Friday, September 29, 2006

Romans 1:1-4

1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God - 2the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3regarding His Son, who as to His human nature was a descendant of David, 4and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul calls himself “a servant.” “Servant” is the Greek word, doulos, which means “slave” or “bondservant” or “devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests.” Paul was humbly bound to Christ. He was not serving Himself, nor was he lording his influence over his brethren, but he was serving Jesus, a dead man to the world. Paul had become a slave, a voluntary slave, of Christ. Paul was Christ’s slave, because Christ bought him. To some people this is an offensive image. They resist the idea of being anyone’s slave. The reason for this is twofold: (1) our images of slavery are all negative; we envision abusive task-masters, and (2) our definition of freedom does not include slavery.

What does it mean to be a slave? What does it mean to be free? Webster’s defines “free” as: (1) “not subject to the control or domination of another” or (2) “not determined by anything beyond one’s own nature or being” or (3) “relieved from something burdensome” or (4) “not bound, confined, or detained by force” or (5) “having no obligations.” These definitions require us to think about what it means when Scripture says in John 8:36: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” and again in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 7:22-23: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God…For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price…”

I suggest that Christians are both free and slaves. We are free from sin, but not free to disobey Christ. We are slaves no longer to sin, but to Christ and His law. What about non-Christians? The freedom / slavery issue is a major theme in Romans, and we’ll discuss it more as we go along.

Paul considers himself “called” and “set apart.” Paul was called to be an apostle. He was set apart for the gospel. Paul’s significance was not in what he did, but in what had been done to him. This first verse does not tell us who Paul is, but Whose Paul is. He had authority to teach, and that authority came from God. He came humbly knowing that the authority to teach was not from himself. He did not determine that he had authority. God determined that. Are we called to be apostles? Not in the sense of Paul - but we are "sent ones." "We are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10). Are we set apart for the gospel? Maybe. When was Paul set apart? From birth or from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15). This means that before Paul was called, confronted by Christ, on the Damascus road and before he was even born, God set him apart for the gospel. God prepared Paul from his mother’s womb to be His slave for the gospel—which is an astonishing thing when you realize the pathway that led from the womb to the Damascus road, namely, Paul’s unbelief and persecution of the church. Do you see God’s involvement here? God took no chances. It was certain, fixed, predetermined, that Paul would serve Christ before Paul was born. There was no contingency plan. This was it. God’s purpose cannot fail. Plan A is all God has. And it is certain to come to pass. Does this offend you? Does this decrease Paul’s freedom? No. Now, Scripture offers evidence of multiple callings: Calling to service; calling to salvation; etc. We’ll come back to this theme later.

The gospel was promised beforehand by God. The promise was revealed through the prophets in Holy Scripture. The New Testament presentation of the grace of God in Jesus Christ in the gospel is the fruition or fulfillment of what God had already set forth in the Old Testament Scriptures. Did God keep the promise? Yes! When was the promise made? Proverbs 8:23 “[Christ] was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.” 1 Peter 1:20 “[Christ] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” Ephesians 1:4-5 “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love [God] predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will.” Revelation 17:8 “The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast.”

What are the implications of these verses? We could discuss predestination / foreknowledge / foresight / free will / God’s sovereignty for days, and we will discuss these topics as we work through Romans. For now, we can safely say that God foresaw the need for a Savior before creating the universe. He knew more than that mankind-to-come could sin; He knew that they would sin. Thus, He appointed Christ before creation. Therefore, God’s will was that evil should come into the world. Do you agree or disagree? I suggest that God’s primary purpose in creating the universe was to glorify His Son as Savior, and a Savior would only be needed if there was sin, or evil.

The gospel is regarding Christ. Christ is the Word, the gospel, promised and slain, fulfilled, before creation. The gospel is not about man and his response. The gospel is about God and His redemptive plan through His Son and by His Spirit; the gospel is about His grace, His mercy, His justice, His holiness, His love, and ultimately His glory. Christ was both a man, in the line of David according to the Scriptures, and the Son of God. One Person–Two Natures. Historic Christians argued about this for 400 years. Do you get it? Christ was no longer lowly in the human state, but He was declared powerful by His resurrection. He was called Lord, because He defeated death. Believers were devastated when He died. But His true power was revealed by and in His resurrection. This is why Christianity falls without the resurrection.

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