Many phrases summarize Paul’s letter to Rome such as justiﬁcation, righteousness, gospel, or God’s sovereignty. Another important phrase found in Romans is “obedience of faith” and bookends the letter at its beginning (1:5) and at its close (16:26). This is the desired result (“to bring about”) of the Father’s work of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Those seeking to enjoy the redemptive blessings of God’s righteousness and salvation are called to respond with a faith in God that is obedient to his call and his word (Rom 1:16–17). Paul’s quotation of Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous shall live by faith” (1:17), further establishes his point. This is the nature of biblical faith and when sharing the gospel it is imperative to remember that a faith is not biblical if it is not obedient. This has signiﬁcant implications to the Christian’s efforts to share the victory message of the gospel with their neighbors.
The Shape of Faith. Words are the patterns by which people think. It is key, therefore, to clear the air on a common misconception. For some, faith resembles a blind leap into the dark. It is a gut feeling devoid of reason. Taken in this way, the only relationship between faith and reason is that they are on opposite poles that never touch. Furthermore, faith in God, the Bible as the word of God, or in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension are purely a feeling. It is pure ﬁdeism. Biblical faith is a response to evidence (Heb 11:1).
Biblical faith is both relational and responsive. Paul explains that the gospel of God is supported by a series of lines of evidence. The gospel was promised prophetically in the Old Testament (1:2) and centered on the Davidic lineage of Jesus (1:3) whose claim to being the Son of God is established by the resurrection from the dead (1:4). On this basis, the apostles are commissioned to share the gospel designed to induce an obedient faith from the world and the church (1:5–6). Faith relates to the worthiness of the evidence of the gospel message that God acted in the world through Jesus and his cross (2 Cor 5:18), and responds with actions that reﬂect that trust in God and the gospel.
Living by Faith. In Romans 1:16-17, Paul explains that faith is not only a ﬁrst response to the gospel, but also frames the lifestyle of the Christian. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Roman letter hangs on his quotation of Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Paul evokes the contrast God makes in his response to a frustrated Habakkuk. The wicked live faithless and so digress into immorality (Hab 1:12–2:5). By contrast, the righteous organize their life by what faith in God requires (2:4). Two things are afﬁrmed here: (1) faith is anchored in God’s actions and word, and (2) faith reshapes one’s priorities and actions. Let us explore these two points a bit further.
First, when sharing the gospel it is imperative to anchor a person’s faith in God and his word. Biblical faith in God does not emerge without believing God exists and acts in history (Acts 14:15–17, 17:24–31), the Bible provides divine truth (Eph 3:4–5), and has sent his son as demonstration of his love (Rom 5:6–8). Indeed, this “obedience of faith” is reﬂected in the Genesis story of Abraham. Paul, by the Spirit, picks up on this in Romans 3–4, when he parallels the justifying faith of Abraham with the faith of the person who comes to obey God and walks before him in faith (3:21–26). Indeed, “Abraham believed God” (Rom 4:3; Gen 15:6). Abraham was “fully convinced” that God was “able to do what he promised” (Rom 4:21). Until a person has the conviction in God and his word, saving faith has no fertile soil to blossom from (Rom 10:6–13; Mark 16:15–16).
Second, faith reshapes one’s priorities and actions. The words of Habakkuk are quoted two other times in the New Testament (Gal 3:11; Heb 10:37–38). In each passage there is an emphasis that biblical faith — saving faith — reshapes the Christian’s priorities. In Galatians, Paul argues that faith provides access to the gift of the Spirit. In Hebrews, the writer afﬁrms that because of faith the converted believer can endure hardships because their priorities have changed. It is written, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). Personal faith is nurtured through the study of the scriptures and leads gospel obedience (Rom 6:17–18; 1 Thess 2:13). As Jesus afﬁrmed, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45).
Concluding Thoughts. In order to show the difference between “agreement” and “faith,” evangelist Windell Fikes learned to asked: (1) “Do you believe what the Bible says?,” (2) “Do you want to do what the Bible says?,” and (3) “Do you want to do what the Bible says right now?” In other words, a biblical faith is expressed in obedience to God’s word. Jesus would say, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46).
Jovan preaches for the Highland congregation in Bakersfield, CA.