24 June 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Paul now comes back from his description of the gospel to his own apostleship and writes: *Through him (sc. the risen Christ) and for his name’s sake (a phrase to which I will return), we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith* (5). It is unlikely that by using the plural ‘we’, Paul is wanting to associate the other apostles with him, since he nowhere mentions them in this letter. Probably it is an editorial ‘we’, or the ‘we’ of apostolic authority, by which in reality he was referring to himself. What then did he ‘receive’ from God through Christ? He calls it *grace and apostleship*, which in the context seems to mean ‘the undeserved privilege of being an apostle’. For Paul always attributed his apostleship to God’s gracious decision and appointment.(E.g. Rom. 12:3; 15:15; 1 Cor 15:10; Gal 1:15; 2:9; Eph.3:1f., 7f.)
As Paul goes on to state the purpose of his apostleship, he discloses further aspects of the gospel. He defines its scope as *all the Gentiles*. This seems to imply that the Christians in Rome were predominately Gentile, since he specifically mentions them: *And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ* (6). Yet Paul will shortly describe the gospel as ‘the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first the Jew, then for the Gentile’ (1:16). What he is affirming is that the gospel is for everybody; its scope is universal. He himself was a patriotic Jew, who retained his love for his people and longed passionately for their salvation (9:1ff.; 10:1). At the same time, he had been called to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 22:21; 26:17f.; Rom. 11:13; 15:16ff.; Gal. 1:16; 2:2ff.; Eph. 3:8). We too, if we are to be committed to world mission, will have to be liberated from all pride of race, nation, tribe, caste and class, and acknowledge that God’s gospel is for everybody, without exception and without distinction. This is a major theme of Romans.
5). The purpose of the gospel is the obedience of faith.
Literally, Paul writes that he has received his apostleship ‘unto obedience of faith among all the nations’. So ‘obedience of faith’ is his definition of the response which the gospel demands. It is a particularly notable expression, coming as it does at the beginning and end of Romans (see 16:26), since it is in Romans that Paul insists more strongly than anywhere else that justification is ‘through faith alone’. Yet here he apparently writes that it is not by faith alone, but by ‘obedience of faith’. Has he lost his bearings? Does the apostle now contradict himself? No, we must give him credit for consistency of thought.
Three main explanations of the phrase are offered. The first is that it means ‘obedience to the faith’, taking ‘faith’ here as a body of belief. And certainly this is a New Testament expression (Acts 6:7. cf. 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:17). Further, the apostles do refer to conversion in terms of obedience to truth or doctrine (E.g. Rom. 6:17; 10:16; 1 Pet. 1:22). But when ‘faith’ has this meaning, one would expect the definite article to be in place (‘the faith’), whereas the whole context of Romans really demands a reference here to ‘faith’ (as in 8, 16-17).
The second possibility is that this is a genitive of ‘equivalence’, and that the expression should be translated ‘the obedience which consists of faith’. As John Murray puts it, ‘the faith which the apostleship was intended to promote was not an evanescent act of emotion but the commitment of wholehearted devotion to Christ and to the truth of his gospel’. And yet, although faith and obedience do always belong together, they are not synonymous, and the New Testament usually maintains a distinction between them.
The third option is that the genitive is one of source or origin. So NIV renders it *the obedience that comes from faith*, which immediately reminds one of Abraham who ‘by faith…obeyed’ (Heb. 11:8). At the same time we note that this is the obedience of faith, not the obedience of law. Perhaps, in fact, the second and third options do not exclude each other. For the proper response to the gospel is faith, indeed faith alone. Yet a true and living faith in Jesus Christ both includes within itself an element of submission (cf. 10:3), especially because its object is ‘Jesus Christ our Lord’ (4) or ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ (7), and leads inevitably into a lifetime of obedience. That is why the response Paul looked for was a total, unreserved commitment to Jesus Christ, which he called ‘the obedience of faith’. This is our answer to those who argue that it is possible to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour without surrendering to him as Lord. It is not. Certainly the Roman Christians had believed and obeyed, for Paul describes them as being *among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ* (6).