Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the Gospel of God, which he had promised before by his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who came from the seed of David according to the flesh and was shown to be the Son of God with power by the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead. By him we have received grace and commissioning for obedience of faith among all nations for his name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ. To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints, grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let's start with the word servant in verse one. The Greek word is doulos, and I love the definition I found in the Strong's section of my OnlineBible. One of the definitions is one who gives himself up to the will of another. Paul didn't know anything about simply believing that Jesus died for his sins. The only faith Paul knew about is the one that gives itself up to the will of God. Nothing else matters. It is either God's will, or it's not God's will. Yes, there's the occasional relaxing. There's an old story that's told about the apostle John. He was feeding birds one day along a path, enjoying nature. Someone asked him about it, thinking that John was always about the business of the Gospel, not relaxing feeding birds. John said, A bow that is always pulled taut is worthless. It maintains it's strength by being relaxed between its uses. There is the need for relaxing, but you will note in John's statement that his eyes were always on the goal. He wanted to be strong for the times he was needed. He did not simply deserve a break today. All that matters is the will of God, and that was John's primary thought and purpose. When people see you relaxing, do they comment to you that your behavior has left them with the impression that you're always busy doing something for God?
Paul did not want us to be different than him. He uses the same word, doulos, in saying that we, too, have become servants of God (Rom. 6:22, where he actually uses the verb form, douloo). In Romans 14:9 he says that the very purpose of Jesus' death and resurrection is that he might be Lord of the living and the dead. As far as I can tell, that should cover everyone, including you and me.
An Apostle Set Apart for the Gospel
Paul is first and foremost a servant of Jesus Christ. It is only secondary that he is called to be an apostle and set apart for the Gospel of God. It is not that he is an apostle and that he must preach the Gospel. He must do the will of God. He must be Christ's servant. Since the will of God is that he go forth and preach the Gospel, that is what he does; however, what matters is the will of God. It is the will of God that moves the preaching, not the preaching that moves Paul. I hope you are able to understand what I am saying. You must be a servant of Jesus Christ, not just someone who does religious duties that you feel are important. We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do the good works that have been prepared for us to do, not some good works that we have invented because we think we have a new law. Later in this very letter he will tell the Romans, As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. It is by the Spirit that we must put to death the deeds of the flesh, not by creating our own righteousness in a new law.
Promised Beforehand by the Prophets: Foreknowledge and Predestination
Next Paul mentions that the Gospel was promised beforehand by his prophets in the holy Scriptures. God has said that he does nothing without first revealing it to the prophets (Amos 4:7). The foreknowledge of God is a matter that was always before Paul's eyes.
In Romans 8:29 he tells us that he not only foreknew us, but also predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son. This issue of predestination has become a matter of debate among Christians. It should not be so. It is not God's purpose to reveal the thinking underlying his eternal plans. We can't understand those things. They are far above us.
The Scriptures and Theology
The Scriptures were not written to give us good theology. They were written to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We should be rebuked, reproved, corrected, and instructed in righteousness by the Scriptures, not instructed in theological arguments.
Paul spoke of people even in his day who longed to be great theologians. He said:
Don't give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which bring about strife rather than godly edification in the faith. The purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a faith without hypocrisy. Some have swerved aside from this and have turned to useless speech, wanting to be teachers of the Law but understanding neither the things they say nor those they want to affirm. (1 Tim. 1:4-7)
Let us not be like them.
Predestination and foreknowledge were important to Paul, but they had to do with real action and obedience, not useless and divisive debates. While I do not believe that Romans 9 is about predestination—it is about God's right to choose the Gentiles and make them a part of true Israel—predestination is nonetheless one of his arguments. The purpose of his argument is to tell us that we should not question God.
Some have taken the issue of predestination to mean that there is no hope for some. There is indeed no hope for those who are not called, but as far as we know, everyone is called. It is few who are chosen.
Although Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him (6:44), the apostle Paul preached the Gospel freely. The apostles were told to preach the Gospel to every creature under heaven (Mark 16:15), and Paul tells us in Colossians 1:23 that this is exactly what they did. Why? Because whether they knew that Jesus said it or not (there is no indication Paul was familiar with any of the Gospels, and all of them were likely written after his letters), they knew that Jesus would receive everyone who came to him (John 6:37).
