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Obedience to the Faith
By David A. DePra
By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: (Rom 1:5)
Obedience is the OUTCOME of being rightly related to God by faith. Obedience is NOT the means by which we become rightly related. We see this in Paul’s little phrase, "obedience to the faith."
I become rightly related to God by faith only through the finished work of Christ. Through repentance, I place my faith in Christ, and then am born again. This is conversion. Conversion is not a matter of adopting a new life-style, religion, mode of conduct, or belief system. Conversion is a relinquishment of self-ownership – a repenting of it AS SIN – and the outcome is a surrender to Jesus. Obedience is obviously going to follow.
True repentance ALWAYS results in a desire to obey God – despite our weakness and failures. We will nevertheless, "want to," obey. Why? Because if you are truly converted to Christ, you repented of NOT wanting to obey God. The outcome of such a repentance could hardly be that we still don’t care to obey God. No. We will WANT to obey Him.
The gospel states, "repent and believe." I repent of NOT believing – of NOT living for God – and if I do repent of that, I WILL BELIEVE – I will live for God. Obedience is going to flow from this repentance and faith. It will be a process. But it will flow.
The description often given to describe conversion, "I gave my life to Christ," is exactly what is supposed to happen when I come to Christ. I SURRENDER TO HIM. If I still own myself after surrendering to Christ, then I haven’t surrendered to Him, have I?
Obedience to God – which is really a choice to obey the life of Christ that is in me – the choice to let Christ live through me, is always the outcome of real faith. The misunderstanding of this simple principle accounts for much of the dead religion in the church today.
Often we forget that Christianity is a NEW BIRTH. It is not a code of conduct we adopt. This new birth requires a relinquishment of the old life through repentance and the coming to the Cross. But the new birth is not merely a LEGAL transaction. No. If I am born again, I am actually a new creation in Christ. And it is the nature of a new creation in Christ – despite the struggles and trials – to want to obey God.
Little children, let no man deceive you: he that does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that commits sin is of the devil; for the devil sins from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loves not his brother. (1 John 3:7-10)
John obviously cannot be saying that anyone who SINS cannot be born again, but is of the Devil, for he has already stated in his epistle something contrary to such a thought:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 1:8-2:2)
John is talking, not about SINS, but about THE SIN. The SIN John is saying that a born again believer will not commit is that of unbelief – the sin of not wanting to obey God -- the sin of self-ownership. John is able to say that a believer cannot commit this sin because if you are a believer, you got that way by REPENTING of that sin! You didn’t become born again unless you did repent of it! Therefore, despite our failures, and sins, and unbelief on other application issues in the Christian walk, a born again believer – by definition – cannot be living in the unbelief that characterizes spiritual death. He cannot, because He is alive in Christ.
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. (James 2:17)
You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (James 2:24)
It was mostly because of the two verses above that Martin Luther called the epistle of James, "an epistle of straw," and rejected it as a valid inspired book. Despite God’s use of Luther in the reformation, he was wrong about this. He misunderstood the sense in which James was writing.
James is not saying that REAL faith without works is dead. No. Real faith is always alive. Why? Because it IS real. There is no such thing as real faith which is dead faith. Thus, when James says that, "faith without works is dead," he is not talking about real faith. He is talking about fake faith – a faith which is academic only -- intellectual or emotional in nature.
James is stating that real faith always results in obedience – or to reverse the order of this statement -- obedience is always the outcome of real faith. James, knowing this, is simply saying that if obedience is NOT the outcome of my faith, then my faith isn’t a real faith. It is a dead faith. And a dead faith is never the real faith of the Bible.
It is quite possible to have merely an academic faith. Lots of people agree to the doctrine of faith, or to the necessity of faith, but don’t HAVE faith. They mistake ASSENT to the Truth for the reality of it in their lives. The point is, that real faith is a RELATIONSHIP word. It is not merely believing things to be true – although this is a essential starting point. Faith is surrender, trust, and reliance upon a PERSON. And if I have that relationship of faith with Jesus Christ, I am going to obey Him. My obedience will be the outcome of such a relationship of faith. Not sometimes, but all the time.
By works a man is justified, and not by faith only? This is what James said. (see above) How does this jive with the essential Christian doctrine of, "justification by faith alone." On the surface, as a solitary statement, it may not. But in reading the context, in becomes clear that James is simply getting at a fundamental fact: That works are to be merely an extension, or a living out, of our faith. Thus, our works ARE the faith we have being manifested. The two are as one – faith is dependence and devotion to Christ, and the obedience is the outcome of such a faith.
Faith without works is dead. Faith which results in works is a living faith. A simple Truth, yet so profound.
Living faith is a faith we LIVE BY – and that means obedience. It means that despite my failures, I at least WANT to obey God. I at least SEEK His will. Can we see FAITH behind this? Sure. And unless faith is behind my obedience, then it really isn’t obedience. It may, in fact, be legalism.
Legalism, or living, "under the law," is actually one of the themes of Paul’s epistles. Paul continually emphasized that it was possible to try to obey all kinds of rules and laws – even God’s law – but to have NO faith behind it. In effect, instead of obeying God as the OUTCOME of faith, people try to obey God as a substitute for faith. The irony is that they obey God, not because they believe, but because they don’t. This is legalism, or being, "under the law."
Once again, it is necessary to understand that our identity in Christ, and our relationship with Christ, is not brought into being, neither is it maintained as a reality, by obedience. No. We are related to Christ solely by faith in His finished work. No obedience can finish what is already finished, and no disobedience can unfinish it. Rather, it is precisely because our faith is based, and our identity is based, and our relationship is based, solely upon what Christ has done, that obedience will follow.
We understand this fully when we fail. To what do we appeal? Our ability to do better in the future? To our success in the past? No. If you have seen the Truth, you will appeal to nothing about yourself. We appeal to the finished work of Jesus – and only to Him.
One of the most amazing things about our relationship with Christ, is that the more we realize we are totally forgiven forever – and the more we rely upon HIS WORK as the basis for this – the more this increases our desire to obey Him. Grasping the reality that we are forever forgiven in Christ never results in license – for if I am walking in license I haven’t grasp His forgiveness. That is why I’m trashing it. I place no value upon it.
A dead faith results in both legalism and license. A living faith obeys God, but not because I must. I obey because I want to.
Once we see this, it becomes clear that faith is a desire, willingness, and readiness to obey God – even before any action is taken. Again: Faith is a relationship word. It means that I am dependent and devoted to Christ to the point where I will obey Him as I walk through life. But I don’t obey Him to get a relationship with Him. I obey Him because I already have one with Him. I love Him. I value Him. I belong to Him.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. (Rom 1:16-17)
The Greek reads, "the just shall live from OUT OF faith." This living from OUT OF FAITH is nothing more than a description of obedience, and a walk in the holiness of God – always relying upon Christ when we do fail. Obedience is the outcome of being rightly related to God by faith – faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. *
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