God also strengthens his church through the obedience of faith, an expression Paul used to begin this letter and now to conclude to it. It is the obedience to believe the gospel as well as to live it. Or, as one commentator describes it, “obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience.” He who enabled and empowered us to believe so also enables and empowers us to live obedient lives. We shall not be defined by sin and the decay of death but life through the faith God gives: “May we be rich in faith, be strong in faith, live by faith, walk by faith, experience the joy of faith, do the work of faith, hope through faith.” And so, God strengthens his church through the obedience of faith.
Hope is one of the defining characteristics of the Christian life. It is not worldly wishful thinking but conviction that what God has promised will be fulfilled. Hope takes God at his Word. Christian hope is also future oriented. For example, in the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul explains, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:24-25). Although we have not yet entered the heavenly realm, we know it exists, that it awaits us. Our Lord has promised us the kingdom, given us the guarantee of his Spirit, and is preparing us for glory.
Paul’s question presumes our knowledge of his ongoing epistolary argument: “did [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall?” (11:11). Did Israel in fact stumble, and if so how? Indeed, they did; indeed they have, as Paul describes in the ninth chapter, “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 9:32-33). Pursuing the righteousness of God by works not faith, they stumbled over Christ. Or, as Paul puts it in the tenth chapter, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:3-4).
And this must inform our evangelism. We cannot make someone believe, even those we love most, but we must be faithful to give the gift of the gospel, praying that the Giver of all good things will give the gift of faith. For, God is glorified through the salvation of his people, and through the gift of the gospel “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isa. 52:10). Amen.
God desires that all kinds of people be saved, including those with whom you disagree and differ, and “come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4) of the gospel: “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved…For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (10:10, 13). This is the gospel, good news for you, good news for me, good news for our nation, good news for the world.
The Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness” (8:26). The subject is the Holy Spirit, who as the “Helper” whom Christ promised and sent (John 14:16), helps us. The inspired implication is we need the help. But if “we have been justified by faith” and at “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1), and if there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), and if we are children and “heirs of God” (Rom. 8:17), what help do we really need? Should we believe as we often act, or pray the cowboy prayer, “Give us rain and a little luck, God, and we’ll do the rest”?
In conclusion, let me encourage all of us who are tempted to set our minds on the things of the flesh yet have the Spirit of Christ to remember, reflect, realize, and rejoice. Remember that you belong to Christ. You are not your own but were bought with his blood (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Reflect on the reality that the very Spirit of God dwells in you, a guarantee that you are his child and an ever-present reminder that he is with you, even to the end of the age (verse insert). Realize that “although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life.” Regardless of how you sometimes feel, you are in fact alive in Christ. And rejoice that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4), and the power of his presence transcends all the trials this world has to offer. So, let him who is greater do greater things in and through you, as you set your mind on the things of the Spirit. For, the Spirit is life.
But the faith that God gave Abraham did not falter, as it never will, but grew: “[Abraham] did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God. He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do” (Rom. 4:20-21 NET). Therefore, “In hope [Abraham] believed against hope.” Though his circumstances shouted hopelessness, Abraham had hope, not because he looked to himself and his faithfulness but because he looked to the One who promised.
Like Abraham, there is nothing in us or anything that we have done that would persuade God to bestow his saving grace upon us, but he has. It is only by his grace through faith in Christ that “we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). And as God’s children, the life we live in the here and now we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us (Gal. 2:20). As sojourners and exiles we are faithful to preach this good news to ourselves and share it with others near and far, not living as those who have no hope, knowing like Abraham that by faith “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Though “here we have no lasting city,” by faith “we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).
Love lived out in the Christian life is a beautiful thing, revealing not a boastful arrogance but a sacrificial love, not a life of works to find God’s favor but a display of God’s unmerited favor through loving others as Christ loved us. For it was for love that God the Father sent his Son; it was for love that God the Son atoned for sin; it is for love that God the Spirit conforms us to God’s perfect law. This our one God has done and is doing, not by a law of works but by the law of faith. And so, brothers and sisters-in-Christ, by faith and in love, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).