Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Potter’s House: Sunday, September 29, 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on September 30, 2012

Introduction to the Book of Romans: “What’s in the Word, ‘Gospel?’” Romans 1:1

Please turn with me to the book of Romans, and the first chapter. This is probably not going to be your typical introduction to a series on a biblical book. Our days and the challenges thereof demand a close look and deep thought on what the apostle Paul’s intent was behind this letter to the Romans. Our particular focus to start this series will be Chapter 1, verse 1.

But first, what are we to expect in the forthcoming messages? Primarily, what is the book of Romans about and why did Paul write it? And what do we expect to learn from it? The answer comes by contrasting Romans 1: 8-15, and verse 16 following. We conclude from verse 8 that this was a strong group of believers whose testimony was known worldwide. Because of this, Paul was eager to visit them, but had been hindered.

Unlike the letter to the Corinthians, Paul wasn’t writing to the Romans to correct error. Unlike the Corinthian letters, we would not expect the content to reflect problems among believers in Rome. In fact, we see in verses 11 and 12 that Paul longed to see them so that they could mutually encourage each other. These Christians were strong Christians who even had the ability impart spiritual fruit to the apostle Paul.

But after Paul introduces himself in Chapter 1:1-7, and commends the believers at Rome in verses 8-15, something happens. Seemingly out of nowhere, and without purpose, he starts talking about other people.  In verse 18 he writes, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness….” What could that have to do with the church at Rome? Remembering that the Roman church was primarily Gentile, we find that Paul starts writing about hypocritical Jews in verse 12 of Chapter 2. What in the world is going on?

The key is in 1:14,15. “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.” What do we think primarily when we think about the word, “gospel”? Well, in one regard, we would rightfully think about the good news (that’s what the word “gospel” means: “good news”) that Christ died for our sins and made a way for us to be reconciled to God.

But wait a minute. The Romans were saved, and their faith was even spoken of throughout the whole world. Paul even thought he could benefit from their faith. Why would the apostle Paul want to go there and preach the gospel to them again? Well, from 1950 to 1970, American Christianity would answer that question this way: “Church is where people get saved. We have to get people to church so that we can get them under the gospel. Yes, discipleship is important, but the more time we spend in holy huddles the less we get people under the gospel.”

From 1970 to present, the answer is:

“We agree, but the key is that the same gospel that saved you also grows you. We grow in salvation by hearing the gospel afresh. We agree that investing a bunch of time in the discipleship of do’s and don’ts not only lessons the preaching of the gospel, but will not contribute to our spiritual growth as well.”

So, that is what these two groups would suggest in answering the question of Romans 1:15: why would Paul want to preach the gospel to believers at Rome? And my friends, these two groups probably represent at least 85% of American Christianity in our day. But the key to understanding what Paul meant in Romans 1:15 stems from a question that is being asked more and more in our day by Bible teachers and pastors.  Is the “gospel” more than the five-word gospel, “Christ died for our sins” that is all the rage in our day? John Piper expands on it a little more; he suggests that the gospel can be stated in one sentence. And no doubt, that is probably true of the good news that Christ died for our sins. But is the “gospel” more than that?

Yes it is. You see, Paul didn’t long to go to Rome to reiterate the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to already-saved Christians, he longed to go to them to preach the entire spectrum of the gospel. And since he didn’t know for certain that he would still get to come to them, he states the full spectrum of the gospel in this letter to them, starting in 1:16 and concluding in 15:21.

That’s what we have before us. That is the intent of this letter. That is what we should expect from this study: God’s full good news truth statement concerning what the world’s philosophers and psychologists have clamored about to know or disprove since ancient times. This is the good news of understanding what makes man tick, and how God truly relates to him. The deepest “why,” “how,” and “what” questions regarding life and godliness are answered in this letter; for example, why do Christians still sin?

Moreover, we see this truth concerning the word gospel in the ministry of Jesus. We read the following in Matthew 4:23, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”  We find out exactly what Jesus was preaching in regard to the “good news of the kingdom” three verses latter in the Sermon on the Mount, and the sermon states nothing in regard to death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The sermon is instruction for having a life built upon a rock by learning the commands of Christ and putting them into practice (Matthew 7: 24). That’s good news also. The full orbed gospel is the full counsel of God that answers the important questions of life and gives us the information we need for life and godliness. My own experience is the norm. By and large, making sure Christians have an in-depth understanding of the book of Romans is low on the priority list.

That’s the introduction. We now begin our study of the book of Romans in verse one. Verse one is all we will cover in this first message. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” This first verse is ripe with critical salvation truth. Paul introduces himself as a saved person. The saved person that describes the apostle Paul can be no less for anybody naming the name of Jesus Christ.

First, he describes himself as a servant of Jesus Christ. In our present day, the information age, there are many study helps that enable us to define how Bible words are translated in the different versions. You don’t have to know Greek or Hebrew, and we are not in bondage to those who do.  For instance, “E-Sword” is an online source that has a complete electronic Bible. By hovering over any given word with our mouse, we can see the Greek definition. We can also do searches of synonyms to see how the same word might be used in other places in the Bible. In this case, “servant,” according to E-Sword’s online dictionary, can also mean “slave” or “bond slave.” In fact, the New American Standard Bible translates it, “bond servant.” But if you go to Bible Gateway, which is a free online concordance, and do a New Testament search for “slave,” and then refer back to E-Sword for the Greek word that is used—you find that Paul refers to himself by the same word that is translated “slave” in many other places in the New Testament. Paul called himself a slave of Jesus Christ.

And if you are a Christian, that’s what you signed up for. If you didn’t sign up for slavery to Jesus Christ—you’re not a Christian—you agreed to a gospel presentation that was errant. You agreed to Christianity that is not a true Christianity. Period. In this case, you only signed up for salvation, not discipleship.  Being saved is both.

In Christ’s mandate to the church, he calls us to “make disciples,” not saved people. Here is exactly what he said as documented in Matthew 28:18-20: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

Your baptism was a public profession that you have come to believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sin. You are justified by God when you believe this. But that is only half of the gospel. You must also recognize that you are a disciple that observes everything Christ has commanded. This is the great heresy of our day. We have a culmination of two movements coming together that either teach that discipleship is optional, or that discipleship is the same thing as being declared righteous. This is the culmination of two movements that plainly state that sharing the gospel in a context that is more than the five words of, “Christ died for our sins” is a works salvation. It is the false gospel that James decried that is a calling to a discipleship that functions on belief in the five words only, and not the full gospel that also includes the full counsel of God. We are not saved by participating in discipleship, but our belief in the five words also comes with recognition that we are committing our life to Christ and His lordship. Christ is either Lord, or He isn’t!

In 1Corinthians 6:20 Paul states that we are “bought with a price.” What was that price? Is it not the blood of Christ? Therefore, to deny that we have been purchased (this is first century slave terminology) as slaves is to deny the very purchase. If we are not slaves to Christ’s lordship, then neither were we purchased.

So, how does this happen without making our role in discipleship a part of God’s saving work and our justification? And why do Christians who have committed to Christ’s lordship still sin? And how does the law function in all of this? The answering of these questions is of extreme importance, and that’s why Paul longed to come to Rome to preach it to the Christians there. Nevertheless, he begins to proclaim the depths of the gospel to them in 1:16. Paul wanted to teach it to them publically and from house to house as he had done in other regions, but until then, this letter would have to suffice. That is why this letter is profoundly critical for Christians to understand.

Secondly, Paul said he was called and set apart for the “gospel of God.”  And if you are saved, it is no different for you. You are not called to be an apostle, but if you are saved, you are a servant; you are also called, and set apart.  Turn to with me to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. It reads as follows, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

In the thirteenth chapter of John, Christ told Peter that he no longer needed a washing—that was done when Peter was saved. We are justified, and declared holy. If you use E-Sword, and hover over the word, “sanctified” in 1Corinthians 6:11, you find out that it means “holy.” To be sanctified is to be made holy. You say, “Well, I am not looking very holy right now, how can this be?” Questions like this is why the book of Romans is so vital—these are the very questions that this book answers lest Christians are confused, neutralized, and hesitant in the aggressive discipleship God has called us to.

Watch what Paul states in 1Thessalonians 4:3-8, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

This is why Paul longed to preach the whole gospel to the Christians at Rome. The gospel is not only about the gospel, it is about how to do the gospel. It is about how to control “YOUR OWN BODY” in a way that is holy and honorable. It is the whole counsel of God, the good news of Jesus Christ, and the good news of the kingdom. It is the good news of God’s entire truth, not just part of it. The fact that Christ died for our sins is good news; the fact that God set us apart is good news; the Holy Spirits role as our helper in sanctification is good news; the fact that we can have life, and have it more abundantly is good news.

But be sure of this: he who rejects the full counsel of God in learning how to control our own bodies is…. as Paul clearly states, not rejecting a man, but rejecting God. And that is what a great deal of Romans is about.

And as we move forward in this book, I hope you share my same anticipation in what we will learn together about God’s great gospel. We have a little more business to take care of in the next messages, but our endeavor into Paul’s gospel treatise begins in Romans 1:16.

8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Argo said, on October 1, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    Paul,
    What does obedience to the “authority” of scripture look like? I really don’t understand. I hear so many people proclaim that all we have to do is follow Scripture in order to “get it right”. But with the hundreds of interpretations, it seems that it isn’t working. I’ve heard a hundred times that the Bible has one meaning, but after 2000 years, if the bible is so infallible, why haven’t we agreed on what the meaning is?

    I won’t lie: I strongly believe that the Bible has replaced the Holy Spirit, and that is the problem. We have made letters from men an idol. We make the “inspiration” of the Spirit more important than the Spirit Himself in the life of the believer. We falsely claim that the Bible is God’s Word. It isn’t. Jesus Christ is the capital W Word. The bible is His revelation…a useful teaching, but it is not the Teacher. The Holy Spirit is.

    My argument is this: the more we harp on Scripture Alone, the worse and more despotic Christianity becomes. The devil used Scripture against Christ in the desert. He didn’t quote it wrong. He had the verses right. So what was the problem? Scripture alone should always = truth, right, if it is infallible? So why was the devil a liar? Because his context and application was false. So what is more important? Scripture, or how it is applied to a given situation? And who applies it infallibly? The Spirit. So it is not Scripture Alone; it is believer alone, applying scripture according to the Spirit. The bible is nothing more than a hammer. Whether it hits the nail squarely depends on teacher and student.

    We have become lovers and worshippers of the Bible, instead of lovers and worshippers of God. Appeals to Bible infallibility has always been a tool of despots. Nowhere in the Bible does God proclaim this Protestant canon “inerrant”.

    Like

    • paulspassingthoughts said, on October 1, 2012 at 10:37 AM

      Argo,

      I think I will answer you with something the apostle Peter wrote. He stated that the apostle Paul was sometimes “hard to understand.” This speaks to God’s desire to involve man in His work and a call for them to labor with Him to overcome obstacles. That includes interpretation. In regard to an objective truth from God via the Scriptures, Peter stated in the same context that men take things that are hard to understand (in this case, the word of God) and “twist” the words to their own destruction. How can you “twist” something that has no objective standard? The fact that man has twisted God’s word en masse to suite themselves is not a determiner regarding its authority. Also, in Luke 16, Christ used a parable to illustrate the authority of the “law and the prophets”; ie., the Old Testament. In that parable, Abraham states that God will not use someone who has come back from the dead to warn others of a coming eternal judgement. Instead: “They have the law and the prophets, let them hear them.” Again, in PPT’s statement on the authority of the Scriptures, the Bible continually warns against taking away or adding to the word. If it’s not a closed canon of authority–this warning makes no sense. Folks that offer ideas here do not necessarily reflect the views of PPT, that’s why I am posting these statements. I don’t agree with comments that are often posted here, but everybody who does is respectful. Therefore, I think of late, the discussions (and that’s what they are, discussions) here are healthy and reflect honest challenges in regard to what people are thinking. The apostle Paul himself was all about chewing the fat with people in the arena of ideas without compromising his convictions. That is my answer to those who have written me to ask why I post various comments. Again, blogs are about discussion.

      Like

  2. Argo said, on October 1, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    We continue to do what we’ve always done, since the golden calf. Worshipped the creations of our hands instead of God. To be sure we’ve come up with more convincing arguments as to why this is still the right thing to do, but it’s still the same idea.

    People can call me a heretic, but I’m still waiting to understand how a created thing is as infallible as God.

    Like

  3. Argo said, on October 1, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    Paul,
    Thanks for taking the time to post this response. I recognize that my position is hard to grasp; I’ve trouble putting it into words. I want to be sure that all understand that I do not in anyway regard the Bible as just another book of rules or something. But my question-and thanks for mentioning this-is just what, then IS the objective standard? If it is the Bible, then what we are saying is that the Bible interprets itself. I argue that this cannot possibly be true because then it would never be flexible enough (or at all) to apply to anyone’s life. There is only ONE thing that can be said to both define and interpret itself by its own definition: God. What is God? God. What does God mean? God. Who is God? I AM. Therefore, if an objective standard cannot be found in the thing, that is, it cannot BE its own definition, then it cannot be infallible. The objective standard is not the Bible, it is the Holy Spirit, who teaches us what it means and how to apply it. I understand it is sort of nitpicking semantics a bit, because most of how we apply the bible, I think, will look similar among believers who are truly seeking the Spirit to apply its truths. But saying something is its own interpretation when that thing is not God Himself is inherently dangerous, because SOMEONE has to tell us what the objective standard is…the Bible cannot tell us what its application is for every circumstance because the bible is just a thing. That someone is either God or man, and what I’m saying is that when we say the bible is infallible, what we are usually saying is that some MAN’s interpretation (our doctrine or theology, as opposed to, say, the Jeh Ws or the Catholics) of the bible is infallible. That’s dangerous. If we say the someone is the Holy Spirit, we must admit that HE is the one who is infallible, not the bible.

