Sunday Morning Greek Blog

September 26, 2021

Obedience of Faithfulness: A Walk On the Romans Road

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 3:58 pm

Context note: I delivered this message 9/19/2021 at Wheeler Grove Church in Carson, Iowa. I actually wound up extemporizing the testimony section. I expound on the phrase Obedience of Faithfulness in a separate post on this topic in the blog.

Well, this is my fourth time to share with you on a Sunday morning. Since we’re getting to know each other a little better, I thought I might share my story on how I came to make my faith in Christ my own, and along the way, share some insights from Paul’s letter to the Romans, more specifically the “Romans Road,” and how that has shaped me into the Christian man I am today.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about my faith in the past month or so for a number of reasons, which is why I wanted to focus on my story. The first is that 40 years ago this week, I walked into a Bible study at the Agape House near the UNL campus hoping to get some answers to questions I had about my fledgling faith and to make sure I was well grounded in the faith during my college years. More about that later in the message.

The second reason that’s been on my mind is that the pastor of the church that sponsored the Agape House just passed away 10 days ago, and I remember how his preaching, in part, motivated me to go into ministry. That pastor’s son is the pastor of the church I attend in Omaha. I feel privileged to have been ministered to by the Chitwoods for a good chunk of my adult life. I even had the honor of filling the pulpit for the elder Chitwood a few years ago. He had been preaching at the Brownsville, NE, Christian Church right up to the end.

But let me go back to the beginning for a brief summary: I was born, christened, and raised in Mt. View Presbyterian Church in north Omaha. I don’t remember a time I wasn’t in Sunday school, and I remember my confirmation class where I became a bona fide Presbyterian in sixth grade. About the only thing I remember from confirmation is the name John Knox and that I was struggling with memorizing the Scriptures I needed to memorize (I overcame the memorization aversion).

After my sophomore year of high school, my mom started leaving little evangelistic cartoon tracts around the house. She had gotten in with a women’s Bible study group that renewed her faith in the Lord and wanted to make sure we kids got exposed to a fresh perspective on faith. I went to my aunt’s ranch in Wyoming that summer, and she had the same tracts in her house. There in the middle of nowhere northeastern Wyoming, I finally realized I needed to have a personal relationship with Jesus, and I pledged my life to him. That was the beginning of making my faith my own.

At least one of those tracts had what was known as the “Romans Road” in it. Anyone ever heard of that? The Romans Road is a series of verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans a Christ follower could use to show a friend or stranger how to become a Christ follower. Now real Roman roads were quite well constructed, and remnants of these roads survive to this day in places. But the Romans Road was quite twisty, primarily focused on Chapters 3, 5, and 10, with a couple of pit stops at the end of chapter 6 and beginning of chapter 8.

In case you’re not familiar with it, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version here: No one is righteous, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The wages of sin are death, but God gives the gift of eternal life. We have access to this eternal life because Christ died for us, and we must in turn confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in his resurrection. That act of calling on the Lord is what saves you, you’re declared “not guilty,” and you’re free from any condemnation.

Now between the tracts, the Romans Road, and the testimonies of my mom and aunt, that was enough to get me to the place where I felt like I was beginning to own my faith. Like many who are new in the faith or are renewing their faith, I still had many questions. I began to make friends with other Christian students and experienced the full range of expressions of the Christian faith, from legalism and traditionalism to more open and charismatic styles. That only served to raise more questions in my mind, but I was determined like the Bereans in Acts to search the Scriptures and try to figure it all out.

In those last two years of high school, I began to dive into God’s Word, and I had two main things on my mind. The first was the second coming of Christ and the book of Revelation. There seemed to be general agreement on the millennial perspective among my diverse Christian friends, but I’d never really heard about that growing up, at least, not in any significant way that it sank in.

The second concern on my mind was what the Bible said about baptism. I had been sprinkled as an infant, but of course that wasn’t MY decision. Still, I cannot sell short that act, for it is commendable to dedicate a child to be part of the kingdom of God and for the parents and congregation to commit themselves to raising you in the faith. But as I began to talk about with my Christian friends, I realized not only were there differing opinions about baptism, but that some of those opinions seemed to be polar opposites.

