Wednesday: The Obedience of Faith
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Paul makes it clear that faith absolutely is foundational to the Christian life. It is the means by which we lay hold of the promises we have in Christ. But what is faith exactly? What does it involve?

What do the following texts teach us about the origin of faith? Gen. 15:5, 6John 3:14–162 Cor. 5:14, 15Gal. 5:6. 



Genuine biblical faith is always a response to God. Faith is not some kind of feeling or attitude that humans one day decide to have because God requires it. On the contrary, true faith originates in a heart touched with a sense of gratitude and love for God’s goodness. That’s why when the Bible talks about faith, that faith always follows initiatives that God has taken. In the case of Abraham, for example, faith is his response to the amazing promises God makes to him (Gen. 15:5, 6), while in the New Testament Paul says that faith is ultimately rooted in our realization of what Christ did for us on the cross.

If faith is a response to God, what should that response include? Consider what the following texts say about the nature of faith. John 8:32, 36Acts 10:43Rom. 1:5, 86:17Heb. 11:6James 2:19



Many people define faith as “belief.” This definition is problematic, because in Greek the word for “faith” is simply the noun form of the verb “to believe.” To use one form to define the other is like saying “faith is to have faith.” It tells us nothing.

A careful examination of Scripture reveals that faith involves not only knowledge about God but a mental consent or acceptance of that knowledge. This is one reason why having an accurate picture of God is so important. Distorted ideas about the character of God actually can make it more difficult to have faith. But an intellectual assent to the gospel is not enough, for in that sense “even the demons believe.” True faith also affects the way a person lives. In Romans 1:5, Paul writes about the “obedience of faith.” Paul is not saying that obedience is the same as faith. He means true faith affects the whole of a person’s life, not just the mind. It involves commitment to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as opposed to just a list of rules. Faith is as much what we do and how we live and in whom we trust, as it is what we believe.

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Wednesday: The Obedience of Faith — 8 Comments

  1. When the lesson author makes the statement:

    “Many people define faith as ‘belief.’ This definition is problematic, because in Greek the word for ‘faith’ is simply the noun form of the verb ‘to believe.” To use one form to define the other is like saying ‘faith is to have faith.’ It tells us nothing.”

    To me he is attempting to get around a perceived problem. It is basically the same reason why years ago during all the fuss about “righteousness by faith” our church came up with the word “respond” and applied it just about everywhere as a replacement for the word “works.” We don’t do works, they would say, we respond.

    He says that because faith is the noun form of the verb “to believe” it tells us nothing. Actually it tells us everything. It means that the two words are essentially interchangeable. That says that faith is belief but perhaps we should consider it more than just casual belief.

    It appears to me that the lesson is subtly trying to insert works into faith which is a concept that was very much in vogue years ago. The problem with this is that if we do that then the main theme of Galatians and Romans becomes contradictory. You cannot say that we are justified by faith apart from the law while faith includes law keeping.

    What we can say is that proper faith always leads to good works. If you really have faith in God then you will want to be part of His government and those in His government keep His commandments.

    I liken the whole thing to a person walking into a dark room. Upon entering the room the first thing that that person does is to reach for a light switch or some means to light a candle or lantern. Why did that person reach for the switch? Because in faith he or she believed that by turning the switch on it would produce light in the room. The reaching is not the faith but the faith caused the reaching.

    James said, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe-- and tremble!” James 2:19 NKJV) Why do they tremble? It is because of their concept of God as their destroyer (Mk 1:23-25). What James was dealing with were people that were saying that because they were saved and exist by faith in the savior according to Paul’s teaching that works were unimportant. His attempt to combat that error was the best he could do and yet he made the theological mistake by saying that Abraham was justified by works (James 2:21) which Paul argues against extensively in Romans 4.

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    • Tyler, while I generally agree with you, I'd be hesitant to say that James made a "theological mistake." But Luther would probably have agreed with you. ;) He called the epistle of James the "epistle of straw." But I understand what James was doing, because I've done it myself out of necessity.

      You see our first two sons had personalities that were total opposites. One was an earnest perfectionist who would fuss over a task to get it done just "perfectly," thus falling into the danger of not getting it done at all. As a little boy, his pants were pulled up high, shirt tucked in and buttoned. By contrast, his happy-go-lucky younger brother wasn't keen on actually doing anything. He'd rather figure out a way to get out of it, and if he was forced to do things, he'd get them done very fast -- sort of. His pants were slung low long before it became fashionable, his shirt untucked, shoes undone. From a distance, it was very easy to tell who was who on the playground, even though they looked much alike. As a mother I resorted to banishing one boy out of my sight while I dealt with his sibling. To the older, I would say, "Not everything has to be perfect. Just get it done!" To the younger one I would say, "Everything worth doing is worth doing well. Whatever you do should be done as perfectly as you know how."

      Now you might accuse me of being wrong on one count or the other, but it was a necessary stratagem to pull the two youngsters from the extremes to which they naturally tended. Anything less forceful would have had no effect. In like manner, Paul was dealing with one extreme -- the extreme that Luther was also caught up in. James was dealing with the other extreme. In context, they were both teaching correct theology.

