Obedience According To Faith
Re-Translated In September 1999
1. In continuation from the last session, we read the salutation section at the opening lines of this letter. Paul deliberately devotes many words to this greeting. [His greeting is long on purpose] because he wanted first and foremost the readers, who would keep on reading after this, to get some understanding. Paul records here what is thought to be very important for understanding this epistle. Therefore, we need to read this portion carefully. Because of this [important] situation, we have been reading the same passage for two weeks. Let's take a close look today especially at verses five and following.
Why The Gospel Of God To The Gentiles?
2. Please look beginning with verse five.
"By this One we have received grace and been made apostles in order to guide into obedience according to faith all Gentiles by spreading his name."3. Here the word "Gentiles" appears in the text. When this is translated literally it is the word "nations," but whenever the Jews use this word it generally means [a non-Jewish person], a person outside of the Jewish race. Paul is also using that same meaning here. However, whether it is for nations or Gentiles we need to explore why this word appears here in this text. I say this because Paul dared to write in verse two that "this gospel was promised long ago through the prophets in the scriptures." Please recall that I read you this last time. Paul is saying that what he has been deliberately communicating to them clearly has a background in the Old Testament. He explains first of all that it has a relationship to the promises told through the prophets in the long history of Israel. He says that the coming of the Son is nothing but the fulfillment of that promise, and the gospel of God which he has been communicating to them has to do with his son. Since the gospel of God took root in this manner down in the history of the Jews, it meant Paul was not propounding his own personal ideals. Since that's the case, it is appropriate here that we will need to keep on understanding why the gospel had to be given to the Gentiles. Why does something that has a background in Jewish history have to do with Gentiles?
4. It goes without saying but, this question concerns us deeply. [It concerns us deeply] because we are definitely "Gentiles" too like those mentioned here. The history of Israel seemingly has no direct relationship to us. Therefore, why does "the gospel of God" which Paul declares have a relationship to us? There was a time when people used to say things like "Christianity is a Western religion and does not fit the Japanese and their way of life." That was a misjudgment based on a mistaken awareness. Because Christianity's roots are in the people of Israel and when the gospel was first preached it was in a small section of Palestine. That's not what you'd call the West. But then, even if we said it was truly an Eastern religion, that wouldn't mean that it was familiar to us. Why does "Gentile" appear here in the text? Why are we Gentiles still trying to read Paul's epistle? I think first of all we had better make this clear.
5. Therefore, what is recorded just before in verse five will still be the key to [our] understanding. That text puts it like this, "The Son was born from the lineage of David according to the flesh and determined as the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead according to a spirit which is holy." We touched upon this last time but the term "flesh" indicates an existence that belongs to this temporary world. That word has to do with the suffering of all those who live in this passing world. And the true nature of the sufferings of that which is "flesh" means it has sin and is an eroding existence. The son was born from the lineage of David. He was a Jew by race. But Paul obviously places emphasis on the fact the son had become flesh. It means that he shared in the real world of humanity. It means nothing but the fact that he shared in the universal sufferings which have to do with human sin and death. Since that's the situation, it does not merely have to do with the Jews. If the gospel of God has to do with human sin and death, then it has to do with all races and peoples of all countries. In short, it does have to with Gentiles, too.
6. Also, "according a spirit which is holy" points out that it is a dimension that goes beyond this world. The problems of human sin and death will not be resolved by what belongs to this world. Salvation must come from outside this world. The resurrection of the son made clear that he does not have an existence belonging solely to this temporary world. It revealed that he is the son of God with power. Since salvation comes from the power of God that goes beyond this world, therefore, racial differences, which belong to this temporary world, have no significance. Salvation has to do with all races and people from all countries. It has to do with Gentiles. Here is the reason "the gospel of God," which Paul gave, could no longer remain as the religion of a single race. Here is the reason that [the gospel] is given to us living in this nation [of Japan].
Faith And Obedience
7. However, there is one more word we should retain in our hearts respecting this area. Although Paul was expected to speak clearly concerning our salvation, he did not say here, "I received grace and was made an apostle in order to guide all the Gentiles towards salvation." Of course, even if he had written it that way it would not have essentially been far removed from the truth. But, Paul dared to write using a [very] different expression. He says, "to guide all Gentiles into obedience that comes from faith."
8. Since Paul the evangelist is writing, it is natural that he [would] write on "faith," if we could call it natural. Going still further, since this letter is in the Bible, it is not unusual at all that "faith" has been written about in the text. But we do need to stop and think a little at this point. How is "faith" really to be defined, which we regard as a duty expected of us? As we proceed deeper into the contents of this letter from here on, we will repeatedly encounter the word "faith." Is it okay to go on reading [this letter] while taking it for granted that we truly understand the word "faith?" When we think about "faith," can we really say that we are thinking the same thing as Paul? If we take into this letter a concept of "faith" that is different on several counts from Paul, it will lead to our completely misunderstanding this very epistle itself.
