Sermon on Rom. 1:1, preached on 2 Sep 2018.
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 103:1-22 / (NT) Romans 1:1
I. God’s word – the Letter of Paul to the Romans
II. God’s man – an apostle to the unbelievers
Over the period of three months, I’d like to open up Romans, planning to cover the first two chapters in a series. Seeking God’s grace and wisdom, I pray that the Lord may open our hearts to listen to His voice, then, to find His saving hand and power so that we may follow His guidance with great joy. Most of all, I pray that you’d discover/rediscover the very foundation of your faith in the Lord Jesus which is the universal truth of salvation by faith in Christ alone.
I’d like to begin with the most important point, that is, this Letter to the Romans is ‘the Word of God,’ and second, introduce Paul, ‘a man of God.’
I. GOD’S WORD – THE LETTER OF PAUL TO THE ROMANS
Firstly, this Letter of Paul to the Romans is not an ordinary writing; it’s not like billions other books in the world. This is the Word of God; God Himself is the author of this letter. Like all the other books in the Holy Bible, God recorded it through His human agents – in this case, the Apostle Paul. So, it is a book that requires a special attention because every word in this book is the word that the mouth of God spoke and revealed Himself to us humans, sinners.
Unfortunately, people have some different ideas on the Bible. Some people say that the Bible is merely one of the numerous man-made documents. We call their view ‘liberalism.’ Another group of people think that the Bible itself is a human document, like the way liberalism thinks. So, they say that the Bible itself is not ‘objective’ truth, but a ‘medium’ of revelation. This view is called ‘neo-orthodoxy.’ What they mean by being a ‘medium’ of revelation is that the Bible only ‘becomes’ God’s word when God leads individuals to understand or experience the Bible. They mean, when it is not understood or experienced, the Bible has no significance in spiritual sense, nor authority over anyone or anything.
Both are false views. Whether anyone opens and reads it or leaves it on the bookshelf, whether he/she understands it or not, the Bible is God’s word, thus, authoritative without error. It is the truth; it doesn’t need anyone’s affirmation to be the truth.
Christian faith that stands on this view is true, thus, blessed orthodoxy. Out of this foundation comes all other aspects of biblical and apostolic Christianity. It is like the way the book of Genesis in the OT begins Christian faith. Our belief in God begins from His creation of all things in six days. He created all things out of nothing with His word and that is the fact, truth, foundation upon which we’re built. Likewise, we’re built upon this understanding of the Bible as the authoritative and inerrant word of God.
Such is our conviction of this Letter of Paul to the Romans; such is the beginning of our opening it up and reading every word recorded in this book. We must humbly listen to the voice of God and digest every word through which our Heavenly Father reveals Himself, Christ and His redemption plan to us. I truly believe that such is the belief of all who are gathered together here today, and the Lord will deepen your conviction.
So, what does God declare to us through Romans? His truth on the foundation of Christian faith – the fundamental truth of our faith which we must always remember – that is, ‘salvation through Jesus Christ.’ So, this letter is, in a sense, a ‘Christian manifesto.’ Paul describes this in Rom. 1:17, “For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” or in Rom. 3:22 in these words, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (has been manifested to us all).
In fact, this is why Romans is positioned as the first book among all NT letters. Also, this is why Romans has taken an important role in church history. For example, Augustine of Hippo of the 5th C AD and Martin Luther of the 16th C take important roles in history. And their life in the Lord began from reading Romans. With the words of Romans, they both were led to the Lord of the Bible, and served Him and church. Augustine defended Christ’s church from the attack of the Pelagian heresy and Martin Luther kindled the fire of the Reformation which led numerous people to the biblical faith in Jesus, the true Head of His church.
This Letter of Paul to the Romans is the very word of God; each and every word you and I read came from the heart of God, given to us in Jesus’ name.
II. A MAN OF GOD – AN APOSTLE TO THE UNBELIEVERS
Let’s now take our second point – ‘A man of God.’ This holy Letter begins with a man’s name, Paul. This name appears in the beginning of twelve other letters in the NT and I’d like to think about this person as a man God chose for His work of saving sinners among Gentiles, the unbelievers. God inspired him to write this letter and deliver His message to many souls, including us. In other words, God worked through a man, Paul.
This notion of God working through a man is, in fact, a truly amazing concept. Who is God? We know that He is powerful without limit; He is sovereign and wise; He doesn’t need anyone’s assistance. But such a powerful and perfect God works through and with a man! How stunning this is! I cannot find any illustration that matches to this, so, explains this notion of God working through a mere man, but let me try and give you a hint of what it is all about in this way. Albert Einstein is one of the most brilliant geniuses ever lived. Now, try to picture that a person like Einstein appoints a kindy kid as his assistant and lets him take his lectures, not jokingly, but as serious and official as anything. He carries out his works through this kindy kid. It doesn’t make sense at all to any sane, ordinary mind. The God who knows all things with His wisdom, who is able to do all things through His power works through a mere man! What a mind-blowing idea this is!
