A Call to Obedience

Romans 1:1-7

March 12, 2006 | Brian Bill

A rebellious man, who had been living out the lusts of his flesh, finally started feeling like there had to be more to life.  He had been doing some things he knew were wrong but he was caught in a web of wanton living and didn’t know how to break free.  One day, as he was weeping in a garden, he heard some children singing these words: “Pick up and read.  Pick up and read.”  Having a copy of the New Testament nearby, he opened it at random and read these words from Romans 13:13-14: “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.”  Listen to what he said happened after he read these words: “No further would I read, nor had I any need; instantly, at the end of the sentence, a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”

A religious man, who was a Theology Professor, had been going through acts of penance and self-sacrifice as he tried to please God, who he considered to be a terrible judge.  No matter how hard he worked, salvation seemed elusive to him.  In his study one day he came to these words in Romans 1:17: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”   Commenting on his own conversion that took place as a result of this verse, he wrote these words: “Night and day I pondered until…I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith.  Thereupon I felt myself reborn…When I understood that and when the concept of justification by faith alone burst through into my mind, suddenly it was like the doors of paradise swung open and I walked through…This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven.”

The rebellious man was none other than Augustine in the 4th Century and the religious man who finally grasped the righteousness of God was Martin Luther, who launched the Protestant Reformation which literally changed the history of the western world.  Luther said that Romans is “The chief part of the New Testament, and the very purest gospel, which, indeed, deserves that a Christian not only know it word for word by heart but deal with it daily as with daily bread of the soul.  For it can never be read or considered too much or too well, and the more it is handled, the more delightful it becomes, and the better it tastes.”

John Calvin wrote: “When anyone gains a knowledge of this epistle he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture.”  The English poet, Samuel Coleridge, referred to Romans as, “The profoundest piece of writing in existence.”  The noted scholar F.F. Bruce once said: “There is no telling what may happen when people begin to study the Epistle to the Romans.”  William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English, believed that every Christian should memorize Romans.  John Chrysostom used to have someone read Romans outloud to him twice each week.  After hearing it read so many times, he said this: “Romans is unquestionably the fullest, deepest compendium of all sacred foundation truths.”

Frederic Godet, a Swiss theologian, said: “Every movement of revival in the history of the Christian church has been connected to the teachings set forth in Romans…and it is probably that every great spiritual renovation in the church will always be linked, both in cause and effect, to a deeper knowledge of this book.”  Lest we think that these stories just happened long ago and far away, I heard of one man who visited a church service recently where the pastor was preaching through Romans.  At the end of the service, the person sitting next to him asked him how long he had been a Christian.  To which the young man responded, “About ten minutes.”  One of our newest church members attributes a verse in Romans to his conversion and two weeks ago, when Eric Elder spoke to the students, he told them that God used Romans 1 to free him from the bondage of homosexuality.

I pray that that we will see a number of conversions and recommitments during our study together and that God will bring a wave of repentance and revival to us at this time and at this place for His glory and for our good. 

You may wonder why we are studying Romans right now.  I have waited more than twenty years as a pastor before preaching through this profound book.  I have thought about it many times but have backed away because I haven’t considered myself adequate to the task. But then the Holy Spirit made it clear to me in a way that I couldn’t resist.  Here are some reasons why we are going to roam through Romans.

  • Over the last several years many new believers have made this church their home.  In order to grow to maturity, the Bible says that we must move from milk to meat.  Incidentally, Hebrews 5:12-14 refers to the meat of the Word as “teaching about righteousness,” which is what Romans is all about.   It’s time to wade from the shallow waters and plunge deeply into the waves of God’s Word.
  • The Book of Romans contains the clearest statement of the Gospel in the New Testament and is a magnificent explanation of Christianity itself.  Every vital teaching of our faith is found in capsule form within its pages.  Donald Barnhouse said, “Romans has the most complete diagnosis of the plague of man’s sin, and the most glorious setting forth of the simple remedy.”
  • This study will make a good follow-up to our just completed Old Testament Journey.  You may be surprised to know that Paul quotes from the Old Testament 69 times in this letter and draws from its themes to establish and illustrate key points.
  • The final reason is that my wife and I met in a Romans class at Moody Bible Institute and this book always makes me think of her!  

