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Through Christ and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. (Romans 1:5)

Obedience and faith—there is a “what” and there is a “how.” There is an end and there is a means. There is a goal for us to attain and a path on which we pursue it.

Two gospel enemies

The Gospel always lives in the presence of two enemies. One is called “legalism,” and the other is called “antinomianism.”

Legalism says, “Obey God’s command, so that you may believe His promise.” Or to put it another way, “You have to start keeping the law in order to come to Christ. If you are going to become a Christian, clean up your life first. Leave your sins in order to come to Christ. Don’t think that you can come to Him until you do.”

The problem here is obvious: If you have to clean up your life in order to come to Christ, by what power are you going to clean up your life? How will anyone ever be able to come?

Antinomianism says the opposite, “Believe God’s promise, so that you may ignore His command.” Or to put it another way, “If you come to Christ, you do not need to worry about keeping the law. Trust in Christ and don’t worry about cleaning up your life. As long as you believe in Him, nothing else matters.”

Paul deals with this problem in Romans 6: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” The answer is, “By no means!” Why not? Faith unites us with Christ in His death and resurrection, so that through this union the believer is brought into a new life.

In every church you will find some who sin carelessly and live presumptuously, and you will find others who are defeated by their own failure, and overwhelmed by a sense of their own unworthiness.  The answer to both of these errors is found in the gospel. The gospel says, “Believe God’s promise, so that you may obey His command.”

The two great enemies of the gospel—legalism and antinomianism—are answered right here in Romans 1:5, where Paul speaks about “the obedience of faith.”

The Gospel Answer to Antinomianism:

God Calls You to a Life of Obedience

The big picture

God created Adam and Eve in His image, so that they reflected His glory, and lived under His blessing. By listening to the Word of God, they walked in fellowship with Him and were kept from all evil.

Then Satan came into the Garden. His great objective was to recruit the man and the woman, and all who would follow them, into his own great rebellion against God.

Satan’s great purpose is to destroy every expression of the glory of God. He wants you to hate God, tempts you to defy God, and invites you to be your own god. That is why he came into the garden, right at the beginning of the bible story, stalking our first parents.

Adam and Eve listened to Satan, and were enticed by him. They disobeyed God, and in that disobedience a powerful force, that the Bible calls “sin,” got into them, and because they were our first parents, it got into us.

Sin, in its very essence, is disobedience to God. It is more serious than our mistakes and failures, and more damaging than our shortcomings and lapses. The essence of sin is that we trust ourselves more than we trust God, love ourselves more than we love God, and serve ourselves more than we serve God.

Because of this, God’s glory is obscured in us more than it is reflected through us: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is what we need to be redeemed from.

God’s plan to redeem sinners

But God knew what He was doing when He allowed the serpent into the garden. A redeemed creation will reflect God’s glory more than an innocent one ever could.

God determined before the beginning of time that He would redeem sinners through His Son. He would come to us by His human birth, atone for us through His sacrificial death, and then bring us into new life by His resurrection from the dead.

This was God’s plan to display His grace through His Son for the everlasting joy of His people and for His own everlasting glory. At the end of human history, God’s glory will be on display everywhere. His glory will be reflected, like light in the facets of a diamond, in the vast multitude of His redeemed people.

These redeemed people will have experienced God’s grace in ways that even angels have not known. They have come to love Him and rejoice in Him forever. No one who hates God will be there. No one who defies God will be there. No one who wants to be their own god will be there.

That’s where history is headed. That is what God’s purpose will look like, when it is complete, in the new heaven and the new earth. “When we see Christ we will be like him” (1 John 3:2).

What God will complete then, He begins now

The evidence that you are a person in whom obedience will one day be complete is that you are a person in whom obedience is already begun. God completes in heaven what He begins on earth, and He begins on earth what He completes in heaven. The obedience that will be completed in heaven begins on earth, and God calls you to pursue it now.

God’s Call to a Life of Obedience Is Clear throughout the Bible:

  1. The obedience of faith

“[The] gospel… now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.” Romans 16:26

Paul uses exactly the same words at the beginning and at the end of his letter to the Romans, “the obedience of faith.” These words form the bookends, framing the message of the book: What saving faith in Christ is and how it leads to obedience in a whole new life. (Romans 6:17; 8:4).

Hebrews 11 is about the obedience of faith: By faith, Noah built an ark (v7). By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, obeyed and went (v8). By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter (v24). Faith does something. It’s obedient. It takes action. It’s more than a set of assumptions.

  1. Obeying the gospel

“For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17

The gospel is not only to be believed; it is to be obeyed.

  1. Chosen for obedience

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, strangers in the world… who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.”  1 Peter 1:1-2

If you’re a Christian God has called you, laid His hand on you, and sprinkled you with His blood. Why? God’s purpose, when He calls us, is that we should pursue a life of obedience to Jesus Christ, and it is for this purpose that we are sprinkled by His blood.

  1. Redeemed for obedience

“God… condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:4

Why is it that you’ve been forgiven and your sins have been blotted out?

  1. The Holy Spirit given for obedience

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:26-27

God gives us His Spirit so that, gladly and freely, we will be moved from the heart to follow His decrees and to keep His laws, so that we may say with David, “O, how I love your law” (Psalm 119:97).

