Author: Ron Graham
Faith and Obedience
—A study in Romans
Paul teaches that all who are justified and reconciled to God, have obtained this blessing by faith and by reliance upon God’s grace (Romans 4:16, 5:1-2).
In this lesson we will relate this fundamental teaching of Paul to what he believes and teaches concerning obedience and works of righteousness.
1 “The Obedience of Faith”
Paul begins and ends his letter to the Romans with a statement of his mission. It is "to bring about obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5, Romans l6:26).
Paul congratulates the Roman Christians that they "obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine" that he preached to them (Romans 6:7). This makes it clear that Paul does not advocate “faith alone” (a term that Paul nowhere uses). He advocates an obedient faith.
Of course Paul does not mean that obedience merits justification because if it did, then justification would not be by grace through faith as a gift, but would be the due wages owed to us (Romans 4:4).
Paul says one "does not work, but believes..." (Romans 4:4-5). He means simply that one does not try to earn one's way into heaven by one's works of obedience. If one could do that, why would one need a Redeemer?
Therefore a person should obey God in faith and thereby receive redemption and justification as a gift from God. Paul emphasises that if one's obedience is not of faith, one will not be justified by that obedience.
However Paul would also be the first to say that if one's faith is not obedient, one will not be justified by that faith. Paul has no problem at all in making obedience essential to justification: "You are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in justification" (Romans 6:16).
When Paul speaks of faith "apart from works" being reckoned as righteousness (Romans 4:6), he obviously does not mean faith devoid of obedience. Rather, he means faith as something else besides works, and working with works (cf James 2:21-24).
If we were to misunderstand Paul, and think he was proposing a faith without obedience as the remedy for sin, then we would realise our error when we came to those passages we mentioned earlier, where Paul speaks of the "obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5, Romans l6:26).
2 The Faith of Abraham
Justification and reconciliation by grace through faith, was a system in force in the Patriarchal Age. The Patriarch Abraham found that his faith yielded him the blessing of forgiveness of sins (Romans 4:3-8).
Paul spends a whole chapter in Romans using Abraham as the paradigm or pattern of justification by faith. Paul shows us that justification by faith was not a privilege for Abraham only, or some special dispensation for him. It was for all peoples of every epoch, for there is no distinction (Romans 3:22-25).
It has always been true that "the just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17, Habakkuk 2:4). However, when we look into this example of Abraham's faith and blessing we find God saying to Abraham, "In your seed all the nations of earth shall be blessed, because you obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:17-18).
So clearly three things are true:
(1) Abraham was justified by faith.
"Abraham believed (had faith in) God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:3, Genesis 15:6).
(2) Abraham was justified by obedience.
God said to him, "In your seed (descendant) all nations of the earth will be blessed because you obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:17-18).
Now Abraham relied for his justification upon that promised seed which is Christ (Galatians 3:16). Abraham received that promise not by faith alone but by faith and obedience as God himself declared, "...because you obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:17-18).
(3) We are justified like Abraham.
Those who "follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham" (Romans 4:12) will be justified like Abraham through a faith like Abraham's — "justified as a gift by God’s grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:23-24).
If we follow in the steps of Abraham, we will receive Christ as he received Christ, because our faith will be an obedient faith like his. As God said to him, so it will be for us: "...because you obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:17-18, cf Galatians 3:6-9, Galatians 3:26-29).
3 The Worth of Works
The works of righteousness that we do by faith are greatly valued by God. Paul makes this clear to us when he says...
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God —this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:1-2 NIV).
We know from this that when we offer ourselves as a sacrifice to God he is pleased. He does not count our works as a sacrifice for sins, of course, since Christ died for our sins and his body was the sacrifice for our sins. Nevertheless God regards the devotion of our bodies to the performance of his will as a sacrifice pleasing to him.
Faith would be worthless without such obedience. God sees no value at all in a faith devoid of works, any more than he sees value in works devoid of faith. That's why, as we saw at the outset of our lesson, Paul was trying so hard to "bring about obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5, Romans l6:26).