May 29, 2022


God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 2

Romans 1:1 ❧ May 29, 2022

It’s been a number of years ago now, but I was reminded of a science project my oldest daughter and I did together as a homeschooling project.  We studied the basic anatomy of a flower – three in fact: a Rose, an Iris, and a Daisy.  We learned there is far more a flower than we might think.  On the surface they appear to display a simple colorful and fragrant beauty.  But there is much more to a flower than meets the eye.  They are, in fact, incredibly complex.  Each flower is made up of numerous integrated parts; the petals that come in different shapes, sizes, and colors.  Enveloped within the petals is the pistil.  The pistil is made up of three parts: the stigma, the style, and the ovary.  Some flowers have anthers that pollinate the stigma, and some don’t.  In other words, some flowers are male, and female and others are just male or just female.  As if that wasn’t fascinating enough, we took the Rose, the Iris, and the Daisy and looked them under a powerful microscope and studied their cellular structure.  Under microscopic power they suddenly became even more wonderfully complex.  

The memory of that lesson swept over me as I came to the first chapter of Romans this week.  It occurred to me that on the surface, Romans can look like any other book in the NT.  But when you take a deeper look, suddenly you realize this book is incredibly complex and intricate in every way.  In fact, it has been said, and I fairly agree, that Romans is the most difficult book in the entire Bible to understand.  Even the Apostle Peter recognized that though Paul was writing according to the wisdom God had given him, some things he wrote were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16).  Romans is not an easy book for anyone.  It is incredibly and profoundly deep – and that’s exactly why it is so life-changing.  

How are we to understand this incredible book? In a very real sense, Romans is the wonderfully complex anatomy of the Gospel of Grace viewed through the lens of one of the most powerful microscopic minds that has ever lived – the apostle Paul.  He possessed the keenest and sharpest theological mind known. To him, God had given the insight into the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:4). J Sidlow Baxter described Romans as Paul’s magnum opus.   Samuel Colleridge wrote that Romans is:The most profound writing in existence of all time.  It has often been said this book alone has changed more lives than any other. To again quote the Swiss theologian Godet, The probability is that every great spiritual revival in the church will be connected as effect and cause with a deeper understanding of this book. Romans is truly a life-changing letter of grace. 

The late Donald Grey Barnhouse spent 3 ½ years going through the book of Romans the first time and 11 years the second!  I saw the church transformed… But just as important as the transformation of the church, there was a transformation of the preacher. From his study he produced 11 volumes on the book of Romans alone. Referring to its complex nature he wrote, the truths of this epistle are those which have entered into the hearts of many simple men giving them a light and a life which was utterly beyond their natural capacities. A scientist may say that a mother’s milk is the most perfect food known to man, and may give you an analysis showing all its chemical components, a list of vitamins it contains and an estimate of the calories in a given quantity.  A baby will take that milk without the remotest knowledge of its content, and will grow day by day, smiling and thriving in ignorance.  So it is with the profound truths of the Word of God. 

I’ve entitled this morning’s message: God’s Invitation to Grace.  That’s what Paul essentially does in the first verse of Romans.  If there was anyone who understood the complex yet simple life-changing truth of how God’s grace radically changes the human heart – it was the great Apostle Paul.

Open with me to Romans 1:1. Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (Romans 1:1, NAS). Paul begins his letter with a brief list of his credentials that serve as a glimpse into his heart and soul.  What Made Paul’s Life So Great?  He tells us what made him great.  Three deliberate choices revealing the secret of Paul’s greatness: 1) His choice of Genuine humility to be a servant of Christ, 2) his acceptance of God’s conferred authority to be an apostle, and 3) his yielded sense of destiny to God’s plans for his life.  Humility, authority, destiny.  

We’ll see Paul is not alone in these three choices. God will greatly use any life that is submitted to Him in genuine humility, accepting of his God-conferred calling, and yielded to God’s plans for his life. 

