Whenever we begin a new series of sermons it is a noteworthy event because it doesn’t happen very often around here. These long sermon series go against conventional Church Growth wisdom. The Church growth experts tell us it is better to have short sermon series that focus on contemporary issues, such as: “Seven Steps to a Stronger Marriage”, “How to Win Over Worry” or “Winning the War Against Materialism”. The reasoning is that people who are interested in the topic, will come to the church.
We have taken a different approach. We have deliberately chosen to pursue a slow, steady and systematic study of the Word of God. We have chosen to start at the beginning of a Biblical book and then work our way through that book section by section. There are four primary reasons for doing so.
- It is Scripture that changes people and not our creative outlines
- Studying the Bible this way makes it less likely we will take the Word of God out of context, using it to prove our ideas rather than His.
- We hope this method will help people learn to study the Bible for themselves.
- This approach enables us to more readily let God set the agenda for our study. If it were up to me, I would talk about felt needs, emotions, and being a better church member. I would not choose to talk about sin, righteousness, being made holy, predestination, and the place of Israel in the plan of God. I would avoid these topics because they are difficult. When we study systematically we are forced to deal with the issues that matter to God. We hope to be more balanced.
So, why are we moving to the book of Romans? The book of Romans is significant because it sets out to do what no other book does; it explains the Christian faith in an organized fashion. At this time when so many people in the church have no idea what Christians believe, it is especially important.
There are some people who might turn up their nose at such a study. Their pious sounding mantra is, “I’m not interested in doctrine or theology, I just want to follow Jesus”. Jesus told us that in the last days many will come to Him and say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!’” [Matthew 7:22,23] This means there will be people on the last day who believe they are Christians, but the Lord will tell them that He NEVER knew them.
These are sobering words. We ask ourselves, “How could this happen? How could someone think they were saved but really be lost?” The answer has to do with doctrine. They believed in God, but it was not the true and living God. They believed in Jesus, but it was not the Jesus of history. They trust Christ for salvation, but it was not the salvation God has offered. These people believed in a God of their own imagination. They didn’t take time to examine the truthfulness of their beliefs. Doctrine matters.
As we come to this study we want to listen to the Word of God and submit ourselves to it. We want the Scriptures to inform our theology rather than having our theology dictate our study of the Scriptures. In every series we want to be open for the Word of God to teach us, to correct us when we are mistaken, and to train us in the way of God’s righteousness or holy living.
I’m excited about this series. It has been many years since I’ve been able to preach through this book. The first time I preached through Romans my understanding of God was expanded, my appreciation for grace was deepened, and my motivation for worship was stirred. The last time I preached through Romans, my theology changed. I saw things I never saw before. I’m excited to begin the journey once again.
This is a meaty book. Dr. James Montgomery Boice preached 244 sermons on Romans. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones preached on Romans every Friday night for 13 years straight! I have no plans to go into that kind of depth in this book . . . but the depth is there. We are seeking to gain a strong overview of the book.
Let’s begin at the beginning, with Paul’s introduction to this grand letter. In the beginning of the letter Paul takes care of some introductions. At the very beginning of the letter He identifies the author, his message, and his audience.
The Author: PAUL
A Servant. The first thing Paul says about himself is that he is a servant of Jesus Christ. The word that is used for servant is the Greek word doulous. It is actually better translated “slave”. A servant in Paul’s day was more like an employee today. A slave was one who belonged to a Master or Lord.
We resist the notion of being a slave to anyone. In the book of Romans Paul contends that all men are naturally slaves of sin. We are held in bondage. Paul, by virtue of God’s grace was no longer a slave of sin but a slave of Christ. We will serve someone: we will either serve sin and wickedness or Christ and righteousness (or godly living). Paul declares that He is following Jesus. He understood that only in His slavery to Christ could he really be free.
An Apostle. Paul declares that he is “called to be an apostle”. Pastors, Missionaries and others will often talk about their “calling”. It is a summons by God to be involved in a particular work. It is unique, special and powerful.
Paul said he was called to be an apostle. Often the term “apostle” is used in a general sense of anyone who is serving the Lord. There is a second sense that was applied to the Disciples of Jesus. These Apostles were seen as having a special measure of God’s Spirit that made their words authoritative. Paul is claiming this same Apostleship for himself.
