Scripture Text: Romans 1:8-15
In Debt for the Gospel (Sermon Text)
Last week we began our look at Paul’s letter to the Romans. We learned three important truths about Paul’s identity: He was a servant of Jesus Christ, he was called and sent as an apostle, and he was set apart for the Gospel of God. Paul began the letter to the Romans with this description of who he was. It is important for us to know who we are as it will often determine what we do. This was true for Paul. Today, we see Paul’s continued opening remarks in this letter to the Jewish and Gentile Christians in the city of Rome and how much duty and responsibility he felt in sharing the truth about Jesus Christ. What motivates you to tell others about Jesus? Paul had a unique experience where he met Jesus on a road to the city of Damascus. Although God had set apart Paul for the mission of telling others about Jesus long before he was even born, for much of his life, Paul had no interest in doing that. In fact, Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians, but God had other plans for Paul and literally knocked him down. Sometimes, God has to knock us down in order to pick us up.
Have you had a Damascus Road experience? Have you experienced the life changing Gospel of Jesus Christ? Has God turned your life around and are you now following Jesus Christ? Well, most of you will no doubt say yes that God has changed your life, but following Jesus is the tricky part, isn’t it? If we say that we follow Jesus, we will do what He has told us to do. Jesus said to His disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17) If we are following Jesus, what should we be doing? Making disciples of Him. Paul was so changed by the grace of God that he was compelled to do something about it. He had to obey His Master Who had called him and sent him to tell others about God’s grace. In verse five of chapter one we read that Paul desired “to bring about the obedience of faith…among all nations.” That was Paul’s mission in life. Once he persecuted the Church of the living God. Now, he wanted to see all nations come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and follow Him. Paul’s identity as a servant of Jesus Christ motivated him to tell others about Him.
I Thank My God (v. 8)
The first thing Paul wrote in this section of the letter was a thanksgiving. Paul often began his letters in this way. To the Corinthians, Paul thanked God for the grace that was given to them. To the Ephesians, Paul blessed God for our salvation in Jesus Christ. To the Colossians, Paul thanked God for their faith and hope. To the Romans, Paul rejoiced and thanked God for their faith in Jesus Christ. This shows us a couple of things about Paul’s character. One, Paul was thankful for the faith of the Roman Christians. He was thankful that they followed Jesus, but also that their faith was renown around the world. Others were hearing about it. Secondly, notice that Paul did not thank the Christians in Rome; he thanked God for them and for their faith. As we see in other letters, Paul acknowledged the sovereign grace of God and thanked God for His work in the lives of faithful people. Do you sometimes pat yourself on the back for any good you do? Do you sometimes pat yourself on the back for the faith you have? If so, you need to stop and give God the glory. You need to thank God for salvation and yes, for your faith. Praise be to God. Amen!
I Long to See You (v. 11)
Another thing Paul mentioned in this section was that he wanted to see the Christians in Rome. Why did he long to see them? Paul wrote that he wanted to come see them so that he could give them some spiritual gift to strengthen them. We do not know to what spiritual gift Paul was referring, but it was for the church’s benefit. He wanted to be a blessing to them and to make them strong. If any people in the first century needed strengthening, humanly speaking, it was the small church. Insignificant, impoverished, unstable, living in the shadow of the might of the most powerful government in the world, in the city of Rome, the church in Rome needed to be be strengthened. This Christian community was just emerging with very little strength. Paul intended to visit them and to strengthen them so that they would be firm and steadfast. Paul’s motivation to see them was not what they could do for him, but what he could do for them.
Though he desired to strengthen them, Paul knew they would be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. That is one reason we gather together on Sunday morning and other times during the week. We all need encouragement. We need to be strengthened. We need each other and we need to build up one another. The Christian faith is not intended for us to live out alone like a bunch of Lone Ranger Christians. Some believe that coming together in a meeting like we have on Sunday morning is not necessary. To those people I say, you are missing a lot of encouragement. Sure, there are problems in the Church. Welcome to the human race. We are all sinners saved by the grace of God. When you see other Christians struggling in their faith or being disobedient to God, that is not a sign to exclude yourself from the church. That is more reason to come along side them as a Christian brother or sister and to encourage them. When we are living together as a family of God, we will be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I will help you and you will help me. We need one another and we need to strengthen one another as did Paul and the Christians in Rome.
I Am Indebted to Unbelievers (v. 14)
After Paul thanked God for the church in Rome and told them that he longed to see them, he made the following statement:
Romans 1:14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
In some translations, this reads that Paul was obligated. In others it reads that Paul was a debtor. The sense of this word is that Paul owed something and must pay it back. What kind of things do you get in debt for? Who do you owe? For many of us, we owe the bank for a mortgage on a house. For some of us, we owe someone for a car that we have. For others, you may be paying someone back for a school loan. All of us probably understand being in debt because we have probably all been in debt at some point in our lives. Paul wrote here that he was obligated to do something. He was indebted to do something. To whom was Paul in debt? Some may say that he was indebted to God. If so, in what way was he indebted to God. Was it because of God’s grace, because God had forgiven him and had saved him? Are we in debt to God for that? No!
