On Obedience as Faith

Romans 1:1-7, 13-17

St Paul begins his letter to the Romans with an introduction. And yet, it’s amazing how much he reveals in just this introduction to them. He is Paul, the bondservant, the slave of Jesus Christ; called to be an apostle, one who is sent; set apart for the gospel, which is the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus. And he states that this gospel, the good news of Christ, fulfills the prophecies and Scriptures of the Old Testament, which are realized in the incarnation of the Son, Jesus, who is descended from the line of David. 
What’s more, beyond each of these facts, we also see in his introduction all three persons of the Holy Trinity manifest. We see the Gospel of God the Father (V.1), concerning the incarnation of God the Son (V.3), and it being declared so according to the Holy Spirit (V.4). And we also see that it is not through the resurrection that Jesus became the Son of God, but rather it was because He was the Son of God that He was resurrected. 

And for what purpose has all of this been revealed to us? St Paul says that through Him (that is to say, Jesus), “we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name.” This is interesting to break down. We have received grace, for it is only through the grace of God that we can fulfill this calling. And being grace, this is therefore a gift. As we state in our daily prayer rule, “may faith be imputed to me instead of works, for that shalt find no works which could justify me.” And apostleship implies that we have been sent out. The fulfillment of the great commission. And to what end have we been sent? To reach all the nations, all the ends of the earth. To live and teach obedience to the faith. This obedience to the faith could be (for one who is not of the faith) to accept the gospel of Christ itself, or to the faithful (which such individuals become) to accept the virtue of obedience practiced by those who believe in His name. This is such a vital concept which is all but forsaken in our generation, in our culture. For the unfaithful, to accept the Gospel of our Lord is to be obedient to the faith, to begin to walk in the faith, but it is not the finish line, but rather the starting line. We tend to consider acceptance of the faith as the end all be all purpose of the Christian faith, but to believe the faith to be true is only the beginning. Once we accept this faith, then we must be obedient to it. It is not enough to believe with your words alone, or to “feel in your heart” that it is true, we must actually obey it. Jesus Himself asked why we would call Him Lord and yet not do what He tells us. He explains that His brothers and sisters and mother are they who do the will of God, and condemns those who “praise them with their lips while their hearts are far from Him.”

The Orthodox faith passed down through the generations is a faith which is not spoken about nearly as much as it is lived out by the faithful. Paul tells us that each of us is called to be saints. This is not a reference to some far off mysterious future time in the heavenly kingdom only, it refers to the present time. All who are truly Christian are called to be saints (meaning called to be set apart to God) in the present time, while we currently live. And to do such requires a commitment to true obedience to the faith, not merely knowledge of it. I think of the Gospel lesson to feed the hungry, and consider James’ lesson that “if you see someone who is hungry and cold and naked and say ‘go, be warmed and filled and clothed’ while offering nothing, has this faith saved them? Faith without works is dead.” (to paraphrase). St Mark the Ascetic tells us that knowledge, even true knowledge, is not yet firmly grounded apart from works done in accordance with it, because everything is grounded by being put into practice,” and again, “the person who relies on mere knowledge is not yet a faithful servant; no the faithful servant is the one who put his faith in Christ by obeying what he commands.” 

I’d like to add a caveat here, do not misunderstand me, no works or deeds can ever lead to salvation apart from the grace of Christ. However, what this is stating is that our faith in Christ must be made manifest in our obedience to Christ, which in turn will lead to these very works; not as the source of our salvation, but rather as part of our salvation; part of the process by which we are being saved. When Christ seperates the sheep and the goats, those who claimed to be the faithful, He separates them based on their obedience to His commands (Matthew 25). On both sides, they acknoledge Him as King, and yet, those on the right, in Scripture referred to as the righteous, were those who clothed Him, cared for Him, fed Him, visited Him, etc; those whose faith was made manifest in their works (Matthew 25:35-40). On the other side, the goats on the left, those who claimed to have this faith and yet were not obedient to His commands (Matthew 25:41-45), were those who went away into eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46).
St Paul concludes this by summarizing. He is not ashamed of the Gospel, this Gospel which knows no ethnicity or racial barriers. The Gospel of salvation is offered to all equally, any who are willing to believe and come to faith in Christ. The Gospel reveals to all of us the righteousness of God, which is a continued state of communion with Him. And this state, we must always keep in mind, begins with God, not with us. It begins with Him, and He offers it to us, and we have this choice to either accept it or walk away from it. Paul says that it is “from fiath to faith.” We receive Jesus Christ by faith, and then accept Him as our Lord by continued obedience to that faith. If “Christ died for us according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3) and “we do not live for ourselves but for Him who died and was raised for us,” (2 Corinthians 5:15), then how could we possibly conceive that obedience to His teachings and commandments is optional? Paul quotes from Habakkuk that “the just (righteous) shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). 

And we need to consider this statement closely. Notice it is not that the righteous shall have faith, or confess their faith, or read about their faith, but rather that they shall live by it. To live by faith means to change the way that we order and live our lives. The just, the righteous, are not only those who believe in Christ Jesus, but those who order their lives in accordance with that faith, in obedience to Him as our Lord and king. 

Christ is in our midst. 

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