“Sow a thought, reap an action, sow an action, reap a habit, sow a habit, reap a destiny.”
*Who and what we are becoming is largely the result of training…thoughts, choices…habitualizing those choices…or training….is what makes us into us.
*1 Tim. 4:7 “Train yourself to be godly.”
*We are not saved through training
*But change comes through our collaboration with the Holy Spirit as we make empowered choices to become more like Jesus.
*Training is not trying to “be something we are not and can’t be.”
*Christians have been given new life in Christ…training is about living that life out more fully.
*We grow in our faith through training…thoughts, deeds, habits…shaping the course of our lives.
*A friend quoted his dad to me this week…a music teacher “Practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent.”
*Truth is everyone is training…not all training is doing good things to us.
*Training for godliness is training to become like Christ…to Love God and others.
*This kind of training leads to increasing freedom.
*We don’t train to earn God’s favor…we do train to enjoy and reveal his favor in our lives.
*We are going to spend this year in Romans…it is the greatest letter ever written.
*Called a book of the Bible…but it was in fact a letter written by Paul to the church in Rome near the middle of the first century.
*A couple of things that could help each of us grow this year as we walk through this great letter...things related to training.
*Worship, Small groups, personal time with God, one on one with others walking the same path
*Out of those interactions comes ongoing reorientation…mess up/fess up/move on
- Memory verses for the year from Romans, app
- Prayer Text
- Daily devotionals
- Group study guides
- Introductory verses of the book (first 7 verses)
- Application: information without application can fill our minds but it does not change our lives…we want to change.
- Overview…Romans is a powerful letter.
*Augustine was 32 years old and in a great spiritual, moral crisis when he read a verse from Romans and came to faith…became one of the most influential leaders in Christian history.
*Martin Luther was likewise in anguish, trying to make himself good enough to be acceptable to God…when he read Romans one day…the Holy Spirit spoke to him.
*Thoughts of the righteousness of God had formerly filled with him hate and self-loathing…because it revealed how much of a failure he was compared to God.
*Now he saw God’s righteousness as God’s gift…an offer of freedom.
*A couple of hundred years later the Wesley brothers came to America as missionaries to the native Americans…the problem was the brothers were not Christians themselves.
-They returned to England in great disillusionment…as happens to all who try to do Christian “things” or live the Christian life without Christ.
*Like entering your car in the Indianapolis 500 but the problem is, you car has no engine…you try to peddle it around the track…doesn’t work…wear you out.
*Not long after returning to England, John Wesley wandered into a church meeting one night and because of the weather the speaker could not be make it so someone was reading from Luther’s “preface to the Romans”…it was enough…John came to Christ and became one of the great reformers of the church.
*The stories go on and on to this day…hopefully their will be new stories here in our church this year…as we grow in faith, as our friends and family come to know the freedom of the gospel.
*Perhaps some here will stop striving to make themselves acceptable to God or others and will experience the freedom that is in Christ.
Who were these Romans…that this letter was addressed to?
The Church at Rome: Was a community in need of community
*Paul, A Jewish background Christian wrote this letter to a church he had never visited.
*It was a community in conflict.
*Here’s the backstory: The Roman Emperor Claudius got sick of hearing of disturbances made by Jewish people in Rome…so he tossed all Jews out of the city in 49AD…Christ following Jews and non-Christian Jews alike.
*Overnight the church in Rome became virtually 100 percent Gentile (non-Jewish)
*By the time Paul wrote Romans about 5 years later, the Jews had been allowed back into the city…so they were trickling back in.
*Imagine what this would be like…someone would be in your house, have your stuff…and in the church…the Jews had likely been in leadership, now where outsiders coming in.
*So the minority and majority groups had switched places.
*They had the same faith but saw the faith through two different lenses.
*Paul had been called by God to be the Apostle…official representative of Jesus…to the Gentiles.
*Not that he didn’t share with and minister to Jews…but he was laser focused on reaching non-Jewish people.
*So much so that he stopped going by his Jewish name Saul, and went by his Roman name…Paul.
*The ongoing challenge for Paul was that Jewish Christians thought he was going to far from his Jewish roots, Gentiles often thought he was not going far enough.
*So Paul, writing to a divided church in Rome wants to unite the church around the one thing that can unite people with very different cultures, ideas, values, and perspectives…the gospel.
