Romans 1:8-17 – The Gospel is the Power of God

Romans 1:8-17 – The Gospel is the Power of God

  • First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you,
    • because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.
  • For God is my witness,
    • whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son,
    • that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers,
      • asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.
        • For I long to see you,
        • that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you
        • that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
  • I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,
    • that I have often intended to come to you
    • (but thus far have been prevented),
      • in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.
  • I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians,
    • both to the wise and to the foolish.
    • So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
  • 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 for faith,
      • as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

YOUR FAITH IS PROCLAIMED IN ALL THE WORLD

After the Apostle Paul’s introduction, the first thing he wanted to tell them was he was thankful to God for them. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you.” [v8 ESV]. So there was a purpose in corresponding with the church at Rome. He loved these people although he had never met them and he was looking forward to seeing them.

Paul was thankful for them because their faith was proclaimed throughout the whole world. Rome was the center of the Roman Empire, so it was common for people to travel to this city for business and politics and they would bring back stories about what was happening. For those who were interested in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they would visit with the church and bring word back and forth.

The word “world” has many different meanings in the Scriptures. Sometimes, it is used to refer to everyone but the saved (Joh 15:9,18); or only the saved (Joh 3:16); or God’s creation (Heb 1:2; 11:3) or the physical world (Joh 1:9); or all the people in the world (Joh 17:9); or as among men (Joh 12:46; 18:20); and there are several other meanings. However, when Paul mentioned the world, he was not speaking of the entire world but of the common and known world, consisting mainly of the Mediterranean area.

In a sense Paul is using hyperbole, but it is important to pause and pay attention to his use of the term world . . . When we think of the world, we typically have in mind the entire planet. We think of the continents and all the people who live in far-off places. However, when first century people spoke of the world, they were speaking of the known world, which, in their case, was the Mediterranean world. Therefore, Paul is expressing joy that people throughout the Mediterranean world are talking about the faith of the Roman Christians; their faith has made an impact. [RC Sproul, Romans. pg 26].

Nonetheless, the church in Rome was known for its faith. Many churches are known for their size; others are known for their famous preachers – some who preach the Word and some who try to be unique. What are we known for? We should strive to be known for our faith.

WITHOUT CEASING I MENTION YOU ALWAYS IN MY PRAYERS

The Apostle Paul, who admonished the Thessalonians – and us – to pray without ceasing (1Th 5:17), told the Roman Christians he mentioned them in his prayers “without ceasing.” [v9]. And he vowed this to them, “For God is my witness.” [v9 ESV]. This is an incredible encouragement to them and he has encouraged them on three levels:

  1. I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you;
  2. Your faith is proclaimed in all the world; and
  3. Without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers.

He invoked this vow to assure them of his intense desire to visit and minister with them: “asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.” [v10 ESV]. He longed to see them so he could impart a spiritual gift to strengthen them (v11) and “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” [v12 ESV]. This spiritual gift Paul referred to was not was is commonly called charismatic gifts, “but about establishing believers in confidence and maturity in their faith.” [RC Sproul, Romans, pg 29]. We should seek to mutually encourage our brothers in the Lord; not a mere pat on the back, but a digging in the Word together and building each other up in the faith.

Paul wanted his faith to establish theirs, and their faith to establish his. Christians grow rich by an exchange of spiritual commodities; and I am afraid some Christians are very poor because they do not engage in the spiritual bartering with one another. [Spurgeon’s Verse Exposition on Romans, pg 12].

He reminded them of his service in the Gospel “whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son.” [v9 ESV]. It was always his desire to preach the Gospel. This should be the desire of all ministers but, sadly, this isn’t so. Most preachers today preach psychology or syncretism and try to help you focus on having a better, moral life – and they throw in a few Scriptures to make their point. The gospel they preach is man-centric or self-centric. The true Gospel always directs us away from ourselves and toward Jesus Christ.

The gospel is the possession of Jesus, but, even more, Jesus is the heart of the content of the gospel. We use it so glibly in the church today. Preachers say they preach the gospel, but if you listen to them preach Sunday after Sunday, we hear very little gospel in what they are preaching. The term gospel has become a nickname for preaching anything rather than something with definitive content. [RC Sproul, Romans, pg 27].

Paul put his desire to come and see them into God’s hands (v10). The Apostle James (4:13-17) warned us against boasting of our plans or acting like we are in control and admonished us, instead, to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” [Jam 4:15 ESV]. Near the end of this letter, Paul assured the Romans again he hoped to see them on his way to Spain – and they could help send him on his way (15:24,28). But he still left this in God’s hands: “so that by God’s will I may come to you.” [15:32 ESV]. Leaving this in God’s hands, Paul never could have imagined how this was going to come about.

