We have finally reached the end of our book of Romans. At the time when we began in Sept of last year (9/7/2010), I was in a period of transition as my job had just ended and I was praying about being the pastor of this church. And my first burden was, what do I preach? And what messages does God want our church to hear? And somehow, God led me to the book of Romans. Frankly, the book of Romans scared me, and if it were up to me, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to tackle this book as my first one as a regular preacher. But in the end, it made sense to study Romans because as a young church, we needed to lay a solid theological and Biblical foundation and what better book to study than Romans?
Starting Romans was significant because unlike years past, we started preaching expositionally, meaning going through the Bible book by book and chapter by chapter. I used to believe that preaching expositionally like they do at Calvary Chapel and many other churches is so restrictive. Shouldn’t we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit from week to week and be flexible instead of being so rigid? That’s how I used to think. Flexibility and spontaneity are good, but frankly, I don’t trust myself. If I chose a different text from week to week, then I could easily just stay with what I know. And for instance, I might end up avoiding the OT, or I could keep stressing the 1 or 2 things that are related to my spiritual gifts or my calling. And in the end, the church could be more a reflection of me and what I want than Jesus and what He wants.
In Acts 20, Paul says to the Ephesian elders as he is bidding them farewell, for I have not hesitating to proclaim to you the whole will or counsel of God. And that’s exactly what the elders set out to do last September. Specifically, the preachers here agreed that we would submit to the Word of God and preach what it says. Not taking verses out of context to fit what we want to say. Not jumping around from one topic to another. But preaching the whole counsel of God.
And as I studied Romans this past year, God surprised me many times. There were things that just stumped me. Things I had to wrestle with, like the tension between the sovereignty of God, election and predestination with human free will and choice. And after studying a chapter and praying about it and studying it some more, God would teach me new things.
Today’s sermon is going to be a recap of the important themes found in Romans: sin, faith, freedom in Christ. I know, that’s a rather tall order and I couldn’t squeeze in everything I wanted to say in this message so this recap will span 2 sermons. Now that I have reached the end, I wanted to spend some time in review because there was so much in these chapters. It’s like you watch one of those movies with a crazy twist at the end. And like the guy you thought was the good guy turns out to be the bad guy and you’re like, “No way!” And then you watch the movie a second time and you notice things that you didn’t notice the first time. That’s my experience with Romans. I reached the end of the book and now when I go back to the earlier chapters, I see things that I missed the first time.
I can easily focus on the tree in front of me and lose sight of the forest. And there are many tall trees in Romans. But upon a second and a third reading of Romans, I am able to take a step back and I think I am beginning to connect some of the dots.
To start, let’s read the same two verses that we covered when we began our study of Romans back in September.
Romans 1 – 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
These are the verses that a young Martin Luther read as a Catholic priest. He knew the Bible, he knew theology yet he still felt guilty, condemned, he felt that he was under the judgment of God because his righteous acts fell miserably short from God’s holy standards. And then he read these verses in Romans and God opened his eyes and he was born again. He was saved. And of course, we know from church history that this conversion sparked by Romans 1 led to the great Protestant Reformation in church history.
If I were to sum up Romans in one word, I would use the word, “gospel.” In the first 5 chapters of Romans, Paul explains the gospel. What it is, how it addresses our human condition. Then, starting from Romans 6 to the end, Paul outlines the response of someone who has been saved by the gospel.
Romans is all about the gospel. In addition to the verse we just read, we see that Romans begins and ends with the gospel.
Rom 1 – 1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul is called to be a servant of God and he is set apart for what purpose? To preach the gospel. And this gospel is a message regarding or concerning the coming Christ and this message has been prophesied for centuries starting from the Old Testament. The gospel is all about Jesus. And what is significant about Jesus? Not only was he a fulfillment of ancient prophesies, but we read in the latter half of v3 — he had a human nature, he was a descendant of David. But that’s not all. v4 — he was also the Son of God. He had a divine nature as well.
