesn’t capture their little hearts, even if that’s an unfortunate part of the road we have to travel to get by until they grow to trust that we’re out for their good as well as ours.
I’ve been thinking on and studying Romans 1:1-7 for the past few days when part of verse 5 stood out: “the obedience of faith.” What is that? Is Paul talking about “obedience that is faith,” as in obeying God by confessing Christ as Lord? Is he talking about the obedience that flows after confessing Christ? The Greek word for “of” is notoriously ambiguous.
In Encountering the Book of Romans, concerning this passage, Douglas Moo writes:
Paul seems to have deliberately chosen a phrase that preserves a careful balance between his desire to awaken faith in non-Christians and to stimulate obedience in believers. His mission is to call Gentiles to a faith that carries with it the determination to obey the Lord, and to an obedience that is stimulated by fresh experiences of faith.
This is incredibly important because we live in a culture where half the Church wants to divorce faith from obedience and the other half seemingly only cares about enforcing obedience via politics at the sacrifice of really proclaiming the gospel among non-Christians. Some mainline denominations seem to pick the verses of the Bible they want to agree with, and other denominations seem to respond by using the Bible as a baseball bat to beat back the “opposition.” Considering Christian obedience as legalistic and considering obedience as more important than faith are equally damning.
Neither of these represent the gospel. These positions don’t line up with Paul’s understanding and proclamation of the gospel. Moo points out that “One cannot have true faith without obedience, nor can one truly obey without believing.”
Part of the hard work of fighting for joy is obeying Christ. Pursuing joy in Christ is not just confessing him as Lord, but obeying him as Lord.
That’s why I hate writing this. Because if we continue to elevate obedience above faith or try to divorce obedience from faith we’re not much better than a bunch of toddlers arguing with a Father with infinite wisdom and eternal knowledge. We aren’t any better than the “stiff-necked” Israel we read about in the Old Testament, who saw God’s wondrous works continuously and continued to doubt and challenge him and want it their way.
We have to do better. We have to mature in the faith. We have to fight for joy in Christ, continually asking God to make Christ more beautiful to us than that thing that we wish to disobey over. We have to daily ask God to help our unbelief.
We have to daily ask God to show us how to communicate that to a broken world and an all but fractured Americanized church.
When was the last time you were determined to obey God?