Romans 1:1 – Intro to the Letter to the Romans

Scripture Intro: Preparing to preach Romans, something was wrong. It seemed like I was hitting a wall. I finished outlining the series, and correlating it to our 3+3+1 SS study questions. But, as I’ve reflected, three things kept stopping.

Satan hates Romans. Usually, rather than blaming Satan (“the devil made me do it”), I have viewed internal spiritual battles as between the flesh and the Spirit needing little provocation from Satan himself. In Romans 7, we will see the sinfulness of our sin nature that must be put to death. But I’ve realized that we are a target. Satan hates the gospel and doesn’t want us in Romans.

Why? The glory, the weightiness of Romans is overwhelming. The hallowed ground, one which we are about to walk has pressed me down. You may think the U.S. Constitution has been intensely studied. As much as the Bible has been studied and scrutinized, Romans is by far the most studied document in history of the world.

Thirdly, only yesterday I realized the reason for the stop sign. James Boice voiced it: This Study on Romans will change us profoundly, [thoroughly] and unalterably.
There has never been and never will be an important spiritual movement in history that cannot be connected… to a deeper understanding of Romans…

This morning, we are going to follow this stop sign and look at only vs. 1 so you can experience the weightiness of the glory of God’s gospel knowing it will change us.

Sermon Intro: While the other media professionals were analyzing the bad news of the downgrade of US government debt rating and its ongoing consequences, one financial expert on Marketplace proclaimed “You are following the wrong story” explaining that the story we should be following was the even worse news in Europe.

The Apostle Paul and Scripture agree: We are following the wrong story. But rather than directing us to a story containing even worse news, Paul brings to us the “good news” of The Gospel of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Everyone is sick of bad news. Sometimes we offer even worse news so we can feel better about our relatively not-so-bad-news. Once in a while we get some “good news”, a sentimental feel good story, but it has no lasting transforming power. hPaul is an apostle, a messenger, of the good news of the Gospel of God.

Because the Good News is The Gospel of God

          Expect transformation. Expect God to separate you to His good news.

Our three points this morning are: Who is the author of Romans? Who is the Letter written to? What is it about?

M/P1: Who is this Letter written by? The Apostle Paul, a Slave to Jesus Christ

The letter begins simply with his Greek name “Paul.” Among the Jews he was Saul of Tarsus in Cilicia. Some assume God changed his name after his conversion reminiscent of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Peter. The significant issue is that Saul was a Pharisee who spent his whole life attempting to be separated from gentiles. God didn’t change his name. He simply said, you are going to the Gentiles, the last thing a Pharisee of Pharisees wanted to do.

The radical transformation – of this highly educated, naturally gifted, religiously committed Jew – from “Saul” to “Paul”, pales in significance to the change from “persecutor of Christ” to literally “slave of Christ.”

Paul, not only convinced of the truth of Christianity, had been conquered and captivated by the resurrected Christ. Paul is writing as one who had been purchased, redeemed, a slave bought by Jesus Christ. Paul was in love with him.

And Paul is called to be an Apostle. We are all called to be disciples. But Paul was especially chosen, called by Jesus, as a messenger to speak God’s very words.

Illustration: Martin Luther was a pious monk — an apparent Christian. But Luther had no peace. He wanted to please God, to be accepted, the harder he worked, the worse it got. Listen to Luther’s own words: “I had no love for that holy and just God who punished sinners. I was filled with secret anger against him. I hated him because he was not content with frightening by the law and the miseries of life of us wretched sinners already ruined by original sin, he still further increase our tortures by the gospel.” And then God opened to him the meaning of this verse in Romans 1: “For in the gospel, the righteousness from God is revealed; a righteousness that is by faith.”

Luther realized that the righteousness he needed was not his own righteousness, but a righteousness of God freely given, through faith. When Luther received God’s righteousness through faith, rather than his works, he said: “I felt myself born again and to have entered Paradise.”

The God Luther once hated, now, by grace, Luther now loved!

Application: Do you want to test your Christianity? You may read Romans, commentaries on Romans, be convinced of the truth of Christianity, even articulate and systematize your faith. “Ah, but do you love Jesus?”

Jim Boice says, “This gets very close to what is chiefly wrong with contemporary Christianity. It is not the faith of those who love Jesus.” (Boice, 25)

There is an irony here: When Christ sets us free from slavery to our [sin nature], he calls us to royal liberty of slavery to him. That is why we call him master/” (Sproul) Jesus is the only master to whom we can be enslaved who loves and liberates us.

M/P2: Who is the Apostle Paul writing this letter to? Christians in Rome

You may wonder if Romans, written from Corinth in 57AD by a Jewish convert to Christians he did not really know in the Eternal City of Rome which he had never visited made a difference to them, or can make a difference to us today.

Consider the racial, cultural, economic and doctrinal differences in the Church. You think our differences are difficult. There were already large numbers of Jews living in Rome dating back 160 years to the Republic. It is believed that Jews living in Rome converted to Christianity at Pentecost made up the first churches. In 49AD the Jews were expelled by Claudius from Rome due to mounting tension over “Chrestus.”

By the time of Paul’s writings, the church had become more Gentile than Jewish. This isn’t even considering that the awful emperor Nero had come to power and blamed the Christians for burning Rome in 64AD.

Secondly, the Roman Gospel. We are not surprised that what Paul says about the Gospel wasn’t new to the Jews since it was promised beforehand in Scripture.

But we may be surprised that it wasn’t all that new to the Roman Christians either. The word “gospel” had a special association. The gospel of Rome as proclaimed by the poet Virgil in the epic Aenaeus announced the divine relationship of another emperor promising the golden age of Rome and an eternal world-wide kingdom; a son of the gods, Caesar Augustus.

