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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Romans Series 2: The Power of God for Salvation, Rm 1:8-17

Romans 1:8-17 (NASB)

"8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. 9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For it in, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."

Paul continues his letter in verses 8-17 by doing four things.

First, he thanks God for the work He has done in building a church of believers in Rome which had such vibrancy of faith that it had a considerable reputation throughout the "whole world" with which Paul was familiar.

Second, he expresses his passionate desire to visit the Romans, that they may be mutually encouraged in their faith.

Third, he expresses eagerness to preach the Gospel in Rome due to the fact that he, a recipient of divine grace, is now under obligation to all kinds of people--to bless them with the Gospel message and humble service.

Fourth, he further grounds this eagerness to preach the Gospel in Rome. He grounds it in the fact that the Gospel is powerful to save all who will believe its message, and that God is shown to be perfectly righteous in saving people in this way.

We learn from this passage that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The first evidence of this is the first verse. The faith of the church in Rome had such a reputation that Paul could say of them, "...your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world." Of course, Paul does not here mean for us to think that within 40 years of the establishment of Christ's Church the whole geographical earth would be filled with the knowledge of Christ and the faith of His church in Rome. However, the church of believers in Rome--which probably was not very large at all at the time--had a strong reputation throughout all of Paul's "world" as he knew it. And their reputation was their faith. This noteworthy faith was not something they mustered up on their own; it had a divine vitality to it. Paul understands that such faith can only be brought about by God--why else would Paul say, "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world"? Why not say, "Thank you, Romans for believing so hard!" or "Thank you, elders of the Roman church, for whipping them into shape so well!"?

Paul gives credit where it is due: the building of the Church by adding to its numbers, and the strengthening of the faith of those already within it, is thanks to God.

We ought to depend wholly on God, and not on superficial programs and advertisements and faddish gimmicks to draw people to our churches and to help them grow there.

That said, Paul goes on to describe the role that people play in all of this.

We read here that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation by working through people. We may observe at least four ways in this passage that God uses people to bring about salvation and growth in the Church.

1. Preaching. "...God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son..." (v. 9)

2. Prayer for each other. " my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of my prayers" (vv. 9-10)

3. Ministry of spiritual gifts. "For I long to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established;" (v. 11)

4. Fellowship. "that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine." (v. 12)

In preaching and prayer, we see very clearly how dependent we are on God for the vibrancy of our faith. Preaching would not be possible if we did not have access to God's Word. Effective prayer would not be possible if we didn't have God--or if we didn't have a God who mercifully cared to listen to us.

In spiritual gift ministry and in fellowship, we see very clearly how dependent we are on each other for the vibrancy of our faith. Neither of these means of grace are available to us outside the community of a local church body.

We can flip these around, too, and say that preaching and prayer both in a sense depend on people; and spiritual gifts and fellowship depend on God, too! We need a preacher, or at least someone who is wiser and more well-studied in the Scriptures than us to unfold God's Word for us on a regular basis. We need lots of our brothers and sisters to regularly be on their knees praying for us. We need the Holy Spirit to come and gift us for ministry to each other. And it is God we need to come and bless our relationships in such ways that our fellowship can be encouraging and profitable.

Because all of this is, indeed, aimed at profiting something: spiritual fruit. Notice the purpose of Paul's planned visits in v. 13 " that I may obtain some fruit among you" I take spiritual fruit to mean things like the "fruits of the Spirit" in the famous passage in Galatians 5 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control); as well as increasing victory over sin and doubt in our lives.

It should both humble us and encourage us that God is the one at work in our salvation and spiritual growth; and it should both humble us and encourage us that people are the means whereby He does this great work.

Trust in God above all else!

Connect with other believers in a local church under the preaching of God's Word!

Participate in ministry with other believers, by committing to praying for one another, sharing life with one another, and using your spiritual gifts to encourage one another in the faith!

We see further that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation for all kinds of people; we see this in Paul's eagerness to preach the Gospel in Rome. "I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the Gospel to you also who are in Rome" (vv. 14-15). Paul, having been converted from a Christian-persecuting Pharisee into a passionate Christian missionary, was a recipient of extravagant grace. Due to nothing meritorious in Paul, God had saved him and forgiven him. Does Paul understand this forgiveness as putting him in debt to God, so that he has to somehow "make up for" all of his sins? No. He speaks here in terms of obligation to other people! It is impossible to repay God for grace that He gives. Believers in Christ will pile up more and more "indebtedness to God" every day for eternity. However, when a person receives divine grace, it obligates him to show mercy to others. All others, regardless of race, gender, nationality, or cultural background. Paul lived to bring the glorious Gospel of salvation to every tongue and tribe of peoples he could, even among the dirty, unclean, idolatrous Gentiles! Even among the uneducated barbarians outside of Roman citizenship!

