11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established –
12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
“Faith is a personal thing,” I heard someone say once. The idea my friend was trying to express was that faith was private, not the same from one person to another. In fact, as my friend would have it, every person would have his or her own version of faith, each person with his or her own version of what they believed. And, of course, the modern politically correct thing to say is that “all faiths lead to God.” The odd thing is that this idea of varying faiths is prevalent even among Christians. Even within Christian churches and leadership there is a tendency to “reinterpret” what we are called to believe “in light of modern situations,” to treat faith as something we can change based on our own situations. Thus, while many proclaim “faith in Christ,” the question must be asked “Which Christ?”
In these short verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul implies that he and the Roman believers share a “mutual faith,” a faith that is strengthened and “established” by coming together in fellowship. Such a faith is not “personal,” not private or subjective. Such faith is something Paul and the Roman believers have in common. And yet Paul goes on to write an extensive defense of that faith by using Jewish Scripture and his personal apostolic revelation. The clear thing to remember is that, for Paul, Jesus was not an aberration, not some unexpected fluke in the progress of the Jewish people. On the contrary, as all the apostles demonstrate again and again, Jesus was the self-same Messiah spoken of from the beginning of what we today call the Old Testament – the Jewish Bible. And as the fulfillment of prophecy, as the One who embodies God’s grace, Jesus confirmed that the Scriptures – ALL the Scriptures – were valid and, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
This “mutual faith” is a belief in Jesus as the Christ, as Lord of lords and Savior of mankind. This “mutual faith” is a common belief that Jesus came into the world to save us, not to condemn us – but that we are saved BY thus common faith in Christ. As Paul goes on to explain in this letter to the Romans, this “mutual faith” is also a call to obedience to God and obedience to the things He has taught us through His Word.
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”
12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
The law – i.e. Torah, the books of Moses – teaches us about what sin is, teaches us what is holy and what is unholy. The law is a guide to understanding what is wrong in the eyes of God, especially those things which He finds abominable. For it is not enough just to love God and to be covered by His grace and mercy, we must also be obedient to His will for us, which means we must be obedient to His measure of righteousness, not our own.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
In this “mutual faith,” we are to have a standard, a common measure of what it means to be obedient to God in our faith. When we accept Christ and are saved from the consequences of our sins, we no longer live under the law – which was not meant in itself to bring us to righteousness. (Galatians 3:19-25) It is not the deeds of the law that bring us salvation, it is salvation that writes God’s law upon our hearts, so that we can live in the Spirit. If we live in the Spirit, then we EMBODY the law through love and good works. But, as our Lord said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41b) And so we are tempted to serve the flesh even in our “personal” faith, disregarding the clear teaching of Scripture, which is our guide.
17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.
18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.
19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.
Our “mutual faith” does not just encompass Christ but also the doctrines and testimonies and commandments of the Father who sent Him. Our “mutual faith” is not subject to individual or historical interpretation, it is like our Lord Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) Our “mutual faith” is meant to bring us together, not to separate us. Our “mutual faith” will become stronger when we come together and see Jesus more fully for who He is: the fulfillment of the law and of God’s promises, our Savior and mediator, our Lord and our Teacher. When we truly share this “mutual faith” – this common belief in the sanctity of Christ and the Word which testifies of Him – then we will all be established more firmly and be able to live fruitfully in the Spirit.
Lord God in heaven, we come to You in faith today – a common, mutual faith in Jesus as our Lord and our Savior. We cling to His Cross for our salvation, and we look unto Your Holy Word for guidance and assurance. We come together as one body, with one faith, in one voice to proclaim “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Amen.