Paul wanted to go to Rome; but I do not suppose that he ever thought he would go there at the expense of the government. . . We pray, and God gives us the answer to our petitions; but often in a way of which we should never have dreamed. Paul goes to Rome as a prisoner for Christ’s sake. Now suppose Paul had gone to Rome in any other capacity, he could not have seen Caesar, he could not have obtained admission into Caesar’s house. The prison of the Palatine was just under the vast palace of the Caesars; and everyone in the house could come into the guard-room and have a talk with Paul if they were minded to do so. . . but Paul was installed as a royal chaplain over Caesar’s household in the guard-room of the Palatine prison. How wonderfully God works to accomplish His divine purposes! [Spurgeon’s Verse Exposition on Romans, pg 11-12].

Previously, Paul had been prevented from coming to them, though he often intended to do so (v13). All things happen in God’s time and according to God’s will or purpose. Paul’s desire was “that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.” [v13 ESV]. And God set him up among Caesar’s household, so that when he was imprisoned in Rome a special harvest was reaped.

I AM NOT ASHAMED

Paul wrote he was “under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians.” [v14 ESV]. He did not say “Jew and Greek” or “Jew and Gentile.” This was because his primary ministry was to the Gentiles (Act 18:6; 22:21). Of the Gentiles, the Greek represented culture and civility, while the barbarians represented pagan culture and lifestyle.

He said his obligation also extended to the wise and foolish. His debt was to preach the Gospel to all. This was a debt he owed to God, who has richly saved him. Because of this debt, he was “eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” [v15 ESV].

If we are saved – if God has redeemed us from darkness and brought us into His light (Col 1:13-14) – does it not follow we are indebted to others to point them to Christ? If we minister the Gospel, do we limit it to church? or do we limit it to clean, respectable people? or are we willing to speak the Gospel to the pagan, the rude, the filthy – the barbarians? Paul said he was not ashamed. He was overwhelmed with his obligation to spread the Gospel and he was not ashamed.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” [v16 ESV]. Many Christians profess this but then they apologize for God’s wrath or they try to explain away difficult Scriptures, such as Romans chapter 9. They want God to look good and be accepted by the world’s standards.

Many years ago, I was in a men’s prayer group. We prayed at least once a month for our church, during the church service. Most the men in the group were praying for God’s work in our church and in our lives – often praying for revival in our church and in the community. But there was one man who consistently prayed the same prayer and he prayed at the end, as if to wrap every thing up. His prayer was that in our zeal, we might not embarrass God or make Him look bad. What about you? Are you worried too much zeal for the Gospel will make God look bad? Are you, too, ashamed of the Gospel? Jesus warned if we are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of us (Mar 8:38; Luk 9:26).

That is the real crunch for many Christians. They want to be Secret Service Christians. They do not want to be known as “holier than thou.” They know if they say one word to their friends about Christ, they will be accused of trying to shove the gospel down their throats. [RC Sproul, Romans, pg 31].

In [Martin Luther’s last sermon, he] expressed concern about the gospel. He had warned people on prior occasions that any time the gospel is preached accurately and passionately, it will bring conflict, and since people flee from conflict, every generation will tend to water down or hide the gospel, allowing it to be eclipsed by darkness as it had been for centuries before the Reformation. At the time of Luther’s death [two days later] such an eclipse was already occurring in Germany. [RC Sproul, Romans, pg 31-32].

Jesus said He came to bring a sword – to bring division (Mat 10:34; Luk 12:51). This division would even be within one’s own household. Nonetheless, we are called to stand firm rather than change the Gospel so that it will be acceptable to the hearer.

Paul said he was not ashamed of the Gospel because “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” [v16 ESV]. If we believe the Gospel is the power of God for salvation, why are so many preachers resorting to psychology to persuade men, or they build their sermons around unique technologies, or they resort to syncretizing with the world’s wisdom, such as positive motivation techniques? They might include Scripture to make their point but it is not the Word they preach – the Word they claim not to be ashamed of. Jesus said for man to be born again, for man to believe, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” [Joh 6:63 ESV]. God said through the Prophet Isaiah, His Word will never return void or empty (Isa 55:11). So, why do we resort to other strategies rather than keeping to the Word of God?

The foolishness of preaching is the method God has chosen to save the world. That is why Paul said he was not ashamed. He wanted to preach the gospel because it is the power of God to salvation. It is not the power of the preacher’s eloquence or the power of the preacher’s education; it is the power of God. [RC Sproul, Romans, pg 33].

Are you afraid to proclaim God’s judgment against those who refuse the Gospel? Or do you proclaim, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”? I have been accused of condemning people because I warn them of an eternity in Hell. It is more popular to affirm they are in God’s love than to warn them their souls are at stake. The fact of the matter is, the Gospel proclaims those who are saved are loved by God; those who are not are under God’s wrath – not His love – and they face an eternity in Hell. Will you slap them on their back on their way to Hell or will you warn them by proclaiming the Gospel? Do you fear man or God?

