SERMON FOR FEBRUARY 15, 1998 FROM ROMANS 1:1-7

 

          This morning our text is Romans 1:1-7.  Last week, we did an overview of Romans and discovered the over-riding theme of the book is...the gospel.  What I mean by the gospel is the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the message which proclaims that.  In these first seven verses, Paul immediately brings this theme into light.  He writes, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God--the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead:  Jesus Christ our Lord.  Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.  And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.  To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

s        One of the truths about the gospel which these verses brings out so clearly is this:  The gospel is first and foremost God-centered, not man centered. That’s the main idea from which all the others will flow this morning.  What I mean when I say the gospel is God-centered rather than man centered is it is primarily for the glory of God and secondarily for the benefit of man.  That order is almost universally reversed in the church today and the consequences have been disastrous.  We will look at three truths from this text which will help explain and support this God-centeredness of the gospel.  The first truth is: God is central to the gospel because He is both the author and the subject of the gospel.   The  gospel is totally God’s idea and He is the main character in the gospel.

          Paul, in verse one says he has been set apart for the “Gospel of God.”    The gospel is not only God’s idea from first to last, it is primarily for Him.  The gospel, as we will see, is intended to glorify Him by revealing the wonder of His character.  A holy and merciful God is confronted in the Garden of Eden with cosmic treason--betrayal on the highest order.  Humanity, the creature that He has blessed like no other creature, those in whom He has implanted His very image, given this planet to act as vice regents with Him to manage.  Those creatures who related to Him in unparalleled intimacy--walking with Him personally in the cool of the garden  scandalously rebel against the ONLY prohibition He has given them.  How does a holy and merciful God respond to that?  The manifestation of his inconceivable mercy and his uncompromising holy justice is magnificently seen in the gospel.  Paul presents the major elements of this glorious response to the holy treason in these next verses.

          In verse two, he indicates that God in the Old Testament promised this response through His prophets.  These Old testament promises are fulfilled in His Son.  Jesus is the promised Messiah who would redeem the people out of sin into the kingdom of God.  The gospel’s God-centeredness is seen in that the gospel is all about Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity.  The essence of the gospel is revealed in what Paul says about Jesus.  In verse three, Jesus is called literally, “the seed of David”.  This brings out two truths of the gospel.  First, it indicates that this Messiah would be a human being.  This was essential because the betrayal in the garden had been perpetrated by humanity.  Therefore, the problem of sin must be rectified by a man if the solution is to be just.  This Messiah would qualify.  The problem with the solution to the problem of sin being offered by a man is that the entire human race was tainted with the sin of Adam and could not resolve the dilemma of sin they themselves were part of.  Therefore, a sinless human had to be found. 

          This was made possible because not only was this Messiah the seed of David, He is according to verse four the “Son of God.”   This title shows the deity of Christ.  This was a man, but He was no ordinary man.  This was and is the God man--holy and able to resolve the sin problem.  We also see the God-centeredness of this Gospel in the event which enables Jesus to claim complete victory over sin, the resurrection.  Verse four says Jesus, “...who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God.”  There is much that could be said about this text, but our point is to show that the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity is involved in vindicating Christ’s redeeming work on the cross.  Paul will say in chapter 8:11 it is the “Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.”   God not only authored the gospel and was the main character in the gospel, He, in the person of the Holy Spirit,  provided the power necessary to raise Jesus which once and for all validated the triumph of the gospel over sin. 

          Secondly, The God-centeredness of the gospel is seen in this:  God is central in the gospel because He calls, equips and rightly motivates His children to proclaim the gospel.  The first point had to do with the essence of the gospel.  This deals with the proclamation of the gospel and BOTH are God centered.  We see this in Paul’s account of his own ministry.  First, notice that Paul refers to himself as a “servant of Christ Jesus.”  The phrase connotes a total commitment--unreserved devotion-- completely at the disposal of his master.  This is the level of devotion a grateful slave has for a benevolent master.  Paul preaches the gospel because it is what His Master has called him to do.  He is not preaching primarily because he has pondered the horrors of being lost in sin, has memorized the words to the song “People Need the Lord”  and out of his emotional turmoil over the plight of the lost, has thrown himself into the Lord’s service.  No.  Paul doubtless ached for the lost.  But that ache was not what drove him.  Paul poured his life out, NOT for the lost, but as “a libation offering to the Lord.”  His work of proclaiming the gospel is done out of his slavish, loving devotion to God--it is God centered, not man centered.  Paul’s eyes were fixed on the will of a holy God, not the plight of fallen man.

