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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.

1 comment:

Jaimie Krycho said...

I didn't know you had a blog! Sweet. I'll be following it!