The relationship between faith and works has proved a confusing issue for centuries. But it didn't just begin in the protestant reformation under Martin Luther. No. It began during the time of the Apostles. So let's listen in now as Stephen takes us back to Romans 1:5 to discover not only why True Faith Works . . . but how it works.
“The Gospel Truth”
Our text for today is Romans chapter 1 verse 5. “Through whom (that is, verse 4 told us, through Jesus Christ our Lord) we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake.”
Whenever you are involved in a Biblical discussion about the nature of the truth of the gospel, sooner or later, the subject of faith and of works usually enters in.
Just what is faith – and what does it have to do with works? Are these two subjects always to be left separate from each other or are they both a part of the gospel message.
The careful reader of this verse is immediately struck with an odd phrase that seems almost out of place. It is the phrase, “the obedience of faith.” If it seems unfamiliar to your eyes and ears it is because, in fact, it only appears one other time in the entire New testament. And that other location is in this same letter.
Turn to the last chapter of Romans, chapter 16 verse 25. By the way, you’ll immediately notice how similar Paul’s last paragraph is to his first paragraph, which we have been studying. Romans 16:25. Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26. but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith.
You notice the similar themes here – the gospel which is summed up in the person of Jesus Christ – who was announced in the scripture by the prophets, to be preached to the nations which leads to the obedience of faith.
There it is again.
What’s Paul saying . . . that faith and obedience are inseparable? That disobedience reveals the absence of true faith. That genuine faith as delivered in the gospel cannot exist without obedience?
I’ve been asked similar questions only in words like these:
- “Is it possible for somebody to be a Christian who refuses to live like a Christian?”
- “Is it possible to have saving faith without evidencing a spiritual walk?”
- “Is a person really a Christian if they don’t pray, read their Bibles and go to church?”
- “If somebody says they got saved years ago and yet they have never grown in the Lord nor seem to have a desire to grow in the things of Christ, are they really saved?”
- “What do you say about a man or woman who says they accepted Christ but now in their later years say they have no desire to follow Christ?”
In order to answer these questions, we need to understand what Paul meant in Romans chapter 1 and chapter 16 when he spoke of the obedience of faith and in order to do that we have to understand something of the nature of true faith.
I want to begin by defining as clearly as I can genuine saving faith.
First, let’s step back and look at faith in general. Let’s cover familiar ground, perhaps to many of you.
I want to begin by saying first what faith is not.
First of all, faith is not mental acknowledgement of truth
If salvation consists in nothing more than believing that God exists and Jesus is His Son and heaven is real, etc. than every demon is a believer.
You believe that there is only one true God, James wrote in chapter 2 verse 19, you do well, the demons also believe and tremble.
The demons believe the truth about Christ. They know He’s God in the flesh; they believe heaven and hell are real; they believe God through Christ created the universe, in fact, according to the Book of Job, they were created before the world was so they got to see it all take place.
But no demon is on his way to heaven – even though they believe all of that.
Simply because they are believing what is historically true.
They believe in God they way I believe in Julius Caesar.
I believe he lived and conquered most of his known world. I believe he was a military genius and have personally stood on the coast of France and looked at a huge monument of granite and marbled pillars with his name etched into it as the great ruler of the world.
But I’ve never met Julius Caesar personally. And I surely have not bent my knee to him and said, “Caesar is Lord; and I will do your bidding as your loyal subject.”
For you to say, “You believe that Jesus is the Son of God” may mean nothing more than the demons who also believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but they, will not bend their knee in worship to Him.”
What’s the difference today between you and the demons?
Saving faith is not mere mental affirmation of historical truth!
Secondly, faith is not temporary assurance in trials.
More than half of the people polled by Gallup Jr. in a survey not too long ago said they believed in God.
But only a fraction of them believed that the Bible had any authority over their life or morals.
But they believed in God. If you asked them why, as I have asked hundreds of people over these last 14 years of ministry, you’ll hear answers like, “Well, when I lost my job, I prayed and got another one – that let me know God was listening.” Or, “When my child got sick, I prayed that God would heal her and she got well.” So I know God’s in my life.
Others will talk of some dream, or some miracle, or some vision, or some near death experience, or some rescue from danger. . .and on and on.
Their assurance has nothing to do with the gospel of saving faith, but temporary assurances that have everything to do with life on earth, and nothing to do with how to get to heaven.
Our world is filled with deceived people. They want nothing to do with the claims of the cross – they want assurance of heaven and their sinful lives at the same time. They want to choose what’s right or wrong and yet believe that God will smile on them one day and usher them in to His presence.
