In yesterday’s post, “For the obedience of faith,” I pointed to that interesting phrase that is only found in 2 place in Scripture. Both occurrences of the phrase are found in Paul’s letter to the Romans – once at the very beginning and once at the very end: Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:26. (Think kind of “bracketing” or “iclusio” is very important in literary analysis, and could indicate a theme for the entire letter.)
But, what does the phrase “for the obedience of faith” mean?
Well, let’s start with the word “faith.” Often, this phrase is translated as “for the obedience of THE faith” while “the faith” stands in the place of a set of religious beliefs and practices. The word “faith” is often used in this way today. People talk about the Christian faith, or the Muslim faith, or the Jewish faith.
It seems that this use of the term “faith” would work well with the term obedience: i.e., “for the obedience of Christian beliefs and practices.”
The problem is, in the book of Romans, the many (almost 40) uses of the term “faith” all seem to point to a different meaning: “trust” (primarily, trust in God). Here are a few examples:
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. (Romans 1:8 ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Romans 3:21-22 ESV)
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness… (Romans 4:4-5 ESV)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 ESV)
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. (Romans 9:30-32 ESV)
But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23 ESV)
In the same way, if you were to study Paul’s use of “obedience/disobedience” and “obey/disobey” in the letter of Romans, you’ll find that word group is also extremely important in the letter. I’m not going to list many occurrences of “obedience,” but remember there is a very important section of the letter related specifically to obedience and disobedience:
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16 ESV)
So, it seems that with the phrase “for the obedience of faith,” Paul is talking about living a life of obedience to God that is based on trusting God. While he’s certainly talking about obeying God in many different ways, the first act of obedience is trust (faith). In fact, all other thoughts and actions of obeying God flow from our trust in (faith in) God.
Thus, referring back to Romans 1:5, Paul recognized that he had been given grace and had been sent “for the obedience of faith,” which refers to 1) his trusting (faith) in God which resulted in his obediently going from place to place to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ so that 2) others can respond obediently to God by trusting (faith in) him as well.