The opening verses of the book of Romans reveal Paul and the Gospel he preached. Paul was a servant and apostle of Christ, set apart for God’s gospel. The gospel concerned Jesus, in His human and divine natures, and as the One who bestows grace for ministry upon His church. God gives grace to every child of God to serve Him and others.
Paul and the Gospel
This morning we begin our slow, methodical, fascinating hike through the Book of Romans. The book of Romans has been used of God in the conversion of some of the giants of the Christian faith – Augustine, Luther, and Wesley, just to name a few.
Frederick Godet (the famous Swiss commentator) has written, “Every movement of revival in the history of the Christian church has been connected with the teachings set forth in Romans.”
Martin Luther has written, “The epistle to the Romans is the true masterpiece of the New Testament and the very purest gospel, which is well worth and deserving that a Christian man should not only learn it by heart, word for word, but also daily deal with it as the daily bread of men’s souls. It can never be too much or too well studied, and the more it is handled the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”
John Calvin wrote, “When anyone gains a knowledge of this epistle, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture.”
Samuel Coleridge, said, “I think that the Epistle to the Romans is the most profound work in existence.” And John Knox (not the Reformer) said that it is “unquestionably the most important theological work ever written.”
In 1998 John Piper began an exposition of the book of Romans, and he called it “The Greatest Letter Ever Written.” In all, Piper preached 225 sermons from Romans. If he preached every Sunday on Romans, it would have taken him nearly 5 years!
Romans is the longest, most systematic, and most profound of all of the epistles. It is probably safe to say that Romans is the most powerful document ever written. It was written by Paul to a church he had never visited. He wrote it to lay a doctrinal foundation for their Christian experience, not to correct problems in the church. It is probably the same content as he would give when preaching to a new church. Paul is writing from Corinth, and his plan is to go on to Jerusalem and deliver the poor saints there the gift from the gentile churches, and then come to them. He also hopes that Rome will become sort of a base of operations for him to go to Spain. So Paul hopes that this letter will prepare him for a fruitful ministry among the Roman believers.
So, I hope you can appreciate the greatness of the book we are about to embark upon. It is well worth any amount of time we spend in meditating on its truths. And this morning we are going to meditate upon the truths we find in the very first paragraph, verses 1-5. In this first paragraph, the apostle Paul tells us something about himself, and his gospel.
When we write letters today, we start out with “Dear so and so”, and end with “Sincerely, Brian.” We don’t disclose who we are until the very end of the letter. However, in the first century, the style of letter writing was quite different. The person writing the letter would tell his reader exactly who he was right out of the shoot. That’s how Paul begins Romans – “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…” Now, how does Paul identify himself?
A Bond-Servant of Christ Jesus. What did Paul mean by “bond-servant”? The Greek word is “doulos.” It simply means slave. Paul meant at least two things by using this word for Himself.
One who Was Bought by Christ. That is exactly what a slave is, right? He is one who is owned by another. Paul knew that he was the property of Jesus Christ. He says in 1 Corinthians 7:23, “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.” Again in 1 Corinthians 6:20, “For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” Paul knew that he didn’t belong to himself. He belonged, body, soul, and spirit to Jesus Christ.
One Who Was Ruled by Christ. A slave is not only owned by another, but he is ruled by another as well. In Galatians 1:10 Paul said, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” His meaning is that if he were trying to please men, he couldn’t be a bond-servant of Christ, because a bond-servant of Christ lives his life submitted to what pleases Jesus. Paul understood that Christ was his Master. He was not free to do whatever he wanted with his life, or his body, or his time, or his energy, or his talents. He was the purchased possession of Jesus Christ, redeemed with His blood. Jesus was his boss. Christ was in charge of his life.
Christian, this is true of you as well. You are the bond-servant, the slave of Jesus Christ. He purchased you with the price of His blood. He owns you, and He has the right to rule you. If you rebel and resist His rule, you are sinning against Him. That means if you decide what to do with your time, money, or talents without consulting Him, you are not living in harmony with your true identity.
Called As An Apostle. Now, what was an apostle? Literally, it was a “sent one.” An apostle was one who was sent by Jesus Christ to represent Him and His Truth. He was one commissioned and authorized by Christ to represent Him to those He was sent. Paul was especially called to become the apostle to the Gentiles. Notice how he writes in verse 5, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” Now, why does Paul tell the Romans about his calling to be an apostle? Surely, it was so that the believers in Rome would give weight to his words and receive them as the word of God.
