After giving thanks that the faith of the believers in Rome had spread throughout the country and assuring them of his prayers, Paul reveals his longing for them and his desire to come for a visit. Commitment to a common cause draws people together and that is displayed in the apostle’s deep desire to come to Rome and share with them some truths that will serve to strengthen them in the faith. The “spiritual gift” of which he speaks is not the kind mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, but insights received from the Spirit intended for the benefit of the church. Then, very quickly lest he be misunderstood, he adds that when they are together he is encouraged by their faith in the same way that they are by his. His concern shows a tender regard for the other person. He may be the apostle with a mission to take the Christian faith throughout the world (a sort of first century Billy Graham), but he is still simply one of them, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A person’s true character is more often than not revealed in the unplanned and spontaneous moments of life. When we have time to plan how we expect to communicate the person we believe we are, it doesn’t ring true. Of course, it could be dangerous to be too transparent, but isn’t it a sign of genuine maturity to arrive spiritually at the point where we feel free to be ourselves. I may be repeating myself but I would like to say again that who we are is who we have become through the myriad of decisions we have made along the way. We are not what we have or what we have done. All that stands alone and hopefully it has been helpful. We are the man who gave up a tennis match to spend time with a hopeful son, the woman who refused to pass on a bit of gossip she had heard.
Life is essentially qualitative. Character is not what or how or why, but simply is. We build it by a life of decisions in matters that have ethical significance. The decisions, especially the small ones, that you have made throughout today are now part of you. Our character is as strong as we have made it through the years. It doesn’t get us to heaven – only an active faith in the shed blood of Christ can do that – but it does display for the believer the stature and beauty of life where concern for the other is dominant.
The first thing that Paul has to say when he picks up his pen to write to believers in Rome is that he is a servant of Christ, called to be an apostle. He knows who he is and what he is to do – his identity and his charge. He is “under orders” to take God’s message to the Gentile world. What interest me this time through Romans is that in three subsequent verses he points out that believers are also called – called to obedience (5), called to belong (6), and called to be holy (7). It is clear that Paul sees the followers of Christ as seriously involved in carrying out God’s plan in this world.
The “obedience of faith” (subjective genitive) is the obedience that comes from faith. To genuinely believe in God is to obey him. Faith and obedience are inseparable. Faith discloses itself by conforming to the desires of the one you believe in. It is not an emotional feeling or an intellectual acceptance of something, but an active response to a person. To believe in Christ is to conform to his desires and expectations. Obedience is not a harsh word at all; it is the willing and active adjustment to what God has revealed as the best for us. The old hymn, Trust and Obey, has it right: “When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word, what a glory he sheds on our way! While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey.”
We are also “called to belong to Jesus Christ.” The truth is that believers are no longer free to do what they want to do for themselves. They now belong to another, to the One who died in their place and has now granted to them a place in God’s great kingdom. It is important for a person to belong, whether to a church, a local organization, or some important social movement. Scripture repeatedly says that the believer is “in Christ” (Paul alone uses the word, 84 times), that is, they sustain a close relationship with Christ. The need to belong is an extremely strong desire in the life of a person. It provides the longing to share with others the important issues in life. Once broken, the relationship is hard to repair. The hermit or recluse is an exception. So one of the crucial elements in life is to belong – to God and to others.
Then in v. 9 we find that believers are “called to be holy.” The reason for this is obvious: God is holy and when we join his family by faith we are to become like him. By separating ourselves from all in this world that is morally reprehensible we move in that direction. And remember, holiness is not some sort of static perfection, but a way of living in which the pernicious influence of sin is minimized and we are enabled to experience God’s continuing presence.
Today we begin a series of devotional insights from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. The choice of verses and specific subjects will be somewhat arbitrary because I will be choosing on the basis of what strikes me when I read the famous letter once again. My background in Romans includes a commentary on the book written for The New American Commentary, written and published by Broadman & Holman (1995)
The first 6 verses of Romans contain enough theology for a full college course on the person of Christ. It summarizes what God did in and through his Son for the redemption of man and what we need to do to make it a reality in our life. My desire is to resist exegetical analysis and center on those truths most applicable to life. I trust I will be able to serve the interests of both groups.
The theme statement is that the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ declared the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. This gospel is promised from of old, established by a resurrection from the dead, and received by a faith that expresses itself in obedience. To hear and accept this great redemptive story results in a new birth that transforms life here below and prepares a person for an eternity of joyful fellowship with the Creator. No wonder Paul’s impressive tome has held the attention of believers since the beginning of the Christian era.
I believe it will be helpful for you to read the first 5 verses of Romans. The translation is from my Dear Friends, This is Paul (Wipf & Stock, 2016, p. 58).
This is Paul the apostle writing to fellow believers in the city of Rome. You’ll remember me as that Jewish zealot who, on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians, was struck blind by the risen Christ. Of all people, God chose me to announce the Good News of his coming reign. Years ago this was predicted by Jewish prophets in their sacred manuscripts and is now being fulfilled through the work of God’s son, Jesus Christ. The Son existed from eternity as God but became man by being born into the human race as a descendant of King David. That he was in fact the Son of God was clearly established some thirty years later when, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he emerged triumphant from the tomb. God has given us the privilege of proclaiming this message everywhere. When people hear it and believe, they bring honor to his name.
Next post on Romans we will begin our experience, reflecting on this remarkable letter that shaped the Christian faith as it moved in a westward direction to Rome and beyond.