Yesterday morning, I was able to preach the second of two sermons on Romans 1:16—focused primarily upon the power of the gospel to save sinners. Although Paul could have phrased his joy in the gospel in a positive manner, he used a negative construction to point out that while the whole world views the gospel as utter foolishness—Paul views and understands it to be the power of God unto salvation.
When was the last time you paused to consider how weak we are in the flesh? The best human effort will fall far short of what God requires for salvation. There is nothing that we can bring to God that will impress him and cause him to take away our sin. On our very best day as a human being, we would earn eternal hell rather than the glory of heaven. Paul points to the gospel as our need and as God’s means to bring about the ends of salvation among the nations.
God will never be satisfied with human effort and the human will is incapable of desiring God in the natural state. Apart from God’s grace that comes through the power of the gospel—sinners would never repent and believe the gospel. Man cannot work his way to God, will his way to God, or worship his way to God. R.C. Sproul once said, “Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God’s grace and God’s grace alone for our salvation.” John the apostle makes this abundantly clear in the early pages of his Gospel account as he writes, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
When Paul speaks about the “power” of God—he is not referencing the omnipotence or specific attribute of God. Rather, Paul is referencing the power of the gospel itself which God uses to bring dead sinners to life spiritually. That’s why Paul did not depend on his own power when preaching the gospel, but the power of the gospel and he made this quite clear as he wrote to the church at Corinth (see 1 Cor. 2:4-5). It was not the power of Paul’s words or his cleverly constructed cliches that brought about the conversion of people in various cities. It was the power of the gospel as God’s design to bring about the salvation of all of God’s elect for the eternal glory of God.
Charles Spurgeon understood this point as well. He would ascend his lofty pulpit repeating to himself each step of the way, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in tihe Holy Spirit.” In fact, Spurgeon went on to say:
If we had the Spirit sealing our ministry with power, it would signify very little about talent. Men might be poor and uneducated, their words might be broken and ungrammatical; but if the might of the Spirit attended them, the humblest evangelist would be more successful than the most learned divine, or the most eloquent of preachers.
Paul goes on to make a very powerful statement at the end of Romans 1:16 regarding the fact that God brings people to faith through the power of the gospel and it’s for both the Jew and the Greek. Everyone who believes—implying that there is no person who is more or less “saveable” when it comes to the power of the gospel. God can apply the gospel to any heart of stone and cause the person to be born again. We must have this bold confidence as we minister in our communities each week.
Furthermore, the gospel is not only good news for the Jews, but also for the non-Jew. The gospel is God’s means in the mission to save sinners from every tongue, tribe, people and nation. It’s critical that we see God’s plan to save people beyond the borders of our context and our city. The eternal plan of God is to bring sinners to faith in Christ and to bring about their worship of God that begins at the new birth and culminates in the heavenly worship as we will glorify God and bow to King Jesus among a sea of the redeemed from every imaginable culture, context, and people group on planet earth. John Piper has stated it accurately as he remarked, “The reason missions exists is because worship doesn’t.”
Yesterday morning, in our series through Romans, I was able to preach the first of two sermons on Romans 1:16. The focus of the sermon was the reality of Paul’s love for the gospel bringing him to openly rejoice and promote it in the face of persecution and hostile opposition. Paul was certainly not ashamed of the gospel, but what about us? We live in a prideful society where people are proud of their automobiles, their clothing, and their accomplishments in business or athletics. But it’s becoming less of an acceptable thing in our society to be proud of our connection to Jesus Christ.
Paul’s Positive Pride in the Gospel
Paul could have stated that he was proud of the gospel or happy in the gospel, but instead, he used a negative statement to point out his positive pride. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Paul had been saved by Jesus while on his way to Damascus. Paul understood what it was like to be confused in religion, lost in sin, and under the wrath of God. So, Paul found his ultimate joy and peace in the fact that Jesus had rescued him from the pit of despair and redeemed him. Paul woke up that morning not planning to be saved—but it was Jesus who sought Paul and his life was never the same. What is this gospel that Paul was not ashamed of? Robert Haldane explains:
This Gospel, then, which Paul was ready to preach, and of which he was not ashamed, was the Gospel of God concerning His Son. The term Gospel, which signifies glad tidings, is taken from Isaiah 52:7, and 61:1, where the Messiah is introduced as saying, “The Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings.” 
