Author: Ron Graham


God Be Thanked
—The power of faith to save the slave.

When Paul uses the expression "From faith to faith" (Romans 1:17) he is thinking not just of the development of faith personally and historically, but also of faith's power to save.

1 The Liberation Message

Paul said to the Christians in Rome:- "I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed, from faith to faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:15-17) .

Note how the expression "from faith to faith" is linked to the idea of "salvation". In his letter to the Romans, Paul is very concerned about this matter of salvation. In simple terms Paul teaches us that we are saved from the wrath of God by the loving grace of God which rescues us from our enslavement to sin. So the expression "from faith to faith" carries with it the idea that the faith of one enslaved develops into the faith of one who is saved.

In this lesson, and the next, we are going to examine just how the transition is made from one state to the other, how one is liberated from enslavement to sin and death, and brought into the household of Jesus where there is righteousness, new life, and liberty.

Romans 6, a key chapter

Romans 6 is a key chapter on the development of faith. The chapter may be divided into two halves: The first half (verses 1-11) , is about being buried with Christ, and rising to walk in new life, as one who is born again. Paul also introduces another idea in verses 8-7 which he later develops in the second half of the chapter (verses 12-23) , about being set free from slavery to sin and becoming instead the slaves of the righteousness of God.

Our study now concentrates on Romans 6:17-18.

2 A Liberation Statement

¶“17 But thanks be to God that you, although you were slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18)

"God be thanked" The Greek way of saying "God be thanked" is, "Grace be to God". We must, like Paul acknowledge that our salvation is possible because of God's grace, and without his grace we could not be justified in his sight. But this does not mean that our salvation is "all of God and none of self" in the sense that there is no contribution that we can make. On the contrary, in making the transition from a condemned sinner to a person born again, there is action required on our part. Paul goes on next to say,

"You were slaves of sin" Paul is not thanking God that they were slaves of sin, but rather that in spite of this, "Having been set free from sin, you became the slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:17-18). So we see that a transition has taken place, from being slaves of sin to being slaves of right. And this is the same transition (or "conversion" as we call it) that he describes in the first half of Romans 6, where the old person is crucified with Christ and buried with Christ, and a new person is born and raised to walk in new life. We are interested to know how this transition takes place --how we progress from condemnation and death as slaves of sin, to justification and life as slaves of right. The next thing Paul says in verse 17 will answer that question.

"But you obeyed from the heart" The second and fourth steps are matters of the heart. Without faith and repentance in the heart, any work would be ineffectual. That is why Paul says that a man is justified (brought into a state of righteousness) "by faith apart from works" (Romans 3:28) . There is no use obeying the works of God's law unless you have, besides those actions, a heartfelt faith in Christ, and a heartfelt repentance from sin. That is just as true of the gospel as it was of the law of Moses. In that regard, nothing has changed. Next Paul states what was obeyed from the heart:

"That form of doctrine"This form (or pattern) of doctrine is, of course, the gospel of Romans 1:16-17. This gospel lays down certain actions which are required to make the transition or conversion from slavery in sin to salvation in Christ. These actions are essential alongside what is in the heart. They are a form or pattern to be obeyed, and you will see them included in the six steps below.

The faith in our heart (step 2) is matched by the action (step 3) of confession with the mouth. The faith in the heart is not sufficient alone. It must be accompanied by the work, by the verbal confession (Romans 10:9) , as was required of the Ethiopian (Acts 8:35-38) .

The repentance in our heart (step 4) is matched by the action (step 5) of baptism, also illustrated by the Ethiopian's conversion. Baptism symbolises the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Repentance is the desire and the decision to be crucified and buried with Christ. Baptism brings the decision into effect (Romans 6:3-4) .

So when Paul says, "You obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine" he has in mind the four middle steps in the six. Faith and repentance in the heart are accompanied by acts of obedience namely confession and baptism. The remaining steps, the first and last on the list, are encompassed in Paul's next words:

"To which you were delivered" The word "delivered" here has the meaning of entrusted, committed, or given over. People were put, as it were, into the hands of the gospel which is God's power for their salvation. They were taught what the gospel required them to do. It was up to them to conform heart and body to that form of doctrine.

When Paul preached the word of faith (another term for the gospel) he delivered people to the form of doctrine which had the power to justify them if they conformed to it.

3 The Liberation Steps

An important part of Paul’s message of liberation was the steps that the one being liberated must take. The chart below presents these steps for you to consider.

Steps to Salvation

—The words of Jesus in the gospels, and Paul’s agreement in Romans, about what people should do to receive grace. Touch any yellow heading to go to a lesson on the subject.

1. Hearing Christ’s word

¶“7So then, everyone who hears these words of mine, and does them, will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24).

¶“17Faith comes from hearing, and hearing [comes] by the word of Christ [being preached]” (Romans 10:17).

2. Believing —having faith

¶“16For God so loved the world, that he gave his one unique Son —so that whoever believes on him should not perish, but instead have eternal life” (John 3:16 ).

¶“16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'” (Romans 1:16-17).

3. Repentance from sin

¶“31And Jesus answered them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick need one. 32I came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.'” (Luke 5:31-32).

¶“4Do you take for granted the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5But, because of your hard and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself when the day of wrath comes, and God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:4-5).

4. Confessing Christ

¶“32Whoever acknowledges [or confesses] me in the presence of other people, I will also acknowledge in the presence of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).

¶“8What does scripture say? 'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart'. That refers to the very word of faith that we preach: 9 if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10For with your heart you believe to be made righteous, and with your mouth you confess to be saved.” (Romans 10:8-10).

5. Being baptised into Christ’s death

¶“15Jesus then said to his disciples, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16Anyone who believes and is immersed shall be saved. Anyone who does not so believe will be condemned'” (Mark 16:15-16).

¶“3Aren't you aware that all of us who were immersed into Christ Jesus were immersed into his death? 4Thus we were buried with him by immersion into death. And consequently, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too are able to walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4).

6. Ongoing commitment

¶“61Another said to Jesus, 'I will follow you, Lord —but first let me go back to bid my family goodbye.' 62Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'” (Luke 9:61-62).

¶“11Do not slacken in your zeal. Rather, be fervent in spirit as you serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:11-12).