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. [Joh 3:36 ESV].

among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [Eph 2:3 ESV].

Paul said this salvation is “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” [v16 ESV]. Earlier, he wrote about being under obligation to Greek and barbarian and we noted his ministry was to the Gentile. Now, however, he makes a distinction between Jew and Gentile. He said “to the Jew first.” This is because the law was given to the Jew and so, too, was the Messiah and the Gospel. More of this in chapters nine, ten and eleven.

THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD REVEALED IN THE GOSPEL

Paul ended this segment with the core theme of the Epistle to the Romans. He said, the Gospel, which he is not ashamed of, reveals the righteousness of God. How is the righteousness of God revealed in the Gospel?

  1. God is righteous; He is holy (Isa 5:16). We are sinful and separated from God (Isa 59:2; Rom 3:23).
  2. To demonstrate His righteousness, God was willing to crush His Son to satisfy His wrath on our behalf (Isa 53:10; Rom 3:24-26).
  3. Christ, the righteous and sinless one took our sin, and now God sees us as righteous through His Son (1Pe 3:18; 2Co 5:21).

What did Paul mean when he said the righteousness of God is revealed “from faith for faith”? Many people look at the Old Testament as mainly the Law and the Prophets – or rules and condemnation. They fail to see the Gospel and the Promises. In the Old Testament, living the Law as God required was an act of faith. They knew man cannot live up to the law and the sacrifices were a type of the future final sacrifice which would satisfy God’s wrath against them. But most Jews resorted to live a life of works, trusting on their Abrahamic lineage (election) and their good works for their salvation. So the term “from faith for faith” or “to faith” indicates our righteousness in God’s sight has always been by faith. In the past, looking forward to Christ’s righteousness and satisfaction of God’s wrath and in the present, looking back at Christ’s sacrifice.

The just shall live by faith: this is the core of the epistle and it was the core of the Reformation. At the heart of the Reformation was an opposition to the unscriptural practices of the Roman Catholic Church which required works, penance and sacraments in addition to faith for salvation. Much of Roman Catholic doctrine was true and some still is true. However, what began with a little false doctrine has, through the years leavened into heretical apostasy. The Reformation was a movement to get back to the Scriptures and adding nothing to them. Here are the five solas of the Reformation:

  1. Sola Fide, by faith alone.
  2. Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
  3. Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
  4. Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
  5. Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.

“The just shall live by faith” was first given by God to Habakkuk and has been repeated here, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38.

In its original context, Habakkuk was deeply distressed. The people of God were being invaded by pagans, the pagans were triumphing, and Habakkuk was confused. . . Then Habakkuk stood in his watchtower and set himself on the rampart, waiting to see what God would say to him. . . Do you ever feel tension because the promises of God do not show up when you want them to? You cry and say, “God, where are You in this?” That was the complaint of Habakkuk, and yet the God we worship is a promise-keeping God. He tells Habakkuk to be patient. [RC Sproul, Romans, pg 34].

God promised Habakkuk justice upon the ungodly.

. . . If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. . . but the righteous shall live by his faith. [Hab 2:3-4 ESV].

There is little justice in this life and it appears more often the wicked prosper. Many do not choose to follow Christ because they want their best life now and they are willing to sacrifice an eternity without God for the approval of their peers. The Psalmist Asaph struggled with this and recorded it in Psalm chapter 73 (ESV):

. . . But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. . . Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. . . But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! . . . When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. . . I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith. Trust in the Lord: His promises will be as He said – no matter how it looks like things are going in this world. The just or righteous will live by faith.

IN CLOSING

The church in Rome was known for their faith. Do we strive to identify with this world? or do we look for a unique niche? If our identity is in Christ, we should strive to be known for our faith.

Paul was very eager to travel to Rome and meet the people to encourage them in the faith. He also wanted to go to Spain. However, he left these desires in God’s hands and allowed God to use his desires for God’s glory. Paul never went to Spain and his journey to Rome was nothing like he had envisioned, but God was glorified. Do we leave our desires in God’s hands? or do we try to make things happen for our glory?

Most professing Christians will claim they are not ashamed of the Gospel. However, when the world disagrees with the Gospel, they try to make God look good: they are embarrassed about God’s wrath and try to minimize it; they proclaim God’s love to those under His judgment; and they tell people God loves them the way they are, rather than proclaim repentance. Are you worried how God appears to the world or do you proclaim the Gospel?

If the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, why do we need to add anything to it?

Examine yourself: Do you live by faith? or do you strive for the approval of your peers? Jesus warned us if we live for man’s approval and are willing to glorify others to gain their approval, how can we believe and be saved (Joh 5:44). We cannot satisfy man and God or the world and God. We live by faith – nothing added or we are bound for eternal destruction.

If your life is marked by a preoccupation with your advancement in this world rather than the advancement of the kingdom of God, there is something terribly wrong. – Paul Washer

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