Welcome to 2017! I’m grateful for all of you taking time to read this, and hope you’ll stick with me through Romans, a few select Psalms, Hebrews and maybe more this year. Romans is a lofty beginning to the new year, but by God’s grace, I plan to move through it and help us see and enjoy God’s glory and be better equipped to obey Him and make much of Him.
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”–1:1-7
If we’re going to understand Romans, we need to understand a few things about the author, Paul. Paul is a key figure in the first-century church, as he planted many churches and wrote 13 books of the New Testament. Paul, also known as Saul, was a former persecutor of Christians until God saved him on the road to Damascus. Here’s how Paul describes himself in these opening verses:
- A servant of Christ Jesus. Paul understands that his life isn’t about him, but about Jesus. The Greek word for servant or bondservant typically describes a slave who can’t get away from his masters, but Paul uses the Hebrew sense to describe how he submitted to a master he loves and trusts.
- Apostle: Apostle means “one who is sent,” and is generally used only in reference to the original 12 and those who saw Jesus face to face. Paul saw Jesus when Jesus stopped him in his tracks on the way to Damascus. Now, Paul is sent out to tell people who Jesus is.
- Set apart for the gospel of God: Paul gets that the gospel is more important than anything else. He has been set apart for a specific purpose: to honor Jesus by sharing and spreading the gospel.
So what is this gospel, and what is it about? Maybe you’re new to my site and haven’t ready any posts before, and you have no clue what I’m talking about. Maybe you’re wondering why Paul would describe himself in this way. Maybe you’ve just forgotten what Christianity is all about.
Paul can’t contain himself. He immediately, in the opening verses, jumps into the gospel. Gospel means “good news,” so Paul believes his role, as given by God, is to preach the good news of Christ. But he understands that the gospel has been promised long before he was born. Indeed, the gospel was promised beforehand and taught through the Old Testament (“through his prophets in the holy Scriptures”). The Old Testament serves the purpose of pointing us to God’s promise of a Savior, our need for a Savior, and how God sovereignly brings that Savior about.
Secondly, and most importantly, the Gospel is about Jesus. That’s why Paul writes that the gospel is “concerning his (God’s) Son.”
The gospel is not about what I do for God, but what God has done for me in sending Christ, His Son, to die in my place. The gospel is not about going to church, but Jesus Christ dying on the cross and rising from the grave to create a new people, the church, for Himself. The gospel is not about trying harder or doing better, but being rescued by Christ despite my sin, and continuing to be rescued despite my ongoing battle with sin. That’s the gospel…the grace of God given through the person and work of Jesus Christ for all who will place their trust in Him and commit to Him as Lord!
Here, Paul describes Jesus as both God and King. He is King because He “descended from David.” David was an Old Testament king, and while he was a great king, he pales in comparison to Jesus. But Jesus comes through his line and is the rightful king of the universe. Jesus is also both fully God, as shown through the resurrection. So the gospel is about how Jesus is both God and man, and because of that resurrection, has gained victory over sin and death.
The question you have to answer, that we all have to answer, is what are we going to do with Jesus?
In the last few verses, Paul lays out some of the implications of the gospel for us.
He says we have received “grace and apostleship” through Jesus. We have received grace, that is, we have received forgiveness of our sins and eternal life with God though we did not deserve it if we trust in Christ’s work on the cross and in the resurrection. While the role of an apostle is no longer in use today, we have been sent to go share this news with others, so they may learn to obey Jesus with us.
By using the phrase “obedience of faith,” Paul teaches that we obey God by trusting Jesus, while also teaching that faith leads to obedience. We are not saved by our works or by our obedience, but those who are saved exhibit obedience and a desire to serve God.
In verses 6 and 7, Paul says we are called to belong to Jesus, and says we are called to be saints. What a great identity! We belong, not to sin or death, not to our parents or our bosses, but to the King of the universe! We are saints…not just sinners or losers or the outcast, but saints in the kingdom of God!
We must let our identity determine our behavior. We should obey God, not because we want Him to love us, but because He does. We act like saints because we are saints. We act like people who belong to God, not because we want to, but because we already do belong to God!
New Year’s Day is a day where many make resolutions. As a Christian, don’t make your resolutions thinking they will make you better-looking in the eyes of God. Make resolutions to love Him and change your behavior and live better for Him because of what He has already done for you!
As we continue walking through Romans this year, we’ll explore more and more of the gospel, and more and more of God’s glory. I hope you continue this journey with me.
Lord, may we remember who we are in you. May we remember who you are, and may our remembrance of your grace and your glory lead to joyful obedience and an increased love for you. May we honor you better, praise you louder and make more disciples in 2017 than we ever have before.