Category Archives: Biblical Sermon

Romans 1:19-20 Sermon Series

Reasons for the Wrath of God, Part 1

Wicked World, Angry God—June 14, 1981

Romans 1:19–20

Turn with me in your Bible to the 1st chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Tonight we’re going to examine, verses 19–23. Now this is such a tremendous section of Scripture with so much import and impact that we want to think carefully and closely along with the Spirit of God as He writes through the Apostle Paul. I really believe that this passage answers many, many questions that are constant questions asked by folks about the meaning of the Gospel and the nature of God and the destiny of man.

Let me read to you verses 19–23 and you follow along as I read. We ought to begin I guess at verse 18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness, Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shown it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse; Because, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, and birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”

Some years ago the head of the department of evangelism for one of the largest denominations in America said this, “We don’t need to evangelize the people of the world, who have never heardthe message of salvation. We only need to announce to them that they’re already saved.” End quote. Today we are living in a day in Christianity when there is a rising trend in what is called universalism. That is the belief that ultimately everybody’s going to be saved, that God is too kind andtoo gracious and too good to cast people into an eternal hell, so ultimately everybody is going to wind up in heaven. We shouldn’t be concerned about judgment, we shouldn’t be concerned about hell, God is too good to send people there, forever. And the upshot of it is that we don’t have to worry about evangelism either. We don’t have to get too upset about spreading the Gospel around to the ends of the earth; after all they can’t be responsible for what they don’t know. So just leave them alone and they’ll make it.

Now this is not the view of the Apostle Paul. This is not the view of our Lord. Our Lord said, “The harvest is great, and the laborers are few. Pray, the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.” And the harvest of which our Lord spoke was a judgment harvest. He saw humanity as this mass of people about to be cut and judged, and the need for laborers to enter that harvest to warn them was on His mind. The Lord spoke more about hell than anybody else in all of the Bible. In fact He spoke more about hell than everybody else put together in the New Testament. The men of God who have lived through the history of the church are men who have understood that God is a God of judgment, that the wrath of God is indeed revealed against ungodliness. John Knox, on his knees for lost souls in the little country of Scotland pleaded with God and said, “Give me Scotland or I die.” Hudson Taylor as a young man looked across the thousands of miles to the unreached multitudes of China and cried out to God, “I feel that I cannot go on living unless I do something for the lost in China.” Henry Martyn after landing in India said, “Here I am in the midst of heathen, midnight and savage oppression, now my dear Lord let me burn out for Thee.”

Adoniram Judson the great missionary to Burma spent long exhausting years in translating the Bible, in the midst of it he was dragged away to prison and while he was in prison his dear wife died. And after his relief he was stricken with disease and breathed out this prayer, “Lord, let me finish my work, spare me long enough to put the saving Word into the hands of this people.” So concerned was James Chalmers for those without the Savior that it is said of him, quote, “In Christ’s service he endured hardness, hunger, shipwreck, exhausting toil and did it all joyfully. He risked his life a thousand times and was finally clubbed to death, beheaded and eaten by men whose friend he was and whom he sought to enlighten.” Robert Arthington couldn’t go overseas to reach the lost, but through sacrifice he enabled others to go. He lived in a single room and cooked his own meager meals and gave five hundred thousand of his dollars to foreign missions. And he wrote, “Gladly would I make the floor my bed, a box my chair and another box my table rather than that men should perish for want of the knowledge of Christ.” You see they understood what it means to die without God and Christ. They understood that men were inevitably headed to judgment; they understood that men were under the wrath of God. And unless you understand that you do not understand the greatest impetus that you have for concern and compassion.

And so the Gospel begins at verse 18, that’s where the main body of Romans starts and it begins with the wrath of God, revealed on all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. And as Paul says in Ephesians 2:3, “Men are children of wrath.” And in other words they are born unto wrath, wrath is their nature if you will, wrath is their inevitable end, wrath is their destiny. They are heirs of wrath, they are inheritors of wrath. God’s smile has turned to a frown. And as the Psalmist said, “Who knows the power of God’s wrath?” Thomas Watson, that great Puritan wrote, “As the love of God makes every bitter thing sweet so the curse of God makes every sweet thing bitter.” Now Paul says man then is under wrath, severe wrath.

Now the question that comes up in this passage is this, does man deserve this? After all we couldn’t help being born. Why should we be born having nothing to say about it and then spend forever in hell? We didn’t ask to be born, we didn’t ask to be born to sinful parents, we didn’t ask to be born into a sinful world, we didn’t ask to be placed in a predicament of judgment. How can we be held responsible? And that is precisely the question that Paul answers in this text. The wrath of God is revealed on all men, because of their ungodliness and unrighteousness. That’s verse 18. And verses 19–23 tell us why, why God is justified in being angry over the sin of man.

Now some men through the history of the world have recognized God’s right to be angry. That is right. Some who are even pagan have understood that God had a right to be angry with them. Let me give you an illustration, turn in your Bible to First Samuel 4, First Samuel 4. Now at this particular time in the history of Israel, Israel is paying no attention to God, none whatsoever. Oh there’s a little bit of religious tokenism but there’s no genuineness. But all of a sudden Israel is confronted with their perennial enemy the Philistines, and they are worried. And so somebody says, look, we don’t want to fight the Philistines on our own, somebody go get God. That’s pretty good thinking actually. And at that point in their history God is symbolized in the Ark of the Covenant, which is up in Shiloh. And God as it were in His presence dwelt on the Ark of the Covenant between the wings and the cherubim. And so when they wanted to be assured of the presence of God they had to have the Ark of the Covenant, so they said, go get God. And so they got very religious, they ran up and got God, the little box.

Now to the pagans this was just an idol, just the Israelite idol. And so they came down and they’ve got God, they’ve got the little box. Verse 5 of First Samuel 4, “And when the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again.” God is here! Talk about the arrival of the cavalry, in the battle with the Indians wouldn’t be anything compared to this. God is here. The day is won. And of course the shouting was deafening, in verse 6, “When the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, what meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the Lord was come into the camp.” The God of Israel has arrived, they’ve gotten their God, “And the Philistines were afraid; and they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! For there had not been such a thing heretofore. Woe unto us! Who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty gods?” That little box is a powerful thing. Why’d they say that? Because they remembered a little bit about Egyptian history, and they remembered about the entire Egyptian army being drown, and they remembered prior to that all the plagues. And then one of them stood up and gave the old pep talk speech in verse 9, “Be strong, and acquit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that you be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you; acquit yourselves like men, and fight.” Now let’s get our act together and get out there and winthis battle. And you know what happened? The Israelites were in a—in a euphoria, they thought the day was won. Verse 10 says, “The Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten.”

Now wait a minute, that’s not the way the script was supposed to read. The Israelites were supposed to win, they have God. But God is not a utilitarian genie, you don’t just rub your little lamp and say, now God go do Your thing, I’m in trouble, haven’t paid any attention to You for a long time but I need You now. God doesn’t operate like that. Thirty thousand footmen of Israel were killed. The ark of God was stolen and the two sons of Eli, Phin … Hophni and Phinehas were killed. Devastation, the sons of the high priest are dead, thirty thousand footmen die, and they take the ark.

Now if you think that’s a problem for the Jews you haven’t begun to imagine what kind of problem it is for the people who have God on their hands. Now the Philistines have God. Now if you want to knowwhat happened come over to 5:1. Eli the high priest who was big and fat and old was so upset about his sons dying he fell off his little stool and broke his neck and died. So now the high priest is dead. So devastation has occurred in Israel. And now the Philistines have got the ark of God on their hands, and they’re running around with the presence of God. And so they decided this is the Israelite God, we’ll put Him with our god, and so they took Him in verse 2 it says, “And put him in the house of Dagon.” Dagon was a Philistine god that was half fish and half man, the fish god. And so they just took the ark and put it in with Dagon. It was in the town of Ashdod, they rose up early in the morning, went back and Dagon was fallen on his face bowing toward the ark of the Lord. And they were pretty puzzled by that they must have thought there was some localized earthquake or something that knocked him over and so they set him up again. The next day they came back, verse 4, this time he was fallen on his face again only this time his head and both the palms of his hands were cut off, and only his stump was left. And God was saying, I don’t tolerate any competition. Well now they knew they were in trouble. To run through the text, all of a sudden the hand of the Lord was heavy on them, verse 6, and He destroyed them, and smote them with internal tumors.

There are all kinds of translations of this verse; some of your Bibles might say hemorrhoids, that’s probably the worst translation. Some Bibles say emerod and it sounds like a perfume. Tumors and tumors internally, in the inner part or secret part as the end of verse 9 says. All of a sudden the people got tumors. And then the text says the ones that didn’t get tumors were attacked by mice carrying a deadly plague, and thousands upon thousands of the people died and the ones that didn’t die from the plague of the mice received the tumors. So the people in Ashdod said, let’s get rid of this thing. And they said, what are we going to do with it? They said; well let’s take it to Gath. Which wasn’t a big favor for the people in Gath, that’s the next town along the line in the Philistine area, and there was a famous man from Gath you might remember, his name was Goliath. They took it to Gath and the Gathites had the same problem. And then they said, take it to Ekron and the Ekronites cried out and said, don’t bring that thing here. And they were passing it all over the place, and everybody was in the same boat, they were all either dying from the plague or getting the tumors. Now this is judgment.

Now what is the pagan response going to be? Are they going to say, what kind of a God are You? Well this isn’t fair. No. No, in, in chapter 6 they got all of their diviners and priests together and they said, what are we going to do? In verse 3 they said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty;” now listen to this, “but by all means return him a (what?) trespass offering.” Ask you a simple question, to what does a trespass offering admit? Sin. These uneducated, unschooled pagans knew that they somehow in some way were getting exactly what they deserved for they had violated this God. Even they recognized that God had a right to judge them, and so they sent back what they understood to be a trespass offering. So even pagans understood that God had a right to judge them. They said we acknowledge the sin, we have dishonored You and we deserve exactly what we receive.

When Achan stole the goods out of Jericho and buried them in his tent, Joshua confronted him and said, you better confess your sin and he did, he confessed his sin and then and only then did God smite him and take his life and all his family who were implicated in the crime. But before judgment fell there was a confession that it was deserved.

Now listen to me, God never judges unless judgment is deserved. He’s a God of absolute justice. And if God judges and God pours out wrath then there is every confidence in my heart to know that that is exactly what is right and proper in that situation.

Now let’s go back to Romans 1. How can a man be held responsible for his sin? How could those pagans be held responsible? How could those Philistines be responsible? I mean they didn’t have the Old Testament law. How could God possibly slaughter them with plagues and inflict them with tumors, and how could God drown the entire Egyptian army, and how could God slay all of the firstborn of the land of Egypt? And how could God wipe out whole cities of the Canaanites, and how could God bury Sodom and Gomorrah? I mean how can God judge people, I mean what if no one ever told them about the truth, how can He hold them responsible? How can so much wrath be deserved? The answer comes beginning in verse 19, and there are four reasons for the wrath of God, four reasons and they have a fifth result and we’ll talk about that in the next section. But there are four reasons, I call them revelation, rejection, rationalization and religion. Let’s begin with revelation, verse 19 and 20. The reason God can reveal His wrath against them is “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shown it unto them.” How? “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without (what?) excuse.” Now here’s first point, the first reason for the wrath of God is revelation. Men were given the truth of God. Men were given the truth of God. The Philistines, they knew the truth of God. The Canaanites, they knew the truth of God. The Egyptians, they knew the truth of God. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plains, they knew the truth of God. All men know the truth of God.

The great theologian Augustus Strong wrote, “God has inlayed the evidence of the fundamental truth in the very nature of man so that no where is he without a witness.” Now there is a verse in Ephesians 2:12 that says that unregenerate man is without God in the world, but the signification of that phrase is that he is forsaken by God, not that he is ignorant of God. He is without God not because he doesn’t know of God but because he will not receive God and therefore God forsakes him.

Now this section refers primarily to the Gentiles, because it assumes only what we call natural revelation, it’s not talking about the Scripture, which was applicable to Israel and Israel of course not only rejected natural revelation but special revelation. Not only did Israel reject creation as the evidence of God but they even rejected the Scriptures. But here we see primarily the Gentile world, and what he says is that they could know God because God has manifested Himself unto them. But back in verse 18 as we saw last time they have suppressed the truth. The word hold meaning suppress. So man cannot plead ignorance. Entirely apart from special revelation through the Scripture which so many have never heard admittedly God has made Himself known and continues to do so by means of His creation. Men on their own initiative I grant you could not know God but verse 19 says, “God has shown himself unto them.” God would never send someone to hell who didn’t have an opportunity to know Him. God is a God of justice; God is a God of equity.

Tertullian the great early church father has much to say about this conviction that God can be revealed in creation. He says, “It was not the pen of Moses that initiated the knowledge of the Creator. The vast majority of mankind though they had never heard the nameof Moses, to say nothing of his Book know the God of Moses nonetheless. And nature (he said) is the teacher, and the soul is the pupil. One flower of a hedge by itself, I think and I do not say a flower of the meadow, one shell of any sea you like and I do not say a pearl from the Red Sea, one feather of a murre fowl to say nothing of a peacock, will they speak to you of a Creator? If I offer you a rose will you scorn its Maker?” In other words creation manifests God. And even for those who appear unable to perceive that creation there is the manifestation of God, within them.

The great story of Helen Keller, the deaf, mute and blind woman. Absolutely no capacity to communicate, until Anne Sullivan spent hours upon hours, days upon days and months upon months to unlock communication, and when Anne attempted to tell Helen Keller about God her response was, “I already know about Him, I just didn’t know His name.”

Let’s look at the verse again, verse 19, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them.” Now that which may be known of God is basically gnosos and it means what is knowable about God. Obviously we can’t know everything about God even through special revelation, but what is knowable is revealed. What may be known of God, what is knowable, what is apprehendable to the senses of man can be known,—mark this, apart from Scripture. That’s what it’s saying.

And verse 20 tells us the content of what may be known. It says, “His eternal power and Godhead.” And it says, “It is revealed,” look at verse 19, “in them; and God has shown it unto them.” In them, in their midst, in them, in their minds. By the way any revelation has to ultimately reach the mind or we don’t comprehend it, right? So God has revealed Himself to us.

The commentator Hodge has written, “God therefore has never left Himself without a witness, His existence and perfections have ever been so manifested that His rational creatures are bound to acknowledge and worship Him as the true and only God.” End quote.

So what is knowable about God, now mark it, His divine power and divine nature has been revealed to all men so they’re without excuse. And not only … now watch this, not only is it revealed unto them as an external reality but in them as an apprehended perception. They see it and they know it to be Him.

Turn with me to Acts for a moment, the 14th chapter. Acts 14:16, and here Paul is speaking and talking about God and how God reveals Himself, and in verse 15 he talks about “the living God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them;” And then he says, “Who in time past allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless, he left not himself without witness, (how?) in that he did good,” did He make a good earth? Yes. He “gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons,” and He “filled our hearts with food and with gladness.” In other words the very goodness of life speaks of the goodness of God, the food and the rain and the seasons, and the joy of ‘living all speak of a beneficent, loving, gracious Creator.

Now go to the 17th chapter of Acts, and Paul preaching to the philosophers on Mars’ Hill in Athens, verse 23, says you have here an unknown God, which by the way was reflective of their understanding of the true God though they didn’t know His name. You ignorantly worship Him, so I’m going to tell you about Him, you know He exists and you’ve got an unknown God statue just to cover Him but you don’t know who He is, but I’ll tell you who He is, “He’s the God who made the world” verse 24, “and all things in it, he’s the Lord of heaven and earth, he dwells not in temples made with hands, He is not worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” They were always customed … accustomed to bringing food and sticking it at the feet of their idols, he said you don’t have to feed this God. “He is made of one blood all nations of (you have) men to dwell on the face of the earth, he has determined the times before a pointed, and the bounds P of their habitation.” In other words He controls the nations, their boundaries, He controls time, He controls destiny, He controls everything.

“That they should seek the Lord, if perhaps they might feel after him,” in other words if men would just feel after Him, if they would just see that He is and reach out for Him, “they would find him, because he is not (what? He’s not) far from every one of us. For in him we live, and move, and have our being.” He is right there and He has manifested Himself in an undeniable way. Listen to this remarkable passage of Scripture, John’s gospel, 1:9, listen to what it says, just listen, Christ is that Light, that is lighting all men. Did you hear that? Does that mean all men are saved? No. What it does mean is, that all men are illumined with the knowledge of God. Christ is the Light that is lighting all men. No one has an excuse, that is the meaning of verse 20.

You say, well wait a minute, you mean everybody in the world has an opportunity? Yes. Somehow in some way, listen to me, God is a God of goodness and grace, God is a God of love and equity and justice, and God does not pour out wrath on people who never had a choice, who never had an opportunity. They all have the knowledge of God around them, He’s shown it unto them and in them they have internally perceived it to be Him. And Christ is the Light that is lighting all men. You say, well how did this revelation come? Well look back at verse 20. The invisible things of Him. That is His attributes, God is invisible. The things about God that are invisible, the essence of His nature, the reality of His existence, His qualities and attributes. Namely His eternal power and His divine nature. You say, what do those mean? Well eternal power simply means never failing omnipotence, His omnipotence; His tremendous power is available to men, and His divine nature, that is that He is wise, that He is good, that He is loving, all of the elements of God’s nature are visible. I can tell you God is a God of beauty by looking at this world, can’t you? I can tell you God is a God of goodness, because there’s goodness in life, I can tell you He’s a God of love because there’s love. I can tell you all about His nature; He’s a God who is wise because of the intricacy of the design of His creation. You can know His divine nature and you can know His eternal power. That’s what he’s saying.

Through the creation of the world these things are not muddy but they’re what? Clearly seen, being easily understood by the things that are made. You say, well in the time that the Bible was written people didn’t have science, I mean could they see things? Oh they could probably see some things clear … clearer than we can see them. We’ve just about blotted out nature with concrete. In ancient times before the microscope and the telescope men were able to reflect on the vastness of the universe. They were able to understand the fixed order of heavenly bodies. They could pick up a flower and see how marvelously the petals were arranged. They could look at how the leaves attached themselves to the stem. They saw the cycle of the water as it evaporated into the clouds and was carried over the land and deposited, they understood the mystery of human birth, they saw it. And they saw a growth, they knew the glory of a sunrise and the majesty of a sunset, they knew the, the rolling and the roaring of the seas and the rushing of the rivers and the trickle of a brook and the flight of a bird and the caterpillar that came out a butterfly. And they looked up and saw what the Psalmist saw in chapter 19 when he said, “The heavens declare (what?) the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” They knew what the Psalmist had in mind also in the 94th Psalm and the 9th verse, “He who planted the ear, shall he not hear? He who formed the eye, shall he not see?” In other words—they said, if, if we can hear then whoever made us must understand hearing, if we can see He must see, if we can think He must think and you can carry it all the way out. Sure they understood God. They understood about His nature from what they saw in their world. In Psalm 143:5 says the Psalmist, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.” I sit here and I contemplate what You’ve done, he says. Even in the nonsophisticated world then, by our standards they sat in awe of the creation.

Look at Job, you just read through Job and see the staggering statements of that Book about the creative power of God and the revelation of His nature. But just think about some things, let me just tell you how you can see God in creation. Do you know that some birds navigate by the stars, when they migrate? And do you know that if you raise birds, these kinds of birds, from eggs inside a building, they’ve never been out of the building, and if you show them an artificial sky, and this has been done in scientific experiment, representing a place their species have never been they will immediately orient themselves to the proper place to which to migrate. Now you tell me how they know that. There is a special fish that I’ve enjoyed reading about called the archerfish, it gets its food like all other fish, it just swims around and opens its mouth and takes its food. But they have the amazing ability to fire drops of water with great accuracy and knock insects out of the air. And did you know that there is a little thing called the bombardier beetle? Who produces chemicals which mix perfectly and at the right moment explode in the face of his enemy, but the explosion never occurs prematurely andnever blows him up. Think about the hydrological cycle of water which just absolutely staggers my mind. Water is lifted against gravity from the sea thousands of feet into the air and there it is suspended, just suspended, collected in clouds and then the clouds are floated over the land and they’re dropped.

Now we can’t invent a machine to do that, so God has one and it’s the sun and it does it all an it’s only ninety-three million miles away. No wonder the Psalmist says, “Power belongs to God.” No wonder he says, “The greatness of his power.” No wonder Nahum says, “The Lord is great in power.” And Isaiah says, “The Lord God is everlasting strength.” And no wonder the Psalmist in chapter 65 says, “Who by his power establishes the mountains.” You know ah, scientists have always tried to say it’s all evolution and it’s all explained by certain circumstances and so forth apart from God, but they’re really running out of the ability to say that, they’re fast losing their case.

Robert Jastro, for example who is an astrophysicist and currently the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for space study says this, “Now we see how the astronomical evidence supports the Biblical view of the origin of the world. The essential elements in the astronomical and Biblical accounts of Genesis are the same. “It wasn’t evolution at all,” says Jastro. “It asks what cause produced this effect, who or what put the matter or energy into the universe? And science cannot answer.” He goes on, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak and as he pulls himself over the final rock he is greeted by a band of theologians who’ve been there for centuries.” Great statement. In other words, when you study science the conclusion is God created the world. And today with the two hundred inch telescope at Mount Palomar astronomers can look into space for four billion light years. If you don’t understand that try twenty-five sextillion miles. Do you know how much space that alone would make, as far as they can s e? Seven times ten to the sixty-seventh power cubic inches of space. If someone had been examining this large of volume at the rate of one million billion cubic miles a day since the universe began, he’d be just a little shy of halfway done. And the universe that we see with that telescope is a small piece of actual space. Can you imagine the power? Then some pea brain comes along and says, well a once there was a one celled thing, said to itself, let’s be two. And away they went.

A press bulletin from the University of Alberta in Canada said, “It may be surprising to people in a temperate climate to hear, that there are on the average of eighteen hundred storms in operation at any time, and the energy expended in these storms amounts to the almost inconceivable figure of (one billion two … ah,) one billion three hundred million horsepower. A large caterpillar machine has four hundred and twenty horsepower requiring a hundred gallons of fuel a day. How much fuel does God have to operate storms with a horsepower of one billion three hundred million everyday?”

A Canadian physicist wrote, “A rain of four inches over an area of ten thousand square miles would require the burning of six hundred and forty million tons of coal to evaporate enough water for such a rain. And to cool again the vapors thus produced and collect them in clouds would take another eight hundred million horsepower of refrigerationworking night and day for ahundred days.”

Agricultural specialist for example have found the average farmer in Minnesota, free of charge, gets four hundred and seven thousand five hundred and ten gallons of water per acre per year. That’s what the Lord gives him. Nearly half a million gallons of water a year for his farm, no charge.

Where does God get all the power to be moving this stuff around? Missouri has seventy thousand square miles, and thirty-eight inches average rainfall. That amount of water is equal to a lake twenty-two feet deep, two hundred and fifty miles long and sixty miles wide. And God moves that water around just in that one state alone.

The U.S. Natural Museum says insect species now number ten million. And I know and they were all at your last picnic, right? Do you realize there are two thousand five hundred kinds of ants? And one colony alone can have one hundred million ants. Do you know there are five billion birds in America? Some can fly five hundred miles across the Gulf of Mexico. Did you know that mallards can fly sixty miles an hours, eagles a hundred miles an hour and a falcon can dive at a hundred and eighty? I know you didn’t know that cod fish can lay nine million eggs, but they can.

The earth is twenty-five thousand miles in circumference, it weighs six septillion five hundred and eighty-eight sextillion tons, and hangs in empty space, and spins at a thousand miles an hour with perfect precision so that time is kept to the split second and at the same time careens through space around the sun in an orbit of five hundred and eighty million miles at a thousand miles a minute.

Did you know that the head of a comet may be from ten thousand to one million miles long and the tail as long as a hundred million miles and travel at three hundred and fifty miles per second?

Now where is the force for all of this? Halley ‘s Comet by the way has traveled without stopping for gas for seventy-six years.

Consider the human heart, it’s the size of your fist, weights less than half a pound. Your heart pumps eighteen hundred of gallons of blood a day. Your heart does enough work in twelve hours to lift sixty-five tons one inch off the ground. Consider the sun, the sun burns up four million tons of matter a second, if you could convert the energy the sun gives off to horsepower you’d wind up with five hundred million million billion horsepower. If that’s too big to handle that’s the same as one and a half million million billion corvettes. Think of the distance from the sun. The distance from the earth to the sun is ninety-three million miles, as I said, it’s takes the light from the sun traveling at a hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second, eight and a half minutes to get here. The speed of light is a hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second and if you take that speed of a hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second going sixty seconds a minute, sixty minutes an hour, twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year that light travels over six trillion miles in one year. And yet if you were to go across our galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy where our star system is, going at a hundred and eighty-six thousand per second, six trillion miles a year it would take you a hundred and twenty-five thousand years to get across our galaxy, and ours is one of millions. Now if you’re screaming mercy I’ll quit.

Now consider how small we are. Atoms are not visible, we know they exist but to this day no one has ever seen an atom. They’re so small it takes three atoms to make up one water molecule, and if you were to take every water molecule in one drop of water and blow them up so each molecule was the size of a grain of sand you’d have enough grains of sand to make a road one foot thick, half mile wide and the road would go from LosAngeles to New York. But did you know the atom is mostly empty space? The actual material, and this fascinates me, in an atom takes up one trillionth of the atom’s volume. And what you really have is a lot of little orbits. Everything is mostly empty space, for example, if the average person had all the space squeezed out of him, how much volume do you think he’d occupy? Take a person who is six feet tall and all the actual mass that’s in him, when all the space is squeezed out he would fit on the head of a pin for he would occupy one, one hundred millionth of a cubic inch. So don’t argue when somebody says you’re nothing. But you want to hear something amazing? That one, one hundred millionth of a cubic inch would be so heavy that a full cubic inch of that would weigh a billion or more pounds. Incredible.

Listen, if God says He’s visible in His creation then He’s visible in His creation. You can see the eternal power. You can see the divine nature of God. You can look at creation and so can a Canaanite or a Philistine or an Egyptian or anybody living in any period of history up until today and he’s going to see that God is, there has to be a cause for all this effect. There has to be a designer for all this design. I mean when somebody tells me it just happened that makes no more sense than saying take your watch apart, put all the pieces in your pocket and see how long you have to shake your pants before you hear a tick. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Design speaks of a designer. And so you know God is, and if you know God is you know God is powerful, and you know God is divine. And that’s why the end of verse 20 says, “Men are without excuse.” Everybody living on the face of this earth has experienced God, His wisdom, His power, His generosity in every moment of their existence though they have not recognized Him He’s been there, He has bounded their lives, He’s been sustaining them, He’s been enriching them, He’s been giving Himself to them, and in their senses they have perceived Him. So that they are without excuse. And as the Old Testament says, “A wayfaring man, though he be a fool, need not err.” Yes general revelation is the foundation of all condemnation. General revelation is the foundation of all condemnation. Men have the opportunity, because God is evident everywhere.

That’s only the first of four points, but my time is gone, and the best is yet to come. Let’s pray together.

Listen, if God judges He judges justly with equity because man is without excuse. Much more so are you without excuse who know the Gospel and the name of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. “How shall you escape, if you neglect so great a salvation.” For the wrath of God is revealed against all who hold the truth and suppress it in unrighteousness. The Bible says that the way to God is through Christ, and He offers you that opportunity.

If you’re with us tonight and you do not know Christ open your heart, confess Him as Lord, believe the Gospel, the Good News that He came into the world and lived and died and rose again, for your sin, and enter into God’s life, and step out of the wrath of God.

Father I pray right now for any who are in our midst who do not know Christ, may this be the night of their redemption and salvation. For those of us who are Christians thank You for confirming again in our hearts the truth of Your power and divine nature so evident to us in the created world. Oh God, may we with boldness stand for You in a world of skeptics who know but suppress for the love of their sin the truth. Father, break through the hearts of some tonight, we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

This transcript, along with related media, can also be found here on the Grace to You website.[1]

 

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You.

Romans 1:18 Sermon Series

The Wrath of God

Wicked World, Angry God—June 7, 1981

Romans 1:18

Let’s look together this evening at the first chapter of Romans. Tonight we’re going to examine 1:18. And I believe as we examine this very critical verse we find the key that unlocks the gospel, the starting point of evangelism.

Now the Apostle Paul has announced his theme in verses 16 and 17 as we saw last week. He says: “I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” And that really is his theme. He called it the gospel of God in verse 1 because God is its source and the gospel of Christ in verse 16 because Christ is its culmination. And he says he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, for in it is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

We saw that that was in condensed form the thesis or the theme of the entire epistle to the Romans. And now as he moves to verse 18 he begins to unfold in great detail the substance of that theme. To help the Christian reader to understand the significance and the meaning of the fullness of the gospel of Christ. And it all begins in verse 18 with this statement: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The gospel message begins with astatement about the wrath of God. Frankly that’s diametrically opposed to most of our evangelistic technique. Most of our contemporary evangelism purposely avoids that theme. We talk about love and we talk about happiness and we talk about abundant living and we talk about forgiveness and we talk about joy, we talk about peace. And we offer people all of those things and ask them if they wouldn’t like to have all of those things. But we really very rarely talk about judgment. And I wonder in all of the times that you have presented the gospel to somebody, how many times did you introduce it by saying—By the way, did you know that the wrath of God is revealed against your ungodliness? I suppose Dale Carnegie; he has even affected our gospel presentation. We are in such a hurry to win friends and influence people that sometimes we bypass the starting point.

From Paul’s perspective, fear becomes the first pressure applied to evil men. Let them know about the wrath of God.

Now admittedly the wrath of God is a hard subject and I am not here to tell you that it’s an easy one. I find it myself very difficult to begin in speaking to people about Christ at this point. And yet it is the beginning of the gospel and the proper preparation for the announcement of grace. How can people understand anything about love if they don’t understand God’s hate? How can they understand anything about His grace if they don’t know about His law? How can they understand forgiveness if they don’t understand the penalty of sin. Men cannot understand. They cannot seek grace and salvation unless they are affected with the dread of the wrath of God that is upon them. Unless men sense they are in grave danger there’s no pressure applied to them to change.

Now, sometimes when you talk about God being a God of wrath, certain people get disturbed. And they don’t understand how God can be a God of anger and God can be a God of wrath and God can be a God of fury, a God of terror. But that’s because they don’t understand God. Let’s see if we can’t help ourselves to a deeper understanding of His wrath in perspective with all of His other attributes.

God’s attributes are balanced in His divine perfection. And they are perfectly balanced. If God did not have wrath and God did not have anger then He would not be God. God is perfect in love, on the one hand, and He is equally perfect in hate, on the other hand. Just as totally as He loves, so totally does He hate. As His love is unmixed, so is His hate unmixed. Of Christ, it says in Hebrews 1:9, “Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity.” And there is that perfect balance in the nature of God. As I mentioned, one of the tragedies of Christianity in our time is a failure to preach the hatred of God, the judgment of God. We’re so saccharine. We’re so sentimental. We’re so kind of mushy in our Christianity. When is the last time you heard a new song on the wrath of God? Heard one lately? I haven’t.

Just to prove a point in my own mind I have an old Psalter, an old hymnal from the end of the nineteenth century and I pulled it off the shelf and started to go through the hymnal and I found hymn after hymn after hymn on the wrath of God, on the anger of God, on the vengeance of God, on the judgment of God. Hymns that sounded very much like the imprecatory Psalms, where the psalmist is asking God to come down and condemn His enemies. People don’t write hymns like that anymore. People don’t extol the wrath of God. We don’t want to talk about that in our Madison Avenue approach to presenting the message. But we will never understand at all the profound reality of God’s love until we comprehend His hate. There has to be a-very clear delineation of what it is that God hates.

And may I add that it is not to say that God doesn’t love, but it is to say that you’ll never understand how great His love is unless you know how great His hate is. I mean, if you understand that God hates sin so profoundly then you will find it all the more amazing that He can love sinners. So that without an understanding of His hate, His love is crippled too in our thinking. Love and grace are favorite terms, are void of meaning if God does not hate.

Now in spite of our aversion to seeing God as a God of hate and a God of wrath, the Scriptures clearly emphasize this, and I want to take you on a kind of a jet tour through some Scriptures.

Psalm 2:1: “Why do the nations rage and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” In other words, let’s get God, let’s do away with God, do away with His rule, He intimidates us, let’s eliminate Him. “But He that sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His great displeasure.”

Verse 12 says: “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you perish from the way when His wrath is kindled but a little.” In other words, when God just gets a little angry people perish.

Look at Psalm 76, another illustration. This is reflecting back on the judgment of God upon the Egyptian army. It says in Psalm 76:6: “At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and horse are cast into a deep sleep. Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry? Thou didst cause judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth feared and was still, when God arose to judgment.”

Look at Psalm 78:49. And here is God’s wrath poured out against the enemies of Israel again, verse 49: “He cast upon them the fierceness of His anger, wrath and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them. He made a way to His anger; He spared not their soul from death but gave their life over to the pestilence; and smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength n the tabernacles of Ham.” God was angry, God was fierce. God had wrath. God had indignation and God brought trouble … very severe.

Psalm 90:7, it says … and this speaks of man as he stands before a holy God; “For we are consumed by Thine anger, and by Thine wrath are we troubled.” Verse 11: “Who knoweth the power of thine anger? Even according to thy fear, so is Thy wrath.” This is the hymn book of Israel. And I would hasten to add that they had hymns about God’s wrath. It was equally a part of God’s nature.

The prophets spoke often of the wrath of God, the judgment of God. In Isaiah 9:19 it says: “Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts is the land darkened.”- And then this amazing statement: “And the people shall be as the fuel of the fire.”

Jeremiah also spoke of the wrath of God 7:20: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, God: Behold, Mine anger and My fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn and shall not be quenched.”

Ezekiel, the prophet of God, the nineteenth verse of the seventh chapter says that: “Not their gold, nor their silver shall be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They shall not satisfy their souls, neither fill their stomachs because it is the stumbling-block of their iniquity.”

Now those are just a few passages. But the Bible is filled with statements about the wrath of God. You see His wrath exemplified in the Old Testament, against the old world when He brought the flood, against the people at the tower of Babel, against the Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plain, against the Egyptians. On many occasions against the Israelites, against the enemies of Israel, you see His wrath poured out against Nadab and the others, against the spies, against Aaron and Miriam, against Abimelech, against the family of Saul, against Sennacherib, and it goes on and on.

You say—Well, that’s the Old Testament. That’s right, but God doesn’t change, the same thing is true in the New Testament as well. You see the wrath of God. In John 3, John—that wonderful gospel written by a man of love, that gospel that presents the Lord Jesus Christ in all His wonder and majesty and beauty—is yet a gospel that speaks of God’s wrath. John talks about it in several places, how that God’s wrath will be poured out but one particular one is at the end of the third chapter, the last verse: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abides on him.” It is not well with people who do not know Christ. It is not well with them. The wrath of God abides on them.

And in the very epistle which is before us, Romans, Paul points out the wrath of God when in 9:22 he says: “What if God willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?”

And so it goes. In Ephesians 5:6: “Let no man deceive you with vain words because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience.” The Bible says God will damn unbelieving men.

Colossians 3 says the very same thing. Second Thessalonians 1 is perhaps the most vivid of all. It talks about God coming in flaming fire and taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel, who will be punished with an everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power.

God is a God of wrath, people. He’s a God of anger. Now does that sound like a poorchoice of starting points for the gospel? Think about it. The bad news has to come before the good news, doesn’t it? It’s kind of like going to the doctor … and having the doctor say to you—I have bad news; you have a fatal illness that has killed many people. But, I have good news, a cure has been found and I have it right here. See the good news means nothing without the bad news. Right? You have to diagnose the disease before the cure means anything.

The bad news is—God hates. The good news is—God loves, but you have to start with His hate. First the diagnosis then the cure.

Now look again at verse 18, it says: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” Why is that—for—there? What is that there for? Well, it connects us to the previous passage. The previous passage says -Justification is by faith alone. Why? Because the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness. In other words, what that verse says is all men hold the truth unrighteously and are under the wrath of God. Therefore they have no capacity to justify themselves. So justification has to be by faith because all men, left to their own efforts, are under the wrath. Do you see?Justification is by faith, it has to be. It can’t be by works because by works all men are under wrath.

Paul says it another way, he says: “For all have sinned and … what?… come short of the glory of God.”

In Ephesians 2 it says: “And you who were dead in trespasses and sins.” That’s the way it is with everyone. “In time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the children of disobedience, among whom we all had our manner of life,” all of us in time past, “and the lust of the flesh, desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature the children of wrath.” Everybody born into this world is a child of wrath. Everybody born into this world is a victim of lust and desire toward evil things, everyone is born spiritually dead. We are all, says Paul, condemned already … or says John rather, condemned already because we believe not in Christ.

Frankly, folks, sentence has already been passed, the whole human race is damned to hell. We are all children of wrath under the judgment of God. Man is born condemned. All men are born into the world under the wrath.

So, we start with this classic statement. And just to give you a focus the passage on the condemnation of the human race starts in 1:18 and goes all the way to 3:20. So, we’re going to be in it for a while, and you’re going to see some things about why people do the … what they do, maybe you never saw before.

But let’s begin by just looking at the concept of wrath in verse 18 and this gives us an absolutely comprehensive perspective on it. Six features of the wrath are presented here. You can follow your outline and it will help you to keep your focus on those.

First, the quality of wrath … the quality, the essence of it. What kind of wrath is it? Well, it is the wrath of God, it is divine wrath and that is a very important beginning. It is divine wrath. It isn’t like anything else that we know in this world. It isn’t like your wrath or my wrath; it isn’t like when we get angry. It isn’t like when we get mad. We get angry and we get mad when we are offended. And, frankly, we have pride in the way. Our passion, our anger and our wrath is not like this, this is the wrath of God. And like every other attribute of God it is as perfect as His holy person. His wrath is righteous wrath. It is the right kind of wrath, it is holy wrath. The passion that we call anger in this world, the thing that we call wrath in this human world is always reflective of the evil heart of man. But we must not impose that on God.

One writer said, “We cannot think with full consistency of God in terms of the highest human ideals of personality and yet attribute to Him the rational passion of anger.” In other words, this writer was saying—God could never be angry because we know anger is a bad thing. But he is simply trying to say that God’s like us, and He’s not. Don’t push our concept of anger on God. God is angry in a holy way, ‘in a perfect way. God’s anger is not some capricious, irrational rage.

In fact, let me go a step further. And you’re getting a lesson in theology proper here about the nature of God. God could not be God and be holy and be holy good if He didn’t react to evil. Do you understand that? He has to. He can’t be God. You cannot be holy and tolerate unholiness. It can’t be done. That’s why Habakkuk the prophet said: “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look upon iniquity.” God can’t tolerate it. And I’ll tell you something, the more Godlike you become; the more angry you will get at certain things.

Even in this warped world of men, indignation against wickedness is essential of human goodness. We expect people to get mad about certain injustice. For God is infinitely beyond that because even when we get mad about the right things it’s usually polluted by our sinfulness.

A classic illustration was Jesus in John 2 cleansing the temple, made a whip and just started whipping people all out of the temple. I mean, that’s a very dramatic scene. Do you want to know something? That was His first public act in Jerusalem. That is not the way you start a crusade. You don’t go into the religious places, take a whip and start flagellating everybody and overturning tables and crying about their sin, you’ll never get a crowd that way. You’ve got to send the advance committee, make it sound like harps and flowers. Jesus was furious because God was being dishonored. There was dishonesty there, there was cheating and lying and extortion and desecration.

So, don’t look at the low, irrational, selfish anger of men and then push that off on God. The wrath of God is always perfect, always. The wrath of men is always somehow compromised by the presence of sin.

Just to kind of fill up your thinking, listen to what the psalmist wrote: “The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” * Is that vivid?

You say—Wait a minute. You mean the righteous are so excited about God’s judgment that they want to wash their feet in the blood of the wicked? “So that a man will say—Verily, there is a reward for the righteous, verily He is a God that judgeth in the earth.” ** In other words, when God judges it is so right, it is so perfect; it is so absolutely holy that God’s people are seen as if they were washing their feet in the blood of the unrighteous. Incredible concept.

In Lamentations 1 the Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled against His commandment, hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow.” In other words, God is judging but it’s okay—I deserve it, He’s righteous. Remember what happened to Achan? God said when you go in to take Jericho, don’t steal anything? And Achan just stole everything in sight, just disobeyed. He came back and buried it all in the ground inthe middle of his tent. Joshua went to him and said Confess your sin, Joshua 7:19, “Confess your sin and give glory to God.” Now what did he mean by that? He meant that Achan was really going to get it. I mean, he was going to get it and he did get it. You know what happened? He died and all his family with him. Then they must have been implicated in the whole operation. But he says before you get your due judgment from God, you confess your sin. In other words, you say—I am guilty, what God does to me is the proper reaction of His holiness. You see? That’s the issue. In other words, don’t you ever impune God as if He did something impure, even when God is angry it is the right expression of His utter holiness.

And we see that in Romans. We see it right where we are. The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. And we’re going to see it over and over again in chapter 2, and in chapter 3 that God’s righteousness or God’s judgment is a righteous judgment.

I might just add here the word is orgee and it is a settled indignation not a momentary fury, God doesn’t blow His cork, God doesn’t just fly off the handle. It is a settled hatred by one who could never be good and loving unless He totally hated evil. The two are inseparable, you have both or neither.

Trench, the great commentator on language in the Word of God said: “Nor can there be a surer or sadder token of an utterly prostrate moral condition then the not being able to be angry with sin and sinners.” End quote.

And old saint by the name of Fuller wrote this: “Anger is one of the sinews of the soul; he that lacks it hath a maimed mind and with Jacob sinews shrunk in the hollow of his thigh, must limp.

Thomas Watson says: “Is God so infinitely holy? Then see how unlike to God sin is. Sin is an unclean thing. It is called an abomination. God has no mixture of evil in Him; sin has no mixture of good. It is the spirit in quintessence of evil, it turns good into evil, it has deflowered the virgin soul, made it red with guilt and black with filth. It is called the accursed thing. No wonder therefore that God hates sin.” He’s right.

So the quality of wrath is that it is a wrath of God and that’s different than any other kind.

Secondly, the time of wrath. Look what it says; “For the wrath of God is revealed,” is revealed. What does he meanis revealed? Literally is being constantly revealed. When is the time of God’s wrath? It’s constantly being revealed. God’s wrath is constantly being manifest. The verb apokalupto, from which we get apokalupsis or apocalypse, means to uncover, to bring to light, to make manifest, to make known. God’s wrath is always being made known. It’s visible to all of human history. It was revealed in the garden, wasn’t it? When Adam and Eve sinned and immediately the sentence of death was passed, the earth was cursed and they were thrown out of paradise. And the world had a great beginning lesson on the fact that God hates sin.

It was revealed in the flood when God drowned the whole human race except for eight faithful souls. It was revealed in the drowning of Pharaoh’s army. It was revealed in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire from heaven. It was revealed in the curse of the law on every transgressor. It was revealed in the institution of the sacrificial system and all of the services of the Mosaic Law. In fact, the whole creation groans and travails in pain under the judgment of God waiting for redemption.

You know, even the laws of men made against evil doers reveal the wrath of God? For all laws are based upon the mind of God. No one can plead ignorance, because the wrath of God has been revealed throughout human history.

And above all, I believe the greatest demonstration of the wrath of God ever given was given on Calvary’s cross. God hates so deeply sin that He actually allowed His own Son to be put to death. The greatest manifestation of the wrath of God. He poured out His fury on His own beloved Son. He would not hold it back even from His own Son. That’s how He hated sin.

Jeffrey Wilson, the British commentator, writes: “God is no idle spectator of world events, He is dynamically active in human affairs, the conviction of sin is constantly punctuated by divine judgment.”

And the judgment on the cross sums up the world’s history. So, what is the time of the wrath of God? It’s constantly being revealed, all the time, all the time. Every time you turn around you see it. People live and die. Nations rise and fall. God judges sin.

You say to yourself as I said to myself about this point in my study—Now, wait a minute, there are some people who seem to kind of prosper in spite of this, right? There are some wicked people who seem to do so well and you ask yourself the question How can they live and get away with it? I mean, why does God let them live such wretched, dissolute, vile, sinful lives? Well, don’t forget Psalm 9:16 says: “The Lord is known by the judgment which He executed.” It will come. If God lets men prosper for a while in their sin, His bowl of wrath is just all the while filling up. If He lets them sin for a while it’s just that He’s sharpening the sword. The longer God pulls back the bow, the deeper the arrow plunges when He releases it. Judgment will come.

The story goes that the godly farmers in a western community were greatly shocked onesummer Sunday morning when they drove to the little church in the country. They found the man who owned the forty acres across from the church was in the middle of plowing his field, turning thefurrows. And he’ had been doing it all day and ignored the fact that it was the Lord’s Day. The people went on into the church and all the while they were in church they could hear the noise of all of his tractors. And so they were deeply concerned. He had worked all his other fields and purposely chosen to work the one by the church on Sunday to prove a point. He wrote a letter to the editor of a local paper, and pointed out that he had done all this on Sunday and yet he had the highest yield per acre of any farm in the county. And he asked the editor how the Christians could explain this. He didn’t feel God was involved at all.