You are not in debt to God because of His grace. If you should have to pay God back for His grace, then it would not be grace. You are in debt to God not because of His grace, but because of your sin. Sin is breaking God’s law. It is doing that which God has said we should not do. Sin is also stealing God’s glory. When you sin, you are saying that what I want is more desirable than what God wants. When you sin you say, “I am more important than God.” That is stealing glory from God. Your debt to God is His glory. You owe Him glory. You do not owe Him grace. You owe Him worship. While that is true, Paul does not say it here. He wrote that he was a debtor to or under obligation to Greeks and barbarians. He said that he was a debtor to unbelievers. How was this possible? Think of it this way: We have a debt to God, but our payment is to the world.
Paul was a changed man with a divine mission only because God had bestowed grace upon him. It was not anything Paul had earned. Paul realized that once Jesus had commissioned him to carry the gospel throughout the world, he was under obligation to fulfill that calling. Paul was no different than the unbelievers to whom Jesus had sent him. The truth is that all of us are sinners before God and that levels the ground we stand. All people have the same need for forgiveness. By Paul’s admission, he was the chief of sinners. How could he not feel obligated to share with other sinners the matchless grace God had given him? How could you not feel the same way? Do you think that your salvation is some badge of honor where you can sit here, do nothing, while you wait for Jesus to take you to your mansion in heaven? No! Your salvation is an obligation to God and to others to share that grace and it should compel you to act.
I Am Eager to Preach the Gospel (v. 15)
That brings me to the last point. When you are in debt to someone, you are obligated to pay that debt back. When you owe someone something, you are obligated to pay them what you owe. I recall a character from the TV series Enterprise that hated to be in debt. The show was part of the Star Trek storyline and was set one hundred years before Captain Kirk and Spock. In that series, Captain Jonathan Archer occasionally had dealings with another character named Commander Shran, who hated to be in debt to Captain Archer. Whenever Schran would help out Archer and the crew of Enterprise, he would say, “You tell Archer that he owes ME now.” Schran’s debt to Archer compelled him to pay back what he owed. Fortunately, Jesus does not expect us to pay Him back for His grace, but He does expect us to pay it forward. Paul was compelled pay back what he owed by preaching the Gospel to all nations.
Romans 1:15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
Because Paul was a debtor to God for stealing His glory, but had been graciously saved by Jesus Christ, Paul was now a debtor to unbelievers and was compelled to share the Gospel with them. Paul’s obligation to carry the message of Christ was not a burden, though. Paul wrote that he was “eager to preach the gospel.” This was his mission and he was glad to do it. Are you glad to share your faith? Are you afraid to do it? If you need motivation to share your faith with others aside from the grace that Jesus Christ has already given to you, then just look around. Look at the empty seats in this sanctuary that could be filled with people worshipping God along with you. What about all those people out there who do not know Jesus Christ and are not here today to worship Him with you? Do you really want them to experience what you have or are you going to keep it to yourself? In another letter, Paul also wrote about his obligation to share the Gospel in very strong terms:
1 Corinthians 9:16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
Paul said to the church in Corinth, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” Do we feel that sense of compulsion to share Jesus Christ with the world? Do you? Paul did and it motivated him to fulfill his calling. A couple of weeks ago, I shared a quote from another pastor where he said that “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship does not.” Our goal as the Church is not to share the Gospel. We should do that. We are commanded to do that. But that is not the goal. Missions and evangelism are the means to the ultimate goal. God wants to draw all nations to Himself. He wants to have this place and every place around the world full of worshippers. He employs His people, the Church, to preach Jesus Christ to people who do not know Him so that they will turn to Him and worship Him along side us. Worship is the goal and we need more worshippers here. What are you going to do about that?
In closing, who was the Apostle Paul? A servant of Jesus Christ. What was Paul’s mission? To tell others about Jesus Christ. What is our identity? If someone were to ask us what Good Hope Baptist is all about, would you say that we are serving God? Are we following Jesus Christ and fishing for men? What can you do to help unbelievers be born again? Tell them about Jesus. You can do all the good things and acts of service for others, but still not lead people to Jesus Christ. You need to open your mouths. Faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by people speaking the Word of God. We need to tell people. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, but it needs to be heard.
However, the Gospel is not just to get you saved and right with God. The Gospel is about that, but it is also a life changing thing that obligates us to live our lives as people saved by the grace of God. The Gospel changes us so that we walk as new creatures giving glory to God and telling others about Jesus Christ. The Gospel motivates us to share it with others, if indeed the Gospel has changed you. Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay, once said, “When the preferences of the church members are greater than their passion for the gospel, the church is dying.” Are we alive? If you are following Jesus Christ, if you have receive God’s grace, you are in debt to others to share the hope and faith you have with others. Are you going to pay that debt back? May it be so!
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.