“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek”(Romans 1:16). Why should any Christian be ashamed of the Good News about Jesus? God is the source of that Gospel, Christ is the means of that Gospel, the Spirit is the herald of that Gospel; that Gospel is based on the greatest sacrifice and the greatest miracle, and it presents the greatest challenge and the highest ideals for the most cleansing of the most people towards the most joy—a forgiven past, a purposeful present, a blessed future! One writer observes: “God has shown Himself faithful to His covenant purposes and promises, and those who believe the Good News about Jesus will find that this faithfulness reaches out and embraces them ... [Romans presents] some of the most important truths ever heard by human ears” (Wright). Another writer says: “No reasonable person would dispute that the book of Romans is one of the most powerful and influential books ever written” (Hughes).
Let's look for just a moment at “the bookends” of Romans: its introduction and its conclusion. This introduction is longer than most in Paul's letters and is very doctrinal: “Paul, bond-servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God [so we see Jesus and the gospel being mentioned right off the bat] which He promised through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead [here we see prophecy, fulfillment, Jesus as Lord, His heritage, His power, the Holy Spirit, His resurrection]. Through Him, we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all the nations for His name, among whom you also are called of Jesus Christ [underline that expression “for obedience to the faith”]. To all who are in Rome , beloved of God, called to be saints: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now flip over the conclusion in 16:25ff, and you will notice the similarities: “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ [there's the gospel and Jesus again], according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations [there's prophecy and the nations again], according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith [underline it again here]—to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” This great book starts with obedience and ends with obedience, so a two word summary of this book could be: “Be obedient!” How were these Roman Christians to be obedient? That question will be answered in just a moment, but let's look quickly at some more background materials for this book.
Turn now to Acts 18:2 where we read: “And [Paul] found a certain Jew name Aquila, born in Pontus , who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius [the emperor] had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome ); and he came to them.” Here we see that the emperor Claudius ordered all the Jews to leave Rome . Secular history verifies this banishment saying that it occurred in 49 A.D. Just think how this might have affected the congregation in Rome . What if our governor said that our elders and deacons had to leave this state? Well, it wouldn't destroy our congregation, but it would probably slow us down some. Similarly, the church in Rome would be made up just of Gentiles. Now when Nero came to power in 54, Claudius' order was annulled, and the Jews could come back to Rome . Would there have been some difficulties with the Gentiles accepting the Jews back into their fellowship? Would the Jews have had some problems with their “more liberal” Gentile brothers? Romans 14-15 probably are addressing these very issues. Now turn to Romans 15:25: “But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem . ... [verse 30] Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.” We see that Paul is planning to go to Jerusalem before he goes to Rome to deliver the contribution that the Gentiles had made to help their Jewish brethren. He asks the members at Rome to pray for him. Paul is well aware of the dangers that he will face while in Jerusalem . Now look at Romans 1:13: “Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have fruit among you also, just as among other Gentiles. I am debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and unwise. So as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the Gospel to you who are in Rome also.” This lets us know that Paul really wants to come to Rome to preach the Gospel so that he can have some converts there, just as he has had in other places. So what's the point? We see that Paul really wants to share the Gospel in Rome , but first he must make a dangerous visit to Jerusalem . Now if you weren't really sure you could get out of Jerusalem alive, but you wanted to evangelize in another part of the world, what could you do? You could write a letter about the Gospel couldn't you? Romans is Paul's most lengthy letter about the Gospel. With this background, we're now ready to answer the question as to how the Roman Christians were to be obedient. There were four ways.