On the one hand, one group said it was just a work of the flesh and really not necessary, and that the real thing that mattered was confessing Jesus like Romans 10:9–10 says. On the other hand, my charismatic friends were telling me stories of people being immersed and coming out of the water speaking in tongues! Surely both viewpoints couldn’t be true! And to be honest, at that stage of my life, speaking in tongues after coming out of the water sounded a lot more exciting to me than just ignoring the topic altogether!

As I continued to pursue my study of that, reading Romans and other Bible passages that discussed baptism, I began to realize that the Romans Road had completely bypassed the topic of baptism. There had to be a middle ground among the extremes I’d been exposed to. The more I looked into the topic, the more I became convinced that I needed to be baptized, not to be saved, but to have a sort of physical and emotional point of reference for my faith.

I didn’t completely understand that at the time, but I had faith that if I did what the Scriptures seemed to be telling me I should do, it would all become clear soon enough.

So that was a bit of a long way to go to get to the heart of my message today: an overview of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Now when most people read the Bible, myself included, I suspect we are looking for a verse here or there that means something to us, a verse that gives us or a friend hope, or a confirmation of what we believe. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, as God’s word never returns void when it’s spoken into our lives.

But we also need to remember that Bible tells a story as well, and in between our favorite verses, and specifically in our case today, in the overall terrain through which the Romans Road winds, the author often reveals a greater purpose that we miss by focusing on individual verses. What I want to do this morning is give you a sense of that overall purpose by highlighting a couple recurring themes.

Obedience of Faithfulness

One of the first themes that presents itself in Romans may escape the casual reader. Romans 1:5 is a purpose statement: “Through [Jesus] we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience of faithfulness for his name’s sake.” The phrase “obedience of faithfulness” is, I believe, the primary recurring theme throughout Romans. It’s an unusual phrase, because we typically link the concept of “obedience” to the Law. But it may in part be borrowed from Israel’s prophecy about Judah in Genesis 49:10: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs [that is, Jesus] shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.”

So what does this phrase mean? In Paul’s language, the phrase is only two words, and the simplest, most direct translation is how I presented it: “the obedience of faithfulness” or, as three modern translations (RSV, NASB, and ESV) render it, “the obedience of faith.” The New King James Version translates it “obedience to the faith.” The NIV translates it “the obedience that comes from faith.”

“Faith” is typically the go-to translation of the word in the original text. But lately contemporary scholars are increasingly considering whether “faithfulness” would be appropriate in several contexts, especially Romans. The Greek word πίστις (pistis) can either mean “belief” (“faith”) or “the action that accompanies the belief” (“faithfulness”). Faithfulness is a demonstrated meaning of the word, as we see in Romans 3:3: “What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all!”

This is where the broader terrain of the passage comes into play: Paul spends the first five chapters of Romans contrasting the role of the Law with respect to obedience and faith. These concepts fill his discussion. He closes out the discussion at the end of Chapter 5 with the following statement: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus] the many will be made righteous.” This is the “obedience of faithfulness,” not just believing in Jesus, but believing that Jesus’s faithfulness not just to the Law but to death on the cross is what makes salvation possible for us.

Chapter 5 itself has several references to the faithful life and death of Jesus. This isn’t intended to be easy believism: Paul is calling us to believe something that the pagan world in his day thought was foolishness, fake news, a conspiracy theory. That was a hard choice then, just as it is in today’s world that seems increasingly apathetic or even hostile toward the Christian worldview.

Baptism (Immersion)

Now it is this emphasis on the death of Christ that caused me to take a closer look at what Paul said about baptism in Romans 6, and how that passage might answer the questions I had about baptism. Was it just a work that really didn’t matter one way or the other? Or was there something more to it?