It is our behavior we must worry about, not our theology. For Paul foreknowledge and predestination led him to completely trust and obey God. God knows what he's doing. God has a plan. Paul was going to follow it. And he did. In Acts 20:24 he tells us he doesn't care anything about his life, but he only cared about finishing the course God had set out for him. In 2 Timothy 4:7 he tells us he did finish his course. The Scriptures tell us that John the Baptist fulfilled his course (Acts 13:25). We are told that we must do the works that God has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). Will we fulfill our course as well?
Proven To Be the Son of God by the Resurrection of the Dead
Verses three and four tell us that the Gospel is about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is from the line of David, but that is only according to the flesh. According to the Holy Spirit, he was the Son of God, and that was proven by raising him from the dead.
I don't believe that we modern Christians understand the power of the resurrection the way the apostles did. Acts 1:22 tells us that the very purpose of the apostles was to bear witness to the resurrection. Acts 4:33 tells us that they were fulfilling that purpose. In Acts 10:40-41, Peter tells us that when God raised up Christ he showed him just to a few witnesses, these being the apostles, of course. The apostles were then told to bear witness of this resurrection. In Acts 10, we are told that they were to testify that this resurrection proves him to be the Judge of the living and the dead. This is exactly what Peter told the Jews on the day of Pentecost. Peter gave quite a long sermon explaining why the Holy Spirit had descended so noisily upon the apostles, but in the end he had one purpose: to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ. He tells them in Acts 2:32 that God raised Jesus from the dead, and then he announces that as a result of this all of Israel should know assuredly that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ.
This is important. We modern Christians have a focus on the cross that is good if it is balanced by the resurrection. We think that because Paul said, I have determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified, that our focus should be only on the cross. This is not so. Paul did not say that he determined to know nothing among them but the cross. He said he determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ. Then he adds, and him crucified.
Before we begin interpreting a verse like that to mean that we should have the exclusive focus on the cross that is so common among born-again, evangelical believers, we need to look at the behavior of Paul and the other apostles. What we see when we look at their behavior is that they were appointed to testify of the resurrection first. It is the resurrection that proves that Jesus is the Son of God, not the crucifixion.
It is true that Jesus accomplished a glorious work at the cross. There he broke the power of sin, and there, through faith, we can die with him to sin, the world, and to our old self. However, this is not enough! We must rise again with him in newness of life! In many churches today, you would think that a proper baptism would be a real burial. We should simply put people under the water and leave them there because that is all that matters. No, just as we must die to him to sin, we must also rise with him to newness of life. Paul will go through this thoroughly as we go through the rest of Romans.
The Atonement and the Preaching of the Gospel
I cannot avoid mentioning here that if you go through the book of Acts you will never find the apostles telling the lost that Jesus died for their sins. On the day of Pentecost Peter told the crowd that the resurrection of Jesus proves that God has made him both Lord and Christ, but he never told them that Jesus died for their sins. He never told them that they were sinners who could not save themselves. Even when we get to Paul, we find that he saved explanations like that for the book of Romans, to people who were already Christians. To the lost, Paul was just like Peter. He spoke of the resurrection, and he spoke of the fact that Jesus is Lord and Judge of all, but he told no lost person at all that Jesus died for their sins.
Why is this? The reason is that we are confused when we believe that the faith of the Gospel is a faith in Jesus' death or Jesus' atonement for sins. Jesus did die for sin, but that is not the faith the Gospel asks for. The Gospel asks for a faith in Christ himself, who still lives and who has the power to deliver us from sin.
It's the kind of faith Paul had, the kind that gives itself up to the will of another. It's the sort of faith that makes you say, I will no longer serve sin; I will now be a slave of God (Rom. 6:12-19). The apostles preached the resurrection—the proof that Jesus is the Son of God, the Lord of all, and the Judge of mankind—in order to move the lost to believe in Jesus as Lord, not in Jesus' death for sins. That could wait for later.
