(Rom. 1:5) Does this passage support Lordship Theology?

CLAIM: Paul writes, “We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake” (Rom. 1:5; cf. 16:26). Commentator and NT scholar John Stott writes,

The Greek phrase is very compact. Neither noun (‘obedience’ and ‘faith’) has an article, which we should expect if a distinction was being drawn between them and one were to be conceived as a result of the other. Instead, ‘obedience and faith’ appears to be the one response desired by the evangelist, a personal abandonment of obedience-and-faith or, if you prefer, ‘obedient faith.’[1]

Under this view, Paul is saying that both obedience and faith are both necessary for salvation. While we do desire believers to obey God, is Paul saying that this is a requirement for salvation?

RESPONSE: John Stott is a fine Christian commentator. Therefore, we hope that our treatment of this passage would only communicate disagreement—not disrespect.

Surely, Paul is calling on people to obey Christ, but how do we learn how to do this? Does obedience occur at justification or throughout sanctification? We would argue that obedience first occurs by obeying the gospel and coming to Christ, and later obedience occurs by slowly being sanctified through faith.

In Romans 3:21-5:21, Paul doesn’t once mention obedience. This is the same section where Paul explains faith as the means to justification. Wouldn’t we expect Paul to mention moral obedience at least once if this was a condition for salvation? Instead, he intentionally defines faith and works as mutually exclusive (Rom. 4:1-4), and he notes that Jesus was the one who obeyed—not us (Rom. 5:19). Thus while the goal is obedience, this isn’t required to become a believer.

Obedience doesn’t come up until after we come to Christ and try to grow with him. After our justification is established (Rom. 5), obedience comes next (Rom. 6). It is in Romans 6 that we see Paul emphasizing obedience (see Rom. 6:16-17), after justification has already been established.

Grant Osborne explains that this passage could be rendered four different ways:[2]

(1) “obedience to the faith” (objective genitive)

(2) “believing faith” (adjectival genitive)

(3) “the obedience that comes from faith” (genitive of source)

(4) “the obedience that is faith” (genitive of apposition).

Option #1: “obedience to the faith” (objective genitive)

Osborne argues that it cannot be the first option, because “faith” lacks the article in front of it. Others, however, argue that Paul could have this first view in mind. Charles Bing writes, “The single response would be the obedience of the nations to the command to believe in the gospel.”[3] In fact, we see this exact language later in Romans, where “obedience” is parallel with “belief” in the gospel: “They have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’” (Rom. 10:16 ESV; cf. 2 Thess. 1:8). Here, obedience is directly tied to believing the gospel itself. Moreover, in Romans 11, Paul seems to use “disobedience” as referring to “unbelief” (Rom. 11:23, 30-31).

Option #2: “believing faith” (adjectival genitive)

The second option seems redundant. Leon Morris writes, “While faith and obedience go together, they are not identical. Why use two words for one meaning? It seems rather that the gospel is seen as demanding the response of faith. Accordingly, the way to obey is to believe.”[4]

Option #3: “the obedience that comes from faith” (genitive of source).
Option #4: “the obedience that is faith” (genitive of apposition).

Osborne holds that it must be either option three or four. Thomas Schreiner agrees that options three and four are the best two ways of taking the text.[5] Douglas Moo writes, “We understand the words ‘obedience’ and ‘faith’ to be mutually interpreting: obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience.”[6] Under this view, we need to obey, but this can only come through faith—not moral self-effort.

The NET Bible says that this phrase could be “deliberately ambiguous” on Paul’s behalf. Noting that several translations render it so differently, it’s probably best not to hang too much on the meaning of this single verse. That being said, we hold to the first option based on the parallel usages throughout the book of Romans.

For more on this topic, see our earlier article “Lordship Theology.”

[1] John Stott, “Must Christ Be Lord To Be Savior—Yes.” Eternity 10 (September 1959) p.17. Moo holds to a middle view: “When we come to Christ initially, we come to one who demands total allegiance.” Yet he continues, “This allegiance is something we learn to live out as God begins his work of transforming our minds so that we may do his will (Rom. 12:1-2). But never can we obey without believing.” Douglas Moo, Romans: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 42-43.

[2] Osborne, Grant R. Romans. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2004. 33. Osborne is a Lordship theologian. On page 41, he writes, “One does not know Jesus as Savior until beginning the process of Lordship.”

[3] Cited in Bing, Charles C. Lordship Salvation: a Biblical Evaluation and Response. Burleson, TX: GraceLife Ministries, 1992. 22.

[4] Leon Morris The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988), p.50.

[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 35.

[6] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 52). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.