    I know this is hard to understand, and I’m sorry.

    Also…thanks for going through Romans. Forgot to say that! 🙂

    Love you Paul!! I hope my comments are not offensive to you!! I really get afraid that I come on too strong. I really, really, don’t want to sound like I’m angry or anything.

    Like

    • paulspassingthoughts said, on October 1, 2012 at 1:33 PM

      Argo,

      No problem here with how you are expressing these ideas. I just don’t share the same tensions that you see in regard to the metaphysics. When Christ delivered the sermon on the mount, the Bible states that “He taught them.” This implies an objective truth that means the same to everyone that was there. Christ referred often to His “commands.” “…teaching them [implies a criteria] to observe all that I have commanded.” I think the illumination of the Holy Spirit has more to do with convicting us that these are the very words of God that we can completely trust for life and godliness than anything else. Certainly, understanding is in view also. The Bible states that more understanding is granted as we apply what we know.

      Like

  4. Argo said, on October 1, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    What is the danger in saying the bible is not inerrant? Why does it have to be infallible, or objective? We have the Holy Spirit, why then, does our faith rest so heavily on the idea that the Bible is its own, objective interpretation or TRUTH? I just don’t understand.

    Like

    • paulspassingthoughts said, on October 1, 2012 at 1:37 PM

      Argo,

      Because we can’t hear the conversation the Holy Spirit is having with someone who is making a truth claim. We need an objective criteria to judge it by.

      Like

  5. Argo said, on October 1, 2012 at 9:09 PM

    Hi, Paul. One final badgering of you  and then I’ll agree to disagree.

    I do struggle with the metaphysics of it, because in the case of bible infallibility, the metaphysics are impossible. There is no way a created thing can be, by definition, infallible in the metaphysical sense because its relevance and usefulness will always be dependent on the application in the context of an individual human being. Take away the human and you take away the command. There is no way that anything infallible can be so utterly dependent on the fallible for its truth. On another note, the question isn’t so much objective versus subjective…with all things that are not God, there is an element of both. Sure, “do not kill” is objective on one level, but its use and outcome is subjective to the context of individual human existence. Do not kill means something different for the soldier than for the bus driver. And even if the command is subservient to an even greater truth…all the more proof that the command is indeed subjective, at least in part.

    Finally, if we say that the Holy Spirit is necessary in order to show that the word of God is in fact the word of God, then we have serious problems. On the one hand, this leads one to conclude that the Calvinist idea of election and predestination are true…that only those who come to accept in Christ via the scriptures or the teaching of the scriptures are those who’ve already been arbitrarily selected by the Holy Spirit beforehand to already know and accept the TRUTH of the Bible and its contents. So faith has nothing to do with receiving Christ, but only election. But this creates a difficult contradiction because one would assume that anything so infallible and objective would naturally be so self-evident that anyone who isn’t insane should readily see and accept it as being utterly true…so, why does the Holy Spirit need to prove it? If we say, well, it is objective and infallible, but so complicated that the Holy Spirit needs to prove that it’s true, then what are we actually saying? We are saying that something infallible needs to be improved upon, or, conversely, needs to be “dumbed down”, in order for it to be useful to man, which creates the uncomfortable contradiction that this must then mean that the thing cannot possibly be infallible.

    And this is how insidious Calvinist ideas are. We think that resisting the most powerful and comprehensive religious philosophy ever devised by man, followed by some of the most brilliant minds in the world, should not necessitate the rethinking of everything we’ve come to believe (not denying it all, necessarily, but at the very least, questioning it)…and if so, we kid ourselves. The reason it keeps coming back is precisely because the metaphysics are not challenged!. We think we can have our metaphysical cake and eat it too. But if we don’t question the metaphysics we will always come full circle back to ceding the Calvinists premises, and this is why it keeps rearing its heretical head every hundred years or so. So…of course I struggle with the metaphysics. In my mind, what else is there to struggle with?

    Finally, one last thought. If Christ’s commands are indeed infallible, then why did he have to die? Surely all that is needed for salvation is the obedience to Christ’s commands. If we say no, we cannot, that’s why Christ had to die, then we carry in our cute little cases a Bible full of commands that have already been fulfilled by Christ’s sacrifice. There is no need to obey at all…Christ already did it for us. And, viola! Double imputation!

    Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s