One of the reasons I’ve put off preaching through Romans is not only its depth, but also its length.  Some pastors have plowed through verse-by-verse with no breaks, like Martin Lloyd Jones, who spent 13 years preaching through Romans and only made it to chapter 14 before he died.  He preached 29 sermons just on the first chapter!  We’re not going to go that slowly but we are going to take enough time to plumb its depths.  I’ve also learned from John Piper’s approach that if God wills, we will take breaks from Romans and then come back to it until we finish it.  I hope it doesn’t kill me, but if it does, I can’t think of a better way to go than to die in the pulpit preaching the Book of Romans.

We’re going to focus on Paul’s introduction this morning, recognizing that in the Greek, verses 1-7 is really one long sentence.  Most introductions at that time were much shorter but keep in mind that Paul is writing to a church he had never visited before.  As a result, he takes some time to lay the groundwork for what is to follow.  There is a lot of rich material in these first seven verses and I want us to focus on three life-changing perspectives that we can learn from Paul.

1. Who you are determines what you do (1). 

Look at verse 1: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” Paul could have highlighted the degrees on his resume or provided his readers with his amazing pedigree.  He didn’t focus on his great preaching or his other abilities or his amazing background.  Instead, he just described who he was.

  • Servant.  It’s significant that the first title Paul gives himself is that of servant.  This word is doulos and is also translated “slave.” Literally it means one who’s life and will was swallowed up in the will of his Master.  Paul was at the mercy of his master and was always ready to do his bidding.  It’s like the sign on the back of a rental truck that said: ANY LOAD-ANY PLACE-ANY TIME.  A true servant says, “I’ll do anything my master mandates, no matter how hard, at any place, at any time.”  Paul’s serving spirit goes all the way back to his first words to Jesus, spoken right after his conversion and found in Acts 22:10: “What shall I do, Lord?” 
As we grow in grace we will talk less of ourselves and more about Him because we have been captivated and captured by Christ

The word servant is also translated “bond slave.”  The Hebrew equivalent as stated in Exodus 21:5-6, shows that a slave who was about to be freed could agree to stay with his master because he loved and respected him.  Paul understood that true freedom is found in bondage to his master Jesus Christ.  Paul is quick to say that he is a willing servant of “Christ Jesus.”  His letters are always filled with references to Jesus because the Savior was at the center of his life.  Friend, do you see yourself first and foremost as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ?  Is He at the forefront of everything you do?  Here’s the obvious point.  As we grow in grace we will talk less of ourselves and more about Him because we have been captivated and captured by Christ.

I read somewhere that someone once followed Mother Teresa around Calcutta, watching her minister to the sick, the poor, and the lepers.  The person became repulsed and said to this servant, “I wouldn’t do this for a million dollars!”  To which Mother Teresa replied, “Neither would I, but I would do it for Jesus for nothing.”  This church is blessed with many servants. 

Here’s the point that we’ve made before: Because we are called to be servants, no one can do everything but everyone must do something.  We see this spelled out in Romans 12:11: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”  By the way, one way you can assess how well you’re doing in serving is by looking at how you respond when someone treats you like a servant.

  • Sent.  Next, Paul describes himself as one “called to be an apostle.”  This word means “to be sent” but means more than that.  Here Paul is appealing to his authority as one who was singled out as an apostle.  John Piper writes: “Paul’s significance is not first or primarily what he has done, but what Jesus has done to him.”   We know from Acts 9 that he saw the risen Savior and was appointed as an ambassador to share the message with others.   He is not just someone who is making stuff up.  He has been sent on a mission from His Master.  Paul first knows that he is a servant but he is also sent.  That means that the recipients of Romans, which includes us, must take these words to heart, for they come from God himself.
  • Separated.  Paul saw himself as “set apart for the gospel of God.” The word “set apart” means to set off by a boundary.  The key here is not so much what we’re separate from but what we’re separated to.   He couldn’t just go and do what he wanted to do because he was separated to the Savior as a sent out servant.  God has always wanted His people to be set apart for Him as we learned during the Old Testament Journey in Leviticus 20:26: “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.”  

