The Obedience of Faith

Paul begins his Letter to the Romans with a lengthy introduction in which he identifies himself and his mission. The calling and “grace” of God have equipped him to preach the “obedience of faith” to the “Gentiles.” In his introduction, he includes a brief description of the Messianic qualifications of Jesus of Nazareth, and links what God did in him to His promises recorded in the “Holy Scriptures.”

Rather than stress his title or authority, Paul labels himself a “servant” or ‘doulos’ of God. This is the Greek term commonly used for “slave” in that society. The term does not denote Paul’s high position but means that he serves the Master who owns him. Whatever else he might be, he is first and foremost a “slave” of the Living God.

Bible Study - Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash
[Bible Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash]

This “
servant” was “called” to be an “Apostle.” The Greek noun rendered “apostle” refers to someone who is “sent” to perform an assigned task. It was often used for an agent or “envoy” representing an organization or important person.

In all this, Paul has “been separated” for service to the “Gospel of God.” He links this message to God since He is the key subject of the immediate discussion, and what is now “Good News” for the “nations” or “Gentiles” is the result of what the God of Israel has done in and through His Son:

  • Paul, slave of Jesus Christ, called apostle, separated to the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning his Son The one who, having come to be from the seed of David according to the flesh, The one who was marked off as the Son of God by power, according to a spirit of holiness, from a resurrection from among the deadJesus Christ our Lord, Through whom we received grace and apostleship for the obedience of faith among all the nations for the sake of his name, Among whom you also are called of Jesus Christ, To all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints. Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ”- (Romans 1:1-7).

The “Gospel” announced by Paul was in fulfillment of what God promised through the “prophets,” promises found in the Hebrew Bible “concerning His Son.” God did not deviate from His original plan out of later necessity when He sent His Son. Instead, in doing so, He achieved His original plan and fulfilled His promises.

Later in the Letter, Paul will describe the “righteousness of God” that is now manifested in His Son, a righteousness that is “attested by the Law and the Prophets” – (Romans 3:21). Paul will use similar terms in the Letter’s concluding section in Chapter 16:

  • Now to him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of a mystery, having been kept silent in age-long times, yet NOW, having been manifested, also through the SCRIPTURES OF THE PROPHETS, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, is made known unto all the Gentiles for the OBEDIENCE OF THE FAITH. To the only wise God through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory unto the ages. Amen” - (Romans 16:25-26).

Jesus was a descendant of the royal house of David, “according to the flesh.” This reference further highlights the theme of fulfillment since the Scriptures promised that the Messiah would come from the House of David and sit on his Throne – (e.g., Psalm 2:1-8).

In Paul’s usage, the term rendered “flesh” frequently refers to the frailty of human nature; man in his mortal and weakened state. It was the man, Jesus of Nazareth, who was destined to rule from the Messianic Throne. The point is not to denigrate his messiahship by teaching that it was “fleshly” as opposed to “spiritual,” but rather to reaffirm that he was the promised “son of David.”

The Nazarene was “marked off as the Son of God.” The Greek verb rendered “marked off” or “designated” in some English versions refers to something that is “marked out.” That is, he was identified or made known as God’s Son, and he was designated “in power.”

Paul does not elaborate on what he means by “power,” but this designation precedes the reference to his resurrection, so he is not referring to whatever powers were bestowed on Jesus after his resurrection and elevation to the Throne of God.

Most likely, Paul wishes his readers to connect the term “power” with the “Spirit of Holiness.” That is, the Spirit of God empowered the Messiah to perform his deeds and teach the Gospel during his ministry. Paul makes a similar point in Chapter 15 regarding his own ministry:

  • For I will not dare to speak of any things save those which Christ wrought through me for the OBEDIENCE OF THE GENTILES, by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, so that from Jerusalem and round about even unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ - (Romans 15:19).

SPIRIT OF HOLINESS


The term “according to a Spirit of Holiness” is not included as a contrast to the claim that he was the “seed of David according to the flesh,” as if Paul was comparing the “fleshly” side of his Messiahship with its “spiritual” aspect.

All four characterizations of his ministry are offered as proof that Jesus was the Son of God. Any aspect of “flesh” or physicality in him was not contrary to or incompatible with his identity as the Son or his mission as the Messiah of Israel.

The phrase “Spirit of Holiness” is unique in the New Testament. It may be another way of referring to the Holy Spirit that anointed Jesus for ministry. Or perhaps it refers to the holiness that characterized his life.

The Greek noun rendered “holiness,” ‘hagiôsumé,’ is used only two more times by Paul, and in each case, it is applied to believers when they are exhorted to pursue “holiness” and not to Jesus. Paul does not use the term again in Romans – (2 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:13).

The Apostle makes a related remark near the conclusion of the Letter when he describes the “grace of God” that made him a servant of the “Gospel of God for the Gentiles, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable, being SANCTIFIED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT” – (Romans 15:15-16).

In the passage from Chapter 15, the Greek verb rendered “sanctified” or ‘hagiazô’ is related to the noun for “holiness.” The idea of both terms is someone or something dedicated to service - consecrated, sanctified, or separated for divine service. Whether the “spirit of holiness” refers to the anointing that was on Jesus or to the Holy Spirit, the purpose was to separate and consecrate him for his Messianic mission.

HIS RESURRECTION


The resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate confirmation that he was and is the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. By raising him from the dead, God validated all that Jesus said and did. He was, therefore, “marked out… by a resurrection from the dead.” More idiomatically, the Greek clause reads, “by a resurrection out from among DEAD ONES.” The adjective rendered “dead” is masculine and PLURAL. It does not refer to the abstract state of death but to DEAD PERSONS.

This understanding suggests that Jesus was the first of many who were yet to be resurrected, and Paul returns to this theme several times in the Letter. The future resurrection of believers is central to his concept of salvation, which is based on the past resurrection of Jesus - (Romans 8:11).

Only after the reference to his resurrection does Paul refer to Jesus as “Lord” (“Jesus Christ, our Lord”). This may be for stylistic reasons, or it may be intended to suggest that he became the Lord over all things following his resurrection – (Matthew 28:18-20).

It is through this same Son of God that Saul of Tarsus received grace and apostleship to proclaim the “obedience of faith” among the Gentiles. Note well that he does not view obedience and faith as mutually exclusive. Genuine faith results in obedience to the Word of God, above all, by placing faith in the one marked off as the “Son of God” and in accord with the “Holy Scriptures.”



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