*So Paul is writing this letter to explain the most important topic in the world…the Gospel…to a divided people.
*The good news of what God has done in Christ to set people free…and in setting them free from sin, and shame, and all attempts to earn God’s acceptance…they are also free to love and accept one another.
*He wants them all (Jew and Gentile background alike) to understand the content, power, and implications of the gospel…so that they would bring glory to God by loving him and loving others.
*They were Christians…they had the truth…but they did not fully understand it, and they were often failing to apply it in their relationships.
*Throughout history there has been many attempts at human harmony built around ideology, or coerced values, or even actual force…”You will get along with each other or else.”
*None of these attempts have ever worked…at least not for long or very well.
*For instance the Soviets starting in 1920 forced different ethnicities into the Soviet “Union”…but 70 years later when they stopped pointing guns at people there was no union anymore…people retreated back to their ethnic roots.
*The problem is that when we start from the outside (ideas, programs, coercion) and attempt to move into the heart…it doesn’t work.
*The gospel…begins with a changed heart…a work of God in a person…then from that changed heart flows changed relationships with others…a work of God between persons.
*So unity between people comes when human hearts are changed by God…when he unites us to himself.
*Its because people (we) are very hard to get along with…and when we are very different from each other…like the Roman Christians were…even more so.
*So in 16 chapters Paul will unfold the gospel and its implications for the church there at Rome…and the church here in Wichita.
*I’m not sure Paul would even thought about “outlining” his letter…anymore than most of you would “outline” yours.
*But here is the “outline” we will use to navigate by…at least to start with.
*I borrowed from several different outlines to make this one.
Chapters 1-4: The Heart of the Gospel: Righteousness of God
1: All Humanity is trapped in sin and needs to be rescued
2: Rescue won’t happen by trying to obey the law
3: God’s righteousness has rescued the world through Jesus
4: The Gospel has created the faith-based, multi-ethnic people of God
Chapters 5-8: The Assurance of the Gospel: Hope
5: Justification by faith creates the “new Humanity”
6: Following Jesus means death to the old life in order to live to his new life
7: What was the point of God giving Israel the law?
8: The solution: Jesus and the Holy Spirit
Chapters 9-11: The Defense of the Gospel: God’s Faithfulness has not failed
9: Israel in the past (always by faith)
10: Israel in the present (There are many who have believed…including Paul)
11: Israel in the future (Many more will believe)
Chapters 12-16: The Power of the Gospel: Transformation
12-13: Changed community (gifts…serving)
14-15: Changed relationships (strong looking out for the weak)
16: Love in action
*See how beautifully it all fits together?
*He doesn’t just say…”Ya’ll need to get along…act like Christians!”
*Because the Jewish background believers would say “We are…they aren’t!”
*The Gentile Believers would say “We are…they aren’t!”
*He lays the foundation of the gospel…
*So Paul…writes this letter to show them the treasure and power they have in the Gospel.
*As well as the responsibility and opportunity they have…to live it out.
*Let’s get started
- Introduction: Romans 1:1-7
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. 5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
*We normally start letters with their name and end with ours…the custom of Paul’s time was to begin with your own name.
*The reason Paul gives such an elaborate self-description is he did not plant the church at Rome and had never even visited it.
*So he feels the need to establish his credentials…so what he is about to say will have more credibility.
*He calls himself first a Servant of Christ Jesus.
*Servant is the word “doulos” and really should be translated “slave.”
*There was a type of slavery (call bond-slave) that was voluntary.
*This doulos…bond servant…would sometimes sign on as a servant for life because of love for the master.
*Paul said he was a servant and that he was “set apart” for the gospel.
*”set apart for the gospel” is a bit of an understatement…lets go look at his story…
Acts 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?”
(Saul knew that was God…but was confused…he thought he was serving God…not persecuting him) Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
*As Jesus is revealing himself to Paul in amazing fashion…he is also was speaking to one of his followers named Ananias…who would be Paul’s first mentor in the faith.
*He was telling him to go get with Paul and help him understand what has happened…Ananias was afraid because he knew Paul to be a Christian-killer.
Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
*Earlier Paul had been a part of the murder of Stephen and had seen Stephen full of peace even as he was stoned to death…this had to work on Paul’s mind if not heart…to see the people of Jesus suffering for him.