      We are not saved by our works -- ever. Not even a little bit. There's nothing we can do to save ourselves. But it is also true that no one who is saved will ever be saved without works, because a genuine faith is a working faith. Our beliefs shape our actions. It's more a matter of emphasis, rather than an either/or situation. An emphasis on works is an emphasis on humanity. It takes our eyes off Jesus who is our only salvation.

      I have yet to find someone who would admit to believing in salvation by works. But I see many who focus so much on externals that the beauty of Christ's character and His salvation is eclipsed.

      Neither do I think the Judaizers were consciously trying to teach "another gospel." I believe they were just trying to "complete" what Paul had started without finishing -- to teach these new converts all the proper rites that they should follow as good spiritual Jews. So it seems to me that Paul's primary focus was to demonstrate that the earthly sanctuary system, the covenant signified in the physical body and all associated rites had come to an end. The new covenant had to do with spirit and truth, as Jesus told the woman at the Samaritan well. (John 4:24) In the process, he clarified that there really are no "works" we can do to save ourselves. Our salvation is assured when we truly accept Jesus as Lord of our lives.

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  2. "A careful examination of Scripture reveals that faith involves not only knowledge about God but a mental consent or acceptance of that knowledge. This is one reason why having an accurate picture of God is so important. Distorted ideas about the character of God actually can make it more difficult to have faith. But an intellectual assent to the gospel is not enough, for in that sense “even the demons believe.” True faith also affects the way a person lives. In Romans 1:5, Paul writes about the “obedience of faith.” Paul is not saying that obedience is the same as faith. He means true faith affects the whole of a person’s life, not just the mind. It involves commitment to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as opposed to just a list of rules. Faith is as much what we do and how we live and in whom we trust, as it is what we believe." The author

    Any discussion re any of the epistles of Paul must; and I repeat; must always be discussed in the context of Paul's controversy with Jews of both orthodox Judaism and Christian Judaism.

    That said; any discussion re faith; and discussed in the aforesaid context would be seen as a foreign concept to orthodox Judaism, and become a difficult context to embrace by those of Christian Judaism who had been taught during generations, that they were justified by the works of the law. Nor were those of Christian Judaism about to say "yes" to any and everything that their former persecutor presented as doctrine. Paul was forewarned by God that he would bear God's name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the Children of Israel.Acts 9:15 Bearing God's name before the "Children of Israel" is a part of the discussion re faith; and so difficult a discussion it was , that Paul had to appeal to the Patriarch of Judaism, Abraham, for relevancy, and for help in making the case for faith over works.

    Paul was constantly encouraged by God. On his way to Jerusalem to "bear God's name before the "Children of Israel", Agabus the prophet, prophesied to Paul that he would be persecuted if he went to Jerusalem..Acts 21:10,11..but was he[Paul} not commanded to "bear the Name of Jesus" before the Children of Israel"? Hence, he went to Jerusalem. nonethe less; and true to the prophecy he was arrested after "bearing Jesus' Name before the Apostles, and after heeding their unwise instruction to "take four men and shave their heads; and purify thyself with them, "and all may know that the things whereof they are informed of thee are nothing"[or not true] "and that thou thyself also walkest orderly and keepest the law". It was after Paul had taken this unwise counsel; and went, ie after taking "the vow" ; and going to the Temple, that the riot referred to by the disciples occurred; and Paul taken prisoner. It was then ,that Jesus in verse 11 of Acts 23, visited Paul in prison and encouraged him with these words: "Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also in Rome".

    Paul's discussion, re faith; made the point that "without faith it is impossible to please God. This was a foreign concept to the Jews of both orthodox and Christian Judaism. James made Paul's point to the Jews of both branches of Judaism agreeing with Paul and emphasizing that faith, even though it is necessary to please God; yet faith is dead; if it stands alone without works. Thus showing the Jews that works were still to be practiced; but now alongside faith. This new doctrine would bring some apeasement to those who believed that Paul was "teaching all the Jews that dwellest among the Gentiles"[they were not teaching any such doctrine among the Jews of Jerusalem] Paul was accused of teaching "those Jews" "that they should forsake Moses; saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs".

    Faith, therefore, in the context discussed above, must be seen in a similar context today; but only now in reference to contemporary Christianity[not Jewish Christianity].

    Contemporary Christianity, of any "stripe", doesn't need to be convinced to have faith with its concurrent belief in Jesus. Paul made sure that Gentile Christianity was taught this doctrine; and this is the same doctrine that "we" Gentiles of contemporary Christianity still believe today.

    So why are we having this discussion among ourselves; when we need no convincing that we must have faith in God to please Him? It is the same old trick of Satan...he has taken a discussion meant for a time and people of the past and skillfully, misappropriately applied the same discussion to those who keep the commandments of God, the people of God today. Luther's discovery of a truth, long covered over and buried by false Christianity, was a truth believed by the true first century Christians of both Jewish and Gentile Christianity. It is true, that thanks to Luther, the truth of "faith" was resurrected from the dustpile of false Christianity; but we must not make the mistake of being drawn into a debate by those of false Christianity, who today, like in the first century, are completely decieved by Satan in misunderstanding the relationship between "faith and works".

