Book of Romans: Chapter 1 - Not ashamed of the gospel

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Book of Romans: Chapter 1 - Not ashamed of the gospel

by F Gordon

The book that I am going to look at this year is the book of Romans. It's a great book about the good news of God's love for us. This good news is not only for sinners but also for redeemed Christians showing God's plan of salvation that goes right through to the end of our lives. Lots of people believe that this was Paul's greatest work. It is a very different book to the other epistles that he wrote. A lot of the other epistles were written because of the trouble that was happening in the churches there; Infiltrators had come in bringing their strange gospels. But the theme of Romans is the Gospel of God and Paul writes it as an encouragement to a church that he had never been to. It is unknown how this church was actually founded. Most people believe that from the day of Pentecost there were people from Rome who travelled back and it grew from there. So we can't really say that Paul established this church. He had never actually been there. Prior to writing this letter to the Romans he had been a Christian for about 20 years' and had never visited this group of believers to impart some spiritual wisdom and gifts to them. He probably wrote it in the late 57 - 59A.D. from the city of Corinth.

Paul the Bond-Servant

Romans 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

Paul starts off by saying that he is a 'bond servant.' Other versions will say 'servant' but the Greek word means 'slave' or 'bond servant'. Does anyone know what 'bond servant' is? It is a specific type of servant. Back in Exodus 21 we read about the rights of slaves. If you were a Hebrew slave you would have to serve a period of six years; and on the seventh year you would be set free. However when you get into Exodus 21 we read that a slave could say 'I love my master - I'd like to remain his servant' (and that word 'love' is the most important thing here, because this was a free will offering that the slave or the servant would do.)

Exodus 21:5-6 But if the servant plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,' (6) then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.

For those slaves that through love, not under compulsion, decided to make a free will offering of themselves to their master's work, Exodus tells us that the master would inflict the pain of the piercing of the ear with the awl. They would come before judges, but it was the master's role to take his slave to the door post and use an awl, which is like a wooden handle with a metal spike, similar to what is used for pushing through leather or a fish spike - something that was narrow and that had a point. It would cause a significant hole in the ear and it wouldn't be easy to put your ear up against the side of the door post so that the master could do this... so he was the one who would inflict the pain on the servant who was willing to serve him.

Now, in Jewish thought the piercing of the ear had to do with the fact that this slave was going to serve him with all his heart and he was going to be concerned with his master's business, and also that he had an open ear to his master. It was one of obedience. So, what are the benefits for the master? What does he get out of a slave that loves to serve him? He gets someone who is trustworthy, loyal, and someone who is interested in his will and will do his bidding. The benefit for the servant would be that his needs were actually taken care of because he entered into a contract with the master and it was the master's business to care for his needs and take care of him. He was now the master's responsibility. The servant didn't need to concern himself with what was needed, his food, his clothing and his shelter. These were all provided by the master. This is a little picture of us, because we are called to yield our lives. We are called to give our lives whole heartedly into our Master's hand and in this book of Romans it is not until you get right through to chapter 12, after Paul has presented us with all the wonderful truths of all that God has done for us in His grace towards us that He says 'look the only reasonable thing for you to do is to put your ear against the door post and offer yourself as a living sacrifice' and in that way you can prove what is the master's will for you. So you have this same theme here, Paul is calling himself a 'bond servant' someone who has placed his ear to the door post and had it pierced and then his only interest in life is what His master is calling him to do. There are a couple of scriptures speaking of the Lord Jesus which I would like to mention....

Psalms 40:6 Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.

There is the prophetic picture of the Lord Jesus Christ saying 'a body you have prepared for Me and My ears you have opened' and 'I have come not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me' This is a picture of a bond slave, someone that is only interested in the Father's will for him or the Father's business.

Isaiah 50:4-6 "The Lord God has given Me The tongue of the learned, That I should know how to speak A word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear To hear as the learned. (5) The Lord God has opened My ear; And I was not rebellious, Nor did I turn away. (6) I gave My back to those who struck Me, And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.