It’s hard today to stomach moving from a constitutional republic to a centralized federal government. The Romans had “The Audacity to Hope” their anointed one through a powerful federal government would usher in the Pax Romana, Roman Peace.

However, in AD14, this son of the gods was dead. Soon the centralized federal government, though making Rome a place of luxury for the wealthy political, intellectual and military elite, became onerous to everyone else. Ironically in 410, when Rome was sacked, his ashes were scattered.

The cynical Romans had a reference point when Paul, like Virgil, proclaimed a gospel about the Son of God promised beforehand in sacred writings, descended from earthly kings of the golden age promising to restore that golden age who had died.

They had no reference point, however, for the “Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness being raised from the dead.” Do you think Romans has a message for us today?

Illustration: In the 4th century a philosopher/ teacher named Augustine was struggling with Christianity. He was a brilliant and attractive man, but, unlike the Pharisaical Luther, he lived a sexually immoral life. In his Confessions he describes being convinced Christianity was true but being unable to put off his sin and commit to Jesus.

One day in a garden of his friend’s estate near Milan, he heard a child singing: “Tole Lege, Tole Lege” (Take up and read). He received it as a message from God and rushed to a copy of the Bible, opened it and began reading the words of Romans 13: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about gratifying the desires of the sinful nature.” (13:13-14)

Afterward Augustine wrote: “Instantly, as the sentence ended — by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart — all the gloom of doubt was vanished away.”

Application: We live in a skeptical age, especially when it comes to good news and promises. “Romans may have changed Augustine’s life, or Paul’s life, or Luther. But that was a long time ago, our situation is different. Times have changed since then. What we need is tolerance. We need to tell people God loves them. It doesn’t really matter what we believe, but what we do.”

We generally know what proper behavior entails. The problem is that we do not do what we know we should do. Indeed, we seem incapable of doing it. Augustine discovered this when he tried to reform his life apart from the power of Christ.

Boice writes, “Again the problem is not that we need to know that God loves us though we often doubt that he does. Our hang-up is that we do not love God. We are at war with God. In effect, we hate him; at the very least we do not want him to rule over us, and resent any meaningful attempts he makes to do so.

The question remains, should we expect this book to transform us today? Christianity has been the most powerful, transforming force in human history — and the book of Romans is the most basic, most comprehensive statement of true Christianity.”

M/P3: What is it? Why is it transformed so many people and nations? The Gospel of God Concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

If I come to you and say, “I have some great news”, it may peak your interest. But if I added, “This great news comes from God himself” you may think I am unhinged. But if you thought for a moment that I was serious and that I did have a message from God himself — some good news — wouldn’t you want to hear it? (Sproul paraphrase)

What is Paul saying? He is not saying he is a messenger of good news about God. He is saying that he has been separated, called as an apostle to proclaim “the Gospel of God”, God’s Gospel.

God is the author and owner of his Gospel. Paul is proclaiming to us good news that comes from God himself. The Gospel is something God blesses and through which He saves men and women, and reclaims his creation. God is not the object of our proclamation. Rather, God creates and announces his Gospel through us.

Here is the question? If God is so concerned about his Gospel that he sent his own Son, and has gone to so much trouble to insure this good news concerning His Son is recorded, preserved, and announced, will he not fully bless it when preached?

Illustration: Two English lawyers, Lloyd Lyttleton and Gilbert West, set out to disprove Christianity. If they were going to do this, the two main bulwarks of Christianity with one focusing on disproving the resurrection of Jesus and the other on disproving the conversion of Paul. As unbelievers, these lawyers decided, “If we are going to be honest we should investigate the evidence.”

While preparing their books, they met a number of times when West told Lyttleton he had something on his mind. Studying the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, West had come to feel it was so very well attested it was true. Lyttleton responded that he was glad West had said something because he was coming to believe the same thing about Paul.

Later when they met again, Lyttleton said to his friend, “Gilbert, as I have been studying the evidence and weighing it by recognized laws of legal evidence, I have become satisfied that Saul was converted as the NT says he was and that Christianity is true. I have written my book accordingly.

West replied that he too had become convinced of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, had come to believe in Jesus, and had written his book in defense of Christianity.

Bid question: Should we have the same expectations for transformation individually, in the church and culturally as we study God’s gospel?

If it were our gospel, it would be right to be cynical. We’ve heard it all before. But it is not our gospel! It is the Gospel of God promised to us beforehand, and achieved for us by the Lord Jesus Christ, announced to us by God’s Word.

If God is so concerned about his Gospel that he sent his own Son, and has gone to so much trouble to insure this good news concerning His Son is recorded, preserved, and announced, will he not fully bless it when preached?

We with Paul, are separated unto, set apart to God’s gospel. Being “separated from” is not the same thing as “separated to.” Before, Paul had been separated from all sorts of things. The result was self-righteousness, narrowness, harshness, cruelty, and obsessiveness.

Now he is separated to the good news of God’s gospel. Gospel separation is a positive separation, not a negative separation. It is expansive and powerful and joyful, yet at the same humbling, and unsettling. Paul never got over the Gospel. He kept coming to it over and again.

Nor should we! Can we be released with Paul from the bad news of negative legalism into the positive good news of the Gospel of God?

We have an opportunity this morning as we come to this table that Jesus has set for us today. Often when we come to the table, we focus on the bad news and examining ourselves. It is important to examine ourselves as we come to the table.

More important however, is that this is God’s table just as it is God’s gospel. He has set this table to serve you with his grace.

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