The Obedience of Faith
Romans 1:5, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake,”
The problem with what passes for the preaching and teaching of the gospel in many quarters today is that there is no authority behind what is being said. The gospel is often presented as one of many choices that a person can make in their life in order to make their life better. Just like an exercise regime, a diet, or any of the other myriad of solutions that the world offers to people’s problems. If you will just choose Jesus, then all your problems will just go away. Jesus will make your life better. Your life is a mess and Jesus is here to help. But when we look at how the gospel was preached in the Bible, we see that it was a lot different.
The key words here in verse 5 that shed some light on the Biblical proclamation of the gospel are “the obedience of faith…” There are two ways that this phrase can be interpreted. First, it can be interpreted as the obedience which faith produces, in other words the result of faith. If the “faith” that one has does not lead one to be obedient to God and His Word, then it is not the faith which the Bible talks about when it calls us to faith in Jesus Christ. It may be intellectual assent, it may be emotionally charged, but it is not a faith that will save. The second way this could be interpreted is that believing in Jesus Christ is obedience. Faith then which is obedience.
This is very important because this has a direct influence on how we understand the gospel and how we seek to obey Christ’s command to evangelize. How is most of today’s evangelism conducted then? For the most part the gospel is presented to people as something that in our opinion is good for them and will make them happy, but they are perfectly free to choose to reject it. I cringe when I think of the times in the past when I said things like, “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman and so He would never force anyone to believe.” When our framework is that, sin becomes just a little bit easier to label as mere bad choices and faith only means beginning to see the issues clearly.
What is missing in our modern approach? It is the recognition that sin is at its root rebellion against God and His commands. God commands us to repent! D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Sin is not just that which I do that is wrong and which makes me feel miserable afterwards… not just that which spoils my life and makes me feel miserable and unhappy… not just that thing which gets me down and which I would like to overcome.” It is indeed all of that, but it is also much more. Primarily, sin is rebellion against God. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones continues, “Sin is refusal to listen to the voice of God. Sin is a turning of your back upon God and doing what you think.”
So, when we preach the gospel, we must preach it not just as an invitation to live life to its fullest or even to accept God’s invitation. The gospel must be preached as a command. This is why Paul wanted to emphasize his role as an apostle, to establish his authority to preach the gospel which is a command to repent and believe. We are commanded by God to turn from our sinful disobedience to God and instead to obey Him by believing in and following the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior.
This is exactly the way Paul preached the gospel, we tend to overlook this because of our desire to appeal to man. In Acts 17:30-31 Paul concludes his sermon to the people of Athens with this: “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” In God’s name, Paul commands the Greeks to repent of their sin and turn to Jesus.
It’s the same in Romans 6:17, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.” In Romans 10:3 he says, “For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” In verse 16 it says, “However, they did not all heed the good news…” This concept then appears at the very end of the letter in Romans 16:25-27, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.”
The weakness of the preaching in the church and world today can be traced to a lack of understanding on this point. When we fail to present the gospel as a command to be obeyed we in turn minimize sin, trivialize discipleship, rob God the glory due Him, and we deceive some into thinking that all is well with their souls when the reality is that they are without Christ, without hope and they are perishing.