The Gospel of God
We begin this morning with what will be the longest teaching series we have been through as a congregation - the book of Romans. We will begin by reading the opening prologue to the book in verses 1-7, but then we will focus our attention only on verse 1 (if that is any indication of how long it will take us to journey through the entire book). We will ease into Romans like a hot tub - starting with these 7 verses for the next 5 weeks and then we ill pick up the pace to a blistering 3 to 5 verses at a time and pausing to meditate longer or speeding up through larger sections however the Lord may lead us.
I want us to ease into the book of Romans because of the very nature of this book. It is a letter, but more than that it is an extremely thorough letter with intricate argumentation that hinges upon particular logic and grammar. We need to train our minds to pay close attention to detail because it is in the detail that we will see and savor the realities of God's glory in God's gospel message. Paul does not waste words even in this 7 verse introduction. With intentionality, he introduces himself, his message, and the intended readers with specific language that will prepare the reader for what is to come in the rest of the letter. In fact, I want to challenge you, to commit these 7 verses to memory as we study through them.
So lets read these 7 verses and then pray for understanding.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God
The first words, of the epistle to the Romans, would have shocked many first century readers. The author's name and the description that follows would have been enough to capture anyone’s attention.If you were here for our recent study of the book of Acts you know Paul’s story. He was born in Tarsus, one of the major centers of Greek learning and culture. He had trained under Gamaliel, a famous Jewish Rabbi of his time and Paul’s father was a Roman citizen. He was trained in Greek literature, philosophy, and Jewish law - a Pharisees of Pharisees - known for strict obedience to the Old Testament law.
Paul’s zeal for the Jewish religion led him to become a hater of the new Christian movement. He saw Jesus as an imposter on Judaism and he refused to believe that God’s promised salvation would come through the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah. For Paul, the Christian church was a bothersome sect of heretics that needed to be snuffed out. After approving of the first Christian stoning in Acts 7, Acts 8:3 tells us the work Paul committed himself to.
3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the High Priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
We read all this of Paul’s background yet here stands Romans 1:1 with Paul’s own personal description of himself.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
He wastes no time speaking of his credentials, nor his raising, nor his citizenship as a Roman. He jumps right to the very thing that now defines him: Paul - a Servant of Jesus. If you are unfamiliar with Paul’s conversion, you are forced to ask, “How in the world could Paul who persecuted servants of Jesus, now label himself a servant of Jesus?” The only explanation that fits, is that Paul met Jesus!
Acts chapter 9 tells us that Jesus, in all of his resurrected glory appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, proving his resurrection, and proving the truth of his gospel message - Paul met Jesus. But Paul did not just meet Jesus, he was radically transformed by Jesus. He was no longer Paul the Pharisee of Pharisees or Paul the educated Roman citizen. He was no longer Paul the persecutor of the church. He was now Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.
Christ is not Jesus’ last name and Paul has chosen the word intentionally. The word Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Messiah which means anointed one. The term means that Paul believed that this Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This Jesus is the Savior that the Jewish Scriptures promised would come and Paul was now a servant of this Christ.
Paul is a SERVANT of this Christ, but that English translation is really not strong enough to properly enrich our understanding. There is a Greek word for servant which is a little more honorable. That word is “diakonos” which is where we get our word deacon or servant. But in this instance, Paul does not use diakonos. He uses the Greek Word “doulos”, which is more often translated as “slave”. It is an intentional word that Paul is using to convey his lowliness and Christ’s ultimate control as Master.
One NT commentator, Douglas Moo, writes,
“The phrase connotes total devotion, suggesting that the servant is completely at the disposal of his or her Lord” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 41.)
For Paul, Jesus had become not just the savior and forgiver of past sins, rather, Jesus has become Lord of his Life. This title means that Paul’s entire life now found itself under new management and new leadership. It is under that leadership that Paul now lives his life and writes this letter. He lives for his Master. He writes for his Master.