How have you been loved by God, Christian? How have you been blessed by God? How have you been helped by God?

How have you loved your neighbor, Christian? How have you been a blessing? How have you helped someone in need? How can you this week?

How has God... forgiven you? How have you forgiven your neighbor? How can you this week?

How have you proclaimed Christ to the lost recently? Are you eager for people to know Jesus through the Gospel? I speak hypocritically here, for I often struggle with fear and negligence in evangelism. It is my weakest spiritual discipline.

If only I were more perceptive of the magnificent extent and weight of what God has done for me by saving me--if only I believed God's promises more as if they were really real, I would likely open my mouth to proclaim Christ more frequently and more boldly. I suspect the same is true of you.

Let us together know God's mercy on us better, so that our realization of its greatness may cause us to overflow with love and eternal concern for our lost coworkers, families, neighborhoods, and people in Nepal and Uganda and Brazil!

The Gospel must be communicated to the lost--those who do not know Christ or trust Him for salvation. However, let us remember to speak the Gospel to fellow believers every day, too! Let us never think that once we are believers in Christ, the Gospel message is no longer for us! That is how false converts think. They may have prayed a prayer to be "saved" when they were younger; they may have been baptized and signed a card; their pastor may have once told them they were going to heaven; but they do not any longer seem to care about Christ or His precious Gospel or spiritual things in general. They think they're safe from Hell and so...what's the need to bother with all this God-stuff any longer?

If you find yourself treating Jesus like a more of a fire insurance policy than a King who lives to serve and save you daily as you treasure and rest upon His radical promises, I want to say two things to you:

1) Test yourself to see if you are in the faith! (2 Cor 13:5) You may be deceived about your own salvation! Matthew 7 records that on the last day, many will say to Jesus, "Lord! Lord!" and He will say to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness." Do you really believe Jesus and His Gospel are really real? Are you growing in holiness? Is your heart growing in love for God and for others?

2) If you are uncertain about the state of your soul before God, look to Jesus! See Him, the sinless and perfect Son of God, making a complete end of the guilt and power of sin for His people by dying in their place on the cross--bearing the wrath of God against sin, and rising again bodily from the dead, triumphant over death and evil. If you can look to Jesus in this way, and believe--tasting the sweetness and suitableness of this Gospel and simply receiving it, you can know yourself safe in His arms forever.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as unbelievers: the message is the same to both of you. Look to Christ and believe! Every day.

And that brings us to our final observation about this passage.

Paul is so eager to preach this Gospel in Rome for several reasons. One reason was mentioned above--namely, that the Gospel is for all kinds of people. But there's more to it, too. Look at vv. 16-17. These verses are widely regarded--and rightly so, in my opinion--as the thesis of the book of Romans. That is, these verses contain the main point driving all the rest of Paul's argumentation for the rest of his letter.

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...for in it, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."

The glory of the Gospel is this: God is and is shown to be perfectly righteous in saving people through their faith in the Gospel apart from anything else about them. We will eventually see that chapters 3 through 5 will flesh this out in great detail. But the summary is this: because of what Christ did on the cross and in rising again, God counts people righteous and totally forgiven of all their sin through faith in Christ apart from works--and is totally righteous in so doing.

Proclaimed long ago in many places of the Old Testament, including Habakkuk 2:4 which is quoted at the end of this New Testament passage, salvation was and is and will always be by faith in God's promises apart from works. Faith is the only action of the soul that expresses utter dependence on God, and therefore it is the only means by which God has determined that people be saved.

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation. We have no power to save ourselves. The way we participate in our own salvation is to simply look in faith to Him who saves, and depend on Him alone for forgiveness and the gift of being counted righteous in Christ. In this way, God gets all the credit, and we get all the eternal joy we could ever hope for.

And we, like Paul, should be greatly encouraged by this and made eager to share Christ with people. To be saved forever, our neighbor must only hear the Gospel and believe it!

"Gospel" means "Good News." What could be more like "news" to people than to tell them that they are not self-sufficient but must rely completely on God for their salvation? Human inclination has always been--since the Fall of man--pretended self-sufficiency and astonishing heights of sinful pride. The Gospel is definitely News to the proud.

But the Gospel is Good News to all who will receive it. What better news could there be than that to be saved and enjoy eternal fellowship with the living God a person must simply look to Christ and believe on Him, no matter their gender, race, nationality, culture, past, or degree of sinfulness?

