Sermon preached on Romans 1:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/25/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Called to be Saints”
As we begin a new series on Romans, let’s be careful not to miss this beginning. Here in these short seven verses we have the opening of Paul’s letter to the Romans. This is what’s called a salutation. It’s the opening greeting of the letter. And of all Paul’s letters that we have, this one has the longest greeting. And as we look at this relatively lengthy greeting, we see it has something important to say. In a book where Paul will talk so much about how Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, he starts by telling us that this is what he’s been called to do. That he’s been called to proclaim that which the prophets of old had proclaimed. He was there to preach Christ and the gospel. He was ordained for this very task.
Of course, it makes sense in a greeting of this kind for Paul to emphasize his mission and special calling. Paul had never been to Rome before. He hoped to be able to go visit this developing church and minister among them for a time. We’re not sure how the church at Rome was first planted. It’s possible that it stemmed back all the way to the day of Pentecost, when possibly people from Rome were visiting Israel and heard Peter speak and brought back the gospel at that time. It’s also likely the Jewish persecution of the early Christians caused some of them to be scattered to Rome. We don’t know for sure. Surely people were coming and going from an influential city like Rome all the time, so it was inevitable for the gospel to take root there. Even though Paul hadn’t been there himself, chapter 16 contains a long list of his personal greetings to them, so he obviously knew a number of the people there already. They would have surely then known of him and his ministry as well.
So as we dig into this passage for today, we’ll consider it in three parts. First we will consider Paul and his apostolic ministry. Second, we’ll consider the ministry of the prophets that Paul mentions in verses 2 through 4. Third we’ll consider how the Roman church benefited from both of these ministries. Let’s begin then first with considering Paul and his apostolic ministry.
Look then at verse 1. “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.” Paul starts with some general labels about himself. The first one about him being a bondservant of Christ is one he seems to use a lot. He is quick to acknowledge who his master is! He serves Christ. His service is to magnify Christ. That is so clear in his ministry. And then he gets into his apostleship. He says he’s called to be an apostle. And even though he mentions this all the time too in the openings to his letters, he emphasizes it quite a bit here. Not only does he mention it here, but he mentions it again in verse 5. And not only that, but the bulk of this opening greeting is describing his mission as an apostle. That’s like what the rest of verse 1 says; he’s separated to the gospel of God. For him to be called to be an apostle, means’s he’s been set apart to bring the gospel. To bring a message.
You see, that’s what the word “apostle” means in the most basic sense. It’s a word that says you’ve been sent. You’ve been sent by someone with a message. It’s a basically a word for messenger. Paul was a messenger. What message did he bring? The gospel. That’s what the word gospel means. Good news. So, Paul had been called to be this special messenger and the message that he was entrusted with was the gospel. A message that we’ll see today is all about Christ and what Christ should mean to us.
Now to clarify, the word apostle in Greek can be used in a general sense, and in a technical sense. There is a common usage of this word whereby many people would be considered apostles in some general sense. In Philipians 2:25, for example, Paul refers to sending them a messenger named Epaphroditus. In the Greek it’s the word apostle used to refer to Epaphroditus. That’s the more general usage of the word apostle. But there is also a more technical way to use this term. One that refers to a special ordained office. You could think of this as the difference between a capital “A” apostle, and a lowercase “A” apostle. Of this there is no doubt, that there was the special ordained office of apostle. Numerous places in the Scriptures refer to this uniquely New Testament office. It is that which Christ was doing when he appointed the twelve disciples, he was preparing them to be of this special office of apostle. 1 Corinthians 12:28 references this special office when it says that God appointed in the church first apostles, then prophets, and then third teachers. And so that is what Paul has in mind here in these first few verses of Romans. He’s announcing his credentials, so to speak. He has been specially called and set apart for the work of the office of apostle.
This of course reminds us then of Paul’s conversion. Paul used to be a violent persecutor of Christians. But on the road to Damascus Christ intervened. He temporarily blinded Paul, who went by the name of Saul at that time. Finally, after healing him and changing his name, Jesus himself sent him to preach to the Gentiles. It’s here that we see the special nature of the apostolic office. People don’t make themselves apostles. In Acts 1:8, the eleven after the resurrection are sent and commissioned by Jesus, particularly in their role as witnesses. “And you will be my witnesses,” he says to the eleven. That’s unique about apostles. They are eye-witnesses of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. They receive their call direct from Christ to be his witnesses and messengers. Paul became an apostle in an out-of-the-ordinary way when he saw the risen Lord Jesus on the Road to Damascus. And in Acts 22:15, when Paul recounts this conversion story, he says that he was told that he’d be a witness for Christ. Paul refers to this unusual apostolic calling in 1 Corinthians 15:8 when he says that’s he’s been untimely born, and the least of the apostles, in light of his former persecution of the church.
