Monday, January 16, 2017

The Gospel's Powerful Results - Romans 1:7-17

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Romans 1:7-8 "(T)o all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. 

The story is told about the man who was looking to improve his health. A friend suggested that he purchase a home gym, and so the man did that. A few months the man told his friend that he was going to sell his home gym. When his friend asked "why", the man responded that the gym did not deliver the results he thought it would. When his friend asked whether the man had actually followed the directions and placed himself "in the gym" so-to-speak, the man hung his head in shame and said: "I never thought about that"! The Gospel of Jesus Christ must be trusted in (i.e believed) and then lived out following that trust if we are to experience the powerful results spelled out by Paul in Romans.

In his commentary on Romans, theologian Robert Picirilli quotes the great theologian Thomas Aquinas regarding the spiritually practical value of studying Romans: 

“A Christian life nourished on the Epistle to the Romans will never lack the three great requisites of clear perception, strong conviction, and definite usefulness.”

As Paul introduces his marvelous Epistle to the Romans, he first of all lays out in Romans 1:1-7 why the Gospel is so powerful. The Gospel is powerful due to the words upon which it is based - namely sacred scripture (Romans 1:1-2). Then the second reason why the Gospel is so powerful is due to how the living Christ is brought forth in His Person and work (Romans 1:3-7). This is all to lend support to the key verses of the entire letter, Romans 1:16-17 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Having focused upon explaining why the Gospel is so powerful, Paul is going to shift to explaining the powerful results brought by the Gospel into the life of a person who believes it. In today's post we will focus upon four such results that the Gospel can produce in the heart of someone embracing it by faith.

1. Produces a new identity.  1:7-8

We can first note how once believed, the sinner's position before and with God changes. The positional change goes from that of sinner to saint and from enemy to beloved. In Romans 1:7 we find the Apostle addressing his readers as "saints" and "beloved", testifying to their ongoing enjoyment of the benefits that come with having embraced the Gospel. Ephesians 2:5-6 states: “even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

The private transaction of faith that occurs between the believer and God at salvation produces a public testimony. The new-found position is not only a title, but a real living public testimony. To realize the kind of environment the Romans lived, consider this sample testimony about Rome from antiquity, as detailed by the church historian Philip Schaff: 

"Never was there any age or any place where the worst forms of wickedness were practiced with a more deliberate visibility than in the city of Rome under the Caesars."

Schaff of course wrote his observations in the late nineteenth century and thus never experienced the atrocities of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, the glory of Rome was eclipsed by it darkness and debauchery. To find any spiritual hope or a people trusting in the Gospel, thriving in such an environment, spoke of the new found position brought to them as a result of the Gospel. So the Gospel's first powerful result is that it produces a new identity. But notice secondly...

2. Prayer-life. 1:9-10

Paul next focuses upon how he had prayed many times for the Romans. Their testimony of salvation and ongoing Christian growth as a result of the Gospel spawned him onto pray. Truly prior to conversion, no man can claim any sort of effective prayer-life. Paul makes reference in Romans 1:9 of "serving God in his spirit". The spirit of a man is the center of God awareness. It is that innermost place inside every person that must have lit within it the uncreated fire of God's Holy Spirit. When He comes to inhabit a person in saving faith, He illuminates and warms the otherwise stone-cold tomb of the darkened human condition. Following the reception of the Gospel, the Christian learns that their chief aim in life is to know God. 

Prayer ought to grow in persistence and power as the Christian moves along with God (Luke 18). Only in giving oneself regularly to Bible reading and mediation, church attendance, prayer and active obedience will the prayer-life persist. The Devil's work is to discourage us in prayer. As we embrace the Gospel and reminds ourselves of it on a daily basis, prayer will accompany our thoughts, our actions and decisions. We will increasingly realize that we are not independent, but dependent on God. The life of prayer is not easy and at times can grow frustrating when we have to wait or when we don't see answers forthcoming. However, like the prophet Elijah, we persist until the cloud of rain the size of a man's hand appears on the horizon to indicate the end of the drought in our walk with God (see 1 Kings 18:41-46). 

As 1 John 5:13 reminds us: "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him." The Gospel results in a brand new position with God and a prayer-life. We can notice a third powerful result...

3. Progressive Christian growth.  Romans 1:11-15

The Gospel is not only about bringing about the conversion of sinners but also the making of saints. Following one's conversion, we find that the Christian life is to be about a progressive, onward and upward direction of life that is called "sanctification". I will only point out a few words in Romans 1:11-15 that remind us of the importance of progressive Christian growth. First, Paul wants to see these people "established" in Romans 1:11. Next, Paul desires to bring unto them a "spiritual gift" (presumably the mutual Christian growth that comes about by living around and meditating upon the richness of the Gospel). Thirdly, Paul desires to see his readers "encouraged" in Romans 1:12. Then finally, we see that the Gospel ought to bring about progressive sanctification by the way Paul emphasizes the desire to see continued "fruit" in Romans 1:13. 

As far as we know, Paul had not up to this point paid a personal visit to the Roman church. He indicates in Romans 1:13 "brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far he had been). Such hindrances could be viewed negatively. However, further reflection yields this observation: God’s divine hindrances can lead to greater opportunities. Imagine if Paul had gotten to go to Rome, we might not have had Romans! Clearly we see that The Gospel's powerful results include a positional identity, a prayer-life and progress in spiritual growth. Now let's consider one final powerful result that ought to be the case when the Gospel is embraced by faith...

4. Power for living. Romans 1:16-17

My parents used to tell me as a kid to “straighten up”. When I heard that admonition, that meant I had went to far. Now when I would "straighten-up", I would modify my behavior to satiate them so as to avoid a possible punishment. Do you know though that even though I would "straighten-up" on the outside, there was in my heart this resounding objection: "who are you to tell me what to do?" We discover in Paul's letter that the Gospel is not about behavior modification, but more so about heart transformation. 

In Romans 1:16-17, the concern is about righteousness. We could translate the Greek word rendered as "righteousness" as having to do with "straightening-up".  That’s what it means to be righteous. Only in and by the Gospel can a man have the power to “straighten-up”. How long does this power last? From “faith” to “faith”. From saving faith (John 1:12-13; Eph 2:8-9); through sanctifying faith (2 Thess 2:13); to faith made sight. I love what Peter writes about the Christian loving Jesus who is empowered by the Gospel in 1 Peter 1:8-9 "and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls."

Closing thoughts
As we wrap up today's post, we find there are four powerful results brought about by the Gospel to those who believe it:

1. Produces a new identity. Romans 1:7-8

2. Prayer-life. Romans 1:9-11

3. Progressive Christian growth. Romans 1:12-15

4. Power for Living. Romans 1:16-17

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