The Obedience of Faith
The apostle Paul spoke of "the obedience of faith." Most Christians have probably never heard this expression, much less know what it means, but it’s right in their Bible.
Paul wrote to the Romans, “Through whom 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)
Luke wrote in Acts, "The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith." (Act 6:7). This proves that in the early church, the faith was not just a set of beliefs to agree with, but rather the authority of Christ's Lordship to submit to, and His commandments to obey.
The word “obedience” comes from the Greek word – hupakoe - attentive hearkening, that is, (by implication) compliance or submission: - obedience, (make) obedient, obey (-ing). Comes from hup-akouo - to hear under (as a subordinate), that is, to listen attentively; by implication to heed or conform to a command or authority: - hearken, be obedient to, obey.
Paul said, “For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed,” (Rom 15:18)
That means true faith is always demonstrated by observable obedience. So you cannot understand Paul’s doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone without properly understanding his doctrine of "the obedience of faith."
“For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:19)
It’s through the obedience of the One, Jesus Christ, that you are made righteous. And it will always be through His obedience. But if you have been made righteous, you will demonstrate the obedience of faith. It will result in your obedience both by word and deed.
“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Rom 6:16)
Some people have a problem with submission or surrender to God. They feel that in doing so, they lose their individual freedom. But the truth is that you are either a slave to sin, resulting in death, or a slave of obedience, resulting in righteousness. So your eternal destiny is determined by whether you remain a slave of sin or become a slave of obedience to Christ.
“For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” (Rom 16:19)
The obedience of the Roman disciples of Christ was reported to all. The Church throughout the world was hearing reports of their obedience. Likewise, when you have true faith in Christ, the report of your obedience will reach to many people.
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 16:25-27)
Paul said that the gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ is a mystery that has now been revealed and which leads to the obedience of faith. If you are not becoming more obedient, then you don’t have saving faith in Christ. You can’t have obedience to Him without faith. And you can’t have true faith in Christ without obedience to Him.
This is what Paul preached everywhere. He said he, "kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance." (Act 26:20)
He told the King that he declared to people wherever he went that they should repent and turn to God, habitually proving their repentance by their deeds. It's not enough to repent. You must prove or demonstrate your repentance by your works, repeatedly performing obedient acts.
“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2Co 10:5)
Obedience to Christ is the outcome of true spiritual warfare. All those speculations and all those high things raised up against the knowledge of God are destroyed, and every thought is captured for the purpose of obedience to Christ.
“and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.” (2Co 10:6)
You must be on a continuum of progressively greater and greater obedience to Christ. At some point, your obedience must be complete.
Obedience is learned through suffering. Even Jesus, who never sinned, learned obedience from what He suffered.
“And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.” (Heb 5:9)
At the cross, the obedience of Jesus Christ was perfect, as He became obedient to the point of death (see Phil 2:8). There He became the source of eternal salvation, but only to those who obey Him.
The apostle Peter wrote to those who reside on earth as aliens, who are chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.” (1Pe 1:2)
Peter taught that we are chosen to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood. The apostles are in agreement.
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.’” (1Pe 1:14-16)
Peter taught that if you address God as Father, you must be like obedient children and be holy in all our behavior. He will judge impartially according to each one’s work. Your behavior and your works do matter to God. Are you living in holiness as an obedient child, or do you only call God Father but live like the world?
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1Pe 1:22)
God’s Word is Truth and He sanctifies us in it (see Jn 17:17). The Truth will only purify your soul, if you obey it. Many have heard the Truth, but have never been purified, because they have not obeyed it.
“But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.” (Rom 2:5-8)
Notice that it is those who persevere in doing good, who will receive eternal life. And those who do not obey the truth will receive wrath and indignation. Where it says they “do not obey”, this is apeitheo, meaning “to disbelieve (willfully and perversely): - not believe, disobedient, obey not, unbelieving.”
The expression “do not obey” comes from “a” (not) and "peitho" (obey). Since we must avoid being among those who do not obey, let’s look at the root word “peitho” that means “obey.”
The word obey comes from the Greek word “peitho,” which is a primary verb; to convince to rely, agree, assure, believe, have confidence, be (wax) content, make friend, obey, persuade, trust, yield.
Paul instructed us to, “Obey (peitho) your leaders and submit (hupeiko) to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Heb 13:17)
Obedience and submission are closely connected, and this verse in Hebrews demonstrates that.
The word “submit” comes from the Greek word “hupotasso,” meaning “to subordinate; reflexively to obey: - be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto.”