So you have a picture of Christ with an open ear. And He says 'I was not rebellious'. In other words, I was not a servant that did my own thing. I did what the Father had actually called me to do. So Paul starts off in Romans by saying that very thing. 'Look, I am this type of a man, a bondservant, one that has only really got the Father's interests at heart.' When Paul was converted his first response was 'what do you want me to do?' He was completely obedient to His Lord and Savior. This call to yield ourselves to God doesn't actually come that easily. I always used to be afraid that if I yielded myself to God that he would send me to the mission field and I would have to suffer. That was the perception I had. However, it is not like that at all. Because what the Father desires from us is our availability. It is a servant who has an open ear to the Master's call. He has those types of people, but He also has teachers that need to show the Lord Jesus Christ where He has put them. He has carpenters; He has mothers with children who have a mission field right in front of them. He has a whole spectrum of things for His saints to do. He is looking for availability from His saints. Ones that are willing to be Christ in the vicinity that He has for them. It is the most freeing thing in the world, to let go of your own ideas and your own plans and to just allow Him to choose the right path for you. This is all that He is asking of His servants, that they have an open ear and that they are willing to go and do whatever He is asking of them. You probably won't be sent to a mission field, but you might be and if so it will be O.K because it is His will. We don't need to be afraid of what He has planned for us.

So Paul is a bond servant of Jesus Christ called to be an apostle. Apostle just means 'a sent one,' someone with a specific task for the master's will; Separated to the Gospel of God which is the good news for sinners: that He loved the world so much that He would send His Son to die for us.

Romans 1:2-3 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, (3) concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh

The Roman church didn't have the New Testament. All they had were the letters that Paul had written and also the Old Testament. Paul is saying that is God's good news, the good news of the Gospel, it was already there back in the Old Testament. When the disciples were on the road to Emmaus and the Lord opened their understanding, Jesus spoke to them about the things concerning Himself through Moses, the Law and the prophets. So all of the Old Testament speaks about one person and the subject of the whole scripture is actually Christ Himself. He is the subject of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation; it is a revelation of who Jesus is. Paul was set apart to make this known.

Romans 1:4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.

Take notice of the way in which Jesus lived and the people that He raised from the dead - there was Jairus' daughter, there was the widow of Nain, Lazarus, the young girl, but also Himself... He also rose from the dead. These things declare Him to be the Son of God.

Romans 1:5-7 Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, (6) among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; (7) To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Saints, that is a wonderful word, because it is speaking to those who are set apart ones, sanctified ones, those who are being progressively saved. Now, in verses 8 to14, Paul is saying 'I want to come amongst you, but I have been hindered from coming. But i want to focus my attention on verses 15-17 where this great theme of not being ashamed of the gospel is introduced.

Not ashamed of the Gospel... But do you share it?

Romans 1:15-16 So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. (16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, [1] for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

So he starts here by saying 'I am not ashamed of the Gospel' When was the last time you actually shared the good news of Christ dying? What are the things that hold you back from sharing these things? Are you ashamed of God's good news? Why are we sometimes reluctant? Fear of man and people's opinions matter to us, even though we say they don't, they do. We all like to be thought well of. We do have a fear of man and how they are going to respond to us. God puts people in front of us daily but sometimes we are fearful of sharing the good news of the gospel. Paul himself said 'I am not ashamed.' Sometimes the gospel is looked upon by society as foolishness; society has moved such a lot that no one takes any notice of it these days. It is such a simple message but it is foolishness in the eyes of the world, and Paul actually faced this as 1 Cor.1:17 says that the gospel is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18-21 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (19) For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." [1] (20) Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? (21) For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Now that is a radical thing for Paul to say; that it actually pleased the Father through the foolishness of the message that there would be some who would believe. He wasn't afraid that it would look something less or foolish.

1 Corinthians 1:22-29 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; (23) but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks [2] foolishness, (24) but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (25) Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (26) For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. (27) But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; (28) and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, (29) that no flesh should glory in His presence.