*I once read a story called the Persecutor about a Russian soldier (during Soviet days) whose government job was to beat Christians found worshipping in illegal gatherings.
*He once beat a young woman terribly thinking she would never try that again(metal rods coated with rubber)…then in a few months he and the other thugs broke into a house church and there she was…worshipping.
*He was staggered…who would do that…for what he had been told was a fairy tale.
*That was the beginning of the end of his atheism…he later became a follower of Christ.
*Perhaps Paul seeing Stephen suffer so well was a first step…but for what lay ahead of Paul…God gave him something more…he had an amazing…life changing experience.
*Jesus came directly to him.
*So this is Paul’s story as he is set apart for the gospel of God.
*Consider what had happened…he was helping imprison and murder Christ followers because he fully believed he was doing the right thing…he was completely devoted to God…doing his will.
*Then he discovers to his great dismay…the opposite is true.
*When he persecutes the church he is persecuting the Lord.
*Jesus is the Lord…the church is his body.
*There are no doubt those in the Muslim world who believe they are honoring God by killing Christians…we must pray God will open their eyes to the truth.
*Let’s go back to Romans…next Paul tell us what this gospel he is set apart for is:
*He gives a six-point analysis of this gospel…good news.
- God is the origin of the gospel.
“It is the Gospel of God”
*This fact is our most basic conviction…we did not dream this up, neither did Paul, its not one of many options in the religious marketplace…it is THE good news of God.
*Since this is true…it is by far the most important information, message, truth in the world.
- The Gospel is God’s lasting plan: There is a continuity between the Old and New Testament
“the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures”
*Jesus is the one the prophets of old foretold.
*This is not something new…this is the continuation and the competition of something very ancient.
- Jesus is the substance of the gospel.
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.
*Packed in this statement is the:
- Birth (descended from David)
- Death (he had to die to resurrect)
- Reign: Jesus Christ our Lord
*These are the essential facts of the gospel…regarding who Jesus is.
- The Gospel is for all people
*God is calling people from all nations.
*Paul was a patriotic Jew…but he was called to take the good news to all people.
*This sounds like its not a big deal…it was a really big deal…it was shocking news.
*We too must set aside our own pride of race, nation, class, ethnicity and acknowledge the gospel is for everyone.
*This will be a key theme in Romans.
*It is ironic that some see evangelism as being arrogant and exclusive…when in fact “sharing the gospel” means we are being inclusive…we believe all people are called to be the people of God.
*We do not believe the way all people believe is the way to become the people of God.
*So must be open in our lives, hearts, homes, church to people very different than we are…there are many ways that they can come to have relationship with us…but we are firm about the one way people can have relationship with God.
- The Purpose of the gospel is the obedience of faith
*Paul will repeat this at the end of the letter, chapter 16
*In Romans Paul insists that justification is by faith alone…so we know what the “obedience of faith” does not mean…what does it mean?
*It means that those who have trusted Christ as Savior…will also follow him as Lord.
*Once again, we don’t obey in order to be justified…but when we are justified we will want to obey.
*Those with no desire to obey, ever…have likely never believed.
- The goal of the gospel is the honor of Christ’s name
*”For his names sake”
*The highest motive for sharing and living the gospel is so that Christ would be honored.
*Love for Jesus is to be the engine that drives all of our efforts to make him known.
*Remember Romans was a divided church…both Jews and Gentiles believed they were fighting for “truth”
*But Paul says here at the beginning…all that we do is for the honor of his name.
*Surely his name is not honored when his people are at odds.
*It is ironic to me as I have watched groups of Christians fight and divide…that they are convinced they are committed to the gospel…yet this very same Gospel is about the honor of Jesus
*The same Jesus who said…”They will know you love me, by the way you love each other.”
*Steve Gleason is a 39 year old former NFL player…retired in 2008.
*He has been battling ALS for five years.
*His experiences of living with the disease were captured on video that is featured in the 2016 documentary “Gleason”
*At one point in the film he is talking to God and asking that if he has power in the universe he would heal him…it doesn’t make sense that his wife would be left without him, he says that he has been a good person…my wife is a good person…surely you would heal me if you were there.
*At another point his father takes him to a Christian faith healer…to no avail.
*I grieved for Steve and his wife as I watched the film…they have both suffered so much.
*I was sad about, but understood…his question.
