Paul's Shorthand Mission Statement
by James Lincoln on October 3, 2004
"... through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;"
Last week we began to take a serious look at Paul's letter to the Romans. It's possible that this letter has had more impact on Christianity than any other letter. Augustine, Luther, Wesley and a host more have found their lives completely transformed by this letter. May the same thing happen to us.
The theme of his letter is that the gospel announces the righteousness of God (cf. 17b & 3:21-22). Secondly, this gospel reveals how sinners like us can be accepted as righteous without God becoming unjust in the process. Paul's Jewish opponents thought that calling Jesus the Christ makes God unfaithful or unrighteous. God promised to give Israel a king. To them it was unimaginable that a crucified, blue-collar carpenter from Nazareth could be the promised King of Israel. However, it was not only unimaginable to the Jews; when Jesus was crucified it became unimaginable to everyone else as well. Until the risen Jesus revealed Himself to his disciples, none of them believed Him. The only reason Paul believed it was because the risen Jesus met him on the road to Damascus opened his eyes and his heart to the reality of His glory. People in those days were just like us. They didn't believe that folks rose from the dead. All of the evidence shows that they had to see it with their eyes and touch Jesus with their hands before they believed it was true. Remember they mocked the women when they told them to come and see the empty tomb.
In verse two, Paul says that Jesus was declared or validated as the Son of God through the resurrection. God validated His claim. On Thursday at George Fox University, a professor from PSU, a Shiite Muslim, told his class that Jesus did not claim to be the Son of God. He said Paul fabricated the idea to market Christianity to a polytheistic Roman world. I won't take the time to show how unfounded that idea is. But all the evidence reveals that Jesus did indeed claim this and proved that He had the authority to make it by revealing Himself to His disciples over a period of six weeks after His resurrection. You must rewrite the history to say Paul invented Jesus' claim to be the Son of God.
Paul says that in Christ, God was faithful to his word. By raising Jesus from the dead by the Spirit of holiness (separation), God proves Jesus to be His Son and Messiah. Instead of bringing Gods' righteousness into question, Jesus validates God's righteousness. Jesus is the promised King. It's just that their vision of the coming king was too shallow, superficial and small. Instead of restoring a building as a place of worship, God has bigger plans. Instead of restoring Israel to a small plot of land in the Middle East, God has a bigger goal. Instead of establishing national Israel as the political center of God's new kingdom, God's plans are more vast and boundless. In His Christ, God was making the hearts of people all over the world His temple and making the whole world His domain. Instead of establishing a social and just society by divine fiat, He first creates a people for Himself from Jews and Gentiles whose hearts have been forgiven and transformed by the Spirit to love Him and serve Him with power to represent Him in ways that are just and good.
Last week, we saw three things about this Gospel. God proves Himself righteous to His word by melting the stony hearts of people like Paul who hated Christians and their message. Paul the persecutor of the church became a bond slave of Christ Jesus. God takes those at enmity with Him and makes them new creations in Christ and into people who love Him and serve Him. That's just what God said He would do through prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. God is righteous in this.
The second thing he says is that this gospel was promised in the O.T. Scriptures. This message of righteousness by faith is not new. It's as old as God's promise to Abraham. Paul is in perfect harmony with God's revelation of Himself and the promises He made in the Scriptures.
Then in verse 3-4 he reveals why Jesus had to suffer and die. Israel's faith had always been about place taking and substitution. The sacrificial lamb on the Day of Atonement died in their place. God provided a ram to take Isaac's place. The whole point of the Tabernacle, the Priesthood and the Temple was place taking. As the One who would take our place, Paul says that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.
As the perfect human being, Jesus was flawlessly obedient to God the Father. In the face of Adam's unrighteousness, Israel's unfaithfulness to keep her covenant and the rebellion of the whole word against its creator, Jesus offers us His surrogate righteousness to the world as a gift to be received by faith. He lived in our place. He also died in our place. Fully Divine, His perfect blood that is of infinite value paid the infinite debt we owe. This is how God remains righteous while justifying sinners. Our debt fell on Jesus. In Jesus, God's justice has been infinitely satisfied. He will not exact two penalties for the same crime.
OK beginning with verse five, Paul comes back to his own ministry and how it fits into this glorious message of the gospel of God's righteousness. It serves as a short hand mission statement with three bullets1. This first thing he says is:
1. His purpose is to bring about the OBEDIENCE OF FAITH (5).
"...concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake,... Rom 1:3-5 NASU
Notice that at the outset Paul sees his gospel of grace as a gospel of obedience. There is no contradiction in his mind between grace and obedience. The grace of God not only acquits and forgives; it also transforms you and changes you. It changes your heart. If we are obedient, it's because His grace has made it possible. He makes us new creations in Christ. His kindness leads us to repentance. His Spirit melts our hearts. His love saves us from ourselves. We sang earlier, "Tis mercy all immense and free." We don't merit a thing. But, because grace does pitch our hearts to love and serve God, obedience is our primary motivation. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep my commandments."