Paul was not a disciple of Jesus. He did not walk with Christ on earth as the other disciples did. However Paul had seen the risen Lord and had been called into ministry by the Lord Himself. Let’s face it, there are others who might say the same thing. For example, Joseph Smith would say that the resurrected Christ appeared to him and told him to form the Mormon Church. What’s the difference?
Paul had his calling confirmed by the disciples of Jesus. They examined his testimony and saw that His faith was true. They agreed to the ordination of Paul.
Why is this important? It is similar to the difference between saying: “I Am an American” and “I am the Secretary of State of the United States”. Both people are citizens of the country, but the Secretary of State speaks with the authority of the President. Since Paul is an Apostle with a capital A, he is specially used by God to speak with unique authority. When we read Paul’s letters we are reading the Word of God!
A Missionary. In verse 5 Paul tells us that His special ministry was to “call people from among the Gentiles.” Paul’s unique role in the Kingdom was to be an ambassador of the gospel to the Gentiles. His job was to share the gospel message and summon people to a genuine faith. Paul traveled extensively bringing the message of salvation throughout the Gentile world.
His Message: THE GOSPEL
Paul wrote that he had been set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scripturesregarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spiritof holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is a brief introduction to the gospel that Paul is going to explain more fully in the pages that follow.
Fulfillment of God’s Promise. Paul wanted his readers to understand that this gospel is not some novel new religion. It is God’s gospel not man’s. It is the same message of salvation pointed to in the Old Testament as in the New. Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy and was the very message of salvation the prophets pointed to for centuries.
Anchored on Christ. The gospel is centered on the person and work of Christ who Paul declares was “the Son” of God. This is something we must never forget. Salvation is not about our systems, our knowledge, or our goodness. It is about Christ, and what He has done for us.
Jesus was a real Person. Paul tells us “as to his human nature was a descendent of David”. Jesus was a real person with a real heritage. He faced the same temptations we endured yet he did not falter. In the Roman world the Greek Gods were products of legends. Paul wanted the Romans to know that Jesus was a real person who lived a real life and died a real death.
He was fully God. Jesus was not only a man . . . He was also uniquely God. How do we know this? Paul said, “he was declared with power to be the Son of God through his resurrection from the dead.” The resurrection did not “make” Jesus the Son of God . . . He was already God! The resurrection was a bold, powerful, and irrefutable announcement of His deity or God-nature.
The focus of the gospel then, is Jesus. Paul brings greetings from our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a significant title. In our day, many believe “Christ” is the last name of Jesus. It’s not. Christ means “messiah”. Paul is declaring that the man Jesus was the true Messiah and is the Lord or ruler over men. If Jesus is left out of the equation, it is not Christianity!
His Audience: THE ROMANS
Paul was writing to the Romans. He had never (to this point) been to Rome but (from chapter 16) had many friends there. We don’t know who planted the church at Rome. It is likely that it was begun by some of the people who had been in Jerusalem at Pentecost. Notice what Paul declares about the Romans.
Called by God. Paul said, “you also are among those called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Throughout this letter Paul will remind us that our salvation is something that is initiated by God. In Romans 8:30 Paul wrote, “those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” In each case it is God who does these things. He predestines, calls, justifies and glorifies. He started the work in us and He is the one who will see it to completion.
Paul tells the Romans that they have been chosen by the Father to be part of His royal family! Imagine getting a note in the mail that told you that you had been chosen to
- Meet with the President of the United States
- Deliver a message to a joint session of Congress
- Be a guest on a Late Night talk show
- Throw out the first pitch at a Pro Ball game
- Ride several laps with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Play a round of golf with Phil Mickelson
- Sing a duet with Whitney Houston
How would you feel? On the one hand you would be overjoyed at the privilege you had been granted. On the other hand, you would be overwhelmed with the responsibility that came with the privilege.
Every believer has been chosen to be a child of God!! God picked you! It is a greater privilege than we can fathom. We too should be filled with a sense of gratitude and joy while at the same time being aware that our new calling brings with it a new responsibility.
Loved by God. Think about the phrase, “Loved by God.” In one sense, God loves everyone. He makes the sun and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. There is a “common grace” that many experience.