The editor with great common sense printed the letter and followed it with this simple statement. “God does not settle all His accounts in the month of October.”

The quality of wrath, it’s God’s wrath. That’s different than any other kind. The time—constantly being revealed. The source -where’s the source of this wrath? Look what it says—“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” Heaven is the source. The wrath of God comes from heaven. Earth is dominated by heaven. Wrath is dynamically effectively operative in the world of men; it comes from the throne of God.

Now there are basically two ways that heaven revealsthe wrath of God. Think with me on these. The first is what I call moral order and the second we’ll call personal action. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven, first of all, through moral order. In other words, when God made the world, the physical and the moral world. He built into it certain laws. If you climb a tall building and jump off you go down. If you … it doesn’t matter what you want to do, you go down. It doesn’t matter what you think you’re going to do; you still go down, the law of gravity. There are laws. You go in a car 80 miles an hour, run into a concrete wall, and a law immediately takes affect. The law of an irresistible force and an immovable object. There are laws in the physical world, there are laws in the spiritual world and God has built into the world moral law. It’s the laws of consequence, if you will.

And I believe there’s a certain moral order in the universe. It’s a certain inevitability, to put it into modern terminology we could say—There’s a moral order in the world and when you violate that moral law consequences immediately take place.

J.A. Froude, the historian said: “One lesson and one lesson alone, history may be said to repeat with distinctness that the world is built somehow on moral foundations and in the long run it is well with the good, and in the long run it is ill with the wicked.”

Now the wrath is revealed from heaven then, first of all in the moral order. I mean, you do things that are immoral and you pay a price … you pay a price. Because the world is made on moral law. You live a dissolute life, degenerate evil life and there will be consequences. And it’s from heaven because heaven made the rules.

But secondly, and it goes beyond that, the wrath of God is not simply confined to moral order, there is also personal activity on God’s part. God is not just a cosmic force who made a law and just let it run its course. God gets involved. It is not just automatic judgment by an anonymous cosmic computer. God is involved and the Bible shows a very intense personal reaction to sin within the heart of the divine being. Yes, there’s moral order but yes, there’s a real personal involvement.

Let me just give you an illustration, and I wan … I’ve got a lot of Scriptures I could show you, but let me just give you a quick one in Psalm 7:11, it says in verse 11: “God judgeth the righteous and God is angry.” God is angry. The Bible does say that God is angry, there’s not just a moral order, God is angry. And He’s not angry now and then, He’s angry with the wicked how often? “Every day.” You say—Really? Oh yeah, He’s angry every day. God is angry every day. God gets angry.

There is moral law, moral order but there’s also personal act as God expresses the wrath of a holy nature. And it comes from heaven because heaven has established the moral order, and it is from the throne of God that that wrath comes.

Fourth, the nature of wrath … what is the nature of wrath? What kind of wrath is this? Well, very simply stated, the wrath of God -that’s its quality; is revealed—that’s its time, constantly revealed; from heaven that’s its source; against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men that’s its nature. It is wrath against sin. You knew that. It’s not an uncontrolled irrational fury. God is not like a criminal who takes his vengeance out on the nearest person. It is discriminated, it is carefully pointed at the unrighteousness and ungodliness of men … asebia and adikia. What do these words mean? Ungodliness and unrighteousness.

The first word, although they really overlap and you could call them synonyms in the purest sense, they … he’s simply just using two words to show us that God is angry about sin. But there are some shades of meaning that I think are interesting. The first word refers to ungodliness. And that focuses on the relationship to God. God is angry because men are not rightly related to Him. They are ungodlies, you see. They’re not godly. Men are ungodly.

In Jude it says, “God is going to come and execute judgment on all and convict all that are ungodly among them, of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed.” Three ungodlies in a row. And then it says: “And of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” Four in one verse … ungodly … not rightly related to God.

It refers to impiety toward God. It refers to a lack of reverence, alack of devotion, a lack of worship. And it leads to idolatry. It views sin as a failure to reverence God.

The second word, unrighteousness, while it encompasses the first concept as well, leans toward the result of the first word. When you are not rightly related to God and don’t reverence God properly then your transactions with everyone else around you aren’t right either. And so ungodliness leads to unrighteousness. All sin, you see, first attacks God’s majesty and then His law. And the reason, and I really believe this, the reason men treat men the way they do is because they treat God the way they do. Ungodliness leads to unrighteousness.

People say—Oh, what’s happening, all the murders and all the crimes, and all the horrible things that are going on? Why is so man so inhumane to man? It’s because he is so unrelated to God. All human relationships and all human transactions are corrupted. And we’ll see more about that in the second and third chapter as well as the remainder of the first chapter.

So, God’s wrath is set against sin. Thomas Watson says: “Sin is to the soul as rust is to gold, as stain is to beauty.” Sin in the Scripture is called a menstruous cloth; it’s called a plague sore. Joshua’s filthy garments were a hieroglyphic of sin. And you know as well as I how God hates sin.

In fact, do you know that that’s the only thing God hates? That’s right. Did you know that? And no man will ever enter His presence with sin.

Fifthly, the extent of wrath. And this is a very brief point. You say -Well, I’m … I’m a pretty good guy. I mean, this … who you talking to, MacArthur? It’s not me; I belong to the Royal Order of the Goats. I give to charity. I mean, I … I’m basically a good person. Well, okay, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against … what’s the next word?… All. All? All. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

Well, some people are better than others, but nobody makes it. I use to use the illustration of everybody going down to the beach and trying to jump to Catalina. Yeah, we’ll give you a running start, only 26 miles. You can run as fast as you want and as long as you want and jump. Some of us would get out about six feet, some of us might be stupendous broad jumpers and jump 26 feet, but nobody would get there. Sure people are different, some appear better than others. It’s too far to jump and so all ungodliness and unrighteous of men, nobody escapes … no one. This only needs to be a brief point because Scripture is so clear. You can’t escape.

I’m going to read you just something, you don’t need to turn to it, just listen to it. Ezekiel 17:15, talking about Zedekiah who made a covenant with God and then decided to break it and reached out to Egypt to help him when all he really needed was God, and that was his promise. “But he rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors into Egypt; they might give him horses and many people.” In other words, instead of trusting God he decided he needed Egypt’s help. And then it says: “Now since he did that, Shall he prosper? Shall he escape? Shall he break the covenant and be delivered?” Now listen to this, “As I live, saith the Lord God, surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised and whose covenant he broke even with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die.” He’ll not escape. Shall he escape? As I live the answer is—No.

I don’t care who you are the faintest trace of ungodliness and unrighteousness brings you under the wrath of God and shall you escape? No. No. Inescapability.

Finally, we’ve seen the quality of wrath, the time of wrath, the source of wrath, the nature of wrath, the extent of wrath and now the cause of wrath.

You say—How can God hold all these poor people responsible? I mean, I mean I was born into a sinful family, what do I know? Oh, you’d be surprised what you know. The end of verse 18: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the … what?… the truth in unrighteousness.” Now this opens up the entire next section and next Sunday night is going to be one of the most definitive messages probably you’ve ever heard as we look at the decline and fall of man. But he says the real problem and the cause of wrath is that men hold the truth in unrighteousness. Literally we would read it this way—Men who are constantly attempting to suppress the truth by their sin. Sin just is in the heart of man so strongly that it assaults the truth.

People say What about the heathen? What about this and what about that? Listen, the truth is there, as he will point out in the next passage, but men suppress it. Sin always assaults the truth. The fundamental truth of God and His Word is assaulted, there’s always an attempt to suppress it, to bury it, to obliterate it. It is the essence of sin, however, that the attempt is always futile, and men live with guilt in spite of their attempt. The knowledge of God is all over. And if the knowledge of God, listen, that I believe is available to every human being on the earth, I don’t care how obscure that individual is or how remote, I believe the knowledge of God is available and if it does its legitimate work and man allows it-to do that legitimate work it will keep a man from the excesses of sin and lead that man to God. But men suppress it. They love darkness rather than … what?… light because. what?… their deeds are evil. The fool is always saying—There is no God and why does he say that? Because he doesn’t want there to be a God because if there’s a God he’s in trouble.

It says in Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart there’s no God.” Why? “They are corrupt, they have doneabominable works, there is none that doeth good.” I’m sure they don’t want there to be a God to call them to accountability. Man tries to postulate that there is no God and if he doesn’t do that he says—Well, I’ll invent a God who can tolerate my sin. And he clearly avoids the true voice of God.

But I really believe that there’s no problem with the people who ask the question—How are the heathen to know? I believe that God has revealed Himself to every individual and if individuals, wherever they are, no matter how remote they are, do not suppress that truth by the love of sin that will … that truth will protect them from the excesses of sin and eventually lead them to the truth of God by His gracious providence. But men don’t do that. They avoid the truth of God.

All men possess enough of the germs of divine truth and moral law to preserve them from hell, but they’ve halted the growth and development of those by the love of sin. And the wrath of God waits.

If you’re not a Christian the wrath of God waits for you. Dr. Barnhouse had an apt illustration and I’ll close with this. He said, “The wrath of God is like a great water impounded behind a dam. He said, I can remember the first time I ever saw Hoover Dam, one of the greatest of all dams on earth. It has been thrown across the waters of the Colorado River and these waters have backed up for miles and penetrated into every little cove and valley. And thus it has been with the wrath of God. The first time there was ever a sin committed; the wrath of God was stored up against that sin. And as men lived upon the earth and as their hearts grew more wicked and the outbreak of their sin more violent, the store of wrath grew greater and greater, held back by the patience of God which lies across the valley of His judgment like a great dam across the river. And in His eternal foreknowledge God the Father foresaw all of the sin that would be committed after the time of Christ, your sin and my sin, and He stored His wrath against it behind the dam of His patience. And the wrath of God against sin that even today has not yet been committed is also stored up waiting for the day when His patience shall burst into its holy end. For thousands of years that dam has held and God has held back His wrath. Occasionally throughout human history He stooped to dip His hand into the pent up flood and pour a few drops of wrath on some, especially vicious outbreak of rebellion. But for the most part God seemed to overlook the sins of man in the centuries before the cross. It looked maybe as if sin was tolerated, but it was just piling up.”

You know, the dam broke one day, and it broke at Calvary. And it broke on Christ and drown Him in all the sea of sin. And it will break again and it will drown all those men who are not in Christ. Christ took the judgment for those who believe. For those who do not believe, they will take their own judgment. And the wrath of God awaits them. Because they hold the truth, no matter what they claim, but they hold it and suppress it because of their sin.

Now listen, that is where the gospel begins. But remember, there is good news and the good news is Christ has taken the full fury of God’s wrath, if you’ll accept His gracious substitution for you.

Father, we’re grateful tonight that we’ve been able to look at this theme, hard, fearful and yet so important. It’s easy for us to get callous. Help us to be as if this were the first time we ever heard this, to rush out to warn men and women, young people of coming wrath. May no oneleave this place tonight under judgment, condemnation, but may they accept the gracious provision of Christ who took that stored up dam of fury at Calvary’s-cross and may they climb to that island of safety so that when the dam breaks again at the great white throne they’ll already have entered into the paradise prepared for them.

While your heads are bowed for just a moment, let me encourage you that if you don’t know our Lord Jesus Christ tonight this would be the time, no time like the present. No one knows how much time you have. This is a serious message, very serious. More serious than any message I could give, but that’s where we are in the text. And I know the Lord has purpose for it. Maybe you’re that purpose. In the silence of your heart you can open your life to Christ, ask Him to remove you from the wrath to come, accept the fact that He bore your sin in His own body on the cross and freed you if you put your faith in Him.

Father, may this be a night of salvation in the hearts of many. Not just in this place but all around this country and the world where Your name is lifted up, may this be a day when heaven rejoices over souls that entered the Kingdom, stepped out from under the wrath of God into the protecting love of Christ. God, we know You’re angry over sin, we know how You hate sin but O how You must love to have hated sin so much and yet put it all on the One You loved, Your own Son the Lord Jesus for us. O how You must love. Thank You for that love, forgiving love, merciful love, gracious love. We pray that no one will leave without receiving that from Your good faithful hand. We thank You for this time together, we praise You for all that You’ve accomplished in Christ’s name. Amen.

This transcript, along with related media, can also be found here on the Grace to You website.[1]


The Wrath of God Against Ungodliness and Unrighteousness

August 30, 1998

Romans 1:18

“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.” 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”

“There Is None Righteous”

Today we take a major turn in the letter of Paul to the Romans. Romans 1:16–17 is the theme of the letter: the gospel is the power of God to save believers from the wrath to come. And this gospel—this good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection—has that power to save believers from God’s wrath, because in the gospel, day by day, week after week, year after year, God keeps on revealing his righteousness as a gift to be received by faith and for faith, so that those who have their righteousness from God (and not themselves) will not perish but have everlasting life.

Now having described the greatness of his theme, which he will come back to and unpack in wonderful and profound ways in future chapters, Paul enters on a description of human sin and God’s wrath in Romans 1:18–3:19. In Romans 1:18 to 32 Paul speaks of the condition of the gentile world apart from the gospel and apart from saving grace. Then in Romans 2:1–3:8 Paul deals more or less directly with the Jewish condition. Then in Romans 3:9–10 he draws his summary conclusion like this: “What then? Are we [Jews] better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, ‘THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE.’ ” That is the point of Romans 1:18–3:10. Then Paul piles Scripture upon Scripture in Romans 3:10–19 to support his point of universal sinfulness and guilt and rebellion against God in every human heart.

He wraps up the section with this summary in Romans 3:19, “Now we know that whatever the Law [the Old Testament Word of God] says, it speaks to those who are under the Law [the Jewish people], so that every mouth [all the nations, all the Gentiles] may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God.” We will talk later in this series about why God chose to silence the world by dealing mainly with the Jews. But that is the truth. Paul seems to mean if the Jews, with all their advantages of divine revelation, have not been righteous before God, but only sinful and guilty (3:9), how much less will the Gentiles be able to open their mouths and protest that they have been righteous before God.

Then Paul explains in verse 20: no matter how beneficial the Law of God should have been, when it is misused the way many in Israel misused it, it only compounds the problem of sin. He says, “[Jews and all the world are under silence in their guilt] because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Neither Jewish Law nor Gentile idolatry gets anybody right with God.

Then in Romans 3:21 Paul returns to the theme of 1:17, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested.” You see how similar this is to Romans 1:17—in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. And from here on Paul is unpacking the greatness of the gospel of God’s gift of righteousness.

So what we have in Romans 1:18 to 3:20 is a demonstration of sin and guilt in the heart and life of every human being, both Jew and Gentile. The beginning of that section is what we are taking up this morning at Romans 1:18.

Why Several Sermons on Sin?

Now what should I respond if someone were to say, “Oh no! We are going to be slogging our way through sin and guilt for months. This is going to be really oppressive”? To that person I want to say three things:

  1. Superficial diagnoses lead to false remedies.

Superficial diagnoses lead to false remedies and no cures. If you want to find true remedies for a disease, and if you want to bring a lasting cure to the people who are diseased, then you need more than a superficial grasp of the disease itself. Those who care most about a cure for AIDS or cancer, spend almost all their time studying the disease.

  1. Understanding sin and wrath will make you wiser.

Profound understanding of sin and wrath will make you a far wiser person about human nature—your own and others. And if you are wiser about the nature of the human soul, you will be able to fight your own sin more successfully, and you will be able to bless others more deeply with your insight and counsel. I have pled with women and men in this church in recent months that what we need to nurture and cultivate here at Bethlehem over the next decades is sages—men and women who ripen with years into deeply sagacious people: wise, discerning, penetrating, deep lovers of people and deep knowers of human nature and God’s nature, who can see deeply into the tangle of sin and sacredness that perplexes the saints and threatens to undo us. If you run away from the study of sinful human nature—if you say, I don’t like to think about sin—then you run away from yourself, and you run away from wisdom, and, worst of all, you run away from the deepest kinds of love.

  1. Knowing the nature of sin and wrath will cause you to cherish the gospel.

Probably the most important thing I would say, and the most firmly rooted in Romans 1:18, is that knowing the true condition of your heart and the nature of sin and the magnitude and justice of the wrath of God will cause you to understand the mighty gospel, and love it, and cherish it, and feast on it, and share it as never before. And this is crucial because this is the way the gospel saves believers. If you don’t understand the gospel, if you don’t cherish it and look to it and feed on it day after day, it won’t save you (see 1 Cor. 15:1–3; Col. 1:23). Knowing sin and wrath will help you do that.

“For …”

Which brings now to the beginning of Romans 1:18. Look at the connection between verses 17 and 18 (which the NIV inexcusably omits), namely, “for” or “because”—Verse 17: “[In the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Why does Paul introduce verse 18 with the word “for” or “because”?

He does this in order to show that everything he is going to say about sin is meant to support the gospel of verse 17. He does not mention the gospel for the sake of sin. He deals with sin for the sake of the gospel. Understanding sin is the foundation that upholds the preciousness of the gospel, not vice versa. His main aim is not to lead us from gospel to sin, but from sin to gospel. If you have been caught in a crime and are facing trial, and I say to you, “I have a letter here from the Hennepin County Court that they have dropped the charges against you, because you were guilty and liable to severe punishment,” what’s the point? The point of saying that you were guilty is to help you understand and cherish the good news that the charges are dropped. That’s the point of “for” at the beginning of verse 18.

So the way I hope to deal with all the sin in Romans 1:18–3:20 is to let it point us back again and again to the preciousness and the glory and the necessity and the freeness and the joy of the gospel of the gift of God’s righteousness. My prayer is that we would escape superficial diagnoses, and that we would cultivate a profound understanding of fallen human nature (which we all struggle with), and that we would come back again and again to the necessity and beauty and freeness of the gospel of justification by faith alone. If these three things can happen, I don’t think our time in these chapters will be oppressive, but rather gospel-exalting, hope-giving, and love-producing, as we grow to know ourselves and our God and our gospel more and more deeply.

We Need the Gospel Because the Wrath of God Is Being Revealed

Now how does Paul begin this section in verse 18? He begins it by giving the reason that gospel and a gift of God’s righteousness is necessary. It’s necessary “because the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” We need the gospel of Romans 1:16–17, we need the gift of God’s righteousness, because God’s wrath is right now being poured out on the whole world of ungodliness and unrighteousness. Notice the double use of the word “unrighteousness” in verse 18. God’s wrath is being revealed against “unrighteousness” and the truth is being held down in “unrighteousness.” Surely Paul means for us to see that in relation to the revelation of the righteousness in verse 17.

In other words, the reason we need God to reveal HIS righteousness to us in the gospel and give it to us as a gift through faith is because we are unrighteous and resist the truth in unrighteousness and, therefore, God’s wrath is against us. We need righteousness. We don’t have it. God’s wrath is being poured out on us in our unrighteousness. Is there any hope? Yes, the gospel is the power of God to save because in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. We can have a righteousness that is not our own, namely, God’s.

Three Ways the Wrath of God Is Being Revealed

Now we should ask, “How is the wrath of God being revealed?” The first thing to notice is that the word “is revealed” is the very same word and tense as in verse 17. There “the righteousness of God is being revealed.” Here “the wrath of God is being revealed.” In both cases it is a present tense, continuous action. In other words it is happening now, not just in the future. There is a day of wrath coming (Romans 2:5, 8–9; 5:9). But in advance of that final outpouring of wrath, God’s wrath is also present.

How? In three ways at least that we learn about in Romans.

  1. Universal human death is revealing the wrath of God.

From Romans 5 we see that universal human death is a revealing or a manifestation of the wrath of God. Death is the judgement of God on the ungodliness and unrighteousness of the human race rooted in Adam. In the middle of Romans 5:15 we read, “by the transgression of the one [namely Adam] the many died.” Then in the middle of verse 16 death is called a judgment and a condemnation: “For on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation.” So you can see that death is seen as a judgment and a condemnation, that is, as an expression of God’s wrath against sin. Then in the middle of verse 18 you see it again: “Through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men.” So the first answer is that the wrath of God is being revealed against human sin in universal human death.

  1. Universal futility and misery are evidence of God’s wrath.

From Romans 8 we see that universal futility and misery are evidence of God’s wrath against human sin. Start at Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (19) For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. (20) For the creation was subjected to futility.” Stop there and consider what that means before we read on.

I think it means that the sufferings he speaks of in verse 18 are inevitable in this fallen world. And specifically it means that you may plan well for retirement, and the year before you plan to enjoy it you have a stroke, and all the planning seems futile. You work with your own hands for years to build a simple home, and the week before you move in, lightning strikes, and it burns to the ground. You labor all during the spring to plant your crops and when the grain is just ready to sprout, a flood takes it all away. The creation was subjected to futility. In verse 21 it’s called “slavery to corruption.”

Now read on in Romans 8:20 to see where that subjection to futility came from: “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope.” This means that God subjected the creation to futility. Satan and Adam could not be the one who did this, because Paul said it was done “in hope.” Neither Satan nor Adam in the Garden of Eden was planning for the hope of the human race. They simply sinned. But God showed his wrath against sin and subjected creation to futility, not as the last word, but in hope. There would come a day when the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). But the misery and futility of the world we live in is owing to God’s subjecting creation to futility, and is a testimony to his wrath against sin.

  1. The sinking degradation of human behavior reveals the wrath of God.

So the first way God’s wrath is revealed against ungodliness and unrighteousness is in universal human death. The second way is in the futility and misery and suffering of creation. The third is the one most immediately in Paul’s mind here in Romans 1, namely, the sinking degradation of human thinking and behavior. You see this three times in Romans 1:24–28.

After describing the ungodliness and unrighteousness of man in Romans 1:19–23 Paul says in verse 24, “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” In other words, God reveals his wrath against sin by giving people up to be more sinful. Again in verse 26: “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions.” And again in verse 28: “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.”

So these are three of the ways that the wrath of God is being revealed now in this age against the universal (3:9) ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. He has consigned all to death, he has subjected all to futility, and he has given many over to the degradation of their own minds and hearts.

Wrath Mingled with Mercy

There remains time perhaps for one burning question: Is that God’s only response to the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men? The answer to that question is No—neither in the case of unbelievers or believers.

Take the case of unbelievers. Wrath is always mingled with mercy in this age of hope. Look at Romans 2:4–5. Here he speaks to those who are missing this great truth: “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (5) But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

Yes there is kindness in the midst of wrath. God is always doing more than one thing. Jesus said, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Paul said to the pagans of Lystra, “[God] did not leave Himself without a witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). He said this to people who were dying and suffering and sinning under the wrath of God.

God warns with his wrath and he woos with his kindness. He speaks both languages: severity and tenderness. Do you recall how Jesus interpreted the coming of John the Baptist as a severe, leather-girded, locus-eating, desert-living, adultery-condemning prophet, on the one hand, and his own coming as a party-going, wine-making, child-healing, sin-forgiving savior, on the other hand? He said, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” Instead, you said, “John has a demon and Jesus is a glutton” (Matthew 11:17). The gospel came with both languages, but they would not hear.

O, unbeliever, God is speaking to you in your pain to warn you, and God is speaking to you in your pleasure to woo you. Don’t misread the voice of God.

Death and Suffering and Sin in the Life of a Believer

And to believers, what is our case? According to Romans 1:17 we have the gift of God’s righteousness by faith. God’s punishment of us was poured out on Jesus who died in our place (Romans 8:3). Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says, “God has not destined us for wrath.” What then are our death and our suffering and our sin? Are they still the wrath of God against us? If not what are they?

The answer is that death and suffering and sin are not the wrath and condemnation and punishment of our heavenly Father. Each one is fundamentally altered by the gospel of Christ crucified in our place.

  1. Death is a gateway into paradise.

For believers, the sting and victory of death have been removed. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55–57). For believers, death is not the wrath of God toward them; it is the last gasp of a defeated enemy who unwittingly opens a door to paradise.

  1. Futility and suffering are pathways to holiness.

For believers, futility is removed from suffering. For those who love God and are called according to his purpose “all things work together for our good” (Romans 8:28). Punishment is transformed into purification. Destructive forces become disciplinary forces. And the seeming chaos and futility of life’s calamities become the severe, but loving, hand of our Father in heaven, as we learned last year from Hebrews 12.

  1. The power of sin is replaced with a love of righteousness.

Finally, not only is the sting of death replaced with hope; and the futility of suffering replaced with meaning; but the dominion and degrading power of sin is replaced with a love of righteousness (the point of Romans 6). God does not give us over to a depraved mind, he gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore let us awaken to the truth of Romans 1:18 that the wrath of God is being revealed now in this age against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. We can’t understand the world or the gospel without that truth. But let us also awaken to the truth that God is revealing something else at the same time. He is revealing the gift of righteousness for all who will believe on Christ. And with that righteousness there is no wrath or condemnation on us any more. For you (whoever you are!), who believe, death becomes a gateway to paradise; suffering becomes a pathway to holiness; and sin becomes a dethroned enemy that we fight by the power of God’s Spirit.

So let us flee the wrath of God, and take refuge in the precious power of the gospel of God. Amen.


The Wrath of God Against Holding Down the Truth

September 13, 1998

Romans 1:18

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.” 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Up-to-Date Analysis—Spin Doctors

The last time we were together we entered a section of Paul’s letter to the Romans that is so up to date in its analysis of the human condition that it almost takes your breath away. We will see this in the coming weeks as it relates to theories of naturalistic evolution, and to the issue of homosexuality and certain sexually transmitted diseases, and we will see it as it relates to the insolence and arrogance and disrespect of many young people toward their parents and others in authority.

Today we will see it in the immediately relevant issue of the contemporary phenomenon of “the spin doctor”—the person whose job is to put his finger into the wind of public opinion and decide how to bend the facts to make them sound appealing, with little or no regard for truth. The people who live by polls, not principle. That is what today’s text is about.

But lest we become self-righteous (as Romans 2:1 warns us so powerfully: “You have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things”), know this: every one of us is a spin doctor by nature. Every one of us is springloaded to put his own failings in the best light and the failings of his adversaries in the worst light. We soften our own sins with mild words and skewer others with hard words. Or worse, we see the sins of others and are blind to our own. And when the truth hunts us down and corners us, we will dodge and distort and evade and mislead and equivocate and lie. And when that doesn’t work to suppress the truth, we will shift to blaming and accusing and deflecting—anything to hold down the truth from having its full effect in our lives. That’s what Romans 1:18b is about. This so relevant it takes your breath away.

All of Us, Not just Politicians

Yet we are not talking about politicians here. We are talking about humans in general. This is the way I am, apart from the work of sovereign grace in my life. This is the way you are, apart from God’s mercy. It would be fool’s play this morning to turn this text into a commentary on the gutting of truth in government. That application would be way too small and would let all of us here right off the hook—which is not what Scripture or preaching is about. The issue this morning is your heart and my heart and how we suppress the truth in unrighteousness. This text is not about a class of politicians or a class of especially bad people. It is about humanity. The conclusion comes in Romans 3:9–10, “Both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “there is none righteous, not even one.’ ” And verse 13 adds, “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving.”

So the issue this morning is about how people like us, who are bent from birth to distort and suppress the truth, can get free from this slavery and be saved. It’s all about pointing us back to Romans 1:17—there is a free gift of righteousness from God for all who trust in Jesus Christ.

Here’s the text (Romans 1:18): “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

There it is: ungodly people, unrighteous people—as we all are without grace—suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Now how does that work? What is that like in actual experience? And what is the remedy?

So we have several questions before us. Let’s begin with these: What truth is being suppressed? And what does it mean that we suppress it “in unrighteousness”?

What Is the Truth that We Suppress?

What is the truth that we suppress? The answer is given in the following verses. Read with me verses 19ff.

[We suppress the truth in unrighteousness], because that which is known about God [first clue: the truth being suppressed is something known about God] is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes [now he gets specific; here is the truth that is known about God from the created world], His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. [There is the objective truth about God that we suppress—his eternal power and deity—but now he tells us that there is another subjective truth, namely, the response we are supposed to have to this truth about God.] (21) For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him [literally, glorify him] as God or give thanks.

That is the truth: we should glorify and thank God.

So here is the truth that we suppress apart from God’s grace in our lives. There is a God. He is the Creator of all things and so not a god but the God. He is powerful—more powerful than all else, because he made all else. He is eternal because there was nothing outside him that could bring him into being. Therefore we must exist to display his glory and not to compete with him for glory. And we must exist in absolute dependence on him. We do not supply him, he supplies us. And therefore we are to live in constant gratitude.

That is the truth that we suppress in unrighteousness. This is confirmed in verses 25 and 28. Verse 25: “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie [notice, the truth that is being exchanged, gotten rid of, suppressed is truth about God], and [they] worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” Which is the same as saying, “they did not glorify him as God or give thanks to him, but instead glorified the creature and took credit for what was owing only to God.” They exchanged God-worship for self-worship. They suppressed the truth that God is infinitely glorious and that we are totally dependent on him.

Or consider verse 28: “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer [literally: they did not approve having God in their knowledge], God gave them over to a depraved mind.” Not approving to have God in their knowledge is the same as “suppressing the truth.” God is true, but we don’t want him in our knowledge, so we will suppress this truth. We will exchange it. Distort it. Hide it. Run from it. And finally, become blind to it.

That blindness is the point of Romans 1:21ff. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” In other words, part of our condition in suppressing the truth about God is that we become darkened. You don’t just hold it down because you see and don’t like it, but because you don’t even see it any more. This is why so many will say, “I don’t suppress the truth of God; I don’t think there is any truth of God to suppress.” Paul would say, “The only explanation for such a stance in this world that God has made is a darkened heart—blindness to divine reality.”

So let’s sum up what the truth is that we suppress. The truth is that God exists. He is eternal and infinitely powerful. He supplies us with all we have. Therefore he is gloriously self-sufficient with no needs that we can meet. The truth is that our reason for being is to be thankful for all he has given us and to display his glory by the way we think and feel and act (see Psalm 50:23).

We Get the Blessing and He Gets the Glory

In other words, the truth is that the universe is radically God-centered: it comes from him, it exists for the display of his glory. And human life is supposed to be radically God-centered—not by working for God as if he were a needy deity, but by our being thankful to him and exulting in the grace that so much good comes to us, even amid terrible suffering.

Don’t miss the implication here, because it relates so deeply to the truth we cherish here at Bethlehem. Here is the truth: there are two great demands of God on the lives of all humans—1) that we exult in God’s bounty to us (that’s thankfulness), and 2) that we reflect or display his glory. Don’t miss this. It is right there in verse 21: “Even though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or give thanks.” It means that God has created a universe in which we get the blessings and he gets the glory. And the way God gets the glory is by our exulting in him as the all-sufficient Giver of all things.

You might ask: Why did Paul not stress here that the failure of mankind is the failure to glorify God and trust him? Why the stress on gratitude and not faith? I believe the reason is that trust, or faith, is related to how God will deal with us in the future. But natural revelation—what we can learn about God from nature—does not communicate clearly the promises of God. The promises of God come through the special revelation of Scripture, which is why trust or faith in God’s promises becomes so central in how we glorify God according to the Scriptures (see Romans 4:20).

So here is the truth: God exists. God is eternal and infinitely powerful. God is the giver of every good gift. And therefore our reason for being—our chief duty, the end for which we were created, and the commandment written on every heart—is to display the glory of this great God every day, hour by hour, as we live in the exultation over his bounty to us.

And that is the truth that we hate and suppress in unrighteousness.

“… Who Suppress the Truth in Unrighteousness”

Why do we do this? The key is given in the words, “in unrighteousness.” Verse 18b: “… who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

Why did Paul not say in verse 18b, “… who suppress the truth in ungodliness”? The answer is that the truth being held down is godliness. That’s what we have been talking about: godliness. Glorifying God and thanking God—this is godliness. It would not mean much to say, “… who suppress godliness in ungodliness.”

But in the context of Scripture it means a lot to say, “… who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Unrighteousness is life orientation that goes with ungodliness—with rejecting the truth of God’s glory as central to your life. So how does this work?

There are several places where we see how it works. Let’s take one from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians and one from the teachings of Jesus.

In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul is describing the end of the age and the great apostasy and deception that will come on the world in those days. He says that the lawless one will come, (verse 10) “with all the deception of unrighteousness (adikia, same word as in Romans 1:18) for those who perish.” Please note that unrighteousness deceives; it suppresses the truth. He continues that they are perishing “because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” Those who are deceived in unrighteousness do not receive the love of the truth. They suppress the truth and evade it. They don’t love it. Why? He continues in verses 11–12: “For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but [and this is crucial] took pleasure in unrighteousness.”

Why did they reject the truth and suppress the truth and not love the truth? Because they “took pleasure in unrighteousness.” When you love sin, you cannot love the truth. The truth is too threatening. It threatens to take away your illicit pleasures. I would venture to say that virtually all falsehood comes from this: a stronger affection for the pleasures of sin. That is what unrighteousness is. Loving sin more than loving God and his truth.

So you see that the issue of truth is an issue of the heart before it is an issue of the head. When the heart is in love with self-exaltation and independence and the pleasures of sin, the mind will inevitably distort the truth or suppress the truth in order to protect the idols of the heart. What is needed is not just new ideas or more information, but a new heart. And a new set of passions and desires and pleasures.

Look at this one more time in John 3:19–21. You are going to hear the same analysis of our sinful hearts and why they suppress the truth of God. Jesus said, “This is the judgment, that the Light [Truth!] has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” Notice: it’s a love-and-hate issue. People love darkness. Why? Jesus said it is because their deeds are evil. That is, they are unrighteous. Light and truth would expose that. Darkness conceals it. Therefore we suppress the truth and so protect the ugliness of our desires with darkness.

Jesus goes on in verse 20: “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” There it is. Why won’t we come to the Light, the Truth? Because of unrighteousness. We hate the Light. We evade it if we can. And if we can’t, then we twist it and distort it and give it a self-justifying spin. And in all of this we suppress it.

Not Mental Deficiency, but Moral Deficiency

So here is the great lesson to be learned: the reason the mind evades, twists, distorts, manipulates and suppresses the truth of God is not mainly that we are mentally deficient, but because we are morally deficient. We suppress the Light of God’s glory and power because we love the darkness of our own independence. We love our sins, our self-determination, and therefore we suppress the Truth that God is God and that we are to depend on him and live for his glory.

And this, Paul says in Romans 1:18, is why the wrath of God is being poured out. This suppression of the truth of his glory and his power and his deity and his goodness, because of our love affair with unrighteousness, makes him furious. And we should tremble.

Is there any hope for us? The hope lies in verses 16–17. “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” In other words, because we are unrighteous, and in our unrighteousness suppress the truth, our only hope is that the righteousness God demands from us would be freely given to us, namely, God’s own righteousness, to be received by faith. That you may have this morning because of the death and resurrection of Jesus who paid the debt so that everyone who believes in him might be saved.[2]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You.

[2] Piper, J. (2007). Sermons from John Piper (1990–1999). Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God.

Romans 1:16-17 Sermon Series

The Gospel of Christ

Wicked World, Angry God—May 31, 1981

Romans 1:16–17

Look with me in your Bible to Romans 1 and we’re going to be looking at verses 16 and 17 tonight. Let me rea these two verses to you and then we’ll comment on them as the Word of God is open to us.

Paul says: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For in it is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”

This is the most life-transforming truth ever put into mens’ hands. If we really understand and respond to these truths in these two verses time and eternity is totally altered. Now I believe that these two verses form the theme and the thesis for the epistle to the Romans. In brief but glorious comprehensive terms the epistle is compressed into these basic truths. It is a statement of the gospel of Christ. Paul begins by saying—I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ and then in concise terms expresses it in those two verses.

Now remember that Paul has concluded a masterful opening statement. A statement that really has two parts. Part one has to do with the gospel of God, the content of the gospel. Part two has to do with Paul’s own personal representation of that gospel. We look at the message in the first part of chapter one, and then the messenger in the remaining part.

So, he has discussed his message, he has discussed himself as the messenger, now he crystalizes the thesis of the epistle which will unfold in the remaining chapters. The whole epistle is really an expansion of what we see in verses 16 and 17. And so it is essential that we get a proper perspective on these two verses.

I really believe that up to this point Paul has been endeavoring to make contact with his audience. He has been endeavoring to make a connection, to get the people’s attention. And now that he has their attention he establishes his thesis. Look again at verse 16, he says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” That phrase is the last statement in the section dealing with his ministry. He closes that section by saying—I’m not ashamed. And then he says—Of the gospel of Christ—and that introduces his theme. The theme is the gospel of Christ.

Paul is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. All the learned religionists, all the philosophers of Rome do not intimidate Paul. They did not intimidate him in Athens. They did not intimidate him in Corinth. They did not intimidate him in Ephesus. They did not even intimidate him in Jerusalem. And they aren’t about to intimidate him here. He is proud of the gospel. He is overjoyed at the privilege of proclamation. He is utterly and absolutely eager to preach Jesus Christ. And even though it is a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Gentile the gospel is still the power of God unto salvation to all that believe and Paul is not hesitant to preach it.

He has been imprisoned in Philippi. He has been chased out of Thessalonica. He has been smuggled from Berea. He was laughed at in Athens. He was seen as a fool in Corinth. He was nothing but an irritant and sore spot in Jerusalem. He was stoned while in Galatia. And yet he will be eager to preach the gospel at Rome also.

I guess all of us would like to be able to identify with Paul in that same way. But the fact is for you and for me very often we are ashamed of the gospel of Christ. I don’t think weld confess that, I don’t think weld state that, I don’t think we easily admit that but that’s the way it works out. Because in those times when we could speak we don’t speak. When those times come when we could be bold we are not bold. We face the hostility of the world. We face the unimpressiveness of the gospel. It talks about sin and blood and death. And it sounds so foolish and so silly to men, and we’re afraid of what they might think and so we tend to be silent when we should speak. But Paul calmly viewed the distain of the unbelievers. He understood the contempt and the ridicule of those who rejected Christ. He faced death itself for the gospel but never once did he become ashamed of Christ.

Timothy did. But Paul never did. He would face anybody, anytime and preach Jesus Christ.

Oh how the fear of men brings a snare. Paul seemed to be able to overcome that in the power of God. I’ve been told that if you trace on the floor a circle with white chalk and put a goose in the middle of it, the goose won’t cross that white chalk. It will stay in that circle, according to what I read, and die before it will cross that white chalk. Kind of reminds me of some people who are gooselike. They have around them chalkmarks of fear of custom, the fear of convention, the fear of ridicule, the fear of being thought foolish, the fear of being rejected and they never walk outside that circle because they’re afraid. People say silly things about the gospel and about Christ and they never open their mouth.

But not Paul. Sadly, fear of opposition and fear of contempt from the world often leads us to be silent or else it leads us to corrupt the message and accommodate the message to men. That’s sad.

I was sharing with the men at Moody this week that there is a new movement in America called the “Health and Wealth” ministries. And they’re promising people that in Christ you get health and wealth. You get physical comfort and possessions. Do you know something that fascinates me? In llatthew chapter 8 a disciple came to Jesus and said—“I’ll follow Thee wherever Thou goest.” And Jesus said, “Well, I’m sorry but foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head.” He said—Fella, I do not accept you because you’re looking for comfort and you’re looking for ease and you’re looking for all of those kinds of things to make your physical life comfortable and I’m not offering that. And Jesus rejected him. He wanted comfort … Jesus said no. There are people-who are telling people today that Jesus will make you well, Jesus will give you healing. You’ll never be sick. You’ll never have a cold. Life will be blissful in the physical dimension. They are offering the very thing that Jesus rejected.

A second man came and said—I’ll follow You too but first let me go bury my father. Jesus said—You’d better let the dead bury the dead. The point was the man’s father wasn’t even dead yet. But he wanted to hang around to get the inheritance. He came to Jesus and said—I’ll come but let me get my money. Jesus turned him down. These people are playing into the hands of the lies of Satan. The things that keep men from Christ are personal comfort, they’re afraid of giving up comfort. And personal possessions, they’re afraid of losing those and here comes these false teachers and offer the very thing that keeps men from Christ to them. And thus they bypass the real gospel for a phony. And we must confront people with the gospel being unashamed to speak it and so unashamed of it in its truth that we do not compromise it to accommodate the sin of man.

Now, why was Paul bold? And here’s the key. Why was he bold? It says so in verse 16: “He was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ because it is the power of God unto salvation.” And now we go from the heart of the Apostle to the heart of the epistle. Ile is bold to preach because of what the gospel is, because of what the gospel does. The reason why Paul is not overcome by the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel, but quite the contrary, the reason that he proclaims it so joyously, so anxiously is because it is powerful, it changes lives. And he knows that and he has seen that and he believes that. Sure it’s a stumbling block, 1 Corinthians 1, and of course it’s foolishness but it’s also the power of God unto salvation to them that believe, and he knows that.

It reminds me of the old story I told you a few years back about the vacuum cleaner salesman that went out to the farmhouse. And he walked in there with his typical motor-mouth approach and didn’t wait for the lady to say a word. She opened the door and he was in the living room. And he said—Mam, I want to tell you about this vacuum cleaner. It will suck up everything in this house, you have to be careful you might even lose your floor it’s so powerful and I’m going to.… And she started—Wellll.… wait a.… And he just kept going. He said—I’m going to show you how much this will do. And he dumped ashes in the middle of the floor out of his bag, and garbage and junk and everything. And he said—Mam, if this vacuum doesn’t suck this up in two minutes I’ll eat it with a spoon. And finally she got an opportunity to speak and she said—Well, you’d better start eating, we aint got no electricity.

I mean, before you sell the product you better know whether there’s any power to make it operate. Right? And the reason the Apostle Paul was not ashamed was because he knew the power of the gospel.

He knew it could change lives in spite of what men thought. His supreme passion was to see men saved. He in Romans 9 even says he could almost wish himself accursed for the sake of seeing the salvation of his people. He didn’t care about his personal comfort. He didn’t care about his reputation. He didn’t care about his popularity, and even his life offered no compromise to a clear confrontive gospel. He would preach the gospel because he knew what it could do, it could change people.

Now that gets us into his introduction of the theme. And understanding the gospel of Christ comes to us in understanding four key words in this passage.… four key words. In verse 16 the word is power, and that’s the first word we want to look at.

The first word of great importance is power. The second word is salvation. The third word is believeth. And the fourth in verse 17 is righteousness. If you understand the meaning and connection and transition of those four terms you understand the gospel.

First of all, the first key word in the divine vocabulary of the gospel of Christ is that it is the power of God. The good news about Jesus Christ has power. Ttie word is dunamis, we get our word dynamite from it. And Paul has in mind the fact that the gospel of Christ carries with it the omnipotence of CTod- The all powerful God is behind it, operative in regenerating a person.

Men would like to change, do you know that? I believe that.

Really, all advertising that goes on in the world is based on one presupposition, and that is people want things different than they are. They want to look better, feel better, think better, have better experiences. They want to change their life. Basically, people want to change their life. There’s an appeal to that because that’s a basic human drive. And deep down inside, people, they really want things to be different but they are utterly impotent to change things.

In Jeremiah 13:23 Jeremiah says: “Can a leopard change his spots? Can the Ethiopian change his skin?” You have just about as much chance to change your heart. Men are impotent. They can’t do a thing about what they are. They can’t change anything. Oh, they may make a few reformations here and there and operate a little differently but real changes never happen.

Jesus said in Matthew 22:29: “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.” And He said that to the religionists of His time. You don’t even know the power of God, you don’t know what power is. The gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to change men, to take them from sin, from Satan, from judgment, from death and from hell.

Men try other things to change them. The Bible says that some men believe they can be changed by doing good works, the deeds of the law. But the Bible says the deeds of the law cannot save. The Bible says the flesh cannot save. The Bible says the church cannot save. The Bible says religion cannot save. For neither is there salvation in any other name, for none other name under heaven is given among men whereby we must be saved than the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only the power of God can change people. There’s no other way.

In Romans 5:6: “When we were yet without strength, Christ died for the ungodly.” In other words, man is impotent, can’t change himself. He is utterly trapped and unable to do a thing about it.

In the eighth chapter of Romans and the third verse: “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son was able to do.” In other words, you can take man and even give him good standards, and give him good rules, and good principles and he can’t change himself. It can’t be done. That is the frustration of man.

In James 1, in verse 18 it says: “Of His own will begot He us with the Word of truth.” In other words, what man cannot do for himself, God can do for man.

In 1 Peter 1, essentially the same thing. It says: “That we have been born again not of a corruptible seed,” not of a human decaying seed, “but of an incorruptible by the Word of God.” So, God’s word can do what we cannot do for ourselves. That is the basic principle of the gospel. Man is sinful and unable to remedy his condition … unable. The gospel, then, becomes a force. And I think the word dunamis is throwing the emphasis on the force rather than the process. It is the power in the sense that God is the source of a … of an incredible power, a limitless power that can transform lives.

Now look with me for a moment at 1 Corinthians chapter 1 …

1 Corinthians 1:18, and I want to look specifically at the Scripture I have mentioned a couple of times, and just briefly. “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness.” I mean, a crucified Christ is just ridiculous. “But unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” You see. That is the key point. The gospel may be foolishness to men but to us that are saved it is the power of God.