*”God, if you have power in the universe…why would you allow this suffering.”
*I spoke this week to a man about these very questions…his family has suffered and it has caused some of them to question God.
*Suffering brings questions…we often assume that if God really existed and if he was powerful and good…he would stop all suffering in our lives.
*We have no biblical, or even rational reason to believe this way…that a good and powerful God would eliminate all pain.
*Why would that be true? Its not true for good parents, coaches, judges, teachers…that they attempt to eliminate all pain…why would it be good for an all-wise God?
*Let’s go back to Paul…
*Paul introduced himself as…”A slave of Christ Jesus…set apart for the gospel.”
*He was set apart in a spectacular way…in fact his experience has become an idiom…a figure of speech.
*”A Damascus road experience” describes some unusual experience that changes a person’s life for the better.
*That was far from the only amazing thing that happened to him…he saw healings, miracles of all types.
*He had one experience that he can hardly even describe…he mentions it in 2 Cor. 11.
*He heard things he was not even permitted to tell…perhaps they were just for him.
*Things so amazing they threatened to make him proud…to think himself better than others.
*It must have been spectacular.
*Lest you find yourself jealous of the kind of experiences Paul had with God…thinking “I would have his faith too if I had his experiences.”
*”God give me some of that…and I’ll be as bold as Paul.”
*Remember what Annanis was told about him…”I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
*And suffer he did.
*Here’s a list of some of the other “Great” experiences Paul had.
*29 lashes…5 times
*3 times beaten with rods
*Shipwrecked three times
*chased from place to place, sleepless nights, hunger thirst, cold, exposed.
*In regards to his unusual experience of which he could not speak…he said this…
2Cor. 12:7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
*To correlate with his great and unusual experiences he had great and unusual suffering.
*It would seem that this man who was the greatest church planter, evangelist, pastor ever…not to mention author of a lot of the New Testament, miracle worker…would be exempt from suffering.
*This guy was God’s point man…I mean we are reading his stuff in Wichita, KS 2000 years later…and not just reading it…trying to apply it.
*Why would God find it necessary to “show him how much he must suffer for the name of Jesus?”
*There are answers to the question of suffering…and there are mysteries in human suffering that defy explanation for now.
*One biblical motif related to suffering…is that is has the unique ability to show us our need for Jesus.
*This is the answer given by Paul in his 2nd letter to the church at Corinth…his suffering kept him dependent on Jesus.
*It kept Paul’s ministry and life focused on being about Jesus…rather than about Paul.
*I don’t like suffering…I don’t want to suffer
*But I will suffer…you will as well.
*We don’t get to choose that…we do get to choose what we do with our lives.
*We choose whether we will live “set apart for the gospel”…the good news of God…or live for ourselves.
*We choose whether we will spend or waste our lives…whether we spend will waste our sorrows.
*Christmas Eve I said “We have questions that outnumber our answers…but we an answer that outweighs all of our questions.”
2Cor. 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
*What is coming outweighs all that we endure now…
*Paul was set apart for the gospel…he lived his life in line with ultimate, permanent truth.
*He was not exempt from suffering…neither will we be.
*We cannot exempt ourselves from trouble…we must not exempt ourselves from lasting purpose.
*A long time friend of our family was buried yesterday.
*As I listened as a friend gave the funeral message…I thought about John’s life.
*Buried his wife after 40plus years
*Buried a daughter about 5 years ago.
*He suffered…but everyone does.
*I also thought about his little daily struggles…decades of going to work at a printing company…that closed…then another company.
*The thought that struck me as I stared at his picture on the program and thought of the many years now gone…”that’s a lot of times of putting on socks.”
*For some reason putting on socks, taking off socks…just to put them on again…thousands of times…until you put them on for the last time…has come symbolize the sheer vanity of life apart from the gospel.
*Its just one of many meaningless acts that mark a meaningless life…that is not lived for eternity.
*When John was told he was going to die on Dec 31, he died Jan 1…He told the doctor…”Then I will see Jesus soon.”
*In the funeral…the thought of John Lafever putting on socks thousands of times…did not seem futile to me…because of how he lived and he died…set apart for the gospel.
*He was not exempt from suffering…but certainly he was not exempt from purpose either.
*Complete the opportunity of what it might mean for you to live “set apart for the gospel.”