Summary: Obedience and faith appear together in the Gospel and can make us uncomforatable,
The Obedience of Faith
I have especially called out this verse by itself in our study of Romans, as it is as important a theme in the book of Romans as Romans 1:17 which is justification by faith. This phrase is repeated in the doxology of chapter 16 at the end of Romans where the obedience of faith for all the nations is a direct commandment of God. So let is examine this “obedience of faith” a little more closely.
First of all, in the preceding verses, we are introduced to Paul’s call to the gospel of God. Then immediately before this verse read “Jesus Christ our Lord (Yahweh). We are introduced to the term “grace” in this verse. A study of Paul shows the importance of faith, grace, and gospel. But what about lordship and obedience? Paul mentions the Lordship of Christ throughout His writings as well as the idea of obedience. Here all five terms come together in the introduction of Romans.
Here we have obedience and faith coupled together. This phrase is attached to the beginning of the verse by the Greek preposition “eis.” This preposition translated into English as “into” or “unto” expresses the end or goal of what precedes. The purpose of grace and apostleship was to bring the nations to the obedience of faith. This is the purpose of the gospel itself. It is more than saving sinners. It starts there. Saving sinners is a means to this end, but it is not the end of the Gospel. The final end of the Gospel is a restored creation. This is made clear in Romans 8, when Paul mentions that creation itself groans to be restored. This restoration of creation involves heavily the restoration of God’s greatest creation, mankind. So the message of the gospel is not about us, but it includes us.
So a restored creation necessitates a restored humanity. The human aspect of the gospel is God’s plan to bring the human race back into harmony with Himself. So when we talk about salvation of faith, we are talking about God’s means of restoring humanity. This is bigger than just the restoration of Israel. All the nations are to come to this obedience of faith.
There are several grammatical possibilities of understanding the relation of obedience and faith. The Greek genitive case can be remarkably imprecise at times. One could see this obedience demonstrated in coming forward at an altar call to accept Jesus. This is the way it seems to be understood by many evangelists. The reasoning is that because we are saved by faith and not by works, then obedience to Jesus is desirable but not necessary to salvation other than the act of accepting Jesus as Savior. When one also asserts the doctrine of “once saved, always saved,” obedience becomes less important.
I would think that in the larger context of a restored creation which involves Jesus being the Lord of all clashes with the vision of everybody being their own lord where submitting to the will of the Lord is voluntary. This view sounds closer to the deal the serpent offered Adam and Eve than that of God. The appeals we often pronounce to “make Jesus your Lord” demonstrates this understanding. But if we “make Jesus Lord,” this implies that we can unmake Him as well. This was the views of the 5000 in John 6:15. They wanted to arrest Jesus and make Him king. The Bible, on the other hand, simply asserts the kingship of Jesus. He is King and Lord independent of what people think or say. The Gospel proclaims rather that we accept the fact that Jesus is Lord already. Repentance demands to submit to this reality. Whether we obey or not, whether we believe or not,, Jesus is Lord.
There are others who see this obedience as following the experience of salvation with that of sanctification. Sanctification is certainly biblical. The idea here is that we are entirely saved by grace through faith apart from works. But there is a second step where we proceed from this salvation by faith to conforming to Christian character. Here faith and salvation is seen as a gateway to a new legalism. How then are we to sanctify ourselves? Is it a matter of “Don’t smoke; don’t chew; don’t go with girls that do?” we can immediately sense a problem here because we want autonomy to define what sanctification is and how we get there. We must realize that even the Pharisees used the Scripture to inform their views of holiness, sanctification, and separation. And Jesus as well as Paul were caustic when dealing with them. In the very attempt to bring ourselves to this end, we end up being disobedient to the Gospel.
So is there any way out of this dilemma? Must we choose between antinomianism and legalism? Let us now go back to the idea of the restoration of creation and go forward in a new direction here. It is perfectly clear that in the restored creation, that Jesus is Lord over all by the appointment of the Father. Everything in the universe will be brought into harmony with the will of God. The harmony to be expressed is that which is demonstrated between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are, three; yet they are One. And in a restored humanity, we will be many persons, but only one body, the Body of Christ.