What Does Obedience Have to Do with Faith?

I think I did a decent job of blasting theological liberals with my last post regarding the integrity of the Scriptures. There are times, however, when I find it necessary to be an equal opportunity offender; this week I will take a loving shot at some of those in the evangelical camp.

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“What” I might ask, “was the apostle Paul’s primary mission in life?” The expected evangelical answer would be, “to help populate heaven by seeing lost souls saved.” It all sounds very noble—and very spiritual—but that isn’t quite what the Bible teaches. By no means am I saying that saving souls is unimportant. The Bible itself tells us that all of heaven rejoices when a person’s name is added to the Book of Life. But notice what Paul wrote in the introduction of his letter to the Roman believers:

. . . Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake. . . .  Romans 1:4b-5 (NASB)

Paul was stating that the primary purpose of both grace and apostolic ministry is to “bring about the obedience of faith.” This is no fluke as Paul uses the same terminology at the end of his letter (verse 26):

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, 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; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 16:25-27 (NASB)

Paul's Letter to the RomansDo you see it? Paul’s letter to the Romans—the premiere book of the Bible that illuminates our understanding of the gospel—begins and ends with an emphasis on the “obedience of faith.” Salvation isn’t just about accepting Jesus so that we can join a heavenly chorus of believers. Genuine faith is revealed by very practical obedience to God’s commands.

Once again, we find ourselves exploring a deeper understanding of grace. If the grace of God is unmerited favor and nothing more, then we are excused to live as we please as long as we have made some type of decision for Christ. But if grace is something more–if grace enables as well as favors–then it makes perfect sense that a growing faith would lead to increasingly favorable life changes. It’s not about measuring up to some type of religious standard, but rather living by a new and different paradigm.

The Great Commission, in many evangelical circles, has been minimized to mean something very different than what Christ commanded His disciples.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)

Our call, as recorded by Matthew, is to “make disciples” of Jesus. This means that our salvation message must go beyond God’s willingness to forgive our sins. We speak not merely of a salvation prayer, or of a decision for Christ, but of a changed lifestyle which faith and grace will bring about. Any gospel that fails to call for a total surrender of one’s life to Christ is, at best, only an incomplete version of the genuine article.

I believe we do a tremendous disservice to people when we undermine the credibility of the Scriptures with liberal thinking, but I am also convinced that evangelicals make a huge mistake when they simply regurgitate concepts that they’ve been taught by their religious leaders. It doesn’t take a PhD to understand the Bible but it does take effort to seek God’s wisdom for a clearer comprehension of Biblical truth.

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I know that most evangelicals are well-intentioned but so are most liberals. In light of Galatians 1:6-10, if there is one thing that requires extraordinary attention on our part, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ!


Let the River Flow

I suppose it began about 10 years ago. Several evangelical campus ministries at Indiana University of PA (IUP) loosely organized into what we call The River – many streams fed by one Spirit, flowing together with one heart and one mission. I believe in this concept so much that we named our ministry center the River House.

In launching Search for Me Ministries I’ve had to back off from my direct involvement with college students at IUP, but the heavenly Father certainly had plans that weren’t on my radar screen. And so I’ve stayed involved with The River, doing what I can to help network, support and encourage those who are on the front lines of college ministry at IUP.

Several of us have met together over the past couple years at our River House for prayer and this year we’re excited to have some new folks on board (as an answer to our prayers). Recently we kicked off the school-year with a luncheon and what an excellent time we all had together!

Our mission is universal, flowing from the Great Commission.

18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)

Our call is not to make converts or even denominationalites—we’re here as the covenant family of God to make disciples for His kingdom.

In spite of being a relatively unknown, secular state school, IUP has a rich legacy of lives that have been touched and transformed by Christ, people who have gone out to make an impact in our world.

I have former classmates from IUP who pastor large churches and lead national organizations. Former students from ours and other IUP ministries are making an impact for the kingdom both here and abroad. But regardless if the footprint is large or relatively small, they all matter. Each disciple, whether a ministry leader or a stay at home mom, has the potential to powerfully influence the lives of many others.

Our disciples must be disciples of Christ first and foremost. We are not here to build our own kingdoms, but to advance His. This is perhaps one of the greatest errors of the church through the years. As organizations we often display the same sense of self-centeredness that we would despise in the lives of our members. All too often we fall prey to the slithering hiss of the serpent, seeking to build our own kingdoms, unrighteously judging our brothers and sisters and competing against those who share our mission. Aren’t these all identity issues?

It was our Lord Himself who said that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:24). One primary reason that the church is losing the battle for our culture is that we are a kingdom divided (John 13:34-35). Why are we so quick to ignore this reality? We don’t have to morph into one organization, but we do need to be of one heart and one Spirit.

I’m not just talking about unity for the sake of unity. We are a brother and sisterhood in Christ. It’s not what we’re trying to be. It’s who we already are. If we will simply be who we are, who knows what our God will do?

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever.” Psalm 133 (NASB)

All of our programs, all of our outreaches, all of our hard work, mean relatively little unless God blesses. As we walk in covenant unity the life of God begins to permeate our ministries and our mission field.

Let the river flow!