The Obedience of Faith
Read Romans 1:1-7
The first 6 verses of this opening chapter introduce Paul as the writer of this letter to the church in Rome. This is a group of followers of Christ that he hasn't visited before. Paul doesn't have a close relationship with them like he does with say, the Ephesians.
In the first verse, Paul identifies who his master is, what his role and purpose are.
His Master is Jesus Christ. He uses 'doulos' meaning slave. Some translations pick this up, however, the NIV uses servant. This isn't the word we derive deacon from Acts 6 which is 'diakonia' meaning service, it is meant to be far stronger in meaning. It mirrors how some Old Testament figures were recognised (see "Moses the servant of the Lord" in Joshua 14:7.
Paul introduced himself as an apostle. Now, this is unusual and powerful. While Paul is known to us as an apostle, the role of an apostle fell mainly on those that had been taught directly by Jesus in the intimate group of the 12 disciples. However, Paul had that direct encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul was clear about his role and that he was called directly by Jesus on that day. It did however mean that Paul had to emphasise his role as an apostle and we see this elsewhere in scripture.
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1)
To us, Paul was commissioned directly by Jesus to be an apostle to the Gentiles.
The purpose he was given, was the Gospel! The book of Romans, and in fact, Paul's whole life, demonstrated his purpose. The purpose that Jesus gave him. To live out the Gospel. The book covers topics such as justification, sanctification, salvation, Isreal and the law and how we are to live under God's grace, but all this can be summarised by "The Gospel"
Paul says that he has been "set apart for the gospel of God" and we see this following his conversion (as Saul on the road to Damascus), Acts 9 captures this remarkable event, but it is verse 15 of that chapter that we see Paul's purpose so articulately presented.
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. (Acts 9:15)
In verses 2-4 we see that the gospel is anchored in the Holy Scriptures, or as we now know them, the Old Testament. This confirms the confusion we have around the make-up of the church at this time. Is the church in Rome predominantly converted Jews or Gentiles? The answer is probably both groups are represented, recognizing the events of 45AD when Jews were expelled from Rome, changing the dynamic of Roman churches.
Paul doesn't focus too much on the person of Jesus in his epistle, however, we see some Christology here in these verses where Paul makes reference to Jesus being fully man, a descendant of David in His human nature (A very Jewish reference). And being fully God, son of God through the demonstration of the resurrection (not because of it). Paul is showing a progression here, that the flesh is past and the spirit is the future.
In verse 5 we begin to see, what will be, a key motif of this book. A term used to describe effortlessly something so important in the life of a Christian. What is a Christian? A follower of Jesus Christ. Paul sums this up beautifully in his phrase, "the obedience of faith".
"Faith" as the basis for "obedience". Commitment to Christ in faith leads to obedience in life! Paul will often substitute faith and obedience (see Romans 10:16 reads accepted in NIV, while other translations use obedience). Paul is setting the groundwork to a later point. What marks God's people is no longer deeds done in obedience to the law, but that obedience comes from faith. This phrase is repeated at the end of the letter in Romans 16:26.
but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith
It is not that Faith and Obedience are interchangeable, but rather they are two stages of discipleship. To first believe and then to commit! We can not obey without first believing. It is God's love for us seen in His grace towards us, that inwardly transforms us. We can't merge these two words, nor can we decouple and separate them. They are linked! If you separate them, you belittle one without the other. Our human nature usually minimises obedience. We are to become Christlike in our lifestyle, not just conversion, but the transformation of our lives. Obedience without faith is no obedience at all, likewise, faith without obedience is shallow and empty.
Paul then includes all Christians who are called to this idea, that we are all called to belong to Jesus Christ. That we are loved (Isaiah 5:1) and that we are His holy people (Exodus 19:6). Paul closes this introduction with his common greeting, Grace and peace. Grace being a familiar greeting in Greek letters, while peace is Shalom meaning wellbeing of the righteous and familiar to the Jews in the church.
Let our lives ring true with the phrase "The Obedience of Faith". Let us reflect on how well we commit to our faith and commit to Jesus Christ. Spend time this week in prayer and ask God how you can better live out your faith through obedience!