The Obedience of the Faith
The Apostle Paul was never able to visit the Church of Rome, though that was his strong desire. Nevertheless, he wrote an epistle to this Church which is perhaps the greatest example of systematic theology ever written. In today’s epistle reading we find Paul introducing himself to the Church of Rome:
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ … (Romans 1:1-6)
Paul states his purpose very clearly. Paul wants to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” This may be an unusual way to express faith for many people. Obedience – how important is obedience to our faith?
Let us look at the example of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. From today’s Gospel reading:
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:18-23)
A child had never been conceived by the Holy Spirit without any involvement of a husband. Joseph could not have fully understood what this meant. It was certainly not in his plans for marriage. Yet, Joseph took Mary to be his wife because he was obedient to the commands of God.
We have another example of obedience in today’s Old Testament reading:
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:10-14)
King Ahaz was requested to do a very simple thing. All he had to do was to ask for a sign from God. Ahaz was disobedient. He refused to do so. Why was he so unwilling? Perhaps he was too busy with his own plans to take the time to listen to the plan of God. Of course, He hid whatever reason he had to refuse to do what God asked in a lame attempt to sound pious.
God had a plan for Israel. Ahaz could have been a part of that plan. God asked Ahaz to participate in a plan that would restore all of humankind to a lasting relationship with God. What a great honor that would have been for Ahaz, or anyone.
Ahaz refused God, but that did not stop God’s plan. His vision is far greater than anyone else’s vision. No human being can stop God from carrying out his plan. He will move on and work with those who are obedient to his word. The blessings that God bestows on those who are obedient will be lost by those who refuse God.
The Apostle Paul warned against disobedience:
Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. (Romans 2:5-10)
Ahaz, the disobedient one, had a disastrous reign and died at an early age. His son, Hezekiah, whom Ahaz attempted to sacrifice to the demon god Moloch, succeeded him. Fortunately Hezekiah was spared. He commissioned the priests and Levites to open and repair the doors of the Temple and to remove the defilements of the sanctuary, a task which took 16 days.
Joseph, on the other hand, was obedient. He was given the honor of being the earthly father of Jesus. What greater honor could he have been given.
God has a plan for each of us. That plan is part of a greater plan that God has. If we obey him we will not only be blessed, but we will have the honor a blessing many others.
We read in the Book of Hebrews:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:7-9)
Jesus obeyed the Father, endured the cross, and bestowed upon us the greatest blessing of all. How can we refuse the one who made such a great sacrifice on our behalf? Are we to nullify the power of the Gospel through our disobedience? No, our primary act of obedience is the believe in the resurrection and proclaim this message to others. In this way we bless so many others, but we also bless ourselves.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven. It said,
“Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God have come.
The authority of his Messiah has come.
Satan, who brings charges against our brothers and sisters,
has been thrown down.
He brings charges against them in front of our God day and night.
They had victory over him
by the blood the Lamb spilled for them.
They had victory over him
by speaking the truth about Jesus to others. (Revelation 12:10-12)