The following sermon was preached on April 11, 2010 at the First Baptist Church of Benbrook, Texas
I have always been intimidated by the book of Romans. On the one hand, Romans is very simple to read, simple enough that you can use it to explain what it means to be a Christian. The Romans Road, as it is often called, is a series of verse from the book of Romans that leads you right to faith in Christ. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death. If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. The Romans Road is clear and simple and easy to understand.
But on the other hand, Romans is the deep end of the theological pool. If you have no desire to think deep thoughts about your salvation, then Romans is not the book for you. If you are content with “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” then stay away from Romans. Bible publishers should print warning labels on the book much like the ones that are on R rated movies. “DANGER: THIS BOOK WILL CHALLENGE YOU TO THINK DEEPLY ABOUT YOUR FAITH. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.” The book of Romans will not let you skirt the deep questions of faith. It will make you ask questions that you would rather avoid and questions that you did not even know needed to be asked. If the Bible was given to us to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, Romans often falls in the second category.
I noticed something as I started collecting resources for my study. A month or so ago, I began to collect commentaries and books on Romans, some of them written by notable preachers. And I noticed that I was not the only one that feared to enter the Roman’s domain. Other preachers echoed my fears. One preacher said that they did not feel prepared enough to enter a study of Romans until after they had been in ministry for 20 years. I am in my 23rd year of gospel ministry, and I still don’t think I am ready.
But I am convinced that precious jewels are locked behind the pages of Romans. It is no coincidence that God has used this book to spark great revivals in church history. In the fourth century, a distinguished philosopher and teacher was under conviction concerning the truthfulness of Christianity. He was not a believer, and he lived a very immoral life as did most of the philosophers of his day did. In his autobiography, he admits wrote that while he mentally agreed with the truths of the Christian faith, he could never bring himself to turn away from his sinful lifestyle. One day, while walking in a friend’s garden in Italy, he heard a child singing a song he had never heard before. One line from the song was “Take and read.” An innocent enough line, but this philosopher knew it was a message from God. He immediately went and found a copy of the Bible, and opening it up at random, he read these words from the book of Romans: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13.13-14). Those words were the means of Augustine’s conversion. He wrote, “Instantly, as the sentence ended, by a light as it were, of security infused into my heart, all the gloom of doubt was vanished away.” Saint Augustine, as we know call him, would become the greatest figure in the Christian church between the time of the apostle Paul and the Reformation.
And speaking of the Reformation, Martin Luther was a monk in the 1500s who was doing all he could be at peace with God. He worked hard to be the most pious monk in all of Christendom, but he could never find peace in his soul. In fact, the harder he worked to obey the commands of God, the more he grew to hate God because God’s standard of righteousness was impossible for him to meet. In desperation of his soul, he turned to the book of Romans and found a righteousness from God that is by faith. He found a righteous freely given to all who would receive it by faith. He wrote, “When, by the Spirit of God, I understood the words, when I learned how the justification of the sinner proceeds from the free mercy of our Lord through faith, then I felt born again like a new man. In very truth, this language of Saint Paul was to me the true gate of Paradise.” Romans became so important to Luther that he called it the very purest gospel. He wrote, “Every Christian should know it word for word, by heart and occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of his soul.”
And so we begin the journey, and I have no idea how long it will take. It took us two and a half years to study the gospel of Luke, almost two years to read Exodus together, and about a year and a half to read through the book of Hebrews. Hopefully, we can finish Romans before the next Presidential election, but it might be close.
Before we read the text for today, I want to invite you to consider adding an element to your spiritual disciplines as we read Romans together. The spiritual disciplines are the various things that we do to put ourselves in the pathway of God’s grace, disciplines like reading the Bible daily, prayer, Scripture memory, fasting, etc. And I will be honest, this is something I would have never thought of if I had not gotten this little book as a freebie at the pastor’s conference I went to in February. This little book was included in the freebie bag that I got when I registered. It is from the “17:18 Series,” which I have never heard of. It is based upon Deuteronomy 17.18 where Moses gave some instructions for the future kings of Israel. Moses said,
18When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. 19It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees. (Deuteronomy 17.18-19 NIV)
An organization called “Reformation Heritage Books” has produced a series of books called “Journibles.” These are blank books that guide you in creating your own handwritten copy of different books of the Bible. You can get them for $10 at heritagebooks.org or even at Amazon. OF course, you don’t have to use the Journible; you can use a $2 spiral notebook from Target. But I would like for you to consider creating your own copy of Romans. What I would suggest is that in the week following a sermon on Romans, you take the text from that sermon and add it to your copy of Romans. So this week, you will write the first seven verses of Romans chapter 1. I timed myself, and I am a slow writer. It only took me 7 minutes, so we are not talking about a huge time investment. I think this will enhance your Romans experience.