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Gentiles foolishness. But unto theni who are called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” And again, the same emphasis.

You know, the Gentiles used to laugh at the Christians. The pagans in Rome and Corinth mocked them. You see, the key principle of their own religion was that their gods were basically indifferent. That they just were there and they couldn’t care less. They were apathea, apathetic, detached, remote. And the idea of an incarnation of God was utterly ridiculous to them. In fact, in doing some digging around Rome archaeologists have found some interesting things. And on the Palatine, which is one of the Seven Hills of Rome, they came across a caricature from the Christian era. And it depicts a slave and a slave is bowing down before a cross. And it says underneath this particular drawing: A lexa menos worships his god. And crucified on the cross is a jackass. Now that tells us a little bit about the attitude of the Romans at that time toward Christianity. They thought it was absolutely ridiculous … foolishness.

Somewhere around the year 178, Celsus wrote a bitter attack on Christianity. He said that the Christian view was—“Let no cultured person draw near, none wise, none sensible, for all that kind of thing we count evil, but if any man is ignorant, if any is wanting in sense and culture, if any is a fool, let him come boldly to Christianity.” It was for fools, he said. “And of the Christians,” he further wrote, “we see them in their own houses, wool dressers, cobblers and fullers, the most uneducated and vulgar persons.” He said Christians are like a swarm of bats, they’re like ants creeping out of their nests. They’re like frogs holding a symposium around a swamp. He said,—They’re like worms cowering in the muck. Nice guy—Celsus. And then he said—Christians worship a dead man. Foolishness, it’s foolishness.

“But unto us who are saved it is the … what?… power of God.” The world laughs at us, they mock us. But we know better, don’t we? And because it is the power of God in 1 Corinthians 2 as Paul goes on, he says: “When I came to you I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, I declared unto you the testimony of God and I was determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him … what?… crucified.” Had one message and it was the very message you despised. It is the cross. @,, Iock it if you will, it is still the power of God and so I preach the cross that your faith might not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. I have seen the message of the cross transform hundreds, thousands of people in my lifetime. Let the world say what it will, the evidence is in and the cross transforms us.

Later on in 1 Corinthians 4:20 Paul says: “The kingdom of God is not in word but in power.” I mean, you know the biggest thing in my life is to know that God uses me as a channel to change people for time and eternity. It’s incredible … incredible. I look at my own life. I have certain weaknesses in my own life that I struggle with all my lifelong and I can’t really seem to do much about them. I have limitations in my mind. I have limitations in my physical body. I have limitations in my perceptions. I can’t do anything for them and yet God uses me to be the tool to change someone’s total being. Incredible. That’s the power of God.

So, behind the gospel is the power. How much power is behind the gospel? I’ll tell you. The Bible says, “God has great power,” Psalm 79:11. The Bible says, “God has strong power,” Psalm 89:13. The Bible says, “God has glorious power,” Exodus 15:6. He has mighty power, Job 9:4. He has everlasting power, Isaiah 26:4 He has sovereign power, Romans 9:21. He has effectual power, Isaiah 43:13. He has irresistible power, Deuteronomy 32:39. He has incomparable power, Psalm 89:8. He has unsearchable power, Job 5:9. He has power.

Jeremiah 10:12 says: “It is He who made the earth by His power.” Jeremiah 27:5 says: “It is I who by My great power and My outstretched arm have made the earth.”

In Psalm 33:8 and 9 it says: “Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him for He spoke and it came to be.” What power.… what power.

By the same powerful command the Lord maintains the universe. Behind each miracle in the Bible there is the power of God. God can part the sea. God can bring food from heaven. Miracle after miracle show His power. But I really believe the greatest expression of His power is found in His power to save, to transform people, to change their nature, their time and their eternity. Psalm 106 verses 8 and 9: “He saved them for His namesake, that He might make known His mighty power.” You see, the manifestation of His power comes in salvation.

The New Testament presents the same power. In Alatthew 28:18 He said: “All power is given unto Me.” He had the power to cast out demons. He had power over sickness, every illness, to heal. He had power over the universe to provide for the needs of the people. He had the power to still the storm, the power to walk on the water. He had power over death. He called Lazarus out of the grave. He gave life to the dead son of the widow of Nain. He gave life to the daughter of Jairus. He raised Himself from the dead. But most of all, Romans 1:16 says it, “He had the power of God unto salvation.” He had power to save.

That’s the first key word. Power … and you should never, beloved,

listen to me, you should never and nor should I entertain the thought of being ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God. Let it fly.

Second word, salvation. It is the power of God unto soteerion. The power of God unto salvation. Oh, that’s a great word. The power is seen in salvation because men, says Ephesians 2, are dead and the salvation act of God makes them alive, to live forever, cleansed of sin and fit for the Kingdom of God. The word salvation is used 18 times by Paul, 5-times in Romans and the verb form 29 times by Paul, 8 times in Romans. It’s a very key word. It means deliverance … it means deliverance. I preached one time and was preaching to young people at a youth rally and I used the word—being saved. And I said—You young people need to be saved. And somebody came to be afterward and said You shouldn’t use that word, it’s not contemporary. I’ll never forget it, a lady. She said—That word is not contemporary, kids can’t really dig on that word, you’ve got to use a better word. You want to know something? I couldn’t think of a better word. That was God’s word. You know, my first reaction was—Lady, that’s God’s word, I’m not interested in what your word is, that’s God’s word. What does it mean to be saved? It means to be delivered. From what? From sinand Satan and judgment and hell and only the gospel of Christ has the power to do that.

Man’s safe passage through human trials and his safe passage by divine judgment and his entrance into eternal blessedness is bound up in his being saved. It includes forgiveness. It includes escape from wrath. It includes life in the Spirit. It includes resurrection. It includes eternity. The gospel is God’s effective power active in the world to bring about deliverance for men from God’s wrath, from sin and Satan and judgment and death and hell.

I believe that culture in which Paul wrote was ready for this message. I think they were looking for salvation, men are today. Oh they think they need economic salvation or political salvation or social salvation. They just need to upgrade their lives and their society. But they’re looking for salvation. They were then, you know. There was a time at the time of Paul when Greek philosophy was turning more and more to that which was internal. And it was looking at man and saying—Things aren’t right with man, we need something to change man. We’re trying to find that now only we’re trying to find it from maybe stimulating his brain, controlling him somehow, so we can change him. Well, they were looking at all kinds of things in Paul’s day. They turned to a kind of moral philosophy.

For example, Epictetus one of the writers at that time called his lecture room, “The Hospital for the Sick Soul.” Epicurus called his teaching, “The medicine of salvation.” They were looking for something to deliver man from the constancy of sin.

Seneca whose life coincided with the life of Paul said that all men were looking ad.salutem, toward salvation. What we need, he said, is some hand to reach down and lift us up. Men, he said, are overwhelmingly conscious of their weakness and their inefficiency in necessary things. And he said himself he was a homo-nontolerabelis, a man not even to be tolerated. He said men love their vices but they brought only despair, and men needed salvation.

Men have always needed that. But sometimes when they hear the gospel they think that as the answer sounds so stupid, but it is the power of God. Salvation has many dimensions. When a man or a woman is delivered, he is delivered from life’s infection. We are saved, says Acts 2:40, from a crooked and perversed generation. We are coated, if you will, with a divine antiseptic. Salvation is not only from life’s infection but salvation is from lostness. Jesus said He would come to seek and to save that which was … what?… lost. See, man’s on the wrong road, doesn’t know where he’s going, where he’s come from or where he is. He’s lost. And all of a sudden when he comes to Christ, instantlv he knows where he came from, where he’s going and right where he is. It means salvation from sin. Man is a slave to sin till Christ releases him. it means salvation from the inevitable judgment of God. In that sense it is an eschatological salvation that culminates in a triumphant eternity.

The various aspects of salvation, by the way, will be unfolded to us throughout the epistle of Romans. I guess it’s enough at this point to stop and say—it takes divine power to accomplish this salvation because man is so lost and so infected and so doomed and damned and so dead in sin, it takes the power of God to burst him through that. Can’t do it on his own. God characterizes man in the Bible as grossly, willfully ignorant. As purposely self-indulgent and unwilling to forsake all. He characterizes men as deep in false religion, as covered and directed and all they do by Satan. As filled with wrong motives and self-deceived. As trusting in their own good deeds which are at best filthy rags. As loving the passing things of the world. As hating the truth. As proud pleasure-seeking, guilty, lustful creatures. And as such they have no right to enter the Kingdom of God so they have to be delivered from all of that. And only the power of God can do it.

So Paul says—my thesis is the power of God can bring salvation. How? That’s the next key word. How? Verse 16, “To every one that … what?… believes.” Faith is the -Llhird key word … or belief. I mean, if the power of God can do it, for whom does it do it? For every one that believes. Salvation power operates only through faith, that’s all. Where there is faith there is the power of God operative in salvation.

You say—What is faith? Faith is believing. You all live by faith … everyday of your life. You turn on your faucet, fill the glass and you drink it. That’s faith. You don’t know what’s in there. You have no idea whose been playing in your pipes. I remember reading in a Reader’s Digest about a city in Kansas that had a great big water tank and their water was fed to them through this tank. It was pumped up through a well and filled the tank and then it came out of the tank into the town. And they converted to a piped-in system and drained the tank and they found all kinds of strange creatures in the bottom of the tank. They all got retroactive dysentery. They have been living by faith but they had their faith in the wrong thing.

I was flying into L.A. yesterday and Bill and I and @ionty were sitting on this airplane and all of a sudden for some reason or another it just went whoa … straight down for awhile and everybody sort of got instantly religious. I don’t even know who’s up there in the front of that airplane. I don’t … in fact I don’t know if anybody is up there. You see the pilot coming down the aisle shaking everybody’s hand and somebody always says—Who’s flying this thing? We live by faith all the time.

Faith is trust. You go to a restaurant and you eat what they feed you. We all live by faith. I mean, that’s the onlv way you can survive. God has put it in the heart of a man that he understands to live by faith. And faith in the spiritual dimension is far different than that kind of faith but it is nonetheless the same idea, it is trusting and believing and yes the power of God can save but it will save only those who believe. Believe what? Believe in thine heart that God has raised Him from the dead. That means that you believe He is who He said He was, that He died for the reason He said He died and that He rose again from the grave. And if you believe that you believe. “For by grace are you saved through … what?… faith, that not of yourselves.

It’s a gift of God not of works lest any man should boast.” Faith.

Salvation is not professing Christianity. It’s not that. It’s not … salvation is not baptism. Salvation is not moral reform. Salvation is not going to church, it’s not conforming to rules. It’s not self-discipline and restraint. It’s not morality. So many people think they’re saved for the wrong reason.

I sat next to a lady going to Chicago. I’ve had all kinds of experiences this week that are unbelievable. I sat next to this lady, 78 years old. And I sat down beside her and she had a little smile on her face. She had been to see her daughter in California now she was going back to somewhere up in northern Michigan. And after a while she perceived that I was a man of the cloth. And she said—Are you a reverend? I said—I don’t know about reverend but I am a pastor. I said—Do you have a church where you attend? She said—I’m Catholic. I said—Oh, do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? She said—Oh, I’ve gone to the Catholic Church all my life. I said—Well, that’s interesting. She said—Do you know that the Catholic Church has changed? I said—That’s right, it has … it’s changed a lot hasn’t it? She said—Yes … and I don’t like it. She said—I liked it better the old way. Well, she’s 78, you know, it’s tough when tradition changes.

I said—Well, what do you mean by that? She said—You know what they’re doing now, they’re doing the services in English. I said—Is that a problem? She said I liked it better when I did not understand what they were saying. It’s exactly what she said. She said—Then I could go in there and just meditate within myself. I said—What did you gain by that? There was just a quietness in meditating within myself. I said—Don’t you think thatlit’s important to know the principles of the Word of God? Well, I … well, I think we should know some things. Well, the conversation was not as fruitful as I would like to have had it. But it got to the point where it was evident that her security was in the fact that she went to a church. She didn’t even care if she understood anything they were saying. In fact, she liked it better when she didn’t. I said—You know, mam, only one thing matters. At your age when you leave this life that you be ready to meet God because you know His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Not what church you went to. I don’t know … T hope she thinks about that.

Salvation doesn’t come through the church. Salvation comes because a man or a woman recognizes that he has no resources and he sees himself lost and undone and he sees the filthiness and deformity of his sin. And he perceives the rottenness of his heart and the pollution of his nature and he is drawn to Christ as a remedv. And he sees One who died for his sin and who conquered his sin and paid the price and wants to give him new life. And he says—I believe … I believe. And it doesn’t matter who that man is, you know. It says in verse 16—Every one whether Jew or

Greek, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, Yes, the primacy of salvation was extended to the Jews. Salvation has primary relevancy to the Jews since they were God’s specially chosen people. It is to the Jew first, that @, lessiah came and said; “I am not come but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Yes it was to them He came for the lines of preparation for the full revelation of the gospel were laid with Israel and so the gospel is preeminently the gospel for the Jew.

The great commentator Robert Holdane has some clear thought on this. Listen as I read what he wrote. “From the days of Abraham their great progenitor the Jew had be6n highly distinguished from all the rest of the world by their many and great privileges. It was their high distinction that of them Christ came who was overall God blessed forever. They were thus as His kinsmen, the royal family of the human race. In this respect higher than all others and they inherited Emanuel’s land. While therefore the evangelical covenant and consequently justification and salvation equally regarded all believers, the Jews held the first rank as the ancient people of God while the other nations were strangers from the covenants of promise. The preaching of the gospel was to be addressed to them first and at the beginning to them alone. I am not sent, Jesus said, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And He commanded that repentance and remission of sins be preached in His name among all nations beginning at Jerusalem. Thus while Jews and Gentiles were united in the participation of the gospel, the Jews were not deprived of their rank since they were the first called.”

And then he says this: “The preaching of the gospel to the Jews first served various important ends. It fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. It manifested the compassion of the Lord Jesus for those who shed His blood, to whom after His resurrection He commanded His gospel to be first proclaimed. It showed that it was to be preached to the chief of sinners and prove the sovereign efficacy of His atonement in expiating the guilt even of His own murderers. It was fit too that the gospel should be begun to be preached where the great transactions took place on which it was founded.”

Sure, to the Jew first. But also to the Gentiles. The salvation of God was not limited -to any nation. To everyone, the Jew or Gentile.

Now follow me here very carefully. The gospel of Christ has power. It has power to save. It has power to save the one who believes. But how can it even if he believes? How can it change him? Because, verse 17: “For in it,” that is in the gospel, “is the righteousness of God revealed.” You see? The reason it can save is because when you believe the righteousness of God is revealed to you. In other words, it becomes yours. That’s how it can happen.

You say—Man is so sinful, so evil, so hopeless, so helpless, that even if he believed and even if it has the power to save, how can it? It can not because we all of a sudden become in ourselves righteous, but because all of a sudden to us is revealed the righteousness of God.

And that takes us to the fourth word—righteousness. Along with faith, by the way, this word is used 60 plus times in Romans. Key word and we’ll see it again and again. The reason why the gospel powers are released in salvation by faith i.s because faith, listen to this, activates the revelation of the righteousness of God. If I am to be righteous I have none of my own, God must give me His righteousness. And He does. You see, Jesus took our sin and in exchange God gave us His righteousness. That’s why it says that Christ became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. When Paul says the righteousness of God is revealed, he doesn’t mean it’s just disclosed to human minds. He doesn’t mean it’s just spoken in human history. He means that it is specifically revealed in the action and the operation of regeneration. That is why the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes. Because that belief activates the righteousness of God.

And by the way, the best translation is righteousness from God. The righteousness from God is revealed. It wouldn’t matter what I believed. I couldn’t be righteous in myself, could I? I could believe and believe and believe all I wanted to believe but I still can’t be righteous by God’s standard, I can’t be perfectly holy. I can’t be without sin. And that’s the perfect standard. So God says—If you’ll just believe I’ll give you My righteousness. How can you do that, God? Because Jesus has borne your penalty, the price is paid, I give you My righteousness.

God demands from man what man could never pay. He demands

absolute perfect holiness. Some people think that might be unjust. How could God demand that? Why doesn’t He lower the standard? Well, let’s say He lowered the standard a little bit. Let’s say God said—Well, in order to be saved, you have to be highly intelligent. Would that be fair? No it would be unjust to morons. Well if He said you have to be rich? No, that would be unjust to poor people. No, you have to be moral. Well, that wouldn’t be very just for the wicked and immoral people. No, you see, He set a standard that nobody could qualify for, so nobody can boast. And nobody needs to be left out. And then said—I’ll give you @Ty righteousness no matter who you are.

In Romans 3:21, as we draw to a conclusion, it says: “And now the righteousness of God apart from the law,” it’s apart from any works or lawkeeping, “the righteousness of God is manifest.” How? Verse 22: “The righteousness of God is by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all who believe.” There it is again. Same principle … same truth. Look at 4:3, it’s even true in the Old Testament. Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for … what?… righteousness.

In Philippians 3, I just want to mention ibis, verses 8 and 9: “Yea doubtless,” says Paul, “and I count all things but lost for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, whom I’ve suffered the loss of all things and do count them but refuse that I may win Christ.” Then this, “And be found in Him not having mine own righteousness which is of@the law but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”

You see? That’s the message.

This is the glory of the gospel that it is the power of God unto salvation. That it is activated by faith and that faith activates it because faith releases the manifestation of the righteousness of God on our behalf.

Count Zinzendorf wrote these words and you know them and love them—“Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are my glorious dress. @lidst flaming worlds in these arrayed with joy shall I lift up my head. Bold shall I stand in Thy great day for ought to my charge shall lay. Fully absolved through these I am, from fear and sin and guilt and shame. How Jesus Thy blood and righteousness.”

So he says in verse 17: “The righteousness of God is revealed.” And then this little phrase: “From faith to faith as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” What does it mean from faith to faith? I think it has the same idea as everyone that believes. You might look at it this way—he says, And the righteousness of God is revealed from, watch this, faith to faith to faith to faith to faith, anyone’s faith or everyone’s faith … no limitations. I see it moving across the world from faith to faith to faith to faith. Just as it was in the Old Testament, it’s nothing new. Habakkuk 2:4: “The just shall live by faith.” Nothing new. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.

“Not the labor of my hands can fulfill the law’s demands. Could my zeal no anger know, could my tears forever flow. All for sin could not atone,” what’s the next line? “Thou must save and Thou … what?… alone.”

That’s from the “Rock of Ages.”

So Paul presents the theme of the gospel; power, salvation, faith and righteousness. I hope you know Christ. I hope you put your faith in Him.

I close with this. One of my favorite missionaries is John G. Payton. He went to the New Hebrides filled with cannibals. And when he arrived in the New Hebrides he came to an island at the moment when there was a terrible epidemic. People were dying of disease. It had utterly decimated the population. He went into the huts of the sick people and had to care for them. He buried the dead. He tended to the dying. And when the epidemic had passed, he was received by all and they loved him. And he stayed with them.

He first thought to learn their language. And he began to listen to their speech, write down in a notebook all the words and phrases he learned. The natives got accustomed to him always having a notebook and stopping in the middle of the conversation to write some things down. There came a time then when he decided that he ought to translate some of the gospel into their language. But they had no word in their vocabulary for faith or trust or believe. They just didn’t trust anybody. But you can’t do much translating in the Bible without a word for that. And so he began to think.

At a time of frustration he began to go deer hunting. And they shot a deer-like animal and several smaller game and started to carry the kill back to the house of the missionary. The weather was at the equatorial point in the globe, oppressive. The hill in which they hunted was trackless and they finally arrived back absolutely exhausted. They dropped their heavy burden and all of them just flopped on the grass. One native said—Oh, it’s good to stretch yourself out here in the shade. John Payton shot off that grass, excitedly he had tliat companion recite that sentence again and again. And he wrote it all down in his notebook. And then he translated John 3:16 this way: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever stretcheth himself out on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

That’s faith and it activates the righteousness of God in your behalf.

Thank You, Father for our time shared tonight. What a good night, can’t think of a better place to be unless it’s in Your presence than to be right here. I feel sorry for those who aren’t here that they should miss the testimonies, the joy, the gladness, the truth of the Word, but I thank You for these that are here by Your divine appointment. If there are any in our midst who have not yet experienced the wonders of salvation, may they know that before they leave tonight, their life is in Your hands. @lay they, by faith, receive the power of God unto salvation and be recipients of Your righteousness. Thank You, Father, for a good day. Bless every precious soul here tonight. And may this truth given to us be something we give to others that they might know You … whom to know is life eternal, for Christ’s sake we pray. Amen.

This transcript, along with related media, can also be found here on the Grace to You website.[1]


How Does the Gospel Save Believers? Part 1

August 9, 1998

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. 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.”

Verse 16 says that “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Back on June 21 I argued that what this means is not that the gospel is God’s power to convert people to faith (although that is indeed true!), but that it means the gospel is God’s power to bring those who keep on believing to everlasting safety and joy in the presence of God.

Our Ultimate Problem: The Wrath of God

One of the things we did not make plain in that message was why we need salvation. Salvation from what? What’s the problem? The answer in the book of Romans is resoundingly this: We need to be saved from the wrath of God. Look at Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” This is given as the reason why we need saving. God is very angry at our unrighteousness and the way we suppress and distort the truth to justify ourselves.

Or look in the next chapter, Romans 2:8, to see another glimpse of this. Paul says that “to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness (notice those two words again, as in 1:18—“truth” rejected and “unrighteousness” embraced), [God will render] wrath and indignation.” This is our problem. God is indignant and wrathful toward us in our unrighteousness and our untruthfulness.

Or back up just three verses to Romans 2:5, “Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” God’s wrath is a righteous judgment. When we are unrighteous, God’s righteousness blazes out with wrath and indignation. He is not to be trifled with.

This is what we need saving from in the end. This is our ultimate problem: God’s final wrath that separates us from himself and casts us into hell. If you ask the book of Romans, what do we need to be saved from, the answer comes back—yes, from sin; and yes, from guilt; and yes, from disunity and bad relationships; and yes, from destructive habits and harmful ways; but mainly the answer is: We need to be saved from God’s wrath. Our ultimate problem, though very few in the 1990s see the problem, is that we are sinners in the hands of an infinite, omnipotent, angry God.

Gospel: God Has Rescued Us from the Wrath of God

The gospel is mainly the good news that God himself has rescued us from the wrath of God. Not mainly from ourselves and the mess we make of our lives; but from his own anger and his own righteous judgment. The gospel is the power of God for salvation from the wrath of God—the power that brings us to eternal safety and joy in the presence of God.

You see it perhaps most clearly of all in Romans 5:9. “Much more then, having now been justified by His [that is, Jesus’] blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” In the end, it’s all about escaping the wrath of God, or, having the wrath of God turned away from us, so that he becomes a friendly King and not an enemy.

So when verse 16 says, “The gospel is the power of God for salvation,” it means that the gospel is God’s power to rescue believers from the “wrath of God,” or from “the righteous judgment of God” (2:5)

How Does the Gospel Save Believers?

Now the question in today’s sermon is, How does the gospel save believers? How is the gospel God’s power for salvation? And the answer is given in verse 17. Maybe we can feel the force of this verse by translating it incorrectly and making it say what we might expect it to say, but what it does not say, and then go back and do it correctly. Let’s read it incorrectly. Starting at verse 16, “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. For in it [the love] of God is revealed from faith to faith.”

Now that is not what it says. But that is where the emphasis for many of us falls, when we think about the gospel. The gospel is the good news, we say, because in it the love of God is revealed. And indeed it is. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That too is the gospel. The gospel of Jesus is a demonstration and revelation of the love of God for sinners. But that is not what verse 17 says.

Now there are two simple reasons that I put it this way—why I start with a wrong translation. One is to make plain that the love of God could not just sweep the unrighteousness of man and the wrath of God under the rug and pretend all is well. The love of God had to deal with man’s unrighteousness and had to deal with God’s wrath. The love of God is not a sentimental thing that can just say, “I feel nice to you, and so I will now be nice to you.” If that were true, the book of Romans would have been a lot shorter than it is. Indeed the Bible would have been a lot shorter, and we could have skipped the gruesome story of the death of the Son of God.

The love of God is a love full of wisdom and a love full of justice and a love full of truth. It is a love that upholds all the other attributes of God, rather than blotting them out. The love of God is worked out wisely and legally and justly and truthfully—nothing hidden, nothing suppressed. It takes our unrighteousness and God’s righteousness into account, and deals with them in the death and resurrection of Jesus. How it does that is what this book is mainly about.

The other reason I begin by mentioning what Paul does not say is to stress that Paul must want Christians to understand how they will be saved from the wrath of God. He must want us to know more than just that God loves us and sent Jesus to die for us. Think about this! It is so simple and so plain. Evidently it matters to Christ and to his inspired apostle, Paul, that Christians learn how the gospel is the power of God for salvation. Because he tells us how—in verse 17, and then for sixteen chapters he tells us how!

A Strong Understanding of the Gospel

Why do I stress this? I stress it because it is simply unbiblical that so many Christians today have such a weak grasp—a weak understanding—of what our human condition is without grace, how God planned our redemption, what God did in Christ to save us, how the Holy Spirit worked in us to convert us, and how God goes on working (by the gospel!) to keep us and purify us and fit us for heaven. These are the things that the New Testament (especially Romans) is at pains to teach Christians, and it is stunning how many Christians simply do not care to know these things and therefore do not know them.

So I am stressing that in verse 17, instead of saying, “God saved us by his love and that’s all you need to know,” Paul begins to explain for us how the gospel saves believers. He does not just say, “It shows the love of God.” Paul gets inside the love of God and shows how God deals with the real problems of the universe. We begin to learn what the real issues of the universe are. And they are deeper than we think they are—not the bombing of embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam—but far deeper than that. There is an enmity against God and a suppression of truth and a deep unrighteousness of soul and the almighty wrath of God behind such things that only one power in the universe can overcome—the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Starting at verse 17 Paul moves inside the love of God and inside the gospel to show us how the gospel is that kind of power. And he writes this way because we Christians need to know these things. I’m not asking you to take a course in theology. I’m asking you to read and care about the inspired word of God in Romans 1:17. Christ sent his apostle to teach us how the gospel saves believers and brings them safe to heaven.

This is what you are going to want to know when the doctor says, “We’ve done all we can do.” And you say, “How long do I have?” And he says, “A week? Maybe two”—and then face to face with the Maker and Judge of all the universe, infinite in holiness and unswerving in justice. O my beloved Bethlehem, this is what you are going to want to know. How can I persuade you and win you to care about the most important things in the world?

The Comfort and Privilege of Understanding How God Works

I plead with you to get serious about growing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10) and how he saves the unrighteous. If God inspired Paul to tell us, we ought to want to know. And what a privilege to know! And a comfort to know! What a joy to know! This series on Romans is a golden opportunity—a precious window of time. We are moving slowly so that you can think and study and read and discuss and review and check things out and pray over what you hear. This series has the potential of taking you deep into the heart and mind of God—if you want to go there. I plead with you: Do not be passive, don’t coast. Make the thought of this letter the thought of your mind. Build your whole way of thinking and feeling out of the building blocks in this great letter.

So this morning, would you ask with me this question: How does the gospel save believers? How does the gospel powerfully bring us to eternal safety and joy in the presence of God when what we really deserve is God’s wrath, which verse 18 says is already being revealed from heaven? How will the gospel triumph in those last two weeks of your life to rescue you from despair and terror, and bring you home to God?

The answer of verse 17 is this: the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes because “in it [that is, in the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.”

Now here is the puzzle. How can this be good news when the righteousness of God is our problem? The fact that God is righteous and I am unrighteous is the problem. His wrath is being revealed against the unrighteousness of man, verse 18 says. Martin Luther said he hated Romans 1:17 before he figured this out. He wrote,

I had … been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But … a single word in Chapter 1 [verse 17], ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed,’ stood in my way. For I hated that word ‘righteousness of God,’ which … I had been taught to understand … is the righteousness [with which God] punishes the unrighteous sinner. (John Dillenberger, ed. Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, [Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1961], p. 11)

God Gives to Us What He Demands from Us

So how is this good news—that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel? Here’s the answer: God demands righteousness and we don’t have it, so the only hope for us is that God himself would give the righteousness that he demands. That would be good news. That would be gospel. And that is what he does. What is revealed in the gospel is the righteousness of God for us that he demands from us. The reason the gospel is the power of God for salvation—the way that the gospel saves believers is that in it God reveals a righteousness for us that God demands from us. What we had to have, but could not create or supply or perform, God gives us freely, namely, his own righteousness, the righteousness of God.

This is how the gospel saves us from the wrath of God. You see in verse 18 that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” So what is our rescue? What is our hope to escape this wrath when we are ungodly and unrighteous? The answer is that God would intervene and supply us with a righteousness that is not our own. That he would give to us the righteousness he demands from us. If God would do that, then his wrath would be averted and we could be reconciled to him. And that is, in fact, what he did. And that is the gospel. That is the way it saves us.

“The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” because in it God offers to us what he demands from us, namely, his own righteousness. He reveals as a gift in Christ Jesus what was once only a demand. This is how he saves: in the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection God gives to us the righteousness that he demands from us.

Now there is two more Sunday’s worth of good news in this verse. Next Sunday we need to ask, What is this gift of God’s righteousness? 1) Is it the vindication of his own justice in the punishment of our substitute, Jesus? 2) Or is it our right standing with God as forgiven and acquitted sinners without guilt in his presence? 3) Or is it the moral transformation in us that actually changes our nature into obedient, righteous children of God? Or is it all three?

And the Sunday after that, we must ask how faith figures into this saving revelation of the righteousness of God. What does the phrase “from faith to faith” (verse 17) mean? And how does the quote there from Habakkuk 2:4 help us embrace all this great truth by faith?

But to close today I want to go back to Martin Luther. Maybe God will use his testimony to bring some of you from mere hearers this morning to those who love and live on this gospel reality of God’s gift of righteousness. You remember he said he hated Romans 1:17. But he goes on explaining his struggle with his own guilt and fear before the righteousness of God.

Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at [Romans 1:17], most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ ” There I began to understand [that] the righteousness of God is … righteousness with which [the] merciful God justifies us by faith.… Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. (Martin Luther: Selections, pp. 11–12)

O how I pray that many of you will find this verse a pathway into paradise.

How Does the Gospel Save Believers? Part 2

August 16, 1998

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. 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.”

The Gospel Saves Believers

We are asking the question, How does the gospel save believers?, not: How does the gospel get people to be believers? When spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit, the gospel does have power to open people’s eyes and change their hearts and draw them to faith, and save them. That’s what is happening on Tuesday nights and Wednesday nights this summer. People are being drawn to Christ through the power and beauty of the gospel. But I am stressing what Paul says here in verses 16 and 17, namely, that “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Believers need to be saved. The gospel is the instrument of God’s power to save us. And we need to know how the gospel saves us believers so that we make proper use of it.

Notice the link between verses 15 and 16: “So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Who is this “you”? Verses 6–7 tell us: “… among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints.” So he says in verse 15 that he is “eager to preach the gospel” to these called, loved, saints whose “faith is being proclaimed all over the world” (v. 8). Why? Verse 16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (literally: who is believing) namely, you. And, namely, you Bethlehem believers.

I say it with Paul: I, John Piper, am eager to preach the gospel to you who believe—exactly to you who believe—because this gospel which is laid out in the book of Romans, is the power of God to save you. You believers need to hear the gospel in order to be saved. And Paul labors mercifully for 16 chapters to tell us the gospel and how it works to save believers.

Believers Are Dependent on the Gospel Every Day

And I fully believe that the reason he does is that when believers know and love and live on the meat of the gospel, we will be so gospel-filled and gospel-shaped and gospel-dependent and gospel-driven and gospel-hoping and gospel-joyful that no one will need to tell us why we need to share the gospel or how to share the gospel. We will be so thankful and so desperately, day-by-day dependent on the gospel for our own hope of eternal life, and our own sanity, and our own stability, and our own marriages or singleness, that it will be impossible not to know that people need the gospel and why they need it and how it relates to their biggest needs—because we know we need it, and why we need it, and how it meets our biggest needs day by day.

One of the great reasons Paul was so eager to preach the gospel to believers (verse 15) and why I am so eager to preach his gospel to you, is that, if we thrive day-by-day on the meat of the gospel—if the gospel becomes a day-by-day, hour-by-hour instrument of God’s power in our lives to save us—then our witness to family and friends and strangers will not be an artificial scheme but the very heartbeat of the way we think and feel and fight the fight for faith and love every day.

Paul was utterly convinced—and we should be too—that preaching the gospel to believers would bear fruit. Look back at verse 13: “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” When the gospel is preached among believers there will be fruit! All kinds of fruit. Righteousness, peace, joy (Romans 14:17)—and converts who hear and see the gospel from the people of God.

How Does the Gospel Save Believers?

So I am focusing on verse 17 for three weeks because verse 17 answers the question: How does the gospel saves believers? If we believers are going to live on the gospel, this is how we do it. We learn from God’s word how the gospel is going to save us, and then we believe it, and yield to it, and cherish it, and follow God’s design day by day for how he plans to save us from everything that would destroy us, especially the “righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5) and the wrath to come (Romans 5:9). That’s what “salvation” refers to mainly in verse 16: “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Those who go on believing, year after year, will be saved from wrath by the power of God in the gospel (see Mark 13:13).

How? How does the gospel save believers from the wrath to come, and bring us safely into the joy of our God (Matthew 25:21, 23)?

Verse 17 says it works like this: “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes because in it—in the gospel—the righteousness of God is revealed.” We saw last week that Martin Luther at first hated this verse because he thought the revelation of God’s righteousness was not good news, but more bad news. It’s the righteousness of God that creates our problem: we are unrighteous and suppress the truth (Romans 1:18). So we are under condemnation by the righteousness of God.

God demands righteousness from us. That’s his nature and what his law demands. He is righteous. But we don’t have it to give. So we are guilty and condemned and perishing, alienated from God and without hope in the world. So what’s the good news? What’s the gospel? The good news is that the righteousness which God demands from us, he gives to us. That was last week’s point. That is what verse 17 means: the gospel is the power of God to save believers because, day by day, all through our lives, we see revealed in the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection the gift of divine righteousness that supplies to us what God demands from us.

What does “The Righteousness of God” Mean?

Then I asked at the end, What does this gift of God’s righteousness refer to? I mentioned the three possibilities that seem most likely to me. So today I want to show you which of these I think Paul means and why.

Does the righteousness of God mean: 1) the vindication or demonstration of his own righteousness in forgiving sin because he punishes that sin in our substitute, Jesus? 2) Or does he mean our right standing with God as forgiven and acquitted sinners without guilt in his presence? 3) Or does he mean the moral change in us that actually makes us obedient, righteous children of God?

Now we are going to see over time in Romans that all three of these are, in fact, true meanings of God’s righteousness, and that it is part of the gospel that all three of them are free gifts for us, obtained by the death of Jesus in our place. And it may be that Paul has all of them in mind in verse 17: the righteousness of God—in all these ways—is being revealed in the gospel to faith; and that is why it is the power of God to save believers. It’s true that we see in the gospel, day by day, all that is needed for God to be righteous, and to declare us righteous, and to progressively make us righteous. That’s what the gospel reveals to us day by day. That is what we grasp hold of by faith. That is what keeps us believing and helps us fight the fight of faith and persevere to the end and be saved.

Our Right Standing Before God

But there are several reasons why I think Paul’s main intention in verse 17 is the “righteousness of God” in the sense of our right standing before him as forgiven, acquitted sinners without guilt—in other words, as people who are justified, or declared righteous because the righteousness of God has been imputed to us. In Christ, we now have a right standing with God. God imputes to us his own righteousness even while we are still ungodly. He counts us as having his righteousness. That’s what I think verse 17 mainly refers to. That’s what is revealed in the gospel.

Here are my reasons.

  1. God credits his righteousness to man
  2. Notice the connection between the first part of verse 17 and the last part, the quote from Habakkuk 2:4. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” Then comes an Old Testament quote introduced with “as it is written.” In other words, what he has just said about the righteousness of God being revealed in the gospel is as—is like—what he is about to quote from Habakkuk 2:4, namely, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”

Do you see what has happened to the word “righteousness” (or “just,” which is the same in Greek)? In the first half of the verse, the righteousness is God’s (“the righteousness of God is revealed”), but in the second half of the verse the righteousness is man’s (“the righteous man shall live by faith”). How can Paul give an Old Testament quote to illustrate his point if there is such a huge difference in the use of the very words he wants to compare? The answer is that there is not a huge difference. This quote from the Old Testament shows that what Paul has in mind when he speaks of the gospel revealing “the righteousness of God” is not mainly that God himself is righteous, but that he imputes or credits his righteousness to man so that man can be called “just” or “righteous.” “The righteous man,” he says,—the one who is now righteous because of the gift of God’s righteousness—“shall live by faith.”

So what verse 17 means is that, in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed in the sense that we see it being given to sinners so that we are justified—have a right standing with God. What we can’t provide on our own, God imputes to us so that we are forgiven and acquitted and justified before him. Now, there is another reason to see verse 17 this way. So add to this one the following one.

  1. God’s righteousness is manifested through faith
  2. Here’s my second reason for thinking that this is what Paul has in mind in verse 17. Turn with me to Romans 3:20. The parallel between these next verses and Romans 1:17 is so close that I can’t help letting these verses guide how I fill out the shorthand of 1:17.

Romans 3:20: “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” So you see that the issue here is how sinners are “justified.” That is, how do we get a right standing with God when we have no righteousness of our own? How do we get acquitted in the courtroom when we are guilty sinners? Then he continues in 3:21 with words that are very close to Romans 1:17, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God [same phrase as in 1:17] has been manifested [very close to the word “revealed” in 1:17], being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” So he explains “justification” (verse 20) as a “manifestation of the righteousness of God” (verse 21). And he continues to do so in verses 22–24, which shed bright light on the “revealing of the righteousness of God” in 1:17.

He says (please try to see all of verses 22–24 as one piece) that this righteousness that is now manifested is “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” In the flow of Paul’s thought, the phrase “being justified as a gift by God’s grace” in verse 24 is a restatement and explanation of what he meant in verse 22 by “the righteousness of God through faith.” So we have God’s act of justifying sinners in verse 20 and again in verse 24 and in between we have two references to God’s manifesting his righteousness through faith (verses 20, 22).

So I take Paul to be saying this: In the death of Jesus (verses 24–25), God has manifested his own righteousness by imputing or crediting that righteousness to sinners and pronouncing them righteous or just with his own righteousness. This is called justification. This idea of manifesting his righteousness now apart from the law (verses 21–22) is so close to the revealing of the righteousness of God in 1:17, that I think they are the same.

This is my second reason for saying that Romans 1:17 refers to the righteousness of God given to man in the act of justification—the act of declaring sinners righteous through faith in Jesus.

Not Pressing Artificial Separations

But I don’t want to press artificial separations here between these ways of looking at God’s righteousness.

The gospel does reveal that God demonstrates his attribute of righteousness in justifying sinners who trust Jesus (Romans 3:25–26); that’s why Jesus had to die—to show that sin was dealt with righteously, to show that God was “both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26).

And the gospel does reveal that the death of Jesus purchased not only a declaration of our right standing before God, but also a development of our right living before God. Romans 8:3–4 says, “Sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh” [that’s what happened at the cross: sin was punished, executed. Now here is the purpose that the cross enables:] (4) so that the [just] requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Because our sins have once for all been condemned in the death of Christ, we now have new power and freedom to make real progress in fulfilling the moral law of God by the power of his Spirit. “He breaks the power of cancelled sin,” as Charles Wesley wrote (“O For a Thousand Tongues”).

The Gospel Reveals to Us God’s Work for Us

But for all that, which we will see fully in the weeks to come, don’t miss the glory of the main point in verse 17. How does the gospel save believers? How does it save you? The gospel is the power of God to save everyone who believes (Romans 1:16), because in it is being revealed for our encouragement and for our endurance in faith the precious truth that God gives to us what he demands from us, namely, his own righteousness. And he does this mainly in the sense that he declares believers to be righteous with his own righteousness. He counts us as righteous with a perfect righteousness, namely, his own. He forgives us, acquits us, justifies us by our faith.

This is how the gospel saves us. It reveals these things for us to see and believe.

What we need day in and day out, in order to make our way to heaven, is to see and receive and feed on this gift of imputed righteousness. This is the way God saves believers. This can be and should be grasped by children. Let me try to say it simply. We all do bad things and we all are bad in the sense that the bad we do comes from a deeply rooted badness. Our bad deeds come from a bad heart. But God says that we should be good or he cannot accept us, because his own goodness would be ruined by our badness. So what we need is for God to take our badness and punish it in the death of Jesus, and then take the goodness of Jesus—his own goodness—and make it ours.

That’s what he did. So everyone who believes in Jesus receives the gift of God’s goodness, God’s righteousness. That is called justification by faith.

Feed on the Gospel Daily

Look to it daily in the gospel. Be relieved by it daily from the gospel. Be encouraged by it daily from the gospel. Be emboldened by it daily. Be empowered daily. You live by an alien righteousness. Not by your performances, but by God’s. This is the gospel we live by and this is the gospel we will share this week with family and friends. And this is the gospel that will save us and bring us safely home to God.

How Does the Gospel Save Believers? Part 3

August 23, 1998

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. 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.”

Two Ultimate Concerns in Life

There are only two ultimate concerns in life. One is how to display God in our lives. The other is how to be happy in God forever. These are the great concerns in the world for every person and every people group, whether we are conscious of it or not. How shall a person think and feel and act so as to show the glory of God? And what must we think and feel and do so as to be fully happy in God for all eternity? And not just us, but all the peoples.

Romans 1:16–17 deals with these great concerns—as does the whole book. Verse 16 is about God’s power to save us. That deals with concern number two: our longing to be happy in God forever. “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.” The power of God for salvation—that means, at least, the power of God to make us happy in him forever. Romans 14:17 says, “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” That is what salvation includes. So the gospel is the power of God to bring believers into the eternal experience of “righteousness, peace and joy.”

Verse 17 is about the revelation of the righteousness of God in the gospel. So this verse deals with our first great concern: how to display God in our lives. Verse 17 explains how the gospel—the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus—saves believers. The gospel is the power of God to give believers eternal joy, it says, “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.’ ” What stands out here is that the gospel has power to save us because it reveals something of God. And that’s what the first great concern in the universe is: the revealing or showing of God.

So verse 16 deals with the great concern of our eternal joy (called “salvation”) and verse 17 deals with the issue of the manifestation of God (in particular his righteousness). Things don’t get any bigger. They don’t get any more important than this. If you think you have bigger issues in your life than this, you are not seeing reality. If you think the Clinton scandals are bigger or the missile reprisals are bigger, you need to turn off the TV and think for a moment. Henry VIII made Bill Clinton look like a Puritan, and he is dead—barely a blip on the screen of history (died 1547), where Bill Clinton will be very soon. And the terrorism of Genghis Khan, wiping out whole peoples, makes today’s terrorist assaults seem like recess squabbles; but he is gone, and who even knows what century he lived in (AD 1162–1227)?

What seems great and all-important now may, in fact, be very small. But whether God is shown and known, and whether you will have eternal joy—these are truly great and ultimate concerns. So I am praying earnestly that God will open your eyes and give you a passion for the gospel which is the power of God to save believers, and for the revealing of God’s righteousness which is the way the gospel brings believers to eternal life and joy.

“We Shall Be Saved from the Wrath of God”

This is our sixth message on these two verses. And the main point I have been making is that these verses are not mainly about how people become believers, but about how believers are saved—how we escape the wrath of God at the end of the age and enter into eternal life and joy. Verse 16 says that the gospel is the power of God to save believers. And verse 17 says that the way it works is that in the gospel the righteousness of God is being revealed. Both the believing in verse 16 and the revealing in verse 17 are present tense continuous action verbs (in Greek). “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who continues to believe, because in that gospel the righteousness of God continues to be revealed.”

From our side the key to our being saved from the wrath to come is to go on believing and trusting God. The key, from God’s side, to our being saved is that he goes on revealing to us the righteousness of God in the gospel, month after month and year after year.

The issue in these verses is how God saves believers from his final judgment and brings them safely into everlasting righteousness and peace and joy. Romans 13:11 says, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we [first] believed.” Full and final salvation is future. Romans 5:9 says, “Having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” That is what is at stake in these verses. How does God bring a believer through life so that in the end he is saved from wrath and has eternal life and joy?

In fact, Romans 5:9 is an exact restatement of Romans 1:16–17 with the order of thought reversed. Let’s reverse the order of the two halves of Romans 5:9 so they match the order of Romans 1:16–17. Instead of “[a] Having now been justified by His blood, [b] we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him,” turn it around and let it say, “[b] We shall be saved from the wrath of God through Christ, [a] because we have been justified by his blood.” That is exactly the structure of Romans 1:16–17.