Paul’s self-description should cause us to question our own self-description. Does this language rightly describe your relationship with Jesus? Has our encounter with Jesus had a similar effect on us? When we came to Jesus did we gain a new Lord? Did we gain a new Master? Or did we just say we believed in Jesus, yet remained the master and lord of our own lives?
From the example of Paul and the testimony of Scripture - to be saved by Jesus is to be transformed into a servant of Jesus. The Lord, himself, makes this statement in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two Masters.” For Paul, everything changed when he met Jesus. He now had one master in life.
This is what god is doing.
God is Creating Servants of Christ
Not only did Paul become a servant of Jesus - which is amazing in its own right - he actually became an apostle of Jesus.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
Paul was uniquely called by God to be an Apostle. This word apostle has both a non-official meaning and an official meaning. The common meaning of this word - simply means “sent one” - “one who is sent with a message”. But this word was also used as an official title for a specific group of people. The apostles were men who had personal interaction with the resurrected Jesus. They were chosen by Jesus sent by Jesus to preach the authorized word of Jesus and about Jesus.
Ephesians 2:20 calls the apostles the “foundation” of the church with the prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. God ordained that he would work through particular people who had direct contact with the Lord Jesus, to teach and preserve right doctrine in this blessed book so that it might be passed down from generation to generation.
Paul became an apostle, just as Peter and John were apostles. It is astounding that God would have called such a man as Paul to serve such a purpose as apostleship. Even Paul, himself, was amazed that God would call him to such a task. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15
1 Corinthians 15:8-9
8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he [Jesus] appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Again, hear Pauls words in 1 Timothy 1:12-17:
1 Timothy 1:12-17
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
We are not called to be apostles in the same way that Paul was called, but we are called to be disciples who make disciples. We are called to be used by God for his purposes. We are not only saved, but we are sent out to do God’s will in the world, to represent his way, and to spread his word. This is what God is doing in the World.
God is Sending Out People for His Purposes
The very existence of the book of Romans, as an apostolic writing of authority by the hand of Paul, is a testimony that your past sinfulness does not have to determine your future service in the Kingdom of God. The fact that God would so sovereignly choose Paul to write such an influential book in the Holy Scriptures is a testimony to the truth that lies within these pages - that Christ came to save sinners and he sends them into the world for the glory of God. Paul was a living, breathing, proof of the goodness and the truthfulness of this message we will find in this book - the message of the good news of God.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
Set Apart - that word was used any time something or someone was separated for a special purpose. It was used to describe utensils set apart for worship in the temple, and Levites set apart to serve as priests. It was used to describe the people of Israel as God’s set apart people. Paul now sees his life as set apart for the gospel. One Commentator by the name of John Murray writes,
“All bonds of interest and attachment alien or extraneous to the promotion of the gospel have been cut asunder and He is set apart by the investment of all his interests and ambitions in the cause of the gospel.” (John Murray, 3)
But what is this Gospel he has been set apart for? If you have been around evangelical Christianity, you will recognize this as a buzzword of our faith. This word is tossed around, but I am fearful that in all of our usage of this word we either assume that people know what it means or we ourselves have grown cold and calloused to the depth of its meaning and the richness of what it implies. Pastor Paul Washer writes,
“One of the greatest crimes committed by this present Christian generation is its neglect of the gospel, and it is from this neglect that all our other maladies spring forth.” (Paul Washer, The Gospel’s Power and Message, viii)
At its most basic level, the term “Gospel” means: “good news” or “good tidings.” It would have been common for a herald to stand in the town square and proclaim “good news” as it related to the emperor. It might have sounded something like: “Good news, Good news, the emperor’s wife has given birth”, or “Good news, Good news, the new emperor has taken the throne.”” (John MacArthur, Romans 1-8 Commentary, 9) Paul begins his letter with a declaration that he has been set apart for the “good news”, but not the good news of an earthly king, rather - The Good News of God!
