Last time we made it through verses 1-4 in Romans chapter 1. We hoped to finish verses 1-7 but we ran out of time. So this evening we are going to tackle these last three verses in Paul’s introduction to the church in Rome.
Let’s begin with verse 5 . . .
5 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,
Jesus is the One through whom Paul and his co-workers have received grace and apostleship. I think verse 5 is specifically about Paul and his co-workers, because he contrasts his work in verse 5 with those to whom he is writing in verse 6. But there is an application here which I think is very powerful. I agree with the assessment of some who say that grace points to the power Paul received for his ministry and apostleship refers to the task to which he was called. In Romans, Paul several times refers to grace as that which God gives His people to enable them to serve Him. For example, in 12:6 Paul says, “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” And in 12:3 he says, “Through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you . . .” And in 15:15-16 Paul says, “Grace was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.” So the grace Paul refers to in verse 5 is not the grace which brings salvation but the grace which empowers for service, in this case, the service of an apostle. In our case we may say many things. John Piper shares a few of them, “You might put, “Through Christ I have received grace and the teaching role.” Or: grace and singing. Or: grace and studentship. Or: grace and singleness. Or: grace and widowhood. Or: grace and motherhood. And what you should mean is: God has freely given me forgiveness and the power to do a calling, and fulfill a role which I accept by faith.”
This whole idea is best summed up in 1 Corinthians 15:10, when Paul says: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” You can’t do it apart from God’s gracious power. Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing.” No one can be the spouse they need to be apart from God’s power. No one can be the friend, or teacher, or father or worker that they are called to be apart from God’s power.
So Paul had received grace and apostleship for what purpose? “To bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations.” Wow. What a phrase. Again, there are three parts, so let’s take them piece by piece.
First, we the phrase “the obedience of faith.” This is an odd phrase. God doesn’t just want to bring about faith and he doesn’t just want to bring about obedience He wants to bring about the obedience of faith. Commentator Douglas Moo says, “Paul saw his task as calling men and women to submission to the lordship of Christ, a submission that began with conversion but which was to continue in a deepening, lifelong commitment. This obedience to Christ as Lord is always closely related to faith, both as an initial, decisive step of faith and as a continuing “faith” relationship with Christ. In light of this, we understand the words “obedience” and “faith” to be mutually interpreting: obedience always involves faith and faith always involves obedience. They should not be equated, compartmentalized, or made into separate stages of Christian experience. Paul called men and women to a faith that was always inseparable from obedience– for the Savior in whom we believe is nothing less than our Lord — and to an obedience that could never be divorced from faith — for we can obey Jesus as Lord only when we have given ourselves to Him in faith. Viewed in this light, the phrase captures the full dimension of Paul’s apostolic task, a task that was not confined to initial evangelization but that included also the building up and firm establishment of churches.”
Second, verse 5 tells us that the gospel is God-centered. This may be the most radical part of the book of Romans. Most of us think the good news is about us but the book of Romans is very clear that the gospel is about God. It is about His glory. It is about Him being able to show justice and mercy to fallen humanity. Its no wonder when Paul finishes the argument of chapters 9-11 that he breaks out in praise of God’s glory. Romans 11:33 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.
This is so foreign to us because we have come up in church cultures that teach us God loves you, Jesus died for you, God has a wonderful plan for your life and on and on it goes being about us. But it is not about us.
John Piper always explains the whys of things better than I could, so I want to quote him here . . . “The ultimate goal of all God’s dealings is that his name (or the name of Christ, who is his image) would be known and admired and cherished and praised above all other realities. Romans 9:17 puts it like this: “For the scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.’” God’s aim in history and in all that happens is that his name be known and worshipped. Verse 5 says that the aim of Paul’s apostleship is “for the sake of the name” – that the name of Jesus (which stands for his character) might be known and loved and treasured and exalted and glorified.
Now this is why God makes all our salvation and all our ministry and all our obedience dependent on his grace and makes all our salvation and ministry and obedience the fruit of faith in grace – because the giver gets the glory. If our ministry and all our obedience is by grace through faith, then God gets the glory and we get the help. If Paul relied on himself to serve as an apostle, and if the effect of his ministry was to bring about the obedience of works, not the obedience of faith among the gentiles, then the name of Christ would not be praised, Paul would be.
The giver of the power, the enabler of the obedience, gets the glory. Here’s the way 1 Peter 4:11 puts it: “Whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” You see how clearly Peter makes the connection: God gets the glory for our service if God gives the grace for our service, and if we serve by faith in that grace, in the strength of that grace and not our own.”
The final truth we see in verse 5 is that this is the universal gospel. I always like to say, the tent of God’s kingdom is big. There will be repentant sinners of all stripes there. People from every racial group. Men and women. The tent is big. Revelation tells us of the great multitude without number from every tribe, tongue, language and nation. The tent is big, but the door into the tent is narrow. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jew and Gentile alike must come through this door. This is what drives Paul, to direct people from all nations to that narrow entry into the very big kingdom of God because all who are left on the outside will perish for eternity.
The big application that comes away from this is very important. For Paul, theology serves mission. The reason he is going into all these incredible arguments and using reason and persuasively explaining the gospel message is so that his mission would prosper among all peoples. I am continually impressed when I think of Paul that this man who was the greatest mind of the early church was also one of its most active servants. We tend to not have much of that in our day. We tend to be great minds that do nothing with what they’ve learned or great servants who are running here and there in all kinds of activity and have no idea what they’re doing or why.
I appreciate Paul’s approach. I want it to be mine. I want my mind to be infused with the things of God and then for those things to overflow in service to others. That’s how it should be. We need to guard our hearts to make sure we’re not walking off that good path of theology leading to mission leading to doxology.
Finally tonight, and this will be brief, let’s look at Paul’s greeting to the church in Rome.
6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
In verse 6, Paul is basically saying that the Romans are included in the nations to which Paul is called to take the Gospel. In addition, he says that these Roman Christians are called to belong to Jesus Christ. So just as Paul had been called as an apostle, they were called to belong to Jesus Christ.
The striking thing that verse 6 shows me is that the gospel is for Christians. These people are already believers, yet Paul says his ministry of bringing the gospel of God extends to them as well. Most people think the gospel is something we believe to get to heaven and then we stop thinking about it, but that is contrary to the message of Romans and the rest of the New Testament. The Gospel is so much bigger than we normally think of it, revealing the very heart of God.
7 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.
Paul finally, after 6 verses, gets around to addressing his recipients. Those who are in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints. Loved and called. Believers. Those who had trusted in Jesus. So Paul is going to spend 16 chapters talking to believers about the gospel. Once again, the gospel is always our subject. This must mean that theology is very important for Christian living. Christian maturity is not broad knowledge of many things, it is deep knowledge of a few things, with the right application of those things in life.
Paul’s greeting: Grace and Peace. Grace points to the goodness of God in saving us peace points to the fact that we have been made right with God through Jesus Christ.
From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ once again shows us how Paul views Jesus as divine.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in just seven verses, but I want to close with a couple of sentences from the great commentator Leon Morris. I think this is where we need to end. He is exactly right when he says, “God is the most important word in this epistle. Romans is a book about God. No topic is treated with anything like the frequency of God. Everything Paul touches in this letter he relates to God. In our concern to understand what the apostle is saying about righteousness, justification and the like we ought not to overlook his tremendous concentration on God. There is nothing like it elsewhere.”