Justification Is the Foundation of Glorification

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation because in it the righteousness of God is revealed, that is, God reveals righteousness as a free gift that we need and don’t have. That, we have seen, is the meaning of verses 16 and 17: our final salvation (verse 16) is based on God’s giving the righteousness to us that he demands from us (verse 17). The way Paul says it in Romans 8:30 is: “Those whom He justified, He also glorified.” Justification (God’s righteousness completely imputed to us) is the foundation of glorification (God’s righteousness completely imparted to us).

Or to see the same order of salvation in different language, look at Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” In other words, the foundation for all our future hope of life and joy and salvation is based on God’s giving his Son to die as a substitute for us so that our sins could be on him, and his righteousness could be on us. It’s the same pattern of salvation in Romans 8:30, 32 and Romans 5:9 and Romans 1:16–17. This is the great theme and structure of this book.

Our Hope for Salvation

All our hope for salvation (verse 16) hangs on beholding and believing the revelation of God’s righteousness as a gift to us (verse 17). The book of Romans is going to demand many things of us as believers, but we are not to do any of them in order to take away our guilt or forgive our sin or get for us the gift of righteousness. God accomplished that once for all in the death of Jesus in our place; and he gave it to us freely through faith the very moment we truly believed. This is why justification is treated as a past event in our lives and is the foundation and security of everything else: “Having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God” (5:9). The past grace of justification secures the future grace of salvation.

The power that will bring believers to that salvation is the revelation of that justification. That’s the meaning of the connection between Romans 1:16 and 17. To fulfill all that is required of us to enter heaven, we must see it over and over again—the ongoing revelation in the gospel that the righteousness of God is given to us freely through faith. If we don’t know ourselves acquitted and forgiven and counted righteous now, we will not be able to walk the path that leads to life. Either we will despair and turn to worldliness; or we will try to earn our way into God’s favor with moral and religious performances.

Everything God requires of us as believers assumes that we are justified—accepted, forgiven, acquitted, counted righteous with his righteousness, not ours. From that secure position we must fight sin and unbelief. And the one who fights like that—as a justified sinner—will live.

“The Righteous Man Shall Live by Faith”

Now that is exactly what I think the last half of verse 17 means. Let’s look at this quote from Habakkuk 2:4. “In the gospel the righteousness of God is being revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” In the context of the book of Habakkuk the meaning of this sentence is just what it is here. The unrighteous nations are in great peril before the judgment of God. For example, Habakkuk 1:5–6:

Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—You would not believe if you were told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans [Babylon], that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs.

But Judah herself is not exempt from judgment. The wickedness and idolatry of some is about to be tried in the wrath of the Babylonian invasion. The crucial question here is: How can a person be saved? How can they gain their lives and not be destroyed in God’s judgment? That’s the same question addressed by Romans 1:16—who will be saved from the wrath of God?

Two Crucial Truths

The answer of the book of Habakkuk is given in 2:4: “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith.” There are two crucial truths in this verse that are relevant for Paul’s argument.

  1. Rescue depends on faith.

One is that rescue from the judgment of God depends on faith. That’s what Habakkuk 2:4 promises: “the righteous will live by his faith.” That is, it’s by faith that you gain your life. By faith you will not be swept away utterly in the wrath of God. By faith you will live. So “living” in Habakkuk 2:4 and here in Romans 1:17b (“the righteous will live”) refers to salvation from the judgment of God. And that is tremendously important for Paul’s point in verse 16. There he says, “salvation [is] to everyone who believes.” Rescue from God’s wrath and the gift of eternal life is given freely to those who trust God. Then he sees this same truth in Habakkuk 2:4 and quotes it to give further support to that part of his point. The words, “will live by faith” in verse 17b correspond to “salvation to everyone who believes” in verse 16. We are saved from judgment and inherit life by trusting God. (See Habakkuk 2:18 and 3:16, 18–19 for what the “faith” of 2:4 looks like. And see Habakkuk 3:13 for the word “salvation” as reference to the promise of life.)

That’s one truth in Habakkuk 2:4 that is relevant for Paul’s argument.

  1. Life is gained by faith.

The other is that it is a righteous person who gains his life by faith. “The righteous shall live [the righteous person shall gain his life and be saved from God’s wrath] by faith.” Now that is crucial for what Paul is saying about the righteousness of God. Habakkuk 2:4 doesn’t say in so many words that we get God’s righteousness by faith, which is what Paul teaches in this book and in Romans 1:17. But Habakkuk does link the righteous person and faith. The least we can say—and maybe we should say more—is that the thing about righteous people that brings them to life and salvation is their faith. It is a very small step then to say: Well then, faith is the essential thing about being righteous before God.

In fact, if it is by faith that we escape God’s judgment, and if, as Habakkuk 1:13 says, “[God, your] eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor,” then faith must somehow be counted by God as righteousness, because otherwise we could never be rescued by him and given life by him, because we are all sinners and he could never look on us with favor. So, if God can’t look on any evil with approval (Habakkuk 1:13) and yet saves us and gives us life by our faith (Habakkuk 2:4), then our righteousness that has a standing with this holy God must be a righteousness by faith and a gift from him. And that is the other reason this text is so crucial for Paul’s argument.

So in summary, we see two things in Romans 1:16–17 that are confirmed in the Old Testament quote. 1) One (verse 16) is that the gospel is the power of God to save believers. If we have faith in him we will live and not perish. 2) The other is that the way God saves believers is by revealing (in that gospel) the righteousness of God as a gift “from faith to faith.” The righteousness he demands from us (Habakkuk 1:13) he freely gives to us. This is what God reveals “from faith to faith.”

“From Faith to Faith”

So the last thing I want to ask in these verses is, What does “from faith to faith” mean in verse 17? There are two or three keys to this.

1) The only real parallel to this phrase in the New Testament is in 2 Corinthians 2:15–16. (But see also Psalm 84:7 and Jeremiah 9:3.) Paul says, “We are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.” “From death to death,” and “from life to life” are identical in wording to “from faith to faith.” The most natural interpretation seems to be: when Paul’s message and sufferings meet with death in the soul, that leads to the final death of the soul. And when his message and sufferings meet with spiritual life, that leads to final life. Death is unresponsive to the gospel and is confirmed in its deadness forever. Spiritual life is responsive to the gospel and is confirmed and preserved for eternal life.

So here in Romans 1:17 it says, “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” That is, when the revelation of the gift of righteousness meets with faith it leads to future faith. Faith is the initial window of the soul that lets the light of the revelation of righteousness in. And when the light of God’s gift of righteousness comes in by faith, it powerfully works to awaken and sustain and engender more and more faith for the years to come.

  1. The other key to understanding “from faith to faith” is to see how well this meaning meets the demands of verse 16. Verse 16 says that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who go on believing—present tense continuous action. So we must go on believing. In 1 Corinthians 15:1–2, Paul says, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” So if we give up on our faith and throw it away, our supposed faith will prove to have been vain, empty, dead.

The Gospel Keeps Believers Believing

What saves is persevering faith (Mark 13:13; Colossians 1:23). If that’s true, now it makes clear sense why verse 17 explains how God saves believers by saying that in the gospel God reveals a righteousness for us that is first perceived and embraced by faith, and then has the effect of awakening all the necessary future faith that we need in order to be saved. The gospel saves believers because the gospel keeps believers believing. (See 1 Peter 1:5.)

In Romans 8:13 Paul says, “If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” But the problem is, we all know that in our war with sin we do not win often enough to have peace in our consciences. So if our life hangs on perfect winning in the war with sin, we are going to despair and not persevere to the end. We will simply give up, because there is no use trying.

What then will keep us going and fighting so that we will live? Romans 1:16, 17 answers: the gospel is the power of God to save believers because in the gospel we can see revealed every day that our standing with God is not based on our own righteousness but on God’s, freely given to us by faith. And when we see that over and over in the gospel, day after day, as long as we live, our faith is renewed and sustained, and we press on in the fight. Our confidence that God will help us in life and save us from the wrath to come is based on our ever-renewed assurance that our acceptance with him is based on the gift of his own righteousness, not ours.

So every time the Bible demands you to do something do not think, “I must do this to take away my guilt or to get forgiveness or to get a right standing with God.” Rather think, “I will do this because my guilt is already removed, I am already forgiven, I already have the gift of God’s righteousness, and so I know that God is for me and will help me. So I will trust him and obey him and display by my radical, risk-taking obedience the glory of God’s grace. And I will draw nearer and nearer to him in the fellowship of his sufferings and the joy of his companionship.[2]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You.

[2] Piper, J. (2007). Sermons from John Piper (1990–1999). Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God.

Romans 1:8-15 Sermon Series

Marks of True Spiritual Service, Part 1

April 5, 1981

Romans 1:8–10a

People serve the Lord for many reasons. There are some people who serve the Lord because of legalism. They’re afraid not to. They serve the Lord because they think that’s what He requires if you’re to get in the Kingdom. There are some cults that even teach if you don’t go to the mission field for a couple of years, you’ll never make it. There are people within the framework of Christianity who serve the Lord strictly because they feel bound to do that or else God may pop their balloon, make life miserable for them.

There are people who serve the Lord for prestige sake. They want to make a reputation. They want to be highly esteemed. They want to lord it over men. They want to seek a chief seat. They play the role of Deotrophes(?) who loved to have the preeminence.

There are some people who serve the Lord because they want to be thought righteous. They want to be thought of as holy, as godly, as religious. There are some people who serve the Lord because of peer pressure. Everybody else is doing it and they’ve got to get on the bandwagon or they won’t be accepted in the group.

There are some people who serve the Lord because they’ve been forced to do it by somebody else, maybe their parents, perhaps even who have intimidated them in years past and they’re still bound by that intimidation.

You can serve the Lord for many reasons. Out of your own ego, out of fear, out of legalism, out of intimidation. But none of those is true spiritual service because all of that is external. It’s all functionary. It’s all going through the motions, cranking it out. I might add there are some people who serve the Lord, believe it or not, out of money. They do it for filthy lucre sake. Jesus now days is a commodity that sells, in case you haven’t noticed.

But all of these show an external kind of service. We could call it serving in the flesh, for external reasons. And what I want to share with you tonight out of Romans 1:8–15 and right into the beginning of verse 16, is something very different from that and that is true spiritual service.

Now let me go a step further and say that all of us who may serve the Lord from time to time because we really have a pure motive can find ourselves drawn into the other kind of service. There are times, for example, when I might preach because I have to preach. And it’s mechanical and I’ve got to do it, if I don’t do it you’ll all come and we’ll sing and you’ll go home. And that will never do so I’ll preach. It’s a function.

There might be times when you teach a Bible class or a Sunday-school class or something like that because you feel that if you don’t do that, you’re not going to be a part of the group because all your friends are doing it and you just go through the motions. You may do it sometimes so people will think you’re spiritual, you may do it sometimes so you can have that leadership that you’ve always wanted. It’s possible to serve the Lord for money. I hate to admit the thing but it’s true. There are times, you know, when somebody will call or write and say, “We’d like to have you come and speak.” And my first thought is, “You know, the last time I went there they only gave me $25.00.” And I say I would never think that, it must be the devil putting that in my mind because he tempts you that way.

I remember one time being invited to speak at a campus. I spoke for 45 minutes on the credibility of Christianity to an open forum student body and they had 45 minutes to ask me questions. Now that’s putting your head on the block at a college. And I did that for three Tuesday nights in a row. And I drove 50 miles one way to do it here in the southland and I received a check in the mail for $3.00 … a dollar a night. I never forgot that. And my reaction is “A dollar a night!” I had just gotten out of seminary at the time and I was really desperate. Oh, it’s so easy to be tempted like that.

All of us find ourselves fighting off emotions and bad motives, improper motives as we serve Christ. And as we look at the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:8–16, I think we might get a glimpse of the right motives. And maybe the Lord will really begin to reinforce in our hearts the perspective of true spiritual service.

Almost 1900 years ago this passage was written. And yet though over 1900 years old, it still had a tremendous warmth. It is just alive with affection. There is in these verses a tremendous sensitivity. There is a tenderness and a strength that just breathes its way through the letters and the words. As I read this over and over and over and over this week, it just seemed to me that I could sense Paul’s great heart beating with love for the church he had never seen in Rome. It wasn’t his church, he didn’t found it. He had never met with that church. And it was not like him to build on another man’s foundation as he says in chapter 16, so this was a very, very unusual passion that he had for this church. And as I read the message again, it seemed as though Paul was alive and his heart was beating and the thing was so fresh that it spoke to me of my own service for Christ right here and right now. And I hope it will for you as well.

I think we tend to see Paul as a strong resolute determined hard confrontive bold dynamic individual. We primarily see him as an initiator. And that’s true. And we also see him as a brilliant logical astute genius, a definitive theologian. He’s not only an initiator but he’s an intellectual.

But I have to add a third word, he’s also an intimate. There’s something very tender down inside Paul, something very sensitive, something very loving, something very soft and warm and gentle. He had the zeal of the prophet. He had the mind of the teacher. He had the determination of the Apostle. But he had the heart of a shepherd. And that’s what you see in these verses here. He was no paid preacher with a fee in the place of a heart. He wasn’t a preacher with a bag of old-hat sermons in place of a passion. He was every bit the shepherd.

Now he has already introduced the gospel in the first seven verses of Roman in a brief summary of what he’ll unfold in the sixteen chapters. He’s already introduced the gospel. But before he moves into its full explanation which begins in the middle of verse 16, before he gets into that unfolding explanation that runs the length of the book, he wants to open up his heart and it’s most important for him to do that because the people in Rome basically don’t know him. And there might be the question, first of all, why is this man whom we’ve never met writing us this long epistle? Secondly, this great Apostle to the Gentiles, why has he never come to our city? Doesn’t he care about us? Is he going to treat us at arm’s length?

And so, I believe he wants to answer the question of why he is writing and why he has not come. And the answer is very simple, he’s writing because he cares so deeply about their spiritual maturity and he hasn’t come because although he’s wanted to so desperately, God has never allowed him to come. But he has to say that so they’ll understand. The Romans had never met him and the only way they could get an insight into his heart is if he opened his heart to them. So, what we have right here in verses 8–16, the first part of the verse, is the Apostle opening his heart to reveal the character of his service to Christ. It’s a tremendous passage. We get a glimpse into the real Paul, behind that initiator and behind that intellectual, the spirit of the man.

I read this passage I can’t tell you how many times before something finally clicked in my mind as to what was going on here. In fact, I can’t remember a passage in months and months that I went over and over and over like I did this and never really got the whole thing put together till half way through yesterday … after spending all week on it. Because I never could really see what the key was. And then there was a sort of “eureka” and I caught a phrase in verse 9: “For God is my witness whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son.” And the phrase that jumped out at me was “whom I serve with my spirit.”

Paul had been raised in Judaism. He knew the Pharisees. He knew the Sadducees. He knew the scribes, the chief priests, the elders. And he knew the externalism. He knew that the service was so much mechanics, so much activity, so much formality, so much routine, so much liturgy. They served with the flesh. They served in the physical, in the external, in the superficial. And he grew up in a Gentile world and he knew how the priests of the pagan gods served. They served externally out of fear that if they didn’t do it the god would step on them and crush them, or bring calamity on their city or their town or their country. All of it was so shallow and so superficial. He had seen so much religiosity. He had seen so much phony functioning in the name of religion. And he sums up his whole approach in the statement “God whom I serve with my spirit.”

And I believe what he is saying is that my service comes from deep within me, not from the outside, not from the external. In my service, in the gospel of His Son which gospel he has already alluded to in the first seven verses, when I serve God in the gospel of His Son, I serve with my spirit. In other words, my inner man is what motivates me. My inner man is what drives me. It isn’t what people think. It isn’t what they pay me. It isn’t peer pressure. It isn’t legal obligation. It’s in my heart to do this. It’s in my spirit to do this.

The best way to see that beautiful phrase is as an affirmation that his whole being, his whole heart, his whole mind, his whole soul, his whole spirit was in the service that he rendered. He’s saying to them, “I’m not insincere. I am genuine.” He’s just saying it’s an all out effort for me.

We use the word “spirit” sometimes in that same way. We may watch an athletic team participate or an athlete participate in some sport and we see him lethargic, indifferent and just going through the motions. On the other hand, sometimes you see somebody just go all out, just put out everything and we tend to say, “That is spirited play.” He’s got his whole being in that. In fact, when I was in college we used to give an award on the football team called the “esprit de corps” award,” for the one who rendered the greatest spirit, really had his heart in it. And that’s Paul.

He never served the Lord without a wholehearted commitment. That’s the only way to go at it. So he distinguishes himself from the hirelings. He distinguishes himself from those whose labor was formal and outward and pretense and insincerity. He separates himself from the traditional heathen cultic priests and the scribes and the Pharisees. And he says I serve God with my inner man. And the allusion to the Holy Spirit here is irresistible. I see in the spirit also the Holy Spirit behind the scenes. I serve with my spirit, but his spirit had been long energized by the Holy Spirit of God. His service then is the real stuff.

In fact, the word “to serve” comes from the Greek verb latreuo. It is used in the New Testament only for religious service, always for service to God. Except two times it’s used for service to idols. But it always is used for service to God, divine service. And frequently the word is translated “worship.” It always has fascinated me that this word exists in the New Testament and can be translated either to serve or worship. We think of worship as stained glass windows and pipe organs. You’ll notice we have not a pipe organ and no stained glass windows. We don’t want you to be confused. People think of worship as external. But the Bible says the same word that means worship also means … what?… service. The greatest worship you ever render to God is to serve Him. And Paul says I serve Him with my spirit.

Now frankly, for Paul that meant a total all-out commitment. Look at Romans 12:1 … Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that you present your bodies … watch this … a living sacrifice.” Oh, that’s a great phrase. “Present your body a living sacrifice.” That means one that is ever willing to die if need be, that’s how deep the commitment … holy. And by the way, that is already holy … “Holy, acceptable unto God which is your … what?… reasonable, or spiritual service.”

Paul says, “Look, I serve with my whole spirit.” How do you do that, Paul? Well, by presenting your body a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God. Further, “By not being conformed to this … what?… world, but being transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” In other words, your body is presented as a living sacrifice. Your soul is not conformed to the world. Your mind is transformed. Every part of you belongs to God. That is your spiritual service. That’s the way Paul served, with everything he had.

In Philippians 3:3 he uses the same terms. He says, “For we are the circumcision who worship God in the spirit.” And he makes the same contrast in Philippians 3:3. We’re not external. We worship or serve God … same word again … from deep within our hearts. It is spiritual service, spiritual worship.

I love the statement he made when the boat was going through the Mediterranean Sea and they were having that terrible disastrous shipwreck and all those things were happening. And you remember what he said? He came and he said, “Look, everything’s going to be okay because an angel appeared to me.” And then he said this, I love this, “For I believe God … I believe God.” How so, Paul? Earlier he says this, “For there stood by me this night an angel of God,” here’s the phrase I want you to get, “whose I am and whom I … what?… serve.” I belong to God and I serve Him.

Second Timothy 1:3, he writes: “I thank God whom I serve with a pure conscience.” In other words, you can look deep down inside of me and you will see that I serve with a whole heart. Paul’s service is an act of worship. Paul’s service was deep and genuine and honest. And that, my friend, is true spiritual service. That’s the real stuff. That’s the only way to serve. There is no other way to serve, but with total commitment.

Paul reminds Timothy who has defected in 2 Timothy 2, he says to him, “Timothy, you had better begin to call upon the Lord,” listen to this, “out of a pure heart.” You better get your act together.

Now what does this involve? If we are to serve the Lord in the right way, what does it really involve? What are the ingredients? Let me give you a test. We’ll probably start it tonight and finish it next time. The other alternative is, we’ll be here till midnight. We’ll take alternative number one.

What are the marks of true spiritual service? How can you look at somebody and tell that they’re really serving with their spirit? You know, we have a lot of people in this church who serve … a lot of people … a lot of people. Do you know that Jim Welles was telling me the other night that just in the ministry of recreation alone, there are 400 leaders that are involved over a period of a year. I don’t know how many teachers there are in the elementary division, 500? A lot of people serve, flocks ministries, missions, youth ministries. In fact, we figured a few weeks ago, I shared it with you, that between eight and nine thousand in this church are involved in some service, some fellowship between the Sundays. We have a lot of people who serve.

Now, how do we really evaluate whether our service is according to the heart? Here comes the test. And I think there are ten marks of true spiritual service. First, number one, true spiritual service is marked by a thankful spirit … a thankful spirit. Look at verse 8. First, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.”

You know, if there’s anything you learn about Paul, it’s that he had a thankful heart. Do you know that in every single epistle that he wrote, he expresses thanks for the one to whom he writes … except for one? And that was the Galatians who had defected from the gospel and were functioning in the flesh. All the rest begin with thanksgiving. Now let me tell you something. The reason he wrote those letters, for the most part, was because those churches need to be corrected. But even where he saw that need and where he saw the need for instruction, he also could find something to be thankful for. Paul had a thankful spirit. He was always able to see God’s purposes being accomplished. He was always able to see God’s Kingdom advancing. He was always able to see people being saved. He looked for that. He focused on that. And he expressed what I believe you find in the heart of all true servants of God, the man lived out an attitude of gratitude.

Some people go through the world and all they ever find is what’s wrong with everything. It’s like Thomas Hardy said, he had a friend, you could take him in to any beautiful meadow and immediately he’d find the manure pile. Didn’t matter where it was. There are some people who just go through life negative. They just cannot find the good things. You know why that is? Because the only good things they care about are the good things that happen to them and they know nothing of what it is to live a life of gratitude over what God’s doing for somebody else. If it isn’t happening to them, it isn’t happening.

Now Paul expresses his thanks. He doesn’t say, “Thank you, Romans.” No, thanking the Romans would have been flattery. And he doesn’t say, “I’m so thankful for what God has done for me.” That would have been selfishness. He says, “I thank God … not the Romans … for what He’s done … not for me, but … for you.” He got just as much joy out of somebody else’s success as he did his own.

You might be interested to know where he was when he wrote this. He was in Corinth. And you know what was going on? The Jews were plotting to kill him. But he never lost his perspective. That was nothing new, frankly. That happened in about every town he went into. But in the twentieth chapter of Acts and the second verse, it says, “They were lying in wait to kill him.” In that particular situation he still is filled with thanksgiving, even though things are pretty sad in his case. And he knew he was on his way to Jerusalem and everywhere he went people kept telling him when he got there he’s going to be put in chains and his life would be in danger. It never even bothered him. He was thankful.

And what was he thankful about? That God had given them a testimony of faith that was going throughout the whole world. Their testimony was strong. In fact, the testimony of the church in Rome was so strong that in 49 A.D., Emperor Claudius had expelled all the Jews, kicked them all out. And if you read Suetonius, the Roman historian, Suetonius records that the reason Emperor Claudius threw all the Jews out is because there was trouble brewing under the influence of one named “Krestus(?)” which seems to be poor Claudius’ feeble attempt at identifying Christ. They had had a tremendous testimony. They’d stirred up the Jewish community there. Their testimony had gone, as it were, through the whole world. And, of course, that’s not comprehensively the whole world, but the whole world of their purview, the world of their living and the world of their understanding.

So he thanked God. I think superficial servers are basically thankless. They never get satisfied. They never get enough. They focus only on their own insatiable appetites. You show me a thankless heart and I’ll always show you a proud self-centered individual. Because even when you can’t find things in your own life to be thankful for, if you’re really living the kind of life you should, you can find myriads of things that God’s doing in somebody else’s life. And you should be just as thankful for those. In fact, in the spirit of Philippians 2, more thankful.

And so, Paul had a thankful heart even though his life was being plotted against, even though he was heading to Jerusalem where he had been warned that he would become a prisoner and perhaps lose his life. His great concern was the Kingdom of God, not his own hide. So he was thankful. He was thankful in the midst of his distress because the joy came in the advance of God’s Kingdom, not in his own success.

Notice what he says in verse 8. “First I thank my God.” Pagans didn’t say that. There was no intimacy. Jews didn’t say that. There was no intimacy. But Paul said that because God for Paul was not a theological abstraction, God for Paul was an intimate friend. The God whose I am and whom I serve, there was a tremendous intimacy between himself and God. And he says that very often, “My God.” In Philippians 1:3, “I thank my God.” In Philemon, that little letter, I think it’s in verse 4, “I thank my God.” He felt a real intimacy and he was so … mark this now … so entwined with his God that his God’s purposes and his God’s causes and his God’s ends became the source of his thanksgiving.

You see, even when he became a prisoner and was in that stinking wretched Mammertine prison where the city sewage system ran by the door and after 40 prisoners were in that hole in the ground, they opened the sewage and drowned the prisoners and started with the next 40, even while he was a captive in his own house in Rome and when he was writing those prison letters, he was always filled with joy because his joy had nothing to do with what was happening to him. In fact, he said, you know, even the people who ought to be my friends have criticized me. And some are adding affliction to my bonds. In other words, it isn’t enough I’m a prisoner, they’re wailing on me, criticizing my ministry, saying I’m in jail because God had to shelf me. But he says I don’t care, if Jesus Christ is preached, in that I will rejoice. He had a thankful heart. Thankful language comes from one who serves the Lord with his deep inner man.

Notice just a couple of other notes in verse 8. He says, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ.” Always the Mediator, one mediator between God and man. The only way he could come to God was through Jesus Christ. “No man comes unto the Father,” said Jesus, “but … what?… by Me,” John 14:6. Jesus is the one, says the writer of Hebrews, who has opened the way so that we can boldly come into the presence of the Father to seek mercy in the time of need. Apart from Jesus Christ I warn you that God would be nothing but a consuming fire. The reason He is my God is because the intimacy has been made possible by Christ. And so he comes to serve his God through Christ with a heart of thanksgiving.

And notice it’s an all-encompassing thanks. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.” Some people say this indicates that he was from the south. But I’m not really sure that’s exactly what it’s intended to indicate. But that his heart was toward all of them. The man had such a big heart. He didn’t look for what was wrong with people. He wasn’t picky. He was just thankful.

I’ve always said, you know, if you’re not thankful, the reason is you think you didn’t get what you deserve. And let me just tell you. If you really got what you deserved, you’d get hell forever. I’m thankful, he says. And I’m thankful that your faith is spoken of throughout the world. What does he mean by their faith? The genuineness of their salvation, the true character of their redemption, the clear testimony that they were a really redeemed fellowship manifesting the life and the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. And there they were, right in the middle of the mouth of the Roman lion, right in Rome itself. And he was so thankful. They had credibility, they had integrity. They lived out their faith.

Wouldn’t it great to be famous throughout the whole world for your faith? Some churches are famous for their pastor. Some churches are famous for their architecture. Some churches are famous for the high ceiling, or the glass, or the carvings. Some churches are famous for the dome on top. Some are famous for the art. Some are famous for the cemetery out back. Some are famous for the organ. Some are famous for their choir. Some are famous for the celebrities that go there. Some are famous for their money, some for their theology, some for their fanaticism. Wouldn’t it be great to be famous for your faith throughout the whole world? No wonder he was thankful.

When people come to me, and they come every … almost every day either by letter or by phone call or person to person, they say, “Could you please recommend a church in my city? They don’t say, “Could you recommend one with nice architecture? Do you know a good church that has a dome on it? Do you know a church where there’s a nice cemetery in the back? Do you know a church with a pipe organ? You know, we’re moving to a new city, where do the celebrities go? People never ask me that. You know what they ask me? Do you know a good church in such-a-such-a place where they really believe God and take Him at His Word? That’s what they want to know. And that’s why Paul was thankful for this church.

A thankful heart is essential to true spiritual service. If you’re trying to serve the Lord without gratitude in your heart for what He’s done, you’re serving in the flesh for other than proper motives. Thankfulness, let me tell you, is an attitude that will always find a cause … always. It will always find something to express itself. And one who serves externally and one who serves legalistically and one who serves ritualistically, one who serves out of duty can hardly find things to be thankful for in his own life, let alone anybody else’s.

Do you have a thankful heart? Are you overwhelmed with thanksgiving? If you are, that will take out any bitterness or any negative thinking. There’s so much to be thankful for. And you know, the devil always wants to say, “Ah, it isn’t like you to like it, is it?” And he plays that game with me, too. And then I just stop and stand back and say, “But wait a minute, look, so much to be thankful for.”

Second point, true spiritual service is characterized by a thankful spirit and a concerned spirit … a concerned spirit. And here is a marvelous duality. While there is deep gratitude, at the same time there is concern for what isn’t being done. You have to have the two. Sure, we’re thankful but we don’t just sit back and say, “Oh, there’s three or four good things going on, so we just let the 84 bad things sort of slide along.” No, we don’t do that. There’s concern. Look at verse 9, “For God is my witness whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son that without ceasing, I make mention of you always in my prayers.”

Now the emphasis of that statement is simply this. Drop out the part that we studied in the middle and he’s saying this, “For God is my witness that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” Now you say, “Paul, you’re being redundant. I mean, what you said without ceasing you didn’t need to say always, or if you said always you could leave out the without ceasing. Why do you say without ceasing I make mention of you always? That’s redundant. Yeah, but says that’s how I do it. I just do it always and without ceasing. The first one is negative and the second one is positive, you see. He just wants to cover the ground. He says I pray for you all the time.

And now you have no way of knowing that. Because you don’t know me. So he uses that little beginning in verse 9, “For God is my witness.” Since you don’t have that knowledge, I call on God. God is my witness. God knows my heart. Beloved, may I suggest to you secondly, that the spirit of true spiritual service is one of concern that issues in prayer? First a thankful heart and then a concerned heart that prays. If you see needs, go to your knees about those needs. True spiritual service prays.

Oh, how many of his epistles does he begin with an indication of his concerned prayers for the readers? He does it over and over again. And here for a group he’s never even visited, and a church he didn’t even found, he says I never stop praying for you. He never took it for granted. He didn’t say, “Oh, well, that church in Rome, their faith is spoken throughout the whole world. I’m so thankful, God, for what You’ve done. Cross them off the list.” No. Continued to pray.

It was so with the early Apostles. In Acts 6:4 it says that they gave themselves continually to prayer in the ministry of the Word. Paul told the Thessalonians simply this, “Pray without … what?… ceasing.” They could never know his intensity. They could never know his concern unless he told them. And maybe they wouldn’t believe it except that he calls on God and says God is my witness. And after all, it’s Him I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son. I’m lining up with God and telling you I pray like this on your behalf. He calls on omniscience for verification. God who cannot lie, God who knows the secrets of the heart, God who knows the hidden motives, let God be my witness that I pray for you and I never stop praying for you. What a testimony. If you have a little class of people that you teach, can you say to them, “I thank my God for you and with all your problems and I never, ever ever stop praying for you?” Boy, I tell you, that’s the stuff that real service is made out of.

He wants them to know, you see, that his failure to visit Rome is not due to some lack of desire on his part for them, some lack of concern, some indifference. He never stops praying for them. That’s characteristic of a true hearted servant.

In Ephesians 6:18, he says the same thing, he says, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication for all saints.” Always praying for everybody.

What do you think the content of his prayer was? What did he pray for the Romans? Lord, there’s one of them that’s got a twisted ankle … Lord, one of them’s trying to debate about whether they ought to buy a new chariot … What do you think the content of his prayer was? Lord, I want to pray for that Roman church, they need to add an education unit … heh-heh. What do you think he was praying about?

Well, I’ll give you a little insight. You want to see some of his prayers? How about Ephesians 3, this is what he writes to the Ephesians and this letter probably got circulated around a lot more places than the Ephesians. We find manuscripts of it with different places in the indication of its objective. But in verse 14, here’s a typical prayer of Paul. “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.… now I’m going to pray.” That last phrase may or may not be in the manuscripts, but he says, “I’m praying now to the Father and this is what I’m going to pray.” Verse 16, “That He would grant you according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may settle down and be at home in your hearts through faith and that you would be rooted and grounded in love and able to comprehend with all saints the breadth and length and depth and height and know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that you will be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Now that’s a pretty hefty prayer. Pray that you would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, that Christ would settle down and be at home in your heart, that you would be filled with an understanding of love, that you would know the love of Christ that passes knowledge, that you’d be filled with the fullness of God, that you’d fulfill the ability to do abundantly above all you can ask or think and unto Him be glory in the church. It’s all spiritual stuff.

You go to Philippians and he prays again. Chapter 1:9, “And this I pray,” what are you going to pray, Paul? “That your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, that you may be filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.”

You look at Colossians and he prays again in chapter 1. Verse 9, “For this cause, we also since the day we heard it do not cease to pray for you and the desire—here it is—that you might be filled with the knowledge of His will and all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that you might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing being fruitful in every good work and increasing by the knowledge of God, strengthened with all might according to His glorious power unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness giving thanks unto the Father.”

I mean, it just keeps going like this. Second Thessalonians 1, same thing, verse 11, “Wherefore also we pray always for you.” And what do we pray? “That our God would count you worthy of this calling and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you and you in Him.”

You look at the prayers of Paul and I’ve just given you some samples and the content is all spiritual. He prayed for their heart to be knit with the heart of God. He prayed for their knowledge that they might know God’s will and for their obedience that they might do it. He prayed for them. We emphasize praying for individuals but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be praying for groups as well, Paul did.

You can see that he served out of a true heart because he had a thankful spirit and a concerned spirit. You show me a person in a ministry who doesn’t exhibit a positive affirming joyous thankful heart and who doesn’t spend time in constant prayer for his people and I’ll show you someone who serves in the flesh. On the other hand, you show me someone whose heart is filled with thanksgiving for what he perceives God is doing and yet whose heart is so filled with concerned that he’s ever and always praying on behalf of his people and I’ll show you someone who ministers in the Spirit.

Let me give you a third point, and we’ll quit at this one tonight. That leaves seven for next week. A willing spirit … and this brings together the first triad, really. I thought of them in a unit of three because they tied together. This is so good, verse 10, “Now in my prayers I make a request.” What is your request, Paul? “If by any means … I mean, anyway it could be done, by any means, I don’t care what it is … at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. And while I’m praying for you, I’m asking the Lord somehow by any means, I don’t care how He does it, just to get me there.” That’s a willing spirit.

You know what I love to see? I love to see somebody who prays and in his prayer—listen to this—asks if he can’t also be part of the answer. Did you get that? Oh, that’s so good. What a true heart. He not only prayed but he wanted to part of the answer to his prayer. It’s so easy to pray for others to do it. “Lord, raise someone up to reach my neighbor.” I always think of the “Gospel Blimp.” You remember that film? Incredible film. A guy wanted to win his neighbor, so he hired a blimp to drop gospel bombs in his neighbor’s yard. They formed the International Christian Blimp Association and flew a blimp over his neighbor’s yard and bombed his house with tracts.

Boy, there are so many “gospel blimps” in the world. I’ll never forget a guy, came to me after a service one time over there and he says, “I’ve got a great plan.” He said, “I’m concerned about winning my neighbors.” I said, “You are?” He says, “Yep.” He said, “I’d like to know if Grace Church would give me $25,000, I’ve got the plan to do it.”

I said, “What do you need the $25.…” He said, “I’m going to buy a sophisticated telephone answering system and I’ve got an elaborate plan worked out where people can call in and get the gospel and I’m going to get the phone number to that gospel-call-in service to my neighbor when he thinks it will be for something else.” He went through this whole thing. “And he’ll call and he’ll get the gospel.”

Twenty-five thousand dollars, I said. “Why don’t you go over and tell him the gospel?” How many times we’re praying for gospel blimps. The key is to want to be a part of the solution. Isaiah said, “Here am I, Lord … what?… send me.” It’s easy to pray for missionaries we wax pious, we even wax eloquent. We pray for the missionaries to reach the people across the sea. Very difficult to pray for somebody to reach our neighbor, isn’t it? Very difficult.

God knows when you’re praying safely and He knows whether you have a willing spirit. You pray, “Well, Lord, I want this to be done and if need be, I’ll do it.” Then you’ve got some real teeth in your prayer. Then you’re showing a pure heart.

Paul prayed with a willing heart. He prayed sacrificially. He says, “I’m not just praying for you, I’m praying that God will send me to you so that I can impart to you what it is that you need.” Thankful spirit, concerned spirit, willing spirit.

Now those are marks, people … true spiritual service. And you need to examine your own heart and your own life to see if they’re part of your service. That’s only the beginning. Now I don’t want you to get so intimidated you don’t come back next time. I’m listening to this, too, you know. And it isn’t easy for me either. But I think you get the message, don’t you? Paul really served with a spirit. Down deep in his heart he was committed to serving Christ.

You know what happens when you serve this way? I’ll just give you a little hint. You know what happens when you serve this way? All of a sudden when you serve out of your spirit and God is moving, amazing things begin to happen. I can tell you that.

There’s an old story about Isadore. Isadore was believed to be the patron saint of Madrid. In fact, on the tenth of May, I think, the Roman Catholic Church still celebrates the festival related to Isadore. But there’s an interesting story about this supposed individual. He was a common farm servant. And he would always go out and serve. But in all of his serving, he always thought of the Lord and he always gave all the glory to the Lord and he always had this overwhelming thankful heart. And he spent all of his time in prayer. He was just utterly plugged into God. Everything he did was spiritual service, according to the story, even when he plowed a field. It was all the Lord’s work.

Now, he irritated the other farm workers because he always came late for the plowing. And they finally confronted him and they said, “Isadore, you are always late for the plowing. And we’re here working long before you arrive.” To which he is said to reply, “It may be true that I am later at my work than some of the other laborers but I do my utmost to make up for the lateness by diligence.”

“Why are you late?”

“Well, I spend the time in prayer. And I ask you to compare my work with the others and if I have defrauded you in the least, I will make amends by paying you out of my own private store.”

Well, the master to whom he was speaking was silent but not satisfied and resolved to see for himself whether Isadore made up what he lost by being late. And the next morning he hid himself in the field to which Isadore was assigned. And sure enough, everybody was working and Isadore came late. He’d been praying again. And the indignant master resolved to berate him and to cut his pay. He started to move out from his hiding place but was immediately halted by a strange vision. In the clear sunlight, he saw a pair of white oxen drawing a plow held by an angel, up the field, down the field flew this strange team creating the cleanest furrow he had ever seen. The master started toward Isadore whom he saw bowing over the plow while this other plow made its way back and forth. And as he called to Isadore, he said, “Who are your assistants?” The surprise plowman said, “Sir, I work alone. I know of no other assistant.”

And the tradition came down from that story. Simply stated, the one who plows with God in his heart has God for his assistant. The story is fictitious, the principle is true. I’d rather serve out of a pure heart and have God doing the plowing. Wouldn’t you? Then to do it in the flesh. Come back next time and see what else the Lord will teach us from this chapter.

Thank You, Father, for our time tonight. Good time, warms our hearts. Thank You that You’ve given us the privilege of service. We fail so often. We serve for the wrong reasons. We let our ego get in the way, our desire for earthly gain, prosperity, popularity, prestige. The water gets so muddy. Help us, Lord, to have a clear stream coming from our hearts of pure motives. Thank You for all these precious people who serve. Some serve within the family, some serve beyond their own family in the church family, some serve out in the world touching the lives of the lost, some serve in the classes here, Bible studies in the community, in jail teams, hospitals. Some serve in teaching and preaching, others in showing mercy and doing deeds of kindness. Some serve in giving. Lord, whatever way we serve, may it be that we can say God is my witness whom I serve with my spirit. May it be that we can say I serve my God out of a pure conscience. May it be that we can say with Paul, I wait the day when God shall manifest the secret things of the heart and then shall every man have praise of God. May our service be true hearted, wholehearted and pure. May we manifest a thankful spirit, a concerned and prayerful spirit and a willing spirit to be part of the answer. Thank You for preparing us for better service and for what lies ahead next week as we continue in this @wonderful text in Christ’s name. Amen.

This transcript, along with related media, can also be found here on the Grace to You website.


Marks of True Spiritual Service, Part 2

April 12, 1981

Romans 1:10b–12

I invite you to take your Bible and open it with us to the first chapter of Romans … Romans 1. We’re looking at verses 8 through the first part of verse 16 of this tremendous opening chapter in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Already we have been enriched in our study and we’re barely into chapter 1. This is a monumental epistle, some feel the most significant and greatest of all epistles in the Bible, certainly one that defines most fully, most comprehensively the doctrine of the gospel of God.

Now in our passage, verses 8 through the first part of verse 16, the Apostle Paul opens up his heart. And he lets us see the motives with which he serves the Lord Jesus Christ. No greater servant ever lived than the Apostle Paul, except our Lord Himself. And this passage forces us to look inside and to see what really made him tick, the reasons that he was what he was, that he did what he did, that he thought the way he thought and wrote the way he wrote. And apparently it was very important to him as he wrote this epistle to stop at the very beginning after just the introduction in the first seven verses and unbare his heart.

He had never been to the Roman church. He did not found the church at Rome. Most of the people there had only heard of him and did not know him personally, although as chapter 16 indicates he was acquainted with some of them. But before launching into this masterful presentation of the gospel which some have called the Christian constitution, he feels that because they do not have a personal relationship one with the other that he ought to open up his heart and let them see in that they might better understand him and better be able to accept what he teaches.

And so, as we look at verses 8 and following, we see the quality of his life, the character of his service to Christ, the motives that moved his heart. And in so discovering, we find a pattern for ourselves. All Christians are called to be engaged in service to Christ. None of us is exempt from that. Best rendered is our service when we understand the Apostle Paul and why he served the way he served, for he presents for us an unequalled example. He wants them to really understand his heart so that as they read the rest of the epistle, they’ll sense not only the theology but the living breathing Apostle behind it.

Now the key phrase in verses 8–16 appears in verse 9 and that key phrase is this phrase, “For God is my witness,” and here comes the key phrase, “whom I serve with my spirit.” Paul says I serve God with my spirit.

Now you’ll remember that the word “to serve” here is the word latreuo which is always used of religious service … always in the New Testament. And sometimes the word is translated “worship.” Paul says I serve or I worship, using the same word for either thought because the truest kind of worship is service and the truest kind of service is worship. And so he says I serve God with a service of worship and I serve with my spirit, or in my spirit. And what he means by that is from deep down within me. It is not superficial. It is not shallow. It is not external. It is not liturgical. It is not formal. But I serve and worship from the deep inner man of the heart. That’s the way he served, from the heart. Unlike some of the legalistic Jews, unlike some of the ritualistic pagans, he served from the heart.

And that was the characteristic of Paul all through his ministry. And that is the model for all of us. We should never render God’s service that is external, superficial, liturgical, it should always come from the heart.

Now I really believe that this is the essence of what our Lord meant. And if you want to look at a comparative Scripture, look at John 4:23 for just a moment. Our Lord made a very important statement. He said in John 4:23, “The hour cometh and now is when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship Him, God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”

In other words, you cannot worship God with externals … lighting candles, reciting beads, bowing down, going through some religious ritual or routine, you worship God from the heart or you do not worship God at all. And Paul is saying the same thing. You serve God from the heart or you do not serve at all. I believe it involves the surrender of the whole man.

It is as Ephesians 6 puts it, serving not with eye service as men pleasers but as the servants of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. It is doing God’s will from the heart, not because you have to but because you want to more than you want anything else. It is that spiritual service that we saw in Romans 12:1 and 2, presenting your body a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God which is your spiritual service and not being conformed to this world but being transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may know and prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

So, Paul is saying, “Look, I want you to know to begin with that I serve with my spirit, that my service to Jesus Christ and to God on behalf of the gospel is a wholehearted service. I’m in it all the way.” This is a ringing theme in Paul’s letters, by the way. Over and over and over again, he reminds people that he does not serve for any external reason.

Now there are some people who serve God for money, believe it or not. I guess they think they serve God for money. Paul didn’t do that and he made it very clear that his motive was not money. In Acts 20:35, he says, “I’ve shown you all things how that so laboring you ought to support the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said it is more blessed to give than receive.” Paul knew that Jesus said it’s better to give than receive so he says I coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel. Yea, you yourselves know that these hands have served mine necessities and them that were with me. He worked. He wasn’t in it to make money, he had to work and earn his own keep as well as to preach.

First Corinthians 10 and verse 24, he said, “Let no man seek his own but every man another’s prosperity.” Don’t be in it for what you think you can get out of it. He didn’t serve God for financial reasons. He wasn’t, as Peter warned, greedy of filthy lucre.

Secondly, he didn’t serve the Lord just because it was fun to do that. Believe me, for him it was anything but fun. Just because he gained some personal pleasure. In Romans 15:3, it says even Christ pleased not Himself. He didn’t even do that which would bring him the greatest personal pleasure and Paul didn’t either. And he didn’t serve just out of reward either.

He didn’t do it just so that he could stockpile some kind of honor. Because he says in 1 Corinthians 9, “Though I preach the gospel I have nothing to glory of, if I did this thing willingly I would have a reward but if it’s against my will, then it’s a dispensation of God given to me.”

In other words, don’t reward me for doing it, I didn’t choose to do it, God called me. Honor God. So he didn’t serve for the externals of money and pleasure and reward and he certainly didn’t serve for fame. And there are some people who are in the ministry so they can be famous. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” He wasn’t seeking fame.

And may I hasten to add, he didn’t serve because he got pressured into it either by his peers. There was no peer pressure. I love what he says in 1 Corinthians 9:19, “Though I am free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all.”

Nobody made me do this apart from God and my own agreeing heart.