In Jesus Christ God is mighty to save. Believe on Him today and keep believing! Rejoice in His mercy and have mercy on your neighbor.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Romans Series 1: Grace to You, Rm 1:1-7

Romans 1:1-7

1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 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, 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, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The 'book' of Romans, as you know, is a letter written by the apostle Paul to the Christians at Rome in the middle of the 1st century. As such, it naturally begins with a greeting. Paul introduces himself at length, defining himself in terms of his relationship to Jesus, to the Gospel, and to the Gentiles. He then also acknowledges who his audience is and says a blessing of grace and peace over them.

The fact that so much of our New Testament is comprised of letters from apostles to churches which begin and end with gracious salutations is, I think, something we do not appreciate enough. It reminds us that when we read our Bibles, we are reading words that were written down by men for other men in a certain cultural and redemptive-historical context. But when we remember that God is ultimately behind the writing of it all, we realize more of the personal nature of God. God Transcendent, God Most High, God who is exalted above all the heavens, has graciously condescended in personal relationship to man. One of the chief ways He has done this is by giving us His written Word--and his Word authoritatively reveals the other chief way in which God has done this: by coming to us AS one of us in Christ.

And Jesus is what this book is all about. Yes, this is a letter to the church in Rome through which Paul eventually gives very practical instructions about how they should go about living the Christian life. But first, Paul takes eleven chapters worth of space explaining the beautiful doctrines of the Gospel and the implications of what Jesus has accomplished for His people on the cross and in the resurrection. Christ is the center of focus throughout the first eleven chapters and even after that.

We see this clearly from the very beginning, in Paul's greeting.

"Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, ...set apart for the gospel of God...concerning His Son"

Even in Paul's introduction of himself as an apostle, he is constrained to define himself according to the person of Christ and the message of the gospel. In fact, it could even be said that Paul is introducing Christ and His Gospel more than he is introducing himself here!

This is what gives Paul's letter divine authority. Paul is an apostle of the Lord Jesus, a divinely ordained minister of the Gospel; and therefore when speaking as an apostle to a church, God has granted divine authority to the words Paul says. God saw it fit to preserve the particular words of Paul to the Roman church for our benefit today. So whenever we approach the Word of God, let us do so remembering at least two things: 1) we are approaching a personal being who is so far above ourselves that He must graciously condescend and speak to us in human language if we are to know Him well personally; 2) this personal being has divine authority over every aspect of our lives and we are to humbly submit to Him, believing and obeying all that He says in His Word, including the book of Romans.

This would be very problematic for us if God were a God who only judged mankind according to the standards of His revealed Word, and was not also a God of grace. Because none of us, as we will see clearly in the coming messages, have ever completely believed or obeyed God. But praise be to His name, He is a God of grace. He is a God of profound grace, which is revealed chiefly in the Gospel of Christ His Son. Paul loads up his greeting with information about the Gospel, and there are at least six things that I think we should learn about the Gospel from this section.

1. The Gospel is from God. "...set apart for the gospel of God" I think this mainly means that the gospel originated from God, was initiated by Him, planned by Him from all eternity. This receives further support in the next point.

2. The Gospel was prophesied about in the Old Testament. "...which he promised beforehand through the prophets in the holy Scriptures" If you have never done a study of the prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah, you are missing out! Try reading accounts of the Passover ceremonies, or of the Day of Atonement as described in some of the first five books of the Bible. Or read Psalm 22 and see if you don't think some of it sounds familiar. Or read Isaiah 53, knowing that there are copies of Isaiah intact today which predate the life of Christ on earth! There are hundreds more such prophecies, and they are truly amazing; they contribute to corroborating the truthfulness of Scripture. They also show that the Gospel was planned by God long ago, the cross and resurrection of Christ being the apex of all history--the decisive point in time when God triumphed over evil and won the victory for His people!

3. The Gospel is about God's Son. "...concerning His Son...who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" God is a Trinity. That is, we believe that the Bible teaches all of the following facts, among many others, about God: there is one God; the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God; the Father, Son, and Spirit are each distinct persons; the Father, Son, and Spirit, are all one in being as the one God of the universe. Jesus Himself, while on earth, made claims of His equality and oneness with the divine Father. And this passage says that Jesus was vindicated as the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead. Jesus made His claims of divinity, and they were proven by His power and authority over even death itself. And at the heart of the glory of the Gospel is that Jesus, the divine Son of God, was the one given up for us on the cross. Jesus, the Lord of glory, perfect in power and wisdom and holiness, was crucified for sinners. That's the kind of grace we are talking about when we talk about the Gospel. Worship.