In other words this whole plan of salvation was going to be done by God; it was to be through Him, to Him and for Him. Man would have no part whatsoever so he could not claim the credit on the day that he is standing before the Lord. No flesh can glory at all, it is a work that God does on our behalf. But as we said, that the message would seem to be foolishness in the eyes of man. God doesn't do things the way that we would expect. Here we have the King of Kings and the Lord of Lord's. The One who created all things but when He is born into this world, He is born into a normal family. They were not rich; in fact they were probably quite poor, as the shown by the gifts that they brought to the temple for the baby Jesus. So there wasn't anything special about Mary or Joseph, they were just normal poor people. You find Jesus being born in a manger of all places which is probably one of the lowest places in which to bring someone into the world. He didn't even have a place to call home. His job was normal, just a carpenter; It wasn't anything really elevated. People said 'isn't this just the carpenter's Son'? He worked with his hands but like Isaiah said He learned from His Father over a period of 30 years'. When He came to be baptized a voice from heaven said 'This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased'. He hadn't done anything. He hadn't raised the dead. He hadn't done any miracles as yet, but He had pleased the Father for 30 years'. He had adopted an attitude or relationship that pleased the Father. He was rejected by His own brothers, rejected by His family, and rejected by His own people. He was ridiculed, spat upon and He was crucified; things which the world sees as foolishness.

Paul says 'I am not ashamed of this gospel'. To the Greeks it is not wise and wonderful but it is the power of God and this is the way that God chose to do it. He chose the weak things in the eyes of the world and the things that are not. And it pleased Him to do it this way, which is completely differently to what we would expect. Today the gospel seems to be so watered down. Society has changed a lot. Has man's need changed? No. People are still born sinners and they still fall short of the glory of God. Our need is still the same. It is appointed unto man to die once and then face judgement. Every man will give account of himself and then face judgment. Sometimes we become so politically correct in case we offend or hurt a person's feelings. Our whole culture has taken a big jump that way and the gospel is really watered down and people are afraid to say what the good news really is. Paul says 'I am not ashamed of this gospel'. The reason he is not ashamed is 'for it is the power of God to salvation'. The message of God's love in Jesus Christ is where the power is. It is never the preacher or the one who is delivering it; it is the gospel that actually takes care of itself. When it is let loose it will do what it is supposed to do. It has the power to change lives. I myself read the Bible for about a year in my room. I wouldn't go to church. I had no interest at all in going there. There was a huge battle going on within me because every time I read the Bible words just kept leaping off the page. I had wanted, for ages, to give my life to Christ but didn't want to be told so, and I didn't want someone to tell me that I needed to repent. However, one night in my room, I sat on the edge of my bed, for three quarters of an hour debating with myself, 'today you are going to give yourself to Christ, no, no, no', I said. I sat there for three quarters of an hour before I actually said yes and got down on my knees and asked the Lord into my life and asked Him to forgive me of my sin, and asked Him to come in and take over. That night I had a radical experience which was quite weird and different but when I got up the next morning, I felt that God had come inside me and cleaned me all up. I actually felt clean, from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, just clean. I started to see things differently. The gospel is true, it changes lives.

Power of the personal testimony - A recent example

Even if you have trouble telling people about the good news of the gospel, your own personal testimony is really powerful because it is how God has changed you. I remember talking to a person not long ago while we were on holiday and he was into the anti-God guy Richard Dawkins. He was reading the book in a hammock and I asked 'what are you reading' and he told me. I thought to myself, oh here we go! So we had lots of debates about the existence of God. He didn't believe in anything and thought that scripture was just man-made. Consequently it was very difficult talking to him. However, I was able to tell him what happened to me. 'I was taking drugs and I used to be into all these types of things but when Christ came in everything wrong went out. when I got up in the morning I threw all my drugs in the rubbish bin as I didn't need them anymore: didn't even want them anymore, I didn't go to this guy courses, my life had just changed. I didn't have any desire to walk that way any longer.' I was talking to him about this and he said to me 'you know, I have heard about this sort of thing '. We argued about everything else, the Bible and people; you can argue until the cows come home, but when it is something that God has actually done in your life no-one can argue against that because it is something that is personal and relevant to the person. So, the gospel changes lives.

