CALLED TO OBEDIENCE
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Colonel Wilbur Rogers was ordered to let loose an artillery barrage in a World War I battle. He was right there on the battlefield, and he could see what the commander could not see. If he fired as ordered he would shell 10,000 American infantry just ahead of him. He refused to obey an order that would have killed his own soldiers, and the result was he was immediately removed from his command and arrested. Charges were preferred against him, and he was reduced to a class B status, which means he was deemed unfit to hold commission in active service. Colonel Rogers fought in court for 14 years to prove that there are circumstances where disobedience to orders is a manifestation of common sense. Finally in 1934 he was vindicated and President Roosevelt signed a bill that reinstated him to class A status.
Blind obedience to orders that you know are based on ignorance of the circumstances is not a virtue, especially when you do know the circumstances and can make a wiser decision. On the other hand, when you are the one who is ignorant of the circumstances it is a virtue to give blind obedience to those in authority over you. This is illustrated by the Eastern King who hired two men to pull water out of a well and pour it into a basket. After awhile one of them said that it was foolishness. The water runs through the sides of the basket and the labor was in vain. The other one said that they were being paid good to do it and so it is the master's business. The first man was not satisfied and just threw the basket down and quit. The other man went on doing the job, and when he got to the bottom of the well he learned the purpose of his labor. There was a precious diamond ring that had fallen into the well. Had it been brought up before they got to the bottom it would have been found in the basket. It was not useless labor at all. The worker who remained faithful to the task was greatly rewarded because he worked on when he did not understand the purpose of it.
The king had planned the whole thing, for he was looking for a reliable servant who would obey him even when they did not understand his plan. This has been God's search all through history. He has ever sought for servants who would obey him. Abraham was one of his best servants and we read in Heb. 11:8, "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." In blind obedience he did what God ordered, and became the number one example of a man of faith. He even obeyed God when he was asked to sacrifice his own son Isaac. It made no sense, for God had promised him a great host of descendants as vast as the sand of the seashore. But he had faith that God would keep his promise, and so he was ready to do what made no sense to him. God, of course, did not let him do it, and provided the substitute lamb for the sacrifice.
If you study all of the heroes of the faith, you discover that the virtue they all had in common was the virtue of obedience. They were different in many ways, but they were all obedient to what they knew was the will of God. Obedience was the key virtue in the Bible and still is today. The first sin in the Garden of Eden was the sin of disobedience, and this is the essence of all sin. It is those who obey who will have access again to the tree of life in the eternal kingdom.
Some may be thinking that love is the supreme virtue, and this is correct. But the Bible so links love and obedience that they are married and become one. You cannot have one without the other. Jesus said in John 14:21, "He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." Then two verses later he says, "If a man love me, he will keep my words." We make a distinction between a professing Christian and a possessing Christian because it is not words buy obedience that makes a true believer. In Matt. 7:21 Jesus says, "Not every one that says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." It is in obedience to God that we demonstrate faith and manifest love. Without obedience all the lovely language and professions are mere stubble that will quickly perish in the fires of judgment.
We do not grasp the goal of God at all unless we see that the bottom line is obedience to his will. F. B. Huey Jr. wrote an article for Christianity Today that was titled Obedience A Neglected Doctrine. In this article he tells us that obedience is so practical that we would rather focus on other doctrines that are merely intellectual groping for the truth. Obedience is hard because it demands that you act and back up your profession with behavior. He wrote, "If we are completely honest, we will admit that obedience is the biblical doctrine most difficult to put into practice. We preach, teach, give a tithe or more, go to the mission field, may even be willing to die for the faith; but how many of us will at the end of this life be able to say: 'I led every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.' (II Cor. 10:5)? Total surrender is often talked about, but it is far easier to preach than to practice."
Because we do not like to submit to be a slave to God's will we tend to let obedience slide. Professor Huey wrote again, "The alarming statistical decrease in conversions in recent years is partly explained by the lessened insistence upon obedience of children in the home. A well-known evangelist has pointed out that it is very difficult to win to Christ people who as children never learned obedience. If a person does not respect his earthly parents, how much more difficult it is for him to obey the Father in heaven. Parents who teach their children the importance of obedience are preparing them for salvation." Obedience on any level has eternal implications.
We are spending a lot to time looking at the first few verses of this great letter because it is universally agreed upon that Paul gives us a mini-outline of the entire letter in this introduction. John MacArthur is one of the most popularmis Bible teachers of our day and he says, "...the entire thrust of all 16 chapters of Romans is distilled into the first seven verses-Paul is so thrilled by what he wants to say that he can't wait to say it. He capsulizes his foundational thoughts in Rom. 1:1-7. It is as if the seed of the Gospel is sown in the first seven verses and then fully blooms throughout the rest of the epistle."