Now before I get too far into this section, I do want to offer a disclaimer: I understand there are different views of baptism in the church, and I respect and accept those differences. My purpose here is strictly to tell my story and how my understanding of this particular subject influenced my faith, my story, and my understanding of the message of Romans.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a number of different influences when it came to working out what I believed about baptism. Of course, I knew I had to ultimately look to Scripture. I had used my concordance to look up passages like Matthew 28:19–20, where Matthew indicates that baptism is part of the process of making disciples, and 1 Peter 3:18–22, where the flood waters that wiped out sinful humanity are compared to the death of Christ, which assured the victory over sin and our salvation for sinful humanity. Peter goes on to say that the flood analogy “symbolizes baptism that now saves you also.” I was beginning to notice a pattern, but I was just scratching the surface.

The more I read and reread Romans 6, the more I realized that baptism was more than just a “work of the flesh” as my fundamentalist friends believed. Romans 6 flows naturally from the discussion of the efficacy of Jesus’s death and resurrection in Chapter 5. “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

By this point, I knew what I had to do, but I wasn’t sure I could talk to my Presbyterian minister about it, and I had already decided I would go to Capital City Christian Church when I got to college. So that night I walked into the Agape House, I had only one question I really needed an answer to for my faith: should I get baptized by immersion?

As I talked to the teachers there about it, that solidified my resolve to get immersed, and I didn’t want to wait any longer: that night, some of the people in the Bible study that I had just met that night went with me to the church to see me get immersed. I can honestly say that was one of the best decisions I could have made for my Christian walk. I have never looked back from that moment when it comes to my faith.

Just as communion is the event where we remind ourselves of the sacrifice of our Savior and come into contact with Christ’s body and blood in mystery of God’s economy, baptism reminds us of the same thing: buried with Christ in the waters of baptism and raised to newness of life. Again, in the mystery of God’s economy, baptism puts in contact with the death and resurrection of Christ. It is definitely a game changer!

The rest of the middle section of Romans through chapter 11 speaks in more detail about the results of Christ’s death, especially recognizing that we have the ability through the Spirit to make better decisions for ourselves and that we have no condemnation in Christ Jesus. The benediction at the end of Chapter 11 closes out this section by acknowledging “the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” It would seem to be a simple leap to suggest that Paul’s discussion of baptism is part of that mystery the benediction alludes to. It’s something we accept by faith, but not without good reason.

Living Sacrifices

The irony of the Christian life is that we must die to have that life. Paul tells the Ephesians that in Christ we die to sin but are made alive in Him. In Christ, we put off the old self, renew our attitude, and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” In Christ, we’re called out of the darkness of unbelief and become light in the Lord, and we can live as children of light! In Philippians, Paul says to consider all our worldly gain loss to gain Christ and his righteousness, which comes to us through the “obedience of the faithfulness” of Christ (Philippians 3:9).

This is what Paul means when he says in Romans 12:1–2: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” and to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Notice that the promises I just mentioned are not for life after the grave. These promises are for our life in the here and now! God wants us to live in the fullness of his blessings, to know not only that we have a new life here on earth, but that, as Ephesians says, we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms; that we can know here on Earth the hope to which he’s called us, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power when we enter into that obedience of faithfulness.


And here’s the clincher about the obedience of faithfulness: Paul confirms beyond any shadow of doubt that that is his theme in his letter to the Romans when closes out the letter with this benediction: “Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience of faithfulness—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen!”

Paul was an excellent writer: He told us what he was going to say, he said it, and he told us he said it. That sounds vaguely familiar to what my Junior High English teacher told me about writing a persuasive paper. God has called all of us to walk in this “obedience of faithfulness,” for it is only through Jesus—the way, the truth, and the life— that we can come to God the Father. If you’re there already, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not there yet, I or any of your church leaders would be happy to talk to you about following Christ and walking in his ways.


33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”

36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Obedience of Faithfulness: A Walk On the Romans Road | Sunday Morning Greek Blog […]

    Pingback by SMGB Indices | Sunday Morning Greek Blog — December 12, 2022 @ 9:44 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by

%d bloggers like this: