Summary: This sermon gives an introduction to the Book of Romans and clues one in to Paul's reason for writing, setting the stage for his discussion of God's grace.
The book of Romans is a monumental work. It was in the reading of the phrase “the just shall live by faith” in 1:17 that the German reformer Martin Luther’s heart was stirred against the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. He went on to post his ninety five theses on the church wall in Wittenberg in 1517 and the Protestant Reformation was set in motion. The theme is justification by God’s grace through faith rather than by a priest administering sacraments, circumcision or obedience to God’s law. Salvation depends on God alone.
Paul did not develop this doctrine, for it was clearly taught by Jesus and throughout the Old and New Testaments, but he did develop it more extensively. We can think of some parables Jesus told that illustrate this truth: prodigal son, Pharisee and tax collector, and the laborers in the vineyard.
Paul did not found the church in Rome nor had he ever visited the city, but it was in his plans. Paul had just finished collecting his offering for impoverished Christians in Jerusalem and is on his third missionary journey. He writes from Corinth, and Gaius the Corinthian is hosting him at the time. Paul writes Romans to prepare them for his first visit. He has planned to visit for some time now but has been prevented. He wants to strengthen the Roman Christians in their faith and also win their financial support for a future trip he plans to make to Spain.
The date is around A. D. 57 or 58.
The church at Rome was a Gentile church although some commentators say it was mostly Jewish. It is possible that the church had been started by Jews who had come to faith during Pentecost but some scholars doubt this and maintain that its origin is obscure.
Chapters 1 through 11 deal with doctrines we should believe: the sinfulness of man, forgiveness through Christ, freedom from the grasp of sin and Israel’s past, present and future. Chapters 12 through 16 address our personal responsibilities. The mega themes are sin, salvation, growth, God’s sovereignty and our service.
I. Paul’s Address
Writing a letter to someone you know as opposed to someone you have never met requires a different opening. Paul begins with his credentials: a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and separated to that Gospel. Again, Paul had not founded this church nor had they had any contact with him or him with them. One point of contact between them, however, was that he was a servant of Christ and so were they.
The Christians in Rome were certainly familiar with the slave or servant idea. The Rome of Paul’s day was populated by some 1.2 million people, half of whom were slaves. The Greek word for servant (doulos) actually means slave, bondman or man of servile condition and suggests Paul’s consciousness of who he belonged to and who he was obligated to serve. It was not a service of bondage, and like Paul, we do not serve out of drudgery but with a sense of excitement and anticipation. Paul served out of wholehearted obedience because he realized he had been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ. His Master was quite different than the ones the slaves served.
Like with Paul, our redemption involves surrender. We belong to the one who purchased us with his blood, not money. The more we understand the sacrifice of Christ, the greater will be our desire to serve him faithfully, and the greater will be our realization that we belong to him and owe our very existence to him. When we do not have a high view of Christ’s work on Calvary, the chances are very good that our dedication to him will parallel that stance. Weak views of the atonement (such as that what Christ did was only a good example but really accomplished little beyond that) lead to weak experiences of commitment and faith.
Paul was also called to be an apostle-it was not just something he decided to do. On the Road to Damascus, the risen Lord had appeared to Paul, and he had moved from mere religion to a relationship. God had then called him as an apostle to the Gentiles. Paul was not one of the original twelve Jesus chose as his disciples. In fact, he describes himself as one born out of due time or at the wrong time. (I Corinthians 15:8)
God still calls people into full time Christian service in offices such as pastors, teachers, missionaries and in other ministry positions. But he also commissions all Christians with work to do. A failure to realize this will lead to complacency and missing many opportunities he sends our way. It can also lead to a “paid staff” mentality. The work we do as Christians is because we have a calling from Almighty God.