And they latch onto anything that looks spiritual as their claim to heaven, while at the same time never evidencing spiritual hunger or thirst after righteousness.
John wrote in his first epistle, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious; anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God.” (I John 3:10)
That doesn’t mean a believer can’t or won’t sin. That doesn’t mean a believer can’t or won’t disobey. The key word is the word “practice”.
It’s one thing to practice righteous living and fail. That’s the description of the believer in Romans chapter 7. But it’s another thing to not care about God’s standard of righteousness and to practice a lifestyle of sin and at the same time claim to be a Christian.
For those who claim to know Christ but refuse to follow Him and live in sin – it is not my job to give that person hope, but to warn them that they may have no hope.
The Apostle John did just that as he referred to those who had abandoned the faith and openly rebelled against the Lord even though at one time they were part of the church and seemingly related to Christ; he uses these sobering words, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” (I John 2:19)
Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher in England wrote 100 years ago, “If the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he knows the Lord’s will, but does not mean to obey it, you are not to pamper his presumptions, but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved.”
Charles H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner quoted in Faith Works by John MacArthur, p. 208
What is saving faith? Let me give you 4 thoughts:
- First, saving faith is trust in the living Lord Jesus Christ alone for personal forgiveness and eternal life.
Ephesians 2:8,9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.
We sing that great doctrinal truth in the hymn of the church,
“My faith has found a resting place, not in devise or creed; I trust the ever living One, His wounds for me shall plead. I need no other argument, I need no other plea, it is enough that Jesus died and that he died for me.”
- Secondly, faith in Christ apart from any works brings salvation, yet at the same time, genuine faith works.
Ephesians 2 goes on to declare in verse 10; For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
In other words, real faith will always produce righteous works. The lack of righteous desire and deeds indicates the lack of real faith.
- Third; Good works are not the condition for salvation, they are the consequence of salvation.
Paul wrote in Titus 2:14, “That He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”
- Finally, salvation then is God’s gift of grace to us; good works are our gift of gratitude to God.
Paul wrote with great rejoicing in Romans 6:17,18, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
Douglas Moo wrote these insightful words, “We can understand Paul’s words “obedience” and “faith” to be mutually interpreting: obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience. Paul called men and women to a faith that was always inseparable from obedience – for the Savior in whom we believe is nothing less than our Lord, and to an obedience that can never be divorced from faith – for we can obey Jesus as Lord only when we have given ourselves to him in faith. Faith and obedience are not separate stages of Christian experience.”
Douglas Moo New International Commentary, Romans Eerdmans p. 52
In other words, it is impossible to have one gift without the other.
How can anyone who has received the precious gift of eternal life from God care nothing for Him?
Types of Faith
The Bible refers to several different types of faith.
In James 2:17 the Bible refers to dead faith.
In fact, faith that is considered dead is faith that is not revealed in works.
In Matthew 7:22 you have a horrifying description of deceived faith.
21. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23. And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you
Talk about subjective experiences. Talk about those who had visions, talk about those who didn’t just see miracles, but performed them – and all in the name of Jesus. And Jesus Christ, the judge says to them, “I never knew you.”
Peter describes these people I believe as those who merchandized the gospel. That is, they gathered a following by their miracles and prophecies only to profit from them financially. They didn’t feed the sheep, they fleeced the sheep. Or maybe it was to boost their pride, or to get a following, or to get rich and many other reasons – they displayed faith, but they did not have genuine faith.
Perhaps that’s why it is so important that every one of us have the next kind of faith.
It is examined faith 2 Corinthians 13:5 “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?”
Have you ever asked yourself, am I truly a Christian? Do I have in my life the evidences of Christ living in me? I like to ask people this way, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you in a court of law?”
Then, finally there is genuine faith.
What are some of the passions or actions of genuine faith?
We’re told to live by faith! Romans 1:17 “The just shall live by faith.”
Paul wrote in Romans chapter 1 and verse 8, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” These believers understood the gospel and they had a living, submissive, obedient, trusting faith in the Living Lord.
What is it in your life that you are trusting God for today? In what way are you depending on Him for tomorrow? If the Spirit of God was removed from your life, how long would it take for you to figure it out?
Secondly we are to keep the faith! Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:7, that he had finished the course and kept the faith. In other words, he was faithful to the gospel truth all the way to the finish line.
We also are to communicate the faith! 2 Timothy 2:2
The things which you heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
We are to contend for the faith! Jude 3 A verse that talks about protecting and defending the truth of the gospel against those who Jude warns us will appear within the context and under the guise of the gospel but who are in fact, deceivers and false teachers.