Paul knew exactly what He was designed to do because he first knew who he was.  In the movie Hook, Robin Williams plays a grown up Peter Pan who has lost the memory of his real identity.  When his kids are taken by Captain Hook, Granny Wendy urges him to fly to Neverland to rescue them.  He’s totally confused and wonders how he could ever do something like that.  Wendy then looks directly at him and whispers, “Peter, dear, don’t you know who you are?”   Friend, God is whispering to you today: Don’t you know who you are?  You are a servant.  You are sent.  And you are separated.  Who you are determines what you do.  Have you settled this in your mind?  Paul’s second perspective is equally penetrating…

2. Who Jesus is determines the gospel you give (2-4). 

In verse 2, Paul picks up the theme of the gospel again: “The gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures.”  You’ve probably heard that “gospel” means good news.  What you may not know is that this word was used in the first century for the proclamation of good news after a battle was won.  This was often accompanied with the announcement of death or capture for the enemy.  That sure fits, doesn’t it?

 Many commentators believe that the gospel is the overriding theme of Romans.  

  • God’s good news for sinners (Chapters 1-8)
  • God’s good news for Israel (Chapters 9-11)
  • God’s good news for your life (Chapters 12-16)

This good news is not new news because it was promised beforehand.  Luther put it this way: “The gospel represents not a break with the past, but a consummation of it.”  There is an essential continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament, with the Old proclaiming the gospel in anticipation and the New proclaiming its fulfillment.  Jesus stands in the middle as the message of both.  Those who count these things say that there are over 330 prophecies in the Old Testament that were directly fulfilled by the first coming of Christ and a number of others that will be fulfilled at His second coming.  We got a taste for some of this when we looked at how Jesus fulfills the Tabernacle and the Old Testament Feasts.  Jesus himself viewed the Old Testament promises as fulfilled in Him in Luke 24:27: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”  Incidentally, many Old Testament figures are mentioned in Romans: Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Pharaoh, Moses and Hosea.

During the days of World War II, the French underground used a very simple means of identification to know who their secret agents were.  They simply took a piece of paper and ripped it in half, giving one man half the paper and then they mailed the other half to the other agent.  When they met, all they had to do was compare the two pieces of paper.  If the papers lined up, the agents were identified without any doubt.  In a similar way, Jesus fulfills all of the prophetic promises found in the Old Testament.  The pages of Scripture line up; there is no other match but Him.  This good news comes from the “Holy Scriptures.”  This is the only time in the New Testament this phrase is used.  This means that the Bible is no ordinary book and that it has the ability to make us holy as we get it into our hearts.

James Montgomery Boice makes the point that Christianity is Christ.  We see in verses 3-4 a microcosm of the majesty of Jesus who was fully man and fully God.  The Gospel is centered on God’s Son and we see both the human and the divine sides of Jesus.  

  • His human nature.  Look at verse 3: “Regarding his son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David.”  Jesus became a man at his Incarnation, thus fulfilling the promise that the Messiah would be from the line of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16).  This is spelled out clearly in Jeremiah 23:5: “The days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” Matthew 1:1 begins with the earthly genealogy of Jesus: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David…”
  • His divine nature.  We see this in verse 4: “…and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God…” The word “declared” means to mark out with boundaries.  Jesus did not become the Son of God because He has always been God.  He was declared to be so.

Jesus is son of David and Son of God.  Don’t miss that the Resurrection is what validates who Jesus really is in the second half of verse 4: “…by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”  In a sense, the Resurrection is God’s exclamation point!  Jesus is his human name and means “Savior.”  Christ refers to the fact that he is the “anointed one,” showing that He fulfills all of God’s promises.  And as Lord, He is the exalted One; our Master and ruler of all.

My friend Ray Pritchard has written a new book called “Credo: Believing in Something to Die For.”  He was interviewed this week for “Christian Radio Magazine” for a program that will air nationwide on Good Friday.  Here was the final question of the interview: “You write ‘If you truly do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, you have placed yourself outside of the boundaries of orthodox Christianity and are not a Christian at all–and you shouldn’t be treated as one even if you happen to be a pastor or a seminary professor.’  Pastor Ray, isn’t that a little harsh?”

In his concise and courageous way, here’s part of Ray’s answer: “I replied that I was not being harsh, just blunt and truthful.  The key word in the quote is “truly.”  It means that a person has studied the evidence and come to a settled conclusion that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.  Such a person has placed himself outside the boundaries of the Christian faith.  There aren’t many things that all Christian have believed at all times in all places, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ falls into that small category.  Believing in the resurrection goes to the heart of our faith.  If Christ has not been raised, then our faith is in vain, we have believed a lie, and we are of all men most to be pitied.  The resurrection is not a debatable or secondary doctrine of the faith.  If Christ is still in the grave, then his death cannot save us, and we are still in our sins…If you truly don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead, you are not a Christian.  All the religious merit badges in the world can’t change that simple fact” 

Perspective #1: Who you are determines what you do.