Before we get to the text, let’s take a few moments to look at the big picture of Romans. Romans was written by the apostle Paul to the church in Rome. He writes the book from Corinth around 57 AD during his third missionary journey. He has been collecting an offering for the struggling saints in Jerusalem. He is about to take the offering to Jerusalem, and then he plans to travel to Spain to preach the gospel there. On his way to Spain, he is going to stop in Rome to visit the church in Rome.
Romans is unique among the Pauline epistles in several aspects. Paul is writing to a group of Christians that he had never met. Paul did not bring the gospel to Rome like he did to Thessalonica or Corinth. We don’t really know how the gospel got to Rome. The book of Acts tells us that visitors from Rome were present on the Day of Pentecost when Peter preached the gospel in Jerusalem and 3000 were saved (see Acts 2.10). These visitors from Rome might have taken the good news of Jesus back to Rome. Truth is, we don’t know how the gospel got to Rome, but we do know that Paul didn’t preach it there first. So Paul is writing to people that he had never met before.
Which, of course, makes us wonder why he wrote this letter at all. Several theories have been suggested, but the one that is most convincing to me is based upon the comments of Paul himself in Romans 15,
So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. 21Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” 22This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you. 23But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, 24I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. (Romans 15.19-24 NIV)
To use current language, this was Paul’s support letter. He was writing to the believers in Rome to garner their support for his mission efforts in Spain. To gain their support, he explained the gospel of God that he was called to share with all the Gentiles.
So, what we have in the book of Romans, is the most doctrinal statement about the nature of salvation in the whole Bible. While it might not be the easiest to understand, it is definitely the deepest presentation of what it means to be justified in Christ and sanctified by His Spirit. In that regards, the book is timeless. And we read it today as the “very purest gospel.”
Having said all that, I would like for us to read the Paul’s opening introduction to the church in Rome. We may not have much time to dissect everything in the introduction, but I would like to make a few observations the then draw our focus to one key verse.
1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—2the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1.1-7 NIV)
Paul was called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel on the road to Damascus a couple of years after the resurrection of Christ. He was a leading Pharisee, and one of the chief persecutors of the church. He violently opposed those within the Jewish community who dared to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah. In fact, he was given the authority to arrest such trouble makers. On his way to arrest the Christians in Damascus, he was visited by the resurrected Lord Jesus who called Paul to take the good news to the Gentiles.
Paul became an unique apostle. The apostolic ministry was for those who had been with Jesus from His baptism through the ascension and who could give personal testimony to His resurrection from the dead (see Acts 1.21-22). Having met the resurrected Jesus, Paul became an apostle but one abnormally born (see 1 Corinthians 15.8). As an apostle, Paul was entrusted with the orthodox gospel (see 1 Corinthians 4.1), but he also had a special “grace” given to him. Paul’s call was to take the gospel to the Gentiles. More specifically, Paul was called to preach the gospel where it had never been heard before (see Romans 15.15-20).
The gospel Paul preached was the gospel promised beforehand through the Old Testament prophets. All of the apostles preached the gospel message by using the Old Testament. In Acts 17, we are told that Paul’s method of sharing the good news was to go to the synagogue and reason with them from the scriptures that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead (see Acts 17.2). Philip shared the gospel with the Ethiopian official in Acts 8 through a text from Isaiah. When Peter preached his sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he quoted over and over again from the Old Testament. Of the 23 verses that contain his sermon, 11 of them are Old Testament quotes. And even Jesus Himself, when he walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection, explained to them by using the writings of Moses and the prophets why the Christ had to suffer (see Luke 24.25-27).
Not only did the apostles understand that the good news of Jesus was promised beforehand by the Old Testament prophets, but they understood the incarnation, that Jesus was God in flesh. He was fully human, a descendant of David. And he was fully divine. Paul is not saying that Jesus became the Son of God at His resurrection but that it became apparent to all that He was the Son of God because of the resurrection (see Acts 17.31).
