Scripture Text: Romans 1:1-7
Today we begin our look at the book of Romans. In the New Testament, the book of Romans is the first letter we encounter. We have the four Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the book of Acts, which is a history of the early church, and then we have Romans. This is fitting, as Romans builds on the Old Testament, explains the saving work of Jesus that was reported in the Gospel accounts, and unpacks many of the teachings that were foundational to the churches that arose in Acts. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Jewish and Gentile Christians who lived in Rome at that time. Paul was on mission for the Gospel of God and he longed for others to come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ and to live their lives in honor and glory for Him name.
The title of this sermon series is “The Romans Road to Riches.” Before I get accused of prosperity preaching, let me explain. The overarching theme in Paul’s letter to the Romans is the Gospel. The Gospel of course means the Good News of Jesus Christ. This news is not merely useful information for according to Paul in this letter it is no less than “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The whole letter describes for us the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So therefore, the riches of the Romans road, are the riches of God, or more accurately, the riches of salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some other key passages about the Gospel are as follows: In chapter three, Paul laid out man’s condition and God’s gift of grace.
Romans 3:23-24 …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
All people everywhere have broken God’s rules, and therefore need to be forgiven and made right with God, which is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And then in chapter five, Paul revealed the depth of God’s love for us.
Romans 5:8 …God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Though we are sinners, even enemies of God, God has shown His love for us through the death of His Son Jesus Christ. Paul again reveals our condition and God’s grace.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The curse of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ. This free gift comes with God’s presence, power, and peace in our lives.
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
God is sovereign and will work out all things for good for those who are His. This of course begs the question of how one can become His. How are we saved in Christ?
Romans 10:9,13 …if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
The way to salvation through the Gospel is by confessing Jesus Christ as your Lord and believing God raised Him from the dead. And so, Paul has revealed to us the gospel message which includes our need for a savior, the riches of God’s grace and the way we can obtain it. But Romans is not just some theoretical head knowledge. Paul also provided how we can practically live our our faith according to the Gospel:
Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
The remainder of the Paul’s letter to the Romans is describing how we are to live out our Christian faith. And so, with that very brief survey, we see that we are about to get into a very important and theologically rich book. For today’s passage, I will focus primarily on one verse in chapter one and identify three aspects of Paul.
Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
In this verse we see three statements Paul made about himself. We will look at each of these three aspects of Paul and consider what they mean for us today.
A Servant of Christ Jesus
The Apostle Paul was an important man who penned most of the New Testament and planted many of the churches of that time. However Paul’s importance was not based on himself. Karl Barth once wrote:
However great and important a man Paul may have been, the essential theme of his mission is not within him but above him.
The first statement in this verse is Paul declaring that he was a servant of Jesus Christ. In New Testament times, a servant was someone bound to serve his master for a specific period of time. A servant may also be someone who owned property, had some social status, and could be released or purchase his freedom. Translations of the Bible will render the underlying word here as either servant, bond-servant, or slave. There is quiet a difference between being a servant and being a slave and given this wide use of the word, it may be difficult to know exactly what Paul meant here. If we look at another of Paul’s letter, we may get a better understanding of the word:
1 Corinthians 6:19–20 19 …do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
When we believe in Jesus Christ, we are “not our own.” We belong to God. That is what the word “redeem” means – to purchase something back. To be saved is to be purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. Given this understanding and the fact that our attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ, who being God, humbled Himself and took the form of a servant and willingly sacrificed Himself, it seems to me that Paul believes we are slaves of Christ. This should not be thought of as the same slavery that was in America. Being a slave of God resembles some of God’s servants in the Old Testaments, such as Moses, Joshua, David, and the prophets. If that is what a slave of God is, then sign me up, because I would be in pretty good company.
What does this mean for us to be servants of Jesus Christ? It means that we give up our desires in favor of God’s desires. If I am a servant of Jesus Christ, I am interested in pleasing Him and not interested in pleasing man. If I am a servant of Jesus Christ, I should not care about pleasing anyone else, unless pleasing them will lead them to please my Master. Being God’s servant means He is my Master, and there can only be one Master. Jesus said:
Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
So, who do you serve? Who is your Master? Are you ruled by your desires, by your sin, by Satan? Are you a servant of Jesus Christ, sold out for Him like Paul?
Called to be an Apostle
The second statement Paul made about himself was that he was “called to be an apostle.” An apostle was commissioned with the authority of the one who sent him. The apostles were specifically called by Jesus Christ and had seen the risen Lord. The apostles established and governed the early church, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In some respects, the apostles of the New Testament were like the prophets of the Old Testament. They had authority to speak and write the words of God. One of the early controversies in the church was about Paul being an apostle. Paul was not a disciple of Jesus during His earthly ministry, in fact he may not have even known Jesus. Paul did not have an encounter Jesus at the resurrection, but only after Jesus had ascended into heaven. So how could Paul be an apostle? How could he have been sent by Jesus?