I love the story about the little guy in Sydney that used to hand out tracts in town. He was compelled to go up to people and ask 'do you know your eternal destiny?'He would just confront people but he never saw one convert in all his life. I don't know how long he did it for but he would go and talk to people about the gospel and their need of God and give them tracts. There was a missionary conference in England and all these missionaries from all over the world converged there and one evening they had a testimony night. As they went around the room asking how people how they got saved, many of them replied 'you wouldn't believe it, I was walking down town in Sydney and this strange little man came up to me and he said this, this, this and this, and I walked away that day and when I got home something gripped me'. As they went around the room there were 20-30 people there in the room had been saved because of this strange little guy who confronted them over the state of their life. He never saw a convert. He never knew what God was doing but the gospel is the power of God. It is the one that can change lives, never the preacher. The gospel takes care of itself. Someone said 'it is like a lion let out of a cage, it doesn't need you to tell it what to do.' It will do naturally what it what it normally does'. You just have to let it out. I love that story.

Lucky not so lucky... but many find the Lord!

About a year or two ago I gave a testimony regarding what happened to me in Thailand. We were visiting the Karen tribes along the border. We were joined by a team from the Philippines. It was a big team with evangelists, singers and performers. There were about 14-15 of them. We were discussing what we were going to do one night because we were there to put on a crusade for the Karen tribes. They said 'Fraser you are going to preach the gospel tonight' and I just panicked - It was the last thing I wanted to do. I have always hated being up front. I am always a lot more comfortable in the background. I tried to get out of it but I couldn't. They gave me this interpreter called 'Lucky'. He spent some time with me in the afternoon because he would have been repeating what I was going to say. He spoke English well so he could relate what I was saying to the people. Upon arrival in the village, there were just hundreds and hundreds of villagers. So the team did the songs and the skits and then it was time for me to give the message. I am standing there and Lucky is with me but the next minute I turn around and he is missing. They called us out but Lucky, who was my interpreter, was nowhere to be found. So I just stood there looking. I didn't want to do it in the first place, I was scared out of my skin and so there was I standing in front of hundreds of people not knowing what to do. Then this is guy came along the track who was travelling between villages so they grabbed him because he had good English, and I started to give the gospel message. I would say something and look at him and he in turn would look back at me and I would say the same thing and he would look at me and I would try and shorten it down to one or two words and he would look at me and spout one word and this went on for ages. I thought, this is terrible; this is just not happening. You cannot think of a worse way to share the gospel. I got half way through it and we just couldn't go on any longer because the interpreter didn't seem to understand what I was saying. He wasn't relating it to the people and it couldn't have been any worse. So I tried to slink back through the rest of the team and hide in the background feeling very ashamed of myself. Then the team came to get me and said 'Get out there' and I said 'Why, why what is happening?' 'With the little that was spoken, there were multitudes out there who want to give their lives to Christ that is what was happening! Lucky got a dose of diarrhea and he had shot off into the bush and didn't return. This guy, who was walking along the track, had never heard the gospel. He wasn't a Christian and so he was thinking about what I was saying and he was one of the first to give his life to Christ. I say this because it is not how you present it; the gospel takes care of itself. Believe me; I couldn't have done a worse job. But if the Spirit of God is working, it's working. It can be the simplest thing said and God can just take it and make it alive in someone's heart.

The gospel reveals the righteousness of God

Paul says 'for in it the righteousness of God is revealed'. This is the gospel. How is the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel? How does it declare who He is, what do you think? The first thing the gospel brings out is the character of God. It brings out that He is holy, that He is just, and that He is righteous. When the gospel is preached it shows you the standard. This is what God is like and man has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The glory is His character and we have all fallen completely short of what His character is like. We cannot live up to the character of God.

