Sermon: Romans — Gospel Power

15 Apr

Below is a lightly edited manuscript of a sermon which provides an overview of the book of Romans, delivered by Scott Frady at West Hickory Baptist Church on April 15, 2018.

We live in a sound bite culture. We digest information in small pieces. We pay attention to headlines, to bumper stickers, to tweets and texts. We are not so good at digesting more than this. Our attention span is weak. Most of us rarely read an article if it is more than a page or two. Most of us have trouble sitting through a movie unless it is action-packed. And for sure we have trouble sitting attentively through a sermon. We have trouble following a person’s argument for or against something if it goes on for very long. So I recognize that my aim today of preaching through the whole book of Romans in one sermon is counter to our culture. How does a pastor preach through the whole book of Romans in one sermon? We are about to find out. I think it is so important for us as Christians to get the big picture. First, we need to read through the whole Bible and get a big picture of how it all fits together. Then as we come to read individual books of the Bible, it is good for us to see how individual books of the Bible fit together as well.

As we read together through the Bible as a church and spend this quarter in the letters of the New Testament I thought it would be helpful to us this morning to lead us through an overview of the book of Romans. As you have been reading through Romans, you may have found many encouraging sound bites but you may not be grasping the overall message of the book. If you have felt this way as we have been studying through the book then I invite you to listen with special attention today.

On one level this will be a very simple message. We will be looking first at the Argument of the Book of Romans and then at the Applications that flow from that Argument. So it’s just a two point sermon today. But as we look at these two points, we will find one of the most treasured books in all the Bible and the greatest explanation of the gospel in the world.

 Let’s look first at THE ARGUMENT OF THE BOOK OF ROMANS

Romans really is a masterpiece. Following the introduction, which brings out Paul’s heart for the nations and the Church and the fulfillment of God’s plan in Christ, Paul unfolds the theme of Romans in 1:16, 17 – 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” The powerful gospel reveals the righteousness of God and enables the righteousness of God to be active in the life of anyone who believes.

Romans 1:18-3:20 tells us we start not with God’s righteousness but with God’s wrath. 1For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. We need God’s righteousness because we are under God’s wrath. The focus of chapter one is on the fact that the Gentiles are under God’s wrath and the final words of the chapter sound like they were ripped from today’s newspaper 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Do we not live in a world that demands not only that we give people the freedom to do all sorts of things God says are wrong but also demands that we approve of people who are living in sin? The people of Romans 1 have suppressed what they knew of God from looking at the Creation. They ignored His power and majesty, pushed those things down. So God gave them over to their sin. But it is not only the Gentiles, who are under God’s wrath. The Jews, the nation God chose in the Old Testament, the nation through whom God would bring salvation, are also under wrath. In 2:1-3:8 Paul makes it clear that the moralist, even with religious privileges, fails the internal test. There are still inward desires and outward actions even among those with a religious background which bring the wrath of God. So the devastating crescendo of 3:9-20 comes crashing down What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Jew and Gentile are under sin and deserving of the wrath of God and His judgment.

After giving the bad news, Paul turns to the good news. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. God has made a provision of His righteousness to take away His wrath. Righteousness apart from the law, because chapter 2 showed us the law is insufficient to save, has been revealed. Faith in Jesus Christ brings God’s righteousness for all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike, so that God gets the glory and we get the blessing.

Faith in God’s provision of righteousness through the shed blood of Christ is the key and this is illustrated by the father of the Jews, Abraham. In chapter 4 Paul explains that Abraham was not justified by works or ritual but by faith. In this way Abraham is not simply the father of the Jews but the father of all who believe. Paul uses Abraham in this way to take away any thought from the Jews that their heritage saved them. If Abraham their forefather according to the flesh, was saved by faith, how much more shall they be saved by faith.

With chapter five, Paul turns from talking about how we are saved and set free from wrath and counted righteous to a discussion of how that righteousness actually is at work in our lives. Chapter 5 opens with the wonderful truth that through our Lord Jesus Christ we have peace with God, joy in the hope of the glory of God, joy even in our sufferings because we know God uses them to develop perseverance, character and hope in us, and we have escape from the wrath of God.

Chapter 5:12-21 brings out the contrast between Adam and Jesus. In Adam, because of his sin, all are dead. In Christ, because of His death, all sinners who trust Him are made alive. This passage teaches us that Adam’s sin was counted against us and we follow in his steps by sinning ourselves. But the good news is that through faith in the dying and rising of Christ, the righteousness of Jesus Christ is counted for us and He gives us a new nature so that we can obey God and live a life of spiritual maturity. Our union with Christ doesn’t just forgive us, it changes us.

