God is good.
He made sure we have a testimony to His great works.
We see His hand in all that He made. The stars proclaim His handiwork. The animals and plants around us show the care He takes for His creatures.
Creation is not the only witness we have. We have the Bible, the testimony of history and of millions upon millions of people who have chosen to follow Christ.
Throughout history, God has chosen certain individuals for particular usefulness in bearing witness to His goodness, His grace. Moses and the Old Testament prophets witnessed to God's goodness and grace. They recorded His works and words for all to read. Jesus chose twelve to be His apostles. "Apostles" means messenger or emissary. Jesus chose twelve to be His ambassadors and messengers. In choosing twelve to be His apostles, He guaranteed us to have a witness to His goodness. The resulting witness is the New Testament.
One of the twelve was a devil, not literally, but his character was such that he betrayed the Lord Jesus and ended up killing himself. Another took his place. The Lord Jesus chose a man named Saul.
Saul was a zealous young Jew. He was a rising young leader. Well educated and zealous for Jewish religious observance, he actively sought to stop the threatening spread of what was then known as "The Way.” The Way taught that Jesus was the Messiah foretold by the prophets and promised by God through Moses. In his zeal, Saul persecuted followers of The Way with everything he had. In the course of his persecution, Saul procured letters of authorization to pursue followers of The Way to Damascus and arrest them. On the way to Damascus, a blinding light and a voice said, “Saul, met Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) The light and presence was so overwhelming that Saul fell to the ground. From his place on the ground, Saul said, "Who are you, Lord?" (Acts 9:5)
The voice said, "I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!"
After being led by the hand to Damascus, Saul spent three days blind, fasting and praying. Jesus sent a man named Ananias to talk with Saul. Jesus told Ananias:
“Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake." (Acts 9:15-16, NLT)
Saul immediately began preaching the message of The Way, which is also known as the Gospel or Good News. As zealous as he had been in persecution, Saul worked tirelessly at spreading the teachings of The Way. We know him as the Apostle Paul, the author of the letter to the Romans.
In the course of his many years of teaching and preaching, Paul wrote 14* letters that are included in the New Testament. (*13 if one does not count Hebrews as written by Paul)
Hebrews and Romans are the only letters written to churches or people not personally known to Paul. These letters are also characterized by exceptional theological depth and clarity. In these works, Paul lays the foundation for Christian faith and practice.
Over the next few months, as the Lord permits, we are going to take a journey through the book of Romans. It promises to be a rich and full journey. We will plumb the depths of human sin and depravity and scale the heights of God's glory and sovereignty. We will learn of God's great love and the glory He has prepared for those who call on His name.
The theme of the letter is God's righteousness.
The outline we will follow is:
Romans 1-3:20 Sin
Romans 3:21- 5 Salvation
Romans 6-8 Sanctification
Romans 9-11 Sovereignty
Romans 12-16 Service
In the opening of His letter, verses 1 through 7, Paul introduces himself, his subject and his recipients. In these three things, we see reflected the tremendous grace of God. God's goodness and kindness shines through this entire introduction.
First, Paul introduces Himself.
In verse one, three words stand out: 1) slave, 2) apostle and 3) set apart. These three words tell us what Paul and the Holy Spirit want us to know about him.
As a slave, Paul does not work on his own behalf or for his own purposes. Many work at preaching and teaching for profit or in order to build a following. This is, of course, a temptation for anyone who teaches or preaches, and it is a sin to be avoided. All that a slave does goes to the benefit of the master. As a slave of Christ, Paul worked exclusively for the building up of Christ's kingdom. All of his labor was for the benefit of Christ, and therefore, for the benefit of Christ's body, the Church.
As an Apostle, Paul was a chosen emissary of Jesus. It is important that an Apostle be chosen or called directly by Jesus. In Paul's case, this happened on the road to Damascus as recorded in Acts chapter nine. Paul makes a clear statement that his message and teaching came directly from Jesus Christ. In Galatians 1:12, he says, "I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.” It is commonly assumed that Paul spent three years in Arabia learning from Jesus. This is taken from Galatians 1:16-18.
Finally, Paul describes himself as one set apart for the gospel of God. He repeats this idea in Galatians 1:15 saying, "But when God, who set me apart from my mother's womb and called me by His grace, was pleased...” (BSB) This idea of being set apart is important for all of us as Christians. We are not of this world. We are not here to pursue the same thing as those around us. We are citizens of a different country. If we are set apart for the gospel of God, what do we have to do with the sex, money and power that the world around us pursues so whole-heartedly?
