Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Obedience of Faith

Today, I’m going to start to work my way through a book of the Bible like I used to do. But there will be some differences from what I did in the past. My goal for this series is not to explain, in some detail, a book of the Bible. My goal is simply to review some basic points of the Gospel. I’m going to use Paul’s letter to the Romans to do this. It’s a good choice to accomplish my goal because Paul’s reason for writing the letter was to lay out the Gospel that he preached. Since my goal is limited in this way, I won’t be working through the whole letter. I expect that I’ll stop at the end of chapter eight. Also, I won’t be considering what are some interesting details in Paul’s letter. I’m going to limit myself just to basic points of the Gospel that Paul refers to. So, while in the past I might spend a few years in a book, I’m expecting this to take just a few months.

Now, why am I doing this? There are a few reasons. I regularly pray about my teaching - something that I hope that you are praying about also. I ask for the Spirit’s guidance when it comes to choosing what passage to preach on, as well as what exactly I should say about that passage. So, the first reason why I’m doing this series is that the Spirit has led me to do it. It’s important for me to say this because Reformed pastors have a reputation for downplaying the role of the Spirit. Bad idea.

Now, there are reasons why the Spirit has led me to this. Reminding you of what you know can be quite helpful. But in addition to reviewing what you know, I think that it’s good for you to be challenged to go deeper. We will spend eternity going deeper into the Gospel. There are amazing things to be seen. In addition to that, I’m hoping that this review of the Gospel will prove helpful to you in terms of doing evangelism.

Let’s start with this from Romans.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1.1-7
The only thing that I want to point out here is the goal of Paul’s ministry. He was called to be an apostle,
… to bring about the obedience of faith…
That’s Paul’s goal in preaching the Gospel. Now, think about all of the things that he could have written as a goal instead. He could have written about getting to heaven, being redeemed, studying the wonders of God or some other result of the Gospel. But he chose to write that the obedience of faith was his goal. He even ends this letter by referring to the importance of the obedience of faith. (Romans 16.26) It’s clear that Paul wanted to impress this goal on his readers.

So, let’s take this phrase apart. And, of course, we start by working on some definitions.

First, ‘obedience’. Obedience is doing what you’re told.  God commands. We obey. Not complicated. We obey Him because God is God, and we are His creatures. This is basic to every person’s relationship with Him. So, obeying Him simply makes sense. It’s how this universe is set up. Obedience to God is a key aspect of simply being human. And since the Gospel is about making people whole again, it only makes sense that becoming obedient is a key aspect of that Gospel. Obedience is not an add-on to the Christian life. It lies at the heart of it. It is a goal.

Now, let’s define ‘faith’. Again, this isn’t complicated. Faith is just another word for trust. To believe in someone is to trust that person in terms of whatever it is that he or she is promising. We choose to trust people, or not, all the time. And there are times when doing that turns out well. But there are times when that turns out badly. When it comes to the Gospel we are entrusting ourselves to God, the Father, through Jesus, the Son.

So, Paul’s goal in preaching the Gospel is to bring about an obedience that arises out of a trust in the Father.

It is helpful, at times, to take a concept and contrast it to contrary concepts. That can clarify things. The obvious contrast to the obedience of faith is disobedience, refusing to do what God tells you. That’s pretty obvious. But what if we contrast the obedience of faith with other kinds of obedience?

So, let’s consider what might be called the obedience of duty. Here, you do what you’re told. But you do it out of a sense of duty. You’re told this thing that you’re supposed to do, so you do it. This has nothing to do with entrusting yourself to the person who commanded you. You’re simply complying with some command.

Then, there is the obedience of fear. This is similar to the obedience of duty except that there is an added element. You do what you’re told because you were commanded. But you are also motivated by the fear of getting it wrong. And if that happens, then you just know that all sorts of terrible things will happen to you. So, you try really hard to do what you’re told, but all the while you’re worried that somehow, you’re going to blow it. You’re afraid that you’re going to get into trouble. Someone who is obedient because of fear is anxiously scurrying about trying to be sure to do what he or she has been told. That can take a toll on the body as well as the soul.

Then, there is the obedience of pretense. You’re still doing what you’re told. But in this case, you do it so that other people will see you doing that. The goal here is for these other people to be impressed with you.

