MODELING GRACE (3 of 3)
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 7
Romans 1:13-15 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
Sir Edwin Landseer was one of the most famous painters of the Victorian era. His talent developed early, and he had the first showing of his work at the Royal Academy when he was just thirteen years old. He was later commissioned to do a number of official portraits of the royal family, and even gave private drawing lessons to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But he was best known for his depictions of the natural settings and life in the Scottish Highlands.
One day as he was visiting a family in an old mansion in Scotland, one of the servants spilled a pitcher of soda water, leaving a large stain on the wall. While the family was out for the day, Landseer remained behind. Using charcoal, he incorporated the stain into a beautiful drawing. When the family returned, they found a picture of a waterfall surrounded by trees and animals. He used his skill to make something beautiful out of what had been an unsightly mess.
God works in much the same way in our lives. The things that we think of as weaknesses, disappointments, and handicaps can, through His grace, become our greatest strengths—and the very things He uses the most to bring glory to Himself. God’s grace provides the strength to meet every challenge and overcome every weakness.
For the past couple of weeks now we’ve been examining the life of the man behind the words of the book of Romans – the Apostle Paul. Like Landseer’s work, Paul’s life was a masterpiece of God’s indelible touch of grace. Marked by the ugly stains of his own past regrets, God transformed Paul’s life into a portrait of grace. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain (1 Corinthians 15:10). In one way or another, all of us can relate to Paul. Our memories are still stained with the painful blemishes of past regrets. My prayer is that God will meet you in His healing grace.
The first 17 verses of Romans are really an autobiography where Paul reveals his heart. In doing so, we catch a glimpse at what made Paul’s life so effective. In the New Testament times, letters were fairly short. Paper was hard to get. Paper was made from a papyrus plant (where we get our word paper). It was expensive. Even more expensive was when they wrote on vellum which were animal skins. Either way it meant paper was so expensive you didn’t write long letters. The average letter in the Roman Empire during this time was probably about 150 words. Cicero wrote a letter that was actually a treatise and it had 4,500 words in it. Everyone thought it was enormous. Paul, when he writes to the Romans, uses 7,100 words. To give you a bit of perspective, the average printed Sunday message is about 3,500 words. So you can see with seven thousand words, Paul has a lot to say. We’re taking our time going through this great letter. It’s an important letter. The great Swiss commentator Godet said, “Every great revival in history that ever started can somehow be related to this book.” (Romans 1:13-15). Paul: A Portrait of Grace Three marks of indelible grace: 1) A love for people that is universal, 2) impartial, & 3) inexhaustible.
- A love for people that is universal. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles (Romans 1:13). Paul is saying, “I long to go to Rome to finally see you and to share the Gospel with those who do don’t know Christ.” This is the third time in Paul’s introduction that he tells them he is looking forward to seeing them (Vv. 10-11). He’d been looking forward to going to Rome literally for years but had been prevented due to the unfinished work of sharing Christ in other parts of the world (Rom. 15:22). Not wanting them to think he was avoiding them; he reassures them once again of his great desire to finally see them.
Rome was made up of racially diverse immigrants from all around the world. It was the melting-pot of humanity. At its largest, Rome was about the same size as Dallas, San Jose, and Jacksonville, but the population density made it feel more like Calcutta, India. Paul looked forward to sharing Christ with as many people as he could reach. He believed in and practiced a Gospel without borders, a grace without prejudice. Paul’s desire to go to Rome made sense; he knew there was only one human race in need of the one Gospel of the one Savior – the Lord Jesus Christ. In a message he shared with a diverse group in Athens, Paul pointed out, He (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God (Acts 16:26-27).
Experts today tell us there are four main races of the world: Negroid, Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Australoid. Each one is based on purely external factors – skin and color, distinguishing shape of facial features (eyes, nose, lips, cranial structure). But, again, these are purely external. Internally, every person of every race is made up of same biological building blocks of 46 chromosomes expressing themselves in a myriad of ways through the 22,333 genes held within our bodies. In other words, no matter how different we may look on the outside, we’re all made up of the same ingredients on the inside. We’re all made equally in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). There is no such thing as racial superiority. We’re all born physically alive but spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). We’re all in need of God’s forgiveness through Christ. There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Recognizing this, Paul shared a Gospel without borders, a grace without prejudice.
One of our ministries we have thoroughly enjoyed partnering with for years is Faith Comes By Hearing. Their mission is to record and provide the Word of God in every language that needs it. There are over 7,100 languages spoken all around the world. Fifty percent of the world’s population cannot read at a functional level. FCBH’s passion is to make an audible recording of God’s Word in every language. As a church family, we have helped record God’s Word in two languages that have never heard God’s Word in their own mother tongue. We know as a result thousands upon thousands of people have trusted Christ. Churches have been started. The power of God’s Word is transforming countless lives. To date, they’ve completed 1,669 languages and are on a fast-track to seeing their goal accomplished. Jesus said when the Gospel is proclaimed throughout the whole world, then the end will come (Matt. 24:14). Due to the amazing advancement of technology and unprecedented unity of various Christian missions, the finish line of getting the Gospel to the world is well within sight. FCBH expects to be reach the entire world by 2033, just ten years from now. After two-thousand years, the Great Commission will be completed within our generation! This is the final sprint.
Is it any wonder we’re witnessing the world falling apart at an alarming rate? Jesus tells us what we’re seeing today are merely birth pains of what will happen. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs (Matthew 24:6-8). Jesus plainly tells us see that you are not frightened. Our task, like Paul, is to finish the Great Commission reaching the world with a Gospel without borders and a grace without prejudice.
One of the indelible marks of the true Church will be one that loving shares Christ with all people regardless of their “racial differences.”
