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The Obedience of Faith

by Steve Dewhirst
via Gospel Power, Vol. 12, No. 17, April 24, 2005.

How odd, that one of the Bible's most fundamental teachings should have become so puzzling to folks. God is not the author of confusion, but man is. And during the centuries since Jesus walked the earth, the very nature of the faith that saves has been obscured by an improper balance of principles.

Without controversy should be the straightforward declaration, "by grace you have been saved through faith..." (Ephesians 2:8). To deny the truth of the statement is to deny the gospel. But, as with other subjects, to isolate this verse to the exclusion of all others is to guarantee oneself the wrong perception. This verse surely tells us of salvation through faith, itself. We should never question that we are saved through faith, but we should certainly arrive toward a better understanding of what faith is and how it is expressed.

Faith can be defined as a deep, abiding trust and confidence in God - but to stop there is to leave the picture incomplete. It is this notion that faith is nothing more than the intellectual acknowledgment that God exists, that has led many to think that He makes no requirements of us. But that simply won't square with Scripture. After all, Hebrews 5:9 says that Jesus is "the Author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." Now faith, or belief, is not the same as obedience. But obviously, weighing the principle of faith beside that of obedience should cause us to dig a little deeper into the nature of the faith that saves. Saving faith cannot exist in a vacuum. In other words, faith doesn't exist as an isolated concept, separate from the life of the believer. Faith is a living, active ingredient of one's character. It effects the believer's conduct for good. James 2:14 poses two critical questions. "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? That faith cannot save him, can it?" These are rhetorical questions; requiring no answer. A "faith" that does nothing cannot save anyone. Even demons believe that God exists (James 2:19), but no one believes they will be saved. No, faith needs something else to make it complete. James cites the example of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God and asks, "Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?" (James 2:22).

So our earlier definition of faith needs to be amended. Faith is a deep, abiding trust and confidence in God, that creates a willing- ness to do what God says. Any definition of faith that excludes an obedient heart has failed to consider God's Word completely. But just a note of caution is in order. Just as some men incorrectly deem faith to be a mental assent of God's goodness, others ignore faith and believe that righteousness lies in obedience. Both views are woefully wrong. No one will ever be justified before God on the basis of his obedience, for no one's obedience is perfect (Galatians 3:10,11; Romans 3:23). Obedience for the sake of "scoring points" with God is an exercise in futility. The only obedience God will accept is that which is born of our faith in Him. The obedience of faith is that service which is motivated by our trust that God knows best, and our desire to honor His Will. It is this faith that Paul advocates in his great epistle to the Romans. In introducing his theme, Paul says he has received grace and apostleship "unto the obedience of faith among all the nations" (Romans 1:5 ASV). Plainly put, Paul is working as an apostle in order to bring about the obedience which rightly stems from faith. Paul never taught "rote" obedience in keeping with a ritualistic traditionalism. Instead, Paul taught that we can only be saved by recognizing our sinfulness, seeking the grace and mercy of God, and coming to Him through a faith in Christ that is willing to meet His conditions of pardon.

Man's salvation through faith shouldn't be puzzling. The most natural thing in the world ought to be our willingness to obey the God in whom we have faith. If we have come redemption through the sacrifice of God's only Son, how can we fail to humble our spirits before His Word? A faith that refuses to obey is really no faith at all.