“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” – Romans 1:1-5
(NOTE: The following is an excerpt from my sermon “The Gospel of God” preached March 18, 2012)
These six, short verses introduce the book of Romans and are packed with rich truth. Since Paul has never visited the church in Rome he effectively introduces who he is (v. 1) and what he preaches (v. 2-5) to the believers in Rome.
This blog-piece will focus solely on one aspect of “what he preaches,” namely, the phrase found at the end of verse 5, “the obedience that comes from faith.”
I want to point out two things about this phrase…
First, everyone is saved by faith alone in Christ alone.
There is a wicked, false doctrine that has flooded the world, namely, that one can earn their way into heaven by being a good person. That as long as your good outweighs your bad God will let you into heaven. That because you do lots of good things God promises heaven in your future. This is a teaching straight out of hell. The Bible teaches salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.
Romans 1:16-17 – “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’
Romans 3:21-22 – “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made know, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
Notice, one is not justified by anything one has done, can do, or ever will do. One is justified by faith in what Jesus did for us. Jesus life and death form one great act of obedience. One is saved by faith in Jesus obedience. All are unrighteous because of disobedience but all of us can be made righteous by faith in God’s obedient Son – Jesus Christ our Lord (v. 4). One is not saved by lots of good works; one is saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
Second, faith and obedience are distinct yet inseparable.
Faith and obedience can never be severed just as the sun and light and fire and heat cannot be severed. They go together. Already I have warned against the error of salvation by works but there is another opposite yet equal error of salvation without obedience.
I hear many people talk about believing in Jesus but then they live like the Devil. I tell you that is not saving faith. It is not possible to accept Jesus as your Savior without having surrendered to him as Lord. He has been declared to be the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. You can’t divide this person. He is indivisible. One will have all of him or none of him. Saving faith makes one obedience to the Lord Jesus. It doesn’t mean you will live a perfect life – you will struggle – you will still sin – but you will sorrow over it, repent from it, and press on in obedience. Faith and obedience run side by side. They are two sides of the same coin. Paul says he travels the world calling all people to the obedience that comes from faith (v. 5). He doesn’t just preach “believe” – mere knowledge of the facts – nor does he just preach “obey.” He preaches the obedience of faith. They cannot be severed. Where one is lacking, the other will not be found either. Real faith will always lead to real obedience; real obedience comes from faith. True faith always expresses itself in obedience, and genuine obedience always stems from a true and living faith.
This is the resounding testimony of Scripture:
Acts 26:20 – “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”
Ephesians 2:8-10 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Titus 1:16 – “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”
Hebrews 11:8 – “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”
James 2:17 – “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
Think of it this way – faith and obedience are like the two parts of salt: Salt is composed of two poisons, sodium and chlorine. If you should take either of the two poisons, you would die. But if you combine them properly, you have sodium chloride, and that is common table salt, without which there is no flavor for food (illustration from Dr. Barnhouse).
Faith and obedience are distinct yet inseparable. I believe that in our effort to guard against salvation by works, as so often happens, the pendulum swung to another equal and opposite error of salvation without obedience. The Bible maintains a balance and so must Christians as we preach the gospel – You are saved by faith alone in Christ alone and that faith bears the fruit of obedience. A working faith, a living faith, a genuine faith produces change in the person’s life. If one’s faith leaves them unchanged, one does not have saving, biblical faith.
Again, the gospel of God that Paul preached and which all Christians are to proclaim to all the nations is that of surrender to the truth about Jesus and surrendering one’s body as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is one’s reasonable, spiritual service. The gospel is a message of total unreserved commitment in doctrine and doing, truth and action, orthodoxy and orthopraxy to Jesus Christ our Lord. As Christopher Ash wrote, “The Obedience of faith means bowing the knee in trusting submission to Jesus the Lord, both at the start and all through the Christian life.”