          God has not only called Paul as a servant into this ministry, but he has also equipped him to do it.  He says in verse five, “we received grace and apostleship to call people from among the Gentiles...”   What he is saying is this--along with giving me the task of proclaiming the gospel, God has also given me grace to do it.  The grace he has given in part is the office of apostleship.  Paul saw his apostleship as part of how God equipped him to proclaim the gospel. This principle is transferable to us.  When God calls us to proclaim the gospel, He will equip us to do it.  He will give us the power and training necessary.  We are not apostles like Paul--our ministry in proclaiming the gospel is much more limited. But we can be assured that if God calls us to preach the gospel to someone, he will equip us to do it.  And we know that we preach the gospel in many ways, not just sharing a tract or giving our testimony.  St. Francis said, “Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary, use words.”  God equips us to preach and live out the gospel.

          God not only called and equipped Paul as a servant to preach the gospel, he also was the driving, consuming motivation for Paul.  What was it that motivated Paul to be the most successful missionary in church history?  What motivated Paul to endure the horrible persecution and suffering he experienced?  If the church could be inflamed by the same motivation Paul had, the world would be won in a matter of months.  His motivation is seen in verse five.  He says, “for his name’s sake.”  Paul is primarily motivated to preach the gospel for the glory of Jesus Christ.  Today, the motivation for evangelism most commonly, almost universally given in the church can be paraphrased like this:  We must preach the gospel to every nation because they need forgiveness and without the forgiveness offered through the blood of Christ, they will spend eternity in hell.”  That was not the motivation of the greatest missionary in the history of the church.  More importantly, that is not the primary motivation for evangelism taught in the Bible. 

          Don’t misunderstand, God wants us to hurt for the lost, but He is not honored by any motivation for ministry which revolves around the need of man.  Proper motivation for ANY ministry is never primarily MAN-centered.  Here is the way I believe Paul would state his motivation for ministry.  We must preach the gospel to every nation because God is worthy of their worship and obedience.”  Its a GOD-thing, not a MAN thing.  Its primarily vertical, not horizontal.  God is worthy of as many people worshipping Him as possible.  If we are burning with that desire as Paul was, we will evangelize.  If we are not, we need to repent of our unbiblical attitudes and ask God to give us a heart to glorify Him.

          Does this mean that God doesn’t love the sinners He saves?  Of course not.  God loves them more than we could imagine.  But that love is NOT the only or even his primary motivation for the gospel.  John 3:16 reveals part of God’s heart, but not the foundational motivation--His own glory.  Paul preached the gospel for the sake of the name of Christ.  God is central to the gospel in calling, equipping and being the primary motivation of his children to proclaim the gospel.  Is that our motivation?  If its not, perhaps that’s why we aren’t very ardent evangelists.  We are seeking to be motivated to do a very difficult thing by a source of motivation not nearly high enough or strong enough to compel us to obey.

          A third way in which we see the God-centeredness of the gospel is:  God is central in the purpose of the gospel.  The essence, the proclamation and now the purpose of the gospel are all God-centered.  What is the purpose of the gospel in the life of a person?  Most would say the primary purpose of the gospel is to offer them forgiveness so they can be freed from the penalty of their sin and thereby spend eternity in heaven instead of hell.  In other words, the gospel is given to rescue us out of the sinful mess we are in.  No one can deny that God is merciful to those He saves, but the purpose of the gospel Paul gives here is God-centered.  In verse five he says, “we received grace and apostleship to call God’s people from among the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”  Does Paul say his commission is to call people to forgiveness of their sins?  No.  He says his commission is to call people to obedience and the “obedience which comes from faith.” 

          To answer the call of the gospel is to answer the call to obedience because the gospel calls people to obedience.  This is not a one-time reference to this truth in this letter.  Near the end of the letter, Paul makes the same case.  In 15:18 he says, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to OBEY GOD by what I have said and done.”    Paul says, “What I have said and done in my ministry is directed toward THIS purpose,”leading the Gentiles to obey God.”  In 16:26 in his benediction--the last thing he says in the letter, Paul says the purpose of the gospel on a human level is “so that all nations might believe and OBEY him [Jesus Christ].” 

