WHY ME

 

Week of December 11, 2005

 

Bible Passage:  Romans 1:1-7, 13-17.

 

Biblical Truth: Believers have a responsibility to help take the gospel to all people everywhere.

 

Called 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, among whom you 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.  [NASU]

 

The distinctive qualifications of the apostles were that they were directly and personally called and commissioned by Jesus, that they were eye-witnesses of the historical Jesus, at least of his resurrection, and that they were sent out by him to preach with his authority. Paul’s twofold designation as slave and apostle is particularly striking when these words are contrasted with one another. (1) Slave is a title of great humility; it expressed Paul’s sense of personal insignificance, without rights of his own, having been purchased to belong to Christ. Apostle, on the other hand, was a title of great authority; it expressed his sense of official privilege and dignity by reason of his appointment by Jesus Christ. (2) Slave is a general Christian word (every disciple looks to Jesus Christ as Lord), whereas apostle is a specific title (reserved for the Twelve and Paul and perhaps one or two others such as James).

 

How did Paul intend his readers to understand his reference to having been set apart? We need to think of Paul’s Damascus road encounter with Christ not only as his conversion but as his commissioning to be an apostle, and especially to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul’s two verbal expressions, ‘called to be an apostle’ and ‘set apart for the gospel of God’ belong inseparably together. One cannot think of apostle without thinking of gospel, and vice versa. As an apostle, it was Paul’s responsibility to receive, formulate, defend, maintain and proclaim the gospel, and so combine the roles of trustee, advocate and herald.

 

Paul now proceeds to give a six-point analysis of the gospel, to which he has been set apart.

1.    The origin of the gospel is God, the gospel of God [1]. The Christian good news is the gospel of God. The apostles did not invent it; it was revealed and entrusted to them by God. This is still the first and most basic conviction which underlies all authentic evangelism. Without this conviction, evangelism is evacuated of its content, purpose and drive.

2.    The attestation of the gospel is Scripture, promised … in the holy Scriptures [2]. The gospel of God has a double attestation, namely the prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles in the New.

3.    The substance of the gospel is Jesus Christ, concerning His Son [3-4]. Everything about the gospel must be understood in relation to Christ. Paul now describes Christ by two contrasting clauses which express an antithesis between two titles (seed of David and Son of God); between two verbs (became or was born David’s descendant, but was declared or appointed God’s Son), and between two qualifying clauses (according to flesh and according to Spirit of holiness).

a.    The two titles. Son of David was a universally recognized messianic title. So was Son of God based particularly on Psalm 2.7. The two titles together speak of his humanity and his deity.

b.    The two verbs. Born of a descendant of David refers to his human descent from David by birth. Declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection points to the importance of the resurrection. Before that he was the Son of God in weakness and lowliness. Through the resurrection he becomes the Son of God in power. The word rendered “declared” is the word which elsewhere in the New Testament means to determine, appoint, ordain. Jesus was “appointed” or “ordained” Son of God with power which points to an historical beginning here described as the resurrection from the dead.

c.    Two qualifying clauses. According to the flesh evidently refers to Jesus’ human nature or physical descent and points to his earthly ministry. According to the Spirit of holiness refers to his exaltation after the resurrection. Christ’s pre-resurrection and post-resurrection states are here contrasted. By his resurrection and ascension the Son of God entered into a new phase of sovereignty. He was endowed with new power (according to the Spirit) in order to exercise the mediatorial lordship which he now executes as head over his church. This does not detract in any way from Christ’s power as the Son of God in his pre-incarnate state. Paul is just teaching here that Christ’s return to the right hand of God in the ascension is now as the God-man, as the incarnate Christ. It is only as the God-man that Christ could serve as the true mediator between God and mankind. In other words, the Son reigned with the Father from all eternity, but as a result of his incarnation and atoning work he was appointed to be the Son of God as one who was now both God and man.

4.    The scope of the gospel is all the nations, among all the Gentiles [5-6]. What Paul is affirming is that the gospel is for everybody; its scope is universal, without exception and without distinction.

5.    The purpose of the gospel is the obedience of faith [5-6]. This is Paul’s definition of the response which the gospel demands. A true and living faith includes an element of submission because its object is Jesus Christ our Lord and leads inevitably into a lifetime of obedience. That is why the response Paul looked for was a total, unreserved commitment to Jesus Christ, which he called the obedience of faith. Why must faith and obedience always go together? Faith and obedience must never be separated. The grace that is given in Christ and is received by faith invariably involves a transformation of one’s everyday life which is expressed in obedience.

6.    The goal of the gospel is the honor of Christ’s name, for His name’s sake [5]. Why did Paul desire to bring the nations to the obedience of faith? It was for the sake of the glory and honor of Christ’s name. This was the undergirding motivation that sustained Paul’s ministry. What was fundamental for Paul was the glory and praise of Jesus Christ. The highest of all missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God, [18]), but rather zeal – burning and passionate zeal – for the glory of Jesus Christ. Before this supreme goal of the Christian mission, all unworthy motives wither and die.

 

SUMMARY. We can say that the good news is the gospel of God, about Christ, according to Scripture, for the nations, unto the obedience of faith, and for the sake of the Name.

 

Obligated 1:13-15.

 

[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.  [NASU]

 

[13] Paul states that he had often intended to come to Rome, but had always been prevented. He does not say what had prevented him. But his emphatic term implies that he had tried hard to make the trip but that circumstances beyond his control had prevented it. His aim in coming was to obtain some fruit. Usually in the New Testament “fruit” refers to qualities of character of the like, as when Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit. It may be that this is in mind here, but on the whole it seems a little more likely that he is thinking of converts.