In chapter 6, Paul takes up the issue of change by addressing whether there is any need for it. Using an imaginary opponent, Paul asks many questions and gives strong answers. Since we’re forgiven, should we just keep on sinning? No way, because we are united with Christ. No way, because sinning leads to more sinning and we become enslaved to sin. No way, because sinning disregards the sacrifice of the cross. This is the argument of chapter six, answering this question of sin in light of the truths of justification and union with Christ.

Chapter 7 is difficult and there are differences among Bible-believing people about this passage. I think the big picture is helpful here before we get into the specifics. We have to take chapter 7 with chapter 8, they go together. Chapter 7 is the negative side of the argument; our flesh and the law cannot keep us from sinning. Chapter 8 is the positive side of the argument; our union with Christ and the Spirit can sanctify us and keep us and bless us. So we’ve got to keep chapter 8 in mind in order to understand chapter 7.

The big point to take away from chapter 7 is that anyone who tries to make progress in life with God through following external commands will fail. We don’t fight sin through supreme discipline and self-effort. We will fail every time. Just as we must have a deliverance from outside ourselves to be saved, so we must have an external power to be holy. And the truth of Romans is that the way to be saved and the way to be holy are found in the same place: the person and work of Jesus Christ. We fight sin because we have received God’s righteousness through faith in Christ and there and only there can we see real deliverance from this body of death.

The law is good, but the flesh is bad, so the law has no power to enable us to live obediently.

But thanks be to God, there is Romans 8. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! And those who are in union with Christ by faith are not only not condemned they are also enabled by the Holy Spirit to gain victory over sin and death and to be brought into the family of God and into an eternity of glory, which nothing can take away from us. In the meantime, as we groan through the sufferings of this life awaiting future glory, we can trust that God is working in all things for good and that He is carrying out His plan among us through the golden chain of salvation. Listen to the glorious plan of God in Romans 8 . . . 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Having dealt with God’s righteousness in salvation on an individual scale in chapters 6-8, Paul in chapters 9-11 turns His eyes to God’s plan of salvation in the world. How is it that God can be righteous and yet reject the people of Israel, whom He had so blessed with great covenant promises? Paul makes it clear in chapter 9 that God’s word has not failed but that not all Israel by birth are truly the people of God. Paul says in chapter 9 that God’s righteousness is bound up in His choice and what He chooses is right, because He is righteous. Paul shows that God has always been choosing, even within the family of Israel he chose Jacob and rejected Esau. Israel rejected Jesus, clinging to the law.

And so in chapter 10, Paul is heartbroken over the lost state of his kinsmen according to the flesh and longs for them to be saved. Yet the message of chapter 10 is that Israel is still unrepentant. So how will God be true to His Word with this people He had chosen who had so largely turned away from Him? This is the question Paul addresses in chapter 11.

Paul points out first that God has not rejected all of Israel for there is a remnant of Jews who have turned to Jesus as Messiah. And the rejection is not final. The Gentiles are being brought into the tree of salvation to arouse the jealousy of the Jews, that they might seek Christ. Paul points to a final turning of Jews back to God in 11:25-32. Then Paul concludes this section with the great doxology of chapter 11:33-36. This seems to function as a word of praise for the whole first eleven chapters.

So what is left to say? For Paul, his focus now turns to what this great salvation looks like on a daily basis, how is the righteousness of God lived out among the people of God? Chapter 12 points to personal commitment of our lives to the Lord, this is what our April memory verses are about, “offer yourselves as living sacrifices.” Paul then turns to how we live as the church, how we use the  gifts God has given us in the church body, and how to relate to one another. Chapter 13:1-14 tells us how the Christian should relate to earthly authorities and to the world around us. Chapter 14:1-15:13 moves us back into relationships in the local church. Whereas chapter 12 was telling us more the positive behaviors to affirm, chapter 14 is helping believers walk through the challenges of living righteously together. Paul says we are not under the law and we don’t have to keep food laws or other ceremonies, but he does not look down on those who do. He urges the believers in Rome not to judge each other over such things. Our freedom in Christ should open us to love, not cause conflict between each other.

Paul concludes by explaining his mission to Spain and his calling to take this message of the gospel of God’s righteousness to places that haven’t heard. Chapter 16 concludes with Paul’s greetings to those in the church in Rome, a warning about those who cause divisions in the church, greetings from Paul’s co-workers, and a beautiful doxology which brings together several key themes in the letter.

Let’s finish up this morning by looking at several APPLICATIONS OF THE BOOK OF ROMANS

What are the key truths we take away from our reading of the book of Romans?