  1. His genuine humility. The first self-revealing picture of himself that of a bondservant.

Paul, abond-servant of Christ Jesus(Romans 1:1a).  Remember, this is the great Apostle Paul! He is speaking to a group of people he’d personally never met. They’d only heard of him. His reputation as one of the great apostles chosen by Christ preceded him.  By rights, he could have introduced himself as the esteemed reverend Dr. Paul, eminent theologian, master of the Old Testament Scriptures, frontline warrior, brilliant intellect (Hughes, Romans, p. 16). Typically when we’re introducing ourselves to someone, we want to put our best foot forward.  We want to impress them with our abilities, our accomplishments, our work, our wealth, or our titles.  We at least try anyway. 

Not Paul.  Instead, his first introduction begins with just plain Paul a servant, not Dr. Paul, or Paul, the once high-ranking Pharisee, not even the foremost of sinners or one who numbered least among the apostles (1 Tim. 1:15; 1 Cor. 15:9). Paul tells them, first and foremost, he a simple bondservant of Christ Jesus.  He was not interested in impressing them with himself, but with Jesus. There were sixty-million slaves in the Roman Empire around that time. A slave was seen as property, not a person.  

Even the term bondservant we read in English doesn’t humbly bow low enough to reach Paul’s intent.  The word Paul uses is doulos – a term of personal insignificance.  Someone without full rights to his own life.  A more accurate word would be slave.  Elsewhere Paul refers to his servant status with another word hupēretēs which literally means underrowers, describing the lowest gally salve on Roman ship (1 Cor. 4:1).  This was the secret to Paul’s greatness – genuine humility.  He saw himself as a man whose greatest significance in life was that he was a slave of Christ.  No matter how great our accomplishments, titles, wealth in life, or vocation whether homemaker, business owner, teacher, police officer, office worker, pastor – if we’re to be the most used of God we will be the most committed to being His servants.  Paul understood God’s method of revealing greatness is always through servanthood.  So, Paul says, in effect, The first and most important thing you need to know about me is that I am a servant of Christ (literally God incarnate).  Speaking of His own life and mission, Jesus said, For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

There is a flip side to this term.  It is not how Paul uses it here, but I’m certain it is connected to his thoughts.  The idea of being a servant of God in the OT was a title of honor.  Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah and host of others bear the distinguished title of being servants of God.  It was both a title of humility as well as greatness. 

Let me explain.  We read in the book of Genesis where Joseph is sold into slavery (Gen. 39:1). He just so happens to be purchased by Potiphar, the captain of Pharoah’s the bodyguard.  It’s not long before Potiphar recognizes Joseph’s administrative abilities and makes him the overseer over all his household.  Joseph was a slave, but not just any slave. He was a slave with status. He belonged to Potiphar captain of the bodyguard.  In addition to this, Joseph was the head slave over all the others of Potiphar’s home.  Slaves measured their status by who owned them.  One slave could say, My master has twenty slaves.  While another could say, I’m impressed, but my master owns fifty slaves!  Joseph’s status as a slave was two-fold.  He was not only the servant of one of the highest-ranking officials in Egypt, the captain of pharaoh’s bodyguard, but he was also Potiphar’s head servant.  Joseph may have been a slave, but he had status because of who owned him.  

When it says Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah were servants of God it means they realized there is no One greater you can serve.  David warns the rulers of the earth if they are wise, they will become servants of God. Now then, you kings, act wisely! Be warned, you rulers of the earth! Serve the Lord with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling (Psalm 2:10-11, NLT). 

The Bible teaches we are servants of Satan or servants of God (Col. 1:13).  There is no in-between.  There is no such thing as being your own master.  When Paul introduces himself as being a slave of Jesus Christ, he is declaring both genuine humility before God and his recognition of God’s great choosing grace.  There is no place of more genuine humility or of greater significance and honor then to say you are a slave of Christ.    