Finally, we are to fight the good fight of faith! I Timothy 6:12
Let me summarize the relationship between Faith and Works:
“Faith is that spiritual, internal reality which brings about physical, external results; God initiates faith which is essential for salvation, man initiates works which are the evidences of salvation; faith is the attitude, works are the action.”
Now, having, in effect expounded on the meaning of Romans 1:5 let’s have one closer look at it.
“Through whom we have received grace and apostleship.”
Now we’ve already dealt with the subject of Paul’s apostleship in a former sermon; I want to deal with the subject of grace when we get down to verse 7, next spring.
Read on, “to bring about the obedience of faith. . .”
First, Paul refers to this unhesitating action of our faith.
To obey is seen by Paul here as the inseparable substance of faith.
He cannot fathom a person of faith being anything other than a person of obedience. For he himself, when he encountered the saving work of Christ, on that Damascus road - when the risen Savior blinded him with brilliance, and Paul discovered that he had been persecuting the true followers of Christ. He discovered in a moment that Jesus Christ was indeed Lord and Messiah. And his very first words to the risen Savior reveal the changing of his mind and the repentance of his heart and the evidence of his genuine faith as he said to Christ, “What do you want me to do, Lord.”
Today, in the church, we seem to be enamored with better methods and ways for getting God to do what we want Him to do. We told to pray the right prayers – we’re instructed to get others to agree with us. We’re told to claim it and name it and speak it and God – the eternal butler will deliver the goods.
Ladies and Gentlemen, genuine faith has God doing the talking, and we doing the butlering. We don’t ring Him for our whims and wishes, He rings us for His.
And the obedience of faith says, “Whatever you want me to do, Lord, I will do.”
Secondly, Paul reveals the unlimited arena of our faith.
Paul’s next prepositional phrase reads, “among all the Gentiles.”
What an amazing passion. The Gentiles!
Paul had been a Pharisee – a Jew who would have shuddered at the thought of God loving a Gentile. They wouldn’t let their robe brush against an ordinary Gentile. Every morning they would thank God that He, among other things, did not create them Gentile. Paul, like all his contemporaries believed and taught that Gentiles were “fuel for the fires of hell.”
Now Paul is saying in effect, “Hey, I want you to know that my faith has so revolutionized my heart, that I must tell every Gentile I can the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Like Paul, today our gospel is not to be kept to ourselves; it is to be shared and lived out on display before the entire world.
Finally, the last phrase reveals, the ultimate ambition of our faith; Paul writes, “for His names sake.” In other words, for the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Two final comments by way of application:
- You will never tally on earth the effects of your faith.
When Paul told these believers, “Listen, your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” they had no idea how. None of them would ever have believed that 2,000 years later we’d still be talking about them!
The impact you’re making on that child, that player on your team; that student in your class; that coworker on your floor; that neighbor – you have no idea what lasting impact you are making on them by living out your faith.
- You will never regret in heaven every act and attitude of faith.
This past week I’ve had lunch with two men. One of them attends another church in the area.
One man told me, Stephen, 14 years ago I started a business out of my pickup truck . . . this year we’ll do 25 million dollars worth of business. But I have to tell you, I’m not satisfied with where I am spiritually. I’m not ready for this kind of pressure. I need to grow in Christ to a deeper level. Can you tell me what to do.
I was listening to a man whose faith was being demonstrated by obedience.
Another man told me just recently over a bowl of soup that he hardly touched, “Stephen I’ve been so convicted with my lack of passion for God - I was not living for Him at the job and before my family. But God has arrested my heart. He said, just a few weeks ago, I went home and confessed my unfaithfulness to the Lord and to my wife. We began to go through the house and began to throw things away. CD’s, video movies, anything that didn’t contribute to righteousness. He said, “We were up until 3 am throwing stuff away.” Then with tears in his eyes he said, “I’m tired of playing games – I want to be real for God.”
That my friends, is the obedience of faith. Faith that was in desperate need of examination.
You say, well, didn’t he say he accepted Christ when he was a little boy? Why didn’t you tell him, “Hey don’t worry so much about it – you’ll get into heaven.”
No – I was hearing him tell me he examined himself and he was failing the test.
Some of you signed that card when you were a kid; you joined that church, you got wet, you got a Bible when you were 12. My friend, where is your living, obedient faith?!
By the way, neither one of those man threw anything away – they gained everything.
With that attitude of obedient faith in place, Paul writes that the arena of influence in that man or woman’s life will spread outward – just as Paul desired in Romans 1:5, and ultimately, the name of Jesus Christ our Lord will receive due glory and honor and praise.
There’s an old hymn that combines these two elements of faith and obedience.
It says it simply and yet profoundly this way:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way;
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
That, my friends, is the obedience of faith!