The first chapter of Romans is one we often gloss over, except maybe for the first two verses, as we eagerly head into the substance of Paul’s analysis, exhortation and teachings. But in doing so, we miss an opportunity better to understand the blessings of God in His plan for humanity, the plan of being in Christ and delivered from bondage to sin and death, delivered into freedom, true freedom.
Let’s read Romans 1:1-17.
- Paul defines himself, who he is, as a bondservant ofJesus Christ, who has been called (“assigned”) thejob of apostle (V.1-2)
- Paul finds in this assignment that he is not separatedfrom the world, but is “separated (or, in some English translations, “set apart”) to the gospel of God” concerning Jesus Christ (V. 1-2).
- Paul has received “grace” (V. 5)
- Paul has received his assignment in life, apostle (V.5), although we know he had other “jobs” to support himself financially.
- Paul knows that the main requirement of his apostleship is (V. 5) obedience to the faith among all nations for Jesus’ name. This is, obviously, also a main requirement for any other calling, including merely the calling to be a saint (V. 7), the requirement of obedience. Paul explained (V. 9) how he obeyed: “I serve (God) with my spirit in the gospel of His Son. Paul is saying that he is “all in” with that service, with that obedience. Paul obviously apprehended the requirement of obedience, and his choices of obedience, to be in itself, in each of those choices, a blessing from God that Paul did not misapprehend.
- Paul says, “Hey, I’m not alone in this business of being called by God; so are you!” He says, V. 6, that the believers of the church in Rome are also “the called of God”. In other words, we may not be called of God to be all apostles, but we are called of God; He has a special assignment for us, and it may not be the jobs by which we support ourselves financially, but it is a special calling for each of us. Paul did not note that among the believers in Rome some were called; rather he noted that the believers, all of them, in Rome were among those in the world called of God. Out of accepting this calling, as Paul did in Damascus, he found, he apprehended (to understand and to take hold of), grace (which includes mercy and forgiveness) – this is a huge blessing of God! Paul was not spiritually deceived into misapprehending this blessing of God, and Paul did not want the believers in Rome to miss it either, and he did not want, and God does not want, us to miss it either!
- In V. 7, after reiterating the blessing of God’s calling on Paul’s life, Paul reiterates the prayer for grace to be available to his readers, and then he brings into focus another blessing, the blessing of Godly peace in Christ, which he had well-apprehended, and which he wants his readers also to apprehend.
- In V. 8, Paul expresses his confidence that the “faith” of his readers is a blessing, and his confidence that his readers have a reputation for faith that is “spoken of throughout the whole world”, is also a blessing. Kind of makes you ask yourself, “Is my reputation for faith known throughout the whole world, or how about just in my tiny, little part of the world?”. And the same for our little church – who knows of its reputation for faith? Do you, do I, do we as a church, even have a reputation, outside of ourselves, for faith in God concerning His Son Jesus Christ? Have we apprehended not only our own faith, but has anyone else apprehended our faith in a positive way? Is our faith a blessing to ourselves – well, “yes it is”, but Paul’s encouragement of the Roman believers makes us question whether we are also blessing others with the steadfastness, the consistency, the reality, of our faith. Se-lah.
- This blessing of faith is the centerpiece of Paul’s visitation by letter and face time with the believers in Rome. He writes in V. 17 that in the gospel of Christ “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Habakkuk 2:4)”. Paul knew how to live, how to live right, how to live it up! He knew that to live justly requires faith, and because it is the centerpiece of real life, it is the centerpiece of his message to the believers in Rome and to his readers.
- Paul also sought fellowship, in modern parlance “face time”, with fellow believers, V. 10-13. And in V. 11, Paul suggests that in that face-to-face fellowship he might impart a gift to the believers in Rome “so that you may be established”. Now, what could such a gift be? What establishes us? Is it not faith in Jesus Christ? Yes, Paul would bring and share the gift of faith, demonstrating his faith, that it might strengthen the faith of his readers, that they might be unequivocably established in their faith. Paul apprehended encouragement, V. 12, from “the mutual faith both you and me”, and in this apprehension he found a blessing, quite obviously, and he wanted to share it. We can see the echo here of Scripture (Galations 6:2) that encourages us to bear one another’s burdens and in so doing to fulfill the law of Christ. It takes faith to bear your own burdens, and certainly it does to bear the burdens of others, and Paul apprehended the tremendous mutual blessings of sharing faith in the sharing of bearing of burdens.