- A love for people that is impartial. This is a second indelible mark of grace. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish (Romans 1:14). Paul is saying I am inwardly driven to share Christ with any and every person I can, regardless of their past, their failures, their education, their status, their politics, their personality, their IQ. My love for people is impartial. To say the Greeks and the barbarians, the wise and the foolish was an all-inclusive statement; no one was to be left out. I’ve often heard people compare people of North Idaho as backward, a term closely associated with barbaric. God even loves us! In 1 Corinthians he says, I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some (1 Corinthians 9:22).
For Paul, there was no one too low or too lofty in which to share Christ with. In other words, he not only believed in a Gospel without borders, but he also believed in a Gospel without discrimination. He recognized whoever we are, without Christ we are facing spiritual death and are in need to be rescued. The kind of obligation Paul has in mind is the same we would have if we saw someone drowning or whose house in on fire. We are compelled to rescue them any way we’re able.
Jesus Himself personified this evenhanded grace so many times in His ministry. The woman caught in adultery. The prodigal son. The good Samaritan. The woman at the well. The unnamed sinner who prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk. 18:13).
There’s an old story about a Chicago bank that once asked for a letter of recommendation on a young Bostonian being considered for employment. The Boston investment house could not say enough about the young man. His father, they wrote, was a Cabot; his mother was a Lowed. Further back was a happy blend of Saltonstalls, Peabodys, and other of Boston’s first families. His recommendation was given without hesitation. Several days later, the Chicago bank sent a note saying the information supplied was altogether inadequate. It read: “We are not contemplating using the young man for breeding purposes. Just for work.” Neither is God a respecter of persons but accepts those from every family, nation, and race who fear Him and place their faith in Christ (Acts 10:34-35).
Paul’s deep-felt sense of obligation came from God’s calling in his life. He was sovereignly appointed by God to this ministry long before he had a personal desire for it (Gal. 1:15). It is the same obligation we’re called to in the Great Commission – to take the Gospel that is universal and impartial to the whole world. A second mark of indelible grace is a love for people that is impartial.
- A love for people that is inexhaustible. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome (Romans 1:15). Paul was eager to preach the Gospel to those in Rome! His eagerness to share Christ burned with the same urgency he had when he began almost thirty years before! At the time Paul was putting these words on paper, he’d been actively engaged in intense high-energy ministry for three decades. He was almost sixty years old. By first century standards Paul was very old. Even after dealing with the seemingly unending struggles with difficult people, rejection, slander, hunger, thirst, robberies, beatings, shipwreck, exposure, imprisonment, stoning – Paul still remained eager to share Christ! Where did this inexhaustible love for people come from? From God. I believe Paul’s eagerness in fact all the more as he saw the finish line of his own life fast approaching.
Several years ago I went to the hospital to visit Phyllis Sauter, a long-time member of our church family who’d fallen and hit her head causing severe brain swelling that would within days take her life. For many years she faithfully oversaw our prayer-chain. Now, well in in her nineties, she still had a tireless energy and drive to serve the Lord. As I stood beside her gurney, she looked up at me with a determined gleam in her eye and said, “I’m not done finished with my work. There’s so much more for me to do.”
What kept Paul’s love for people and Phyllis’s love for people so real and so eager? Both knew the source of their love for others was the Lord Jesus Himself. There were a number of important items Phyllis kept next to her chair. One was her ongoing prayer list, another was her phone to share prayer requests, and finally her Bible. She spent hours reading and praying in that chair. In other words, a significant part of what kept her love for others so real and fresh was in large part due to the time she spent alone with the Lord.
The same could be said of the Apostle Paul. There’s a couple of lines in Acts 20:13 that caught my attention to this fact sometime ago. Close to the finish of Paul’s third missionary journey, he takes solo trek across land that lasts for about two to three days. Paul had just left Troas where he brought the young man named Eutychus (lit., “fortunate”) back to life. Rather than catch a ship with his friends and sail to their next destination, he decides to travel by foot and meet his friends at the small seaport town named Assos, famed for having been the home of the Greek philosopher Aristotle for several years. The Bible doesn’t say why Paul chose to travel alone. It could be that he wanted to spend more time in Troas so he sent his friends on ahead. Whether this is why or not, what is true is Paul spent several days alone traveling to Assos. Like Jesus, who often spent time alone in prayer (Lk. 5:16), Paul did the same. This was a time to be renewed simply by being alone with Jesus. This was a time in which God renewed Paul’s heart to beat more truly for Him.
The story is told former CBS anchor Dan Rather found himself unprepared for a television interview with Mother Teresa. Ron Mehl described it this way: Somehow, all of his standard approaches and formula questions were inadequate for the task, and the little nun from Calcutta, sitting beside him so sweetly and tranquilly, didn’t seem inclined to make his task easier. “When you pray,” asked Rather, “what do you say to God?” “I don’t say anything,” she replied, “I listen.” Rather tried another tack, “Well, okay. . .when God speaks to you, then what does He say?” “He doesn’t say anything. He listens.” Rather looked bewildered. For an instant, he didn’t know what to say. “And if you don’t understand that,” Mother Teresa added, “I can’t explain it to you.” There is a closeness with God that cannot be explained in words, only experienced. If someone does not have a personal relationship with God or spend time alone with Him, it cannot be explained. The simple reason Paul’s love for people was universal, impartial, and inexhaustible is because Paul understood without Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Christ alone is our wisdom and power from God (1 Cor. 1:24). Apart from Christ, we cannot know real life, eternal life, God’s forgiveness, power to love and forgive, strength to overcome the past. It is God’s grace through our faith alone in Christ that changes us where we cannot change ourselves.