Set Apart for the Gospel of God. The third thing Paul tells us about himself is that he was set apart for the gospel of God. As we have seen last Sunday, the theme of this entire letter is the gospel. Literally, gospel means “glad tidings.” I like that! So, when was Paul set apart for the gospel? In Galatians 1:15-16 he writes, “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…” Paul said that God set him apart from his mother’s womb! In other words, God made this decision before he was born. God was preparing Paul from infancy to preach the gospel. This is startling, when we consider the pathway of his life that led from unbelief, to severe persecution of the church. Yet, God was sovereign in all of this, and eventually called him to preach the gospel he had tried to destroy. Oh, the depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
Notice how Paul describes himself – bought, called, set apart. There’s not a word of his own achievements, gifts or intellect. He doesn’t talk about what he has done, but of what God has done in and for him. I think that is so important when share our testimony with others. When you share your story do you talk about how you analyzed the evidence, made your decision and chose to follow Jesus? Or, do you talk like Paul of how God set you apart from your mother’s womb, and called you through His grace, and was pleased to reveal His Son in you? Paul is careful to direct all the attention and credit to God.
2. The Gospel
At this point, Paul, having mentioned to the gospel of God, launches into a description of it.
Promised Beforehand Through His Prophets In The Holy Scriptures. The gospel that Paul was preaching was not a new religion. It was not a Johnny Come Lately faith. God had promised this gospel hundreds of years before. In fact, God had been promising this gospel since the beginning of human history. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, God promised, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen.3:15). To Abraham God said, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). To Moses God promised, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him” (Deut. 18:15). Then God promised the gospel through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 53 and 55. He promised the gospel through David in Psalm 22 and 69. The prophets referred to Jesus as the Branch, the Righteous Servant, the Messiah, the Root of Jesse, the Sun of Righteousness, Shiloh, and the Prince of Peace. God promised that this One would come and save His people.
We also see in this passage much about the doctrine of Scripture. First there is God. Then God makes a promise. He grants that promise to His prophets. Those prophets write the promise down, and it becomes Scripture. The Scripture is holy, because God is the One talking! Just as the prophets were the spokesmen for God in the Old Testament, the apostles become their equivalents in the New Testament. God granted them His Word and inspired them to write it for the benefit of His church. Paul claims a special inspiration for His teaching. In 1 Corinthians 2:13 he says, “which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter says that some distort Paul’s letters, just as they do the rest of the Scriptures. Peter called Peter’s letters Scripture! So, when Paul said that God set him apart for the gospel of God which was promised beforehand through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, he was saying that God called him to authoritatively proclaim the divine Word originally given through the prophets.
Concerning His Son. You want to know what the gospel is about? That’s easy. It is about Jesus Christ! The gospel is God’s glad tidings of what He has done to save sinners through Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. No Christ – no gospel! It’s as simple as that. John writes in 1 John 5:12 “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”
Who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh. What’s happening here? The eternal Divine Son, who has always existed, born! In other words, the Son comes into the world as man. He is fully human! Jesus did not give up His divine nature when He came into the world. He just took on a human nature and united it to His divine nature. Now there was a man with two natures – fully God and fully man. Because He is fully man, He can identify with us. He experienced pain, suffering, temptation, grief, fatigue, hunger, thirst, and death. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
But why was it Good News that Jesus was born as a descendant of David? God had several promises that a king was coming who would be a descendant of David who would rule in righteousness and peace, and destroy God’s enemies, and save His people. In 2 Samuel 7:12, God said to David, “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.” In Jeremiah 23:5 God said, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.” The gospel is the good news that after hundreds of years, God has raised up a descendant of David who would rule righteously as king. Isaiah 9:7 says, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.” That’s why in Mark 1:15 Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus is the Son of David. He has come to fulfill God’s promise to send a descendant of David to rule. He’s here!
Who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord. Notice verse 3 says Jesus was born a descendant of David according to the flesh, and was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness. According to the flesh, Jesus was the son of David. According to the Holy Spirit, He was the Son of God. In His human nature He is the son of David. In His divine nature He is the Son of God.
The Greek word for “declared” means “marked out as.” In other words, by His resurrection, Jesus was marked out, declared, and seen to be who He was – the Son of God. I understand this to mean that the Holy Spirit was active in raising the body of Jesus from the dead. It was a phenomenal display of power, that “declared” or “marked out” Jesus as the Son of God. It’s no wonder to me that Muslims do not believe Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. They believe He was taken to heaven without dying. That’s the best way for Satan to eliminate the gospel, because the gospel is all about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. So, as a descendant of David, Jesus is human. Through being raised from the Dead, He is shown to be Divine.
