“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith—to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” Romans 16:25–27

At first glance, the phrase “for obedience to the faith” may spark some confusion about the nature of faith. Paul actually uses the phrase twice in the book, so we know it is not just a peculiar embellishment of the gift of saving faith. It not only appears here at the end of the book of Romans but Paul boldly declares it at the very beginning. “Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:5f).

In the Greek, the original words are the same in each passage, and in the same order. However, many Bible versions chose to translate the phrase differently in the two verses. The Greek phrase is “into obedience of faith.” The NKJV makes faith the object of obedience (obedience to the faith) while the NASV makes obedience and faith equivalents (for the obedience of faith). The KJV makes faith the object of obedience, like the NKJV, in Romans 1:5 and makes the two equivalent, like the NASV, in Romans 16:26.

The difference between the translations boils down to the addition of the article “the,” and where the translators chose to put it, in order to express the meaning of the phrase. Interestingly, the Greek does not place an article before either word. If Paul’s meaning is “the faith” then his object would seem to focus on the body of doctrine found in the Scriptures. After all, the term faith has at least three facets in the Bible, the body of truth, regenerated saving faith, and experientially living a life of faith. Paul uses “the faith” for “body of truth” in Romans 14:1, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.”

If Paul’s meaning is “the obedience” of faith, then he is identifying faith and obedience as rough equivalents and therefore indistinguishable. Here is where the confusion arises, because we all know that faith is not a work. Ephesians 2:8–10 teaches, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” Obeying is not synonymous with believing any more than believing is a substitute for obeying.

Between Romans 1:5 and 16:26 is Paul’s great treatise on faith, that for which he was called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 15:15ff). Romans 1:16 reads, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Romans 3:26 reads, “To demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be Just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 5:1 reads, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 6:23 reads, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 10:8ff reads, “…That is, the word of faith which we preach: that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

It is evident that Paul’s main intent in Romans is not so much to emphasize obedience produced by faith, as an ongoing fruit, but as the visible testimony to the inward reality of living, saving faith at work in the individual believer. In other words, God-granted faith is the energizing force that to outward observers appears as an obedient, changed life in word and deed.

The Gospel is the good news granted to mankind in Christ Jesus. It arrives among men as a command. This kind of commandment takes the form of Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” When the teacher says to “be still” or “be quiet,” obedience takes the form of doing nothing but devoting all your attention to following the will of the teacher. Just so, obedience and faith are not synonymous, but they are coupled together in practice. 1 John 3:23 reads, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.”

Believing and obeying do go hand in hand (2 Thessalonians 1:9f, 1 Peter 4:17, Acts 6:7). Saving faith necessarily leaves the impression of obedience and an authentic believer will expend his energies in submission to His Lord and Savior. For Paul, the obedience of the Gentiles was not his goal, but it was the fruit. Elevating the claim of the Gospel so that men might believe was his priority. This is our task as well. Trust and obey.