So, over and over … and those are just some suggestions, you can find those same themes everywhere. Paul says I don’t serve for money. I don’t serve for pleasure. I don’t serve for reward, for fame because of pressure, none of those external things move me. I serve because I have a worshiping heart. It’s a sad thing when people’s service gets all muddled up with those other reasons. He says I serve with my spirit.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the old missionary who was returning home after many years of sacrificial service in Africa.

He was on the same ship with the then President, Teddy Roosevelt.

Teddy Roosevelt had been in Africa, too, for a few weeks on a big game hunt. The ship docked in New York, great crowds greeted the President, the press was there to cover the story. The old missionary and his wife walked off the ship unnoticed, made their way all alone to a cheap hotel to spend the night before traveling on a train to the west.

“It just doesn’t seem right,” the missionary said to his wife in a rather bitter tone. “We give our lives in Africa to win souls to Christ and when we arrive home, there’s nobody to meet us and there’s no reward. The President shoots some animals and gets a royal welcome.”

As they were praying before retiring, it seemed that the Lord spoke to them and said this, “Do you know why you haven’t received your reward yet? Simple, it’s because you’re not home.”

I think that’s what Paul had in mind. He didn’t serve because of some superficial temporal acclaim. He was willing to wait until he got home, the ultimate home, to receive what God had for him.

Now, let’s go back to Romans 1. When someone serves with their spirit wholeheartedly, not as men pleasers, not eye service—that is looking around to see who’s watching—but when you do it with a whole heart, what kind of service is that? And I think in these verses Paul gives us the ten marks of true spiritual service and they really act as a check list for all of us. I know in my own mind, I’ve been checking myself off on these for the last month as I’ve been thinking them through. The marks of true spiritual service. And I ask you to test yourself.

Maybe it’s a service you render to your children or your spouse, the service you render in worshiping the Lord here at the church, in teaching a Bible study or a class and discipling someone and evangelizing … whatever kind of service, test yourself. Do you really give wholehearted service? Do you really give genuine worshipful service from deep within your spirit? If you do, it will be characterized by the following things.

Number one, and we covered the first three last time, just going to mention them to you, was a thankful spirit. In verse 8, “First I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” One who serves from the spirit is always thankful, always find plenty to be thankful about. Not going around griping and complaining and bitter because things don’t go the way that they feel they should go. And even when things are tough, they’re thankful. And by the way, as Paul was writing this epistle, there was a plot by the Jews to murder him. But instead of being upset and filled with anxiety over his own problems, he was filled with thanksgiving over what God had done in the Roman church.

But that is the way it is with people who serve from the heart. They are thankful people. They don’t have to have everything. They don’t have to have all the blessings. It all doesn’t have to come their way. They can be just as thankful, in fact, usually more so when it comes to someone else. An unselfish thankfulness. That characterized Paul and that proves to me that his service was with the spirit. So many people who proport(?) to serve Jesus Christ, if they don’t get the glory or the fame or the acclaim, if the church doesn’t just do everything the way they think it ought to be, cross its “t’s” and dot its “i’s” with all of the regularity that they would like, they just can’t handle it. They lose their ability to find something to be thankful for.

A second mark of one who is truly serving in a spiritual way is a concerned spirit. Not only a thankful spirit but a concerned spirit, verse 9, “For God is my witness whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers,” unceasing and always, that’s redundant but that’s how it was with Paul. I pray for you al the time. I am thankful for what God has done and yet I am deeply concerned for what has yet not been done.

I can identify with that as a pastor. I thank God for what He’s done in this church and yet I unceasingly pray to God for what I see that has not yet been done. And I think the intensity of prayer measures the intensity of concern. Paul had a concerned spirit. This is a remarkable statement. He says I unceasingly pray for you always, even though he did not found that church and he did not know those people. Most of us can’t even muster up intensity in prayer over people we know very well.

We usually get intense only when something hits us personally that devastates us and then we get very spiritual very quickly.

But we are a million miles, usually, from the unselfish attitude of Paul who unceasingly prayed for people he’d never even met that Christ might be perfected in them.

True spiritual service is marked by a thankful spirit and a concerned spirit and thirdly, a willing spirit. And I like this.

Verse 10, he says, “I make request as I pray, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.” In other words, there was such honesty and integrity in his prayer that he also prayed himself right into it as a solution. “God, I want to pray for the Romans and I’d like to volunteer to be the one You use to answer my prayer.” Boy, that is the integrity of prayer. When you can pray for somebody to come to Jesus Christ, for somebody to be matured in the faith and pray that God will make you the tool, then there’s real integrity in your praying. Paul was a volunteer. Paul was the fist guy to stick his hand up when somebody announced there was a need.

In fact, in 15:30, he says, “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake and the love of the spirit, strive together with me in your prayers.” Let’s pray together though we’re apart and you strive at it. And what should I pray? “That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted by the saints and that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God and may be with you refreshed.” When you pray, pray that I can come there. Oh, there’s something so wonderful about that, praying yourself into the prayer and asking God to make you the answer.

It’s the spirit of William Carey(?), that great missionary to India. He was bidding farewell to his friends and standing on a dock in 1793 and his friends were sort of saying, “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Going to India in those days was, to put it mildly, precarious. Carey is alleged to have said this. “I’ll go down into the pit itself if you’ll hold the rope.” I like that. That’s the willing spirit.

I think about our Lord who was willing to humble Himself and come into this world. And I wonder sometimes how willing we are to go. And we have all these little stipulations. I mean, we’ve got to have everything just right, you know, we’ve got to make sure we can be comfortable and have the right kind of car and we’re all going to volunteer for missionary work in the South Seas. We don’t like to go too far cause we don’t want to get too far away from our friends and our family. And we have all these barriers that keep us from a willing heart. Paul is saying, “Look, I want these people to be changed, God, and I’m willing to go and be the instrument to see it happen.” Next time you get on your knees and pray for a mission field, ask God to make you the one that goes. Be willing to say no to the comfort and the car and the good weather and the nice house and the friends and the family and whatever it costs.

Some people aren’t willing to pray even. Some people who pray aren’t willing to give even, let alone to go because it would mean sacrificing a luxury. I always think of John Payton.

His story is so indelible in my mind because I read it in my seminary days and it just transformed my thinking. Went to the New Hebrides to minister to cannibals. He and his wife and his … they had just been married not long, and you know, I can … I know how I would react to that if God called me to minister to cannibals. I know what my humanness would say.

“That’s silly, Lord. I can make it in the ministry. I’ll go there, they’ll eat me.” Right, I mean, what’s the point? “I know a guy who dropped out of seminary, he’ll never make it anyway, send him there, they’ll eat him, he’ll be a hero and who will know?” Right? I mean, why waste a good one? You can always rationalize that kind of stuff.

But Paul with all of his passion and fervency is willing to be a part of the answer for that which he prays for. When you pray for the church of Jesus Christ and you pray for Grace Church, are you willing to be a part of the answer? A lot of people are willing to come and tell what the problems are. My response to that is usually, “Are you praying about it? And if you’re praying about it, are you willing to be part of the solution?” The world’s full of critics but there aren’t quite as many volunteers as there are critics.

Let’s go to fourth principle … a submissive spirit … a submissive spirit, the end of verse 10. He says, “By the will of God.” I want to come and I want to be with you and I want to be the instrument if it is the will of God. And he says the same thing at the end of the epistle, chapter 15, as I read, verse 32, “That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God.”

In other words, though he was highly motivated, thankful, concerned and willing, he was regulated by a commitment to the will of God. I think the Lord was his example who said, “Not My will but Thine be done.” And that is the way we are to pray, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” We are to be conformed to His will. And Paul lived his life that way. He was utterly concerned with doing the will of God from the heart.

Sure, he was volunteering, but only if that’s what God wanted.

You can trace, and I won’t take the time because I want to keep us moving, but you can trace through Paul’s life so many times when the will of God was the issue. But one that just comes to mind is in the twenty-first chapter of Acts and Paul here says, “And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased … or rather Luke says … we ceased saying, The will of the Lord be done.” In other words, Paul was being told by everybody if you keep going to Jerusalem, Paul, by the time you get there you’re going to get in a lot of trouble, you’re going to become a prisoner, you’re going to get bound and Agabus took off his belt and tied him up and did a little demonstration and the whole thing. And they said, “But we kept on telling him and telling him and telling him and Paul says to us, What are you guys crying about? Why do you keep weeping? I am ready not only to be bound but to die. And they said, The will of the Lord be done.” He lived for the will of God. And they finally resigned themselves to the fact that that’s the way it would ultimately turn out for him.

In the fourth chapter of James, I think, there’s another good word. It says, verse 14 … or verse 13, “Come now, you that say tomorrow or today, will go to such a city and continue there a year and buy and sell and get gain.” In other words, we make our plans for the future, you’re going to go do this and so forth. “You don’t know what will be on the next day, for what is your life, it’s a vapor that appears for a little time and vanishes away.” It’s puff and it’s gone. “You ought to say, If the Lord will we shall live and do this or that.”

In other words, the limiting factor in everybody’s life is the will of God. The true servant is totally submissive to God’s will. So Paul submits himself. He was resigned to God’s will and it didn’t matter what it brought him, whether it brought him pain or pleasure. And that isn’t fatalism. That is confidence to know that God has the best plan and that’s not fatalistic. And so, Paul prays and he pours out his heart but he says I only want God’s will.

Now people always have trouble at this point. They say, “Well, he’s praying and praying and he’s saying ultimately God do whatever You’re going to do anyway. Why pray?” This is always the tension. I think, and I was reading this just last week, that Dr. Barnhouse had a great illustration to convey something of the relationship between our prayers and God’s sovereignty and will. Listen to what he writes.

We will suppose the case of a man who loves violin music. Okay? He has the means to buy for himself a very fine violin and he also purchases the very best radio he can buy. He builds a library of the great musical scores so that he is able to take any piece that is announced on the radio, put it on his music stand and play along with the orchestra.

The announcer says that Mr. Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra are going to play Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The man in his home puts the symphony on his stand, tunes his violin with what he hears coming from the orchestra. The music that comes from the radio we might call foreordained. Ormandy is going to follow the score just as Beethoven wrote it. The man in his living room starts to scratch away at the first violin part.

He misses beats, he loses his place, he finds it again, he breaks a string, he stops to fix it, but the music goes on and on. He finds his place again and plays on after his fashion till the symphony is ended.

The announcer names the next work that is to be played and the fiddler puts that number on his rack. And day after day and week after week and month after month and year after year, he finds pleasure in scraping his fiddle along with the violins of the great orchestra. Their music is determined in advance. What he must do is to learn to play in their tempo, in their key and to follow the score as its been written in advance. If he decides that he wants to play “Yankee Doodle” when the orchestra is in the midst of a Brahms number, there’s going to be dissonance and discord in the man’s house. But not in the Academy of Music.

After some years of this, the man may be a rather creditable violin player and may have learned to submit himself utterly to the scores that are written and follow the program as played.

Harmony and joy come from the submission and cooperation.

Then Barnhouse says this, “So it is with the plan of God, it is rolling toward us unfolding day by day as He has planned it before the foundation of the world. There are those who fight against it and ultimately are cast into outer darkness because he will not have in His heaven those who probably resist Him. This cannot be tolerated anymore than the authorities would permit a man to bring his own violin into the Academy of Music and start to play Shostakovich when the program called for Bach. The score of God’s plan is set forth in the Bible and in the measure that I learn it, submit myself to it and lived … or seek to live in accordance with it, I shall find myself in joy and in harmony with God and His plans. If I set myself to fight against it or disagree with that which comes forth, there can be no peace in my heart and life. If in my heart I seek to play a tune that is not melody the Lord has for me, there will be nothing but dissonance.

Prayer is learning to play the same tune that the eternal God plays and to play it the way the eternal composer wrote it and meant it to be played.”

Maybe that helps you. God’s sovereignty puts out the foreordained tune to be played. Prayer is learning to play in tune. But even when we’re out of tune, it doesn’t mess up the celestial orchestra. Fortunately we hear them but they apparently don’t hear us when we’re out of line.

And so, Paul says I only want what God wills. You know, I hate that confessional faith thing that I keep hearing today where people go around demanding things from God. I don’t know if you’ve heard this as much as I have, but I hate that. It is perverted. It is heretical. It is self-will that not only attacks the will of God but attacks the nature of God. And if you don’t know what it is, just thank God and don’t ask any questions. It’s not worth knowing.

Paul sought the advance of God’s glory through God’s Kingdom and God’s will. So, listen, now. True spiritual service and let’s sum it up fast, is seen in being thankful for what God has done, in being concerned for what is yet to be done, being willing to be the one to do it if it fits God’s will. That’s the only way to live. That’s true spiritual service. Those are the marks.

Can I give you a fifth mark? A loving heart … or a loving spirit, verse 11, “For I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift to the end that you may be established.”

Why did you want to come, Paul? Why were you so concerned? What is it that drew you? I really believe it was not some personal gratification, but it was something that he wanted to give them.

“That I may give you some spiritual gift.” And you tell me, what is the number one quality of love? What does love always do?

Gives. “For God so loved the world that God … what?… gave …”

That’s what love does. Love gives.

And that’s where we see the loving heart. I’m not coming because I liked to tour the Appian Way and see the Forum and watch the chariot races. I’m not coming to see if I can take the city. I’m coming because I want to give something, not get something. Oh, how you have to go back to that.

I know in my ministry here, week after week and month after month and year after year as we preach and teach the Word of God, sometimes you can say to yourself, “Boy, you know, I wonder whether anybody’s hearing what I’m saying. I wonder whether people appreciate the Word of God. I wonder whether they appreciate me.” You know, you get that kind of a “poor me” kind of complex. “And they don’t really understand the effort and all that’s going.” And maybe you feel that way about your class sometime or about the ministry you’re involved in. But you have to remember that as long as you look at the ministry as something you give, you never have that problem. If you look at it as something you’re going to get, you’re going to get all twisted and warped. Paul says I want to come because I want to give you something. I want to give you a spiritual something to establish you.

You see, Paul was reaching out just like in Colossians 1, he really longed for their full maturity and he says in verse 27, “I want God to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles which is Christ in you, the hope of glory, whom we preach warning every man, teaching every man in all wisdom … and here it comes … that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” I want everybody mature. And in one other occasion he said, “I suffer, travail or birth pangs, pain until Christ be formed in you.” It pains me. I agonize over it.

I hurt.

I don’t know that I can totally identify with Paul on that but I know what it’s like sometimes to have a severe stomach ache, a severe pain in the pit of my stomach in anxiety over the response of people to the teaching of the Word of God. Because you want so desperately to give them something of spiritual value and sometimes, you know, they just don’t seem to get it. I’ve often said some people come with a thimble and spill it on the steps going out. You know they didn’t quite … they didn’t make it out even to the car, let alone home, before dumping it.

He wanted to give them something. He had a great heart of love. In second … second chapter of 1 Thessalonians, I think you get a glimpse of his heart of love. He says in verse 7, “We were gentle among you as a nursing mother cherishes her child.” You can’t think of anything more gentle than a nursing mother and a little baby at her breast. That’s how we were with you. “So being affectionately desirous of you,” that’s a very strong term.

The word “cherish” means “body heat, to warm with body heat.” We warmed you with the warmth of our body, our person like a mother does a little baby and we were so affectionately desirous, we longed for your presence and fellowship. And because of that we were willing to have imparted unto you not only the gospel but our own souls because you were so dear unto us. Paul says I loved you so much I would have given you my soul, let alone my message.

At the end of 2 Corinthians, he says in 12:15, “I would gladly spend and be spent for you even though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved, if you hate me more for it, I’d still love you.” He had a great love. And the main characteristic of love is unselfish giving. Such love always seeks the best and so what he sought was some spiritual gift, look at verse 11 again. “To impart unto you some spiritual gift.” Now what is this? Well, it’s the word charisma, gift of grace, a spiritual charisma, pneumatikon, a grace gift of the Spirit. It means the source is the Holy Spirit. I want to give you a gift from the Holy Spirit.

Now what is this talking about? What spiritual gift is this? Well, the same term is used in 5:15 and 16 to speak of Christ … the great gift of Christ. It is used in 11:29 to speak of the blessings God gave to Israel, very general. It is also used in 12:6 to speak of the spiritual gifts given to the body, the gift of teaching and so forth and so on. So, it could be used of Christ. It could be used of the general blessings that God gives to His people. Or it could be used of specific spiritual gifts.

How is Paul using it? We don’t know. I would tend to think that he’s using it in the largest possible way. For some of you, I’d like to give you Christ. For others of you, I’d like to delineate to you the blessings of God. And for still others of you, I’d like to minister my spiritual gifts to you. I think it encompasses everything. He would present Christ, speak of the gifts of God’s blessing and use his own spiritual gifts to build the body. But what he wanted to give them wasn’t physical, it was … what?… spiritual. I serve God in my spirit, therefore I want to impart unto you a kind of service to God that has in its very core the Spirit of God.

You know, I can understand this. I don’t want to tickle your fancy. I don’t want to entertain people. I used to … somebody said to me, “You know, when you were younger, you were funnier.” That’s true. I mean, I don’t know that I was ever particularly funny, but I was definitely funnier than I am now … if I was funny at all. And I guess what it finally comes down to is that you finally get to the point where what you want to impart to people is so much a spiritual reality that it’s very difficult to play around in the superficial. And by that I don’t mean that you’re to be boring about it, hopefully not. But you realize that it is the imparting of a spiritual thing that you really are after … something deep. I mean, I can’t … that, I can’t see any point in superficiality. Sermonettes for Christianettes, you know. I can’t see any point in just frivolity, book reviews and whatever else. I don’t know what goes on in some churches but what we want to impart is something spiritual. Love always gives the best it has.

For what reason? At the end of verse 11, “To the end that it may establish you,” sterizo, to make you fast, to fix you, to confirm you, to strengthen you, to establish you. I want your feet down solid. Another way to say it, “For the perfecting of the saints,” if you take the language of Ephesians 4. I want to give you something spiritual. And where is the source of all those spiritual things? It’s out of the book, isn’t it? They’re all right here. You don’t just pull them out of the air. Using the Word of God and the gifts of the Spirit, I want to impart to you something spiritual.

You know, as a pastor I suppose I could hold your hand and try to move around. In fact, I know one pastor who said his goal is to visit each person in his church once a year. Ridiculous.

But I mean, I could go around and I could hold your hand and come visit you and pat you on the back and do all kinds of nice things like that. And I’d like to do that. In fact, there are lots of days when I’d like to do that. But I don’t want to give you something superficial. I don’t want to give you something physical, something human. I want to make the necessary sacrifice to feed you the living Word of God because that’s spiritual, that’s deep, not cheap and shallow. So, you may say you love someone. But if you don’t impart to them the Word of God in depth, it’s questionable.

I remember a girl in our church who was a student at SC.

And she said to me one day, she said, “I learned a great lesson last week.” She said, “I always told myself that I loved the little girls in my Sunday-school class.” And she had like fourth grade girls, I mean, who wouldn’t love fourth-grade girls, you know. And she said, “I … they all had these little frilly dresses and little bright smiles and pretty eyes. I told myself I loved them, Oh, I loved them so much I wouldn’t miss my class and I just love them.” She said one day I was at a football game at USC on Saturday as I always went and the Lord spoke to my heart about the fact that I was always at the football games on Saturday so I never really prepared my lesson until I just ran it through my mind on Sunday morning and what I gave them was very shallow. And God pointed out in my heart that I didn’t love them at all because I made no sacrifice to give them something with eternal significance. And then she said to me, and boy, if you know anything about an SC student, “I’m not going to any more football games.” The ultimate sacrifice. “I’m going to spend time so that I can give them something of value.”

That’s where Paul was at. His heart of love wasn’t just a sentiment, it resulted in wanting to give them a spiritual gift that would firmly establish them in the faith. That’s the true spirit of service. You’re not looking for some superficial goal … “Well, boy, I got that over with. Man, Alice, let’s get out of town next week and get a break from this thing. Do you realize I’ve been teaching four weeks in a row without a break?

I mean, I’ve got to have a little rest.” Well, you better check your goals, your motives.

That opens up the next mark of true spiritual service. In case you’re wondering, we’re not going to get down with ten of them, you knew that before we started. But we will do one more.

I love this. Paul had a humble spirit … a humble spirit. And I see this again in verse 11, it’s just really wonderful. He says, “I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift to the end that you may be established, that is that I may … I mean, let me correct that, he says, let me fill that out so you don’t get the wrong idea like I’m the great gift who’s going to come in and dump on you, I mean … that I, too, will be comforted together with you by our mutual faith.” Isn’t that good? He says I’m not coming in as the expert and I’m going to come and give some spiritual gifts. No, I. I. I. what I mean is I’ll give you and you’ll give me and we’ll give each other. That’s humble.

I guess there are some people who think they have nothing to learn. They’ve got it all to give. What kind of a spirit is the spirit of true spiritual service? A thankful spirit for what God has done, always thankful … always thankful. A concerned spirit for what yet needs to be done, always prayerful. And a desire to be used by God to do what needs to be done if God wills. And all of this is born out of a heart of love. Yet, with all of that passion and all of that desire, there is never a feeling of superiority, never lording it over them but rather the humble heart that says, “Hey, I’ll come and give you some spiritual gift and I know in return that you’ll give some back to me. You’ll minister to me,” he says, “as much as I’ll minister to you.”

Look at that in verse 12, “That I may be exhorted, encouraged, comforted together with you by the mutual faith of both you and me.”

John Calvin wrote, “Note to what degree of modesty his pious heart submitted itself so that he did not disdain to seek strength from inexperienced beginners. He means what he says, too, for there is no one so void of gifts in the church of Christ who is unable to contribute something to our benefit. Ill will and pride, however, prevent our deriving such fruit from one another,” end quote.

From inexperienced beginners, Paul said I’ll receive something from you, too. You know, sometimes someone who is relatively a new Christian will come and talk to me and they’ll say, “I … I don’t know why I’m talking to you, I mean, I know there are lots of people that you should be talking to and you should be doing something else.” People say this to me all the time. “I mean, you must be busy, you should … you should go and be doing what you should be doing and, I mean, you shouldn’t be talking to me.”

And I’m saying, “Why shouldn’t I be talking to you.” “Well, I mean, I … I. I’m just … you know, I’m nobody.” I hear that all the time. And the assumption that they have nothing to offer.

I had dinner with someone not long ago and they kept saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry to be telling you this, I don’t know why I keep talking … I keep saying these things, I know you’re probably not … I’m sorry, I apologize.” And I kept saying, “I love this, this is terrific, I mean, this is building my soul, I’m having a wonderful time.”

“Oh now, I appreciate you saying that but I know.…”

Really that happens all the time. “I know I’m boring you to death, and I just go on and on and on.” And I’m having the greatest time of my life. I’m not saying a thing and it’s refreshing. And I’m just listening and somebody’s pouring out their heart and telling me what God’s doing and I’m loving every minute of it and they’re trying to deny me the privilege.

One writer said, “Humility is that low sweet root from which all heavenly virtues shoot.” The humble teacher says let’s learn together. I guess there’s nothing worse than a pompous teacher who treats you as if you knew nothing and he knew everything.

The greatest theologian that ever lived, the Apostle Paul, is ready to humbly learn from a bunch of new Christians in Rome that he’d never met. The humility of the pure in heart … the humility of the pure in heart.

First Peter 5:3, Peter says. backing to verse 2, I guess, “Pastor or feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight of it, not by constraint … not because you have to … but willingly, not for filthy lucre … not for money … but of a ready mind because you’re eager, neither as being lords over the charge alloted to you but being examples to the flock and when the chief Shepherd shall appear, you’ll receive a crown of glory that fades not away. In like manner, you younger submit yourselves to the elder and all of you be subject to one another … that’s the one another again … be clothed with humility for God resists the proud but gives … what?… grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore.” The place of humility.

The indicator of a true hearted servant … humble. What does it mean to be humble? You say it means to say, “Oh, I’m nothing, I’m less than a worm, I’m … I’m …” No, that’s just dumb to talk like that, that’s not humble that’s just dumb. What does it mean to be humble? To be humble means simply to consider the needs of others more important than your own. Jesus considered that our need was so great that He ought to leave heaven to meet our need.

And He did it. And He humbled Himself. Humility is to look not on my own things but the things of others, to consider others better than myself, even those I teach.

What is the attitude of a true hearted servant? He’s thankful, always thankful. Check yourself. Are you always thankful? Or do you complain and gripe? He’s always prayerful because he knows that although he can thank God for what has been done, there’s a lot that yet needs to be done. And he’s always willing to be the solution to the problem if it’s God’s will so that he’s submissive to that. And it all comes out of a loving heart that seeks to wrap itself around others, not only for what it can give for what it can receive. That’s the spirit of true service.

There are some more principles that I’m going to give you next time that are literally life changing for me as we wrap up this. Let me read you a poem. Listen to it.

I gave my service, but with a heavy heart.

And with it went but little love or trust.

He was my master, I must serve or die. So I gave my service for I must. That is the voice of destiny.

Then o’er the dreary dullness of my road, there came the kindling ray of better thought, I owed my service to a loving God, so I gave my service for I ought. That is the voice of duty.

And lo, the master made my service sweet and like a ray of glory from above, there came the knowledge that to serve was joy. And so I gave my service for I love. That is the voice of devotion.

And that’s where we ought to be. Serving from the heart.

Father, so much to be done, so many to reach, to teach, to build, to mature, to establish. So many spiritual gifts to impart, so much to be mutually gained. May we serve with the spirit that Your work might be done in Your way for Your glory.

Amen.

This transcript, along with related media, can also be found here on the Grace to You website.[2]


Marks of True Spiritual Service, Part 3

May 24, 1981

Romans 1:13–16a

Let’s look at Romans 1 tonight. This is the last easy part in Romans. The next three years in chapter 1 are going to prove to be … No, this is the last of the introductory messages and then beginning in our next study, next Sunday evening, we will get into verse 16, the gospel of Christ, the power of God unto salvation which is the theme of the book. And then we’ll move through this tremendous presentation. And we’re going to move at a rate that we don’t lose our perspective. So, I really feel God’s going to change some lives as we go through.

But for tonight, we’re ending up looking at the section beginning at verse 8. Because it’s been a while, I’d like to read—as you follow—verse 8 through the first part of verse 16.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world, for God is my witness whom I serve with my spirit and the gospel of His Son that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making requests if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you; for I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift to the end you may be established. That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that often times I purposed to come unto you but was prevented thus far that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. I am debtor, both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise. So much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.

Now in those very important statements, the Apostle Paul teaches us some principles of true spiritual service. Now I know that for the most part we know these principles. Through the years we’ve gone over them in many passages and so tonight, it’s just going to be a kind of picking up maybe what we’ve forgotten, kind of reaffirming some things.

There was an old German artist by the name of Hoffmann. He painted majestically. And many of his greatest works were hanging in the Royal Gallery in Dresden. And periodically, through the door would come the artist Hoffmann. And in his hand he would have a little pouch filled with paints and brushes. And he would spend a couple of days touching up his masterpieces, maybe where the color had faded, where the canvas might have shown a little bit, he would just touch it up.

And in a very real sense, I believe, that that’s perhaps what the Lord Jesus Christ wants to do with us. It isn’t that we don’t understand these truths. It isn’t that we haven’t already painted the picture, but maybe it’s just time for a little touch up because in the living of life it’s very easy for some spots to fade, isn’t it? In our service to Christ, sometimes we get a little bit threadbare and the canvas shows through and the color just isn’t what it was. And so I want you to look at this as if the Lord Himself took a brush and wanted to touch up some of the faded color of your life.

Now we’re talking about spiritual service and we’re seeing that the Apostle Paul in verses 8–16, opens up his heart. And in all of those statements that I just read to you which don’t really seem to flow logically, you may say they’re kind of random but if you say that you’ve missed the point. Because there is a marvelous flow as he opens up his heart. In writing to the Romans, people he’d never met, he wanted them to get to know him. And there’s no way for people to get to know you better than for you to open up your heart to them. And so he shares with them not his theology first, not his doctrine, not his convictions, not his goals and purposes in terms of the calling of God, not his ministry, but he shares with them his heart. He opens up the inside and gives them his life.

I had the wonderful privilege of going to seminary at Talbot Theological Seminary and I can promise you that I learned something from the books I read. I learned something from the notes I took. I learned something from the papers I wrote. But I learned more from the lives of the men who taught me than I ever learned from anything that they said in class. The courses were important but I was watching men’s attitudes. I was watching their desires. I was watching their motives. I wanted to know not what they said but why they said it. And I really believe that’s what Paul does with the Romans here. I think he opens his heart and says I’m about to say some things that are important but before I give you my theology, let me give you myself. And so we are seeing the incomparable Paul unbare his heart in regard to the real stuff that characterized his spiritual service.

And I think this is the focus of all of us who serve and we’re all called to serve. Romans 6:22 says that, we have become servants of Christ. We’re all called to serve. And I think that the principles of spiritual service that Paul reveals from his own heart become models for all of our service. We may not have Paul’s apostolic calling. We may not have his remarkable and unique gifts, but we can sure have his motives and his attitudes and his desires.

Now the key phrase, would you please notice, is in verse 9. And it’s the phrase, “For God is my witness whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son.” He’s talking about the heart of service, spiritual service, not the outward but the inward. The statement “I serve with my spirit.” He uses the word latreuo, it’s always used for religious worship or religious service. It came to mean the inner worship of the heart. And he is saying that my true hearted worshipful whole hearted service to God is along these lines. And surrounding that statement, he gives us insight into how he served. He doesn’t talk about a lot of his activities, a lot of his methods, just his heart. And he says my service is the true service of the heart.

Now I don’t know about you but that’s the way I want to serve the Lord. Believe me, I have a fear that there could be a time in my own life when I serve the Lord mechanically, when I serve the Lord externally, when I was just cranking out activity, when I was just filling up the program, when I was just doing the ministry, quote/unquote, but the worshiping heart wasn’t there. I think it’s important that we understand what’s in that phrase, to serve with a worshiping heart.

What does it mean? What separates that from everybody else’s spiritual activity? Well, we already went through two looks at this text about six weeks ago, and this is the third. And I just pray that the artist himself will touch up your canvas wherever the color has faded. Let’s just be reminded of the marks of true spiritual service.

What do we see in Paul’s statement here? The first mark of true spiritual service is a thankful spirit. Verse 8, that’s where he begins, “First I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” Paul’s heart was a thankful heart. He was always thankful for other people. And we went through that in many of his epistles. It is characteristic of true spiritual service that it is marked by a thankful spirit. You show me a person who serves the Lord grudgingly, who serves the Lord with grit in his teeth, who serves the Lord bitterly and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t serve worshipfully from the heart because a worshiping heart is a thankful heart. And the reason you can be thankful no matter what happens in your service is because you’re just thankful to have the privilege no matter what happens.

Secondly, we learned that true spiritual service is marked not only by a thankful spirit but by a concerned spirit. While on the one hand you’re thankful, on the other hand you’re concerned. Verse 9, he says “Without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” You show me someone whose heart is constantly in prayer over his people and I’ll show you someone who serves from the heart. It isn’t just showing up and doing your thing, it’s caring enough to pray, thankful to God for what was done and yet deeply concerned for what was not yet done. True spiritual service involves a thankful spirit and a concerned spirit.

Thirdly, a willing spirit. Verse 10, “Making request,” he says, “in my prayers if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.” This is tremendous. He is praying for them and he is saying to God I’m willing to be the answer. I know you have problems in Rome and I’m praying for you and I’m asking God to let me be part of the answer. That’s a willing spirit. That’s not praying at arm’s length, that’s praying and saying here am I, Lord, send me.

And then we’ve already learned that spiritual service is marked by a submissive spirit. The end of verse 10 says, “I would like to have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.” In other words, everything has to be ordered by God’s perfect will. There’s no panic. There’s not trying to stretch yourself out, trying to gain your reputation, trying to broaden your influence for personal reasons. There’s an utter submission to the will of God. Self-styled Messiahs are always megalomaniacs. They always want to win the world and nothing short of it and they get very upset when something stands in their way. They don’t have any economy of effort. They don’t know what it is to be limited by God’s will, they just go out and try to do as much as they can as big as they can and little thought is ever given to what God might will. The true servant of God submits all his plans to God’s will. He’s not in the business of competing with God.

I told you some years ago that a reporter asked me if I had a desire to build a church. I said no. He says, “What do you mean?” I said, “Jesus said He’d build the church and I’d rather not compete with Him.” I have no desire to build the church. I only have a desire to be faithful to the one who is building it. If He picks up this tool, I want to be useful, that’s all. No personal ambition.

So, true spiritual service is being thankful for what God has done, yet concerned that there is more to do, willing to be used to do it if God so wills. So you’re not pushy about it.

Fifthly, true spiritual service is marked by a loving spirit. Verse 11, “For I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift to the end you may be established.” Now I’ll ask you a very simple question and you can answer it easily in your mind. What one thing makes people want to give to others? What is it? It’s love. It’s love. “For God so loved that He … what?… gave.” It is love that makes us want to give. And Paul says I long to see you. And the idea there is of a great internal desire, and I want to give you a spiritual gift to see you established. That is a loving spirit. He wasn’t saying I want to broaden my reputation … I want to see if I can knock off Rome … I want to see if I can become famous and reach the high ups. His desire was not for himself but to give something to them. That’s so important. True love is always measured in what it gives not ever in what it takes or wants. Love would take anything, it would accept anything and return only the highest good to the one who offended. That’s what love would do. Love always gives back good. It always seeks the best, no matter how it is abused or wounded. And Paul says I long for you and I want to give you something.

Is that the way you look at your service? When you go to a Bible study to teach or when you go to a Sunday-school class, or when you come to sing in the choir or when you do that that you do, helping in the kitchen or working with some folks in some project or being involved in evangelism, do you approach that thing with a longing in your heart that overwhelms you because you have so much that you want to give? That’s how it should be. And so many times we go at it thinking of what we might get … what they’ll think of me … what this will bring to me.

True spiritual service is all about a loving spirit and a loving spirit knows only about giving, not getting. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, thought the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” I’ll spend, that means I’ll use all my resources. I’ll be spent, that means I’ll die. Even though the more I love you, the less you love in return. That was a loving spirit. And I don’t think you can minister effectively in any way without a loving spirit. And a loving spirit seeks to give, not get.

Oh, there’s so much loveless selfish service. There’s so much legalism for personal appearance sake that’s so far from this. And by the way, when you serve like that there is a reciprocating joy that comes.

Number six, still reviewing, true spiritual service is marked by a humble spirit. I just love this. Verse 12, he says, “I want to come and see you and be with you and establish you, that is … and I like this … that I may be comforted together with you by our mutual faith.” That is so gracious. He is saying I want to come and give you a spiritual gift and establish you and … oh, I also want to be comforted by you as well. Paul doesn’t see himself as some know-it-all with spiritual pride, he’s going to come in and unload on everybody. Who himself could receive nothing for he’s all sufficient. With all of this high level of spiritual commitment there was no sense of spiritual pride in his life. That, by the way, is the ugliest of all evils. He said I want to learn together with you. I want you to teach me.

Now let’s go to the final marks of spiritual service. A fruitful spirit … a fruitful spirit, verse 13, “Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that often times I purposed to come unto you.” And then he tells them that the reason he didn’t come was that he was prevented by the Lord. “I wanted to come to you in order that I might have some fruit among you, even as also among other Gentiles.”

Paul’s view of the ministry was, now listen to this, that it was a quest for spiritual fruit. The ministry—and you have to keep this in mind because it’s so easy to lose this—the ministry is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. The purpose of preaching is not preaching, the purpose of preaching is fruit. The purpose of ministry in music tonight is not ministry in music, it is fruit in your life. It is to get you to think about divine truth. It is to touch your heart. The purpose of any ministry is not the function itself, that is only the means to the end. The purpose is fruit … product, result. The quest for spiritual fruit was the mainspring of all apostolic activity. Jesus said, “I have ordained you that you should go and bring forth … what?… fruit.” John 15:16, He sent them out to bring forth fruit.

Let me tell you something. A person who serves with the heart, a person whose spiritual service is genuine is only content with fruit. Some people are content with prestige. Some people are content with pure acceptance. Some people are content with money. You know, the devil even pumps that thought into my mind, you know that? A couple of weeks ago I was going through a low time in my life and I was thinking, you know, I just am not seeing the fruit that I want to see in the lives of our people. I had the thought, “What do you care? You’re saved. You’re going to heaven. Look at all the rest of the people who are going to heaven. You’re well paid. I mean, at the worst, you’ve got a good job, a lot of security. They’re nice to you. Pat your kids on the head. Like your wife. You can’t lose.”

Well, you see, you can be pressured by Satan to settle for something far less than what you ought to settle for. My reaction to that was, “Ah, I am not content to be taken care of, appreciated, have a nice thing going on. The only thing that makes me happy in the ministry is fruit.” That’s all. Result. And if you can settle for something less than that, then your service is external, not internal. I’m here for the fruit, folks, I’ll promise you that. That’s true. And when God shows me that there’s more fruit somewhere else, I’ll probably be somewhere else because I only live for the fruit, to see God’s Word go forth and do its work. In 2 Timothy 2:6, it says, “The farmer that labors, works hard, kopiao, sweats, does it because he gets to be the partaker of the fruit.”

You know, I guess that’s why I love the baptisimal services so much because … I just feel like I have a silly grin on my face the whole time. Because I see the fruit. Or when somebody writes me a letter, tells me what God’s done in their life, or when somebody in the church comes and tells me how a person ministered to them and I see the fruit. God help me if I settle for anything less than that.

Now look at the beginning of verse 13. “I don’t want you to be ignorant, brethren.” And that little phrase is used by Paul many times and it is a phrase for emphasis on essential truth. Paul uses it when he talks about the doctrine of salvation. He uses it when he talks about the doctrine of Satan. He uses it when he talks about the doctrine of the Second Coming. He uses it when he talks about spiritual gifts. He uses it in a lot of very key places and he uses it again here. It’s like saying get this and get it good because I don’t want you to miss it. I want you to know that I wanted to come desperately in order that I might have some fruit among you. He’s in effect saying I’m not interested in the amount of the love offering, I just want the fruit.

Keep this in mind. You can measure your commitment to Christ … now listen to this … by whether you are more concerned with what happens in others lives than you are with what happens in your own. Do you really get lost in what happens in the lives of other people?

Now what is fruit? Now we’ve gone over this before. But maybe you’ve faded a little at this point and we’ll try to cover that patch with some new color. Basically in the Scripture, three things constitute fruit. One, that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control, right? That’s what I call attitude fruit. Those are all attitudes, love’s an attitude, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control … those are attitude fruit. Fruit is attitude. Paul is saying I want to come and see you with the right attitude, an attitude of love and joy and peace and gentleness and goodness and faith and meekness and self-control … Galatians 5:22 and 23.

Well, fruit is also action. That’s right. It’s not only attitude, it’s also action. Fruit is what you do. In Romans 6:22, “But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness.” And there he’s talking about holy living … the fruit of your lips, which is praise; the fruit of your hands, Philippians 4, which is giving; the fruit of righteousness which is the behavior of your life. So, you have attitude fruit and action fruit. He says not only do I want to see you with the right attitude, I want to see you with the right action.

Can I stretch you to a third kind of fruit? First, attitude; second, action; and third—are you ready?—addition … addition fruit. Well, what do you mean by that? Well, Paul says I want to have some fruit among you even as among other Gentiles. Well, what kind of fruit are you talking about, Paul? I think he’s talking about converts, don’t you? First fruits, as he mentions in Romans 16:5, the first converts in an area. Fruit are the people that come to know Jesus Christ and are added—that’s why I call it addition—fruit to the body. Paul desired to save men. He said that in 1 Corinthians 9:22, to see men saved.

So, Paul says my desire is to see believers with the right attitude, believers with the right holy life style and people added to the Kingdom. And I think the last one is the real thrust of this text. And, believe me, folks, the fruit was enormous when he got to Rome. I mean, it was tremendous. In fact, when he wrote back to the Philippians from Rome, he said, “All the saints in Caesar’s household greet you.” He had been used of God to win people in Caesar’s household to Christ. And so he was in the ministry for fruit.

You know, I can promise you that I don’t think I could survive a ministry of maintenance. Just getting a group of sanctified saints sitting around looking at each other. Got to have fruit. And that’s the joy of service. I get just so excited about testimony after testimony after testimony of how God has changed lives. That’s what it’s all about. You know, I look at this world in its confusion and its chaos and its lostness and I hear all the idiocy that’s pumped out in the name of human philosophy and all the stupidity that comes over the media and all of the lies and wrong answers and wrong opinions … my wife and I the other day walked into a store and two of the people who worked in the store were standing in the front and one said to the other, “Well, of course, anybody knows that Genesis is only a fairy tale.” And the man says—he was Jewish—“Well, I agree with that, it’s definitely a fairy tale.” And the other, who was a lady, says, “Yes, but it’s meant to teach us a mystical moral.”

And then came this reiterated statement, “But obviously, anybody knows the account of creation in Genesis is not the truth.” At that precise moment, my wife said, “Oh yes it is!” And they both did a double take—who is this woman? And I’m standing there with this grin on my face. Right? I said good for you. She said, “I just can’t stand to hear people say things like that.”

Well, you know, it just points up the folly of the world. They don’t even know what they’re talking about. And you know, to be able to crash into that world and bring somebody to the truth, that is what living is all about. That’s what it’s all about. Oh, don’t ever get indifferent to that. True spiritual service is fruitful in spirit.

Number eight, true spiritual service is also marked by an obedient spirit … a thankful spirit, a concerned spirit, a willing spirit, a submissive spirit, a loving spirit, a humble spirit, a fruitful spirit and an obedient spirit. This is so good. Verse 14, Paul continues to talk about his attitudes and the reasons he serves, he says, “I am debtor both to the Greeks and the barbarians, to the wise and the unwise.” He says I have an obligation. The ministry for me is not a whimsey. I didn’t say one day, “Let’s see, I could be a tent maker, go into my own business and build a tent plant. Or, I could be an attorney, I could be a lawyer with my logical mind, I might even become a politician. Or, I could become a preacher of the gospel … eenie, meenie, miney, moe.” No, he didn’t do it that way. For him it was a debt. It was an obligation to God. He owed a debt to God.

If you have forgotten, look for a moment at 1 Corinthians 9 … 1 Corinthians 9:16, he says, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing in which to glory.” In other words, it’s true that I preach the gospel, but don’t … don’t give me an award for that. Don’t name a city after me and a statue and give me honorary degrees. I don’t have anything to glory. “Necessity is laid upon me, yea, I am cursed,” that’s what “woe is me” means, “if I don’t preach.” I mean, I am involved in a debt to God. “If I did it willingly, (verse 17) then I’d have a reward. But if it’s against my will, then it is strictly a dispensation of God given to me.” And it was against his will, he was on the way to killing Christians and the next thing he knew, God turned him around and called him into the ministry. And he was in against his will. He says don’t commend me, he says I have a debt to pay. “God has brought this to pass.”

A young man recently asked me, he said, “How can you week after week after week keep studying and studying and constantly preaching and preaching, what motivates you?” And I said to him, “Well, there are from time to time a lot of things. Some passages are so exhilarating in themselves that you’re just kind of flying through the week and can’t wait to get to Sunday. Other times you’re battling time problems and priority things and you’re fighting your way through and it really doesn’t look that interesting and you just kind of struggle. And those are the times that you do it because you have a debt to pay to God who called you to preach.” And if you’re looking at Christian service like so many people, you do it only when you feel like doing it, then you haven’t learned the kind of service that Paul understood right here. I mean, when you’ve just been hauled out of city … out of the city, thrown in the city dump dead because they’ve stoned you to death, and you are risen from the dead like he was, and you go right back into town and preach some more, that is a commitment to duty.

And sometimes that’s all you have to go on. You have an obligation to God. Paul says, “I have a debt.” And I think the implication of the text here is that his debt is really to God toward the Greeks and barbarians. I am debtor to the Greeks and barbarians, to the wise and the unwise. And I see, first of all, a debt to God on their behalf.

Secondly, there is a sense in which he has a debt to them. If I’m walking down the street and I pass a house and I see that the roof is on fire and the family is in another section of the house and I can see them all sitting there. What is my responsibility? I could stand on the curb and say, “Oh my, I wonder if anyone knows them that could let them know their house is burning down.” No … no, because they are in a dire situation and because I have the information that can save their lives, I owe a debt to them. If I’m going across a bridge and a fellow falls in the river, I don’t say, “I wonder who might know this fellow to know whether he’s worth saving.” No, if I have a rope at my disposal or some means, I have a debt because if his need and my capacity to meet that need.

If I see a man cross my path who is destitute, who has not clothes or no food or no place to sleep and I have all of those things and say to him, “Be warmed, be filled,” I have not discharged my debt. Paul says I owe the Gentile world a message because they’re on the way to hell and I know the way to heaven. You have a debt, folks. And to whom much is given, much is … what?… required. He had an obligation, first of all, to God and it was his apostolic calling. And his debt was expressed in preaching the gospel to Greeks and barbarians.