It pays to go slow when you are panning for gold, for those who go fast are sure to throw away nuggets with the pebbles. Some lost is inevitable for no man has ever gotten them all. Martin Lloyd Jones preached on Romans for 8 years. Donald Gray Barnhouse preached on it for 3 and a half years, and greatly influenced Chuck Swindoll who preached on it for nearly a year. None of them claimed to cover the subject thoroughly, for it is a lifetime task. John Calvin in his commentary on Romans wrote, "...when anyone gains a knowledge of the Epistle, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture."
Most of us usually skip through the introduction and miss the treasures. So far we have looked at 1. The Preachers Of The Gospel. 2. The Promise Of The Gospel. 3. The Person Of The Gospel. And now we are looking at 4. The Purpose Of The Gospel. Paul spells it out in verse 5 where he says the whole purpose of his receiving grace and apostleship was to call people from all the Gentiles to the obedience which comes from faith. This is just another way of stating the Great Commission of Christ who said in Matt. 28:19-20, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." The bottom line is obedience, for the finished product is to be obedient disciples.
Walter Isenhour tells of the English farmer who saw a party of horsemen riding toward a field that he did not want trampled. He sent one of his boys to shut the gate and not let it be opened. He got there just in time. When the horsemen came they ordered the gate to be opened. The boy refused stating his orders. Threats and bribes failed to move him. Then one of the riders said, "My boy, I am the Duke of Wellington. I command you to open that gate that I and my friends may pass through." The boy removed his cap to honor this man all England delighted to honor, but he said firmly, "I am sure the Duke of Wellington would not want me to disobey orders. I must keep the gate shut and not allow anyone to pass but by my master's permission." Greatly pleased, the old warrior lifted his own hat and said, "I honor the boy or man who can be neither bribed nor frightened into doing wrong." Handing the boy a sovereign, the old Duke put spurs to his horse and galloped away.
The purpose of the Gospel is not just to save people for heaven, but to produce people on earth in all nations who will be that kind of obedient servant, and be loyal to Christ above all others. But notice carefully what Paul says about this obedience in verse 5. It is obedience that comes from faith. There is obedience that comes from force and from fear also, but this is not the kind of obedience that Jesus wants. He wants obedience that is by choice and not by coercion. The purpose of the Gospel is to get people of all nations to be voluntary slaves of Christ. These are people who choose to obey His commands because they want to, and because they belong to Him, and they believe His promises.
Obedience that comes from faith is not an I have to obey attitude, but it is an I want to obey attitude. I want to please my Lord. We have not arrived at God's goal for the Gospel until we do His will because we love Him and want to do His will. If we obey because we feel guilty if we don't, or feel pressured by the need to conform, or by some other external motive, we have not yet arrived at Christian maturity.
A rich man had a son that he loved dearly, but who died at a young age. The father died not long after, and he stipulated in his will that all of his art treasures were to be auctioned off, and to begin with the portrait of his son. He had many treasured paintings, but the portrait of his son was by an obscure artist, and so most just waiting for this to be out of the way. In fact, there was only one bid, and that was by the servant of the wealthy man who had also loved the son and wanted to possess his portrait. The auctioneer handed the portrait to the servant, and then went on to read the net portion of the will. "All the rest of my treasures will go to the one who loved my son enough to purchase his portrait." The parallel is not in the purchase, where there is no price on the Gospel. The parallel is in the love for the Son. Those who love the Son God gave to fulfill His promise will receive with their choice to love Jesus all the riches that go with the inheritance of Him who is a perfect portrait of the Father.
You do not come to Jesus because you have to, but you come because you want to. You do not obey Jesus because you have to, but you obey because you want to. This is the obedience that comes from faith, and this is the goal of the Gospel. It is the very purpose for which Paul is writing this letter, and why he longs to go to Rome and preach the Gospel. The Greek word here for obedience is used 14 times in all of the New Testament. Seven of them are used right here in this letter to the Romans. Obedience is a major theme of this letter.
The entire plan of salvation revolves around obedience. Paul writes in
Rom. 5:19, "For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." Obedience is a major New Testament doctrine because by it Jesus became the perfect man, and so was the perfect sacrifice that made it possible for God to save us. We are saved, not just by the sacrifice of Christ, but by His obedience. His sacrifice would have been worth nothing had He not first been obedient. His death on the cross was His supreme act of obedience.