  1. Loving Christ through obedience

“If you love me, you will obey what I command… He who does not love me will not obey my teaching… If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” John 14:15, 24; 15:10

Loving God is not seen primarily in what we say or in what we sing, but in what we do.

  1. Obedience is the evidence of new life in Christ

“We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands… Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.” 1 John 2:3; 3:24

Saving faith is the bond of a living union with Jesus Christ and that changes not only what a man believes but how he behaves.  If you have become comfortable with something in your life that God calls sin, I want you to hear this challenge: If you are at peace with God, then you are at war with your sin. If you are at peace with your sin, then you are at war with God:

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Isaiah 55:6-7

God calls you to a life of obedience. Now, at this point, you may be asking, “How is this possible? My sins have power over me. How can I live a life of obedience?”  As soon you see that God calls you to a life of obedience, a relentless war against the sin that lurks within you, it’s easy to jump from the casual presumption that all is well with you to a deep despair that there may be no hope for you.

The Gospel Answer to Legalism:

God Calls You to a Life of Faith

“Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” Romans 1:5

Faith brings you into a living union with Christ

Faith is the bond of a living union with Jesus Christ, so, the obedience of faith is obedience that arises out of union with Jesus Christ:

“I am the vine, you are the branches.” John 15:5

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

God calls us to a life of faith, not just a moment of faith, or a decision of faith: “We live [walk] by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). A life of obedience arises out of a life of faith.

The obedience of faith is very different from the obedience of works. The obedience of works—you trying harder this week—is an effort that you have to find within yourself. But the obedience of faith arises from the bond of a living union with Jesus Christ.

Here you are, struggling with sin. You are not comfortable with it. You have fallen many times. What is your hope of overcoming? “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Christ came to save His people from their sins. That means He came to make obedience possible. He is able to deliver you from the power of sin over you.  That deliverance will be complete in heaven. But what He completes in heaven, He begins now. The obedience of faith is about pursuing the power of Christ now, an obedience that will be complete by the grace of Christ then.

This opens the door of hope. God does not call you to obey, so that you can come to Christ. He calls you to come to Christ, so that you can obey.

Professor Donald Macleod says it well:

“Christ is offered to us simply as sinners: not as prepared sinners, seeking sinners, interested sinners, awakened sinners, reformed sinners or anything else. We need not – indeed, we must not – delay coming to Christ until we have put away sin. If we do we will never come.  Sin can be conquered only in union with Him. It cannot be conquered before we come to Him.”[1]

This truth is made beautifully clear in one of our great hymns:

“Come you sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded sick and sore.
Jesus, ready, stands to save you, full of pity, love and power. 

 Let not conscience make you linger nor of fitness fondly dream.
All the fitness He requireth, is to feel your need of Him.

Come you weary heaven laden, bruised and ruined by the fall
If you wait until you’re better you will never come at all! [2]

 Bad conscience is a reason to come to Christ, not to say away from Him today:

“Just as I am and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot.
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot O lamb of God I come.” [3]

Do you see what the hymn writer is saying? Don’t wait until you’ve got it sorted out. If you wait, you’ll never come.

Believe in order to obey

“Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” Romans 1:5

This does more than describe the obedience of faith. It tells us that God calls us to the obedience of faith. God calls you to a life of obedience through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. God calls you to find in Christ what you do not have, to receive from Christ what you cannot offer, to accomplish through Christ what you cannot do.

I want to invite you today to believe in order that you may obey:

1. Are you holding back because you think you cannot change?

Come to Christ and you will be amazed at His power at work in you. You’ll find that you begin to love what you used to hate, and hate what you used to love.  The obedience that is beyond you, by nature, is possible for you by the bond of a living union with Jesus Christ. The Bible calls this “faith.” Through this bond, Christ will give you new desires, new affections, new strength, and a new life that you did not have before.

2. Are you holding back because you have problems, hurts, wounds?

How many years have you spent looking inside yourself for the answer? Stop looking at yourself. You won’t find the answer there. Self is an empty idol that has no power. God is calling you to a faith in Christ and a life of obedience that flows from His life in you.

3. Are you holding back because you have doubts and questions?

Do you remember the man in the New Testament who said, “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Come to Christ with your doubts and your questions.

4. Are you holding back because you do not think you need Christ?

Really? Friend, if you think that you do not need Jesus Christ, I tell you from the Scriptures that your sins are much greater than you think and your obedience is much less than you think. Your obedience is far from complete. God commands you to repent, and to obey the Gospel.

5. Are you holding back because your sins are many?

Look to the cross, and to the Savior who hung there in agony. What was He doing there? He was there for sinners. That means that He was there for you.

The blood of Christ has power to cleanse you from every sin. This Savior is able to take you from the slimy pit you are in and set your feet on the rock. He is able to present you faultless in His presence with great joy. Come to Him and find hope in Him today.  Christ calls you to the obedience of faith. Lord Jesus, today I believe your promise, so that I may obey Your command.


[1] Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland, May 1988, p. 100

[2] From the hymn, “Come, You Sinners, Poor and Needy,” written by Joseph Hart, 1759

[3] From the hymn, “Just As I Am, Without One Plea,” written by Charlotte Elliot


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