          In this, Paul is simply restating the teaching of Jesus.  The Great Commission in Matthew 28 says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to OBEY everything I have commanded you.”  The purpose of the gospel is God centered--to compel people to submit to His Lordship through obedience.  We must understand that the gospel first and foremost addresses a concern of God’s, not primarily of man’s.  Frankly, one reason why the purpose of the gospel is so increasingly assumed to be man-centered is because it is wrenched out of its God-centered context.  The gospel fits within a bigger context of God’s plan and purpose in history.   When we see this broader context within which the gospel fits, then we begin to see why the gospel not only DOES call people to obedience but why indeed it indeed MUST call people to obedience.

          We see this in First Corinthians 15.  Paul is speaking of the awesome consequences of the resurrection and in verse 24 he explains that one of the consequences of the resurrection is to totally reverse the effects of the fall and bring about the submission of all people to the Lordship of Christ.  Looking to the end result of the resurrection’s future consequences he says,  Then the end will come, when he[Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet...When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”  Here, Paul draws a picture of this broader context into which the gospel fits.

          In the Fall, the Lordship of God was violated--His sovereign right to rule was challenged.  His creation stood in opposition to Him.  At Calvary, Jesus won the decisive victory over this challenge and his resurrection absolutely insured that this victory was sufficient to (eventually, in God’s timing) bring all the enemies of God--demonic and human under complete submission to God.  There are two radically different ways he brings about this submission to his reign.  One way displays his wrath, the other, His mercy.  One way will be seen at the end of the age when he will violently vent his wrath against all those who have not willingly submitted to his reign.  Another way is seen up until that time.  He brings about the submission to His Lordship by mercifully applying the death of Christ to certain people as they are called out of the kingdom of rebellion and are reborn into His kingdom--a kingdom where the subjects submit to his Lordship. 

          When God has assembled all those who have, by his grace willingly submitted to his Lordship--His kingdom reign, then he will quickly and without mercy destroy the remaining opposition to his sovereign rule.  He will regain everything and more which was lost in the fall to the praise of His glory.  THAT is his big picture and the gospel is in the middle of that plan.  Because God’s larger purpose is to eliminate all opposition to His sovereign reign, it only makes sense that the call of the gospel would be a call for his reborn children to submit to His Lordship.

          Let’s change the metaphors to provide a clearer picture.  Now, in this present age, as The Lord calls people to himself, He brandishes his sword--his word as a surgeon would wield a scalpel--brilliantly doing spiritual heart transplants in his people, giving them new hearts which are inclined to obey Him and not rebel against Him.  Later at the end of the age, he will use his sword NOT as a scalpel, but as sickle cutting down his enemies with one great sweep, eliminating all rebellion against his reign.  Then, “every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. ” It is the cross which enables Jesus to show both his mercy and his wrath.  In the cross, Jesus Christ has mercifully purchased the souls of those He came to save and through that same cross, he also guaranteed the defeat of all his enemies.  They will beyond a shadow of a doubt be crushed under his heel.  Do you hear how the gospel is God centered and is the central part in His plan to bring about submission to His Lordship?

          This understanding is so crucial as you read Romans.  You must read Romans and the rest of the Bible with this God-centered lens.  When Paul argues against being righteous by following the law for instance, the reason for this is because legalism cannot enable us to be obedient.  We are given freedom in Christ.  The man-centered gospel you hear today makes it sound like we are given freedom in Christ for the purpose of being free to sin. We are given freedom first and foremost for God, not us.  The only way we can be obedient to God (God’s agenda) is by grace and grace can only be accessed when you are walking in the liberty of the Holy Spirit.

          The gospel is God-centered from beginning to end.  God is the author, actor and active agent in the gospel.  God is the caller, equipper and motivation for proclaiming and living out the gospel and God’s primary purpose in the gospel is extending the sovereign reign of God in the hearts of people.  How different this is than the man centered gospel we so often hear today where Christ exists for us instead of us existing for Him.  J.I. Packer says this man-centered gospel “...compels us to misunderstand the significance of the gracious invitations of Christ...for we now have to read them, not as expressions of the tender patience of a mighty sovereign, but as the pathetic pleadings of impotent desire; and so the enthroned Lord is suddenly metamorphosed into a weak, futile figure tapping forlornly at the door of a human heart, which He is powerless to open. This is a shameful dishonor to the Christ of the New Testament.”  Are you God centered or have you allowed the prevailing evangelical culture to shape you into a man centered believer?  May God grant us the grace to repent of anything which would rob God of the glory He deserves and may we live God centered lives and in so doing proclaim a God-centered gospel.

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