Paul was not only saved by Jesus—he was also called to be an apostle. The office of an apostle was one of great responsibility—used during the building of the early church to announce the salvation of Jesus Christ and to endure the challenges of Jew and Gentile interaction in the church, persecution from the outside, and perversion of the gospel from within. Paul took his role as an apostle seriously and was not ashamed of the banner of the gospel. He announced far and wide the need for repentance and submission to Jesus.
Powerful Joy Killers in Paul’s Day
Christians were despised in Paul’s day. The climate toward Christianity was not one of great respect. In many cases, followers of Jesus were looked upon as the lowest of society. Jesus had warned about such problems as he spoke to his followers before his crucifixion. Jesus said the following:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours (John 15:18-20).
When we consider how the inner circle of Jesus died, it proves the prophecy of Jesus to be true. Almost every single disciple who was part of the inner circle of Jesus died a horrible and painful death. From crucifixion to mock the fact that they followed after Jesus to being placed in a basin of boiling oil—each man endured the sufferings of Jesus with joy considering it an honor to endure such sufferings.
Paul was not only a chosen instrument for preaching, he was also chosen to suffer for Jesus (Acts 20:29-30). A survey of Paul’s ministry will show you exactly how much he suffered. In his own words, Paul provides a summary in his letter to the church in Corinth (2 Cor. 11:24-27):
- Five different times Jews whipped him with 39 stripes
- Three times he was beaten with rods.
- One time he was stoned, dragged out of the city, and forsaken as dead.
- Three times he suffered shipwreck. A night and a day he spend in the deep.
- Perils of waters – Floods or rivers as he journeyed.
- Perils of robbers – those who would rob him as he was on his journey.
- Perils by his own country men – his own people rejected him.
- Perils by the heathen – the lost and unregenerate wicked ones – persecuted.
- Perils in the city – as he would travel to the city to work or buy food.
- Perils in the wilderness – animals or violent people.
- Perils in the sea – as he was shipwrecked and faced storms etc..
- Perils among false brethren – those who claimed to be Christians.
Paul would later explain in his letter to the church in Rome (Rom. 8:18) that the sufferings of this present world cannot compare to the glory that is yet to be revealed to those who follow Jesus and suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). The whole world viewed Christianity as a helpless, weak, and failed religion. Yet, Paul embraced the bloody cross of Jesus without shame. The world looked to the cross as utter foolishness, but not Paul.
What about you? Are you ashamed of Jesus?
- Robert Haldane, An Exposition of Romans, electronic ed. (Simpsonville, SC: Christian Classics Foundation, 1996), 55.
On February 8th, 2018—I preached in Saint Andrew’s Chapel for the chapel of Reformation Bible College. The text for the sermon was Ephesians 4:1-16 and my goal was to challenge the students and faculty to think earnestly about the need for the local church. Instead of viewing the local church as one of God’s optional blessings in the Christian life—it is indeed God’s will for each and every Christian.
In his commentary on Ephesians, R.C. Sproul has rightly stated, “The church in the New Testament is made up of those who are called out from the world, from darkness, from damnation, from paganism, to become members of the body of Christ.”  The church comes together as a body—and each gift functions as God has designed—to bring about the building up of the church for the glory of God. It doesn’t matter what route we take in life and what occupation we choose—the church of Jesus Christ must be at the center of our lives. Make no mistake about it—that is God’s will.
I want to urge you to remember your need to grow, mature, learn, worship, and serve within the context of a local, tangible, visible, New Testament church for the glory of Christ.
The full sermon is included below (In addition, you can access the Reformation Bible College website where the sermon is posted).
- R. C. Sproul, The Purpose of God: Ephesians (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 95.
Yesterday I preached from Romans 1:1-7, the fourth sermon from these verses, in our series titled, “The Gospel According to Paul” which is an expository study through the book of Romans. The focus of the last two weeks has been four key doctrines that make up the bedrock foundation of Paul’s theology. This Pauline theology also builds the foundation of Romans as a whole.
As I spoke on the doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection and the doctrine of election, I pointed out that doctrine has a practical side too. Below you will find two practical observations that serve as the fruit of such powerful doctrines.
We Can Be Saved
The resurrection of Jesus, with all of the theological layers, points to this practical and helpful reality—it’s possible for man to be saved. What is completely impossible with man is possible with the resurrected Jesus. As the Bible points to the fact that we are dead in our trespasses and sin and completely unable to work our way or will our way to God—salvation must be the work of a sovereign God. We have the absolute confidence that Jesus is capable of saving and possesses the authority to save—something the religious leaders of his day challenged him on—because of the resurrection. Not only does it prove his deity, but the resurrection serves as the validation of his authority to forgive sins.
