About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Paul’s Longing To Visit Rome – ch. 1:8-17


In verse 8 Paul thanks “God through Jesus Christ” for the people of Rome.  Once again, he thanks the God of Jesus Christ, not some generic; all purpose God that many believe in today.  Jesus Christ is central to Paul’s life and thoughts. Why was Paul thankful to Jesus?  It was because of their faith that was reported all over the world, or actually, all over the known world in his day.  Here we see that faith is the important thing that Paul notes in these people.  As you will see later, faith is fundamental and basic for Christians, but amazingly enough, it's a very misunderstood concept.  Without faith it is impossible to please God as is stated in Hebrews 11:6.  As I've previously said; faith is more than mentally accepting the truth about Jesus.  Biblical faith is trust.  Biblical faith is trusting your life to Jesus.


The Roman believers faith was reported throughout the world Paul said.  Obviously, there was no internet, phones, or high tech devices that would report this faith.  It was reported by word of mouth as people travelled throughout the Roman Empire preaching the gospel.   


In verse 9 Paul says that he remembers these people all the time in his prayers.  Paul is in constant prayer for these people, and this is how it should be with any leader who is a real servant.  I wonder at times how often the modern pastor prays for God's people as Paul would have.


Also in verse 9 we note that Paul serves God with his whole heart.  Any brief study of Paul in the Bible will show you that to be true.  He not only served God with his heart, but with his very life.  I believe Paul's greatest testimony for Jesus was his execution.  Instead of caving into Caesar Nero's demands, Paul graciously put himself on the chopping block.  Tradition states that Paul was beheaded for the sake of Christ.  Martyrdom, although never looked for, is the ultimate witness.  People will take note of the gospel you preach if you are willing to die for Jesus.        


In verse 10 Paul says that he has always desired to come and see these people to whom he is now writing.  He prays for an opening, a way to be revealed, that he can come to them in the will of God.  Paul did finally come to visit these people, but not as a free man.  The book of Acts tells us that he was falsely arrested by the Jews in Jerusalem, taken to the Romans, and would have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.  Paul was both a Jew and a Roman citizen that meant it was his legal right to appeal to the highest court in the land when falsely accused.  Along each step of the way, he would preach the gospel to governors, politicians, and to the emperor himself, just as it was told him in the prophetic word in Acts 9.        


One of the main reasons why Paul wants to see the Romans, as seen in verse 11, is to impart to them some spiritual gifts.  Paul could impart many things in the form of education, friendship, and other things, but he wanted to give them something spiritual, something long lasting, and useful in the service of the Lord.  This could be individual callings from God or a gift of the Spirit.  These gifts of the Spirit are seen in 1 Corinthians 12.  What is called the gifts of Christ, that is, evangelists, prophets, apostles, pastors/teachers, are seen in Ephesians 4:11.  These four ministry gifts Paul might have had in mind as well. 


The reason for this impartation of spiritual gifts is seen in verse 12.  Paul wanted mutual encouragement to flow from him to them and from them to him.  Such mutual encouragement is vital for the work of the Lord.  The sad fact of church history is that there has not been much of this mutual encouragement.  Rather, church splits have simply been par for the course.  


In verse 13 Paul says that he had been hindered many times in the past from seeing these Romans.  This text alone does not say how Paul was hindered.  It might have been satan's interference, or simply God's will.  We do know from the book of Acts that God did step in at times to redirect Paul to a place he had not intended to visit.  I suggest that what hindered Paul from visiting Rome was not the devil, as some might think.  


Verse 13 tells us why he had not visited Rome earlier in his ministry.  It was so he could have a better harvest of people now.  It is clear that if Paul had of gone earlier, the harvest of people would not have been as great.  Thus, in my thinking, it was God who prevented Paul from visiting Rome earlier, and of course, God has His reasons.     


In verse 14 Paul says that he is obligated to both Greeks and non-Greeks alike when it comes to preaching the gospel.  The term "non-Greeks" should be understood as "barbarians".  Paul felt that he had no other choice but to preach the gospel, and to anyone who would listen, whether Jew or Gentile.  Many of us have a very lax feeling about these things.  We'll preach when it is convenient.  This was not so with Paul.  We must remember that in John 1:29, John announced Jesus to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. 


Paul just doesn't say he is obligated to Greeks and Jews, but also to the wise and unwise.  Again, Paul doesn't just travel in elite circles to make himself look good as some preachers do today.  Paul was comfortable among scholars and also among the uneducated.  I know of some pastors who are not comfortable with the poor.  They feel rich people will be turned off with the presence of poor people in their congregation.   Paul had no such attitude. 


The Greek word translated as "obligated" in the NIV is "opheiletes".  This word simply means a debtor.  It was often used in financial circles.  So, Paul felt he had a debt to pay everyone he came in contact with, a debt that could only be paid by the preaching of the gospel.  A debt that could only be paid by offering eternal salvation to all he came in contact with.  In part, he might have felt this indebtedness because he had persecuted the believers in times past.  Also, the way the gospel was presented to him by Jesus Himself in Acts 9 would easily make anyone feel indebted.


Verse 15 says that Paul was “eager to preach the gospel” to the people of Rome.  These people were already Christian but there were many non-Christians in Rome that Paul wanted to win to Jesus.  Besides that, because of the nature of this letter, Paul felt that he had to teach these people the basic truth of their newfound Christian commitment.  It's clear that this teaching was needed or else Paul would not have written this letter.  Things have not changed.  This teaching is just as important today as it was in Paul's day.  It's sad for me to say, but it's my opinion that such teaching that is found in this letter is lacking in today's church.  Hosea 4:6 states that God's people are destroyed because of lack of knowledge.  This is the fate of many today if godly teaching isn't re-inserted into the church.   