One more. This is the obedience of approval. It’s just like the obedience of pretense except that the audience isn’t other people. In this case, the audience is God. This person wants Him to notice how well he is obeying. And the expectation here is that by doing what he’s been told, God will like him and think well of him.

Now, it’s important for me to say that all of these work. That’s why people obey in these ways. But they only work short-term. None of them work long-term. Sooner or later, life falls apart. It’s the obedience of faith, and only this kind of obedience, that works long-term.

Now, let’s consider what difference this makes. Way back when, I was a Boy Scout. We were told to do a good deed every day. So, imagine some Boy Scout wanting to do his good deed. He sees an old lady having trouble crossing the street. He offers his assistance which the lady accepts, and he helps her across the street. Did he do a good deed? According to the Boy Scouts, he did. But what about according to Jesus? It all depends. What was going on in his soul? That is, what kind of obedience was it? Was it the obedience of faith? Or was it one of these others: the obedience of duty, fear, pretense or approval? As far as Jesus is concerned, what goes on in the soul will determine whether that deed was good or not. It’s not enough just to do the right thing. Jesus evaluates based on why we do the right thing. 

Here’s another difference between the obedience of faith and the alternatives. Those who obey the Father because of faith come to love not just Him but also His commands. These can say, ‘Because I trust You, Father, I trust Your commands. I know that they are good and wise commands. And knowing that, I can love them.’ In the alternatives to the obedience of faith, the commands are not loved. For those motivated by duty, they are burdens to be borne. For those motivated by fear, they are threats to dread. For those motivated by pretense, they are the means to show off. For those motivated by approval, they are the means to be rewarded. But in none of these are the commands loved. Trusting the Father will lead to a love for His commands, love for His Law.

So, here’s the goal for Paul and for all who preach the Gospel: that people would obey the Father because they trust Him, the obedience of faith.

Now, what do I want you to do with all of this? Here are three things.

First, this idea of the obedience of faith is not new for some of you. You may not have used those words, but you know about obeying the Father because you trust Him. All of this has been a reminder of what you know. So, I hope that reminding you of these things will encourage you to continue to work at obeying the Father in this way.

I’m thinking that there are others of you for whom this actually is a new thought. Maybe you’ve never thought about the contrast between the obedience of faith and the obedience of duty, fear, pretense or approval. I’m hoping that what I’ve told you gives you another tool as you work at being obedient disciples. This tool can help you understand yourself and why you do what you do. I hope that this will result in even more growth in following Jesus because you’ll be more aware of what is included in obedience.

So, I hope that either as encouragement or as a new idea to consider, what I’ve told you will help you in your walk with Jesus.

Second, this also has something to say about the training of the children. Children learn how to obey God by the way that they learn how to obey their parents. The goal is that by the time they are adults they will be offering to God this obedience of faith. One important way that they learn this obedience of faith when it comes to God is by learning the obedience of faith when it comes to their parents. So, parents, you want to be sure that they are not obeying you because of duty, fear, pretense or approval. You want to be sure that they are obeying you because they trust you and they trust your commands. This is challenging because it involves dealing with your children’s hearts. So, along with lots of other things, that will take prayer. But I am convinced that Christian parents can be very optimistic in working at this.

Last, this has something important to say about any evangelism that we do. We need to make this requirement of the obedience of faith clear to any unbelievers we are explaining the Gospel to.

We need to help them to see that they haven’t been offering it to God. In some cases, there hasn’t been any obedience of any kind. In other cases, there has been the wrong kind of obedience, a disobedience that is camouflaged to look like obedience. And we’re back to duty, fear, pretense and approval.  God is God, and we are His creatures. We all owe Him the obedience of faith. This is part of what it means to be human. Failure here is sin. The problem of sin needs to be made quite clear. Talking about the obedience of faith is just one way of getting at that. Use whatever words work, but make the problem of sin real to the person that you’re speaking to.

We also need to make it clear that this obedience of faith is one of the necessary results in someone believing the Gospel. One reason we are saved is so that we can obey for the right reason. This is part of what it means to be human.

To say this differently, we need to be clear about Jesus as Savior. He saves people from their sins, even when what they are doing looks like obedience but actually isn’t. And we need to be clear about Jesus as Lord. A Christian is someone who offers to the Father the obedience of faith.

We’ve looked at one element of the Gospel, the goal. There is more for us to consider. God willing, we’ll return to this next week.

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