  1. His conferred authorityThe secret to Paul’s greatness was both is humility and his calling.

He was Called as an apostle(Romans 1:1b).  His calling as an apostle speaks to his great authority. The word apostle simply means one who is sent. Paul’s title of apostle and authority was not his own but conferred to him by personally God.  He did not seek it out, volunteer for it, nor was he elected to it by others, but the Lord Jesus Christ personally called him to be an apostle.  In Galatians Paul wrote, But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16, NLT).  On four separate occasions in the book of Acts Paul tells the story of how Jesus called him to be an apostle.  Paul, more than any of the other apostles had the most problems with people doubting his calling.  But he held to it with the tenacious grip of a Pitbull.  He knew beyond a shadow of doubt God had clearly called him to tell others about Christ.  His calling and authority were not based on his own adequacy, but entirely on God’s. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,

who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant (2 Cor. 3:5-6). Paul understood this and held to it with a resolved determination.   

There’s a great story about an old black preacher who understood God’s calling in his life and the authority that went with it.  As the story goes, a young preacher came to preach who was full himself and arrogant.  After hearing him preach, the old man said, Was you sent or did you just went?  Paul was sent, he didn’t just went.  When you look at all of the problems, challenges, setbacks, and hardships Paul endured, he had to know with absolute certainty God called him as an apostle. When things got rough and Paul might have been tempted to doubt God’s call in his life, he could always go back to the Damascus Road and God’s faithful reminders along the way.  Paul’s faith was solidly grounded in Christ and His Word the Bible. 

There were only thirteen apostles in the Bible.  Each one met the qualifications of having been a disciple of Jesus, witness to His resurrection, and personally called by Him to be an apostle.  Even though Paul was not with Jesus in His earthly ministry, he was discipled by Him, he was a witness of His resurrection, and was personally called to be an apostle.  It is the teachings of the apostles that came directly from Jesus that became the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20).  

Though there are no apostles today like the NT, we have all been called and sent by God (apostles in a broad sense) to share about the good news of the grace revealed in His Son Jesus Christ.  Ephesians 1 says God chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).  The word for chose (eklegomai)in Ephesians 1 is the same word used when Jesus personally chose the apostles (Acts 1:2).  You were personally chosen by God. You did nothing or can do nothing to qualify for His forgiveness, acceptance, and love.  Like Paul, you were chosen, forgiven, accepted, and called by His matchless grace.  And much like the apostle Paul, people will question and doubt you.  You may doubt yourself.  But like Paul must chose to be solidly grounded in our Savior and His Word the Bible. That is where our calling and authority come from.     

  1. His sense of destiny. Paul was driven by a clear sense of destiny that his whole life had been 

Set apart for the Gospel of God(Romans 1:1c).  God revealed to him that before he was born the Lord had set the course of his life for this purpose (Gal. 1:15).  We get the word horizon from the words set apart.  When Paul says he’d been set apart for the Gospel of God, he is saying when Christ came into my life, He gave me a whole new horizon, a whole new vision.  Paul realized God had uniquely shaped his life through his heritage, his education, his personality, and his gifts to serve a divine purpose.  His old horizons, old ambitions of life no longer pulled at him.  His singular purpose was do God’s will with his life. My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God(Acts 20:24). That’s what God’s grace does when it comes into your life. 

What convinced Paul is what he calls the Gospel of God.  What makes the Gospel so important is that its source is God Himself.  It did not come from this world.  It was not invented. It is not another fanciful speculation.  Peter writes, For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes (2 Peter 1:16).  Nor is it another religion to add to the rest.  It’s not a religion at all.  The Gospel of God is God’s personal good news to the world.  It was this one conviction that launched Paul’s life on a trajectory that changed the world. 

What Made Paul’s Life So Great?  Three deliberate and determined choices reveal the secret of his greatness: 1) His choice of Genuine humility to be a servant of Christ, 2) his acceptance of God’s conferred authority to be an apostle, and 3) his yielded sense of destiny to God’s plans for his life.  

Have you made the choices Paul made? They all really begin with one choice – to place your trust in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and commit your life to Him.  Have you made that choice? The single greatest decision you will make with your life is what you do with Jesus Christ.  All through the Bible we read of men and women alike who chose to fully surrender their lives to God and God made much of their lives.  Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people(Genesis 25:8).

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