Paul wrote, “. . .we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake” (Rom. 1:5; cf. 16:26). What exactly is “obedient faith”?
First, it is the same thing as “saving faith” (justified by faith, Rom 5:1;
Heb 11:6ff), faith which is obedient, and just plain faith.
Second, it is the opposite of dead faith which is not active or obedient. “Even
so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. ” -Jas . 2:17 I have heard the “faith only” people explain away the James 2 text saying that the faith being described is the faith between man and man. They say that the faith between man and God is described in Romans 4, and is without works. Once again they create the idea of two faiths: one that is horizontal having works and one is vertical having no need of works. They create this false dichotomy because they divorce any mention of works from their message of salvation.
Third, it is faith that can be seen. Like love and hope which are seen, so Paul can speak of faith’s work. Paul said, “constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” -1 Th. 1:3 When the lame man was lowered through the tiles of the roof by his friends, it says Jesus saw their faith and healed the man. Obedient faith can be seen.
Fourth, “obedient faith” is Biblical belief. Jesus said that “whoever believes” will have eternal life. Later in the same chapter of John, he says, but he that does not obey shall not see life (Jn. 3:36; cf. Heb. 3:18,19 also shows this same connection relationship between believing and obeying). Interestingly, those who lump all “work” together as being “law-keeping”, have a difficult time with Jesus’ words: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” -Jn 6:29 I guess if they were to be totally consistent, they would have to deny even the necessity of belief. I know that some have been this “consistent”, as I mentioned in my last message, and they teach that salvation is given by God and then belief follows behind it.
Is “obedient faith” the same as or different from “law keeping”? Jesus Christ kept the Law that He was born and died under so that He might deliver us from it (Gal. 4:4,5). Spiritual freedom does not come through keeping the Law. Acts says, “through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). To the Jews who continued to demand that Christians keep the Law, Paul pointed out that God’s salvation can’t come through the Law. He says, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,” (Rom. 3:21). And eight verses later, he says “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the Law.” To the really thick-headed Jew, Paul continues his mission of showing our separation from the Law. In chapter seven, he shows that desiring to be justified by faith while also keeping the Law is analogous to being married to two people at once: it is like adultery. He writes, “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:4). The person who keeps preaching the Law fails to see that bearing fruit to God is impossible if you are still joining yourself to the old spouse (the Law). God has caused the death of the first spouse (the Law) so that the new marriage might be acceptable and fruit to God might be born.
Since we teach that obedience is essential to saving faith, isn’t that just another way of justifying “law keeping”? It is in light of the teachings on the Law–which I explained earlier–that we can’t justify being law keepers. The opposite of what we are trying to avoid is faith: living, active, vibrant, obedient, and working faith. The difference is as much about attitude as it is anything. If I worship on Sunday with the law-keeping mentality, then I am trying to pay the debt for my sin which is vain. But if I worship God in faith, the worship may look the same (praying, giving, singing, etc) because the outward act may be identical, but I do it because my faith is real. Here’s the question: is my faith in my works or is my faith in God. If my faith is in my works, then I am a law keeper. The end of this is futility and disappointment. But if my faith is in God, then sanctification is given freely by Him as a gift. God saves those who have the obedient faith, but not the “law keeper” is not saved because his faith is in works.
Understanding “obedience of faith” is not complicated. My opinion is that it is denominationalism with the “faith only” at one extreme and the justification by works at the other (e.g. purgatory is a place where remaining sin is purged apart from the Cross) that creates much of the confusion. Luther rightly rebelled against the one extreme position (e.g. the selling of indulgences to spring the dead from purgatory). But I believe he did the pendulum swing to the other extreme when he arrived at the “faith alone” position and wrote off the book of James as “an epistle of straw”. The truth is right in the middle with the “obedience of faith” that God finds pleasing.
When we are talking connecting with Someone in authority, John 14 and 15 has passages that apply to our discussion that love and obedience go together, which is very similar to saying that faith and obedience go together. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.” This is a very simple concept that seems to be a complete mystery to most of our denominational friends. After it goes through their prism of understanding, it comes to mean something like “if you love Jesus, you will be saved and then obedience will be a natural product of that love”, This interpretation divorces obedience from love as works are divorced to arrive at the “faith alone” doctrine. If we say that we love God but don’t obey Him, that is no kind of love God desires or deserves.
In closing, let us be careful that we communicate to the church and to our friends that obedience of faith is nothing like “law keeping”. When we really believe in Jesus Christ, we turn away from sin and openly confess that He is Lord. When we really believe we ask to be baptized and by faith we are raised, being born again, to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-5;Colossians 2:12; Acts 22:16).