“Jesus Christ our Lord” was the earliest confession of faith. The person they knew as Jesus, the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, was the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior. And those who believed upon His name called Him their Lord. Those who made such a confession were called to belong to Christ because they had been purchased with a price (see 1 Corinthians 6.20). Being objects of God’s great love, they were called to share in His holiness.
With the few moments that we have left this morning, I want to draw our attention to verse 5: “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” This verse is a great example of the depth and complexity that is the book of Romans. This simple phrase demonstrates that we have to bring our “big boy shovel” to really excavate the truth.
Paul was called to call people to “the obedience that comes from faith” (NIV). If you are reading from the NKJV, you will notice that it says “obedience to the faith.” And if you are reading form the ESV, NASB, NRSV, or HCSB you will notice that it reads “obedience of faith.” And you ask, what difference does that make? Well, quite a bit. The Greek can either be translated “obedience that comes from faith” meaning “a faith that produces obedience.” Or it can be translated “obedience of faith” meaning that faith itself is the act of obediene. It may seem subtle, but there is a world of difference. Paul is either saying that he was sent to the Gentiles to call them to obey the gospel by putting their faith in Christ or he was sent to the Gentiles to call them to put their faith in Christ which will produce obedience to Christ.
To put the question in easier to understand terms, is faith alone without any obedience enough to call oneself a Christian? Or, to word the question another way, is it possible to embrace Jesus as Savior and not as Lord? If belief is all that is required of the gospel, then I could embrace Jesus as the One who saves me from my sins without submitting to Him as my Lord. But, if the gospel is a call to “obedience that comes from faith,” then saving faith must embrace Jesus as both Savior and Lord.
This question has sparked quite a debate. There are Christian theologians who advocate what is called “Lordship Salvation,” a view that says that we are saved by grace through faith alone, but saving faith produces the fruit of obedience and submission to the Lordship of Christ. Those who reject “Lordship Salvation” claim that we are saved by grace through faith alone, and while faith should produce the fruit of obedience, you can receive Jesus as your Savior without necessarily submitting to Him as Lord. Can you separate “Jesus Christ our Lord”?
I don’t think it will surprise you too much which side of the debate I fall on. We discovered this in our study of the book of Hebrews. Saving faith demonstrates itself through the fruits of obedience and perseverance. If those fruits are absence, it calls into question whether or not the faith was saving faith. In other words, what it means to embrace the gospel is to put your faith in Christ, and the results of that faith is that you are born again to live a new life. This is the consistent teaching of Scripture. If anybody be in Christ, they are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17). We were baptized into Christ that we may live a new life (see Romans 6.1-4). By grace we have been saved through faith to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2.8-10). This is how we know that we have come to know Him, that we obey His commands and they are not burdensome to us (1 John 5.3). What good is it if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? No. (James 2.14).
This is very different from what John Macarthur calls the “easy-believism” of American Christianity. He writes,
The prevailing view of what constitutes saving faith continues to grow broader and more shallow, while the portrayal of Christ in preaching and witnessing becomes fuzzy. Anyone who claims to be a Christian can find evangelicals willing to accept a profession of faith, whether or not the person’s behavior shows any evidence of commitment to Christ. In this way, faith has become merely an intellectual exercise. Instead of calling men and women to surrender to Christ, modern evangelism asks them only to accept some basic facts about Him.
Which is why I think it is important that Paul understood his calling to be to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And it is sprinkled all through the book. In Romans 6, he wrote,
1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6.1-4 NIV)
In Romans 10, Paul wrote,
9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10.9 NIV)
In the last few verses of the whole book, Paul concludes his letter with these words,
25Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him—27to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16.25-27 NIV)
In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul wrote about the second coming of Jesus, saying, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1.8).
The conclusion of all of this is the idea that mental agreement with the proposition that Jesus died on the cross for our sins is NOT a biblical faith response to the gospel message. And this is the essence of the American version of Christianity, that one can “believe in Jesus” and never be changed in such an essential way that they submit their life to the Lordship of Christ joyfully and fully.
 Boice, 11-12.
 Including, but not limited to, the theory that Paul was trying to heal the divide between the Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians in Rome. This rift was most likely the result of Claudius’ decree expelling the Jews (and Jewish Christians) from Rome in 49 AD. Paul met two of these expelled believers in Corinth, Aquilla and Priscilla. He might have become familiar with the rift in the church in Rome through this acquaintance, and this letter would aim at making the two into one body of faith in a common righteousness by faith.