Meditations in Romans : 4 : Called to Obedience
Rom 1:5,6 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
We live in days when ‘obedience’ is not a much used word. We like to do what we want to do, what feels right for me. Obedience for adults smacks of control and abuse, we think. When we hear of obedience being mentioned we think of ‘heavy shepherding’, of people being told what to do by authoritative leaders and stories of abuse abound, don’t they! Well actually that was the theme of gossip in Christian circles twenty years ago, but today we just go with the ethos of the world and prefer to do our own thing. In fact in some churches I am sure that if there was directive teaching that required conformity to standards laid down by the Biblical preacher, there would be uproar – yet that is what the New Testament clearly teaches!
Paul refers to his calling and says that through Christ he has received two things: grace and apostleship. Grace is simply the God-given ability to do something, and God had given Paul the ability to do what he did, and that leading and enabling meant that he did things that were the mark of an apostle and therefore he had the ministry of apostleship. This calling, he said, had come from Christ and was ‘for his name’s sake’, i.e. it was to honour Christ’s own calling. We have already seen how Paul was Christ’s servant, but Jesus was there on earth as a servant of his Father, to fulfil the divine plan. Jesus had prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you,” (Jn 17:21) and then gone on to ask for his church, that it would work in such a way that the world would know and honour the Father. This was the order: Paul’s ministry would honour Jesus and Jesus would honour the Father. That was what Paul’s ministry was about.
But the outworking of it was to call people from all over the world, the Gentiles, to come to Christ. And why should they come to Christ? Because they needed to be saved, and Christ was the means of saving them. But it wasn’t just about a one-off being ‘born again’; that was just the start. From the moment of our conversion we start a long walk with Christ where he teaches us to be obedient to his word and to the leading of his Spirit so that we are changed into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor 3:18)
This brings us back to the subject of obedience again. How can we change unless he guides us and we follow? The ‘following’ is an act of obedience. From the start, Jesus taught his disciples, “Follow me.” (e.g. Mt 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38 etc.). Today we ‘follow’ him by responding to the prompting and leading of his Holy Spirit. Jesus came to usher in a ‘kingdom’ (Mt 3:2, 4:17,23) – the rule of God on earth through Jesus and then, subsequently, through us his followers.
Now that ‘kingdom’ or ‘rule’ is a benign rule, a rule of goodness and of love. Everything the Father does through Jesus is to bring His love into our experience so when we talk about ‘obedience’ we need to think very differently to any other use of the word. It simply refers to us bringing our thinking and our lives generally, into line with God’s desire to bless us, and the channel through which He brings that blessing is His Son, Jesus. Jesus is the means through which we can be forgiven and Jesus is the administrator of God’s goodness which he is able to bring to us as we respond to his leading.
But, we note, it is all by faith, says Paul. We are people of faith because everything we do in response to God, we do in response to one who we cannot see with our eyes or hear with our ears. We ‘hear’ him in our spirit, and faith is responding to what we have heard at that deep inner level. We may use our minds to process what our spirit is sensing but it is then an act of will which exercises faith. It is as we respond in faith that Jesus is able to lead us and we obey and he blesses.
But there is yet something else here for Paul speaks to those of us, God’s children, Christians, who are called to belong to Christ. Why do we ‘belong’ to him? Because he purchased us: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev5:9,10). Imagine a slave condemned to death who is then bought and set free. That is the picture language of the New Testament. Later in this same book Paul writes, “though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Rom 6:17,18). The same idea comes up in a variety of forms in the New Testament: “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13). We belong to Christ, we live in his kingdom, the kingdom of light, a kingdom of righteousness, a kingdom where obedience to the king is the norm. All these pictures say the same thing: we are part of a kingdom, a kingdom of love and goodness, and a kingdom has a king and kings require obedience, but this obedience is about doing what is good, loving, right, to live in an environment where those characteristics are the characteristics of blessing that comes from God. Who would say that this sort of obedience is hard?