Moreover, who was this man, Paul? As you know well, his previous name was Saul of Tarsus. As the Book of Acts testifies, this man had been a fierce enemy of Christ’s church. He persecuted Christians, starting from the day of Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem. He was jealous, not for the gospel, but for the Jewish tradition. But Jesus met him and changed him; God strengthened Saul and inspired him to become Paul of God and His church! A fierce enemy of God became a faithful envoy of Christ!
As much as we’re amazed with the idea of God working through a mere man, we are stunned by this fact that God chose Saul to be Paul. Truth is that we all are like Paul; all of us here gathered together and worship the Lord in Jesus’ name and Paul share one common point. Just like Paul, we used to be enemies of God before God called us and made us His own children. Just like Paul, we lived according to our own desires, disregarding God’s invitation, let alone His word; we even rejected and scorned at Him, didn’t we? Being sinful, we ourselves joined the multitudes of sinners and crucified the Lord Jesus on the cross. We persecuted Christians by ridiculing them in words and deeds. But, in His love, God chose us in Christ, met us, cleansed us in His blood, and embraces us in His arms, just like the way Saul became Paul. Likewise, we’ve received a new name in Jesus – we’re Christians! We’re members of God’s household! We’re brothers and sisters to each other because of Jesus! What a grace! What an amazing change in us!
Yet, there’s a difference between us and Paul. None of us is like Paul. He was an apostle; we’re not. He recorded total 13 or 14 NT books, if we include Hebrews; but, none of us have done such a work and none will ever do such a work. But, this difference between us and him does not mean Paul is a ninth-grade saint while we’re first-grade. Rather, this difference is the difference of each one’s role in God’s kingdom. Paul’s role was apostleship whereas ours is membership of St Columba’s congregation which is a part of the great kingdom of heaven and earth that bears the name of Jesus Christ. That’s the only difference. Paul completed his role and we carry out our roles in Jesus’ name.
Having this in mind, let me remind you what our Lord Jesus teaches us about our roles and works. He said this in Jn. 14:12: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.”
Let me, first of all, take Jesus’ words literally. He means that whoever believes in Him will do ‘works’ that are greater than what Jesus did, doesn’t He? He means that, take evangelism for an example, we’ll evangelise more people than Jesus did. In fact, that seemed to be what happened in the lives of the apostles. Jesus had gathered around Him multitudes of people during His earthly ministry, but there was none beside Him in the courtyard of the high priest. At the time He was crucified and died on the cross, just a handful of followers were standing afar. But what about the apostles on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension? About 3,000 converts confessed their faith in the Lord and were baptised in a day! Since then, Christ’s church expanded rapidly like a wild fire through men and women of faith and numerous souls were brought to the Lord in repentance and faith.
But this doesn’t mean that people have done greater works than Jesus. He is the Lord and Saviour of all. After all, every believer is saved through Christ alone. So, the point Jesus makes in Jn. 14:12 is that everyone in God’s kingdom has his/her role and work. And this unique role and work is to glorify God together with all Christians as a great team in which all put their hands in sync or as a choir in which everyone has a part to sing. In this way, all who believe in Jesus will ‘also’ do the works of Jesus, and do it in a greater scale in the Lord’s name. This is, in fact, how God works through mere men like Paul, like you and me.
So, Paul’s role and work were that of an apostle to the Gentiles; God worked through him and saved many souls from many tribes and peoples. Likewise, you and I are assigned to the work of Christ’s messengers being sent to the unbelievers around us. This is the lesson for us from the very beginning of this Letter to the Romans. Like Paul who used to be Saul, a fierce enemy of God and Christ’s church, but by the grace of God, became a faithful envoy of Christ Jesus, you and I are the Lord’s messengers to the unbelievers around us. Like Paul, we have been working together in delivering the message of Jesus’ free grace to all around us!
Let me conclude by urging you to read this letter to Romans with much prayer, asking God to grant His wisdom, in order that you may read it and know that it is the very word of God. Then, in reverence, hear the Lord’s message and see your heart softened before the Lord. Then, desire more and deeper understanding of this very word of God, thus, His will and wisdom, His love and grace.
I pray that, opening more words from this holy book, may our eyes be brightened to behold the love of God, and our hearts and souls be joyful with the Lord’s gracious saving hand. Amen. ***