Verse 16 says that Paul is not ashamed of the gospel.  Many of us are ashamed, but not Paul.  He believed that the gospel was the power of God that leads to salvation.  We tend to think that we need to add to the simple gospel with great preaching, music, high tech aids, and all sorts of other things, but that shouldn't be.  Only the gospel, the pure gospel, can lead someone to salvation in Christ.  In many respects, all of our additions to the gospel actually take away from its effectiveness.  Our preaching thus becomes more humanistic than godly.   


Paul clearly states that the gospel itself is the power that leads people to salvation.  That means we must preach the real gospel, not an adulterated or rethought gospel.  Any changes to the gospel changes the gospel to be something other than what it is meant to be.  This changed gospel has no power to lead anyone to salvation.  This might well be one reason why much of the gospel preaching is ineffective today.  It's because it's not the pure gospel.  It is powerless, perverted gospel.     


Paul then says that the gospel is first to the Jew and then to the Gentile.  This is a principle that is seen throughout the Bible.  First comes the Jew, and then comes the Gentile.  God chose Abraham to be the father of a special race of people that He would call His people.  These are Jews.  Paul demonstrated this in his preaching.  The first place he would always preach was in the Jewish synagogues.  From there, and it was usually because the Jews rejected him, he'd go to the Gentiles.    


At this point I should say that the Jews are first.  They aren't special, because they are any better than Gentiles, because that is not the case.  Paul will make that plain later when he says that both groups have sinned and have fallen short of God's glory.  The specialness of the Jews is their calling, their God given role among the nations.  Israel was meant to be a priest to the nations as seen in Exodus 19:6 and Isaiah 49:6.  It's their role that is special and distinctive, not them as a people.  There is a big difference between being special because of who you are and being special because of what you do, a difference that many miss.


God chose Abraham to be special.  Again, Abraham wasn't any better than anyone else.  When God chose him he was a polytheistic pagan.  It wasn't because Abraham was special that God chose him.  It was because God had a special role for Abraham to play among the nations.  It was his role that was special, not he himself.


Verse 17 is key to the rest of the book.  Paul introduces the fact that righteousness is by faith.  What does that mean? 


First of all, faith is trust.  So, when Paul says that righteousness is by faith, he means that righteousness comes through trusting Jesus.  That is what faith means in relation to Jesus and the gospel. 


Secondly, righteousness simply means living the right way, according to God's definition of right and not ours.  We will see later that there are two aspects to Biblical righteousness.  One aspect is seen in the way we live.  We either live righteously, as God would have us live, or, we live in an unrighteous manor, not as God would have us live.  The other aspect is that God views us as living right, even though we are not living right.  It is the second aspect that Paul is speaking of here.  We will see that because of the cross of Christ, God now views the believer as if he was completely righteous, even though he is far from righteous.  We'll spend much more time on this later.  


In theological terms, what I've just said is called "imparted righteousness" and "imputed righteousness".  Imparted righteousness is the righteousness that is worked in and through us with the help of the Holy Spirit.  That is to say, as we grow in Christ, we become more righteous.  Imputed righteousness means that God views us as being righteous even when we are far from righteous.  The fact that Jesus lives the perfect life, satisfying the justice of God, makes it possible for us to be seen as righteous.  


It is important to understand that just because God views us as being righteous, does not give us an excuse to not grow in righteousness.  We take advantage of God's grace when we merely accept this imputed righteousness from Him and fail to allow Him to make us more righteous than we presently are.   

Paul quotes from Habakkuk 4:2 when he says that "the righteous shall live by faith".  This is one well known statement.  This statement is seen by many to say that our righteous standing before God is due to our faith, or, our trust in Jesus.  That being said, many Hebrew scholars say we should understand the text this way.  The righteous shall live by His (God's) faith, or, trustworthiness.  I view Habakkuk 4:2 the second way, mainly because our faith is less stable than God's faithfulness.  If things depended on our faith, little would be accomplished.        


You might wonder that if our righteous standing is now by faith in Jesus, was it always that way?  Many believe those living in Old Testament days were viewed by God as being righteous when they obeyed the Law.  Paul will later point out that Abraham was declared righteous before there was any Law of God spoken to Moses.  Abraham was actually declared to be a man of God, not by works of the Law but by faith.     


The NIV states that maintaining the righteous declaration that God places on those who trust Him is by faith from first to last.  The Greek actually does not say from first to last but "from faith to faith".  Therefore, we maintain this righteous declaration as we learn to trust Him from one test of faith to the next.  As was the case with Abraham himself, our faith is often faulty, and therefore needs to be strengthened.  The strengthening of our faith comes through trials which causes us to trust Jesus more than we presently do.  When we pass each of these tests of faith, we trust more.  So, it's from faith to faith, from one step of faith to the next step of faith.  


I grew up in an Evangelical world that stressed salvation by faith, but then stressed you stay saved by doing certain things and by not doing other certain things.  That's not what Paul is saying here.  We get saved by faith and not by works and we stay saved by faith and not by good works.      


Romans 1:17 is often associated with Martin Luther.  It is this verse that formed the foundation of his life once its understanding was made clear to him.  A lot of good has come from Martin Luther and his teaching, but, it is important to know that even Luther didn't fully grasp the full meaning to this verse, or so I think.  He still maintained certain practices that compromised the meaning of this verse, one of which was the baptizing of babies into the church and salvation.  A baby does not have faith and therefore infant baptism does not constitute salvation.                                 


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