The Obedience of Faith

Romans 1:1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures,
3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh,
4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake,
6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.

There tends to be some confusion as to what Paul meant by the phrase, “the obedience of faith.” While preaching on the above passage, my pastor, who is not a Federal Visionist by any stretch, explained the idea of “the obedience of faith” in terms of living the sanctified life and our growing in Christ’s likeness and holiness. While at first plausible, it struck me a little odd to think that Paul was concerned with how we might progress in our sanctification, particularly in a letter which is so focused on the idea of justification by belief alone. So I suggested to my pastor that this isn’t the only way to understand this phrase. I suggested that it could have to do with the simple act of believing the gospel and that seems to be implied by both the immediate context and in light of Paul’s extended argument that follows. My pastor agreed and said that the commentaries he read in preparation for his sermon came down on either side.

Normally differences in interpretation might make for interesting discussions in the narthex after a Sunday morning sermon and at least it lets the pastor know some of us are actually paying attention.  However, the import of the phrase “the obedience of faith” has been brought into high relief thanks to the heresies of the Federal Vision and the so-called New Perspectives on Paul. For example, Don Garlington in a piece, The New Perspective on Paul: An appraisal Two Decades On, writes:

In simplest terms, this is the Already and the Not Yet of biblical redemption. From this eschatological perspective, it is by virtue of the twofold gift of Christ and the Spirit that individuals come to faith and then render to King Jesus “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26). In Mosaic language, this is none other than the mandate of Lev 18:5 and Deut 4:1, 10, 40; 5:29-33; 6:1-2, 18, 24; 7:12-13 that Israel “do the law” and “live” as a consequence. As such, the obedience expected of the church is none other than that demanded of Israel. If “doing the law” was the precondition of the Israelite’s enjoyment of life in the land, then no less is expected of the Christian believer, whose obedience is directed toward the Christ of the gospel (John 14:15; 15:1-11; Jas 2:18-26; Rom 2:6-11).

Traditionally, Protestant theology has had grave reservations about connecting works of any sort with the ultimate justification/vindication of the believer.

Clearly men like Garlington have no reservations at all about equating “the obedience of faith” with “doing the law,” but the question is can the two ideas be equated? Obviously, Garlington thinks they can as does former PCA pastor Rich Lusk (who is now a pastor in the apostate CREC). Lusk writes:

Discipleship is not mere morality; it is a matter of what the apostle Paul calls the “obedience of faith” (or “faith’s obedience”; Rom. 1:5, 16:26). Faith and obedience are not two separate ways of relating to God, as though we had faith for justification and works for sanctification. Rather, faith-filled obedience is the holistic, full-orbed response to God’s grace that the gospel calls for and calls forth, by God’s Spirit. The obedience of faith is nothing less than eschatological life – the life of the new age, the life of the world to come, already experienced in some measure by virtue of our union with the resurrected and glorified Christ. The church, as a community of disciples, living under the sign of the cross and in the power of Christ’s Spirit, is a signpost pointing ahead and above to the world to come. The church, in short, is a colony of heaven on earth, living the life of the future in the present (Phil. 3:20-21). Most of our talk about the Christian life (and the church!) is far too mundane; we must envision grasping once again Paul’s eschatological consciousness that declares to the church body, “The new age has come! You are a new creation! Live accordingly!”

Notice for Lusk the obedience of faith is really the union or combination of faith and works. He rejects the idea that faith alone is the basis of our justification on the one hand and works for our sanctification on the other, but rather justification and sanctification are joined in Lusk’s “eschatological consciousness” which he attributes to Paul. In Lusk’s New Age new speak the message of the gospel is changed from a call to believe to “live accordingly.”

Not surprisingly this is a radical departure from justification and sanctification being logically distinct categories. In an entry from Wikipedia on Calvinism I can across this explanation of sovereign grace which captures the meaning of the obedience of faith in contrast with the one provided by Lusk and Garlington above:

Calvinism stresses the complete ruin of man’s ethical nature against a backdrop of the sovereign grace of God in salvation. It teaches that fallen humanity is morally and spiritually unable to follow God or escape their condemnation before him and that only by divine intervention in which God must change their unwilling hearts can people be turned from rebellion to willing obedience.

In this view, all people are entirely at the mercy of God, who would be just in condemning all people for their sins but who has chosen to be merciful to some. One person is saved while another is condemned, not because of a foreseen willingness, faith, or any other virtue in the first person, but because God sovereignly chose to have mercy on him. Although the person must believe the gospel and respond to be saved, this obedience of faith is God’s gift, and thus God completely and sovereignly accomplishes the salvation of sinners.

Which brings us to Calvin who writes concerning Paul’s use of the obedience of faith in his introduction to Romans above:

. . . we have received a command to preach the gospel among all nations, and this gospel they obey by faith. By stating the design of his calling, he again reminds the Romans of his office, as though he said, “It is indeed my duty to discharge the office committed to me, which is to preach the word; and it is your duty to hear the word and willingly to obey it; you will otherwise make void the vocation which the Lord has bestowed on me.