That may seem like heresy to a modern Christian, but you'll find that Acts is absolutely consistent on the matter. There is not a single exception, and there are at least a dozen sermons to the lost in the Book of Acts. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to those who obey him, not to those who merely believe that he died on the cross for their sins (5:9). It is important to believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sin, because he did; however, it is faith in Jesus himself that will save us, not our understanding of the method with which he saved us.
The Preaching of the Gospel
In verse five Paul tells us that he and those with him had received grace and apostleship for the obedience of faith among all nations. I translated that word apostleship as commissioning above. Paul knew that he could not preach the Gospel without the help of God. He knew that he needed the power of God, not wisdom of words. It was not a Bible school that Paul needed to equip him. He needed grace and commissioning. Once he received grace to preach and was commissioned by God to go, he knew that he had all he needed. He had power. It was power and the demonstration of the Spirit that would bring the kingdom of God, not the wisdom of men's words.
That grace and commissioning were for a purpose. They would bring about the obedience of faith among the Gentiles. Many people claim to be apostles today. Most of those have failed miserably at bringing about anything in the earth. They feel they are apostles, but they do not have the one proof that Paul had. He said he had a letter, not written on paper, but on human hearts (2 Cor. 3:1-3). This letter was the proof of Paul's apostleship. The grace given to him by God and the sending of God gave him the power to produce the obedience that belongs to faith. Let those who claim to be apostles today show us their power. Let them show us that they have the ability to produce the obedience of faith among the nations.
We have already mentioned above that faith and obedience are inexorably tied together. If you read through the Scriptures, you will find that the apostles don't seem to be able to tell the difference between faith and obedience very well at all. In fact, they are used interchangeably in Hebrews 3:18-19. We read, To whom did [God] swear that they should not enter his rest but to those that did not obey [Gr., apeitheo]? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief [Gr., apistia].
We will touch on verse six, then call it quits for today. In verse six he tells the Roman Christians that they are the called of Jesus Christ. Again, predestination and foreknowledge are not subjects designed for our division. They are facts designed for our edification. We can come to Christ, but if we have come to Christ, we must know that we did not choose him, but he chose us (John 15:16). This should encourage us. If God foreknew us and called us, Paul will tell the Romans in 8:29, then we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. Let us give ourselves up to the works which God has prepared beforehand for us to do. Let us become servants and slaves of God, so that we might fulfill the course that he has set for us, just as Paul, John the Baptist, and so many others did.
But you ask, if we are predestined to be conformed to the image of God, won't it happen automatically? Not at all! Take a trip through the New Testament sometime and underline all the ifs. You will be surprised. For example, in Colossians 1:21-23 we are told that Christ has reconciled us to himself in the body of his flesh through death, but only if we continue in the faith grounded and settled. It is those who continue to the end who will be saved, so you will never know that you are of the elect and chosen until you have finished your course.
Is this sort of insecurity good? It is not only good, it is commanded. It doesn't matter how many evangelism courses instruct you to assure people of their eternal security, the Scriptures teach a security that comes from faith in and commitment to God only. Peter commands us to fear because God will eventually judge us impartially according to our works (1 Pet. 1:17). What will happen at that judgment? How much should we fear? Well, the warning we receive is that if we are entangled in the the pollutions of the world again, it would be better for us never to have known the way of righteousness. You take it from there. John addresses this issue perhaps even more directly. He tells us that leaving the people of God is proof that you were never a part of the people of God (1 Jn. 2:19). Jesus never speaks of telling anyone, I used to know you. Those that are turned away, even if they have prophesied and cast out demons in his name, are told, Depart from me; I never knew you (Matt. 7:21-23). As Peter tells us we must be diligent to make our calling and election sure. You will not be sure until you have continued to the end, and this is not only true of you, but Paul knew it as well. He tells us, I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27). We will gain no profit by ignoring such warnings.
However, lest I be found preaching something other than the trust in God that the Scriptures call us to, let me finish with the expression of confidence used by the Lord's brother, Jude: Now to him that is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exultation, to the only wise God our Savior be glory, majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.Home