9. So, here Paul uses the phrase "obedience according to faith." Since this has only been written as "obedience of faith" in the original text it is not entirely clear how one should translate it. We can translate it in the way of The Shinkyodo Version [The New Interconfessional Version] and we can also translate it "faith, that is, obedience; faith, namely obedience." At any rate, it's important that Paul has dared to write here the words "faith" and "obedience" in sequence. We need to remember in the distant future how these two words "faith" and "obedience" are lined up in order at the opening section of this letter. [We need to remember this] because the word "obedience" certainly regulates the meaning of the word "faith" which Paul uses. So, when we read this letter, it will make no sense to read [this] and keep in [our] minds "a faith" that is not connected to "obedience." By having "faith" and "obedience" as a pair means that when in "faith" we are not "lords," but we are always and ever "subjects." In other words, it means that since we are "beings who should be following in obedience" we are not at the center.
10. However, we must admit that what we often call "faith" is not necessarily the kind of faith [in which the Lord is king and we are his subjects]. It's the same whether a Roman or a Japanese. When we say "we have faith in God," what are we actually thinking about? It is frequently nothing more than "a piety or a belief" that receives things from God or for getting him to do something for us. Isn't it? Thus, what happens is that we coldly declare, "If God won't do what we want or fill our requests, we won't believe in that kind of God." In that situation since the one who is obviously "Lord" is the person who decides how much he will believe in or give up on the other, God then turns into "the obedient subject, the follower, the junior." That is not just how they talk outside the church world. We shouldn't think it's just something other people do. It is found in the church all too much. For instance, as we proceed in our reading of this letter, the phrase will appear in the text saying, "the righteousness of God given to all who believe." If we misunderstand this, we will come to think that "faith is defined as what we do for the purpose of obtaining some of God's righteousness." Therefore, the "righteousness of God" has changed places with what you might call the health and wealth religion with its [magical] answers-to-prayer centered faith, and there will essentially be no major difference. Later we will study this in detail, but in the first place "the righteousness of God" or "the salvation of God" are not defined as "something" that we take in a quid pro quo exchange for faith or piety.
11. What Paul is calling "faith" is not that kind of human centered piety. In the faith we are not "lords" but "subjects, or obedient followers." The premise coming out of this means that before we go on asking and believing there is the One who asks of us. The word "obedience" first acquires any significance only then [i.e. when the One asks of us]. If he said, "I got no use for you; I don't need you," the word "obedience" would not have any meaning any more.
12. Paul's words, which are written next in verse six, demonstrate this well. "Among the Gentiles you also are called to become the possessions of Jesus Christ." To call the Roman disciples believers is the same as calling them "the possession of Jesus Christ." It is not that they possess Jesus Christ, but that they are possessed by Jesus Christ. They are made into persons who belong to Jesus Christ. And they are the possessions of Jesus Christ because they "were called." "Being called" refers to the fact there is One who did the calling. Because there was someone who invited them in love, they are now "the possession of Christ."
13. Therefore, without a break in [his speech], Paul goes on saying to them: "To all the Romans, who have become saints, loved, and called by God." What's written here as "saints" does not stand for what we would call "a holy man." Neither does it stand for people who have achieved moral heights. This means "the people who have become God's possessions." Therefore, it is essentially put in the passive voice three times (i.e. God is the subject of the action verb acting upon his people, loving, calling, and making them saints). First is the one who loves them, calls them and sanctifies them, making them belong to him, and then, and they can be "the people who are loved, called, and made saints by God."
14. In this epistle Paul wanted to relate the circumstances pertaining to faith. But, as is clear from the above [discussion] what Paul will try to speak from here on as a missionary-evangelist does not say, "If you want to obtain God's salvation, then be diligent in faith with all your life's strength." No, that's not so; rather, it was Paul's mission to produce a bond of people with the one who called them in love living in obedience, having entrusted themselves over to that call and to produce relationships that are alive. That's the reason Paul received grace and was made an apostle. The Romans needed to read along in Paul's epistle with that in their understanding. It is the same way for us as well.
15. At the end of the salutation, Paul prays for grace and peace. This section appears in exactly the same words in other epistles as well. "That you have grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." So as we reflect on the above contents I read you, we know that this is not some type of simple cliché. "Grace" here means the love of God directed to those who do not deserve to receive it. Peace will resurface later in chapter five, but first and foremost it is "peace with God." In this epistle there is embedded a request that he wants the readers to be persons truly living in grace and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ, and he wants them to be persons living in a relationship with God in that particular kind of obedience of faith. [He wants them to be living like that] because there is where the salvation of us who are but flesh lies. I would like us to keep in our hearts Paul's prayer requesting for this grace and peace for believers, and to go on further in our reading of this epistle.