The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith. The two are at opposite sides of the same coin. –A.W. Tozer, pastor and author
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Hebrews 11:8 (ESV)
Is there any aspect of the gospel that causes more confusion than the relationship between faith, grace, love, and works? I don’t think so. Ask thirty professing Christians about how these things relate to one another, and you will probably get twenty-nine and a half different answers. But is seeking to clearly understand these concepts really worth the hassle? Let’s just say that the difference can be life or death!
Living by Faith
When we consider the sheer volume of teaching and the vast array of multimedia resources available to the Western church, it is difficult to believe that any of us would lack a clear understanding of such important concepts. But we do! We need only open our eyes to see the precipitous decline of the Christian church in the Western world as evidence. Does that mean that developing nations have a clearer understanding of the gospel? Not necessarily. It is simply an indication that those in the Western church are doing a poorer job of living by faith.
The relationship between faith, grace, love, and works is progressive. Upon hearing the word of God, we respond with faith. That faith introduces us to the empowering grace of our Lord and Savior. Through abiding in grace, the fruit of love begins to grow and develop in our hearts. And finally, love cannot help but express itself in works of obedience.
This perspective is somewhat over-simplified in that grace is multifaceted and must precede faith in some capacities. Otherwise, we would never take an interest in God, or have any faith to believe. Still, my simplified explanation has merit. Even though we can never be saved by our good works, true faith will always produce love-motivated action. Good deeds are not a guaranteed indicator of faith, but an absence of good works serves as clear evidence that faith is lacking.
The Obedience of Faith
For almost two thousand years, Paul’s letter to the Romans has stood as the definitive book of the Bible in presenting the gospel. I find it interesting that Romans begins and ends with Paul addressing the faith/obedience relationship:
. . . concerning His Son . . . through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake. Romans 1:3, 5 (NASB)
. . . but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith. Romans 16:26 (NASB)
Do you see it? Paul’s “grace letter” to the Romans begins and ends with references to the “obedience of faith.” Biblical faith should never be confused with a sort of mental gymnastics where we cerebrally affirm a belief in God but never fully act upon those beliefs.
What does the relationship between faith and obedience have to do with a spiritual wilderness? Far too many of our problems stem from a failure to fully trust our heavenly Father through the difficulties and trials of life. It is not uncommon for us to fail to obey God because we are not fully surrendered to His will. And why do we fail to fully surrender to His will? Generally, it is because we don’t believe in the depths of our hearts that, regardless of outward appearances, He never fails to keep our best interests in mind.
Faith in the Wilderness
When we survey the horizon and all looks barren and bleak; when dark storm clouds begin to brew, when the thunder booms, the winds blow, and the flooding rains fall; do we genuinely believe that God is leading us for our good? Confidence in His faithful love can indeed mark the difference between life and death!
Abraham believed—and so he obeyed by venturing out into the wilderness. Amazing blessings followed. Sadly, an entire generation of his descendants followed God into the wilderness, where all except Joshua and Caleb perished because they refused to believe.
I’m not suggesting that we act foolishly or shun all sense of responsibility, but rather that a wise approach to navigating the wilderness involves investigating root issues and not simply focusing on outward symptoms. Is it possible that our struggles reveal an area of disobedience in our lives—one that continually plagues us because we don’t really know and trust God as much as we say we do?
This post is drawn from Chapter Sixteen of Bob’s devotional: Champions in the Wilderness—Fifty-Two Devotions to Guide and Strengthen Emerging Overcomers.