Perspective #2: Who Jesus is determines the gospel you give.

That leads to Paul’s third perspective…

3. What you believe determines how you behave (5-7). 

Faith was never intended to just be passive. What we believe must affect how we behave.  Look at 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.”  Everything begins and ends with God – it’s all by His grace and for His glory.  Paul is calling Christians everywhere to put feet to their faith; to walk the talk; to live what they say they believe.  Real faith must result in obedience as Jesus stated clearly in Luke 6:46: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  This call to obedience makes up the bookends of Romans, for we see it appear again in Romans 16:26: “…So that all nations might believe and obey Him.” The Book of Romans opens and ends with obedience.

A couple weeks ago I asked the women in the Tuesday Bible Study to write down what God is teaching them. Someone handed me a note this past Sunday that reads in part: “Because of God’s Word and this women’s Bible Study, I’m facing sin that I don’t like to call my own!  I wanted to stand up and shout, ‘God, deliver me, your Temple — clean my heart that it may be pleasing to you all the rest of my days,’ when you were preaching about God dwelling in the hearts of believers.  It shakes me up so much that I am in the Word everyday now (for the last four weeks), usually more than an hour.

My biggest heart’s cry is ‘God renew my mind.  I want to serve you with all my mind!’  While I have been praying and reading the Bible, God brought to mind TV and movies.  He said, ‘Give them up.’  I was making them a passive idol and God was jealous of that.  So week two of our Bible Study I prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to help me.  I went to my movie collection and picked out each movie that was not pleasing to Him.  Following God in obedience has literally made me free.  Now I want to give Him everything and see His work in my life!”

Paul concludes this section in verses 6-7 by spelling out three amazing truths that should propel us to increased obedience: “And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints…”

  • Believers belong to Jesus Christ.  We are owned by another.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” 
  • Believers are loved by God.  To be beloved by God is a great privilege.  1 John 3:1: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  Kent Hughes says that we should get used to God’s love but we should never get over it.
  • Believers are called to be saints.  We are not saints because we are so good; we are saints because God is so good.  The Bible refers to every Christian as a saint; sainthood is not just reserved for a small group of people after they die.  I see “Saint Shirley” and “Saint Stan” here today.

Note how these three truths are rooted in Exodus 19:5-6: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”  It has been said that some people can’t get saved because they won’t accept their “sinnership,” and that some Christians can’t walk in victory because they won’t accept their sainthood.

If you’re a born again believer, you belong to Christ; you are deeply and dearly loved; and God considers you to be a saint.  Do you believe this?
Without grace there can be no peace

Paul’s introduction ends in verse 7: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” This greeting encompasses both the Greeks and the Jews, for grace is a Greek concept and peace (shalom) has its roots in the Old Testament.  But it’s more than just two different words.  In Paul’s writings, grace always comes before peace.  If you want peace you must first receive grace.  Without grace there can be no peace.  Let me summarize where we’ve been today:

  • Who you are determines what you do
  • Who Jesus is determines the gospel you give
  • What you believe determines how you behave

Let me ask you a bold question: Do you want to be another life transformed by the truths of Romans?  If you have not yet put your faith and trust in Jesus, will you do so right now?  Will you receive God’s grace so that you can be at peace with God, with others, and with yourself?  We could put it this way: Believe and receive or reject and be left.  Have you been living a rebellious life?  If so, the truths of Romans are for you.  Are you religious?  If so, the truths of Romans are for you.  Or are you somewhere in the middle?  If so, the truths of Romans are for you.

Let me give you three action steps.

  1. Ask God to use this book in a big way in your life.
  2. Read Romans through every time we pick up a section. In other words, read the whole book between now and Palm Sunday.  And then read it again this summer when we study chapters two and three.
  3. Receive God’s grace so you can have God’s peace.  You can do that by praying this prayer from your heart: “Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life.  Thank you for loving me even though I’m unlovely.  I admit that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself.  I repent of my sins by changing my mind about the way I’ve been living.  By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth.  With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day.  Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life.  I believe your words are true.  I accept you into my heart.   Be my Savior and Lord.  I surrender to your leadership in my life.  Make me into the person you want me to be.  Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?