Let's say you walk down to the sea, and there is a test of swimmers going on. The standard is you have got to swim to Hawaii to prove you are a good swimmer. That's the standard. This is what God's righteous character is like. He says 'be ye holy' but we don't have the ability to be holy apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. Say the standard is Hawaii, and we all line up on the beach to try to swim there. Some of us might swim 5o meters, some a little further, and there may be some very good swimmers among us that would make it to200 kilometers, but the standard is Hawaii and it doesn't matter how far you swim if it's short of Hawaii, then we are short of the mark. We all miss that righteous standard of who God is, and as sinners we cannot enter into the presence of God because of His standard. So the first thing the gospel does is to make it clear to us what God is like. That He is absolutely holy, absolutely righteous. His righteousness it demands that sin be punished but the good news is the gospel not only brings out God's standard of His righteousness but it also brings out that His love provided what His righteousness demanded. In other words He actually sent His Son to pay the price that we could not pay for ourselves. Thankfully Jesus Christ swam to Hawaii. It actually goes a whole step further, because not only is your sin forgiven, which only really leaves you in a neutral position. But God takes it a whole step further and righteousness becomes imputed righteousness. He doesn't just leave you in a neutral position. As we go through this book of Romans, when we get to the truth of justification, and things like that, we will see just how much God has done above and beyond what you could think, ask or imagine. So imputed righteousness means that not only does He wipe your slate clean, but He actually places you in a risen Christ and you are declared righteous in His sight. In other words He gives you a worth in the sight of God.

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, (19) that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (20) Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. (21) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

And this is what the gospel brings out. Yes, it brings out God's holy character but it also brings out that He loved you so much that He sent His Son to meet that standard, but it goes a whole step further in that He places you in a risen Lord Jesus Christ and you become righteous or someone who has worth before Him in His sight. No flesh can boast because it is something that God has done, on His own, by Himself, for your benefit, and you can only receive it by faith. There is nothing you can do to improve upon it. It is a standing that we have in Him.

The scripture that gripped Luther....

Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

This scripture is one which gripped Martin Luther. I am sure most people have heard of him. It was the scripture 'the just shall live by faith' that opened his eyes and really bought about the reformation. Martin Luther was a Catholic German monk who lived in the early fifteenth century. He was earnestly devoted to God. He knew his past sins had been dealt with but he had no assurance of God's provision of him for today or tomorrow or for the future. Because of that, in those days, people would do lots of things to try to please God. They would be continually giving, continually praying and would be painfully trying to subdue their flesh in order to please Him. So, he decided to go to Rome, thinking he was going on a spiritual journey which he thought might bring him some comfort for his soul. There were some steps there that had been transported from Jerusalem, about 30 of them. The steps had spiritual significance to Catholicism of that day as they were believed to be the steps which Jesus walked up to see Pilate. So they had these steps there going up to the church and Catholicism taught that if you crawled on your knees up these steps and at each step you said the words 'Our Father', when you got to the top, the belief in those days was that you released a soul from purgatory if you crawled on your knees saying 'Our Father' all the way. Martin Luther got to the top of these steps then he said to himself this very thing 'what if this is not so?' In other words, what am I doing, can this really be true? It started him questioning this whole thing of faith verse works. He returned back to Germany and started teaching from the book of Romans. He got to this verse 'the just shall live by faith' and it gripped his heart. His eyes were opened and he could see that he was living his Christian life in such a way that he was trying to appease God by the works that he did daily. All of the things that he was subjecting himself to wasn't a life of faith but actually works. So the scripture 'the just shall live by faith' just opened up and the reformation began. He went and nailed his thesis to the door of the church and it started there. He saw the truth of justification; that Christ not only dealt with our sin, but He also justified us and that the life of the Christian is actually lived by faith. You cannot improve on Christ's work; you can only receive it by faith, so for Luther it was the opening up of a whole new life in God. A lot of what we believe today came from him having his eyes opened to the difference between a life of works trying to please God or a life of faith in what Christ has actually done on our behalf.

So this is just the beginning of Paul's wonderful letter to the Romans. We'll continue and see how this Gospel of Righteousness is unfolded...