Likewise, the doctrine of election with all of its layers serves as a reminder that the God who has created the entire universe is capable of organizing a plan and choosing specific people unto himself before the foundations of the world were laid (Eph. 1:1-10).With man, salvation is unattainable and beyond our reach. With God, it’s not only possible—it’s a certainty. God mapped out our salvation long before time and is bringing it about chapter by chapter until the final day when Christ returns (Phil 1:6). Therefore, the doctrine of election should serve as an encouragement rather than a divisive subject.
We Can’t Be Lost
If Jesus rose from the dead, not only is our faith valid—it’s completely secure. In John 10:28-29, Jesus made the powerful point that every person that the Father gives to him will be completely secure and never lost. The resurrection of Jesus Christ serves as the concrete assurance of our resurrection in the future (1 Cor. 15). Everything in Christianity hinges on the proof of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Jesus himself pointed out that he is the resurrection and the life in John 11.
The doctrine of election drives home the organized plan of God that spans back before time to the beginning of the triune salvation plan that’s rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ—the second person of the Trinity. However, it likewise looks into the future to promise that because we have been foreknown (foreloved), called, and justified—we will likewise be glorified in eternity (Rom. 8:28-39). There are no dropouts along the journey of faith and we know this based on the doctrine of election.
Be encouraged Christian—your faith in Jesus Christ is valid and your hope is secure.
Yesterday, I had the privilege to preaching Romans 1:1-7, in an overview of Paul’s stated purpose and audience regarding his letter we know as Romans. We have just begun a new series through Romans titled, “The Gospel According to Paul.” What Paul communicates in the first few verses is key to understanding his authority to write such a letter and our need to read it.
The letter we know as Romans in the New Testament is perhaps the greatest letter in the New Testament. That is John Piper’s opinion, and many people agree. Some take it one step beyond—claiming it’s the central letter (book) of the entire Bible. Many people have been impacted by Romans through the years. Augustine was greatly impacted as he took up the letter and read it. God converted him and set him on a new trajectory as he received the righteousness of God by faith alone in Christ alone. A little more than one thousand years later, Martin Luther would enter an Augustinian monastery in Germany where he would not only be influenced by the writings of Augustine—but he would be converted as he studied and read Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.
Why is Romans such a critical letter that’s centrally located in terms of the biblical canon? One man years ago suggested that if you want to disprove Christianity, you must do two things—discredit the preaching ministry of the apostle Paul and disprove the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Here in Romans, we have both of those realities leaping off of the page in the introduction. We must remember that Paul’s ministry would be pointless and his letter to the church in Rome would be of no consequence if it wasn’t for the resurrection of Jesus. Everything in Romans, everything in Paul’s ministry, and every part of Christianity hinges on one foundational doctrine—the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Romans 1:1-7 — Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,  which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,  concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh  and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,  through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,  including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,  To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Apostleship of Paul Hinges on Jesus’ Resurrection
Paul was called to be an apostle by Jesus Christ. The word apostle, “ἀπόστολος” means a delegate or official messenger. In ancient days, they would reference cargo ships as apostolic boats. They were boats sent with or dispatched with cargo from one port location to be delivered to a different port. The word apostle was taken from that language and used for a person who was sent with a message to be delivered to someone in a different location. Someone sent out on an official mission with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yet, as Paul occupied the official office of an apostle—one sent out by the resurrected Jesus personally, everything regarding the official office of an apostle hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, what does it matter if he sent Paul out with a message to all nations? He would be no different than any other religious teacher from human history.
The Hope of the Gospel of God Hinges on Jesus’ Resurrection
Paul stated that he was sent out with the saving message of the gospel of God. Gospel “εὐαγγέλιον ” means Good news. euaggelion was a common Greek word. It was a common word utilized in the worship of the emperor. In Roman culture, the emperor was viewed as a god. Often, an official herald would be dispatched to make an official announcement about a great event or something specifically related to the emperor—and it was to be received as εὐαγγέλιον—good news.
The first mention of good news is actually in Genesis 3:15, but the first time we see the word used in the Greek New Testament, it’s in Matthew 4:23. Jesus announced good news to the people. The greatest news in the history of humanity is the reality that God saves sinners. What better news could there be? Yet, without the resurrection of Jesus from the dead—the gospel is merely a hope so kind of religion alongside all other religions. It’s the resurrection of Jesus that raises the saving message of Jesus above all other religions.
