By His Grace, for His Name, Through the Obedience of Faith
We are going to focus on Romans 1:5, and in particular the three phrases: “grace and apostleship,” “obedience of faith,” and “for his name’s sake.” We will try to see the nature of grace as a free and undeserved enabling for ministry, the effect of grace in the obedience of faith, and the ultimate goal of grace in glorifying Christ’s name among all the peoples.
Grace at the Heart
Grace is a very precious reality. I hope I can show you from the book of Romans what it is and why it is so precious. The word is used 155 times in the New Testament — over one hundred of them in the writings of Paul, and almost a fourth of those in Romans (24 times). You cannot comprehend this book if you don’t comprehend grace. We will see it again and again. It is at the heart of the book, and the heart of the gospel, and the heart of God.
But I don’t assume the word communicates now the precious biblical reality it was meant to. Today, I would guess that the average person would say grace is the beautiful movement of an ice skater. Then they might say grace is a short prayer before meals. And finally, they might say grace is undeserved kindness.
But what is the biblical reality of grace? Let’s look at Romans 1:5 and its connections. Notice that in verse one Paul began to introduce himself and speak of his being a bondservant of Christ and of his calling as an apostle and his consecration for the gospel of God. Then in verses 2–4, he talks about what the gospel of God is: it’s planned long before it happens; it’s about God’s Son; it’s about the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes and the arrival of the Messiah, the Son of David; and it is about the risen Christ who came forth triumphant from the dead as the reigning Son of God in power.
“Grace is not something we have a right to. Jesus obtained it for us.”
With that picture of a great, triumphant, reigning Messiah and Lord before us, Paul can now talk about grace on its proper basis. He says in verse 5, “through whom we have received grace.” In other words, God’s grace has come to Paul through the Lord Jesus Christ who was born as a son of David and was raised as Son of God in power.
We may say from what Paul writes later that grace was obtained for us through the obedience and death of the incarnate Messiah (Romans 3:24–25; 5:18–21); and grace is poured out through the risen and reigning Son of God in power. There is no grace toward sinners apart from the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Verse 5 says plainly that God gives grace “through him,” referring to “Jesus Christ our Lord” at the end of verse 4.
So grace is a reality that comes from God and comes through Jesus and his work for us. It is not something we have a right to. Jesus obtained it for us. We get it freely because of the obedience and death of another.
What Is Grace?
But what is it? Well, in this verse it is connected with Paul’s ministry, his apostleship. “Through [Christ] we have received grace and apostleship.” I take this to mean that his calling as an apostle was a gift of grace and that he fulfils that ministry by the power of this grace. So that grace is not just God’s clemency toward Paul’s sin, but is also a power to enable Paul to do his calling as an apostle.
I base this on what Paul says about the relation between grace and ministry in chapters 12 and 15. For example, in 12:6 Paul says, “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” And in 12:3 he says, “Through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you . . .” In other words, grace is God’s enabling for various ministries through gifts he gives, and Paul’s gift includes speaking as an apostle. Similarly in 15:15–16 Paul says, “Grace was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.”
So I conclude that when he says in 1:5, “Through whom we have received grace and apostleship,” he means that God not only saved him from his sin, but he also gave him grace to be an authoritative spokesman for the risen Son of God in power.
How Do We Get Grace?
And how does that mean he gave it to him? Does it mean that he gave it in response to good works? No. Paul said that he was set apart for the gospel before he was born (Galatians 1:15; Romans 1:1). Grace is not God’s response to our deserving or meriting. Grace is God’s free gift before we do anything good, and his enabling of us to do anything good. For example, in Romans 4:4 Paul says, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited according to grace, but according to debt” (my translation). In other words, grace is not what you get when you work for somebody: that’s what he owes you. Grace is never owed. It is always a free bonus from the overflow of goodness.
Therefore grace is always received through faith, not earned by works. You can only receive grace as a gift and acknowledge that it comes to you freely; you can’t work for it or earn it. Romans 11:6 states the principle: “If it [election] is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” Grace would not be grace if you earned it by your works. We receive it through faith. By simply welcoming it as a gift and relying on it.
This is why Romans 4:16 says, “For this reason it [being an heir of the promise] is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace.” This is Paul’s way of saying that grace is absolutely free and cannot be deserved or merited. When grace comes to you, it is through faith or not at all.
Grace has its own power. You don’t work it up. It is, in fact, part of the power referred to in verse 4, where Paul says that Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” Grace is not just forgiveness of our sin and mercy on our misery, it is also a divine power that comes to us through Jesus absolutely freely for the sake of ministry.
Paul says in Romans 5:21, “As sin reigned in death, even so grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (my translation). Grace is the power of a king: it “reigns” and leads mightily to eternal life through Christ.
So we have seen that grace is a power from God for ministry (like Paul’s apostleship). It is free and cannot be earned or deserved. It is received as a gift by faith, not merited by works.
The Effect of Grace
Now, ponder the implications of this for a moment — for Paul and for you. I mentioned one of them last week. When Paul calls himself, in verse 1, a “bondservant of Christ Jesus” and an “apostle,” he means that he serves the risen Christ as an apostle. But now, from verse 5, we know something utterly crucial about that service: it is given and enabled by grace. He says in Romans 15:18, “I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me [that’s the power of grace], resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles” — which is the same aim as Romans 1:5. Paul serves Christ by the grace with which Christ serves Paul.
“Grace is not God’s response to our deserving or meriting. Grace is God’s free gift before we do anything good.”