The Good God of the Gospel
Now consider with me the depth, height, and breadth of that phrase - “The Good News of God.” How good is this good news? Roman emperors will undoubtedly have a skewed understanding of what is actually good news because they do not know what is truly good. But what if God deems something to be Good News for you and not just any good news, but THE Good News of God or put another way, God’s Good News.
The very nature of God is of a goodness which we cannot really comprehend. AW Tozer writes,
“That God is good is taught or implied on every page of the Bible and must be received as an article of faith….Divine goodness, as one of God’s attributes, is self-caused, infinite, perfect, and eternal… The cause of his goodness is in Himself.” (AW Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, 82-83)
God is inconceivably good, thus the good news that God offers to you must also be inconceivably good, for it is the inconceivably good being which has deemed it good for you. The Gospel message is this good news of God and this is what the book of Romans is about.
If you write in your Bible, circle “the gospel of God” in verse 1. Do the same for Romans 1:15 where Paul states, “I am eager to preach the gospel”. Do the same again in verse 16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
Flip to the last chapter in Romans 16:25 and see Paul’s closing remarks.
Romans 16:25-27 “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages. 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to the nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of the faith - 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
It is the gospel that bookends this letter and it is the gospel that fills its pages. Flip back to Romans 1:1 and I want you to notice what happens when Paul utters the words “the gospel of God.” He immediately irrupts into further elaboration. Verses 2-7 are an exaltation over the specifics of the good news that he will unfold in the pages to come. Paul describes himself in just verse 1, but when he speaks of the Gospel, he goes on to describe the Gospel of God from verses 2-7 in a nice long run-on sentence flowing from marvelous truth to marvelous truth.
See it in the transition from verse 1 and 2 with the word “which”
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he [God] promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God….
In these 7 verses
The good news promised in the Scriptures (v.2)
The good news concerns the Person and Work of Jesus who died for our sins and was Resurrected from the dead (v.3-4)
The good news brings us God’s grace through our faith. (v.5)
The good news overflows into a mission of God’s glory to the nations for the sake of his name. (v.5)
The good news creates a people who are loved by God, called by God, and made holy by God. (v.6-7)
We find all this in the first seven verses, but they are just a brief foreshadowing of what is to come. Romans is the most thorough summary of the good news of God - the message that although we are sinners deserving of God’s wrath, Jesus took the wrath of God upon himself so that we who have faith might have eternal life as the people of God.
It is one thing to know that the Greek Word for gospel means good news, however, It is another thing to actually believe that the news is very good. Martyn Lloyd Jones was a preacher from the mid 20th century who led his congregation through a study of the book of Romans. Those sermons have been collected into 14 volumes.. Toward the beginning of that teaching series… he asked his congregation this question:
Can we honestly say at this moment that this is the greatest and the best good news that we have ever heard? The Gospel! Oh! how easily we use this term! How glibly we repeat it! I am as guilty as anybody else. It ought to be impossible for us to use the word ‘gospel’ without bursting forth, as it were, into a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. (Martyn Lloyd Jones, Romans, 58-59).
There is a culture of ministry out there that would tell me that you are not interested in preaching or teaching like this. There is temptation out there that urges me to move on to other things, more practical things, more entertaining things. They might say that Romans is too repetitive or too deep. But I believe that an appreciation for the gospel of God is the foundation of who you are and who you will be. It is the driver behind all other Christian life. This message of the good news of salvation and all of its particular glories, drives you to hate sin, assures you that God loves you, refocuses what you think is important and motivates you to live missionally in this life. It affects everything.
This is why the book of Romans specifically has been one of the most powerful writings in the history of Christianity It has been saving people and setting people apart for thousands of years…..
In September, year A.D 386, a few hundred years after Romans was written, a professor in Italy named Augustine found himself weeping in a friend’s garden over his own sinfulness. He was entrapped by his own lusts. He was a slave to drunkenness. He was overwhelmed with the emptiness of life. He wanted a new life and had even considered following the way of Jesus, but he had no strength to turn from the sin that gripped his heart. While weeping over these realities, he heard a voice say, “take up and read, take up and read.” And he found a scroll of the epistle to the Romans and he began to read Romans 13:13-14.