The Proof of Jesus’ Deity Hinges on Jesus’ Resurrection
Jesus preached with power and authority—unlike the scribes of his day. His preaching was not soft muddling—but powerful and profound. In fact, his preaching was often in contrast to the rabbis of his day, and in his famous sermon known as The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is often saying, “You have heard it said…but I say unto you.” The religious community of Jesus’ day hated him and rejected his teachings. In fact, they eventually crucified him on a Roman cross for his doctrine. Make no mistake about it—doctrine matters.
What doctrine did Jesus hold to that caused such great controversy? It was his claims of deity that ruffled the feathers of the Sanhedrin. How dare anyone claim to be one with the Father? Yet, that’s exactly what Jesus did (John 10:30; John 8:58). The Jews on several occasions took up stones to kill Jesus, but it was not his appointed time, so they were unable to take his life. Jesus died on a Roman cross after being falsely accused. He died at the specific time appointed—Passover. As the Jews were slaughtering their Passover lambs across Jerusalem, the Lamb of God was being slain on a Roman cross on Golgotha. All of Jesus’ teaching and his claims to be God are validated in one clear and critical event in human history—his resurrection from the dead. As C.S. Lewis once stated the following in his book, Mere Christianity:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Grace and Peace Hinges on Jesus’ Resurrection
Ancient letters in Paul’s day contained three key elements in the introduction: the name of the author, the name of the recipient(s), and a greeting. The first seven verses of Romans contain all three. Paul concludes his introduction with a greeting as he writes, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:7). As Paul makes clear, he along with all Christians have received grace and peace through Jesus Christ. It is not earned—instead it’s given by the mercy of God.
Only those who are loved by God receive the grace of God and can live in peace with God. Paul addressed the church at Rome as being loved by God and therefore receiving the grace and peace of God. Grace and peace are certainly connected—but they are only a reality if Jesus rose from the dead. If there is no resurrection, there is no grace and there is no peace to be found. Christianity becomes nothing more than a vain religion without the resurrection.
Everything we find in the sixteen chapters of Romans and everything we know to be part of Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. Without the resurrection there is no hope, no grace, no peace, and no real message for Paul to take to Rome. Without the resurrection we should not waste our time reading Romans.
Yesterday, I preached from 1 John 5:16-18 in our series appropriately titled, “Know.” The passage happens to be the most difficult to interpret in the entire letter from John. However, it’s important to see what John was calling the local churches to do. In one sense, there is a warning about the danger of sin, but then we see a clear duty of prayer explained. By the end of the passage, it becomes clear that John the apostle does not want the Christian community to be content with sloppy Christianity.
Pray for Restoration
John talks about the “sin unto death” which has become controversial to interpret. He makes a distinction between sin that does not lead to death and sin that leads to death. He exhorts his fellow Christians to pray for fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord who are living in sin that does not lead to death. The aim of such prayer is that they will have life—proof of their genuine relationship with the Lord. This reference to life is “eternal life” and the reference to death is the “second death” where rebels die eternally under the wrath of God in hell.
The Interesting part of this passage is centered on the fact that John exhorts believers to pray for brothers, but asks them not to pray for the rebels who are living in sin that leads to death. The point is not that we can’t pray for unbelievers, but that our focus needs to be centered on praying for fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord who are sinning, but are not given over to a reprobate mind and left to walk down a broken road toward the wrath of God. God chastens his children (Hebrews 12:5-8) and brings them back in restoration. John urges his fellow believers to pray for fellow brothers (and sisters) who are living in sin with a goal for restoration.
In verses 17-18, John provides a clear understanding of what happens when we pray for such believers. All people who have been born of God (key language of salvation), will not keep on sinning. They will be brought to a place of repentance and restoration. God will not allow them to stay there. And, John is urging us to pray for such people as we plead for God to restore them.
John goes on to point out that the one begotten by God protects such believers—keeping them from wandering off down the broken road of sin that leads to death. Jesus protects by providing their salvation on the cross and continuing to intercede on their behalf. As the Good Shepherd—Jesus will not lose one of his sheep.
As we consider our present day, we need to come to the place where we are not content with sloppy Christianity. If we’re not satisfied with sloppy football, sloppy airplane pilots or flight attendants, sloppy lawyers, or even sloppy waste management services—we should not be content with sloppy Christianity within our local church. When we see people who profess Christ in our church living in open sin or even harboring sin—we need to spend time praying for their restoration. Sure, we can go to them too as Jesus taught in Matthew 18, but John points to the necessity of prayer. We must pray and ask that such believers would be restored.
Make such times of intentional prayer part of your life in 2018.