Sunday, January 4, 2015
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.
I struggled with where to go next in my preaching on Sunday mornings. Preaching through Romans will take some time. However, I believe we need, as a congregation, to look at this letter to the church at Rome from Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. This book is a synopsis of New Testament Theology. Here in this letter to the church at Rome, Paul lays out what he has come to believe is the foundation of the truth that God wants us to know.
God, through Paul, has given us an important summary of the Christian faith and teachings. As in all his letters, he starts with an introduction of who he is, and prays that God's grace and peace would be given to those who are reading the letter. Of course, Paul was thinking of his brothers and sisters in Rome, but we can take it that God intended that prayer for us as well as we partake of the truths that Paul outlines for us here in his letter to the Christians who meet together in Rome.
Paul wrote this letter from Corinth. He has not yet been to Rome. In fact, he is on his way to Jerusalem, in the opposite direction. He has been warned that he may face trouble and even death if he goes to Jerusalem. His friends have encouraged him not to go, but to send others in his place. Paul feels he must go. He senses that this is God's will for his life and he is ready to face whatever comes to him there, even death as a martyr.
He expresses his hope to be able to meet with the church in Rome in the future. However, he has no guarantee that he will be able to do so. Perhaps this is why this is one of the longer letters we have from Paul to any of the churches. He wants to be sure to give them a full understanding of what he believes to be the truth of the gospel, the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. He wants to equip them to face the challenges he has seen other congregations deal with.
I have given the word 'called' as a title to this message based on Romans 1:1-7. He uses the term 3 times in these 7 verses. Once in his introduction of himself and twice in his statement of who he intends to read his letter.
This term could have been translated as invited, or appointed. It is in that sense that I say that I have been called, or I have a calling to minister to God's people. God called me to be a minister. Paul felt that God had appointed him to do the work he was doing. He said he was “called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”
The word apostle means one who is sent. So when he says he was called as an apostle, it was his way of saying that God sent him. He came with the authority of God behind him. When he spoke, he was speaking as a representative of the one who called him, the one who sent him. Paul was saying he had the power of God as the authority for what he was doing. How great is that?
He claimed to be set apart for the gospel of God. The word sanctified is closely related to this idea of being set apart. Paul was on a mission. He had given up other things in order to carry out this work that he was doing. Set apart for the gospel, for the good news. He had good news to share with the world. He was especially called to speak to and on behalf of those who the Jews referred to as Gentiles. The word Gentiles basically meant “the nations”. Anyone who was not a Jew fit their definition of who a gentile was.
The church in Rome was most probably started by people who had been in Jerusalem back on the first Pentecost after the ascension of Jesus. They had heard and believed the message that Peter had preached. They in turn went home to Rome and shared this good news of the gospel with others and began meeting together with others who had put their faith in this Jesus. They had come to believe that God had sent His Christ, His Anointed one or as they would have said in Hebrew, the Messiah. They were some of the first Messianic Jews. Jews had come from all over the known world to celebrate the Passover and the feast of Pentecost.
When the worship had spilled out onto the streets and people from all over the world heard these unlearned Galileans, fishermen, and other common laborers, declare the praises of God in their own language, they had been moved to accept the teaching of these followers of Jesus of Nazareth. They had become Christians.
Paul had a desire to go to meet with these Christians. Undoubtedly, they had reached out into their community and won others, Jews and Gentiles who came to believe in Jesus, the Messiah. Others had come to the church at Rome after being converted in cities and towns where Paul had gone to preach and then gone to live in Rome.
When Paul finally got to Rome, about 5 years after writing this letter, he found a thriving community of fellow believers. They had not been troubled as yet by what had been called Judaisers. These were the Jewish Christians who believed that to be saved a Gentile would have to be first converted to Judaism. They would need to be circumcised in order to be saved, so another term for this group was “the circumcision”.
Paul asserts his authority as an apostle who was sent by God to take the gospel message to the world. He also asserts the authority of the message he will share in this letter as he points out that the coming of the Messiah was foretold by the prophets in the holy Scriptures. He asserts the authority of the message he preaches by declaring that Jesus was proved to be the Messiah by the resurrection. This Jesus was also a descendant of David, which was further proof of the truth of the gospel as far as Paul and the early Christians were concerned.
The gospel is the Good News that calls all people in all the world to accept the love and grace of God as presented through Jesus Christ. God's loved was proven by the life of Christ and His death and by the power of God demonstrated by the resurrection of the Son of God. This was accomplished, according to Paul by the work of God's Holy Spirit.
Paul uses the phrase “the obedience of faith”. This obedience of faith is what we are called to live out when we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. He is Lord because He is God. He is Savior because He loves us enough to come down to us and suffer life as we know it and to give Himself as a ransom for us. God has taken upon Himself the death we deserve. He agreed to accept as His own the cost of our sin. He will bear the loss of what our sin means to Him and no longer demands justice, but instead offers mercy to us who have walked in disobedience.
This gospel message is a call to walk by faith in God, and no longer depend on our own goodness to be accepted by God. So often I have heard people express that they will come to Christ when they have gotten their lives straightened out. They want to change before they surrender to Christ. The problem is we cannot change enough. We cannot be good enough to have a relationship with God.
The good news is, we do not have to. We simply need to acknowledge our sinfulness, admit we cannot live up to what God expects of us on our own. Once we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us.
We cannot cleanse ourselves. We can only accept the cleansing offered by Christ. He then comes in to lead us and guide us and to make us what we were intended to be. We can only be perfect as we are attached to the perfect one. We can only experience holiness as we are connected to the holiness of God.
Doing good things does not pay our debt. It was never intended to do so. It is God' presence that makes us holy. It is God who comes to us through the presence of the Holy Spirit and leads us each day so that we can begin to become what He intended us to be from before He spoke us into existence.
Grace can only be accepted. It is not something we can earn or deserve. Salvation comes as we are reconnected to God by putting our faith in Him and giving up our tendency to try to be good enough. This does not excuse our sin. This is not a reason to continue in our disobedience. This is the reason to repent, to change, to begin walking with Him and seeking Him to help us walk in obedience.
Paul tells the recipients of his letter that they also are called. They have heard the truth of the gospel. They have been called to accept the gospel message. They are called to be set apart, to be saints, or those who have been sanctified, or set apart for the gospel. They are called to walk in fellowship with God and be examples to the world of who we can be when we are restored to the proper relationship with God.
I should say, we are called. We are called to be set apart for the gospel. We are called to walk in fellowship with Jesus Christ. We are called to believe the truth that God has sent to us through Jesus, the Word, through God's Spirit. We are the branches and we get our life by being attached to the vine that is God.
We do not have life because we are good. We are good because we have life. We live the best we can because we are trusting God to live through us. We do not live the best we can in the hopes that we will be accepted by God. We are accepted by God, we put our faith in Him, and then He helps us to be our best. We will never be good enough to be accepted by Him.
Have you heard the call of God upon your life? Have you heard the call of God that tells you He loves you? Do you believe, have you accepted, have you received the truth of the good news? Or are you still laboring and hoping that God will someday accept you?
Faith means we accept God's love in order to begin living as He intends us to live. Believing in the Biblical sense means we put our trust in God, not in our own goodness. He will help us to be good, but we can never be good enough to be accepted without Him.