4. The Gospel is about the Messianic son of David. "...who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh..." Jesus is one person with two natures. He is the only person like that to ever exist. Jesus is both fully and truly God and fully and truly man. By virtue of His divine nature, He is the Son of God, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father and the Spirit. By virtue of His birth as a man, and by virtue of His human legal lineage, He is a son of David. This is important, because the Messiah was promised to come through David's line of descendants. See 2 Samuel 7 for example, and read about God's covenant with David--how God promised David that one of his descendants would have an everlasting kingdom.

5. Through the Gospel, Christ brings grace. "...through whom we have received grace and apostleship" Paul doesn't pretend to be going about his ministry in his own power. In fact, if it were not for the powerful grace revealed in the Gospel, Paul would not have ever been changed from his old ways into a new creation in Christ; he would not have become a Christian; he would not have been called as an apostle; he would not have written; we would not have the book of Romans today. Recall how zealous Paul--then "Saul"--was in persecuting the early church before his conversion to Christ! He stood coldly watching with approval as Stephen was stoned to death as the first Christian martyr. Only the grace of the Gospel could have overcome such hard-heartedness and the guilt which was multiplied because of it.

6. The Gospel's purpose is to glorify God through people's faith and obedience. " bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake..." This Gospel, which is filled with unspeakable divine grace, is designed to bring about at least three things among people from every ethnic and cultural background in the world. And these three are all closely interrelated: 1) faith in Christ; 2) obedience to God; 3) glory to the name of Christ. Saving faith in Christ and His Gospel produces God-glorifying obedience. And as we will continue to see throughout the book of Romans, the grace of the Gospel is relevant to all people; it has power to save irrespective of gender, ethnicity, cultural background, or social class. This is the good news--the Gospel of the grace of God.

This Gospel is where Paul finds his hope, his empowerment for ministry, and indeed his very identity. But he doesn't hoard it all for himself. The Gospel by its very nature transforms the hearts of believers such that they long for others to know this same grace--this same God. The Gospel drove Paul to do extensive missionary work among the Gentiles of the 1st Century. However, Paul also lived to encourage, teach, exhort, and minister to those who were already believers. So whether you are really investigating Christ for the first time or are a seasoned saint in the faith, know that Paul's words in the book of Romans are ultimately God's Words, and they are words of grace--grace that is relevant to you and powerful to save and encourage you.

Paul, at the end of the greeting section of Romans 1 here, especially aims at encouraging the believers in Rome: " also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." If you are a believer in Christ today, know yourself called of Jesus Christ as a saint and beloved of God. Glory in that love and grace, and share it with others! I think that all too often we miss opportunities to encourage one another with simple words from Scripture. What if we made it a new habit to regularly and sincerely say to one another, out loud, "Grace to you, brother!" or, "Peace to you, sister!"? How many downcast souls might be lifted up by such utterances? How many of the spiritually oppressed may God be pleased to deliver through such words? How many weary laborers might find rest in such ministry?

Know the grace of God's Gospel--the good news of Christ crucified for sins and risen again! Grace to you, brothers. Grace to you, sisters. Grace to you, seekers. God's peace to all of you.

Let us in the coming days humbly dive into God's authoritative Word to us in Romans with the following goals: 1) that we may discover the grace of His Gospel revealed in the person and work of Jesus, to be further unfolded in coming chapters; 2) that we may be changed by that Gospel into people of greater grace, peace, faith, and obedience; and 3) that we may bring further honor to the name of Jesus.

A Banquet of Solid Food

I love the book of Romans. Being God's infinitely rich Word, I haven't come close to plumbing the depths of it despite two years of studying it deeply; but still, I can honestly say that the glories revealed therein are inexpressible in words...words me to describe the kind of power these promises have. That's largely due, I think, to the fact that Romans is very much about the gospel. Chapter 3 especially gets at the heart of the gospel, and Chapter 8 extends into eternity past and eternity future describing implications of the gospel for believers. What could be more beautiful?

I also love the idea of preaching. I also love writing. However, I'm not a published author and don't pretend to be a preacher. Nevertheless, I thought it would be beneficial to myself and perhaps to some others to start a series on my blog--having cleared older posts off of it--and go through Romans in a "written sermonic" format. This will help me to make sure I understand Romans well structually; it will help me to apply the main points of this book to my life; and hopefully, for interested readers, it will feed them more of God's Word and encourage their souls. Also, it is good head start sermon preparation practice for me in case I ever find myself in a capacity of regular preaching. Because...who knows?

So if you are interested in feasting your souls on Christ through His Word by going through Romans with me, this series may be for you!

Depending on the kinds of comments I get, I may or may not actually respond to them on the blog. You can message me directly on Facebook or something and depending on the topic, we can talk about it more there.

Enjoy God's Word with me!