And I really believe the phrases here, “Greeks and barbarians, wise and unwise” are parallel phrases. The Greeks were considered the wise and the barbarians the unwise. And he’s really saying the educated and the uneducated. The Greeks were very sophisticated and when they knew the Greek language, of course, which was believed to be the language of the gods and all of that and the language of philosophy and wisdom and so forth. Now they thought they were really the elite, the educated. When a person came along and spoke another language, they had an unintelligible kind of sound, and the Greeks used to call their unintelligible chatter “bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar.” And so foreigners became known as bar-barians. They were regarded as uncultured, uneducated and unintelligent.

Paul is saying I owe the same responsibility to the educated, the uneducated, the wise, the unwise, the cultured, the uncultured, the Greeks and the bar-barians. You know what he says there in that statement? You can’t pick and choose who you want to preach the gospel to. It bothers me when I hear somebody say, “Well, you know, I’m trying to reach the elite.” Oh? Why? Are they something better than the rest of us? Jesus said, “God is no respecter of … what?… persons.”

Far and wide, Paul says I want to reach people. Have you ever remembered that the first person that Jesus ever revealed Himself to was a half-breed harlot living in the village of Sychar who had a handful of husbands and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband? Nice lady. And to make matters worse, she was a Samaritan. But the gospel is always the great equalizer, isn’t it? It’s so easy to be trapped in being a respecter of persons. We tend to want to evangelize the high class and we let the rest of the people pass by. And so very often, the poor are more open, aren’t they?

So, Paul had a thankful heart. He had a concerned heart, a willing heart, a submissive heart, a loving heart, a humble heart, a fruitful heart, and an obedient heart. He was going to fulfill his debt. And that’s what faithfulness is all about, see. He would obey at any cost. On his way to Jerusalem, they told him he was going to be imprisoned and all of that and he says, “I don’t care. I’m going to finish what the Lord has given me to do,” the twentieth chapter of Acts. And sometimes, folks, that’s all you have to go on. You’re going through struggles and you haven’t seen all the joys and it’s tough and all you’ve got is the bottom line of a debt to God. And I believe if you’re faithful to discharge the debt, He’ll fill your heart with joy.

Now, two final marks. Number nine and number ten, a pure heart and servant of God is characterized by an eager spirit … an eager spirit. And this wonderfully balances off the last point about discharging the debt. That is not to say that you do it reluctantly. There is an eagerness to fulfill that responsibility. And so in verse 15, this is lovely, he says, “So much as is in me.” In other words, as much as I can muster inside myself, “I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome.” That’s an eager spirit. I’m ready. And the word is eager.

You know, in Acts 20:22, he said, “I go to Jerusalem bound in the spirit.” It was as if somebody wrapped up his heart and dragged him into Jerusalem. He was compelled. It indicates a strong desire, Acts 20:22, bound in the spirit, a very strong desire. In fact, it’s used in Romans 7:2 of a woman who is bound to her husband, strong binding, strong obligation. He says I am ready. My spirit is bound. And this is a good indication that Paul’s self-preservation was not at the top of his priority list. His only concern was to fulfill the plan of God and the ministry got it given to him and really, that was everything he lived for. He says nothing moves me, in Acts 20, because I don’t count my life dear unto myself. Paul’s life was never ever ever the issue. In fact, he said, “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” He said in 2 Corinthians 5, “What’s the difference if I die? If I’m absent from the body, I’m present with the Lord.” His life was never the issue.

In Colossians 1, I believe it’s verse 24, he said, “I rejoice in my sufferings for you.” In Philippians he said, “If I be offered on the sacrifice of your service … or rather … the sacrifice of your faith, I rejoice.” If I lose my life reaching you, that’s okay. So, he had an eager spirit.

Life had only one value to Paul. Think of this and look at your own life. This is a very hard thing to accept. Life had only one purpose. There was only one value in life to Paul and that was to do God’s work … consumed by that. He was eager to preach. And there were others like him. I think of Philippians 2 and it says in verse 27, “Of Epaphroditus, he was sick near unto death, but God had mercy on him and not on him only but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” Epaphroditus was working with Paul there and Paul says God was not only merciful to him to preserve his life, but merciful to me because my heart would have been broken. Because, “For the work of Christ he was near unto death, not regarding his life to fulfill your lack of service toward me.” So Paul is saying in Romans 1:15, all that falls within my power, all that falls within my prerogative is ready. As far as I am concerned, I am eager to come to Rome to preach the gospel.

He’s like a racehorse in the gate, banging against the steel, waiting for the thing to open. He’s like a sprinter who gets in those blocks … and I can remember that feeling so well … and that guy puts his hand up and up goes the gun and you’re just … and there’s usually in a very important race somebody goes too soon and they have to restart. Paul was like a sprinter and God had to hold him back he was so ready to go.

Are you so eager? Is that the kind of service you render? Or does somebody have to get behind you and shove with all their might to get you involved? Does your wife have to give you the typical Sunday afternoon lecture to get you here Sunday night? To get you to the Flock group or the Bible study? Or are you eager? If it comes out of your heart, you’re eager.

And, you know, it’s amazing that he was as eager as he was because he knew what a volatile place Rome was. He knew they would despise him. He knew they would reject his message. He knew they hated Christ. And that brings us to the last final mark of a pure spirit, I call it a bold spirit … a bold spirit. Verse 16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”

Paul, how can you be so eager to go Rome? I mean, you know they’re up to their neck in emperor worship. You know they’re steeped in paganism. You know that they despise the gospel of Jesus Christ. How can you be in such a hurry to go there? Aren’t you intimidated about what’s liable to happen?

No, I’m not ashamed. Oh, that’s … that’s such an important statement. Paul says when I get the opportunity to preach, I’ll really preach.

It’s amazing what shame does to us. Many people get real eager but when the battle starts, they faint. Remember John Mark, he started out, he was really hot for the missionary trip. He bailed out. Didn’t want to confront it.

You know, there are what I call in the church “the sign-up specialists.” They sign up for everything and drop out. You see the eagerness but they don’t have that boldness, that unashamedness. The pagans in Rome branded Christianity as atheism. They even branded Christianity as cannibalism. They said that the Christians ate one another … and that was their communion service, talking about drinking blood and eating flesh. The Jews branded Christianity as heresy, blasphemy, lawlessness. The gospel was always a rock of offense and a stumbling block. But Paul said I don’t care, I’m not ashamed of it, I am not ashamed.

He proved that in Jerusalem, didn’t he? He proved it in Athens. And he would prove it in Rome. He proved it in every city he went to because it nearly cost him his life in every single town, but he never pulled a punch. The servant of the Lord is always going to face the situation in a unashamed, bold way.

May I just offer this thought? The great ones never compromise … or become ashamed, never. And that speaks to my own heart as well. Jeffrey Wilson wrote, “The unpopularity of a crucified Christ has prompted many to present a message which is more palatable to the unbeliever. But the removal of the offense of the cross always renders the message ineffective. An inoffensive gospel is an inoperative gospel. Thus—listen to this—Christianity is wounded most in the house of its friends.” It’s true. We have emasculated the gospel so it won’t offend anybody.

I remember speaking at a youth rally and I preached on the need that young people had to be saved. And a lady who was the wife of the director of the rally came to me afterward and said, “You know, your message offended me because you preached as if all of these young people were evil.” I said, “Well, I’m glad you got that out of it because that’s exactly what I was saying.”

“And you turned them off.”

But, you see, that’s the kind of mentality that so many people have. You compromise the message and you have an inoffensive yes and equally inoperative message. Unashamed boldness to speak for Christ.

How do you do in that score? Do you clam up? Do you kind of wiggle around the issues comfortably? Or do you confront it?

There was a great saint in the early church by the name of Basil. You can read about him. He was martyred in 363 A.D. and he was martyred by a man that became known as Julian the Apostate. Julian had restored into the Roman Empire heathen worship. You remember that Constantine, for the most part, had made Christianity the religion around 325. And when Julian came in, he brought back heathen worship. And Basil, who was a great Christian, went to him one day and this is what the historian said he said to the emperor. “Thou renegade, thou hast abdicated the throne prepared for thee in heaven. Verily I believe that Christ, whom thou has adjured, will take thee and pluck thee out of thy dwelling that thou mayest know how great is that God whom thou hast offended. Thou hast not fought of His judgments, nor venerated His altars, thou hast not kept His laws which thou didst declare often with thy lips. Wherefore, great emperor, Christ will not remember thee.”

Emperors were not used to being talked to like that. Julian ordered Basil to prison. And this was the punishment. Every day the guards were to make seven leather thongs from strips pulled out of his skin. And so, every day they would cut long strips to make into thongs. This went on for weeks. Finally Basil picked up one of the thongs and asked to see the emperor. This was granted because the guards felt that he had prepared himself to deny the faith and affirm the place of the emperor.

And so, he was brought holding in his hand his own flesh, scarred all over his body and this, the historians record, is what he said, “Dumb, deaf and blind are thy idols, apostate. To me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” And he threw the thong of his own flesh at Julian’s feet. They carried him out and dropped him on a red-hot bed of iron spikes and he died.

Soon after, Julian himself died. And there are many records of his last words. He is said to have said this, “Thou hast conquered, O Man of Galilee.” I’d say Basil was bold, wouldn’t you? And I’d say his boldness got the message through.

Paul served with his spirit. What did that mean? That mean that he was bold and eager to preach out of a great debt to God and because he desired fruit and all of this was born out of a thankful, concerned, willing, submissive, loving, humble heart. He was unashamed. And if you find in your life shame for the gospel of Christ and if I find in my heart shame for the gospel of Christ, it just reminds us of how far we are away from the heart of true spiritual service.

William Lloyd Garrison wrote this: “I am aware that many object to the severity of my language. But is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to talk or think or write in moderation. No, no, tell a man who’s house is on fire to give a moderate alarm, to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher. Tell a mother gradually to extricate her baby from the fire into which it has fallen. But urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch and I will be heard. The apathy of the people (he said) is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal and hasten the resurrection of the dead,” end quote. What zeal.

You know, I think that we haven’t even seen what God could do in our city, our state and our country if we began to serve truly the way we’ve seen in Romans 1. We don’t have everybody here, this is Memorial Day weekend. But just this group that’s here could revolutionize the city if we served from our spirits in a worshipful whole-hearted service, if we serve with a spirit filled with thanksgiving, with concern, a willing spirit, a submissive spirit, a loving spirit, humble, fruitful, obedient, eager and bold. But we tend to get so comfortable, so lazy spiritually.

Well, I hope you thought about your own life and not somebody else’s tonight. I know I thought about mine. And I kind of feel like the master picked up the brush and touched me up in a few places. But I’ve been touched up before and I tend to fade in the same spots, do you? Let’s resolve tonight to restore the color and be used as Paul was.

Thank You, Father, for Your good word to us tonight in the heart and spirit of Paul. And now as we leave the introduction, and begin to enter the masterpiece of the theology of the gospel, may we do so with the same heart that Paul had so that we don’t treat it as academics but as the only hope for the salvation of lost men. Teach us more, Lord, that we may reach others. And may we serve You with our hearts, our whole hearts, not externally but from deep within.

This transcript, along with related media, can also be found here on the Grace to You website.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You.

Romans 1:1-7 Sermon Series

Greeting
1 Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was born ⌊a descendant⌋ of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared Son of God in power according to ⌊the Holy Spirit⌋ by the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship for the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ. 7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God, called to be saints. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (Ro 1:1–7). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.


Romans: The Man and the Message

March 1, 1981

Romans 1:1

Take your Bible now and open to the first word of the book of Romans. We’ll be kind of getting a little bit of an overview tonight, I trust, so you’ll need to be looking at the book.

We embark, I believe, tonight on a life changing adventure. I’m convinced that people will be utterly transformed in mind and heart as we move through this very special journey in the book of Romans. The reason I have that confidence is because that is what has happened in the past. It’s amazing if you just go back in history and see how the book of Romans affected people’s lives. The greatest reformations and revivals that we know about were results of the power of this book.

For example, in the summer of A.D. 386 a man named Augustine, a native of north Africa, who had for two years been the professor of rhetoric at Milan, sat weeping in the garden of his friend, Alpeous(?). He was almost persuaded to begin a new life and yet he found it impossible to break with his old life. As he sat, historians tell us that he heard a child singing in a neighboring yard, “Tolei Legae, Tolei Legae(?)” a little melody that says “Take up and read … take up and read.”

It struck him that perhaps that was something he should do and so he picked up a scroll which lay at his friend’s side, that scroll contained a portion of the book of Romans. He read it, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”

“No further would I read,” he said, “nor had I any need, instantly at the end of this sentence a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” And in that very moment from one sentence in the book of Romans the church received the great Augustine … the framer of much of its theology.

In November, 1515 there was a priest by the name of Martin Luther who himself was known as an Augustian monk, who was the professor of sacred theology in the Catholic university of Wittenberg(?). And to his students he began to expound the epistle to the Romans. And from November of 1515 to the following September of 1516, he daily spent himself in the understanding of that epistle. And as he daily prepared his lectures, he became more and more appreciative of the centrality of the Pauline doctrine of justification by … what?… faith. He writes, “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the righteousness of God.’ Because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous. Night and day I pondered until I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby through grace and sheer mercy he justifies us by faith. There upon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise, the whole of Scripture took on a new meaning and whereas before the righteousness of God had filled me with hate, it now began to fill me inexpressably with a sweet love. The passage of Paul became to me the gateway to heaven.” And need I say what contribution Martin Luther made?

It was the evening of May 24, the year was 1738. There was a man by the name of John Wesley. His biographer says that he went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street where a man was reading Luther’s Preface to the epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine he wrote in his journal while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, “I myself felt my heart strangely warmed.” Wesley goes on, “I felt I did trust in Christ and Christ alone for my salvation and an assurance was given me that He had taken my sins away, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.” And so it was in Aldersgate Street at the reading of the book of Romans that John Wesley was redeemed. And we all know the contribution he made.

Luther said, “Romans is the chief part of the New Testament and the perfect gospel.” John Calvin said, “If a man understands it, he has a sure road open to him to the understanding of the whole of Scripture.” The brilliant commentator Godeau(?) called Romans the cathedral of the Christian faith. Colleridge(?) said “It is the most profound work in existence.” Dr. John Cairns(?) of Scotland wrote this, “The gospel tide nowhere forms so many deep dark pools where the neophyte may drown as in the book of Romans. You will have something like a glimpse of the divine depth and richness.”

In the history of the church there was a very important man by the name of William Tyndale who also wrote regarding the epistle to the Romans. And in the prologue to the epistle to the Romans which he wrote for his 1534 edition of the English New Testament, he wrote this, “I think it meet that every Christian man not only know Romans by rote and without the book but also exercise himself therein ever more continually as with the daily bread of the soul,” end quote.

Dr. John A. McKay for 23 years the president of Princeton Seminary said this, “It seems increasingly clear that the chief need of contemporary Christianity and of society in general in this confused and revolutionary time is an evangelical renaissance, by that I mean a rediscovery of the evangel, the gospel, in its full dimension of light and power together with the elevation of the gospel to the status that belongs to the gospel in the thought life and activity of all persons and organizations that bear the name Christian.” And for him that affirmation came in the epistle to the Romans.

Now you can go through history far beyond what I did and you will find transformation after transformation in individual lives, in nations and across the world that came when men discovered the realities of the book of Romans. It is deep, it is profound, it is divine and yet it is within the grasp of all of us.

Dr. Barnhouse had a great thought on Romans. And by the way, he wrote four or five volumes on it. He said this, “A scientist may say that mother’s milk is the most perfect food known to man. And the scientist may give you an analysis showing all of the chemical components. He may give you a list of all the vitamins in the milk and an estimate of the calories in a given quantity. But a baby will take that milk without the remotest knowledge of its content and will grow day by day. So it is with the profoundest truths of the Word of God. Some of us may be able to analyze it, some of us may not, but all of us do well to drink and to grow.”

Two great scholars applied two adjectives to Romans. The first great scholar was a man named Sandae(?) who wrote perhaps the most definitive commentary ever written in the English language on the book of Romans. And Sandae said that the book of Romans is testamentary. And he meant by that that it is Paul’s last will and testament. In it he distills the essence of the last word on the Christian faith. It is the last will and testament of Paul. It says all that he intends to sum up and say about the gospel. Burton(?), another brilliant commentator said, “It is prophylactic,” and prophylactic means something that guards against infection. He said that the epistle to the Romans is the prophylactic for the church, it ever and always is that which saves the church from heresy, it is the guardian of the church.

And so, this is a marvelous book. And we could go on and on just talking about all of the things that its accomplished. It quotes the Old Testament more than any other New Testament book, 57 times. The most common words in Romans are the word God—153 times, the word law—72 times, the word Christ—65 times, the word sin—48 times, the word Lord—43 times and the word faith—40 times. It’s about God, the law, Christ, sin, the Lord, faith and all the ramifications of those terms.

Now stay with me, this is going to go by real fast. The teaching of this book is absolutely breathtaking. It is breathtaking what is in this book. It answers all of the important questions, all of them. Let me give you the ones that it answers just as an initial look and this only scratches the surface. Now don’t try to write these down, find yourself under the bed saying the Greek alphabet, I’m going to go too fast.

Here are the questions that it answers. This one epistle … what is the good news of God? Is Jesus really God? What proves He is God? Why did He come? What is a saint? What is God like? How can God send people to hell? What will happen to people who have never heard the gospel? Why do men reject God and Christ? Why are there false religions and idols? What is man’s biggest sin? Why is there sex perversion, hate, crime and those other things and why are they so rampant? What is the standard by which God condemns people? How can a person who has never head be held responsible? Are Jews more responsible to believe than Gentiles? Who is a true Jew? Is it any advantage to be Jewish? How good is man? How bad is man? Can anyone keep God’s law? How do we know we’re sinners? How are we justified and forgiven? How is a Christian related to Abraham? What is the importance of Christ’s death? What is the importance of His resurrection? What is the importance of His present life? For whom did Christ die? Where can men find real peace and hope? How are we related spiritually to Adam and how are we related spiritually to Christ? What is grace? And what does it do? How does a person die spiritually to be reborn? What is the Christian’s relation to sin? How important is obedience? How are law and grace related to one another? Why is it such a struggle to live the Christian life? How many natures does a believer have?

Have I hit any that you’re interested in? What does the Holy Spirit do for us? How intimate is a Christian’s relationship to God really? Why is there suffering? Will the world ever be any different? How can I pray properly? What does predestination mean? How secure is a Christian? What is God’s present plan for Israel? What is His future plan for Israel? Why have the Gentiles been chosen? What is our responsibility to Israel? How is a person saved? And what is the basic bottom line for Christian commitment? What is the Christian’s relationship to the world, to other Christians, to the unsaved, to the government? What is love and how does it work? How do we deal with neutral things, things that are neither right or wrong? What is true freedom? How important is unity in the church?

Now those are just a few. But I just ran you from chapter 1 to chapter 16. Those are a few of the questions the book answers. Is it any wonder that Godeau say, “O St. Paul, had thy one work been to compose an epistle to the Romans, that alone should have rendered thee dear to every sound mind.”

You want to know what the key to the book of Romans is? Chapter 1:17, the last line, “The just shall … what?… live by faith.” That’s the key … that’s the key.

Deisman(?) writing in the Expository Times said, quote: “Fire, holy fire shows between the lines of Romans. This holy divine flame is what warms and inter-penetrates us. The deep understanding of human misery, the terrible shuddering before the power of sin, yet at the same time the jubilant rejoicing of the redeemed child of God, this is what for all time assures to the Roman epistle a victorious sway over the hearts of men who are sinful and thirst for redemption,” end quote. This letter will delight the greatest logician. This letter will captivate the mind of a consummate genius and yet will bring tears to the humblest soul and refreshment to the simplest reason. The book, get ready, will knock you down and then lift you up. It will strip you naked and then clothe you with eternal elegance. It could take a Bedford Tinker like John Bunyan and turn him into the master who penned the Holy War and Pilgrim’s Progress.

And Romans speaks to today. It speaks to the issues we face today morally for it speaks about adultery. It speaks about homosexuality. It speaks about perversion. It speaks about killing and hating and lying and civil disobedience. So it speaks to us morally. It speaks to us intellectually. It tells us why man is so confused because he possesses a reprobate mind. It speaks to us socially. It tells us how we are to relate to one another. It speaks to us psychologically. It tells us where true freedom comes to deliver men from guilt. It speaks to us spiritually for it answers our despair with a hope in the future. It speaks to us internationally for it tells us the ultimate destiny of the earth and specially the plan for the nation Israel. It speaks to us nationally for it tells us our responsibility to the government. It speaks to us supernaturally for it defines for us the infinite power of God. And it speaks to us theologically because it teaches us relationships between flesh and Spirit, law and grace. But most of all, it brings God to us profoundly.

An anonymous poet wrote these marvelous words, listen. “O long and dark the stairs I trod, with trembling feet to find a God. Gaining a foothold bit by bit, then slipping back and losing it. Never progressing, striving still with weakening grasp and faltering will. Bleeding to climb to God while He serenely smiled unnoting me. Then came a certain time when I loosened my hold and fell thereby, down to the lowest step my fall as if I hadn’t climbed at all. Now when I lay despairing there, listen, a footfall on the stair. On that same stair where I afraid faltered and fell and laid dismayed and lo when hope had ceased to be, my God came down the stairs to me.” And that is Romans. It is God finding the desperate sinner.

Well, I hope those thoughts give you a sense of anticipation. You’re never going to be the same. Now with that we’ll get into the book.

First word, “Paul,” and, beloved, I have to tell I just couldn’t get pass that word. I no longer said it and read it then I just kept saying, “Paul.” How could you ever understand Romans if you didn’t understand Paul? How could you feel his heartbeat if you didn’t know something about him? And so in giving you somewhat of an overview tonight, I want to deal just from the vantage point of Paul. The very word just fills my heart. I spend hours with this individual, reading what he wrote, dissecting every word that he wrote, trying to emulate him. The very name speaks to my heart.

And I don’t know if I’ve ever preached a sermon just on Paul to put him in perspective. And I’m not sure this is the kind of sermon that ought to be preached on him, he deserves far more than I’m able to do, but just to give you a little glimpse of this incredible man … Paul.

That wasn’t always his name, you know. That was his new name. His old name was Saul. And he was a good Jewish boy named for a good Jewish king … Saul. He was born in Tarsus. Tarsus because his father, though a Jew, was involved in the Roman culture as a Roman citizen. He was born in Tarsus and Tarsus was a university town. It was a center of Greek culture. Tarsus was located in Cilicia and that is at the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea. You go east by Spain and north Africa as far as you can go toward the coast of Israel and up in that northeast corner was Tarsus. He also received a portion of his education in Jerusalem under the most distinguished doctor of the law, a man by the name of Gamaliel who was, by the way, the grandson of perhaps the most famous rabbi who ever lived, Hillel. He studied under this very distinguished doctor and so he was not only erudite in matters of Greek culture and philosophy but also in the matters of Jewish law.

It is said in those times that there were three great universities in the Greek world, one at Athens, one at Alexandria and one at Tarsus. They were the Harvard, Yale and Princeton of their day. And he was educated at Tarsus and then further educated in the Jewish school of Gamaliel.

Now also in keeping with the tradition in a Jewish family, he had to learn a trade. And so he grew up learning the trade of his father. He was taught to work with hides, to be a leather worker, a tent maker. And history tells us that that was a rather common occupation in Tarsus. He was educated up until the age of about 13 and apparently at 13 was packed off to Jerusalem to study with Gamaliel who, by the way, was called quote: “The beauty of the law,” because he so personified the law, the Mosaic and the traditional law of Israel.

Now the kind of education he would have had under Gamaliel would have been a memorizing and interpreting of Scripture between he and Gamaliel in a question and answer format. So from the time of 13 he was in an interchange with this greatest of Jewish minds. Since he never met Jesus in his earthly life, he probably completed his education and then returned back to Tarsus. And some historians believe he became probably the leader of a synagogue there. No matter where he was he always became the leader … didn’t matter where. And it seems very obvious that that is what would have happened in Tarsus.

And so, there he is in Tarsus. He’s had a consummate Greek education. He’s had a consummate Jewish education. He’s got all of the credentials to move around in the Roman world. His father is a Roman citizen and that makes him one and yet he has all the Jewishness that gives him access to that whole area. And so he is marvelously prepared. And he becomes a zealous Jew, extremely zealous, utterly zealous, utterly committed to the Judaism that he was given. In fact, in Philippians 3:5 it says he was circumcised the eighth day. He was of the stock of Israel. He was of the tribe of Benjamin. He was an Hebrew of the Hebrews. As touching the law, he was a Pharisee. And you couldn’t get more committed than that. He had zeal to the place where he began to persecute the church. And as touching the righteousness which was in the Jewish law, he was blameless. He was a first-class legalist … kept the law.

Sometime probably when he was up in Tarsus this thing with Jesus happened. And he began to hear about the fact that Christians were filling the city of Jerusalem with teaching about this Jesus being the Messiah. He was angry at this heresy. He was angry at this affront to traditional Judaism. And so we find him in the city of Jerusalem early in the book of Acts. A persecution breaks out and he is right in the middle of it.

Now turn with me to the book of Acts and I just want to point out several things … 8:1. You have to get a little background before we go into chapter 8 and it comes in the testimony that he gave before Agrippa in chapter 26. Just listen, this is what he said to Agrippa. He said, “I verily thought within myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” He said, “I determined in myself that I was going to put a stop to that cult around Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem and many of the saints that I shut up in prison having received authority from the chief priests and when they were put to death I gave my voice against them and I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme. And begin exceedingly mad, or furious against them, I persecuted them even unto foreign cities.”

Now he is really really angered. And we find in verse 1 of chapter 8 that Saul was consenting unto his death. Whose death? The death of Stephen … the death of Stephen. For in chapter 7 you have Stephen being stoned. And if you look at verse 58, “They cast him out of the city and stoned him and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet whose name was … what?… Saul … Saul.”

That was typical stuff for him, to be involved in the execution of a Christian. Luke literally says that he laid waste the church. At that time verse 1 says there was a great persecution against the church at Jerusalem and they were scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Verse 3, “And Saul made havoc of the church. He entered into every house and hailing men and women committed them to prison. The result, they were scattered everywhere.” He literally cleaned them out of Jerusalem.

Now he had an organized approach. By the way, the word “he made havoc” or “laid waste” is a Greek word describing a wild boar rampaging through a garden. It also is used to speak of an army devastating a city. The man was just as fanatical then as he became later on the behalf of Christ.

Well, while he was in Jerusalem and got everybody scattered, he says in Acts 26, “I even persecuted them to foreign cities.” He got word that there was a big group of them in a city called Damascus. Go to chapter 9. “And Saul,” verse 1, “yet breathing out threatening and slaughter.” And he’s like a wild bull, just snorting and breathing out fury. And he’s breathing this out and he’s after Christians. And verse 2 says, He went to the high priest and desired letters which would give him the right, kind of like some kind of an affidavit that would give him permission to arrest these Christians in another city, letters to the Damascus synagogue so that they would give him permission to come in and bind these men and women and drag them back to Jerusalem. So he isn’t content with just cleaning Jerusalem, this has become a literal vendetta with the man. He is consumed with capturing and executing Christians … like a war horse with the smell of battle in his nostrils, he’s breathing out fury and looking for new fields to conquer. His sin is like that of Haman the Agagite who wanted all Jews to be exterminated.

So he headed for Damascus. That is an incredible city, by the way. It still exists, I’ve been there. Maybe the oldest city in the world. It predates Abraham. And there was there a population of about 150 thousand people, as best we can tell. It was 160 miles northeast of Jerusalem. And a caravan took six days to get there. So he put together his entourage and for six days he went northeast and up, of course, because it’s a more mountainous area, he would go down first, and down the Jordan valley perhaps and then up the Golen Heights and then on across to Damascus. And there was as far as we know a large Jewish synagogue there.

But you’ll notice in verse 2 a most interesting phrase. He desired letters to Damascus 9, to the synagogues that if he found any of this way … interesting phrase … this way, that became a title for Christians. They were a part of the way. And he said if he could find any. didn’t care who they were. he would bind them and bring them back. Then something very amazing happened. Verse 3, “And as he journeyed he came near Damascus and suddenly …” And, people, with the word “suddenly” the whole course of human history changed dramatically.

“There shown round about him a light from heaven.” And if you read Acts 22 and 26 where he recites the testimony, it says there that it was noon and at noontime in the middle of the day in that part of the world, the sun itself is bright enough to blind you. And this must have been some light to surpass the sun. “And he fell to the earth and he heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?”

You know, some people really have to have a dramatic thing happen to get their attention. That was him. He said, “Who art Thou, Lord? The Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest, it’s hard for thee to kick against the goads.” Goads were long sticks and in the end of it they had a pointed nail and if they wanted the ox to move a little faster with the plow, they just gave him a good shot with the goad. Sometimes they would apply it to the heel of the ox and he would keep his feet moving so he wouldn’t get poked in the delicate portion, the back of the heel. It’s hard for you to do this, isn’t it? And verse 6 says, “He trembling and astonished …” And there’s no way that those little English words are going to convey to you the absolute panic that’s in his heart. I mean, he has been killing Christians all over everywhere and now he is facing the one whom he has been persecuting, Jesus the Lord, and he is panicked. There’s no way to understand the horrifying reality of hearing “I am Jesus whom thou persecutes.”

The Jesus, who went about doing good, who went about healing, who took out the demons and delivered people from death. Jesus who was crucified, rejected by Israel. Jesus whom Stephen had called upon in his own death. Jesus whom he hated. Jesus whose followers he had mercilessly killed. Jesus was alive. And all the bloodshed drowned Saul in a sea of sorrow. He was shattered. He was penitent. He was broken. He was devastated. He was destroyed.

And then you pick up some hair-brained guy who says he had an epileptic fit … cause he doesn’t want to admit to a miracle. One other writer said, “If this is epilepsy, oh sweet epilepsy.” His sin was enormous, people. It was enormous. His total life was wrapped up in the annihilation of the church. And had his plan succeeded the church would have been smothered in its very birth. It would have been drowned in its own blood. And, you know, he never forgot the enormity of his sin. He never forgot it. I can imagine that when he looked back on all those Christians whose lives he had taken that there was just a shuddering in his heart. That’s why in 1 Timothy he says, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who enabled me that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry who before was a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious. But I obtain mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief and the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant with faith and love. And this is a faithful saying, he says, of all the sinners, I am … what?… chief.” He never forgot that. He meant that.

But on that road he was marvelously transformed. He was blind. He was speechless. He was utterly devastated. Verse 9 says he was three days without sight and didn’t eat or drink. He committed his life to Christ. And I remember when I taught the book of Jude saying that there wasn’t any human Christian who could deal with him, you understand that? You see, if a Christian got near him, it would be all over. The only way you cold get to this guy was God had to do it alone. Even when he became converted and tried to have an audience with the Apostles, the Apostles were too afraid to let him in. Nobody could get to him. He was a bran plucked from the burning. God had to do it. He was marvelously transformed.

I love this, verse 20, just love this, this is him … this is him … this is all there is to say about his personality, “And immediately he preached Christ.” I mean, if you just said, “Paul and immediately,” that would fit. He did everything that way. He was utterly and totally committed to whatever it was. And just as soon as he was transformed, he was wholeheartedly committed to preaching Christ in the synagogue and he was preaching that He is the Son of God. So he began the work of evangelizing Damascus.

Well, verse 21, “All that heard him were amazed. They said, Isn’t this the one that destroyed them who called on this name in Jerusalem? And he’s come here for that intent that he might bring them bound to the chief priests? I mean, what’s going on here?” The guy has changed boats in mid-stream. “Saul increased the more in strength and he confounded the Jews who dwelt at Damascus by proving that this the Christ.” They couldn’t handle it.

You say, “Where did he get all that information so fast?” Divine inspiration, God gave it to him. Didn’t take long, verse 23, “After many days were filled, the Jews decided to kill him.” You know what he did then? He got out of town, the first thing he did. And then the text tells us he spent some years in Arabia. And if you read Galatians 1, I’m not going to take the time to do that, it tells you that he went to Arabia. And it’s probably likely that he spent nearly three years there. Those were the years, I think, when he got his seminary training and he got it directly from the Lord. I think he was imputed with direct revelation from God because in Galatians he says I didn’t get my message from any man, I didn’t go to Jerusalem and get it, I didn’t get it from the other Apostles, I didn’t get it from anybody but the Lord Himself. And that’s what qualified him, I guess, to be an Apostle. First, he had seen the resurrected Lord, and secondly, he was given the Word of God personally from the Lord Himself.

After those years, you know what he did? He decided to go back to Damascus and preach some more. And you know what happened? They tried to get him again. Second Corinthians 11 says they let him out of the town with a basket over the wall. And then he finally went to Jerusalem. And as I said earlier, when he got to Jerusalem he tried to join the other Apostles. Look at verse 26, “And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he tried to join himself to the disciples but they were all afraid of him and they didn’t believe he was a disciple. They said, Wait a minute, that’s an old trick. He says, I’m one of you, I’m one of you.” And he gets in with all the disciples and we’re all done … he’ll kill us all. They said we’re not going to do that. But Barnabas took him, brought him to the Apostles, declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way and how He had spoken to him and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus and he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. Barnabas became his escort. They took him. And what did he do in verse 29? He spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Grecians and they went about to do … what?… to kill him.

He’s really quite a guy, isn’t he? He just can’t stay out of trouble … just the way he is. And finally the dear brethren sent him away. They had about all they could handle … he created so many problems. So they sent him back to Tarsus, verse 30. From Galatians 1 I think we can conclude that he only spent 15 days with Peter. It’s hard sometimes to put all of these places like just when it was that he went to Arabia and some of these parts of the puzzle, but it seems best from Galatians 1:18 to assume that he spent 15 days with the Apostles and with Peter and then right back to Tarsus. And according to Acts 15:41 most likely in Tarsus he founded a church and probably founded several churches. He really was always founding churches and evangelizing and being busy, but in Acts 15:41 it says he went through Syria and Cilicia confirming the churches which if he went to confirm them they would have had to have been founded and the only time he was there was when he went back there after being in Jerusalem.

Now, stay with me and we’re going to see very important transition, after his marvelous ministry of founding churches in the area of Cilicia, Tarsus, Barnabas decided that it would be well to bring him to Antioch. Seven years after the Jerusalem church had really been formed they sent to establish a church in Antioch which was far north of there in Syria. And Barnabas felt that Paul would make an excellent pastor for the Antioch church. And so, he went to Antioch. And he and Barnabas sort of became cohorts there. And we find in chapter 11 and verse 30 Barnabas and Saul together ministering by bringing relief to Judean Christians during a time of famine.

So they ministered together from Antioch. Now after the relief of chapter 11, they returned to Antioch and Paul maintained his ministry there. Now come to chapter 13 and here’s the key. “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch,” verse 1, “certain prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch and Saul … and Saul.” He was one of those five elders, five leaders, five shepherds. And you’ll notice they were ministering to the Lord, verse 2, and they were fasting and the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I’ve called them. When they had fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on them and sent them away and they were sent forth by the Holy Spirit and departed,” and that’s all you need to say. And then began the ministry to which the man was called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles.

And from chapter 13 through chapter 21, Paul takes three great missionary journeys. Finally in the third journey he goes al the way to Ephesus, stays there for several years. He leaves Ephesus and he goes to Macedonia and finally to Corinth for the third time. And there in Corinth he writes the epistle to the Romans. And so in just a brief view you’ve seen the sweep of his life.

Now listen. Why did he write Romans? Go back to the book and let’s see. Why did he write it? First of all, he wanted to go there for several reasons, for their sake … 1:11, “I long to see you.” Why? “Well I want to impart unto you some spiritual gift. I want to minister to you. I want to establish you.” He wanted to go there for their sake because they had not been founded by an Apostle for he says in chapter 15, “I wouldn’t go and build on another man’s foundation.” They had not been founded by an Apostle but most likely had been founded by some travelers who had come from Judea. In fact, if you read Acts 2:10 it says in the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended there were sojourners from Rome there. And in the marvelous conversion of the 3,000 and then the 5,000 and who know how many thousand that happened in a few weeks, some of those sojourners from Rome, no doubt, took the gospel back. That’s perhaps the best explanation. So there had been no apostolic establishing. And I think in Paul’s heart he sensed the tremendously strategic location of the Roman church in the heart of the Empire and he knew they needed to be solidified and he said, “I want to come in order to impart to you some spiritual gift in order to establish you.”

Also, verse 15 says, “I want also to preach the gospel to those that are at Rome.” Not only for the church do I want to come but for the lost. His heart literally could see the tremendous potential of reaching Rome for Christ. And then I think he thought about himself, too. Chapter 15:32 he says, “I want to come to you with joy by the will of God so that I can be refreshed.” I mean, I just want to fellowship with you. So he wanted to go for the sake of the church, for the sake of the lost, for his own sake. And I think, too, he wanted them to know him for several reasons. First of all, so they could pray for him. Chapter 15:30, “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake and for the love of the Spirit, strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” He wanted people praying for him. He wanted them praying for him.

I think also he wanted them to know him because he had another plan in mind. Verse 28 of 15, “When I have performed this and sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.” He had this great dream of going on to Spain. And he was saying “I’d like to know that when I get as far as Rome you’ll give me the supplies I need to get to Spain.” So there was spiritual reasons to build the church, establish the church, win the lost, refresh himself, to gain their prayer support. He wanted them to know him. He longed to go there. And he wanted them to provide resources. He wanted to build up that strategic church.

And so, the letter really was to be an introduction of himself as an Apostle, of his doctrine so they would have no question about it. And so he pens a monumental treatise to establish them in the truth to show that he was truly an Apostle, to give them confidence in himself, and just in case he never gets there, to give them the absolute last word on the gospel of Jesus Christ so they will be established. And so he writes.

He got there, you know. But he got there at the expense of the Roman government who took him as a prisoner. And his ministry in Rome was as a prisoner, wasn’t it? But from his prisoner’s platform he had a marvelous ministry. And as he said to the Philippians, “All the saints in Caesar’s household greet you.” God put him right in Caesar’s household. And he was winning those people to Christ. Finally he had his head chopped off in Rome for the testimony of Christ.

Beloved, the triumph of the gospel during those three journeys of Paul is beyond words to express. The man was incredible. Energized by the Spirit of God he accomplished things far beyond what any of us could imagine. Do you know history tells us that at the close of the apostolic period it is believed that there were one half million Christians? Pretty amazing … one half million. Heaven only knows how many were the result of Paul … what an effective tool and without the printed page and without the media, with his reproductive life. Truly he was separated from his mother’s womb to proclaim the gospel.

And he wasn’t a whole lot to look at. I looked up a second century description of Paul written by some presbyter somewhere. And this was the description. “Small of stature … and there’s an unconfirmed report that he was three cubits which would be four feet six … bald with crooked legs, a hooked nose, scars all over his face from his stonings and beatings.” And the writer said, “Full of friendliness.” He’d have to be or he’d scare you to death if he looked like that. If you study the account of the New Testament, it’s very likely also that he had a very difficult oozing eye disease that made him less than pleasant to behold.

Not your typical Charismatic leader. Not your typical superstar. What made him great? Can I close with this? What made him great? Three things and they are the things I want you to learn tonight. Three things, listen carefully.

Number one, he had a biblical mind … he had a biblical mind. The man was absolutely saturated in the Word of God. To start with, he had a great intellect. He was deeply knowledgeable in the Old Testament and it comes through. He knew the Word of God.

Can I illustrate that to you very fast? In the book of Romans, for example, he talks with great facility about Abraham. He talks with great facility about Adam. He understands law and grace. He understands flesh and spirit. Listen to this, he quotes Moses, he quotes Hosea, he quotes Isaiah, he quotes David, he quotes the Psalms, he shows familiarity with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. He quotes Malachi. He quotes Jeremiah. He alludes to Daniel. He quotes from Joel 2, Nahum 1. He refers to 1 Samuel, refers to 1 Kings, and builds on Ezekiel 37. Fifty-seven times he uses the Old Testament. His thoughts just constantly intersect with the Old Testament … most dominantly with Isaiah which indicates to me that he probably had mastered Isaiah’s prophecies.

What made him great? I think what made him great was a biblical mind. His mind was saturated with the Word of God. I mean, it just comes out all the time as you go through Romans. I wish we had time to just develop it but it’s just everywhere, this biblical mind, this just facility with it. For example, in 9:33, “As it is written, behold I lay in Zion a stumbling stone, a rock of offense and whosoever believes in Him shall not be ashamed.” He just freely speaks from Isaiah.

You find in the tenth chapter just repeatedly he does this. Verse 11, “The Scripture says …” that’s verse 11. Verse 15, “As it is written …” Verse 17, “Faith comes by hearing a speech about Christ …” Verse 20, “Isaiah is very bold and says …” “To Israel,” verse 21, “he says …” Very very free with this. It says in verse 2 of chapter 11, “Know you not what the Scripture says …” Verse 8, “According as it is written …” And it goes on like that. I’m just picking them out as I can look down the line. Verse 26 of 11, “As it is written there shall come out of Zion a deliverer.” Chapter 12:19, “As it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And it just goes on, 14:11, “For it is written,” 15 also has some quotes from the Old Testament as well … 15:3, “As it is written …”

In other words, he just thought biblically. And I guess 15:4 would climax it. “Whatever things were written in earlier times were written for our learning that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Everything was based on the Scripture, had a biblical mind.

Secondly, he had a resolute will. He had a determined will, maybe that’s a better word. He had a determined will. A biblical mind and a determined will … you couldn’t put the man off his track. I mean, he was indomitable. You could throw him in prison and it didn’t even phase him. He just started an evangelistic meeting in the prison. You could stone him as they did in the book of Acts and throw him on the dump and God would raise him from the dead and he’d go right back in town and finish his sermon. He’d be preaching in the middle of the night, a guy fell out of the window and died, fell all the way down to the bottom, broke his neck and died. Just went down and raised him from the dead, brought him back up and made him listen to the rest of the sermon. A determined will … he was committed to the task. I mean, he went everywhere from Jerusalem to the eastern shore of the Adriatic, opposite Italy, and he preached over and back time and again. He was always a foundation builder … 15 years of labor, planting seeds, working and working and working. So faithful … so faithful.

He said, “Oh,” he said, “they keep telling me in every city, “Acts 20:23, “that bonds and afflictions await me, but none of these things move me.” I like that. “What do I care about that? I just want to finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus to testify of the gospel of the grace of God. Don’t tell me about that, I don’t care about that.” Said in 1 Corinthians 9, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” And you could … they tried everything to stop him. This is what he says, he says in 2 Corinthians 11, “I was in labors far greater, in prisons more often, in scourgings above measure, in exposure to death, of the Jews five times I received 40 lashes minus one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I had been the deep, in journeyings often, and then this, perils of rivers, perils of robbers, perils of mine own countrymen, perils from the Gentiles, perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, perils at sea, perils among false brothers in labor, toil, watching, hunger, thirst, fasting, cold, nakedness and besides this I have to take care of the church. Phew …

And he experienced all that before he wrote Romans. He never deviated from his conviction. And he said to Timothy, he said, “Timothy, preach the Word, be instant in season and out of season.” He says, “And you’ve got to do it and pick it up because the time of my departure is at hand. I’m ready to be offered. I need somebody to take the mantle.” Oh, what resolute determination … what a man … active, animated, determined, dynamic. And in the midst of all he was gentle, he was humble, he was meek … incredible.

A biblical mind, a determined will … thirdly, a loving heart … a loving heart. You can’t say anything about Paul unless you say that. Oh how he loved. He had a great sense of God’s love, Romans 5:5 he said, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.” In Romans 8 he says, “What shall separate us from the love of God?” He had a great sense of God’s love. And he also had a great love for God. You find in Romans 15:30 he says, “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake and for the love of the Spirit.” And he says it to the Corinthians, “The love of Christ constrains me.” He understood God’s love and he loved God in return. He also had a great love for Israel. In 9 he said his love for Israel was so profound that he could almost wish himself accursed from Christ if it could mean the salvation of his brethren. Oh what love.

He had a great love for the church. You reach chapter 16 you see his love for the church. He lists all those dear people that helped him in the ministry and that chapter just oozes with his love for the saints. And he had a great desire to see others love, too, and that’s why in chapter 13 he says that the one commandment God wants you to keep is to love one another. Filled with love.

Now you show me a man with a biblical mind and a determined will to obey God’s plan at all cost and a man filled with love and I’ll show you a man that will turn the world upside down. Now I just want to come to the pinnacle and then I’m going to close and that’s this. Over everything else the thing the man lived for was to glorify God. Isn’t that the greatest thing of all? That’s it. He lived to glorify God. Look at 11:36, he says, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things to whom be glory forever amen.” Chapter 15:6, “That you may with one mind and one mouth glorify God even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Verse 9, “That the Gentiles might glorify God.” Oh that was his passion. Chapter 16:27, “To God only wise be glory through Jesus Christ forever amen.”

