The Obedience Of Faith

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?

4 responses to “The Obedience Of Faith

  1. David F Swarbrick

    I really appreciate this post. There’s a lot of genuine authentic value here. I appreciate the balanced (eccl 7:18) View that we are not called to elevate obedient above Faith but we’re not called to divorce it from Faith either.

    I just noticed Romans 9 30-33 recently. I can’t recall ever consciously recognizing how profound it is. There’s nothing wrong with the law it’s just that they misuse the law by pursuing it without faith. I’m familiar with where Jesus affirms the law but this was helpful in reconciling Jesus to Paul.

    I also laughed out loud at that first paragraph and I think about this more as I get older.

  2. David F Swarbrick

    What is your take on Psalm 19 7 through 11?

    • Most Christians these days, and I was certainly one of them for a while, view the law as a bad thing because it was 1) insufficient to save in the way that Christ did, and 2) there is such a focus on legalism and man-made traditions that those things seem to outweigh the law as given by God when it comes to how we think and teach. We view the law as something given before redemption. In reality, the law was given to the Israelites after their redemption from Egypt. The law answers the question of “How can God be among his people without all of them dying instantly due to their sin?” The law not only contained rules, but also ways to confess and atone and restore the relationship with God and his people.

      Yes, as Paul points out later in Romans, the law was insufficient to save and actually made us accountable for our sin and left us condemned accordingly. That is where Christ fills the gap permanently by being the only atonement we will ever need. Yet, we can still delight in the law of God because it shows us specific ways we can walk in right relationship with God, though we are free from the repetitive sacrificial system.

  3. David F Swarbrick

    When I read that Jesus says if you love me you will obey me I break down the logic and say if I focus on loving God than obedience will overflow. I don’t think that our faith is really as strong as we think it is or in other words I don’t think that faith can really be divorced from obedience. Hahaha

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