However, the love of God that leads to eternal life is not extended to everyone. In Psalm 5:4 David said of God, “you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors.” In Psalm 11:5 David said, “The LORD examines the righteous, but the wickedand those who love violence his soul hates.” Later in this chapter of Romans, Paul said, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” [1:18]
The story is told of a very wealthy man who had many valuable art treasures. His collection was the envy of many. He had one son who was quite ordinary but was dearly loved. When the son died unexpectedly as a young man, the father was so deeply grieved that he died a few months later. The father’s will stipulated that, at his death, all his art works were to be publicly auctioned and that a painting of his son was to be auctioned first. On the day of the auction the specified painting was displayed and the bidding was opened. Because neither the boy nor the artist was well known, a long time passed without a bid being offered. Finally, a long-time servant of the father and friend of the boy timidly bid seventy-five cents, all the money he had. When there were no other bids, the painting was given to the servant. At that point the sale was stopped and an official read the remainder of the will, which specified that whoever cared enough for his son to buy the painting of him, would receive all the rest of the estate.
In the same way, it is only those who love, trust, and follow God’s Son who are loved by God and receive the rich inheritance of the Father.
Let’s come at this phrase from another direction. There are many people who live their lives trying to earn their parents approval. Some think their parents hate them. Others grow up believing that their parents are disappointed in them. It’s a sad state of affairs. It seems that no matter how hard the child works, they can never please their parent. They would give anything to hear the words, “I’m proud of you” or “I love you”.
There are many people who feel they are beyond the love of the Father. They believe that they have made too many mistakes. They have burned their bridges and used up all their chances. Some have done horrible things. Many of these people actually give up hope of finding God’s love. They turn away from God because they feel they are destined for Hell and figure they might as well start living that way.
The message of the gospel is: those who trust the work of Christ on their behalf will be cleansed of ALL their past sin and they will be loved by God. Do you hear those wonderful words, “they will be loved by God”. Are there any greater words in the English language? Are there any words more wonderful than these? All believers are Loved by God. We have a new relationship. We are no longer castaways. We are forgiven, transformed, adored, cherished, appreciated, and respected by God.
Transformed by God. Paul tells the Romans that they were “called to be saints”. It is God’s intention that they become saints. The Greek term means “holy one”. Every believer is called to be a holy one. In Romans 8:29 we are told “those he God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” In other words, God’s intention is for us to be like Jesus. This goal has not been fully realized yet, but it is our heritage as children of God.
If you lived in England and were born to the Royal family, you would grow up with a title. That title might be, Prince, Princess, or Duke or Duchess. You would get that title from the moment of your birth. The title points to your future role and destiny. When we are born again in Christ, we receive a new title. Instead of sinner we are called “saint”. At present I might not look much like a saint but a saint I will be.
We are only beginning our study of Romans. There are many more treasures yet to mine from this great letter. I encourage you in the months and weeks ahead to carefully read this magnificent letter. Listen carefully as Paul shows the way and the wonder of our salvation. Before we end, let me draw two final cautions.
First, we are called not only to knowledge but to Obedience. (v. 5) It is important that we remember that the gospel is not just something we are to understand. It is something that changes the way we live. The gospel has a practical impact. Obedience is the true result of faith. If He is the Lord, then we should follow Him. If you are only an intellectual Christian; if you merely study Jesus; then you have missed the point. He calls us to follow Him. If you have never done so, I encourage you to turn to Him wholeheartedly today.
Second, the knowledge of salvation should not make us arrogant, but humble. An arrogant Christian is a Christian who doesn’t understand the gospel. We are saved and made new, not because of our goodness, our impressive deeds, or because we are smarter than other people. We are saved as a result of an undeserved grace.
We are no better than anyone else in the world . . . but we are better off. We are better off because of Jesus. We are headed to Heaven, the rest of the world is headed to Hell. We know forgiveness and peace, the rest of the world pursues it. If we really understand, if we grasp His mercy, we will serve Him, and those around us. We will, like Paul, consider ourselves a willing servant of the Lord. We will give ourselves to proclaiming the message of salvation to anyone who will listen. We will do this in love, humility and with an undying gratitude for the privilege of being a part of His family.