So the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message prophesied for centuries about a man who in his nature was fully man but also fully God. Lastly, the gospel of Jesus is about God raising Jesus from the dead, thereby conquering sin and death and paving the way for sinners like us who believe in Jesus to also be raised in the newness of spiritual life.
Romans begins with Paul being set apart for the gospel and it also ends with the gospel. Paul makes a pretty remarkable statement in the latter half of Rom 15:19 —
Rom 15 – 19 …So from Jerusalem all the way around to il-lyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.
Amazing confession. Basically, he is saying, I have preached the gospel to such a degree that people have heard about Jesus Christ in that entire region and so now it’s time to move on. And he wants to go to new regions where the gospel of Christ has not been preached and where Christ is not yet known. So in Romans 15, Paul is on his way to Spain and one of the reasons he is writing to the Romans is to ask for a financial gift to fund his missionary efforts there.
Paul is crazy about the gospel. And he ends the book of Romans with a prayer about the gospel, starting in Romans 16:25. Let me read.
Rom 16 – 25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
The gospel is the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Who he is, what he did, his death on the cross, his resurrection, and because of this gospel, Paul gushes with praise — to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ.
There are many things we could emphasize in our sermons: eschatology or the study of the end times, or the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. But if have to choose one thing to focus on, it has to be the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. It is good news, it is the best news that sinners like us could hear.
If you want to know what the Christian life is all about and how one is saved, then you would study the gospel. And if you want to study the gospel, there is no better place to turn than the book of Romans.
There are ideas here that with God’s divine assistance, and the Holy Spirit’s prompting and conviction, will transform your life. When you hear the word “gospel” and esp. for those who grew up in the church, I think there can be a tendency to tune out. Because we think, I heard the gospel 10 years ago and I responded. Gospel, yeah, I know that. Someone shared a gospel presentation with me and led me in a sinner’s prayer. We treat the gospel like it is some kind of a flu shot. Yeah, I got vaccinated. Gospel? Yeah, I got that, I’m good.
And honestly, I don’t think I have preached many sermons that were explicitly focused on the gospel except maybe once a year during Good Friday or Easter but other than that, the gospel message is kind of tacked on to the end of messages as a kind of application or response to a message about some other topic.
But Romans is a book that puts the gospel on center stage. The spot light is on and the gospel is on full display throughout the book of Romans. Everything connects back to the gospel. And you and I may understand the gospel, we may be able to even articulate the gospel to another, but do we really know it? Have you experienced the transforming power of the gospel?
The gospel is not a flu shot. And it’s not just a once-a-year Good Friday or Easter message. It is THE central message that we need to preach every Sunday.
Over the past year of studying and reading and re-reading Romans, I feel like the gospel has been washing over me and showing me that I can preach the gospel, I can help others with their salvation testimonies and lead membership classes which are all anchored in our understanding of the gospel but perhaps I don’t know the gospel as well as I think. One preacher described the need to massage the gospel into the crevices of our hearts, areas that we have not been touched by or healed by the gospel.
John Newton, the slave trader who was converted and penned the hymn, Amazing Grace, likened the gospel to the ocean. We can stand atop of a cliff and look out at the ocean and say, yeah, I know the ocean. I see its surface expanding for miles and miles and fading into the horizon. But do I really know it? Have I plumbed its depths? The gospel is the same way. We see it from a bird’s eye view, but do we know how profound and true it really is? Have we plumbed its depths and found it to address every single one of my needs?
I got a chance to listen to Paul Washer last week. He is a missionary and evangelist. And he recounts a time when he was speaking to some university students and he started his talk by saying, I have some terrible news. And the students were wondering, what is this guy going to say? And Brother Paul said, I have some terrible news — God is good. Upon hearing this, the students were puzzled. God is good? That doesn’t sound so terrible. Then, Brother Paul made his next statement. God is good, but you are not. Then, he asked the question, what is a good God going to do with people like us who are not good?