The Obedience of Faith -- By: John H. Armstrong

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 12:4 (Fall 2003)
Article: The Obedience of Faith
Author: John H. Armstrong


The Obedience of Faith

John H. Armstrong

The relationship between faith and obedience has prompted serious reflection and debate in the Christian Church since the beginning. What is the proper way to understand the biblical relationship of faith in the promises of God to personal obedience by the Spirit?

Clear definitions of saving faith are uncommon in the modern era. Even less clarity exists with regard to the proper relationship of God-given faith to human obedience by the Spirit. On the one hand, some insist that faith and obedience are related in a way that collapses faith and works into one another, making them synonymous. In this approach no distinction is made between faith and obedience. The result is an understanding of salvation that sounds like our hard work and personal merit earn us eternal life. On the other hand, a large number of teachers have argued that faith and obedience have no necessary or intrinsic relationship, thus they are mutually exclusive. In this pattern, which quite often results in seriously aberrant practice, people believe in Christ and the gospel but never really seem interested in an evangelical obedience that necessarily follows faith. Moral formation, or godly character, is rendered unnecessary. Conservative Bible believing churches are filled with people of this persuasion.

Texts that display a vital link between faith and obedience

abound in the New Testament. For all practical purposes these texts are often ignored or misinterpreted. Consider two examples. Paul writes: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Probably one of the most straightforward connections between faith and obedience appears in these familiar words: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12–13).

Even a cursory reading of such verses will convince fairminded readers that there is a living faith that unites us to Christ and this faith is directly linked to obedience. To believe, properly defined, is to be transformed by and through a living faith. Indeed, the central emphasis of the New Testament ices this point—living faith always brings the one who believes into a vital union with Christ. A union by whi...

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