The book of Romans is a fascinating book. The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write it right around AD 57, while he was in Corinth, as he was nearing the end of his third missionary journey and preparing to go to Jerusalem.
Some of the letters Paul wrote were written to churches he had planted, but Paul didn't plant the church in Rome, and at the time of writing, hadn't been able to personally visit them. In fact, Paul speaks of having been prevented from visiting them up to this point. So what would you say to a church that you longed to visit, but for now, could only teach and encourage from a distance? Do you suppose you might go into greater detail in your letter than you might for a church that you knew you would more easily be able to teach and train in person?
When you read through the chapters of Romans, it quickly becomes clear that Paul was trying to help the believers in the church at Rome come to a thorough understanding of sound doctrine. He wanted them to be able to understand deeper details about our faith so that their love for one another would grow and their appreciation for the work Christ has accomplished on our behalf would be strengthened.
In this book, Paul shares details about the righteousness of God, the sinfulness of man, our need to trust in Jesus Christ, the justification we experience by grace through faith in Jesus, the fact that sin no longer needs to have mastery over us, God's calling on our lives, our new life in Christ, the ways in which we've been gifted by God, what it means to serve God and others as a "living sacrifice", and how we can overcome evil without being overcome by it.
These are powerful and critical matters to understand, and as we take time to study these chapters, I pray that our appreciation for our salvation and new life in Christ will develop and grow. We don't need to be ashamed of Jesus. Rather, we can be joyful and grateful for who He is and what He does on our behalf. The first part of Romans 1 starts to give us a glimpse of what this looks like.
I. He has made me a new man with a new purpose
During the course of our lives, there are many questions of a deeper nature that we wrestle with. For starters, we wrestle with the concept of our identity. We want to know the answer to the question, "Who am I?" From there, we also tend to wrestle with the related question, "What is my purpose?" I think these are valid questions to ask because the way we answer them will have a huge impact on the way we navigate our lives. In his introduction to this letter, Paul speaks to these questions and helps us understand the answers from God's perspective.
Those who belong to Christ should think of themselves the same way Paul illustrated in this introduction. He called himself a "servant of Christ Jesus." I'm assuming that for most people in this world, the idea of being called a servant wouldn't automatically be appealing, but this is something that we as believers should consider a privilege.
Consider for just a moment the people in this world who have been a major blessing in your life. Most often, they tend to be people who displayed a servant's heart to you, and you love them for it. Likewise, when Jesus came to this earth, He didn't come to be served, but to serve. He sacrificially served us first, now it's our privilege to follow His example. It's our privilege to dedicate our lives to be used for serving Him. In effect, this answers our questions regarding our identity and purpose. We are servants who joyfully serve the One who served us first.
Consider how the Lord enabled Paul to serve. At one time in his life, Paul hated Jesus, but then Christ revealed Himself to Paul, and Paul came to love Him. Paul dedicated his life to making the gospel of Christ known to others. Paul helped others to see that while Jesus walked among them as a man, He was also the Son of God. Paul helped others to understand that the resurrection of Christ demonstrated this to be true. And we're told in this passage that Christ blessed Paul with the privilege to serve as an apostle. Paul had been set apart by the Lord for the purpose of being sent to lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Is this demonstration of the Lord's grace in Paul's life limited to him, or is this the kind of work the Lord seeks to do on our behalf as well? As we continue our study of this book, I hope we'll come to realize that through faith in Christ, we become new people with a new purpose. Our lives are no longer lived for ourselves or the fleeting vanity of worldly pleasures. Our greatest joy is found in glorifying Christ and serving Him sincerely.
II. He is shaping the affections of my heart
I'm not ashamed of Jesus because He has made me a new man with a new purpose. I'm also not ashamed of Him because He is in the process, through the work of the Holy Spirit, of shaping the affections of my heart. He's teaching me what to value and what to prioritize. He's helping me to understand what actually matters in this world. He's showing me where my time and energy should be spent.
Paul genuinely wanted to spend time with the church in Rome. He prayed for them regularly and longed to visit with them. We're told that he would often ask the Lord to make a visit possible because he was so often prevented from seeing them. He wanted to be used of God to strengthen this young church while also being mutually strengthened by their faith in Christ. This is so different from how Paul once believed his life would be spent.
The book of Acts reveals something quite interesting about Paul's life before he came to faith in Christ. During that season of his life, he was a prominent persecutor of the church. When Paul traveled during those days, it was for the purpose of imprisoning people who believed in Jesus.
Now, Paul's understanding of his purpose in life had completely changed. His new desire still involved traveling to distant places, but his goal had become offering them freedom through Christ, and reminding them to never again be shackled by the chains of sin and temptation that used to drag them down and imprison them. He once sought to make men prisoners. Now he was regularly imprisoned while trying to help them become free.
Why such a drastic change? Because Christ was now shaping the affections of Paul's heart. Maybe you've noticed Christ accomplishing that work in your life as well. I have certainly noticed Him doing so in my life. I spent the early years of my relationship with Him trying to resist His calling on my life to serve in pastoral ministry. Then, over time, I watched as He transformed the desires of my heart. He gave me a longing to serve Him in the very ways I had once protested or resisted. He's made the longing so strong within me that now I think I'd struggle to stop serving Him in this role if He asked me to give it up.
As your faith in Christ continues to mature, I suspect you'll notice Him doing the same for you. He will shape the affections of your heart to bring them in line with His will. You'll begin to feel a genuine tug to dedicate your life to serving Him in very specific ways. You'll experience joy and peace as you submit yourself to His will, and you won't be ashamed to testify to the transformative work He's been doing within you.
III. He blesses me with His power
When Paul shared the gospel with others in his generation, there was a genuine possibility that he was going to be harmed, shunned, or imprisoned for doing so. During his life, he experienced all three, and in the end, he was eventually beheaded because of his unwillingness to stop telling others about Jesus. Yet, with those very real concerns as daily pressures, he still wasn't ashamed to make the gospel known to his generation and culture.
Paul described the gospel as being "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." What an amazing gift that is. Through faith in Christ, we experience the power and the presence of God in our lives. Through His power we're saved, and it's also through His power that we're sustained.
If you look closely at your life right now, you'll be able to identify a glaring area where you need to access the power of God. Maybe you have a friendship that has become strained. God can give you the power to forgive and the strength to make the first move toward reconciling the friendship. Maybe you're feeling defeated by the presence of a recurring area of temptation. God can give you the power to walk away from that temptation, and replace your dependency on it with a deeper trust in the sufficiency of Christ. The same God who uses His power to save you is the same God who grants you access to His power while He sustains you. He is faithful to His children without fail.
I recognize that we live in a time when Christ isn't exactly embraced by everyone we know, and it can be tempting to feel ashamed to be associated with Him while the world mocks His followers. But truthfully, we don't need to be ashamed of Christ. He makes us new people with a new purpose. He shapes the affections of our hearts, and He blesses us with His power. In Him we find joy and peace, and through Him we can experience new life that can't be snuffed out by the pressures of this world.
© John Stange, 2018