Paul says that they were to be obedient by proclaiming the Gospel. So what should they proclaim? This is the content of chapters 1-11. They should proclaim five truths: mankind's sinfulness, Abraham's conviction, Jesus' righteousness, the Holy Spirit's strength, and God's reconciliation. Let's look at each of these truths a little more closely because we can still share these same great truths when we explain the Gospel. Paul takes about three chapters to show mankind's sinfulness. Paul shows how the Gentiles have made the great exchanges: they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for idols (1:22-23), they exchanged the God's truth for Satan's lies (1:24), they exchanged heterosexual relations for homosexual ones (1:26-27) and they exchanged seeking God and doing good for seeking self and doing evil (2:5-10). Then Paul shows that the Jews are just as wicked. They broke the commandments (2:17-24), put the emphasis on the physical (2:25-29), and often acted in unbelief (3:1-4). Maybe we should follow Paul's lead. Sometimes we must tell the truth of the bad news to others before we can offer them the good news. They must see their sinfulness and their accountability before God. In chapter 3:21ff, Paul begins to explain his Good News: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe.” With this emphasis of righteousness through faith, we arrive at Abraham's conviction in chapter 4. Paul uses Abraham to show that it was not his circumcision but his conviction that brought about his righteousness in God's eyes. Note how smoothly Paul goes from Abraham's conviction to a similar conviction in Christ that we must possess in 4:20: “He [Abraham] did not waver at the promise of God [to have a son] through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He [God] was also able to perform [Abraham was convinced that God could give Him a son despite his old age], therefore, it was accounted to him for righteousness [God saw Abraham as righteous because he had faith in God's faithfulness! Now look how Paul applies that to the Roman brethren and to us]. “Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It [righteousness] shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” One commentator helps us to understand what has just been stated: “In this case, [this passage] draws together what has been underneath the whole of the previous four chapters. Jesus was handed over because of our trespasses; in other words, the massive human evil which had disfigured the world came together and, in the cross, was dealt with as it deserved, in judicial condemnation. [Jesus] was raised because of our justification ... when Jesus was raised from the dead, God was saying not only 'He really is My Beloved Son’ (1:4), but also ‘All those who believe on Him are really My [special] people'” (Wright)! Now that's Good News, brethren, for us to share with others as well—Jesus' righteousness becomes our righteousness! And the same commentator continues: “The first great section of Romans ends with Paul saying in effect: the prophetic promises have come true; Abraham's faith is at last vindicated; the law has been fulfilled; human sin, idolatry, and death have been decisively challenged; God has sent His own Son as the Messiah, Israel's faithful representative, to do for Israel and the world what they could not do for themselves; those who believe in the Gospel, in God's Good News about His Son, are assured that they are the people of the new covenant, the single world-wide family promised to Abraham” (Wright)! But Paul when can we know that we have been made righteous in God's eyes? Is there some specific way that we can identify the time of our salvation? Paul answers that in chapter 6:4ff: “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in a newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” Our old sinful man was crucified and buried, and we were liberated from the master of sin and became a free people to pursue righteousness and holiness in a newness of life! Yes, baptism is where that great transformation takes place! Now, remember, my friends, this is the apostle Paul speaking to us about the Good News of proclaiming the Gospel. But how then can we know that we can live this new life? Unlike the Jews who had the law for their strength, Christians have something much greater to strengthen them. Look at 8:10ff: “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you! Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.” One commentator rightly says: “Instead of the pillars of cloud and fire, Christians are given the Spirit as the personal presence of the living God” (Wright). Jesus, through the Spirit, has given us His own special name for God, and it has become our natural cry to a loving Father. Could we offer anything more enticing than [God's soul-satisfying paternity] to [our] lonely world” (Hughes)? But can everyone have God's Spirit? Paul then explains in chapters 9-11 how God is the source of reconciliation for both Jews and Gentiles. Listen to 11:19ff: “You [that is the Gentile Christians] will say then, 'Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.' Well said, because of unbelief, they [that is the Jews] were broken off, but you [Gentile Christians] stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches [the Jews], He may not spare you [Gentiles] either. Therefore, consider the goodness and severity of God: on those, who fell, severity [that's the Jews]; but towards you [Gentiles], goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And they also [the Jews], if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” In the olive tree of the church, God now unites all races and nations with one Spirit! That's Good News too!
Now that's a lengthy explanation on the proclaiming the Gospel, but shouldn't we also be telling our relatives and neighbors of mankind's sinfulness, Abraham's conviction, Jesus' righteousness, the Holy Spirit's strength, and God's reconciliation. Sometimes members tell me that they can't remember all the passages to share the Gospel with others. Listen, the apostle Paul has done you a big favor—he has provided a sufficient explanation of the Gospel right here in the first 11 chapters of Romans! Let's be obedient by proclaiming the Gospel!
Next, the Romans were to be obedient by practicing the Gospel. They were to do this by being living sacrifices, by using their spiritual gifts, by putting the welfare of other members above their own, by blessing their enemies, by submitting to the governing officials, by loving one another, by putting on Christ and living godly lives, by learning to accept each other despite their differences tied to their cultural beliefs, and by worshiping God together (now that in a nutshell is a summary of 12:1-15:13)! You see, Paul explains not only how to become a Christian in Romans but also how to BE a Christian, how to live it out. How does a Christian relate to the world? How does a Christian relate to government officials? How does a Christian relate to other Christians of a different ethnic group? Paul provides practical answers to those questions, and our world is watching us to see if we really are practicing the Gospel.