Augustine records his response in this way:
“Nor further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended, - by light, as it were, or security infused into my heart, - all gloom of doubt vanished away”
In a moment of reading this book, Augustine’s life was changed. He became one of the most influential theologians and Christian teachers in history whose works are still read in seminaries today.
In the 16th century, a Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther was oppressed by his understanding of the righteousness of God. God is perfectly righteous. He is without error and just, therefore, he must punish sinners. For Luther, if this was true, then he knew that he would face eternal punishment. He recognized, what many do not - that he fell short. How could he ever achieve the righteousness God requires?! Luther knew, that his good works could never be good enough.
Luther would often spend hours in confession depriving himself of food and water for days. He went as far as to whip himself because of the hatred that he had for his own sinfulness. The message of salvation taught in his day was that of penance, works, and sacred pilgrimages to Rome, but Luther had a deep sense that if salvation was based on his own righteousness, he would not be saved… Until he read Romans chapter 1:16-17 and made a life-changing discovery.
Listen to Luther describe this moment of reading the book of Romans.
“Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before “the righteousness of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven.”
From Luther’s reading of Romans, came forth one of the greatest reformations, and spiritual awakenings of the Christian church in history. Without that spiritual awakening, this church might not exist. We could go on and on and talk about the book of Romans and its impact on historical figures such as Calvin, and Wesley, or even modern-day preachers such as Piper, and MacArthur, but the point is clear. God sets people apart by and for the Gospel of God - the good news of salvation for sinners by Grace Alone, through faith alone in Jesus Alone
So here we stand at the edge of one of the most impactful letters written in Christian history, and we need to acknowledge the staggering potential before us. There is power in this Word, and there is power in the Spirit who speaks through this Word. He causes this Word to be understood and to be believed, and he uses this word to create, transform and send out his people.
Almost Four years ago, I had the privilege of studying the Gospel in the book of Romans with a small group of college students and young adults. I dug up the manuscript from the beginning of that Bible study four years ago. This is what I wrote,
So here we sit, a small group of people with Bible in hand. We come to the book of Romans with utmost humility, knowing that we are incapable of mining all of its riches for 20 to 30 minutes each week. We come with humility, knowing that there is no power in the teaching ability of those who speak or the musical ability of those who lead in worship….., but we also come in anticipation, we come with an anxiousness and an awareness of the immeasurable potential that lies within the gathering of God’s people, the reading of God’s word and the worship of God….
May we sit for just a moment and truly ponder the possibilities? Is it possible that years from now as a group gathers to begin a study on the book of Romans, that they might look back at history and discuss a small group of college students and young adults who met in New Orleans, LA to study Romans chapter 1 and to pray together, and from that gathering a revival of Jesus followers swept across a city? Is it possible that the reading of this book could lead people in this room from spiritual death to spiritual life!?
I never finished that study of Romans with that group of people because after almost a year of God growing me and them through that study, God sent us out from that church to start St. Rose Community Church. In writing that manuscript 4 years ago, I had no idea, how much God planned to grow me and to stretch me. I had no idea that before our study was over, God would set apart a group of people to start this church. I had no idea that some of the people in that room would one day be people in this room set apart for the spread of the Gospel in St. Rose.
And here we stand again on the front end of a deep study of the Gospel of God, and I want us to pause and pray that over the course of this study: God would save souls and that God would set apart people for the Gospel and for the spread of this Gospel beyond what we could ever pray or think.I want us to pray that one-day people would look back on this moment in history when a group of Christians in St. Rose set their eyes upon the Gospel of God in the book of Romans and a spiritual awakening occurred as we have never seen before.
May we become servants of Christ Jesus, sent out, and set apart for the good news of God.