The idea that one could come into the faith and not want to yield or obey Jesus as the Messiah or King is simply unthinkable to Paul. The gospel call is not "Accept Jesus!" It is "Accept Jesus as He is!" And Paul says that He is the anointed, promised King of Israel. When you are born again, you are transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of His beloved Son. To believe in Him is to acknowledge Him as He is. Otherwise our faith is inadequate and misplaced. His full name is Jesus Christ our Lord.
One theologian said, "For the faith which the apostleship was intended to promote was not an evanescent act of emotion but the commitment of wholehearted devotion to Christ and to the truth of the gospel." Or a more popular way to put it is: Authentic faith is not an initial spasm followed by chronic inertia. Instead, it is becoming a new creation in Christ with a heart to obey Him .2
Because the gospel comes from the King of kings and Lord of lords, it comes to us as much as a command to be obeyed as an invitation to be accepted.
Now one reason why Paul says this is because his message was under attack. Some were saying that his message of grace inspired disobedience. He will come back to this in chapter six. Some said Paul was teaching that you could accept Jesus and then live like the devil and grace would take care of it.
So, just notice right from the outset that in this gospel we are never saved by works but we are never saved without them. If you think that grace promotes sin in any way, you can't be getting that from Paul.
By "the obedience of faith" I interpret him to mean obedience that is inherent in saving faith. Saving faith is always in Jesus Christ the Lord. If you do not acknowledge Him as Lord and desire to bend your will to him as Lord then your faith is in an inadequate object (cf. 2Corinthians 7:15).
Beloved, when we disobey Christ and then excuse ourselves because of grace, we are preaching another gospel. A non-believer once told me that she saw a car recklessly speeding past here with a bumper sticker that read, "Christians aren't perfect, they are just forgiven". She thought, "What a convenient religion. You can sin all you want and just claim that you're not perfect and God forgives you anyway." Was her argument fair? Of course it was. The second part of the bumper isn't true. Yes, it's true that we aren't perfect. But it's false to say we are just forgiven. We are much more than forgiven. We have been born again. We have the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. We have been given a new heart that yearns to do what God wants us to do. We are being kept by Jesus. Real, authentic faith shows up in a heart that fights the fight of faith to become obedient, not a heart that uses grace as an excuse to sin. Don't ever say that Paul's gospel of grace leads to disobedience. His gospel is about faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. It's an imperial summons and the only appropriate response is obedience.3 So he says that his purpose is to bring about the obedience of faith.
2. The second thing he says about his ministry mission is HOW FAR he plans to take this gospel.
...through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles
Rom 1:5 NASU
When Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians, the risen Jesus confronted him and completely changed his worldview. He came to believe that Jesus' death and resurrection was the climactic historical moment for all mankind, dividing history into two pieces. He develops this in chapter five. He believed that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the decisive event that brought us into the last days. And it was in the last days that God would bring all the nations under His domain.
Paul didn't take the message of Jesus to the Gentiles out of frustration that his fellow Jews had refused it. He took it to them out of the deep conviction that the age of the promised Spirit had come. The risen Lord Jesus Christ had set up His rule and reign at the right hand of the Father and from there He would pour out His Spirit on all peoples from every tribe, tongue and nation. In Christ, God would open up the door of salvation for boys and girls and men and women all over the world so that people like you and me could hear and be saved and receive His righteous record by faith as our own.
"For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."
1 Corinthians 15:20-22
Paul could now see that the life death and resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of these glorious and universal things.
In Jesus, God had not been unfaithful or unrighteous to His promises. God was just doing something different than Paul expected. In Christ, God was fulfilling His promises to Abraham when He told him, "In you all the nations will be blessed." There would come a day when the blessings of God would not primarily be in the law of God and the guilt and shame produced by those who can never live up to its perfect standard. Instead, the Scriptures prophesied about a day when He would pour out His Holy Spirit and give everyone from the least to the greatest a new heart and write those things on our hearts in such a way that His law would prevail, rule and reign in our lives .4 The law and rules, as glorious as they are, can never bring this about. We need more than a law. We need a new ability, power and capacity. Again we need a powerful grace that will pitch our hearts to it. We need grace to show us how far short we fall of keeping it. And we need grace to grow and keep it. And that grace appeared in Jesus Christ! In His death and resurrection the age of the Spirit had begun. It is now possible not just for the Jews, but for people from every tribe, tongue and nation, to be blessed. So Paul's mission is to all the Gentiles, all the ethnic groups of the world.