We hence learn, that they perversely resist the authority of God and upset the whole of what he has ordained, who irreverently and contemptuously reject the preaching of the gospel; the design of which is to constrain us to obey God. We must also notice here what faith is; the name of obedience is given to it, and for this reason — because the Lord calls us by his gospel; we respond to his call by faith; as on the other hand, the chief act of disobedience to God is unbelief, I prefer rendering the sentence, “For the obedience of faith,” rather than, “In order that they may obey the faith;” for the last is not strictly correct, except taken figuratively, though it be found once in the Acts 6:7. Faith is properly that by which we obey the gospel.

For Calvin the “obedience of faith” does not mean “doing the law” or to “live accordingly,” even with our “eschatological consciousness” at the helm, but rather simply believing the gospel. After all, isn’t this the command Jesus gave his listeners and to us; “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The obedience of faith therefore is to do as we are commanded and that is to believe the gospel.

Explore posts in the same categories: Heresies, Theology

7 Comments on “The Obedience of Faith”

  1. qeqesha Says:

    Michael Horton, the pseudo-Reformed kingpin, visited South Africa some years back and I listened to him and heard him use the phrase “Yet and Not as Yet”. We are saved and not yet saved! How can something be and not be at the same time in the same way?
    This is of course adding their favourite spice, paradox, to the otherwise bland clarity of the scriptures!

    When the Jews, the original FV Legalists and the New Perspective on Moses, asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?”. Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe in him whom he hath sent!”

    But of course men of perverse minds do not understand English!


  2. magma2 Says:

    Hi Denson, sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. What do you make of this from Lane Keister:

    “Folks, we need to be very careful about the word “salvation.” It has always referred to two distinct ideas. Salvation narrowly considered is the initial time-point of faith, when God transfers a person from death to life. Works are in no way involved any more than a baby gives birth to itself. Ask any mother! Salvation, however, is also used in a more broad sense of the entire Christian life from beginning to ending. Works are involved here in sanctification. We *must* keep these two definitions of salvation distinct . . . Since works are involved in the larger definition of salvation, they are involved in “salvation,” which must then include justification. It doesn’t work that way. Justification results in good works. Lusk has badly garbled this, in my opinion.”

    FWIW I don’t have a problem with this. The problem with the FV is that they confuse and conflate the two senses of the word. I guess what you’re getting at is can the word saved be understood and used in different senses? Do you think Paul has salvation in this broader sense in mind when he asks in Romans 7, “Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”

  3. qeqesha Says:

    Hi Saun,
    I agree, Salvation can be used in those two senses. For that reason the term is not specific enough to clarify what is at issue! We should employ more specific terms!
    The terms that bring out the issues poignantly are justification, sanctification, faith, works, conditionality, law, grace, righteousness etc etc When using these terms the errors of FV become glaringly obvious.
    For example: (1)In Romans 3 Paul concludes with vs 28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith WITHOUT the deeds of the law”. Again in Romans 4:5 “But to him that worketh NOT, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness”
    It is evident that FAITH in its definition excludes works according to Paul. Faith is WITHOUT the deeds of the law. Faith worketh NOT! Faith does nothing!
    (2)In Galatians 3 vs 11 -“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident. The just shall live by faith. … And the law is NOT of faith…”
    The faith of justification excludes any WORK/DEEDS/LAW etc etc.
    Justification is by faith alone … Sola fide!

    BUT those that ARE already justified have been called to sanctification! Romans 6: “..Shall we(who have been justified) continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein? ….. like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life” etc etc James reiterates the point Paul is making here!
    In Romans 7: Paul is simply reiterating that justification by faith in Christ delivers us from the damnation/power of experiential sin(in the body). If I am justified, then sin has no power to condemn me! The wretchedness of falling into sin daily through the flesh, cannot damn me. The blood of Jesus cleanses me from all sin!

    The FV men get confused by the strong warnings against sin to those professing faith in Christ. They wrongly conclude that salvation must therefore be conditional, we must be faithful, fullfil the covenant, etc etc before we can be justified. But they are reading scripture backward. One starts with passages that are clear such as the ones I quoted above and then nuance the obscure ones to harmonise with the clearer ones.


  4. […] So, in order to keep the ball rolling of relevant anti-Christian quotes I shared this other gem previously cited on this blog from Lusk: Discipleship is not mere morality; it is a matter of what the apostle Paul […]

  5. […] no matter how hard he tries. As I see it, the solution to this puzzle comes down to what is meant by the obedience of faith and how it might or might not relate to the ongoing obedience which Federal Visionists require to […]

  6. Have you looked at Douglas Moo’s mutually interpretive view (i.e. an amalgamation of the subjunctive and appositional views). Back in 2005 I was doing research on this very verse and I concluded that Moo’s view captures the thrust of the passage best. In essence, faith and obedience are inseparable terms.

    In fact its the whole idea from which I based the title of my blog: Cascading Faith. Therefore, I translated this verse as Paul’s missionary thrust; his goal: to bring about obedience which is necessitated by—but no less an inherent cascade of—faith, to all nations for His name.

    BTW, great topic. If you don’t mind I’ll through you up on my blog roll.

  7. Sean Gerety Says:

    I came across an interesting short rejoinder to Moo by Bernie Gillespie:

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