In these three things about Paul, we see the grace of God toward Paul, but also toward all of us in making sure we would have a witness to the great work of God in Salvation.
In the process of introducing himself, Paul introduces his subject. As one set apart for the gospel of God, Paul's subject is the gospel. Gospel, of course, means good news. This good news is described as being of God. God owns it. It is His, and it is from Him. Paul tells us it is concerning or about God's Son. He tells us three things about God's Son: 1) He was promised beforehand, 2) He was descended from David and 3) He was shown to be the Son of God. These three things are proofs or testimonies to the truth and reliability of the gospel. Without these three things, we would not have good news. Rather, we would be left with unsupportable claims.
First, Paul tells us He was promised beforehand. He gives the source of these promises as being the prophets as recorded in the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures are unique in all of history. Nowhere else is there a source of unerring accuracy in foretelling the future, explaining reality and giving hope. The unique birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus were foretold by the prophets in the Scriptures. There is no explanation apart from the Divine inspiration and authority of Scripture for the stunning accuracy and number of the prophecies fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God, in His grace, provided us with all the evidence we need to know that the gospel is reliable.
Second, Paul tells us that Jesus was from the line of David. This also relates to reliability because the prophets foretold that the Messiah would be from the line of David. However, it goes much further in establishing Jesus' right to the throne of Israel and the Kingdom of God. God made promises to Abraham, Jacob and David that can only be fulfilled in a descendant of David sitting on the throne. Jesus, being a descendant of David, is both the fulfillment of these promises and the rightful heir to the throne. He is the Messiah, the promised Savior of the world.
Third, Paul tells us that Jesus was shown to be the Son of God. He says, "[Jesus]...was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead...” (Romans 1:4) The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is one of the strongest evidences in support of the gospel. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead and is still alive remains a part of history that is supported by solid evidence and is a convincing proof that Jesus is the Son of God. The fact that Jesus is the Son of God is absolutely essential to the gospel. To deny that Jesus is the Son of God is to deny the gospel and to make it empty and void. The good news is:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, KJV)
This good news is for everyone. Paul explains this as he moves from introducing his subject to explaining who he is directing his comments to. He first explains the scope of his ministry, but it is not just his ministry. He has introduced himself, but when he begins to speak of the scope of ministry he changes to a plural and in verse five says, "We have received grace and apostleship...” The scope and extent of ministry goes way beyond any single person. The apostleship we received included all twelve and their collective ministry of bearing witness to God's great work of salvation. Therefore, we, the Church, have received the apostleship of which Paul speaks, not that we are apostles, but we have the collected testimony of the Apostles in the New Testament as well as their collected teachings. This grace and apostleship are described as being for (lit. unto bringing about) the obedience of faith among all peoples.
The word used by Paul when he wrote the letter is "ἔθνεσιν" (ethnesin) from which we get our English term "ethnic.” This term refers to a race, a people or a nation. The good news is for every people, tongue and nation. This is an important motive for Paul in writing to people he has never met. Jesus stressed that the gospel is to be preached to the whole world, to all peoples. Paul includes in his reason for writing the fact that his audience is among the “all peoples” that the gospel is designed to reach. Then, in verse seven, he stresses that he is writing to the already reached, those who are already beloved of God and called saints.
The book of Romans is written to saints, people who are already obedient to the faith. In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul explains:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. (NLT)
The subject of the letter is the good news, but the ones it is written to are those who have already accepted or believed the good news. This then is a treatise on the substance of the good news for those who love the good news so that they might know and understand the good news even better.
It is important that we understand that this is God's word. Paul wrote under the inspiration and authority of the Holy Spirit. It is immaterial whether we like or dislike Paul. Just as, it is immaterial whether we like or dislike Moses. In either case, these men were God's chosen instruments to bear witness to His great work of salvation. The account of the tremendous goodness of God who has shown His great love for us by giving His Son to save us is so clearly explained to us that I cannot understand how anyone would reject or dislike this letter or any of the Word of God for that matter. It is true that the assessment given of our heart condition is severe, but that only makes the grace that saves us even more precious. If we want to know the truth of the good news, we must first face the truth of who we are. This is what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. The Lord shone the light of truth on the heart of a man and the truth transformed that man.
Have you been transformed by the light of truth?
Reading the letter of Paul to the Romans can shine the light of life transforming truth in our lives. Wherever you are on your journey, ask God to shine His light into your heart and transform you.