- In Verses 15 and 16, Paul tells us he is ready to preach the gospel and he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. What a blessing to be so free, so liberated, to be unashamed of the gospel of Christ! Paul fully apprehended that blessing and he reveled in the blessing. When you read the rest of Romans 1, in which Paul describes the human conditions of sin in the face of God’s obvious but invisible attributes, a condition, he writes, that leaves sinful man, who knows but has chosen (VV. 21, 28) not to retain God in their knowledge, without any excuse whatsoever. Paul was, after his conversion, never again deceived into misapprehending the gospel of Jesus Christ; thereafter he only apprehended the gospel of Jesus Christ as a blessing in his life, despite all the trouble ( see II Corinthians 11:23-28) in this life that his faith, his obedience, cost him.
What Paul has given us here is a picture of the blessings of a life well-lived, in faith, grace, peace, and unashamed obedience to God. Paul fully “got it” about Jesus; Paul fully apprehended the truth of Jesus Christ, and Paul fully delivered himself up in that faith to receive God’s grace and peace and liberation from sin and death. Paul was so free in life that he was free from death and fear of it (see Acts 14: 8-23). We have learned much from Romans 1. Spend time with it and meditate, please, on its depth and convictions, and relevancy to your life, our life together as covenant believers in God’s church, Bible Faith Fellowship, and his true universal church!
Once saved, Paul lived his life truly “in Christ”. How would we know that we are truly “in Christ”? First, that you have acknowledged that Jesus Christ is who He says He is. Then, that you have repented for your sins, and you continue to live a life of repentance; that you have resisted and turned away from sin; that you have chosen and declared your faith in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation and your translation from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
Now, let’s look at three things about Paul, that apply to all those who are “in Christ”:
- You are in Christ if you are continually in the process of being renewed. Titus 3:5-6 refers to this as “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit”. Paul is saying to Titus, and to us, that we must yield and indeed welcome that washing of regeneration, that renewal in the Holy Spirit, by which we are made into a new creature in Christ. II Corinthians 5:17 (Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.) In other words, your relationship with Christ is not a one-time conversion experience and then on with your sinful life. Your heart cry is continual for God to change and renew you by His Word and by the Holy Spirit’s entreaties and power to overcome sin. Your daily heart cry is to grow up, to change and be renewed into, Ephesians 4:13-16, . . . the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect (or, complete and mature) man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth in the body for the edifying of itself in love.
- You are in Christ if you govern the decisions of your life, your conduct, by the Word of God. I John 2:5, But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in him. Do you measure yourself daily in retrospect, and also daily in prospect, by the word of God, and, more importantly, do you allow yourself to be changed, to grow into Christ, with every decision you make in life? Do you? Can you choose more wisely in your life than you have been? Please do it!! Join Paul in the prayer of II Thessalonians 3:11, . . . pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. It takes faith to choose to live in obedience to the word of God and, therefore, it takes that faith and that obedience to live in Christ. We all know the verse, John 8:32, about truth and liberation, but study it in the context of the preceding, qualifying verse, V. 31: Then Jesus said to the Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” The truth abides in the word of God: apprehend it so much so that you abide, you life, in that word of God and you, like Paul, shall be made free, so free in living that dying is not an obstacle for you.
- You are in Christ if your faith, your life, is embued with charity/which is unconditional love (I Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter). Not matter your works of obedience and faith – without love, unconditional love, your life amounts to nothing. Remember I John 4: 12b-13, If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. The discernible fruit of this charity, this unconditional love is described in I Corinthians 13:4-5, love . . . is not provoked. Examine yourself: have you got the fruit? If not, get it! Lay your life down in unconditional love, in charity. We often find the test of our provocation, our un-charitableness, in our reactions to those closest to us – our spouse, our children, our parents, our siblings. But we can control those reactions, and we can make wise choices per God’s word to live a life of chosen love, not a life of petty emotionalism.
Conclusions: Abide in Christ, Apprehend the blessings of God; Do not be deceived into misapprehending God’s blessings. Hallelujah! Amen.