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.
Although we read it as a book, it is important to remember that Romans is a letter, and we should read it as it was written. In substance, it is of course more than a letter—the very Word of God. And so, we read it and study it intently even intricately to glean from God’s special revelation, to know his will. So rich and deep is this divine truth that we dare not rush through it but study it diligently verse by verse. But none of this changes its form: It is a letter.
Let us show compassion and mercy as God has shown compassion and mercy to us. Our standard for mercy is neither our neighbor nor ourselves but God, as Jesus said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Just as we are not God’s judge, we are not our neighbor’s either. Jesus said being a “neighbor” is defined by showing mercy (Luke 10:36-37), and James taught, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas. 2:13). If we are indeed “vessels of mercy” it stands to reason that mercy will flow from us to others.
Consider the relevance of this: We are called to live holy lives, not to merit God’s favor but to be like him, to grow in godliness, to mature in Christlikeness. As such, to live our lives in holiness is not a burden of conformity but a family trait to be embraced and enjoyed. What is even more extraordinary about this is that our holy God calls us saints, even now, even as we wrestle with our sinful flesh, even as we are on this side of eternal life. We are saints of God, because of God’s grace alone through faith in Christ to the glory of God alone.