Universal guilt. The book of Romans makes it clear that there is no one righteous. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. We need to hear this message in our nation today in the way that Romans gives it to us. We are prone to diminish this idea in our world. We say things like, “Nobody’s perfect” or “everybody makes mistakes.” But God says, “All have sinned.” The wrong we have done is first and foremost an offense against our Creator God. And this sin means that we are under God’s wrath. We don’t just have a few faults or some problems we are utterly lost and under God’s judgement and destined for eternal hell. If the book of Romans stopped at chapter 3 verse 20, it would be the saddest book ever written. But universal guilt is not the end of the story. Because the book of Romans also speaks of . . .

Universal salvation (no distinction between Jew and Gentile). Now don’t misunderstand. I am not saying the book of Romans teaches that everyone will be saved. That is a heresy you won’t find in the Bible anywhere. Some will be judged. By what I mean by universal salvation is that through Christ salvation is available to all kinds of people. Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, young and old, all may come to God through Jesus Christ. We are freed from the wrath of God through faith in Christ.

Salvation is greater than we think. The early chapters of Romans speak to our being justified (set free from the penalty of sin and given peace with God). The middle chapters of Romans speak of our sanctification (being set free from the power of sin in this life and living a life of holiness by the power of the Spirit). And the middle chapters speak of glorification (our future with the Lord when we will be set free from the presence of sin). And it doesn’t stop there. Romans tells us that the whole creation has been corrupted by Adam’s sin but in its groaning it will one day be renewed. And the book of Romans tells us even as salvation is available to Jew and Gentile alike, God has not forgotten His people, whom He foreknew but has planned a great ingathering of the Jewish people in the last days. So how great is this salvation we enjoy? How great is the work of God in our midst? How great is the work Jesus has accomplished? The truth of the greatness of our salvation should cause us to see that there is nothing more significant than Jesus and His kingdom. The gospel changes everything!

The gospel is the power of God. As we said last week the gospel is powerful. But it is a directed power, a power directed toward salvation, toward a good end. It is not raw power that just destroys and conquers, it is directed power that restores and builds up. The gospel is the power of God.

We also learn from Romans that salvation changes all our relationships.  The first chapters of Romans definitely tell us salvation changes our relationship with God but chapters 12-16 also tell us that salvation changes our relationships with others as well. Because we have been so well-loved by Jesus, we are secure in our identity in Him and so we are free to surrender our hearts and lives first to God and then to live as a loving member of our new family: the church. We can even submit to outside authorities and live among those who do not know Jesus in a peaceable way. And when conflicts arise in the body of believers, we can look for solutions instead of running into our corners or building walls of division. A healthy local church is one of the greatest demonstrations of the power of the gospel in the world because in it you have the gathering of diverse people who are there united in love to worship and serve Jesus.

Another application we see in the book of Romans is that Doctrinal rigor is not the enemy of active ministry, it fuels active ministry. Sometimes people that are concerned with doctrine and theology are perceived as being all about the head and not about the heart or the hands and feet. In other words we have this idea that there are thinkers and then there are doers. But nothing could be further from the truth. Paul was the great missionary pioneer. He was buy with travel and occupied with ministry for years. And yet he took time to write the book of Romans and many other books of the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So the great missionary was also the great thinker. His meditations on the gospel fueled his passion for ministry and his passion for ministry fueled his thinking about the gospel. All that to say we would be making a deadly mistake as a church to set aside theology in an attempt to reach people. Because there comes a point when you have to ask: if you’re not reaching them with truth, what are you reaching them with? Everything else: programs, personalities, all the rest, will fade away. But the souls of people and the truth of God will remain. Woe to us if we turn away from knowing and loving and joyfully sharing the truth. Paul proves you can be deeply theological and deeply relational, just look at all the co-workers he lists in chapter 16.

We also see in our survey of Romans this: Since the gospel is for all who believe we should make every effort to take the gospel to those who have never heard. We need to recapture good and God-honoring ambition. Selfish ambition is always wrong, but an ambition for God to be glorified through us is a good thing. And God is glorified as His gospel goes out into the world. Paul’s ambition, expressed in Romans 15, was to preach Jesus where He had not been named. We too are called to that ministry. We can all be a part of Jesus’ plan to take the gospel to the nations. And it’s not an either/or thing. It’s not either local evangelism or global missions. It’s both. That’s why we are having an Evangelism Conference at the end of this month and then in November we are having a Missions Conference, because we believe both are important and both deserve our special attention.

Finally, we see in the book of Romans that God’s Glory and Our Joy Are Not at Odds. Some people seem so God-centered that they don’t care about people and others are so people-centered that they scarcely bring God into the conversation. Romans shows the uselessness of both approaches. God’s glory is demonstrated by His mercy to sinners. Our joy is found in His grace toward us. God’s glory therefore is most clearly seen in His saving work. As John Piper has said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

As we come to the end of this message I don’t think there is a much better way to end than to remember Paul’s words in Romans 11:33-36 . . .

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34   “For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?”

35   “Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

 

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