That’s … that’s what he lived for. He lived for glorifying God and that demanded of him a biblical mind and a determined will and a loving heart. He is the man who wrote this book. What a man. He never could forget the pit from which he had been digged. And so he always maintained his humility. And yet he was the greatest of men. The words of John Chrysostom, that early church father and golden-tongued preacher of Antioch, pay the greatest tribute to Paul. Chrysostom wrote a homily on the letter of Paul to the Romans and this is what he said, “John Chrysostom loved the city of Rome most of all because there Paul died and there he would be raised up to meet the Lord in the air.” And Chrysostom said, “He would like to see the dust of Paul’s body that sowed the gospel everywhere, the dust of that mouth which lifted the truth on high, and through which Christ spake great and secret things and greater than his own person … the dust of those hands which … of which off which the serpent fell into the fire and through which the sacred writings were written … the dust of those feet which ran throughout the world and were not weary … the dust of those eyes which were blinded gloriously but which recovered their sight again for the salvation of the world … the dust of that heart which a man could not do wrong to call the heart of the world, a heart so enlarged that it could take in cities and nations and people, yet which burned at each one that was lost which despised both death and hell and yet was broken down by a brother’s tears.” So the tribute of Chrysostom.

What does all this say to you? What does it say to you? Here’s what it says to you. Let Paul speak. First Corinthians 11:1, listen, don’t look it up, just listen, he said this, “Be ye followers of me.” First Corinthians 4:16 he said, “Be ye followers of me.” Philippians 3:17 he said, “Be followers together of me.” Same verse, “You have me for an example.” Second Thessalonians he said, “For you know how you ought to follow us and to make ourselves an example unto you to follow.” Let him speak.

What does he say? It would be like me. What is he like? A biblical mind, a determined will, and a loving heart whose highest goal was to glorify God.

Our Father, we thank You tonight that we’ve had such a wonderful time just getting started looking at this man and this book, incredible book. O fill us, Lord, with the will and the desire and the love of Paul. May we experience in some small way what this man was knowing that we possess the self same Holy Spirit. Give us that biblical mind, that determined will, that compassionate loving heart. Help us to live for Your glory no matter what the cost. Use us, if not an extent in whatever extent You have planned for us for the advance of Your Kingdom and we’ll praise You in Christ’s name. Amen.

This transcript, along with related media, can also be found here on the Grace to You website.

The Preacher of the Good News

And Now for the Good News—March 8, 1981

Romans 1:1

Romans 1. And I want to read for you verses 1–7, not under any illusion that we’re going to cover them all, but we’ll read them. “I, Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called an Apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, which He had promised before by His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for His name: Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: To all that be at Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The thrust of Paul’s introduction to the epistle to the Romans is in a phrase at the end of verse 1. The phrase is “the gospel of God.” That is really the theme of the entire epistle, the good news from God.

A quick look at any newspaper, a passing glance at any weekly magazine reminds us that in our world the news is bad and getting worse. And what is happening on a large scale is only the multiplication of what is happening on an individual level … bad news. In fact, that has become a colloquialism in our time … bad news.

You see, menand women are in the grip of a terrifying power. And that power grips them deep inside their own being. And it pushes them to self-destruction. That power is sin and sin makes for bad news. Just by way of capsulizing our thoughts about this, I see four major areas where sin produces bad news for the human race, and they’re somewhat sequential. And I don’t offer these as exhaustive or comprehensive but just to provoke your thinking.

The first bad news that sin brings upon an individual is selfishness. It’s bad news in human existence that every one of us is bent on fulfilling our own particular desires at any price. The basic element of sinfulness is the dominance of the I the ego, the self. It all even began that way when Satan fell. He said, “I will … I will … I will … I will … I will,” five times. Man has inherited this propensity with the coming of sin. He is utterly self-centered. He will do his own thing, if permitted. And whatever a society will permit, he will do. He will go as far as society’s toleration will allow. Man will consume everything in sight on his own lust. He will consume things and he will consume people and he will consume himself. When a friend or a spouse or a lover or a family member ceases to provide what an individual wants, they are discarded like an old pair of shoes that are useless. We live in a world where people are demanding their rights. And this is nothing but the manifestation of what is deep in the heart of man, self-destructive selfishness. Everybody wants rights.

And the ultimate goal of life is to achieve self-satisfaction … self-satisfaction, whether you’re in business or marriage, or whether you’re in love, man winds up perverting everything because of his selfish lust for gain, for fame, for dominance, for popularity, for money, for physical fulfillment. And so, sin pushes humanity in to a selfish self-consumption. Somebody said we ought to use things and love people, but instead we love things and use people. The end of it is that man is unable to sustain a meaningful relationship. He’s unable to really love. He’s unwilling to give and thus he forfeits that which is the most obvious source of true joy, selflessness. Man becomes dominated by a selfish greed that alienates him from every one and every thing.

And the result of all of this is that man really comes to a place of utter loneliness and despair. And he finds that all of the things he consumes on his own lusts bear the law of diminishing returns in them so that the more he gets the less it satisfies. And so the first thing that sin has produced by way of bad news is that we are selfish and it is a trap that leads us to despair.

Now that bad news that sin produces selfishness leads to a second thing that’s also bad news. Man is not only selfish, he is guilty. Self-consumption, using people, abusing people, doing whatever is necessary to gain your own ends brings about guilt because God has designed man to feel something when he sins otherwise man could never prevent himself from going to hell. It’s like pain. God has given you pain so you know whenyour body is injured and you’ll get help for your body. God has given guilt as a way to tell us that we are on the wrong road and something has to change. And so, man is oppressed with guilt. And the bad news is that man lives in anxiety, he lives in fear, he lives in sleeplessness, he lives with psychological problems, ulcers, myriad illnesses caused by his guilt which he may try to alleviate with drunkenness or suicide or something else. We live in a frightful world where people are panicked over their guilt. They try to cover it with a frivolous facade. Some try to turn their heads away from real guilt by money, possessions, alcohol, drugs), sex, travel, psychoanalysis, blaming their guilt on society, blaming their guilt on some antiquated biblical tradition that’s imposed it upon them, blaming their guilt on God, on Christians, on the church, on their parents, on some prenatal trauma. I even heard one guy who blamed his guilt on a banana his mother gave him when he was little.

Selfishness leads to a consumptive sin and it inevitably brings with it guilt. And when you try to blame someone for it,, that only compounds the guilt because now you know you’re guilty not only of the sin but of trying to push it off on somebody who doesn’t deserve it.

And that gives us some more bad news. For selfishness leads to guilt and guilt leads to meaninglessness. Man is caught in a trap of his own selfishness. It takes him nowhere but to an over-burdening guilt. And sooner orlater he says to himself, “Is this what life is all about? Better that I should not have been born.” Life becomes an endless cycle of trying to be fulfilled when it is impossible and bearing only guilt. And in that kind of life there’s no fulfillment. And where there’s no fulfillment, all the basic questions are asked. “Is this all there is?… Where are the real answers?… What are the real quest ions?… why am I alive?… What is the meaning of my life?… What is truth?… How do I find out what is truth?” And man is fed a steady diet of lies by the consummate liar Satan who runs the world’s system. And the lies never really answer the question of meaning. So he never gets an answer.

The news is always bad. That’s what Edna St. Vincent Malay meant when she said, “Life must go on, I just forget why.” We live a series of 24-hour periods without significance, nothing changes all is emptiness. And as the main character in one of Sarte’s novels said, “I decided to kill myself to remove at least one superfluous life.”

Now we find a fourth element in this chain of bad news that is brought about by sin, and that I like to call hopelessness. You startout with a consumptive selfishness and finally you wake up to the fact that it has the law of diminishing returns and when it’s all over and done, all you have left is guilt for all that you’ve done to get where you are. And born out of this trauma and anxiety from guilt is the meaninglessness of life and born out of the meaninglessness of it all is the bad news that you’ve got nothing now and nothing later either. And so there is an utter hopelessness. There is no possible fulfillment in a selfish self-centered guilt-ridden meaningless life, only the starkness of death. And then what? No hope. And so people mask death which I believe is the ultimate obscenity to most people, but they mask it by laughing at it or mocking it or covering it somehow to alleviate the fear that it brings. But it is ultimately the worse news of all. There’s nothing here and there’s nothing there either. Bad news … bad news.

Thousands of babies are born every day into a world filled with bad news … bad news. And all along, men find themselves going deeper and deeper into the dilemma because they are pushed there by the liar Satan who keeps pumping the lies through the system in which they live. And the manifestation of all this sin produced bad news is what you read about when you pick up the Los Angeles Times, bad news. And even the little bits of good news, so called, are like moments of rest in an unending saga of bad news. It’s like somebody said about peace treaties. Peace treaties and times of peace are only those moments when everyone stops to reload. Even sinners have to sleep. And a brief respite and maybe some so-called good news is short lived.

Is there any good news? Really good news? Good news about sin that it can be dealt with? Good news about selfishness that you don’t have to live that way? Good news about guilt and anxiety that it can be alleviated? Is there any good news about the meaning of life? Is there any good news about the future life after death? Is there any good news?

I submit to you that Paul says in verse 1, there’s good news and that’s the gospel … the good news of God. And that is what Romans is about. Paul begins in verse 1 with the good news of God. And in chapter 15, as he draws to an end, in verse 16 he says, RI the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the good news of God.” So bracketing this epistle is the great reality that Paul is bringing good news … good news.

Paul also called it the blessed good news. He called it the good news of salvation. He called it the good news of Jesus Christ. He called it the good news of His Son. He called it the good news of the grace of God. Whatever he called it, it was good news. Good news that sin could be forgiven. Good news that guilt could be removed. Good news that life could have meaning. Good news that the future had a reality that was eternally glorious. Good news … you’d think that we were preaching the bad news the way the world reacts. But that’s how twisted they are because they are under the influence of the liar. We have the good news.

Now as we go through the book of Romans, we will see the incomprehensible riches of the good news unfold before us. But may I suggest to you, and I’ll take a second to do this, I didn’t plan to, may I suggest that the entire thrust of the 16 chapters of Romans is distilled into the first seven verses? I can understand Paul. He is so utterly thrilled by what he’s going to say that he can’t wait to say it all until he gets to the end of 16. So he summarizes the whole thing in the first seven verses. It distills the entire thrust of this entire epistle. It capsulizes, it summarizes it and then it unfolds. It’s as if the seed is in the first seven verses and the full bloom comes as you go through the 16 chapters.

Now look at verse 1 for a moment at the phrase “the gospel of God,” “the good news of God,” euangelion … euangelion. That term is used by Paul 60 times in his epistles; 60 times he talks about good news. It’s a very favorite term. No wonder, that man lived all his life hearing bad news and once he heard the good news he couldn’t help but tell everybody in sight about it. Tindle wrote, “The word euangelion signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings that makes a man’s heart rejoice and makes him sing and dance and leap for joy.” And I think in that he really captured the meaning. It’s good news, a good, merry, glad, joyful news. Good news that God will deliver us from our selfish sin. Good news that God will forgive and free us from guilt. Good news that God will give meaning to life and make it abundant. And good news that there’s hope for life to come.

And would you notice, also, in verse 1 that it is good news from God? And that’s the thrust of the Greek. It is “from God.” And it’s important that Paul say that because the word euangelion was a common Greek word. And you know how it was used? It was used in the cult of worshiping the emperor. It was connected to the emperor cult. Now you remember in the Roman Empire, the people were required to worship the emperor as if he were a god. And whenever someone from the emperor’s official party was to make amonumental announcement about some great event relative to the emperor, it was called euangelion, good news. For example, “Good news, the emperor has given birth to an heir.” That would be one way it was used. Or, “Good news, the heir has come to age.” Or, “Good news, we have a new emperor as he accedes to the throne.” This was the euangelion.

But Paul says this, listen: “I’m writing to you at Rome who are used to hearing the euangelion of the Roman Empire and I’m telling you I’ve got good news but it’s not from Caesar, it’s from … whom?… God.” That’s really good news because frankly most of the Caesars were bad news to begin with. It’s good news from God.

Now you can’t help but stop and think, why should God give me good news? I don’t deserve it. You’re right. But that’s the way He is. He brings good news to those who are undeserving.

Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse, I think, captures the thought in a most fascinating paragraph in which he recounts a story. Listen to it. He says it was told about a young man in France, much loved of his mother who pursued a wicked course that took him deeper and deeper into sin. He became enamored of an evil woman who dragged him further and further into unrighteousness. The mother, naturally, sought to draw him back to a higher plane and the other woman resented it bitterly. One night, the story goes; the evil woman chided the man with an accusation that he did not really love her because he allowed his mother to interfere. He vowed that he loved her. She appealed to his drunken mind saying, “If you really love me, you will rid us of your mother and her constant pleadings.” Well, according to the legend, the young man rushed from the room to a nearby house in which his mother lived and dealt her death blows, tearing the heart from her body to carry it back to his lover as proof that he had taken her life. Then, says Barnhouse, came the climax of the tale. As he rushed on in his insane folly, he stumbled and fell and from the bleeding heart there came a voice, “My son, are you hurt?” Barnhouse said, “That’s the way God loves.” Utter and absolutely forgiving, so does God love.

Charles Wesley put it in a hymn. “Depth of mercy, can there be mercy still reserved for me? Can my God His wrath forbear me the chief of sinners spare? I have long withstood His grace, long provoked Him to His face, would not hearken to His calls, grieved Him by a thousand falls.” And so did Wesley wonder at the good news from God to undeserving men.

Beloved, this is good news. Aren’t you glad for the good news?

Now we’re going to see these seven verses and we’re going to watch in the weeks to come the unfolding of the good news. And there are basically seven aspects to it. Let’s begin with the first one … the preacher of the good news … the preacher of the good news.

Maybe it’s because I’m a preacher and a minister that I find myself drawn to spend some time on this because it speaks to me so much. And if you’ll indulge me, for a moment, I’ll preach to myself.

Now God called a unique man to be the major spokesman for the good news. Verse 1, Paul, you remember him? Paul, he was that man, the preacher of the good news, uniquely, was committed to him the mysteries, that which was hidden from the past generations and peoples and now revealed, as he says in Ephesians 3 and Colossians 1. He was God’s keynote speaker for the heralding of the good news. That remarkable Jew with Greek education and Roman citizenship, that man with incredible abilities as a leader, a fighter, highly motivated, determined, articulate, brilliant, specially called and converted by God Himself, that man who completed three missionary journeys proclaiming the good news from Jerusalemto Macedonia and crisscrossing that territory, Paul that very unique servant who could do miracles and yet could not rid himself of his own thorn in the flesh, Paul who could raise Eutychyus from the dead, yet himself be stoned to death and again later and finally in his life have his own head chopped off, Paul who could break prisons to bits as he did in Philippi and yet himself was a prisoner, Paul is the preacher. And may I remind you that every preacher who’s ever preached since has depended on Paul’s sermons for his material. Thirteen books of the New Testament, the legacy of this man through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Now he tells us three things about himself in verse 1. First, Paul a servant of Jesus Christ. The word is slave, really. Look with me for a minute at Exodus 21. Let me see if I can give you a Jewish context for Paul’s thinking. In Exodus 21, we find out about the servant master relationship among God’s people as God gives some laws to them. And in verses 5 and 6 we read this, “If the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife and my children I will not go out free.” In other words, if the servant says I don’t serve because I have to, I don’t serve because I’m forced to, I don’t serve because I’m paid to, I don’t serve because I’m afraid not to, I serve because I love my master,, therefore I’ll never go free. He became known as a bondslave.

That is really the essence of the word doulos used in Romans 1, bondslave. And look what happened in verse 6. His master would bring him to the judges and they would affirm this. He would also bring him to the door or to the doorpost where there would be wood. And his master would bore his ear through with an awl and he shall serve him forever. If you said I want to serve out of love, and I’ll never leave because I love you, then you weretaken to the door and right here where ladies get their ear pierced which is insignificant, a very significant thing happened, that ear lobe was pressed against the wood and it was drilled and permanently the mark was there, I am a slave of love.

Now that is the essence of what is behind Romans 1:1, go back now to that portion. And Paul is saying that I am a bondslave. This is something that I have chosen out of love, not fear.

There were millions of slaves in the Roman Empire. Perhaps they all didn’t understand this Jewish concept, perhaps some of them did. I’m sure some of them served out of love. But most of the slaves in the Roman world in the Greek culture were looked down on. They were treated not as persons but as objects, tools. If you wanted to, you could kill your slaves. It was inconsequential. Therefore some Bible commentators are saying in this passage that Paul is using doulos only in its Jewish sense, that he is speaking only about the affirmation of his love and he is speaking about the dignity of such service. And, by the way, in the Hebrew use of the concept of servant, someone in the highest ranks could be called a servant. Kings had servants, ministers who ministered to their royal needs. And so in a Hebrew sense, a servant could be a lofty term of great honor and great dignity.

For example, in Genesis 26:24 it says Abraham was a servant. In Numbers 12:7 it says Moses was a servant. In Joshua 24 it says Joshua was a servant. In 2 Samuel 7:5 it says David was a servant. In Isaiah 20:3 it says Isaiah was a servant. And in Isaiah 53 it says when the Messiah comes, He will be a servant. And so many commentators feel that what Paul is saying is, “I am a servant of Jesus Christ,” as an emphasis of the dignity of his office in a Hebrew sense rather than the demeaning Greek sense.

But I really think that misses the point. Yes, there is a certain exaltation, there is a certain honor, there is a certain marvelous incomprehensible dignity at being called a servant of Jesus Christ. There is a sense in which you wait on the majesty and the royalty of the King of kings and Lord of lords. And so that is true. But it’s not true to separate that from what the Gentiles would have understood about that same term. And for the Greek word itself, doulos, it meant abject slavery, as a bondslave. No dignity but humility. And I believe Paul wants us to see it in that sense as well.

He chooses two other words to speak of his servitude. First Corinthians 3 gives us one of them, verse 5. And here obviously his emphasis is on humility. “Who then is Paul? And who is Apollos? But diakonos.” we get the word “deacon” from it, it means “table waiter.” If you looked in that culture, it really meant busboy. But who are we but table waiters by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man, I planted, Apollos watered, God gave the increase. So then, neither is he that plants anything, neither he that waters, but God that gives the increase. We’re nothing, he says, but table waiters.

And later in 1 Corinthians 4:1 he says this, “We are servants of Christ,” and he uses a different word. He uses the word huperetes, it’s the word translated in the authorized, ministers. It’s huperetes, huper means under, etes comes from a word that means to row. It’s an under rower. They had a trireme ship with three decks. And on those lower three decks were three levels of galley slaves who rowed those hulking ships. And Paul says will you remember me as a third level galley slave. That’s humility. You can’t get any lower than that.

So, yes I believe there is a Hebrew thought here of dignity, of honor, of respect, but it is marvelously mingled with the humility of the meaning of the Greek term so that Paul paradoxically finds himself both exalted as the servant of Christ and debased as well. An expression of humility and dignity. And this is an ambivalence that every representative of Jesus Christ carries.

Sometimes when I think of the dignity of what I do, it overwhelms me, Sometimes when I realize that I stand up and proclaim the gospel of God? When I stand up and proclaim what I have gleaned out of the Word of God and the ministry of Paul and the teaching of the Scripture under the power of the Spirit of God, I realize that there’s no higher calling in the world than that. And there is a marvelous dignity and the Bible says never speaka word against one whorepresents Christ, don’t accuse an elder unless you have good grounds and do it before two or three witnesses. And the Bible says give honor to whom honor is due. And the Bible says pay them double what you should pay them if they work hard in the Word and doctrine. And the Bible says respect them. And the Bible says obey them and submit to them and set your life to follow their example. It is a lofty thing. And yet there is that marvelous spiritual ambivalence that says it is the humblest kind of service because you know that whatever it is that you do, you have absolutely no right to do it because of who you are. And who you are is what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3, you’re nobody, you’re nothing.

And so, Paul was a servant with all that that encompassed. He was a servant of Christ. That meant he had to absolutely obey Jesus Christ. And yet there was a dignity there that was marvelous.

Secondly, the preacher of the gospel says not only am I a servant of Jesus Christ but called an Apostle. The best rendering of the Greek is a called Apostle … a called Apostle. The idea is that he was an Apostle not because he decided on his own, but because God decided and effectually called him. There is no human appointment here. By the way, the term “apostle” was first used by the Lord in Luke 6:13. He called His Disciples Apostles. Now Paul was called an Apostle by God.

Quickly look with me, just a moment, at Acts 9. And you remember from last week that Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians. The Lord stopped him in his tracks. Slammed him in the ground, blinded him. And then there came a man by the name of Ananias who cared for him. And verse 15 of Acts 9, “The Lord said through Ananias to Paul, Go thy way for he is a chosen vessel unto Me to bear My name.” He is a … what?… Chosen vessel. It wasn’t his choice. It was God’s choice.

The twenty-second chapter of Acts,, Paul looks back. And he remembers what Ananias told him. Ananias came to him just as the Spirit instructed him in chapter 9. He said to him, verse 13, “Brother Saul, receive your sight. In the same hour I looked up upon him and he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee that thou shouldest know His will and see that Just One and should hear the voice of His mouth,” that being Christ, “for thou shalt be His witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.”

Look at 26:16. “The Lord says, Rise and stand on thy feet for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose.” Paul is recalling his testimony.’I have appeared for the purpose of making thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen and of those things in which I will appear unto thee,” and He appeared to him two more times, “delivering thee from the people and from the Gentiles unto whom now I send thee to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God that they may receive forgiveness of sin and inheritance among them who are sanctified by faith that is in me.” And then he says, “Where upon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” I obeyed. He was called an Apostle.

In fact, in 1 Corinthians 9 he says, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” He says don’t give me a reward, don’t give me an honor, don’t name a school after me or put a plaque on the wall or build a statue, pray for me. God has given me a task to do I didn’t ask for and if I mess up I’m in a lot of trouble. In Galatians 1 he said, “I am a servant called an Apostle,” and he said, “God has placed me into this ministry.” He says in verse 10 of Galatians 1, “Do I seek the favor of men or of God? Do I seek to please men, for if I yet please men I should not be the servant of Christ.” And he says, “I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not after man for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” He says my call was from Christ Himself.

Now I think that’s a very important word. That if you’re going to represent the Lord Jesus Christ, you better know that He called you. I wouldn’t take one step forward if I wasn’t sure that God had placed me in the ministry, it’s far beyond me now. The term apostolos which is translated back in Romans 1 as apostle means “a sent one, a commissioned one, a dispatched one, a messenger, an ambassador, or an envoy.” And by the way, in those days they called certain boats apostolic boats. And apostolic boats werenot boats that carried apostles, it had a secular use. An apostolic boat was a cargo ship. It was dispatched with a cargo for another city. And so it meant anything dispatched or sent. And Paul is saying I’m sent, but my being sent is not a self-made decision.

Do you know that the term “apostle” appears 78 times in the New Testament and far and away the majority of those times refer to the Twelve and Paul who were specially sent … specially sent.

This week I read the story of a dear old black preacher. He preached out in a little country church. He preached his heart out and was a humble and godly man. And a young man came to preach one Sunday night who was cocky, self-assured, thought he was more than those folks really deserved. And he preached and it was apparent his attitude. And when he was done, the dear old black preacher went up to him and said this, “Young man, was you sent or did you just went?”

I think maybe there’s a lot of people who wasn’t sent they just went. But Paul was sent. And he knew it because God had affirmed it to him.

I’ve been reading the last two weeks, a book entitled The Reformed Pastor,” by Richard Baxter written in 1650. And the first hundred pages he calls the clergy to task in Britain in 1650 and says to them, “Before you keep preaching, you better go back and find out if you’re redeemed.” And he goes for a hundred pages of that. You better be sure God has sent you.

There is also an official sense in which we have to understand the word “apostle.” An apostle was a very official office. It had a broad sense and everybody who bears the message of Christ is sent. Go into all the world and preach the gospel. We’re all sent. We all are apostles with a small “a”. And the New Testament lists various people who are apostles who are outside the Twelve and Paul. But they’re the ones with a capital “A”, an official office. And if you were to study the New Testament you’d find that they had to be directly called by Jesus Christ, that is directly and verbally and personally by Him. They had to have been eye witnesses of Christ and His resurrection. And Paul was because he saw Him on the Damascus road. They were endowed with a special ability from the Holy Spirit in which they could write correctly the New Testament because Jesus made the promise to them that the Spirit would come and live in them and lead them into all … what?… truth and bring to remembrance everything He had said.

They also were given the ability to do signs and wonders and mighty deeds and miracles which are called by the Apostle Paul the signs of an Apostle. And their office was not restricted to a local church, nor to any short period of time. But they became the foundation on which all the history of the church is built. So these unique Twelve plus one, Matthias replacing Judas, were the foundation. They had to be called by Jesus Himself. They had to be eye witnesses of His resurrection. They received the Holy Spirit by which they could write the revelation and they could do signs and wonders and mighty deeds. And their office extended far beyond any local congregation. And Paul was one of those very special, special people. And he knew that God had called him.

You know, in Jeremiah 23 it says there were some prophets who went but they never were sent. And the people should never listen to them. Oh, beloved, I tell you, there are so many prophets like that today who are out there talking but should not be listened to. They are damned prophets, false prophets. And then there are those who never were sent, they just went. They have not the anointing of God on them. And we are not to listen to them. They have corrupted the church through all the centuries of its existence and continue to do so even now.

And so says Paul, I am a servant of Jesus Christ, a called Apostle. And by the way, he calls himself that at the beginning of several other letters as well. And thirdly, and we’ll stop with this point, separated unto the gospel of God.

You want to know something basic? You can’t serve God unless you’re separated. It can’t be done. It’s a rich, rich idea. The word separated is the idea of setting apart. You can go back into the understanding of the Old Testament into the thirteenth chapter, for example, of Exodus and you’ll see that God wanted set apart unto Him the first born of man, the first born of the beasts. You can go to Numbers 15 and you’ll see that God wanted the first fruits of the crop. You can go to Numbers 8 and seethat God set apart the best of men, consecrated the Levites to His service. You can go to Leviticus 20 and see that God took the whole nation of Israel and according to Leviticus 20:26, He separated them from the other nations and said,, “This people is holy unto the Lord.”

Every one of those Scriptures I just gave you, the separating of the man and the beast, the separating of the first fruit, the separating of the Levites and the separating of Israel, in the Septuagint version, the Greek version, uses the word aphorizane and that is exactly the word used here. It means separation in the fullest sense. Those animals and those first-born sons were utterly separated to the Lord. The first fruits, the same. The Levites, the same. The nation, the same. There was to be no intermingling. And Paul knew that once he was called an Apostle, he was disconnected from the past. By the way, aphorizane has in the middle of it a little phrase, phoriz that may be the root of the word Pharisee. Pharisee meant a separated one. And all his life, to this point, his adult life, Paul had been a Pharisee, separated unto the tradition of the Jews. Now he says, I am—if you will—a Pharisee separated unto the gospel of God. Good news, no more of man’s bad news.

In Galatians 1:15 he said, when it pleased God who separated me from my mother’s womb and called my by His grace. Paul was separated from his mother’s womb. On the road to Damascus he was separated unto the gospel of God. And then he became a pastor of the church at Antioch. And in Acts

13:2 the Bible says the Holy Spirit said unto them, “Separate me—Paul and

Barnabas—and send them to the work I have for them.” He was a separated man. The secret of his service is that he was a bondslave. He utterly surrendered to the Lord. He was an Apostle sent to carry the message.

And, beloved, he cut the cord.

I tell you there are more people in gospel ministry who see little fruit and no power, even though they may understand that they’re to be servants and they may have been called, but somewhere along the line they are unwilling to be separated. Would you look with me at one Scripture?

The last one we’ll look at for this time.

Second Timothy 2. Do you remember the situation in 2 Timothy

chapter 2? Timothy was a servant of the Lord, servant of Christ. Timothy was an apostle, small “a”, not one of the Twelve, plus Paul, but nonetheless a messenger sent. But Timothy had come to the point in his life where everything was coming apart. He lost it. You know what was happening to him? Well, just looking in this letter alone you can find a lot of things.

Verse 6, chapter 1, “I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.” What do you mean “stir up the gift of God”? What was the gift of God? Well, the “gift of God” was the particular ability that he had for ministry, the preaching and the teaching. And that was a gift of God given to him and it was confirmed to him by those who were knowledgeable and confirmed by the laying on of hands.

In other words, he was getting lazy in the ministry. He just wasn’t functioning. And then he says, not only are you not functioning, verse 7, but God has not given us the spirit of timidity. He had become timid instead of bold. Verse 8, ‘Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.” Now get this, this is Timothy personally discipled by Paul, gifted enough to have followed Paul as the pastor of the Ephesian church, this is Timothy of whom Paul said to the Corinthians, “I will send him to you to straighten you out because he’ll bring you unto remembrance of all my ways.” This was reproduction. This was number one son. And he is not functioning. And he is timid. And he is ashamed of the gospel and even of his association with Paul 2:15, “Be diligent to show yourself unto God a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Apparently he wasn’t even really doing his job with the Word of God. But verse 16 says he was involved in profane and vain babblings, hassling with philosophers. Verse 22 indicates that he probably was getting embroiled in some youthful lusts. Verse 23, that he was striving in foolish and unlearned questions. He lacked gentleness.

In other words, the whole thing was coming apart. He had been sucked into the system. And the word comes to him in 2:4, Paul says this: Timothy, have you forgotten that you’re a soldier, verse 3, have you forgotten that you’re supposed to endure suffering as a good soldier? And do you remember this; no man that fights the battle can entangle himself with the affairs of this life?

Do you hear that, what he’s saying? Timothy, you cannot be caught in the lusts of this world. Timothy, you cannot be caught in the philosophy of this world. You cannot be caught in being ashamed of the gospel by the intimidation of this world. You cannot be caught into the easy come-easy go society. You must be diligent to stir up the gift of God. Timothy, have you forgotten that you cannot entangle yourself with the affairs of this life? When you go into the ministry of Jesus Christ, you cut the cord, you sever.

That’s the kind of man Paul was. A servant of Christ but not just that, called an Apostle but not just that, separated. And he never got himself entangled with the affairs of this life. I’ve known men who have gone out of the ministry because they loved money or possessions. They couldn’t cut the cord. They fell into moral sin. The world lured them. Or they were more concerned about their reputation, so when they got an opportunity to speak, they made sure they never offended anybody, and in so doing, they offended God for they were not separated. What an example he is to U.S.

His position—he was a servant. His authority—he was sent by God. His power—he was separated. His message—good news and good newsthat has come from God Himself. Now you know the preacher. Next week—or two weeks, or three weeks—I think until I get back to this subject, next time the promise of the good news, verse 2. And we might even get to verse 3. Let’s pray.

Father, thank You for speaking to my heart tonight, for refreshing again in my own soul what it is that I am to be because I know this man is the example for he said, “Be ye followers of me as I am of Christ.” May I, too, be a faithful servant, understanding both the dignity and the humility of such service rendered. May I have that affirmation of being called, though not an Apostle as the Twelve and Paul, yet as one sent, building upon their foundation. And may I, Father, toot be separated. May I be disentangled from the affairs of this life. May I not be lured by the weakness of the flesh to forego the diligence of study to rightly divide the Word. May I not be lured by the world, to be timid. May I not be lured by the world to be ashamed of the Lord or of those who represent Him, though they be prisoners. May I not slip to make my ministry a philosophical debate. May I not be lured by the lusts of unrighteousness.

May I not find myself argumentative, breeding strife, lacking gentleness.

In sum, as the Spirit of God said to Timothy, may I be a good soldier who knows that he cannot be entangled with the affairs of this life.

And I would pray that for all this, Your people. All of us fight the warfare, all of us are Your servants, all of us have been called and sent to this world to be witnesses and all of us must be separated. Teach us what that means in application in our own lives that we may carry the good news to a world literally dying from all the bad news. And may there be many who hear that good news because we, too, have been faithful. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

This transcript, along with related media, can also be found here on the Grace to You website.[1]


The Promise and the Person of the Good News

And Now for the Good News—March 15, 1981

Romans 1:2–4

Let’s look together at Romans 1 this morning. We’ve recently begun a study of the book of Romans on Sunday nights. I would encourage you all to be a part of this tremendous rich exciting privilege. And this morning we’re looking at one of the messages as we move through the first seven verses in the introduction to this great epistle.

As a setting, I want to read verses 1–7, so follow carefully as I do. May I point out as you look at your Bible and listen that in these first seven verses, Paul gives us a summary of what he will develop in the following 16 chapters.

Paul, A servant of Jesus Christ, a called Apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, which He had promised before by His prophets in the holy scriptures. Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for His name: Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Socrates once said, “O that someone would arise to show us God,” end quote. And Socrates was really articulating a hunger that is in every human heart. One theologian put it this way, he said, “In every man there is a God-shaped vacuum.” Man’s eternal soul is so made that it knows no rest until it finds its rest in God. And there is no greater, no more graphic illustration of this than the proliferation of religions around the world and through the history of mankind. It isn’t a question of whether man will worship, it is only a question of what he worships. It is not a question of whether man will be religious, it is only a question of how he defines that religion. For man’s eternal soul seeks for God. But in the bent of his perverse nature, inevitably man rejects the true God and forms, as we find later in Romans 1, gods of his own making. And in his worship of these gods, there is no solution to his sinful confusion but only an intensifying of the emptiness.

Now there’s a basic problem. And maybe I can define it for you in this way. Imagine a little box, a cube—if you will—utterly closed in on all sides. That represents man’s world. Inside the box man exists. He exists in a time-space capsule. Outside is the supernatural. Outside is eternity. Outside is God. Man bangs around inside his little cube, it has no windows. He speculates about what’s on the outside. He plays games with his fantasy. He searches to know God. But it is impossible for him to escape for by very definition, the natural cannot enter into the supernatural. That which is confined to time and space cannot escape into eternity and infinity. And so man is confined in his little cubicle.

But there’s something in him that longs to comprehend what’s outside. And so, he invents gods that he thinks exist and he dreams of worlds of fantasy. I believe that that is the reason we have not only a proliferation of religion in our world, but today we have a proliferation of interest in the fantasies of space travel, star wars, extraterrestrial beings. All of these are a part of man’s fantasy as he wishes so desperately so get out of his box. But he can’t. All of the religions of the world tell him he can. “You just be a good person and you’ll burst out of your little box and discover God. Just be sure that you fulfill these routines and these rituals and carry out these liturgies and you’ll escape and you’ll meet God.” The pagans used to say if you just get yourself into “ecstasia” and “enthusiasmas”, states of some kind of high, you’ll perceive God.

But it’s all a lie because man is confined by his very nature. None of us can go into a phone booth, take off our clothes and come out Superman. Go into a phone booth and take off your clothes and you’ll come out into jail. Nobody has that capacity, as much as we would like to be able to do it. And that’s where Christianity enters the scene. Christianity acknowledges that man can’t get out of his box and Christianity says good news, God has invaded the box from the outside. God has entered in to tell us what’s out there and to tell us, too, can dwell out there in His presence forever. That is good news, folks. Man is a prisoner. He is a captive. And the end of his captivity is devastation forever unless he escapes. And that’s the good news of Christianity. Man couldn’t get out, but God could get in. The natural cannot come into the supernatural, but the supernatural can condescend to the natural. And that is exactly what God did. And that is the good news of God that Paul mentions in verse 1, the good news.

In a world filled with bad news, it’s really remarkably wonderful that God has given us good news. Especially when you think about the fact that we are so unworthy of any good news. And yet Paul reiterates again and again and again about the good news. He calls it the glorious good news of the blessed God. He calls it the blessed good news. He calls it the good news of the grace of God, the good news of peace, the good news of your salvation. And in chapter 1 of Romans he defines what it is, look at verse 1, it is the good news, that’s what euangelion means, the gospel, it is the good news of God. Then in verse 9, it is the good news of His Son. Then in verse 16, it is the good news of Christ. And there’s a progression there. First it is the good news of God about what? About His Son. Who’s His Son? Christ. It is the good news that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, has come into the world. And it is the message of Romans. It begins with the good news of God and in 15:16, as Paul comes close to his ending, he talks again about the good news of God.

And he in chapter 2, look at this, verse 16, says a very interesting thing, the end of verse 16, he says it is my good news. And he uses a possessive pronoun. It is mine. In what sense is it yours, Paul? It has come into my possession by faith in Christ and it is also mine to preach. And so at the end of the epistle, again he says this in verse 25 of chapter 16 at the very last benediction, “Now to Him that is of power to establish you according to my good news,” what is it about, Paul? “It is the preaching of Jesus Christ and it is according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began but now is made manifest and by the scriptures of the prophets according to the commandment of the everlasting God is being made known to all nations for the obedience of the faith.” It is my good news about Jesus Christ that God has revealed to me which in the past has been hidden and now is made manifest and is granted to me to preach. My good news.

If you want to know the real key, the real sunum bonum, the real major thrust of Paul’s ministry, it is the good news of God. That’s why he said to the Corinthians 2:2, “I am determined to know nothing among you except Jesus and Him crucified.” That’s why he said in 1 Corinthians 9:23, simply stated, “I do all things for the sake of the good news. I do not come with excellency of speech, I do not come with man’s wisdom, all the years of training,” he said, “I set aside and my utter focus is on the good news.” God has come into the box to tell us what He’s like and tell us how to know Him and how to escape into His eternal kingdom. And who is the good news about? His Son Christ Jesus for He is God come into the box. Jesus Christ is the good news, people. Everything besides Him is bad news. He is the utter incomparable personality of all of human history.

You know, even unbelievers recognize that. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The name of Jesus is not so much written as it is plowed into the soil of the history of the world.” Socrates taught for 40 years. Plato taught for 50 years. Aristotle taught for 40 years. And Jesus for less than three years, yet the influence of the three years of Jesus’ ministry far outstrips the combined 130 years of the three greatest philosophers of all antiquity. Jesus never painted a picture, yet some of the finest paintings of Raphael, Michelangelo, Divinci and many other artists found in Him their inspiration. Jesus wrote no poetry, but Dante, Milton, and scores of the world’s greatest poets have been inspired by Him as by no other. Jesus wrote no music and yet Heiden and Handel and Beethoven and Bach and Mendelssohn and myriad others reached the highest perfection of melody in the sweetest sounds in compositions about him.

Jesus has obviously infected and affected human society as non other human being. The incomparable Christ is the good news. And what makes it such good news is that we’re such bad people and so undeserving of it. We don’t deserve the good news. Charles Wesley, I think, expressed the right thought in this hymn that he wrote, “Depth of mercy, can there be mercy still reserved for me? Can my God, his wrath forbear and me the chief of sinners spare? I have long withstood His grace, long provoked Him to His face, would not hearken to His calls, grieved Him by a thousand faults.” And we all identify with that, don’t we? Wesley said I don’t deserve good news. And that even makes it better news that God is so gracious.

Now Paul is going to unfold the good news in 16 chapters in Romans, but he can’t wait. He can’t wait for 16 chapters to say it so he sums it up in seven verses. And this is in seed what flowers in the rest of the epistle, carefully chosen. You know, I was struck again as I read these words, I kept reading through verses 1–7 over and over and over and over. And it literally thrills me that the incredible infinite mind of God who is able in a few words to distill and condense the infinite truth of the gospel. You know how hard it is to do that? I mean, look at me, it takes me a long time to say simple things where the infinite mind of God can say vast infinite things in few words. I thought about these seven verses. I counted the words and I said how could God so choose the terms to run the gamut of the gospel in just those few words? And then I was reminded that in English, 297 words are in the Ten Commandments and they sum up all of God’s moral law. God set His whole moral law in 297 words and then He distilled it even more and put it in two verses, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength; your neighbor as yourself,” this is all there is. What precision.

The Lord’s prayer, the disciples’ prayer which condenses all of the teaching on prayer that is essential is 65 words in English. That’s God. Man doesn’t have that capacity. If you don’t think so, the other day I read in an article about a recent federal directive to regulate the price of a cabbage, 26,911 words. The infinite genius of the mind of God working through the Apostle Paul distills the gospel in seven verses and covers everything from the incarnation to the Christian life. Marvelous.

Now, let’s look then at the gospel in miniature, as it were, in these seven verses and we’re just going to take one little piece out of the middle of it. First, let’s meet the preacher of the good news. Verse 1, we’ve already gone through this, just to review. Paul is the preacher and if you look at 16:25 you’ll be reminded that he affirms it at the end of the epistle as well as at the beginning. Paul, and he says three things about himself, a servant of Jesus Christ—and he uses the word doulos, has to do with bondslave, someone who is a slave by choice, by love, by affection, by willingness. He is a bondslave of Jesus. And mingled in there we saw both honor because who it is He serves and humility because of the fact that he is a slave. And so there is a marvelous tension in Paul’s life between being exalted and being honored to be called to Christ as a servant and yet being humbled because he is a servant.

And then we see not only is he a servant but he is a sent one. He is a called Apostle. He didn’t choose on his own, Christ put him in the ministry. It was a divine calling, giving sort of a divine quality to his function as an Apostle. He is a slave. He is sent. And thirdly, he says he is separated. He cut the cord with everything. He was literally consumed. As I quoted earlier, 1 Corinthians 9:23, he says “I do all things for the sake of the good news.” That was his whole life. If it didn’t relate to that, he didn’t do it. He didn’t do things on the side. He was utterly given over.

And, beloved, I believe with all my heart that those are three things necessary for any life of any one who preaches the gospel, a sense of slavery both of its dignity and its humility, a sense of being sent—that is you don’t just go, God commissions you, you are called by Him. And a sense of separation so that there is a single-mindedness in the ministry.

So, we meet the preacher of the good news. Secondly, let’s look at the promise of the good news … the promise, verse 2: “Which—that is the gospel of God—which God had promised before by His prophets in the holy scriptures.” Now he says the good news is not something out of continuity. It isn’t a novelty. It isn’t a new idea. It isn’t a change in the strategy. It isn’t a shift in the plan. It isn’t something dropped in that’s obtuse. It is the gospel of God which was promised. It gives us the Old Testament continuity. And this is utterly important.

You’ll recall that the Apostle Paul was accused of being anti-Jewish. The Judaizers went around condemning Paul and condemning his message because they said he’s anti-Jewish, he speaks against Moses, he speaks against the law, he speaks against this people, he speaks against the temple. They accused him in Acts 21 of dragging Gentiles into the inner area of the temple where they were forbidden to go. They accused him of desecrating Moses. They accused him of denying circumcision and the sustaining of the law. They were saying he preaches some new, some revolutionary new message that is no way connected to traditional Judaism. And so, Paul—in order to put the record straight—says the good news of God which I preach is not new good news, it’s old good news that was indicated to us in the promises of the prophets who wrote in holy scripture.

That verse 2, I tell you, you could preach on it for weeks, it’s just loaded with truth. The Old Testament promises of the New Testament gospel, oh my, just in one area there are at least 332 prophecies in the Old Testament referring to Christ most of which were fulfilled in His first coming. The Old Testament is literally loaded with truth, laying out the ground work for the coming of the New.

Jesus faced identically the same situation that Paul faced. Jesus did not connect up, as it were, with the extant or contemporary Jewish theology of His day. He did not identify the Pharisees their devotion and called it hypocrisy. He denied the theology of its day … of His day its validity and called it the tradition of men. And so, the people said, “Is this new truth? Is this something other than what we’ve been taught? Or are you in continuity? Is this really the one speaking for God? I mean, he doesn’t say what the Pharisees say. He doesn’t identify with the Jewish establishment. He doesn’t do what we do. His disciples don’t fast when we fast. He doesn’t treat the sabbath like we treat the sabbath. He doesn’t teach what we learned.”

In fact, quite the opposite. Jesus said to them in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard it said by them of old,” in other words, your tradition teaches you, “but I say unto you …” And He gave them completely different instruction. And He said it over and over again. “You have heard it said.… but I say … You have heard it said … but I say …,” but the “you have heard it said” part was not Old Testament, it was the perversion of their tradition that He was denying.

Did Jesus come with a new revelation disconnected from the old? No, He did not. And listen to His own words in Matthew 5:17: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law of the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfill.” I came to fill it up. And until heaven and earth pass, not one jot, not one little tiny mark or one tittle shall in any way pass from the law till all is fulfilled. I am not come to set the law aside but to fulfill the law and to do away with the traditions of men that have perverted it. That’s why He said your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees.

So, the good news was old good news. Jewish people say, “Well, I can’t become a Christian because I’m Jewish and I would be denying my heritage.” No, the fact is if you’re Jewish and you haven’t become a Christian you’ve denied your heritage because you are completed only in the new covenant as Jeremiah 31 said, as Ezekiel 36 and 37 promised. When Jesus Christ arrived on the scene, He began to teach the good news of the Kingdom and the people wondered if it was revolutionary, but He cleared the air and said no, it’s just that your theology today is so heretical you’ve lost the continuity. Hebrews 1 says God at sundry times in time past through diverse means spoke unto the fathers by the prophets and God has in these last days spoken to us by His Son whom He has appointed heir of all things by whom also He made the world. And He went on to say who is the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person. God spoke in the Old and God spoke through His Son in the New.