I linger over this because if you get it early, the book of Romans will open to you like a flower. And if you don’t get it, the book will not make sense. And I linger over it because this is the essence of how God means for you to live your life. God wants you to read verse 5, and in the end, put your calling in the place of the word “apostleship.” “Apostleship” is Paul’s — not mine and not yours. You might put, “Through Christ, I have received grace and the teaching role.” Or: grace and singing. Or: grace and studentship. Or: grace and singleness. Or: grace and widowhood. Or: grace and motherhood. And what you should mean is: God has freely given me forgiveness and the power to do a calling, and fulfill a role I accept by faith.
There is not a role in life that can be lived the way God wants it lived apart from enabling grace. Being a godly mother or being an apostle is impossible without the power of grace. So when Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 15:10, that all his apostolic labor is by grace, you insert your own calling: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” The decisive, enabling power for all ministry and all service is God’s grace.
Paul is tremendously jealous to exalt grace in his life and in yours. We should join him in this. Why this is becomes clearer as we look at the next two phrases in Romans 1:5.
‘The Obedience of Faith’
“Through whom [the living Son of God risen in power] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith.” So grace is not just received by faith, it aims at faith. God gives gifts of grace so that we will be his instruments in bringing about “the obedience of faith.” This is what I called the effect of grace.
Now, what does the phrase “obedience of faith” mean? The two main choices are: “the obedience that comes from faith” (NIV), or the obedience which is faith, because faith is what the gospel demands.” You might say, “acts of courage” — acts that come from courage. Or you might say, “Block of wood” — the block is wood. Both of these goals (faith and obedience that comes from faith) are really Paul’s goals in ministry. And it is very difficult to decide which he means to focus on right here.
But I am moved by Leon Morris’s question: If Paul only means “faith,” why use two words to say it (The Epistle to the Romans, 50 )? In other words, if Paul only means, “We received grace and apostleship to bring about faith among all the Gentiles,” then why complicate matters and say, “the obedience of faith”? I think the answer is that he really does want us to think not only of the obedience that faith is, but also the obedience of love that faith produces (1 Timothy 1:5).
We will see in chapter six that Paul cares a great deal about Christian obedience. And we will see in Romans 9:32 that obedience is “by faith and not as though it were by works.” And we will see in 14:23 that “whatever is not from faith is sin.” In other words, in Paul’s mind, all true obedience is the fruit of faith.
Now, why is this? Why does all true obedience come from faith? I hope you can see the answer if you compare what I have said so far about grace and faith. God gives grace as the power and the enabling for service, which means that grace is the power and enabling of obedience. So all true obedience is done in the power of grace, not our own power.
But how do we receive and rely on grace? The answer is “by faith.” So you can see why all true obedience is the fruit of faith. It’s the fruit of faith because God’s grace is given to enable obedience, and faith is the way we rely on that grace, and so obedience is the fruit of that faith.
So what we have seen so far is that God wants to be the Giver in this relationship. God wants to be gracious. God wants to be the fountain and the source of our service and our obedience and our ministry — whether apostleship, or pastor, or student, or mother, or any other calling. God intends to be the source of enabling, empowering, sustaining grace. Our job is to trust him and act in reliance on him. This is the essence of the Christian life.
Why Everything Depends on Grace Through Faith
And the final question is, Why? Why does God set it up this way — with everything dependent on his grace through our faith? And the last phrase in Romans 1:5 gives the answer: “Through [Christ] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles [peoples] for his name’s sake.” The ultimate goal of all God’s dealings is that his name (or the name of Christ, who is his image) would be known and admired and cherished and praised above all other realities.
Romans 9:17 puts it like this: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.’” God’s aim in history and in all that happens is that his name be known and worshiped. Verse 5 says that the aim of Paul’s apostleship is “for the sake of the name” — that the name of Jesus (which stands for his character) might be known and loved and treasured and exalted and glorified.
“God wants to be the fountain and the source of our service and our obedience and our ministry.”
Now, this is why God makes all our salvation and all our ministry and all our obedience dependent on his grace, and why he makes all our salvation and ministry and obedience the fruit of faith in grace: because the giver gets the glory. If our ministry and all our obedience is by grace through faith, then God gets the glory and we get the help. If Paul relied on himself to serve as an apostle, and if the effect of his ministry was to bring about the obedience of works, not the obedience of faith among the Gentiles, then the name of Christ would not be praised, Paul would be.
The giver of the power, the enabler of the obedience, gets the glory. Here’s the way 1 Peter 4:11 puts it: “Whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” You see how clearly Peter makes the connection: God gets the glory for our service if God gives the grace for our service, and if we serve by faith in that grace, in the strength of that grace and not our own.
Is God Loving to Pursue His Own Glory?
The final question that people often ask about this biblical teaching is whether a God who aims at the exaltation of his own name is a loving God. The book of Romans gives two answers to that question. First, in Romans 10:13 Paul says, “Every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” So yes, it is loving for God to push his own name and his own glory, because everyone who calls on that name will be saved. For him not to spread and exalt his name as our only hope would be unloving of God.
And the second answer is given in Romans 5:2, where Paul says that while we stand in grace by faith “we exult in hope of the glory of God.” In other words, the glory of God is our hope and our salvation and our exultation — our joy. We don’t just call on the name of the Lord to get something else. We call on the name of the Lord so that everything that separates us from the Lord will be overcome by the grace of God and we will have access to the Lord himself. “We exult in hope of the glory of God.” Therefore it is loving for God to make the name of God — that is, the glory of God — the goal of all his grace, because this is the goal of all our longings.
Is this — is he — the goal of your longings? If so, then the gospel of grace will make sense and you will embrace it. If not, call upon the name of the Lord so that he would open your eyes to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).