Paul also tells us what's really important. Notice what he says in 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Now look at Paul's closing prayer to the Romans in 15:13: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit!” Did you hear it, brethren? Paul says that in the kingdom of God , it's righteousness among us, and peace among us, and joy among us, and hope among us, and the Holy Spirit among us—these are the things that not only are important but also will make those of the world want what we've got! When we're living the Gospel among ourselves like we should, then unbelievers will listen to our preaching about it. Many of us have learned the five acts of worship, but why haven't we learned the five acts of fellowship—righteousness, peace, joy, hope, and the Holy Spirit? Someone has rightly observed: “Those who are inching closer and closer to a Christless eternity will thank us, one day, for staying focused on the 'non-disputable' matters of faith” (Boa and Kruidenier)! Let's be obedient by practicing the Gospel!
Next, the Romans were to be obedient by promoting the Gospel. Look at 15:23ff: “But no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, whenever I journey to Spain , I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for awhile.” Paul sounds like he is headed for a new missions frontier in Spain, but he is asking for the Roman Christians' help to do this. One commentator rightly notes that “help me on my journey” is “a round-about way of asking them to provide traveling funds and resources to enable him to make it to the next destination” (Witherington III). And another commentator speculated that perhaps Paul was wanting to shift his sponsoring church from Antioch to Rome (Wright). Whatever the case, Paul is asking, as a missionary, for the Roman Christians to help him in his efforts to evangelize another part of the Roman Empire . How can we promote the Gospel today? Well, we can become missionaries ourselves. You know what one church does to help their young people think about becoming missionaries? Every quarter, they take a room and decorate it like a certain country in the world. Then they give their students passports. Then they will take all their children to that room class by class from kindergarten to high school on a given Sunday. When they are in that room, they tell them a little bit about that country and its culture. As they leave, they stamp their passport with the name of the country that they have visited, and they tell those children: “God loves you and wants you to share His love with the people of X nation!” Over the years, that congregation has raised and produced hundreds of missionaries! Has anyone in this congregation got “missions fever” lately and asked this congregation to help them take the Gospel to the lost? But, Bro. Paul, most of us can't be missionaries! Alright, then support those who can—financially, emotionally, and personally! What does Paul tell us in Romans 10:14ff: “How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher [or missionary]? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” If we can't be missionaries, then let's be senders and supporters of those who are! I'd like to challenge us to seriously consider becoming some missionary family’s sponsoring congregation. We have a great eldership, we have a great missions committee, and we have some great generous givers, so why can't we become a sponsoring congregation? Let's be obedient by promoting the Gospel by becoming, or raising up, or supporting and overseeing missionaries!
Next, the Romans were to be obedient by protecting the Gospel. Look at 16:17ff: “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause division and offenses, contrary to doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.” Paul wrote this letter from Corinth , and he had just been attacked by many false teachers there. He knew how damaging such false teachers could be! So he warns his Roman brethren to beware and to avoid anyone proposing things that were contrary to teachings that they had already learned. These people are not really out to serve the Lord and advance His kingdom; they are out only to serve themselves and advance their own agendas. Paul knew that the Roman brethren had been given proper teaching because others who had worked there to establish the church had taught them according to the gospel's standard of truth. One commentator rightly notes: “When you really love people as much as Paul loved the Romans, you protect them. This is a great example for us” (Hughes). Paul gives the Roman brethren a “heads-up”, and in so doing, he gives us one as well. We must be on guard against those who might try to rip to shreds the fabric of our fellowship with their false teachings. One brother gives us this warning: “The attack on the Lord's church in our day is being led by a group of men called 'agents of change.'
These are highly educated, articulate men who use subtle means to convince the unsuspecting that the faith, worship and practice of the church is flawed and must be changed if we are to survive and succeed in the 21st century. If allowed to succeed, they will lead our congregations into [an unscriptural] brand of religion that has little connection with the religion of Christ” (Waddey). Let's know the Gospel well so that we can follow Paul's advice and be obedient by protecting the Gospel.
[Romans presents] some of the most important truths ever heard by human ears” (Wright). “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” That God-given, Christ-ratified, and Spirit-filled Gospel still presents the greatest challenge and the highest ideals for the most cleansing of the most people towards the most joy—a forgiven past, a purposeful present, a blessed future! Let's heed Paul's call to obedience by proclaiming, practicing, promoting, and protecting that Gospel. Have you acknowledged your own sinfulness? Are you convicted that God's work in Christ can bring you salvation? Are you experiencing Jesus' righteousness, the Holy Spirit's strength, and God's reconciliation? Are you enjoying being a part of the wonderful fellowship who strives to practice righteousness, peace, joy, and hope with the help of the Holy Spirit? The apostle Paul has shown us how to become and be a Christian. Won't you be obedient to the faith and continue to show the power of Romans with your decision to unite with Christ in baptism and rise to walk in a newness of life?