Phil. 2:6-9 says, "Who, being in nature God, did not consider equally with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death-even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name." Jesus made it to the top by obedience. It was not by force, by deeds, or clever maneuvering, but by obedience. To be like Christ is to be obedient to the Father's will. To be a disciple of Jesus, and to be a saint, are just different ways of describing the call to obedience that comes from faith.
Paul makes it clear in this letter that the whole purpose of his ministry was to lead people to obedience. In Romans 15:17-18 he writes, "Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done." Paul would be very please if his epitaph read, "Here lies the man who led Gentiles to obey God." This was his glory and in the final chapter of this letter he says in 16:19, "Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you." Paul's joy was not based on the numbers, as is so often the case in our culture, nor on the amount of money given. Paul's joy was in their obedience, for that is the very purpose of the Gospel, and the purpose of his ministry.
In the next to the last verse of this letter in 16:26 Paul sums it up again by writing, "That all nations might believe and obey him." Nothing, and I mean nothing is more pleasing to God than obedience. God said to Abraham in Gen. 22:18. "Through your offspring all the nations on earth will be blessed." Then he tells Abraham why: "because you have obeyed me."
A. W. Tozer wrote, "The church of our day has soft-pedaled the doctrine of obedience, either neglecting it altogether or mentioning it only apologetically and, as it were, by the way. This results from a fundamental confusion of obedience with works in the minds of preacher and people. To escape the error of salvation by works, we have fallen into the opposite error of salvation without obedience. In our eagerness to get rid of the legalistic doctrine of works, we have thrown out the baby with the bath water and gotten rid of obedience as well."
There are two basic things the Bible gives us, and they are promises to believe and commandments to obey. We tend to favor the promises and neglect the commands. This is like trying to plow with one live and one dead horse. It will not work, for you need a team of two live horses to get the job done. Many stress the promises to be believed as if this was the same as obedience. But you do not obey a promise. You believe it and trust it, but you do not obey it. Others will stress the commands to be obeyed and give the impression that you can save yourself by obeying the ten commandments and others. This is legalism and salvation by works and misses the need for faith in the finished work of Christ, and living by faith in the promises of God. You do not have faith in a command, but you obey it, and so they miss out on the need for faith in the promises of God and dependence on God's grace. Both are half right and all wrong, and they produce incomplete Christians.
We all need to listen to Paul's stress on obedience that comes from faith. He agrees with James that faith without works is dead, and also that works without faith is dead. You need both to have a true Christian theology. One without the other is Laurel without Hardy, or Abbott without Costello, or salt without pepper, and a horse without a carriage. If they are not a team you do not have a biblical view of God's plan and purpose for man. It is a common misconception that one is doing just fine if they have correct ideas about biblical truths, even if they do not live in obedience to the commands of the Bible. Such a slipshod Christianity cannot change society, for it does not even change those who profess such a perverted faith. Without obedience to God's revealed will any profession of being a Christian is phony. An authentic Christian will still be a sinner and will fail, but they will be always striving to obey all they understand of God's will for their life.
If you do not remember anything else in Paul's introduction to Romans, remember verse 5 and the purpose of Paul in his ministry to call people from all nations to obedience that comes from faith. A. W. Tozer again wrote, "The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith. The two are opposite sides of the same coin. What does all this add up to? What are its practical implications for us plain Christians today? Of this we can be certain: God is waiting in all readiness to send down floods of blessing upon us as soon as we begin to obey His plain instructions. We need no new doctrine, no new movement, no "key," no important evangelist or expensive, "course" to show us the way. It is before us as clear as a four-lane highway. To any enquirer, I would say: "Just do the next thing you know you should do, to carry out the will of the Lord."
If God's people would have obeyed Him the Old Testament would not be filled with violence and judgment, but it would be a perpetual proof of just how close even fallen man can live to paradise. They failed, and so do we, but the challenge is ever before us. This is God's goal in history to produce in every nation people who will obey Him. Chuck Swindoll said, "Only one decision pleases God-obedience." This means there is only one way to success that fits God's definition of success, and that is by obedience.
Heaven and hell, and everything in between, meaning all of history, revolves around the issue of obedience. Paul wrote in II Thess. 1:18 that when Jesus comes again in judgment, "He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus." Not to obey is to reserve a place in hell. On the other hand, we read in Heb. 5:8-9, "Although he was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered, and once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him." Heaven is the destiny of those who live in obedience. May God help us all to recognize this great truth that we are called to obedience.