Grace and Obedience

By Robert H. Farish

Through the years theories of salvation have been advanced which arrayed grace against Obedience or obedience against grace. These theories beard and read would cause one to think that the two were antithetical rather than complementary. Care should be exercised to speak and write on the indispensableness of obedience without losing sight of the glorious grace of God; like care should also be taken to speak and write in praise of the grace of God without detracting from the essential character of obedience. Why cant people see that although obedience does not merit salvation, yet salvation cannot be had by any responsible person apart from obedience? God has joined the two, divine favor and human obedience; it is grace plus obedience of faith equals salvation.

Grace And Obedience In Romans

Paul wrote to the saints at Rome and declared that “we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand” (Rom. 5:2). Peace with God, hope of the glory of God and the power to rejoice even in our tribulations are blessings mentioned as belonging to those of us who have by faith moved into the favor of God.

It is the opinion of this writer that erroneous impressions have been left, in some cases, by speakers and writers dealing with grace and obedience of faith separately. There is always the danger of emphasizing one at the expense of .the other when considered separately. This can result in a distorted concept which leads to presumption on the one hand, or self-righteousness on the other. People presume on the Grace of God when they lightly regard “doing the will of the Father; while others regard “doing the will of the Father” as earning salvation for themselves and thus are self-righteous. One despises obedience while the other despises grace. In this effort I wish to study not grace alone, nor obedience of faith alone, but grace and obedience together. We will learn that salvation is not of debt; neither is it for those who do not the things which Christ commanded.

The apostle declared that he received his apostleship “unto obedience of faith among all nations” (Rom. 1:5). Thus in his introduction to the Roman letter he states that the design of his being made an apostle was to bring men to obedience of faith, and in his conclusion he states that the gospel “is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:28). The great treatise on “access by faith into grace” is bracketed by “obedience of faith.” Ponder this as we study grace and obedience.

In the book of Romans the word grace appears twenty-two times (A.S.V.). In some of these references, it is a specific favor e.g., “grace and apostleship” (Rom. 1: 5), but in most places it is the favor of salvation. The saint is “justified freely by his grace” (Rom. 3: 24); “it is of faith that it might be by grace” (Rom. 4:16); it is by faith that he had his access into the grace (favor) wherein he enjoys peace with God and hope of glory (Rom. 5:2); the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, “abound(ed) unto many” (Rom. 5: 15); “they that receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness, reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). See also Rom. 5:20, 21; 6:1; 6:14, 15; 11: 5, 6 to be impressed with the fact that the grace of God occupies a prominent place in the Roman letter.

The careful student will avoid concentrating so intently on “grace” in the letter that he loses sight of its complement-Obedience – Doing the will of God. So we turn now to observe statements in the book of Romans which point up the essential place of obedience.

(Rom. 2: 4-8): “Or despiseth thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasuresth up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works: To them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life: but unto them that are factions, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation. . . .”

Note that, in the judgment, God is going to render to every man according to his work – those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory, honor and incorruption will receive eternal life. On the other side those who are factious and obey not the truth but obey unrighteousness will receive wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish. Note that the latter is for every soul that worketh evil.

But take another look at that word which is so unpopular with those who would presume on the grace of God – the word is “work.” The apostle states that every man will be rewarded according to his “work.” The work in view is clearly obeying the truth for the contrasting term is “obeying not the truth.”

But this same apostle in this same letter states, “But if it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rom. 11: 6). Now when a commentator says, “He mean 8 that grace and works are absolutely antithetical and mutually exclusive,” if he is including the “works” of Rom. 2:6, he is guilty f arraying the Holy Spirit against the Holy Spirit. But if he will allow the Holy Spirit to define the “works” which are excluded by grace as the works of the law, “because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Rom. 3:20), then he will have the proper contrast before his eyes. Grace and the works of the Law of Moses are antithetical, but grace and “obedience of faith” are complementary. Man can dispense with neither, save to his destruction.

Rom. 6:16, 17: “Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered.” In this reference the apostle points out that obedience establishes whose servant one is. One may gay that Jesus is his Lord yet in the absence of obedience, his claim is exposed as false. This is not only true of the Christian who must “work out his own salvation” (Phil. 2:12, 13) but also in the conversion of an alien as well. The grace of God and obedience of faith are both essential in turning to Christ. These saints before conversion, i.e., before they “became obedient from the heart to that form of doctrine . . .,” were “servants of sin.” This clearly describes their state before conversion. Their conversion is described as obedience from the heart and their state after obedience as free from sin. The order given by the Apostle is: (1) servants of sin (2) obedience (3) free from sin and servants of righteousness. The grace of God has provided no detour. Obedience of faith is the only route to freedom from sin.

Contextual study reveals what was involved in obedience from the heart to that form of doctrine. “Or are you ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:31. The act of obedience which the apostle had in view was their being “baptized into Christ.” Yet there are those who contend that grace and baptism are antithetical and mutually exclusive. Those who are sympathetic or tolerant of such a view of grace and obedience, for the good of themselves and those they influence, should ponder the apostles teaching on the necessity of baptism for freedom from sin, in this treatise on “access by faith into grace.”

Rom. 10: 1-4: “Brethren, my hearts desire and my supplication to God is for them, that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of Gods righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one that believeth.”

Some of Pauls Jewish brethren, due to their ignorance of Gods arrangement, failed to “subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” The concerned student will want to know what it is to “subject” oneself to the righteousness of God! These Jews were ignorant of Gods righteousness due to their rejection of the gospel, “for therein is revealed a righteousness of God. . . .” (Rom. 1: 17). The apostle shows that they had heard the gospel – “Did they not hear? Yea, verily” (Rom. 10:18). They could have believed for He has before shown that “belief cometh of hearing” (Rom. 10:17). They are described as disobedient. “But as to Israel he saith, All the day long did I spread out my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Rom. 10:21). These here described as a disobedient people are the ones that Paul said failed to subject themselves to the righteousness of God. Pauls prayer “that they might be saved” (Rom. 10: 1) shows that they were not saved – they are not of those of whom the apostle wrote that “we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.” Their failure to subject themselves to the righteousness of God is described as disobedience.

These quotations from the treatise on “access by faith into grace” powerfully and clearly establish the essential place of “obedience of faith” in salvation by grace.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 41, pp. 11-13
August 24, 1972