“[Jesus Christ] through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,”

Romans 1:5

As Paul begins his address to the Roman Christians in Romans 1, he identifies his objective in writing to them, one which the remainder of the book of Romans is intended to accomplish. Paul states that he was set apart by Christ and granted his apostleship in order to “…bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name…” (v5). Paul’s words in this verse are often misconstrued either 1) as a direction to the Roman Christians to obey only a single command: the command to put faith in Christ or 2) as a statement Paul makes to communicate that the faith of these Christians (if genuine) will result in their obedience. These misconceptions – that cause the reader to entirely miss what Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) intends to communicate – are a result of failing to consider the context of the verse or the aim of the book of Romans. Ultimately, misunderstanding Romans 1:5 in either of the above ways leads to a gospel that is inconsistent and unbiblical, and therefore heretical and damning.

In Romans 1:18, Paul writes that “…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” If Paul is teaching in this letter that faith is the sole condition for salvation, then this would be a perfect opportunity to warn the Roman church that God’s wrath is revealed against all unbelief of men and subsequently encourage them to be strong in their faith so as to avoid that wrath and ensure their salvation. But instead, he chooses to specifically name over a dozen separate things that can only be identified as acts of disobedience to God’s law, including idolatry, homosexuality, covetousness, malice, gossip, slander, and disobedience to authority. If Paul’s view of what constitutes obedience is limited to putting faith in Christ, then not only is it a waste of breath to delve into a list of specific sins as he does, but it is also incredibly inconsistent of him to claim that individuals practicing such sins will be condemned for their disobedience. Not only would this claim be inconsistent with other statements made in Romans 1, but also when compared to the rest of the book of Romans (Rom 2:2-11, 23-24; Rom 3:3-8; Rom 3:31, Rom 6:1-4; Rom 6:12-23; Rom 8:3-17, Rom 12:9-21, Rom 13, Rom 16:19, Rom 16:26) and the New Testament overall (Eph 4:11; Mat 5:19; Mat 18:18-20; Joh 3:36; 2Jo 1:6).

It is clear from Romans 1 that Paul is claiming anyone who practices sin will be punished accordingly (v24, 27, 28, 32). He claims in verse 32 that God’s “righteous decree” inflicts punishment and death not only upon those who practice sin but also those who approve of it. This is an outright lie, and a blasphemous one at that, if God did in fact require only faith from His people. As an apostolic church father with authority over his brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul would be guilty of abusing his power (a power granted to him by Christ) to hold the Christians under his purview to standards beyond what God requires, especially upon threat of eternal condemnation. Surely Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is guilty of neither inconsistency nor abuse. It is clearly important to him that the Roman Christians practice obedience to God’s law in their lives through their righteous behavior and abstinence from sin, lest they also face condemnation. By claiming that God will condemn both those practicing and those approving of sin, Paul identifies obedience to the law as an additional condition for salvation.

That Paul is calling for both faith and obedience as conditions for salvation is further proven by the mere fact that he is writing this letter to Christians who already had faith and who he clearly already considered saved individuals because of their covenant relationship with God. In verses 6-7 of Romans 1 he states that he intends “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all nations including you who are [already] called to belong to Jesus Christ…loved by God and called to be saints.” Paul says to them “your faith is proclaimed in all the world…I long to see you that…we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith both yours and mine.” As a final clue, we see that in verse 13 he refers to the congregation as “brothers” which he surely would not do unless he considered them to be among those who had already put faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If Paul is attempting to encourage people to simply obey a single command to put faith in Christ, why would he waste a letter on those who had already done exactly that? The answer is simple: he knew that these Christians had received grace by faith in Jesus Christ and wanted to ensure that they maintain the salvation they had already gained by being obedient to God’s commands. In verse 5, he states this intention: to “bring about the obedience of faith”, or the obedience of those who already possessed faith.