    Courtney

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    • Courtney, I agree that we need to remember context when we read Paul's letters. Paul was primarily addressing the issue of adding the Jewish rites and ceremonies the faith in Christ. Yet, at the same time, he made clear that no works of our own can add anything to the salvation that Christ provides for us.

      We are having the discussion because the spirit of the Judaizers is very much alive today -- an emphasis on externals rather than on heart conversion. Some earnest souls -- both young and old -- still make it their duty to teach new converts all about how to be "good Christians/Adventists." There's nothing wrong with that, per se, except that the emphasis almost always focuses on externals, and it's very easy to eclipse what is really important -- a living connection to Christ our Savior, so we each may say, "It is not I who live, but Christ lives in me."

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      • Paul, then; as well as today, describes "faith" as the "substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen"Heb.11:1 A better description of faith is not possible from anyone else. Again; in the context of those who had no concept of faith[they had concept of works]Paul was able to use the concrete concept of works, already practiced, to explain the concept of faith, a doctrine entirely devoid of works.

        Paul introduces a terminology "substance of things not observable " as describing faith, even though faith is hardly concrete; but he explains that though a "substance" as would describe concrete works; yet faith is as concrete as works, even if faith is not observable.
        He used the word "evidence" a concrete terminology..and then introduced faith as something not seen ie in contrast to works that are clearly seen.

        This is therefore, clearly an attempt to teach that the concept of faith is similar to the concept of works; with the difference being, one must be believed while the other is practiced and observable.

        Faith is further described as the "faith of Jesus",a description enunciated by Jesus Himself in Rev.14:12. It must therefore be the fact, that having "faith" is the same as having the "faith of Jesus". One must either have the faith of Jesus or he doesn't have the faith of Jesus. With having the faith of Jesus comes the promise that he is a rewarder of those who diligently serve him...[or those who keep his commandments..Rev.14:12] So whatever one "hopes for", he has the "evidence" of the Saviour of love, who died to show His love; which since He did to such an extreme; means "no good thing will he withold from all who diligently serve him".Heb.11:6 Or no good thing will he withold from those who keep his commandments and who concurrently believe on him, their saviour.

        Paul therefore makes the point that one doesn't have to earn God's favor to receive "good things" from God.. [ie by showing good works]....one just needs to have faith in the gift of His Son, to receive every good gift the Father has for all who faithfully serve him.

        Courtney

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  3. The lesson author rightly points out that faith is not an initiative towards God on the part of humanity, but a response towards God's initiative of love towards us.

    But the author doesn't go far enough: Faith is not a human-generated response. It is a gift of God. We choose whether we nurture that faith and allow God to increase it. See Rom. 12:3, where Paul points out that God has given everyone a "measure of faith." (KJV)

    Our part is to choose to nurture the tiny flame of faith God gives to each one born on this planet. We choose to act on the faith He has given us, and God does His part to multiply it.

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    • Our [faith] in God, totally makes us follow/obey all of his commands[works];bar none.

      "Show me your faith without works"!....James 2:18 Such a state is irrational.....if one says he has[ faith] in God..he will do[works]; or will do everything that God commands of him. James continues..."I will show you my [faith] by my [works]"....and that! is rational behaviour....ie because if you believe in whom you put your [faith] ; you will do [works]; or will do all he commands you to do, without exception and without question.

      Hence James concludes...James 2:24..."You see then how that by [works] a man is [justified] and not by [faith] only"?

      Courtney

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  4. Inge....your question re commentary...."If you obey my teaching you are really my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free....I am telling you the truth everyone who sins is a slave of sin....if the Son sets you free you will be really free." John 8:31; 34-36

    Your question re commentary..."was he talking about faith or works, or neither?"

    My response: "Whomsoever one chooses to obey; his servant he is"...or; you are "slave" to the master you choose to serve. Rom.6:16
    If you choose to be a "slave" to sin....you will die the death of a sinner.
    If you choose to be a "slave" to righteousness...you will die the death of the righteous.

    If you die the death of the righteous you are of faith...ie you are really his disciple; and you know the truth and the truth has set you free from the law of sin and death to which you were a "slave" and from which you are now freed. Continuing as a "slave" would have condemned you to the death of the sinner. But the Son has set you free; and because you believe on the Son to set you free; your faith is rewarded; and you are really free.

    The short answer to your query is....as long as we do not have the belief that we are justified by our faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins....we will be condemned in our sins by the law...and as long as we sin and do not receive forgiveness, we are then "slave" to what we continually do[sin] and from which we have received no forgiveness. And so; as a consequence, we are going to remain; till we are "freed" by our faith in Christ to save us from our sins...and having accepted Jesus in faith, we make Jesus our master and to whom we now become his "slave". He has now freed us from our former master [the law of sin and death]who condemned us when we sin; but who had no power to forgive us....a master who would as well sentenced us to death..while having no power to forgive us....

    Courtney

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