Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for the obedience of the faith among all the nations for His name. – Romans 1:5

While the term is rarely used in Scripture, it goes far in defining the nature of faith. It infers that obedience is inherent in faith – that faith and obedience are necessarily related. It says that the faith that pleases God – the faith that saves or justifies – is the faith that obeys. Does it not also say that faith that does not obey is not faith at all.

This is not only the obedience that is expected of one who is a Christian, but obedience in reference to becoming a Christian. That is in fact how Paul uses the term, not once but twice in Romans. The passage above indicates that Paul had been made an apostle to the nations “for the obedience of the faith” – that is in evangelizing the nations. They became Christians by obeying or responding to the gospel (faith) that Paul preached as an apostle. In Romans 16:26 he relates “obedience of the faith” to the preaching of the gospel (v. 25).

This is contrary to much Protestant preaching today, which doesn’t have obedience on the table at all when it comes to becoming a Christian. Preachers talk about “saved by faith only,” by which they mean there is nothing that one is to do to be saved beyond “accepting Christ as your Savior.” Obedience is completely left out – as if it were some work, and we know we are saved by grace and not by works.

True, we are not saved by works. Works and grace are incompatible, but obedience and grace aren’t incompatible. Paul is out witness. He told the Romans twice that faith by its very nature produces obedience. To become a Christian one is to believe, and then obey what that faith commands – which is not works but an obedient response to the gospel. The faith that saves is the faith that obeys!

An informative example of this is in Acts 6:7: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” Notice the contrast in John 12:42: “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.”

This is a good example of the Bible interpreting itself. We see in this contrast the meaning of “obedient to the faith.” The first passage shows us that many of the priests believed in Christ and obediently responded to that faith, which must mean they repented and were baptized – the pattern we see all through Acts. The other passage reveals that many Jewish leaders believed, but refused to act upon their faith. Would that be “faith only”? One group believed and obeyed; the other group believed but did not obey.

This was demonstrated on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the birthday of the church. The apostle Peter preached the gospel. When those who had murdered Christ heard the gospel, they were “cut to their hearts.” The gospel elicited faith. They asked what they were to do (v. 37). They were now believers. Peter did not tell them there was nothing for them to do, but charged them to, “Repent and be baptized” – that is to obey the faith. Verse 41 says that those who “gladly received his word” were baptized. They were obedient to the faith.

This might shed light on the presumed conflict between Paul’s “saved by faith” and James’ “saved by works.” When James says, “A man is justified by works, and not by faith only,” could he not have been referring to obedience – “the obedience of faith”? The reason I say this is because of the argument James makes about Abraham. He says the patriarch was “justified by works” when he offered Isaac on the altar ((v. 21), but the Bible otherwise described what Abraham did as obedience, not works. Hebrews 11:8 says that Abraham “obeyed” as well as believed, and Genesis 12, where Abraham’s story is first told, makes it clear that the patriarch not only believed, but he obediently did “as the Lord had spoken to him” (v. 4).

We might say with Paul that Abraham was justified by faith (only), and not by works, if we mean that his faith was obedient – the obedience of faith. And we might say with James that Abraham was justified by works and not by faith only if we mean that his “works” was an obedient response to his faith – the obedience of faith.

But perhaps Paul himself harmonizes it even better in Gal. 5:6 when he refers to “faith working through love.” There you have it – Paul and James together – faith works! That means that biblical faith obeys – “the obedience of faith.” It is the way our Lord put it in the Sermon on the Mount, “He that hears these words of mine and does them . . .” (Matt. 7:24).

The pioneers of our Stone-Campbell heritage had a simple way of summarizing the gospel: there are three facts to be believed (the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ), three commands to be obeyed (believe, repent, and be baptized), and three promises to be enjoyed (remission of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit, and everlasting life). Is this not consistent with Paul’s “obedience of the faith”?

It would be a blessing if preachers today would quit telling sinners that there is nothing for them to do to be saved. There is something for them to do — believe and obey the gospel.