In the Greek text the first seven verses of the book are one long sentence, not an unusual form for one writing in good Greek style. Nevertheless, there has been a natural and significant climax at the end of verse 4 in the words “Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is the point to which the earlier verses have been leading, and it would have been quite proper, as well as good Greek, if Paul had ended his sentence there. Why doesn’t he do this? Why does he add the thoughts in verse 5 before the wrap –up to the introduction in verses 6 and 7? The answer is that Paul has spoken of Jesus Christ as “Lord.” Must Jesus be Lord if one is to be saved by Him? If He must, this will have an effect on the way we understand the gospel and obey Christ’s command to evangelize the world!
The key words of verse 5 are, “to the obedience that comes from faith.” There are two ways this phrase can be interpreted. First, it can be interpreted as referring to the obedience which faith produces or in which it results. I don’t think this is the true meaning. But it’s worth noting that, even if this is the correct interpretation, the point is that Paul is saying that true biblical faith must produce obedience. If the “faith” one has does not lead to obedience, it is not the faith the Bible is talking about when it calls us to faith in Jesus Christ. Yet the case is even stronger than this, because a proper interpretation of the phrase is not “unto obedience to which faith leads” (the first interpretation) but rather “unto obedience, the very nature of which is faith” (the second interpretation). Or, to turn it around, we could say, “faith which is obedience.”
This is an extremely important matter. It’s important because it affects how we understand the gospel and how we seek to obey Christ’s command to evangelize. What’s missing in today’s contemporary approach to evangelism is the recognition that sin primarily is disobedience and that God commands us to repent and repudiate it. So, when the gospel is preached, it must be preached not merely as an invitation to experience life to the full or even to accept God’s invitation. It must be preached as a command. (This is why Paul is so concerned to stress his role as an apostle, as one called and commissioned to be God’s ambassador.) We are commanded to turn from our sinful disobedience to God and instead obey Him by believing in and following the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior.
This is the way Paul preached the gospel, though we frequently overlook it because of our own weak methods. Look how Paul concluded his great sermon to the Athenians; “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed…” (Acts 17:30-31). In God’s name, Paul commanded the Greeks to repent of their sin and turn to Jesus. It is the same in Romans. The weakness of much of our contemporary Christianity can be traced to a deficiency at precisely this point. By failing to present the gospel as a command to be obeyed we minimize sin, trivialize discipleship, rob God of His glory, and delude some into thinking that all is well with their souls when actually they are without Christ and are perishing.
Yet as we draw toward the end of this study, I must add that although the demand that we repent of sin and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ is a command, it is nevertheless a command that comes to us in the context of the gospel. Remember, the gospel is not bad news; it is good news. Above all, it is the good news of God’s grace. I suppose that is why the word “grace” appears in verse 5 – for the first time in the letter. The word “grace” appears twenty-two times in the epistle. “Grace” is one of the great words of Romans and a wonderful concept. What is “grace”? Grace is often defined as God’s favor toward the undeserving, but it is more than that. It is actually God’s favor toward those who deserve the precise opposite. What we deserve is hell. We do not even deserve to hear the gospel, let alone experience the regenerating work of God within, by which we are enabled to turn from sin and obey Jesus. We deserve God’s wrath. We deserve His fierce condemnation. But instead of wrath, we find grace. Instead of condemnation, we find the One who in our place bore God’s judgment and now lives to rule over us.
There is one other point to be made. It is only the gracious love of God that motivates us to be His ambassadors. We are not apostles, as Paul was, but we have a corresponding function. We are God’s witnesses in this world, and, like Paul, we are to take the gospel to the nations. What will motivate us to do that and will actually keep us at it when the going gets tough? There is only one thing: remembrance of the grace of God, which we have first received. Paul said this in 2 Cor. 5:14-14, 18: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again…All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
Romans 1:5 Reflection Questions:
Is Jesus Christ your “Lord”?
Does your faith in Jesus Christ produce obedience?
In what ways do you show your obedience?