When one looks at the English definition of the verb obey, one finds the following; to carry out or fulfill the command, order, or instruction of; to carry out or comply with (a command, for example). Likewise, the term obedient has this definition in the English dictionary; dutifully complying with the commands, orders, or instructions of one in authority. Therefore, the main thrust of obedience as we understand it, is an action or actions. In other words, it is compliance with a command or doing something.
The biblical definition of obey, obedience, obedient, obeyed is somewhat different. The difference is in the method of compliance and motivation for the obedience. The idea is most clearly explained in Romans 1:5. The verse reads;through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, In the Greek it is HUPAKOE PISTIS, which is best translated as the attentive hearing of faith. The translation above, which is from the English Standard Version (ESV), is the correct one and it is translated incorrectly in the King James Version as well as some other versions. In the King James Version, Romans 1:5 reads obedience to the faith. Obedience to the faith more clearly means a series of obedient actions as opposed to the obedience of faith which means that faith is obedience or the act of obedience is faith. Now here is an interesting fact about the phrase HUPAKOE PISTIS; it is found in another place in Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is also found in Romans 16:26. I will quote it here from the King James Version: (Rom 16:26) But now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: So then, we see that the King James translators rendered it obedience to the faith in one instance and the obedience of faith in another. The fact that is interesting about this is that both instances Paul is generally stating the gospel. This is true of Romans 1:5 but is equally true of this passage which is a benediction pronounced in verses 25-27.
Rom 16:25-27 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages (26) but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-- (27) to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Notice that Paul is once again announcing that the gospel had been kept secret for long ages but was now revealed to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith to the gospel. Therefore the obedience of faith is the obedience of believing the gospel. The obedience that God demands is faith in the gospel message.
This is indeed interesting. In Romans 1:5, the KJV translators translated HUPAKOE PISTIS as obedience to the faith and in Romans 16:26, they translated it obedience of faith. Please forgive my apparent skepticism, but it seems to me like there was an agenda in this translation. In fact, except for the Amplified Version, the KJV stands alone with the Douay-Rheims (Roman Catholic) and the Good News Translation, again (Roman Catholic). In all of the other major translations, i.e., the NASB, NIV, NRSV, etc., it is translated the obedience of faith.
What does this mean? Well, it eliminates the very legalistic view of scripture and it also eliminates the necessity of absolute action obedience. This would be a good time for clarification. It is not that the obedience of faith, HUPAKOE PISTIS, will not produce obedient action. It will. But, the action is not the obedience. The action is a response to the obedience. Some further clarification, the phrase is obedience of faith (HUPAKOE PISTIS) therefore, faith is the obedience. Thus, the more obedience of faith present, the more a response in obedient action will be seen.
Let’s look at Romans 6:17 with respect to this discussion about the obedience of faith. (Rom 6:17 NKJV) But God be thanked that [though] you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. Obeying from the heart to a form of doctrine is putting faith and trust in the doctrine, or in other words, it believes that the doctrine is the true doctrine. Likewise, obeying from the heart is brought about from love. One would never say that one who obeys out of fear was obeying from the heart. Obedience that is generated from fear of consequences is not heart obedience. Heart obedience is the type of obedience that comes from a heart of love as would be given to a loving parent. For example, a child has been born into a family where the parents love them very much. Rules are made for the well-being and safety of the child. One such rule may be; do not touch the stove; it will burn. Now then, the child obeys from the heart by believing that the parent loves them, knows best, and has their welfare in mind. It is not simply following the command; do not touch the stove. If the child stays away from the stove it will be because of heart obedience. Now then, suppose that the child touches the stove and is burned, the child will not be driven out of the family for the disobedience. The child will experience the pain of the burn. It is important to understand that when Jesus introduces God as the Father, he is establishing the metaphor of the loving functional family as the pattern or type for the family of God in Him. Therefore, it is reasonable to think of obedience in the light of a loving family.
However the loving family illustration is not sufficient to explain the good news properly. The good news is what one must believe from the heart. This is the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and the way in which these events reconcile the sinner to God. In order to understand obeying from the heart, one must understand the definition of faith. Faith is not just an acknowledgement of fact but rather is an abiding trust. True faith completely rests in and trusts the blood of Jesus and his atoning sacrifice for all sin, past present and future. True faith completely rests and trusts in the fact that the person of faith is made righteous and given the very righteousness of God as a free gift for placing trust in Jesus. True faith is obedience from the heart and it is the obedience of faith.
The obedience of faith is more important than action oriented obedience. Back to the KJV and the predominant teaching of Christendom for the past 2000 years which is explained by the phrase obedience to the faith instead of the obedience of faith. This teaching is centered on the idea of the obedience to the faith. Obedience to the faith includes following a set of rules that defines what the faith is. The faith becomes a term to describe a religious system. The faith is a life-style and mode of behavior. Ones being obedient to the faith will produce through specific actions, the life-style/mode of behavior that is associated with the faith. On the other hand, the obedience of faith focuses on faith. In this case it is faith in God through Christ Jesus. Obedience of faith, properly exercised and understood, will produce the same kind of godly behavior as the obedience to the faith will; But, without the fear of failure and disobedience.
Fear of failure and disobedience robs the saint of God from the joy of salvation. Thus, the one who is obedient to the faith, will never experience the joy of the one who understands the obedience of faith. The obedience of faith builds faith. We stated earlier that increased faith increases obedience. The answer to living a godly life is more faith. The way that faith is increased is by the trials and testing that are experienced. As we see the faithful love of God expressed in His total forgiveness in Christ and as we see him deliver all of our needs according to His riches in glory, our faith in Him grows, our love for Him grows, our fellowship with Him grows and likewise our godly behavior grows showing an outward appearance of greater and greater obedience. This is the obedience from the heart and it is the obedience of faith.
What about obedience in the Old Testament? Well, the word used for obey and obedience in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word SHAMA pronounced shaw-mah’. It means to hear intelligently and thus is akin to the Greek word HUPAKOE which means to hear attentively. There is very little difference and so obedience in the Old Testament was also the obedience of faith.