Joining obedience and faith

Some modern Bibles render part of Romans 1:5 as “believe and obey” thus making faith and obedience two separate entities. This would seem to reflect more of the editors’ theological outlook than Paul’s mindset. Yet, we should not be surprised. How many people separate faith from obedient actions?

Paul joined faith and obedience into one unified idea. Yet, do we expect this?

As Paul launched into writing the letter of Romans, he showcased his missionary objective. His goal involved bringing about “the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name” (Romans 1:5).

Let’s look closer at this phrase.  In the original language “of faith” is in the genitive case. What does this mean? The genitive case enables one noun or pronoun to describe another substantive by limiting what the other can mean.

For example if someone were to say “Sally saw an object” the object could be anything, right? However, if someone were to say, “Sally saw an object of art” now the type of object she saw is limited. Sally saw a piece of art, not a pen, a car or any other object.

Returning to Paul’s missionary objective, his goal involved fostering obedience.  However, not just any type of obedience. Paul limited and described the type of obedience he sought to encourage, namely the obedience of faith.

As Paul closed his letter, he used this expression “obedience of faith” once more. This time it identified the gospel’s objective. The gospel’s purpose involves leading people to the obedience of faith (Romans 16:26). For a second time, Paul identified a certain kind of obedience, an obedience comprised of faith. Paul did not treat faith and obedience as two separate entities, rather faith obeys.

What does this obedient faith look like?

Before considering what Paul wrote in Romans regarding the gospel leading people to respond with the obedience of faith, let’s remember the gospel’s impact upon Christian living. Disciples are to obey everything Jesus, who has all authority, has taught (Matthew 28:18-20). In fact, the gospel instructs people to reject sinful ways in order to obediently conform how they live to the proclamation (Galatians 2:14; Mark 8:35; Acts 14:15).

Such obedience in lifestyle is not rendered to merit entering salvation. Rather as those already saved, disciples obediently live out their faith aware of how the gospel reshaped their lives (James 3:1; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 2:12,20; 3:1,3; Philippians 1:27; 2:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3). Such works of faith should characterize the Christian life.

Let’s return to the letter of Romans. Since Paul’s readers were members of the ancient church, they knew how they had relied upon Christ. Paul had no reason to delineate for them the details how the gospel had instructed them to trust in Christ. Yet we ask, how had they exemplified an obedience of faith? Can Romans reveal more regarding this?

In Romans 6:17-18 Paul described an obedience from one’s heart that liberates a person from the bondage of sin! This obedience involves obeying a taught pattern (tupos) or type.

We might be familiar with the language of type and antitype where one thing reflects another. One example is making clothes where a piece of cloth is cut to conform to the shape of a paper pattern. What teaching within the gospel had provided a pattern or type that could be obeyed from the heart freeing someone from enslavement to sin?

Paul seems to answer our question. Earlier in Romans 6, Paul described an action liberating us from an old life of sin. In fact, Paul argued that in baptism we die to sin and are crucified with Christ thus enabling us to leave an old sinful life behind (Romans 6:2-11). This corresponds  with Romans 6:17-18 and its statement about an obedience setting us free from sin.

This association of baptism with Romans 6:17-18 is further strengthened. Why? Water baptism with its burial and raising up imitates the pattern of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection! (Romans 6:2-11).

Therefore having described baptism as paralleling and joining us to Christ’s death, burial and resurrection as well as freeing us from sin’s domination, Paul then penned, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness” (Romans 6:17). Faith acts.

However, baptism is not the only action Paul described in Romans as constituting part of trusting in Christ. Remember Romans 10:10?

By using Deuteronomy 30:14, Paul showed why Israel had not arrived at faith. Faith in Christ involves both one’s heart and one’s lips.  Faith requires the doing of confessing Christ. Unfortunately, Israel neither believed in Christ nor was she willing to confess him. Therefore she had not obtained faith.

The gospel Paul proclaimed was aimed at leading the Gentiles to the obedience of faith. For Paul obedience and faith were joined together, not two separate entities.

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