Paul was called to be an apostle when Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road. The risen Jesus Christ appeared to Paul and called him to be an apostle. However, maybe a more interesting question is how did Paul, a Pharisee who sought to kill followers of Jesus Christ, the chief of sinners by Paul’s admission, become a servant of Christ, an apostle of the early Church, a missionary of the first century, and the writer of most of the New Testament? Why would Jesus call someone like this, who persecuted His Church and had no interest in following Him to become an apostle sent by Him on a mission and probably the most influential person of the early Church? That is how our God works. God calls people such as this to be His servants and to do His will. God specializes in calling those who not qualified, whose reputation is anything but desirable, to do His work. In fact, who is qualified, deserving, reputable enough to be Jesus’ representative? God does not call the qualified, but He qualifies the called.
While the calling Paul and other apostles of the early Church had was unique, all Christians are called by God. In fact, the Church is literally “the called out ones.” We have been called out of the world and called into fellowship with Jesus Christ in order to be God’s holy people. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ and believed in Him as Lord and Savior and are following Him, you are called by Him. Paul addressed the letter of Romans to God’s holy ones, the saints, and that includes you. God’s calling on your life is to be holy like He is holy. And if you serve Jesus Christ and are called to be His holy one, you are also called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is what Paul’s mission was. This leads me to the third statement in the verse.
Set Apart for the Gospel
Paul also wrote that he was “set apart for the Gospel of God.” Not only was Paul a servant of Jesus Christ, not only was he an apostle of Jesus Christ called and sent by God, Paul was sent on a specific mission to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. God had commissioned Paul to proclaim and teach the good news of Jesus Christ with all nations. In the letter to the Galatians, we read about God’s specific appointment of setting Paul apart for the Gospel:
Galatians 1:15-16 …he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…
Before Paul was even born, God had set him apart for the ministry of the Gospel. The road to Damascus was a long and painful one. Paul may have tried to run from that calling and tried to destroy the very thing God had called Him to do, but God’s effectual calling is irresistible. I knew a long time ago that I was supposed to be in ministry. I did not exactly know what that would be, but I knew I was supposed to serve God in some type of ministry. I ran from that, I got off track, but God pursued me and called me to Himself. God calls us and sets us apart to do His work. We are His servants and the work He calls us to do is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world. It was not just Paul’s job. It is not just the preacher’s job. It is the job of all Christians who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If you follow Jesus then you are commissioned and set apart for the Gospel. Are you running from that?
In verses two through six, Paul gave us a succinct explanation of the Gospel. The Gospel was promised beforehand through the prophets of old. The Old Testament pointed forward to Jesus Christ and the New Testament revealed and explained Jesus Christ. The Gospel is about Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, Who was born in human flesh, Who was crucified, died and was buried, and Who on the third day rose from the grave by the power of God. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, we receive grace, the forgiveness of sins, for the sake of His name. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news because it reveals to all nations our hope through the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is the good news Paul was appointed to share.
In closing, we see three specific statements regarding Paul’s identity. He was a servant of Jesus Christ. He was an apostle who was called by Jesus Christ and sent to represent Him. Paul was also set apart for the purpose of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world. He was a messenger of God sharing the hope of Jesus Christ to all nations. This was Paul’s identity:
Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
That identity set him apart from others around him. It revealed Paul’s purpose and his importance to the world – not for who he was, but for who He served and loved. It also set him apart from the world and sometimes brought pain and suffering.
So here is the challenge: what is your identity? Are you a servant of Jesus Christ? If so, does your life reflect that? Do you seek to please God or do you seek to please yourself or others? Are you called by the Master and sent by Him to do His work? If so, how is that work going? What are you doing to fulfill the calling He has placed on your life? Are you trying to serve two masters – Jesus and the world – or are you sold out for Jesus Christ? When persecution and danger comes your way for your faith in Jesus Christ, what will you say? Lastly, are you set apart for the Gospel? Are you sharing the hope you have in Jesus Christ with others? Does the grace of God afforded to you through Jesus death, burial, and resurrection motivate you to tell others about Him? My prayer for you and for me is that this year will see a renewal of our commitment to the Jesus Christ. May our identity be like Paul – a servant of Jesus Christ, called and sent by Him, and set apart for telling others about Him. Will that be your identity?
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.