Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 3 2013 - Romans 16:3-24 – The obedience of faith

It is easy to create a caricature of Pauline theology which sets faith and obedience as polar opposites, as if the one is about grace and the other all about works. Yet Paul begins and ends his letter to the Romans with a striking phrase; he speaks of the obedience of faith. The ministry given him by God was to promote the obedience of faith among the Gentiles (Romans 1:5; 16:26).

The very peculiarity of this phrase has led to a variety of translations. What should, however, be clear is that for Paul faith and obedience were inseparable; both are aspects of submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. The disobedient Christian, as we know all too well, is not an impossibility, but it is a moral incongruity. The gospel is the power of God for salvation; the grace that saves is grace that transforms. To believe and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord requires our glad submission to his government of our lives. To acknowledge that he died for our sins requires that we too die to sin. To place our faith and hope in his triumphant resurrection from the dead means that we must seek now to live the resurrection life. If by faith we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, who assures us that we are children of God, we must live and walk by the Spirit. The Spirit who brings us life is the Spirit who makes us like Christ.

Christian faith is far more than assent to a set of doctrines; it’s about a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Faith and faithfulness are inseparable. To pIay off faith against obedience is a distortion of Paul’s teaching – and that of the whole of Scripture. Paul follows Jesus in asserting that you tell the nature of a tree by its fruit (see, for instance, Galatians 6:7-8).

But the life of discipleship is not one which we are called to live on our own. We follow Christ together, teaching, encouraging and even rebuking one another in order that we might please God in all we say and do. Paul’s long list of greetings surely mentioned only a few from the fellowship of the Christians at Rome. They remind us of how much he valued each of those to whom he wrote and how much they were to value one another. That’s why Paul also tells the Christians in Rome to, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (16:17). They are to be careful to avoid those who would lead them away from obedience to Christ.

It’s good to apply these things to ourselves and to think about the influence we have upon others. By our conversations, do we encourage others in following Christ or are there times when we put obstacles in their path? Are there times when, intentionally or inadvertently, we turn people aside from the teaching of Christ and the things they have learned from Scripture?

But our greatest encouragement comes from the knowledge that the health of the church is not simply in human hands. Paul concludes his letter with the words, “Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ … to the only wise God be glory for ever through Jesus Christ! Amen” (16:25,27). The triune God is at work building his church, creating a people characterised by the obedience of faith.

Lord, may my life be marked by the obedience of faith. Help me, by your Spirit, and in union with Christ, to die to everything that displeases you and to live the resurrection life more fully day by day. Help me to encourage others in obedience to Christ and may nothing I say or do turn others away from following him.

Peter Misselbrook