Which comes first obedience or faith?

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“the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations”‭‭(Romans‬ ‭1:5‬)

This is Pauls mission statement. His reason to live. His goal in life. And it should be the goal of every Chrisrian minister, indeed of every Christian: to bring about the obedience of faith in themselves and others.

One thing I love about the ESV is that it doesn’t seem to explain phrases that could be ambiguous. This is one such example.

I can think of at least  five possible ways of interpreting this and I know the scholars disagree.  Which of these are we talking about Paul? Is it :

  1. The faith which is itself an act of obedience to God’s command to believe.
  2. The faith which grows out of our determination to obey Jesus and follow him. In other words, does the choice to obey come first (repentance) and lead to faith?
  3. The obedience that faith demands. When we learn to trust Jesus and truly believe, does that lead inevitally to an obedience that comes from faith?
  4. The type of obedience that is full of faith and not fear.
  5. The type of obedience that is an expression of being faithful and loyal to Jesus.

Could it be that it is all five?

Could it be that faith and obedience are so entwined it is impossible to separate them. In Acts you see when people ask “what must I do to be saved?” The reply is sometimes “repent” (obey) and sometimes “believe.”

Jesus is not looking for obedience that is reluctant, fear inspired, punishment avoiding, and which feels like a big sacrifice of things that we still believe would be good for us.

Neither is he looking for an easy believing that leads to no transformation, is based in the intellect and not the heart, and is no different to the “belief” even the demons express.

Faith is the response of the core of our being to God. It is inevitably associated with obedience. It lives in a symbiotic relationship with action. If you really believe you will inevitably  act on those beliefs. But equally small acts of obedience which might initially feel like sacrifice, lead to an increased trust in God when the obeyer sees the consequences of following Jesus in their life.

So there is no conflict between faith and obedience. You really cannot have one without the other. But we must never forget that it is our faith which saves, not our obedient work. He cry of the reformation is quite correct:sola fide, faith alone. But as someone once said “it is faith alone that saves, but the faith which saves is never alone. “

About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock is a medical doctor, and a writer. Since 1995 he has been a member of Jubilee Church London. Adrian serves as part of Jubilee's leadership team alongside Tope Koleoso. Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus. Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway.
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