James wrote, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (Jam 4:7-8)
“Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?” (Heb 12:9)
The Opposite of Obedience is Rebellion
The opposite of obedience and submission is rebellion. This may surprise some of you, but if you are not obedient and truly submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then you are living in rebellion.
The verb “to rebel” comes from the Greek word, “apostrepho,” meaning “to turn away or back (literally or figuratively): - bring again, pervert, turn away (from).” Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft, and insubordination like the sin of idolatry (see 1 Sam 15:23).
“Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion (apostrepho), and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him.’” (Luk 23:13-14)
You see, Jesus was accused of rebellion. But Governor Pilate found no guilt in Him, although he wasn’t even a believer in Christ!
"Moses said, 'THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. 'And it will be that every soul that does not heed (akouo – hear, harken) that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning (apostrepho) every one of you from your wicked ways." (Act 3: 22-23, 26)
Peter preached about two final outcomes that are possible, destruction and blessing:
- Destruction - Those who do not heed (akouo – hear, harken) the Lord Jesus will be destroyed.
- Blessing - God sent Jesus to turn you away from (apostrepho – turn away or back) your wicked ways, which is a blessing.
The Lord Jesus Himself will remove ungodliness from us. He makes us rebel against wickedness.
“See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away (apostrepho) from Him who warns from heaven.” (Heb 12:25)
If you decline or reject Jesus when He speaks, then you are rebelling against Him. If you do that, don’t expect to escape destruction.
Israel rebelled and wanted to submit to Egypt for help, but it was in vain. The Lord showed Israel this through the prophet Isaiah and beckoned them to repent and trust Him.
“For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.’ But you were not willing.” (Isa 30:15)
Ten Blessings of Repentance and Trust
Isaiah prophesied of ten blessings the Lord promises to His people, if they will repent and trust Him (Is 30:15-29):
- He will save you and give you strength. v. 15.
- He will be gracious to you and have compassion on you . v.18
- You will weep no more. v. 19
- He will hear your cry and answer you. v. 19
- You will see and behold your Teacher. v. 20
- You will hear Him again. V. 21
- You will defile the idols in your life (pollute them and pronounce them unclean). v. 22
- He will send rain for your seed and bread for your field. v. 23
- He will heal what’s fractured and bruised in your life. v. 26
- He will give you songs in the night and gladness of heart. v. 29
True faith is always demonstrated by observable obedience. If we have faith, then we will demonstrate something known as “the obedience of faith.” This is done by both word and deed. When you have true faith in Christ, the report of your obedience will reach many people.
When you have saving faith, you will no longer rebel against God, but you will rebel against your own ungodliness. You will repent and trust the Lord. You will turn from your wicked ways. You will listen to His Word and comply with it. You will come under the Lord’s authority, He being your Master and you His servant. And in that place of submission to Him, in which you are under obedience to Him, you will give heed to His voice, and do what He says to do. You will say what He commands you to say. It will affect your whole life.
Obedience to Christ is learned through suffering. It’s the outcome of true spiritual warfare. As you suffer and fight the good fight, you must be on a continuum of progressively greater and greater obedience to Christ. If you are not becoming more obedient, then you don’t have saving faith in Christ.
You can’t have true faith in Christ without obedience to Him. And you can’t have obedience to Him without faith. He is the source of eternal salvation. We’re made righteous through His obedience. But He is only the source of salvation for those who obey Him. Your eternal destiny requires that you become a slave of obedience to Christ. God’s chosen people were chosen to obey Christ.
Those who do not obey the Truth will receive wrath and indignation. Those who reject the Lord’s voice will be destroyed. But the ones who listen to Him, repent, trust Him, and obediently come under His authority will be saved. It's not enough to repent. You must prove or demonstrate your repentance by your works, repeatedly performing obedient acts. Then He will save you and give you strength. He will be gracious to you and have compassion on you. You will weep no more. He will hear your cry and answer you. You will see and behold your Teacher. You will hear Him again. You will get rid of the idols in your life. Then He will send rain for your seed and bread for your field. He will heal what’s fractured and bruised in your life. And He will give you songs in the night and gladness of heart.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Most other Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, unless otherwise noted. The "Wise and Foolish Builders" and "Thy Will Be Done" paintings © 2012 are by Danny Hahlbohm, all rights reserved by the artist.
Author's note: I invite you to visit these related articles of mine: Is Obedience Optional?, Obedience by the Spirit, Obedient to the Heavenly Vision, Righteous Deeds and White Robes, Doing What is Right, Faith Works!, Is Practical Righteousness a Lost Truth?, You Must Be Born Again, and The New Covenant. Remember that we are not endeavoring to keep up the law of Moses in conjunction with the gospel of Christ. You can access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.