For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.”
The gospel must be obeyed, Paul says. We ask, If salvation is by faith alone—and it surely is—what does obedience have to do with the gospel? R. C. Sproul answers: “Although we see a frequent contrast in the Scriptures between law and gospel, here we have an indication that the gospel is to be obeyed. There is an implicit command in the gospel, a call to obedience to Jesus Christ.”
There are different kinds of belief. One kind says, “I believe this chair will hold my weight.” Biblical faith sits on the chair. One kind sees Jesus knocking on the door of my heart. Biblical faith opens my heart and lets him in. One recognizes what is true, the other acts on the truth. I may agree Christ is Lord and Savior. I am saved when I entrust my life to him.
J. I. Packer puts it this way: “True faith acknowledges Christ as what he truly is, our God-appointed king as well as our God-given priest, and true trust in him as Savior will express itself in submission to him as Lord also” (Concise Theology).Paul’s coupling of obedience and faith
The first line of verse 16 (“they have not all obeyed the gospel”) is, according to Douglas Moo, the center of Paul’s argument from verse 14 to the end of the chapter, and it expresses the section’s main point. The faith / obedience theme also frames this chapter and the entire epistle. In verse 3 Paul said the Jews “did not submit to God’s righteousness,” another way of saying they did not submit to the gospel, the only means by which God grants righteousness.
Faith and obedience are partners from beginning to end of Romans. In 1:5 Paul says the purpose of his apostleship as a servant of Christ Jesus is “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.” Then in closing remarks Paul restates his mission: “to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed” (15:18).
Back to verse 16, we see that Paul moves from “obeyed” in the first part to “believed” in the quote that follows, more evidence that he regards the two as parallel. In this quote from Isaiah 53:1 the prophet laments that the Jews in his day did not believe Yahweh’s message, and Paul accuses his contemporaries of reacting the same way to the gospel.Interpretive notes on verse 16
Explanation of “not all.” This is a figure of speech called litotes, an ironic understatement that uses a negative to emphasize a positive (such as “Not bad!” to mean “Great!”). Here the meaning of “not all” is “only a few.” Perhaps, as Moo says, Paul intends to echo his language in 9:6, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” As only a few belong to Israel so only a few obeyed the gospel.
Play on words: hear and obey. The Greek verb “to hear” is akouein. The Greek verb “to obey” is hupokouein, a compound of “to hear” and hupo, which in this case means under. So to obey is to hear under, the way a subordinate listens attentively to a boss’s command. Thus, the gospel demands that we heed or hearken to its claim on our lives.The gospel invites and commands
The gospel is both call to believe and command to repent, to redirect one’s life from darkness to light. It is a claim to which the obedient heart bows. We yield to Jesus Christ both in the initial act of faith to be saved and in our ongoing walk of faith as disciples. Says Moo, “Obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience.... They should not be equated, compartmentalized, or made into separate stages of Christian experience.”
Elements of faith
Gospel faith has these elements: understanding, agreement, conviction, trust, desire, decision, and commitment. This is the faith that obeys. A person hears and understands the gospel, agrees with its facts, desires to be saved, and places trust in Christ as Savior. These steps, according to Wayne Grudem, constitute “true New Testament faith.” Of the last step he says, “This personal decision to place my trust in Christ is something done with my heart, the central faculty of my entire being that makes commitments for me as a whole person.”
None of the elements is a “work” that seeks to earn God’s approval through human effort. Faith sees and accepts God’s gracious offer of salvation and is willing to follow the Author of that salvation into a new life.Israel has heard the gospel
As noted above, the pivotal assertion in Paul’s argument is found in verse 16. Only a few have obeyed / believed the gospel. But it seems Paul jumped the gun by rushing to state this conclusion before he completed his discussion (begun in verses 14 and 15) of the third step in the chain leading to salvation. So in verses 17 and 18 he returns to that third step (hearing).
Verse 17 locates Israel’s breakdown at the crucial step from hearing to believing. “Faith comes from hearing,” Paul says, and he means that faith (the fourth step) is the expected result, the normal byproduct of hearing (the third step). “The word of Christ,” according to Moo, is “the message whose content is the lordship and resurrection of Christ.” It is tantamount to the gospel, which is about a Person who speaks through his messengers.
Israel indeed heard the gospel, Paul emphasizes in verse 18. This decisive piece of evidence demands the verdict at chapter’s end that they are a “disobedient and contrary people.” The problem lies in their hearts. Obstinacy has plugged their ears.Spread of the gospel
The quote in verse 18 is from Psalm 19:4. David extols God’s revelation of himself in nature. Whereas creation’s voice is silent, Paul relates that voice to gospel preachers whose voices project far and wide. Although the gospel had not been preached literally to the ends of the world, it had been made known in the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day.
As with this Psalm, we have seen Paul at times alter Scriptures for his own purposes. His intention may not be to reinterpret the Psalm. Rather, Moo suggests, Paul forms “a general analogy: as God’s word of general revelation has been proclaimed all over the earth, so God’s word of special revelation, in the gospel, has been spread all over the earth.” Whatever Paul’s intent, Robert Utley points out that Paul and other apostles were uniquely guided by the Holy Spirit in their hermeneutics, and believers today cannot use those same interpretive methods.