In 1 Peter 1, you read verses 8–12. And it says, “The prophets wrote and they didn’t understand what they wrote and they looked at what they wrote and they searched what manner of time or what manner of person was signified in what they wrote.” They knew they were writing about a future that they couldn’t yet understand. And the writer of Hebrews says they were not perfected without us. In other words, there was an incompletion until the coming of the new covenant. So the good news has been promised throughout all the Old Testament.

Every sacrificial lamb spoke of the ultimate lamb. Every verbal prophecy spoke of the time when the Messiah would come. All of the truth about restoration and the Kingdom spoke of what the Messiah would do. And then the incredible event of all history, when it all comes to consummation, they killed the Messiah and deny that He had any continuity at all with the Old Testament. Paul says, “The gospel is the gospel of God, it’s the gospel of God’s Son, the gospel of God’s Son Jesus Christ and it is exactly what was promised.”

By who? Look at verse 2, “by the prophets.” What does the word “prophet” refer to? It refers here to all the scripture writers because it says “by the prophets and the holy scriptures.” And by the way, just to show you this, the Old Testament, in the mind of a Jew, is called “the law and the prophets.” They just call it the law and the prophets. Basically they divide it to those two general categories. Some would single out the writings, Hagiographa. But basically it’s the law and the prophets. And the prophets would encompass everything but the law. And the law was written by whom? Moses and, of course, in the Bible Moses is called a prophet. So that the term “the prophets” can encompass all of the writers of the Old Testament. And that’s exactly what he’s saying. The gospel was promised before by the writers of the Old Testament, note this, in the holy scriptures. That is a very important statement. The holy scriptures.

What do you mean by that? That the scriptures are holy. They’re not authored by men. They are not designed by men. They do not reflect the thinking of men. They are holy, it means set apart, divine, unique, sanctified, righteous, godly, the holy scriptures. People say why should we believe the Bible is inspired? For one reason, the Bible says right here it’s holy. These are holy scriptures. And they spoke of the gospel.

In John 5:39, our dear Lord said, “Search the scriptures.” Told the Jews to look at the Old Testament, “For they are they which speak of Me.” On the road to Emmaus He said to them, opening the scriptures, “He spoke of all the things concerning Himself, beginning at Moses and the prophets.” He said if you knew the Scripture, you would know these things. Repeatedly He affirmed that. In Hebrews 10:7 he says, “In the volume of the book it is written of Me.” The Old Testament is filled with the promise of the good news whether you go to Genesis 3:15 at the beginning and talk about the seed of the woman or you go to Malachi 4:2 at the end and talk about the Son of righteousness who rises with healing in His beams, or anywhere in between, you will find the revelation of Jesus Christ.

One writer put it this way,

I find my Lord in the Bible wherever I chance to look. He is the theme of the Bible, the center and heart of the book. He is the Rose of Sharon. He is the lily fair. Wherever I open my Bible, the Lord of the book is there. He at the book’s beginning gave to the earth its form. He is the arch of shelter bearing the brunt of the storm, the burning bush of the desert, the budding of Aaron’s rod. Wherever I look in the Bible, I see the Son of God. The ram upon Mount Miriah, the ladder from earth to sky, the scarlet cord in the window and the serpent lifted high, the smitten rock in the desert, the shepherd with staff and crook, the face of my Lord I discover wherever I look in the book. He is the seed of the woman, the Savior virgin born. He is the Son of David with whom men rejected with scorn. His garments of grace and of beauty, the stately Aaron deck(?), yet He is a priest forever, for He is of Melchizedek. Lord of eternal glory whom John the Apostle saw, light of the golden city, lamb without spot or flaw. Bridegroom coming at midnight for whom the virgins look; wherever I open my Bible I find my Lord in the book.

Paul said it was promised, the gospel by the prophets in the holy scriptures. Beloved, don’t you for a moment ever question the holiness of Scripture.

Later on in Romans, Paul will develop this as he develops every other theme. In Romans 7 and verse 12, he says, “The law is holy and the commandment is holy and just and good.” God’s truth is pure.

Now listen to this. Holy men of God moved along by the Holy Spirit wrote the Scripture. You have holy God moving along holy men by His Holy Spirit to produce, says Paul, a holy Scripture, unique, pure, the work of God. And it is in that Scripture that we find the third point, the person of the good news.

We’ve seen the preacher Paul and the promise, the Old Testament, the person of the good news, verse 3 and 4. Now here’s the heart. “Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.”

Now what he’s saying here is, really verse 2 is a parenthesis, it is the gospel of God concerning His Son Jesus Christ His Son, that’s the good news, folks. The good news that God came in the box in the form of Jesus Christ the Lord. Jesus—that means Savior, Christ—that means anointed one, Lord—that means sovereign ruler. He is Jesus for He will save His people. He is Christ for He has been anointed by God as King and priest. He is Lord for He has always been. In Romans 9:5 Paul says He is God blessed forever. And then Paul also says He is over all. Philippians 2 tells us He is God. Colossians 2, the fullness of the Godhead dwelled in Him. So He is the Lord God. He is the Christ the anointed one to come back and reign in the earth. And He is Jesus who saves His people from their sins.

You want to know what the good news is then? The good news is God became a man. God became a man. A real man, He came into the world born in a family like all of us have a family with flesh like we have flesh. He was actually born of a virgin but nonetheless born of Mary.

Why? That He might become one of us according to the flesh, that He might have that perfect humanness, that He might be a sympathetic high priest, that He might succor us, that He might understand us, that He might be at all points tempted like as we are yet without sin, that He might be a man who could die for men, who could take the place of men, who could substitute for men, who could bear the brunt of God’s wrath for men. He had to be a man. And He wasn’t just any man. Look what it says. He was of the seed of David. It wasn’t just any family, it was the right family, it was the royal family, the only family that had a right to rule in the land, a right to establish the throne on Mount Zion in that holy hill in Jerusalem, the holy city and from there to rule the world. He was the right man in the right family. If He hadn’t been the son of David, He couldn’t have been the Messiah. He would have contradicted 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 89, Isaiah 11, Jeremiah 23, Jeremiah 33, Ezekiel 33, Ezekiel 37. All of them would have been contradicted if He had not been the son of the family of David. So He was a man and He was the right man.

And repeatedly at His birth, in Luke 1 I think at least five times in that chapter it says He’s the Son of David … Son of David … Son of David … Son of David … Son of David. The good news, beloved, is this: God has become a man and that man is fully man, fully a Son who can sympathize with man, who can bear the sin of man, who can substitute for man, who can take the punishment of God on man. And not only is He just man but He’s the right man who even with all of that has the right to rule and to reign, who can restore the Kingdom and redeem the creation. Oh, what news.

Then you hear some peabrain come along and say, “Well, we don’t know if Jesus ever really existed.” You know, even outside the Bible, people don’t deny that if they have their head screwed on. You can go back to historians of the early time, Tacitus who lived in A.D. 114 tells us that the founder of the Christian religion, Jesus Christ, was put to death by Pontius Pilate in the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. It’s an established fact. Pliny the Younger wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan on the subject of Christ and Christians. Josephus, the Jewish historian, writing in A.D. 90, even before John wrote Revelation, has a short biographical note on his … in his writings on Jesus who is called Christ. The Babylonian Talmud talks about Jesus Christ.

You know what Josephus said? Josephus died before John wrote Revelation and this is what Josephus the historian said in Volume 2, Book 18, chapter 3, page 3 of Jewish Antiquity, quote: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call Him a man, for He was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to Him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ. And when Pilate at the suggestion of the principle men among us had condemned Him to the cross, those that loved Him at the first did not forsake Him for He appeared to them alive again the third day as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning Him. And the tribe of Christians so named from Him are not extinct at this day,” end quote. No way to deny that He lived and He was a man.

And John says it this way, 1 John 4 and verse 2, “By this you know the Spirit of God, every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesses not Jesus is not of God, and that is the spirit of antichrist.” People who want to deny that God came in real human flesh are from the antichrist. He was man.

May I hasten to add this as we draw to a close? He had to be more than man. He had to be God also. For if He was man, even the best of men, even the right man of the seed of David, but not God then He could not have withstood the punishment of God, He could not have risen from the dead, He could not have overcome but would have been conquered as all men are conquered. And so, verse 4 adds He was declared to be the Son of God with power. And how was that power displayed? By the Spirit of holiness. That’s another way of saying the Holy Spirit. Through the resurrection from the dead.

Listen, if there was ever any question in anybody’s mind about whether He was the Son of God, the resurrection should have ended it. He had to be man to reach us, but He had to be God to lift us. And so, the second way, and mark it in verse 4, the second way He manifested His Sonship was in His resurrection. It says, “And He is declared the Son of God through a powerful act wrought by the Holy Spirit in raising Him from the dead.”

Listen, if some guy came along and said, “I am the Son of God,” and he was a phony, do you think God would raise him from the dead? God would be playing into the hands of a phony. If God raised Christ from the dead, it was an affirmation that what He said was true. And so, He was begotten in resurrection. He is a Son twice born. And the key to this thing is the word “declared.” Do you see it in verse 4? Declared … it could be translated various ways. It is a marvelous word. It is the word in Greek horizo. And we get our English word “horizon” from it. Horizo means horizon. And horizon is the clear demarcation line between earth and sky, isn’t it? And what he’s saying is this, there may have been some question in some people’s minds about whether He was the Son of God when they looked at His humanness, but the line was drawn in absolute clarity, the horizon between earth and sky is instantly made clear by His resurrection from the dead, you see? As clearly as the horizon divides the earth from the sky, so clearly does the resurrection divide Jesus from the rest of humanity. He is God. When God raised Jesus from the dead, irrefutable evidence marked out and distinguished the Son of God from all other human beings as clearly as the horizon distinguishes the sky from the earth.

Now listen. He became a Son in incarnation, but that was clearly marked out to end all question in resurrection. That’s the good news. The good news, people, God came into the box, became a man. The good news, He can get back out of the box because He’s also God and He can take us all with Him. And He demonstrated His ability to do that in His resurrection from the dead which was energized by the Holy Spirit. And we’re going to talk about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ in our next study. So we won’t do that this morning.

Listen, in the eighteenth century, the United States Congress issued a special edition of the Bible of Thomas Jefferson. It was a very simple Bible that Jefferson had. It was just like your Bible or my Bible except Jefferson had gone through and eliminated all references to the supernatural. And all Jefferson wanted of Jesus in His Bible were some historical facts and the moral teaching of Jesus. He cut all the rest out. Here’s the last statement in Thomas Jefferson’s Bible, these are the closing words: “There laid they Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulcher and departed.” That’s the end.

But that’s only the end of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible. That is not the end of the gospel, right? Thank God our Bible ends with He is risen and He is coming back for His own. Good news, people, good news. Jesus Christ has come into our world to tell us about God, to take us back out into God’s glorious eternity. When I think about the Lord Jesus Christ, I think of Paul’s term “His Son Jesus Christ our Lord,” and then his term in verse 4, “The Son of God.” He uses all of the terms that pick up all that Christ is. I marvel and wonder at the incredible majesty of the person who is the good news of God.

Someone wrote: “I know a soul that is steeped in sin that no man’s art can cure, but I know a name, a name … a name that can make that soul all pure. I know a life that is lost to God, bound down by the things of earth, but I know a name, a name … a name that can bring that soul new birth. I know of lands that are sunk in shame, of hearts that faint and tire, but I know a name, a name … a name that can set those lands on fire. Its sound is a brand, its letters flame, like glowing tongues of fire. I know a name, a name a name that can set the soul on fire.” Let’s pray.

While your heads are bowed just in closing, do you know that name? Do you know the good news? Jesus is come, told us about God, taken our punishment, conquered death, shown that He can burst out of our little box and take us with Him to God’s eternal world. I hope you know Him. If you don’t, right where you sit, open your heart and invite Him in. The hymn writer, Samuel Stenet(?) wrote, “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned upon the Savior’s brow; His head with radiant glories crowned; His lips with grace o’er flow; no mortal with Him compare among the sons of men, fairer is He than all the fair who fill the heavenly train. He saw me plunged in deep distress and flew to my relief. For me He bore the shameful cross and carried all my grief. To Him I owe my life and breath and all the joys I have, He makes me triumph over death and saves me from the grave.”

Father, thank You for that … great confidence that Jesus Christ is good news. And may no one live another day without that knowledge, in Christ’s name. Amen.

This transcript, along with related media, can also be found here on the Grace to You website.[2]


The Provision, Proclamation, Privilege, and Purpose of the Good News

And Now for the Good News—March 29, 1981

Romans 1:4b–7

We’re in Romans 1 again tonight for our study of God’s Word and looking at the first seven verses. Again, as we examine a very important introduction to the book. We spent a little more time with this introduction because we really feel it sets the tone for the rest of the epistle. And again tonight we look back at these same marvelous seven verses. Let me read them to you as a setting for our thinking tonight. Romans 1 and verse 1:

Paul, A servant of Jesus Christ, called an Apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, which He had promised before by His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: by whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations, for His name: among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called saints, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Did you notice that that’s one sentence? Paul is famous for that. He writes “Paul” in verse 1, “to all that be in Rome” in verse 7, and adds practically the entire gospel in the phrases in between. And so, we have been dealing with those very important phrases and shall again tonight look at this same marvelous passage.

There was an extremely wealthy man who possessed vast treasures of art. The man had one son who was a very ordinary boy, who passed away his adolescence in obscurity and had little effect on anybody. He reached a certain age in his life and he died rather unexpectedly as a young man. The father mourned the son greatly. Within a few months after the death of his son, the father died as well.

And he left this incredible wealth bound up in art treasures. He left a will and he said that everything was to be auctioned. And strangely enough in the will, the father stipulated that one particular painting had to be auctioned first and that was a painting of his son done by an artist that no one really knew. And so the auctioneer in accord with the will did exactly what was to be done and first of all, to the large crowd that had assembled, he directed their attention to this painting of the rather obscure son of the wealthy man and started the bidding there. No one knew the boy. No one knew the artist. No one really cared about the boy.

A long time passed without any bid at all and finally an old black man who had been a servant in the house of the wealthy man came forward and he said he would like to place a one dollar bid on the portrait of the son whom he loved very much. And at that point in his life that was all he could afford. There were no other bids and the black servant was able to purchase the painting of the son for one dollar.

Then the dramatic moment came as he read the next portion of the will. It said this. “All the rest of the treasure shall go to the one who loved my son long enough and strong enough to purchase his portrait.”

There is no way to comprehend the riches that God has provided for those who love His Son … no way. They are infinite. Jesus said the Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure. The Bible says eye hath not seen, nor ear heard the things that God has prepared for those who love Him. And this, beloved, is the good news, isn’t it? That if we love the Son, we inherit all the riches of the Father. In Christ we have treasure beyond imagination. The Bible says that if we love the Son we will have a faithfulness that will never be removed. We will have a life that will never end. We will have a spring of water that will never cease to bubble up within us. We will have a gift that will never be lost. We will have a hand out of which the resources will never end. We will have a chain that will never be broken. We will have a love from which we can never be separated. We will have a calling that will never be revoked, a foundation that will never be destroyed and an inheritance that will never ever ever fade away. Now this is the good news.

And this is the message of the epistle to the Romans, that God has good news for those who love His Son. And then as we are beginning the epistle, we are examining just the introduction in the first seven verses. And already we have begun to sense the riches and we’re going to see more tonight.

Now these seven verses contain the seed of truth that blooms fully in the remaining sixteen chapters. And we have noted for you that there are at least seven elements to this introduction, seven features regarding the good news. There is the preacher of the good news, the promise of the good news, the person of the good news, the provision of the good news, the proclamation of the good news, the privileges of the good news and the purpose of the good news.

Now let me remind you briefly of the first three. First of all, the preacher of the good news is introduced to us in verse 1, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, a called Apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.” And there we have met the preacher of the good news. And it points to us to a very important reality and that is this, that God has chosen human vessels to be the instruments of the transporting of the good news. Paul, a man like us, a servant of Jesus Christ, a called Apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, pointing to the fact that God has chosen to use human agency. God has designed to use men and women to proclaim the good news. In fact, it tells us in 1 Corinthians that God has chosen by the foolishness of preaching to proclaim His message and even use weak and ignoble and foolish preachers to do it.

So, no one’s faith stands in the wisdom of men, but it stands only in the power of God through the weakness of men. God’s people are still the instruments. Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. The preacher—a human instrument.

Secondly, we looked at the promise of the good news. Verse 2, “Which He had promised before by His prophets in the holy Scriptures.” The good news, or the gospel had already been promised in the Old Testament. That’s why in Matthew 5:17 Jesus said I didn’t come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. I came to fill it up, to bring it to fulfillment, to bring it to fruition, to bring it to wholeness, to bring it to completeness. The New Testament is the Word of God that completes the Old Testament, that consummates the promise. So the good news is going to come through a human preacher and the good news is going to be based upon the promises of God in the Old Testament.

And thirdly, we saw not only the preacher and the person, or rather the preacher and the promise but the preacher and the promise and the person. What and whom is the heart and object of the good news? Look at verse 3. “It concerns His Son Jesus Christ our Lord who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.”

The person of the good news is Christ. That’s the issue. It is what you do with God’s Son the Lord Jesus Christ that determines whether you inherit the riches of the Father. And there is in those two verses an absolutely wonderful presentation of Christ. We see His humanness in verse 3, He was made of the seed of David according to the flesh. He was a real human being. We see His deity in verse 4, He was declared to be the Son of God with power through the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead. We see His humanity. We see His deity. He had to be man to take man’s place. He had to be God to conquer sin and death and hell and Satan.

Now I want you to notice one thing in verse 4, just as we conclude our thoughts on the person. It says that this was accomplished, that is His power and resurrection according to the Spirit of holiness. That is another way to say the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit working in Christ Through the agency of the spirit, Christ did what He did. He expressed His power and He was raised from the dead through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

Now this relationship is very important. If you look back, for example, at Matthew 3 for a moment, let me take you just on a very fast tour of how Jesus was related to the Holy Spirit in His incarnation. The Holy Spirit’s the third member of the trinity, as you know. And within the trinity, they were equal, and yet when Jesus was incarnate, He submitted Himself to the will of the Father and to the power of the Spirit in a voluntary submission. And we find that at His baptism in Matthew 3, He was baptized in verse 16. He went up out of the water. The heavens were opened to Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him. And a voice from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

Now the Father was bestowing on Christ the Spirit. Now mark this. I believe that from this time on, and this was the initiation into His ministry, His ministry was controlled by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now follow a little further into Matthew 12 and verse 31. He said this to those who accused Him of being of the devil. They accused Him of being of Satan. They accused Him of being representative of Beelzebub which was a pagan term for Satan. And He said in verse 31, “I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven men. And whosoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, a word against the Son of Man can be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven.”

Now what was He saying? He’s saying you might say something against My humanness, and that would be forgivable. But when you blaspheme the Spirit of God who is doing the work through Me, that is unforgivable. Now we’ll see in full what that means. But the point that I want you to see is this, that when they denied the works of Christ, He says you’re not blaspheming the Son of Man, you’re blaspheming whom? The Holy Spirit. Why? Because He had surrendered to the power of the Holy Spirit. And when they blasphemed His works, they were blaspheming the Spirit because it was the Spirit working through Him.

And so, you have just in this introduction in that one little phrase, not only an understanding of the humanity of Christ and the deity of Christ but His relationship to the Holy Spirit. One of the most marvelous of all theological categories.

Well, listen to what it says in Luke 4:1, “And Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan.” After His baptism He went from that place full of the Holy Spirit.

In John 3:34, it says this: “For God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him. The Father loves the Son and hath given all things into His hand.” When God gave the Son the Spirit, He gave Him the Spirit without measure. In other words, in absolute and utter fullness.

Now this is a mystery, people. Jesus is God. He’s one with the Father and one with the Spirit. The trinity is one and yet distinctly three. But in a marvel of the incarnation, there was some kind of separation. The Son took on a voluntary submission, did only the will of the Father and only through the power of the Spirit. And so it was the agency of the Holy Spirit that empowered Him in His voluntary humiliation. It was the agency of the Holy Spirit that was doing the work through Him. And that shows you … that shows you the utter submissiveness of Christ. And when it says in Philippians that He set aside these things, that he took on the form of a servant and was found in fashion as a man and humbled Himself, it really means that. He did only what the Father showed Him to do and only in the power of the Spirit. Quite a submission for one who is fully God and has been and will be for all eternity.

And so, it was the Spirit who empowered Him in His resurrection. You say, “Why is that important?” It is important because it indicates to us that the trinity, that God Himself is involved in the living and the dying and the rising of Christ. And the greatest affirmation that Jesus was who He claimed to be was that God Himself raised Him from the dead through the instrumentation of the Holy Spirit. So Christ is the Godman, fully man and fully God. And that is fully indicated in that God Himself raised Him from the dead through the agency of the Holy Spirit. That’s good news. He came to identify with us. He came to be a man as we are men, to suffer, to understand the role of human life but at the same time He was God and He overcame by the power of the Spirit and rose from the dead.

The marvel of His humanity and deity and that mysterious union we can never fully understand. And we can never fully understand how He was related to the Father and how He was related to the Spirit because it is so mysterious. We can’t really grasp it all. But that is precisely what the Bible teaches, fully man and fully God.

I think maybe you can understand it a little bit by just looking at illustrations of it. Listen to Matthew 17:24, “And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tax money came to Peter and said, Does not your Master pay taxes? He said yes.” Now that’s interesting. Jesus paid taxes. Think of that the next couple of weeks, it will make you feel better. Jesus paid taxes. That shows His humanness. That shows that He was a man like other men.

“And when he was come into the house, Jesus spoke first to him, saying, What are you thinking about, Simon? Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute, of their own sons or strangers? Peter said unto Him, Of strangers. Jesus said unto him, Then are the sons free.” In other words, He’s saying in effect we don’t really belong to the system. They really tax their own and we are not of this world, but nevertheless, lest we should offend them, right? We don’t really belong to this world but lest we should offend them, we’re going to pay our taxes just like everybody else. And then He says this, “Go down to the sea and throw in a hook and pull out the first fish you catch and open its mouth and you’ll find a piece of money. Take that and give it to the tax collector for you and Me.”

Now wait a minute. It’s one thing to pay your taxes, but that’s another way to get the money that none of us can handle. You see, there you have a perfect illustration of the marvel of His humanity and His deity. He paid His taxes but He had ways of providing that were absolutely supernatural.

In Mark 4:35, and we’ve read this recently, “The same day when the evening was come, He said unto them, Let’s pass over to the other side—going across the Sea of Galilee—and when they had sent away the multitude, they took Him even as He was in the boat and there were also with Him other little boats, a little flotilla going across. There rose a great storm of wind and the waves beat into the boat so that it was now full.” Now you know as well as I do that it’s okay for the boat to be in the water but it’s not okay for the water to be in the boat. And get this, verse 38, “And Jesus was in the stern of the boat asleep on a pillow.” Now that’s His humanness. He was tired. The crowds literally dogged His steps without relenting. He was tired and He was asleep in a storm.

“And they said to Him, Master, don’t you care that we perish? And He arose and buked the wind … rebuked the wind and unto the sea He said, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.” You see His humanity, in the one hand He’s asleep because He’s so tired. On the other hand, He stops the storm instantly. You can’t explain the mystery, you can only see it.

Luke 23:39, and one of the malefactors who were hanged railed at Him saying, “If Thou be the Christ, save Thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked Him saying, Dost not thou fear God seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly for we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this man hath done nothing amiss.” There you see His humanness. He’s a victim, mercilessly hammered to a cross with a cloak of blood and flies, spit on, mocked, stared at in His nakedness, humiliated. “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom. And Jesus said to him, Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” That’s His deity. And you see this co-mingling all through His life.

So, we meet the preacher. We see the promise and the person of the good news, Jesus Christ, God in human flesh doing the will of the Father whose Son He has become in the power of the Spirit.

Now let’s come, number four, to the provision of the good news … the provision. If you love the Son, what happens? If you receive the good news, what happens? Two things first pop out of the treasure-trove that God has provided. Verse 5 says, “By whom we have received grace and apostleship,” and you can stop there.

What is it that the good news gives us? What is it that the good news bestows upon us? What is the treasure that we inherit when we love the Son? First, grace … second, apostleship. First, watch this, conversion … second, vocation. First, to be called; second, to be sent.

First, let’s look at grace. We receive grace. What do you mean, Paul? Well, there is the possibility that he could be meaning the grace of apostleship, that’s possible. But I like to think he’s saying something more distinct than that, that the translation of the Authorized is right, that he is saying we have received grace and apostleship. What is grace? It’s unmerited favor, unearned favor. The good news is that salvation is by grace. Ephesians 2:8 and 9 says, “For by grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves it is the gift of God not of works lest any man should … what?… should boast.” We’re saved by grace, the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. It is grace, unmerited favor, the kind good will, the mercy, the loving kindness of God grants this as a gift and all we do is respond in believing.

A baby breathes because it is slapped. And we enter into the Kingdom of God and receive the gift of life from Him because with divine sovereignty He whacks us and we begin to breathe spiritually. If we are alive, it is because His breath has been breathed into us. We are born from above. There’s no place for self-congratulations. There’s no place for human achievement. We are not saved by works. In fact, in Romans this will be developed for us in the third chapter so that you could never miss it. In Romans 3:24 it says, “We are justified freely by His grace.” Verse 27, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law or works? Nay, but by the law of faith.” We believe and God is gracious.

In Romans 5, he’ll develop that more in verses 20 and 21 talks about where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. Mercy without cause, kindness without deserving. So, salvation did not come by confirmation, salvation does not come by communion, does not come by baptism, does not come by church membership, does not come by church attendance, does not come by trying to keep the Ten Commandments or trying to live the Sermon on the Mount. It does not come by giving to charity. It does not come by believing there is a God, or there is a Christ. It does not come by simply being moral and respectable. It does not come even by claiming to be a Christian. It comes when we receive by faith the gift of grace. By the way, hell will be full of people I’ve just described who think they have salvation in the wrong thing.

And so, Paul says we receive grace. That’s the first provision of the gospel that you don’t have to earn it. You couldn’t if you wanted to. It’s impossible. “For by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

Dr. Barnhouse had a good word. He said this: “Love that looks upward is worship. Love that looks outward is affection. And love that stoops is grace.” And God has stooped to give us grace though we don’t deserve it.

The dying saint Pacean(?) said this: “Grace is the only thing that can make us like God. I might be dragged through heaven, through earth and through hell and I would still be the same sinful polluted wretch unless God Himself should cleanse me by His grace.” And we’re going to see a lot more about grace, so I’m just going to leave it there. But it is free. It is a gift. The first provision—grace.

The second, apostleship. And I think Paul is expanding his thinking here. He starts with himself, “Paul,” by the time he gets to verse 5 he has the word “we.” We have received grace. And I think he embraces the believing community. We have received a certain kind of apostleship. I know he sees himself in that “we” and he sees the other apostles there and those who worked with him. It’s also possible he senses the breadth of that term in its broadest possible context. The gospel not only brings us the grace of salvation, but the task of apostleship.

And we saw, didn’t we, in our study this morning that it means to be sent, to be a sent one. We are called and saved to be sent to reach the world. And for Paul, his apostleship was that very unique apostleship, a very unique … in fact, there was none like it. There was the Twelve, Judas fell out, Matthias was added, that kept the Twelve in tact. And later Paul appeared on the scene as born out of due season, an Apostle as truly as any of the others who saw Christ personally after the resurrection. And yet there was a uniqueness about his apostleship. And I think he sensed that. But he also realized that all of us are encompassed in the concept of being sent ones. You know that Hebrews 3:1 calls the Lord Jesus an Apostle? He was sent from the Father.

So, in its widest sense, I believe, the term refers to any gospel messenger. Commentator William Hendricksen agrees with that. He says, “Anyone who is on a spiritual mission, anyone who in that capacity represents the sender, anyone who brings the message of salvation is in a sense an apostle.” But please don’t be confused. We are not equal to the Apostles of the New Testament. They were unique for their own time.

But you can find as you study, and we’ve seen this in past lessons so we won’t belabor the point, that there were many who were sent ones. For example, in Romans 16:7 it says, “Greet Andronicus and Junias,” have you ever heard of them? You know anything about them? I don’t. It says, “Who are of note among the apostles.” What kind of apostles were Andronicus and Junias? Well, certainly not apostles with a capital “A”, not the official ones. But they were dispatched. They were sent ones on a mission of proclaiming the truth of Christ in His behalf. And so, I believe this is what we are learning here that there is not only the grace of salvation but the challenge of being sent.

By the way, in Acts 14:14 it calls Barnabas an apostle. He wasn’t one of the Twelve and nor was he the equivalent of Paul in that sense. And this goes on throughout the Scripture. You have the term apostle being broadened and broadened in many texts so that we can’t confine it to just some limited specific individuals.

Now let me just see if I can give you an illustration to help you. I grew up with athletics as a background. And I was on a lot of different teams. And some coaches that I played for in various sports were kind souls. Others were not so kind, winning was everything. But I can remember several different teams that I was on in my life where a boy would come and he would try out for the team and he really wasn’t very good, didn’t have a lot of ability. But maybe his father had died, or maybe he was a poor fellow or maybe he was just kind of the sort of person that draws sympathy out of you. And every once in a while a coach would just put him on the team, you know. Just give him a uniform, make him feel a part. But he’d never play, never get in the game.

And I thought about that in reference to this. The Lord doesn’t work that way. If you get on the team, you’re going to get in the game. It’s going to be grace and apostleship that He’s called us to. It is not just to be redeemed, it is to be redeemed and then sent. He graciously puts us on the team. And by the way, we’re all like that little kid who couldn’t do anything. And He puts us on the team and then He uses us. And we saw this morning in our study, what a tough bunch we are to work with. The good news, beloved, is that He provides conversion and vocation, the high and holy privilege of serving Jesus Christ.

Oh my, do you have any comprehension of what a high calling that is? It says in Ephesians 2:10 that we have been created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. We have been created in Christ Jesus unto good works. That’s the whole point.

A victor at the Olympic Games in ancient times was asked, “Spartan, what will you gain by this victory?” He replied, “I, sir, shall have the honor to fight on the front line for my king.” That’s it. We’re called to serve with all of our limitations.

D.L. Moody gave an address one time in Chicago. And it was typical Moody. At the close of the address a highly educated man came to him and said, “Sir, excuse me, but you made eleven mistakes in your grammar tonight.” Mr. Moody said, “I probably did. You see, my early education was very limited and faulty, but I’m using all the grammar that I know for the cause of Christ. How about you?”

That was the right answer, wasn’t it? One time some fellow came up to Moody and said, “I don’t like your invitation. I don’t think it’s the right way to have an invitation.” He said, “Well, you know, I appreciate that.” He said, “I’ve always been uncomfortable with that, too. I wish I knew a better way. What’s your method of inviting people to Christ?”

“Oh,” the fellow said, “I don’t have one.”

He said, “I like mine better.”

Whatever our limitations are I believe that God wants us to not only have grace but apostleship, to be sent. And I know the primary point here is that Paul is reflecting on his own apostleship and the grace of God in his own life. But it’s much bigger than that.

Dr. Barnhouse reflected on a very interesting time in his life that parallels an experience I had and I just want to share them with you. He was being ordained into the Presbyterian ministry and he writes: “That the moderator of the Presbytery asked me questions and I answered them. They told me to kneel down. Men came toward me and one man was asked to make the prayer. I felt his hand come on my head and then the hands of others touching my head and pressing down on his and the other hands. The ring of men closed in on me and one man began to pray. It was a nice little prayer and had one pat little phrase in it, ‘Father, guard him with Thy love, guide him with Thine eye and gird him with Thy power.’

“I kept thinking about those three verbs: guard, guide and gird. It seemed as foolish as performing a marriage ceremony upon two people who had been living together for a quarter of a century and who had a family. I knew I had been ordained long ago and that the hands that had been on my head were hands that had been pierced and nailed to a cross.

“Years later, the man that made the prayer that day signed a paper saying that he was opposed to the doctrine of the virgin birth, the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement, the doctrine of the miracles of Christ, the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures as tests for ordination or a man’s good standing in the ministry.

“When I read his name on that list, I put my hand on the top of my head and smiled to myself wondering how many dozen times I had had my hair cut since his unholy hands had touched me. And I had the profound consolation of knowing that the hand of the Lord Jesus Christ, wounded and torn because of my sin, had touched me and given me an apostleship which was from God and which was more important than any that man could approve by their little ceremonies.”

Now you’ve got to hear Dr. Barnhouse preach that to understand how strong he said it. God gave him his ministry and his mission. I read that and thought of my own ordination. Good and godly men were there. They asked me all kinds of questions. And they came up and they put their hands on me and they prayed and all of them signed my ordination certificate. In fact there weren’t enough lines for them and there’s one name written bigger than any other name, it must have been an ancestor of John Hancock … great huge writing, he wrote his name on the first line of my ordination that hangs on my wall.

Not long after that, he abandoned the ministry, was involved in replete immorality, denied the faith, denied Christ, became an outspoken atheist, became a philosophy professor at USC. And I, like Dr. Barnhouse, thank God that my apostleship, my ministry didn’t come from men, but it came from Christ Himself.

Listen, what is the provision of the good news? It is grace to save, apostleship to serve. So, we see the good news: the preacher, the promise, the person, the provision. And then we come to the proclamation. Now that we’re going to serve, we’re going to be sent with a message, what is it we proclaim? Verse 5 again, we proclaim obedience to the faith among all nations. And then he says in verse 6, among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ.

In other words, just like you’ve been called to Christ, we’re going to go out and call others to Christ. This really extends the last thought, the good news about Jesus Christ which has brought us grace and service leads us to go out and proclaim it and to call for the nations of the earth to be obedient to the faith. That’s a great statement, folks. I wish we had time tonight just to go over the whole thought of obedience to the faith. You ought to write … put a circle around that phrase in your Bible, “Obedience to the faith.” A tremendous statement, a statement just literally jammed with meaning. And it appears again at the end of Romans in 16:26, the next to the last verse. “To make known to all nations the obedience of faith.” The obedience of faith … listen, if there’s one thing about faith, it is that faith is what? Obedient. You show me someone who says he believes and lives a life of disobedience and I’ll show you someone who is not redeemed. For faith if it does not manifest works of obedience is dead. We are not saved by works, we are saved unto good works. And the message of Christianity is a call for people to be obedient to the faith.

When you come to Christ, you affirm the faith. And by the way, that is a very definite statement … the faith. And Jude uses it, “The faith once for all delivered to the saints.” It means the content of the gospel, the content of the message. It means teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. That’s how you go about preaching. It is obedience that we preach, obedience to the faith, the duly constituted faith. We are preaching a message of obedience. And sadly that isn’t the message that people are hearing today. We must call people to faith but faith that obeys is the only genuine faith. People say they believe and live the life of disobedience, they lie and the truth is not in them. People who really believe will obey.

And so, the design of our apostleship, the design of Paul’s apostleship was to bring all nations to obedience to the faith. And the faith is more than just believing in Jesus, it’s the faith. It’s all that our faith embodies. The faith once for all delivered to the saints. If you want to know what “the faith” really is, it is the full content of the Word of God revealed. We call people to obey.

Now listen to me. It is not faith plus obedience equals salvation. No, it is an obedient faith equals salvation. True faith is verified in obedience. That’s why the Bible constantly says that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is Lord because that demands submissive obedience. There’s no faith without obedience. There has to be obedience for faith to be genuine.

Look at, for a moment, a good illustration right in Romans 1:8 … verse 8. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” How so? How was it that their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world? Chapter 16:19, here’s how, 16:19, “For your obedience is come abroad unto all men.”

In the beginning it is your faith that is spread abroad. In the end it is your obedience that is spread abroad. Why? Because one must exist with the other. It is not faith unless it obeys. Salvation is submission. Salvation is affirmation of the Lordship of Christ.

Now you don’t want to have a theology that makes a Christian out of somebody who lives a life of absolute disobedience. There is no recognition of the Lordship of Christ. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth,” Romans 10:9 and 10, “Jesus as Lord,” and that means obedience to His Lordship, “that shalt be saved.” That is the true stuff of which salvation is produced. “Let all the house of Israel know—says Peter—that God has made that same Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.” And Jesus said to the Pharisees, in effect, in Matthew 5, “I don’t care what you believe, by the way you live you deny salvation.” A faith without obedience is a faith that won’t save anybody. It is piling on the broad road that leads to destruction. That’s what it is. It’s building a nice big religious super-structure on sand. A faith without obedience is no saving faith. It’s the kind of thing that deludes and deceives but doesn’t save.

People say, “Oh, I believe in Jesus … I believe in the Bible … I remember when I walked the aisle … I remember so forth and so forth …” That doesn’t save unless there’s a life of obedience. Listen to Hebrews 12:14, “Follow peace with all men,” now listen to this, “and holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” No holiness, no heaven.

So, the proclamation is to bring all men to the obedience of faith, to the obedience of faith. And, beloved, this is something he says in verse 6 that we should long to do because it’s something we’ve received, “Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ.” In other words, you’ve been called to this, now you go call the other nations to this same thing. It’s a great statement in verse 6, “Ye also are the called of Jesus Christ.” We’ve been drawn to Christ. We’ve come out of that life of disobedience into a life of obedience, out of unbelief into faith. And he says because that’s happened to us and we’re a part of those called to Christ, we ought to carry the message to call others. We sang that chorus, “God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name, I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name. In Jesus’ name I come to you to share His love as He told me to.” He said, “Freely, freely you have received, freely, freely … what?… give. Go in My name and because you believe, others will know that I live.” That’s what he’s saying.

We are sent for obedience to the faith among all nations because that is what has happened to us. We are the called who have been drawn to Christ.

So, we see the preacher of the good news, the promise of the good news, the person of the good news, the provision of the good news—grace and apostleship, the proclamation of the good news. And it is a proclamation of obedience. Beloved, don’t ever leave that part out. Can I give you two in closing? The privileges of the good news … the privileges.

Look at them in verse 7. “To all that be in Rome,” and he sure can extend it beyond that, to all believers. He … he gives them three marvelous truths about their privileges. First, they are beloved of God. Second, they are called … and you ought to put a comma after that, and if you have some words in italics, that means they aren’t there in the original. There’s three things here: beloved of God, called and saints.… beloved of God, called and saints. Those are the privileges of the good news.

What does it mean to be beloved of God? Well, it just means we are loved. And that is all over the Scripture. God has loved us. He has put His love upon us. In Ephesians 2, I just love that verse, verse 5 … verse 4, rather, “God who is rich in mercy for His great love with which He loved us even when we were dead in sins has made us alive together with Christ.” He loved us. He loved us even when we were dead in sin. In 1 John 3:1 it says, “Behold what manner of love.” And the word “what manner,” a very interesting Greek word, potapan(?), it has to do with something that’s foreign, something that’s other worldly, something that belongs in outer space. I mean, what kind of a strange inhuman thing is this to love us?

In Ephesians 1:6 it says that through Christ we have been made accepted in the beloved one. God can love us because He loves us in His Son. Romans 5 says, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.” Romans 8 says, “Nothing will every separate us from the love of Christ.” Nothing. And so, the privilege of the good news is that we’re loved by God and when God loves God pours out blessing.

Secondly, we are called. We’re called. And that is the effectual call. That is referring to the actual call to salvation. And we’ll see that in detail when we get to chapters 9 and 10. But we have been called. We are saved because of the sovereign act of God. This isn’t referring to some general external call. Not just the proclamation as in Isaiah 45, “Be ye saved all the ends of the earth,” or Isaiah 55, “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” This isn’t just the general call like Ezekiel 33 when He cried, “Turn ye, turn ye,” or Matthew 11 where Jesus said, “Come unto Me all ye that labor,” or John 7, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink,” or Revelation 22, “And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come,” or Romans 10, “Faith comes by hearing a speech about Christ.” It isn’t just that general calling out of the gospel. This is an indication of that very effectual purposeful call to redemption that comes by the sovereign will of God. We are the called. It’s another word, if you will, for the elect … for the elect. We are the chosen. The Bible says chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. A tremendous truth. We are the called … called by God, the elect.

You can study this through the New Testament. And as I said, we get to chapter 8, 9 and 10, we’ll see it in detail. But there are over and over again statements made to the effect that anyone who is a believer is one who was sovereignly called and predestinated by God.

May I add this quickly? It is never ever calling alone but there is always with that call the act of faith in Christ that goes with it. But nonetheless, we’re called. From our viewpoint, we come to Christ as an act of our will. But from God’s viewpoint, it was determined before the world began and He called us to Himself. It’s a marvelous truth. And we’ll see it unfold as we go on in the epistle.

So, we are the beloved and we are the called. And grab that third one, we are saints … we are saints. You say, “You don’t know me very well.” Oh, but I know you well enough to know that if you’re a Christian, you’re a saint. You know what it means? A holy one, hagios, a holy one. By virtue of being beloved of God, by virtue of being called, you are a saint. You’ve been made holy. What does it mean? To set apart … to set apart from the world unto God.

In the Old Testament, they had many things that were set apart. They said that the holy place was set apart, the Holy of Holies was set apart. The tithe was set apart. The priests were set apart. In Exodus 19:6 says the whole nation of Israel was set apart. In other words, all those things were holy: the holy place, the Holy of Holies, the tithe, the priests, the nation were all holy unto the Lord. In other words, they were set apart unto God.

In the New Testament we don’t have that anymore. The Holy of Holies doesn’t exist, the veil was rent. The holy place is no more, the temple’s been destroyed. The tithe isn’t anymore because we’re not under a theocracy. The priests aren’t around anymore. The nation of Israel has been temporarily set aside. What is left that is holy? I’ll tell you what it is, it is the new temple of God which is His church. And we’re holy. We’re set apart unto God. Set apart from sin unto God. And we’re to live like that.

But think of it, the privileges to be beloved of God, to be called from before the world began to be His child and to be set apart from sin unto Himself … separated to Him. Oh my, fitting that to such a people is the benediction in verse 7, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

You know something? Then only people who could ever receive such a benediction would be those who were beloved of God, called of God, and made holy by God. We’re the only ones who can receive His grace and the only ones who can experience His peace. Grace and then peace …

Now listen as we close. Finally, after all the other points that we’ve seen, I want to give you the purpose for the good news … the last point. We’ve gone through all of them except this … the purpose. And it’s at the end of verse 5.

Why does the preacher preach? Why was the promise made? Why did the person come? Why have we received the provision of the gospel? Why have we experienced the proclamation responsibility? Why has God given us the privileges?

For one reason, the end of verse 5, “For His … what?… name.” And I know that those of you who have been at Grace Church for any time understand this. This simply means that everything focuses on the glory of God. People are to be saved … why? Oh, you say, “To keep them out of hell.” That’s secondary. “Oh, so they can experience the love of God.” That’s secondary. “Oh, so they can go to heaven.” That’s secondary. “Oh, so they can have God guide their life.” That’s secondary.

People are to be saved for the glory of God because it is affrontary to His holy nature that someone should live in rebellion against Him. It is His glory that is the issue. And that is the reason for everything. In Philippians 2 it says that every knee should bow and confess Jesus as Lord to the glory of God the Father. Salvation is for His glory, the gospel is for His glory. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:15, “We preach the gospel that the thanksgiving of many may redound to the glory of God.” The reason we want to bring you to salvation is so you can praise God’s glory.

See, God is glorified when you believe His gospel. God is glorified when you love His Son. God is glorified when you accept His diagnosis of your sin and your need. God is glorified when you take Him into your life. God is glorified when your plans become His plans and your thoughts become the thoughts that are common to Him. We live and exist for the glory of God.

Madam Gouin(?) wrote, “Glorious almighty God without end, when wilt Thou melt the mountains and descend? When wilt Thou shout abroad the conquering rays and teach these Adams Thou hast made Thy praise?”

And so we come full circle. The good news comes from God. It is the gospel of God, verse 1. And it is preached by the preacher, promised in the Old Testament, personified in Jesus Christ, providing grace and service, proclaimed by those who receive eternal privileges and it is all for the purpose of glorifying God.

I trust that God will be glorified in your life as you respond to His good news and proclaim it. Now listen. I’ve just touched on so many vast subjects, it frustrates me to death. But we’re going to see these unfold as we move through the book of Romans together. Will you bow your heads and listen to these words by William Blaine?

He who wept above the grave, He who stilled the raging wave, meek to suffer, strong to save, His shall be the glory.

He whose sorrows pathway trod, He that every good bestowed, Son of Man and Son of God, His shall be the glory.

He who bled with scourging sore, thorns and scarlet meekly wore, He who every sorrow bore, His shall be the glory.

Monarch of the smitten cheeks, scorn of Jew and scorn of Greek, priest and king divinely meek, His shall be the glory.

On the rainbow circle throne, mid the myriads of His own, never more to weep alone, His shall be the glory.

Man of slighted Nazareth, king who wore the thorny wreath, Son obedient unto death, His shall be the glory.

His the grand eternal wait, His the priestly regal state, Him the Father maketh great, His shall be the glory.

He who died to set us free, He who lives and loves even me, He who comes whom I shall see, Jesus only … only He, His shall be the glory.

And, Father, we know that’s the heart of Paul and the message of the book. Help us to see it ever so clearly for Christ’s glory. Amen.

This transcript, along with related media, can also be found here on the Grace to You website.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You.