Through whom we have received grace and apostleship. Not only is Jesus fully human, the promised king, and fully Divine, the eternal Son of God raised from the dead, but He is also the One through whom all grace flows. Notice that Paul couples “grace” and “apostleship” together. It was God’s grace which was channeled through Jesus that bestowed this apostleship on Paul. Now, it’s important to understand the word grace. To most people, grace is how a ballet dancer moves on the dance floor, or what people say before meals. But Biblically, grace is God’s undeserved favor. It is fond 122 times in the New Testament, 99 times by Paul in his letters, and almost ¼ of those in Romans. You need to understand grace in order to understand Romans. It is at the heart of this book and the heart of the gospel and the heart of God. Grace was obtained in the obedience and death of Christ. It is not what we have a right to. It is always undeserved, unmerited.
Sometimes it speaks of His favor in saving someone from their sins. In this text, it is God’s favor in granting Paul a ministry. Interestingly, Paul often speaks of God’s grace in this way. Notice how he writes in 12:3 and 12:6, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to teach a measure of faith… Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” Then in 15:15-16 he writes, “But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles…” In all these places Paul is writing about how God’s grace has enabled him to serve the church in ministry. When Paul says in verse 1 that he is a bond-servant and an apostle, he means that he serves God as a servant and an apostle. But we should never get the impression that Paul serves God somehow in his own power. Notice how Paul puts it in Romans 15:18-19, “For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit…” In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul puts it this way, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” Paul serves Christ by the grace with which Christ serves Paul.
This enabling grace for ministry was not just for Paul. You can put your own name in this text in verse 5, “through whom I have received grace and teaching, or street preaching, or convalescent home ministry, or widowhood, or godly motherhood, or generous giving, etc. God has given us not only the grace of forgiveness, but the grace to serve according to His gifts. So that is the nature of grace. It is God’s free, undeserved kindness to bring forgiveness or power for service. It has nothing to do with our works, but is wholly unearned and undeserved, received through faith.
To bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles. Here we see the effect of grace. The “obedience of faith” is the obedience that results from faith. Faith is how we receive grace, and grace is what enables us to obey and serve God. Romans 4:16 says, “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace…” Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith…” Faith receives grace. All true obedience and service is done in the power of God’s grace, not our own power. So all true obedience must come from faith.
For His name’s sake. Here we see the goal of grace. The nature of grace – undeserved kindness. The effect of grace – the obedience flowing from faith. Finally, Paul mentions the ultimate goal of grace – His name’s sake. Now, what does it mean that this obedience of faith is for God’s name’s sake? It means that the ultimate goal of all our serving and obedience is the knowing, and praising, and exalting and cherishing of His name. It is to advance the glory of His reputation. Paul says in Romans 9:17 that the reason God raised Pharaoh up was so that His name would be proclaimed throughout the whole earth. God does all He does so that His name is exalted, and loved and treasured.
Now, why did God set things up this way? Why does He want to be the Fountain and the Giver, and we completely dependent upon Him? Because the Giver gets the glory. In this way, God gets the glory and we get the help. If Paul or you or I depended on ourselves to do our ministry, then Christ would not be praised. We would be. Notice how Peter puts it in 1 Peter 4:11, “whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
So, what does all this mean for you? You are Christ’s bond-servant. You are owned by Him. You are ruled by Him. He has given you grace and ministry to serve. What has He called you to be and do? You are not an apostle, but maybe you have a ministry of teaching the children, leading a bible study, displaying Christ to your unbelieving husband, or giving to the work of the gospel, or leading, discipling a younger believer, or showing mercy to others, or serving, or encouraging women. Whatever gifts and calling God has granted you, depend completely upon His grace. If you accomplish anything worthwhile in ministry during this brief lifetime, it will be because of His grace. Whenever you see God using you in a significant way, hide behind the cross, and ascribe the power to the grace of God. Refuse to take the praise to yourself! Make it your goal to make God look great in the way you serve. Do you see the beauty of God’s plan. It kills pride, and promotes humility.
Serve God with all your might! But trust God with all your heart! He is worthy of all your service, and His grace is sufficient for anything He has called you to do.
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