 

[14-15] Paul now makes three strong personal statements about his anxiety to preach the gospel in Rome: I am under obligation [14]; I am eager [15]; I am not ashamed [16]. The structure of these verses focuses our attention on Paul’s eagerness to preach the gospel. Why was Paul eager to preach the gospel? The first reason is given in verse 14. Paul is under obligation, which should properly be translated “I am a debtor”. Paul is in debt to the Romans in the sense that Jesus Christ has entrusted him with the gospel for them. So Paul’s first incentive was that he was eager to properly handle his debt. “Greeks and barbarians, wise and foolish” are meant to be all inclusive of the whole Gentile humanity without any distinction of nationality or cultural background. Similarly, we are debtors to the world, even though we are not apostles. If the gospel has come to us, we have no liberty to keep it to ourselves. Nobody may claim a monopoly of the gospel. The good news is not meant to be hoarded but rather to be shared. We are under obligation to make it known to others and should do it with eagerness.

 

Unashamed 1:16-17.

 

[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 in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”  [NASU]

 

Verses 16 and 17 describe the second reason Paul was eager to preach the gospel: he was not ashamed of the gospel. But why would Paul be tempted to be ashamed of the gospel? Whenever the gospel is faithfully preached it undermines self-righteousness and challenges self-indulgence; it arouses opposition, often contempt and sometimes ridicule. So we may be tempted to not preach the gospel in light of such opposition. How then did Paul (and how shall we) overcome the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel? It is by remembering that the very same message, which some people despise for its weakness, is in fact the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. How do we know this? In the long run, only because we have experienced its saving power in our own lives. Has God reconciled us to himself through Christ, forgiven our sins, made us his children, put his Spirit within us, begun to transform us, and introduced us into this new community? Then how can we possibly be ashamed of the gospel? Moreover, the gospel is God’s saving power for everyone who believes. The power of God in the gospel signifies the effective and transforming power that accompanies the preaching of the gospel. This salvation is effective for everyone who believes. Saving faith, however, includes more than mental assent. It also involves commitment and reliance upon God such as Abraham had in staking his whole future on God’s promises [4:18-22].

 

Why the gospel brings salvation is explained in verse 17: it manifests (revealed) the righteousness of God, a righteousness based on faith.  But what does Paul mean by the righteousness of God? First, the righteousness of God is a divine attribute or quality. It describes his character, together with his action which are in keeping with his character. In Romans God’s personal righteousness is supremely seen in the cross of Christ. Throughout Romans Paul is at pains to defend the righteous character and behavior of God for he is convinced that whatever God does – in salvation [3:25] or in judgment [2:5] – is absolutely consistent with his righteousness. Secondly, the righteousness of God is a divine activity, namely his saving intervention on behalf of his people. His righteousness denotes his loyalty to his covenant promise, in the light of which he may be expected to come to the salvation of his people. Thirdly, the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is a divine achievement. It is a righteous status which God requires if we are ever to stand before him, which he achieves through the atoning sacrifice of the cross, which he reveals in the gospel, and which he bestows freely on all who trust in Jesus Christ. God’s righteousness is a gift [5:17] which is offered to faith [3:22] and which we can have or enjoy [Phil. 3:9]. Thus the righteousness of God can be thought of as a divine attribute (our God is a righteous God), or activity (he comes to our rescue), or achievement (he bestows on us a righteous status). The righteousness of God is God’s just justification of the unjust, his righteous way of pronouncing the unrighteous righteous, in which he both demonstrates his righteousness and gives righteousness to us. This is the glory of the gospel, as it is God’s power operative unto salvation so is it God’s righteousness supervening upon our sin and ruin. Nothing serves to point up the effectiveness, completeness, and irrevocableness of the justification which it is the apostle’s purpose to establish and vindicate than this datum set forth at the outset: the righteousness which is unto justification is one characterized by the perfection belonging to all that God is and does.

 

The instrumentality of faith is again brought to the forefront: from faith to faith. From faith points to the truth that only by faith are we the beneficiaries of this righteousness, and so it is a “faith-righteousness” as truly as it is a “God-righteousness”. To faith underlines the truth that every believer is the beneficiary whatever his race or culture or the degree of his faith. Faith always carries with it the justifying righteousness of God. From faith to faith is coupled with revealed. The dynamic force of the word revealed expresses the thought that the righteousness of God is efficiently made known unto justification only through faith. The appeal to Habakkuk 2:4 is for the purpose of confirmation from the Old Testament. The truth being established by the apostle is that the righteousness of God is by faith – the emphasis rests upon the way in which man becomes the beneficiary of this righteousness.

 

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.     In verse 5, Paul says the purpose of his ministry is to bring about the obedience of faith. What does he mean by “obedience of faith”? What is the relationship between obedience and faith? Can you have one without having the other? How does the obedience of faith bring glory to His Name?

 

2.     Why was Paul not ashamed of the gospel?

 

3.     How does Paul describe the gospel in verses 16-17? What is the righteousness of God? How is the righteousness of God the power of salvation?

 

4.     Why is salvation effective only for those who believe? What is the relationship between the preaching of the gospel, faith and salvation?

 

 

References:

The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.

The Epistle to the Romans, John Murray, Eerdmans.

Romans, Thomas Schreiner, Baker Books.

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.