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ANOTHER THEME FOUND IN THE BOOK OF ROMANS
Victor M. Eskew
A theme is a “golden thread” that runs from the beginning to the end of a book of the Bible. As a person studies an introduction to a book, he is usually brought in contact with the theme of the book. It is easy to just accept a theme because another says this is the theme. As we read the book, we might find that the theme is different than the one we were told. Or, we might find that the inspired author had more than one theme in mind.
It is said that the theme of the book of Romans is the contrast between works and faith, and grace and law. There is no doubt that these are subjects that the apostle Paul touches upon throughout his letter. These, however, are not the only themes. There is another theme that runs from start to finish, but we do not ever hear much about this aspect of the book. This theme involves obedience to the will of God. Paul makes it very clear in at least six chapters that obedience is a vital part of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at this theme in the remainder of this article.
First, the book is sandwiched between two verses that speak of obedience. In chapter one, Paul refers to the “obedience to the faith” (Rom. 1:5). In chapter 16, he refers to “the obedience of faith” once again (Rom. 16:26). When a book opens and closes with a similar statement, it indicates that the statement is significant. “The faith” is the gospel of Christ that is introduced to us in Romans 1:16-17. It is the entire system of faith that contains God’s plan to make man righteous, that produces faith, and that saves the souls of those who are lost. Paul understood that obedience to the faith is absolutely necessary. He had obeyed the faith after Ananias came to him at Damascus and told him what he needed to do to be saved (Acts 9:6-7; 17-19). Paul said that he had been made an apostle of Jesus Christ “for obedience to the faith among all nations for his name” (Rom. 1:5). In chapter 16, he says that the reason God made known the mystery which was concealed in the Old Testament is “for the obedience of faith” by all nations (rom. 16:26). These two verses are the bread of the sandwich. Stuffed between them is a lot of meat that makes this a very tasty sandwich.
In chapter two, the apostle picks up on the subject of obedience again. He is writing to the Jews who somehow forgot that they will not escape the judgment of God. He lets them know that they will not. He says God “will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom. 2:6-11). It is very difficult to read this section of Scripture and fail to understand that obedience is absolutely essential. Paul uses the phrase, patient continuance in well doing,” to define obedience. He also describes obedience as working good. This is contrasted with those who are “contentious, and to not obey the truth.” Obedience is also contrasted with those who do evil. Those who obey will eventually receive eternal life. Those who do not obey the truth will receive indignation, wrath, tribulation, and anguish.
In Romans 5, the inspired penman speaks about the obedience of Jesus Christ. Paul contrasts Adam and Jesus in part of this chapter. In verse 19, he makes this contrast: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Through His obedience, Jesus accomplished what Adam did not. If Jesus is our example, and He is (I Pet. 2:21), then, we, too are to be obedient individuals. The servant is not above his Master.
Chapter six views obedience from two perspectives. The first view concerns one’s initial obedience to the gospel. Paul told the saints in Rome: “But God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18). In order to be free from sin, the Romans had to obey. They obeyed “that form of doctrine” which was delivered unto them by a man of God. The word “form” means “pattern.” The pattern they followed was the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. They died to sins, they were buried in the waters of baptism, and they arose to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-6). Having obeyed this form of doctrine, they were then made free from sin.
The second view of obedience in this chapter has to do with our sustained obedience as children of God. In Romans 6:16 this type of obedience is discussed. “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness.” Every day we are to live lives of obedience to God. If we refuse to do this, we become obedient to the service of sin. We must constantly be asking ourselves: “Who am I obeying?” My obedience proves whose servant I am.
As we continue our study of Romans, we come to chapter 10. Many religious groups take Romans 10:13 out of its context in order to teach the doctrine of salvation by faith only. They need to put the verse back into its context. When they do, they will find that faith must be joined with obedience according to Romans 10:16. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things. But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?” (Rom. 10:13-16). Jesus is the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him (Heb. 5:9). Faith without obedience will not set one free from sins. Remember, a person must first obey that form of doctrine which is set forth in the gospel.
The subject of obedience is discussed again in Romans 15:18. Paul’s labors were specifically among the Gentiles. Paul’s objective was “to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed.” Again, Paul knew the need to be obedient. What he did, he exhorted all Gentiles to do. He did not hesitate to stress the need to be obedient to the Greeks. He knew this was the only way they could enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21).
Yes, Romans has a lot to say about faith and works. It has much to say about law and grace. And, it has a lot to say about obedience. From start to finish, Paul stressed the need for man to obey God. The Word of God has been given for a reason. God has revealed the gospel for a reason. God has made known the law of the Spirit of life for a reason. Divine revelation is here so man will be obedient unto it, be free from sins, and have hope of eternal life in the hereafter. Do not listen to anyone who tries to diminish the need to obey God. The only individuals who have ever been saved by God’s grace are those who will trust and obey. There is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.