We can now proclaim a certain hope to those who are worn out by guilt and sin. We can say to anyone, "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved". The covenant sign is no longer circumcision or ethnicity, it is faith in Jesus Christ. Let's never stop taking this to as many as will listen all over the world.
Finally, he gives them his fundamental motivation for doing all of this.
Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
3. Paul's fundamental motivation for ministry was the honor of Jesus' name.
Paul's core motivation is not the advancement of his career or the reputation and success of the church, (often powerful motivations in our lives). His core motivation is the honor of the name or the fame and reputation of the Lord Jesus Christ. What does this mean? What does it mean to do something for Jesus name's sake? I can't help but think of the Lord's Prayer. When the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, do you remember the first request He told them to make? "Our Father who art in heaven Hallowed be Thy name." The first prayer request is that above and before anything else, God's name would be hallowed which means that it be held with sacred honor and heart felt devotion (Luke 11:2). Is this the first request of our prayer life? Do we want God's name to be prized and cherished above and before everything else? Do we pray that God would create a sacred response over all of His creation to His great name? Do we pray that God's name would receive the honor that He is due? Do we pray that God would vindicate His name against all who would hold it in contempt and insult it? Is this the concern around which all our prayers orbit?
Or, if you are like me at times, are our anxieties, our worries, our fears, our needs, and our ambitions at the center of our concerns? Maybe our faith is weak because we don't pray the way Jesus calls us to pray. Perhaps putting our own concerns first has made our faith focus more on us instead of on God and His zeal for His name. This of course can weaken our faith because it brings us into focus and pushes God into the background. Jesus was simply teaching us to put our prayers in line with God's passion and mission in the world. There is something God loves more than saving us. He loves to be righteous and true to His name. God has a prior commitment to His name. Listen to the refrain in Scriptures.
"He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake." Psalm 23:3 NIV
"Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me." Psalm 31:3 NIV
"I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 1 John 2:12 NIV
"O LORD, though our iniquities testify against us,
Do it for Your name's sake;" Jeremiah 14:7 NKJV
"Therefore say to the house of Israel, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone." Ezekial 36:22-23 NIV
"The Lord will not abandoned His people on account of His great Name,
Therefore, one theologian writes,
"God's commitment to the cause of His people is grounded not in his people but in Himself and His commitment to the exhibition of his name. His passion to save and purify us feeds itself not from the shallow soil of our value but from the infinite depth of His concern for the spread of His own."5
The ground of hope is in the impossibility that God would let His great name be dishonored for long among the nations. Other things change, but not this. Is the honor, reputation, fame and glory of God's name the motivation of your ministry? What name of Jesus fills your heart with praise and joy today?
The 17th century Anglican poet George Herbert saw so much love in Jesus that when he thought of Jesus He thought of the name Love and named Him Love in one of his poems. In his day, when you stayed overnight at an inn, a servant boy would come and ask you if you "lacked" anything. It was his job to meet your every need. In this poem, Herbert casts Jesus in this role and he calls Him Love.
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quickly Love, observing me grow slack from my first entrance in drew nearer to me sweetly questioning me, if I lacked anything.
"Do you lack anything?" "Yes, said I. A guest worthy to be here."
Love said, "You shall be a worthy guest."
"I the unkind and ungrateful?" said I, "Ah my dear Jesus, I cannot look at Thee."
But Love took my hand and smiling did reply, "Who made your eyes but Me?" "Truth, Lord. But I have marred them. Let me go where I deserve."
"I know you not [like this]." said Love, who bore the blame.
"My dear", He said, "I will serve, but you must sit down and taste my meat."
So, I did sit and eat.
- In this gospel Jesus takes our place (Love bore the blame). You do not have to bear it. In Christ there is sweet forgiveness.
- In this gospel Jesus melts our stony hearts to obey Him.
- In this gospel Jesus offers this hope to the whole world. It doesn't matter what you have done or who you have become his grace is sufficient.
- In this gospel His name, His fame and glory is covering and will someday cover the whole earth as the waters cover the sea.
Believe the Gospel! Taste and see that the Lord is Good!
1 Paul was also raising money from the Gentile churches to help the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who were suffering from a devastating famine (cf. 15:22-29). Before they support him financially, he wants them to know who he is and what his commitments are.
2 He says the same thing at the end of the letter in chapter 16:27. This gospel leads to "the obedience of faith." The last thing said about Paul in the book of Acts 28:31 was that he was welcoming all who came to him preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered." In the gospel, Paul was issuing a royal summons to obey King Jesus.
3 These words are borrowed from N.T. Wright, Romans in the New Interpreters Bible pg. 420
4 cf. Acts 2:17 Peter's first sermon. He also quotes the O.T. and the prophet Joel about this new age of the Spirit's universal blessing.
5 From The Pleasures of God by John Piper