Romans 1:1-7 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 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, 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, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
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.
When you get to read the letters from Paul, you are greeted by these big, grandiose openers by Paul. Most of us who write to one another might start, “Dear so and so.” If you are emailing, ‘Yo.’ Texting–you don’t even get that. My last text to my wife went something like this, “There is a restaurant here at San Jose International that serves whole rotisserie chickens. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” No, “Hi, how are ya; how’s it going?” Nope, just an “I am about to eat a whole chicken. Praise God.”
These letters from Paul are much, much weightier than my mere lunch texts or even a message I would write to my grandma. And even the countless volumes of books written about what Paul and others wrote in the Scriptures, even volumes don’t mean nearly as much as the Scripture themselves. What Paul was writing to the church was Scripture–those words was the actual word of God.
Did Paul know that? I don’t know, but what I do know is that this was not a casual letter to a church down the street. No. What he is writing means something–it was written to fix whatever was going on in that particular church. But his letters was also lift up and encourage.
Did the other Apostles know what Paul was writing was Scripture? Peter thought so in II Peter 3:15-16 “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”
Peter thought Paul’s letters were comparable to ‘other Scriptures.’ Simply fascinating. I bring up that point only to state this: this letter is the very words of God from the mind of God inspired by the power of God to ordinary authors. Jesus told John, “Write these words down” in Christ’s Revelation. How many countless times do you read in the Bible–especially in the Old Testament–God saying to a prophet, “Thus sayeth the Lord”?
Paul was not writing just another letter to a church–even though at the time, the Apostles knew that these would be Scripture. He was not writing another, “Dear church in Corinth, Don’t sleep with your stepmom. Yes, that is evil and sin against God. You cannot expected to be in unrepentant sin and be a part of the church. XOXO, Paul.” There were either things that Paul just had to lay down the basics to what we call Theology, that is, a study of the nature of God, or something was wrong, and he had to set it straight. Or the third way, lift up and encourage. Either case, the end goal is the same, This is God, and this is what it means to love and worship him.
Ah ha. There is the question that humankind, whether humans want to admit it or not, continuously ask either in thought or by action, “Who is God?” Subsequently, from that thought, “What is he like?” or “What does he have to do with me?”
I say in thought because we have all thought those thoughts. We don’t need to belittle that point. I mean with action because we do or do not base on do we believe God exists, is He my God and does He have real power over my life?
That is the question we are going to attempt to answer for you and me today.
Here is the quick and fast answer: God is real, and God is the absolute ruler over all of creation. If that answer satisfies you, please skip over to the next chapter. For the rest of us, let us walk through the greeting and see if Paul doesn’t tell us who God is.
First, Paul. Who is Paul? We have mentioned him in the last chapter. We already know of his evil ways. By all accounts, we see and already knew that Paul was going to hell. But God, who is outside of time and outside of creation, not only saw but knew Paul in his wickedness and evilness and sin, and because of God’s mercy and grace and love and power, he decides to save Paul. Paul was not good. Not even a little bit. He actively made war with Jesus Christ and His Church. Nothing in Paul was good nor redeemable. Yet God is the only one who redeems and saves.
Because of what we know of Paul before going into Romans, we know that God saves whom he saves. Also, we know outside and not contrained to time and space (in other words, not limited to something He created). We know this because Jesus Christ appeared to him after death, resurrection, (time), and ascension to heaven (space) and knew where to look to Paul to save him (time and space).
Secondly, Paul was a servant of Christ Jesus. So who is the Christ Jesus (or is Jesus Christ), and why does he have servants? Does this Christ Jesus pick his servants, and if so, couldn’t he choose a better one than Paul? Jesus is his name. Name above all names. Beautiful Savior. Glorious Lord. Some 400 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah called him “Emmanual,” which means, “God is with us.” Yet, this same Jesus revealed Himself and his glory and splendor to Isaiah and saved him there. (There seems to be a pattern emerging here.) The name “Christ” is not his last name. It is his title. It merely means “Anointed One,” which was usually reserved for either a king, priest, or prophet. If you read through the gospels, you knew that Christ Jesus was all three. As well-intended as the kings, priests, and prophets were before him, none of them, not one of them could save God’s people from their sins. But Christ could. Moreso than that, he did so perfectly.
Third, Paul was called to be an apostle. We can easily connect the dots that if this Paul is a servant of the one we call Christ Jesus, then it must be Christ Jesus who called Paul to be an apostle, which means messenger. I call my wife, “sweetie dear,” and 100 other nicknames. If I called any of those pet names to anyone else, one, I would be lying; two, they would not be it, and three, you are about to meet a very violent little woman. (I won’t go into the details, but let us say it involves a switchblade. But I digress.) I can call you something, that does not make it true. God calls you something, that would be true, and that would be the end of that argument.
In Matthew 7:21-23, Christ Jesus says to us this haunting passage, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Those who thought they were loving God, exercising His gifts in His power, though they were doing enough to please him and to be saved to him. It never occurred to them that they were workers of lawlessness. No one would have called them that other than God himself. He is the only right one.
God saved me when I was 32 years old. About ten years before that, I heard God call me. Believe what you want, but I know what I heard. I know it was God because what he said lined up with what I see in Scripture. (You know, test every prophecy.) I was reading this fictional book, whereas, in this book, the protagonists were being saved, and their hearts were turned to God. Seeing and experiencing that, even in a fictional book, moved me to tears. My wife at the time asked, “Why are you crying?” and I told her. Her response to me was something along the lines of, “If you ever blanking become a blanking pastor, I will blanking divorce you so blanking fast.” (Note: she did not use the word ‘blanking.’) She walked away, and I continued reading. At that moment, I heard, “You know you could do that. You could help bring my children home to me.” I just shook my head and responded, “No, I could not. That is for those who are holy. I am not holy.”
Which leads me to my fourth point about God: that not just with Paul but God sets us apart for the gospel of God. From this, we know that God is set apart not just from us but this world, and sin, and death. The Bible equates this as holiness. God is set apart from the end. God is holy. For us to even be saved, don’t you know that we, too, have to be set apart? Do you know that you have to be holy, and you cannot be part of the world and continue to play with sin, which only leads to death? But do you also know that in yourself by yourself, you cannot make yourself holy? You cannot. You lack the holiness to be able to be holy. It’s the eternal catch-22. How can you be good in the sight of God when you are not holy and, therefore, cannot save yourself so that you can be good?
Ah, that is is where the gospel comes in. That is where the good news of God. Let me put it this way: The Son of God had to become a man so that humankind would have to right to become sons of God. (Give credit to Athaniusus and C.S. Lewis for that.) Even more straightforward than that: God saves sinners. (Again, that quote belongs to J.I. Packer.) And if that isn’t enough for you, keep reading. Paul is going to breakdown all the nuances.
So far, what we have learned of God is that:
- God rules and reigns overall
- God says only truth
- God is the only one who saves and will save despite the person whom he is saving.
I cannot even assume that you, the reader who is reading this now, also knows or loves God. If you do not believe and obey God, I beg of you to choose God and run after God. I implore to call out to God, who is all-powerful and at the same time, all-loving and forgiving. Don’t build a case against God, saving you. Did you go out and hunt down Christians? God saved Paul. Did you work in pornography as I did? God saved me. You are even too far gone from the outstretched saving arms of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Come to him now.