I believe this is an important thing to note in our day. The office of apostle is not an ordinary, ongoing, office in the church. In other words, we don’t expect to have a constant new influx of apostles in each generation of the church. I’m talking about the capital “A” apostles here. If someone calls themselves an apostle, and just means they are in a general sense a messenger of the gospel, then I don’t lose any sleep over that, but it is confusing, actually. They should just call themselves a messenger. But there are indeed some churches that believe this office of apostle is something ongoing. That there would be modern day apostles in terms of this special office. But that’s not the picture we see presented in the New Testament. We see in the New Testament the ongoing offices of elder and deacon. The churches are called to appoint these in all the churches. But we don’t see a call for the church to appoint men to the office of apostle. No, this was a temporary institution. Their function was the unique role of witnessing to the life and ministry and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The original 12 disciples understood that. That’s why when Judas betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, that they decided in Acts 1 that it was the appropriate thing to replace him with someone worthy of the office. Acts 1:21 describes this. It shows what the criteria and function of this apostleship would be. They picked someone who had been among the ministry of Jesus from the start all the way to his ascension, so that he could be a witness to the resurrection. Again, notice that key idea of the apostle’s being eye-witnesses of Christ, especially of the risen Christ. They even ended up making a choice between two candidates put forth. They thought it right to settle upon the number of twelve. They understood that it was important for there to be specifically twelve, not eleven, not thirteen, men as these official apostles. The point being that this recognizes the temporary, foundational, role of the apostles. They are not instituting some ongoing office. They realize the unique nature of official, authorized, eye-witnesses that they were.
And yet God did have this one other apostle to call – Paul. Paul, as one untimely born, the last of the apostles. You had the original official twelve apostles. But then you had one more. People often ask why? Why did it end up actually more than twelve apostles, but thirteen when Paul was called? Well, we are not told, but it seems safe to assume that it was because of Paul’s unique calling. Paul was being called uniquely to go to the Gentiles. This is not to say that Paul never did any ministry among the Jews, nor did the twelve ever do any ministry among Gentiles. No, we know both did. But God had especially called Paul to minister among the Gentiles. And he certainly did that. He is doing that even here by correspondence in this letter to the Romans.
And so Paul was of this special office of Apostle. It was a unique temporary office that complemented another unique and special office. The office of prophet. As Paul goes on to tell the Romans what his work entailed as an apostle, he relates his to the work of the prophets. Those prophets who in the Old Testament had spoken the Word of God to the people. Their God given words which had been recorded down in the Old Testament Scriptures. Let’s turn then now to verses 2-4 and see what Paul has to say about the ministry of the prophets and how that’s related his ministry as an apostle.
So note then first the connection. In verse 1, Paul says that he’s an apostle set apart to deliver the message of the gospel. Then in verse 2 he talks about how that same gospel had been promised long ago by the prophets in the Holy Scriptures. He’s talking about the Old Testament at that point. And then he describes how the Holy Scriptures talked about this. They described this in relation to Christ. That’s the point of verses 3 and 4. These Holy Scriptures record the prophets discussing the Messiah and his work. This is similar to how Peter in 1 Peter 1:10-12 describes this. Peter says there that the prophets of old predicted both the sufferings and subsequent glories of the Messiah. Well, here Paul in verses 2-4 is in agreement. His point is that the prophets talked about the Christ.
Paul then in verses 3-4 seems to merge the ministry of the prophets of old with the newer ministry of the apostles. When he starts talking about Christ in verses 3-4 it seems he has in view both the prophets and the apostles. The ministry of Christ is what the prophets of old specifically predicted. And it’s what he as an apostle is now proclaiming as being fulfilled. Do you see the close connection there in verses 3-4 about Christ? The prophets in the Old Testament testified about the future coming of Christ. The apostles in the New Testament were eye-witnesses to the actual coming of Christ.
Together then, the apostles and prophets are a united witness to Christ and his work: Christ, who is described so wonderfully here. Two points about the Christ are brought out in verses 3 and 4. One according to the flesh. One according to the Spirit. In verse 3, according to the flesh, he’s a man. Not only is he a man, he’s the promised seed of David. The one promised by the prophets time and time again. The one the apostles have confirmed is of this line. In verse 4, according to the Spirit, he’s the Son of God. This brings out his divine aspect here. When he was raised from the dead, he was shown to be the Son of God with power. Jesus had revealed before his resurrection that he was the Son of God. He constantly talked about God being his Father whom he had come to reveal. But this truth was shown forth mightily with power when the resurrection happened. It’s kind of like how earlier Jesus in his ministry had told someone their sins were forgiven. The Pharisees thought that was wrong – who could forgive sins but God alone, they had asked. But Jesus then confirmed his authority to forgive sins by healing the man. The miracle showed that his previous claim was true. It validated it in power. Well, here his greatest claim was that he was the Only Begotten Son of God, come from the Heavenly Father. That claim was validated in power, when Jesus was raised from the dead. That was the greatest proof that he was God come in the flesh. And so verses 3 and 4 get at his dual natures – fully divine and fully human. And they also hint at his work. The work of the cross where he died to pay the penalty for sins. And the subsequent glory of the resurrection, where Jesus showed that he had overcome death.
Paul brings this all back around to himself again in verse 5. Through this Christ then, he has grace and apostleship. Grace and apostleship from Christ to do this ministry among the nations. This ministry of calling people to faith. And so Christ gave him grace and apostleship to this end. Grace to convert Paul from the staunchest opponent of Christianity and bring him to faith and salvation. Grace to gift him to then do his arduous work as an apostle. And apostleship to authorize him as Christ’s special messenger and ambassador. To bring the message as an eye-witness and authority to the nations.
So let’s sum this up and make sure we are all understanding the import of what we’re talking about here. These opening verses show us that we know about Christ and the gospel because of the prophets and the apostles. That’s what the prophets and the apostles were talking about. That was their ultimate focus. The record of the prophet’s teaching about Christ is the Old Testament in the Bible. The record of the apostle’s teaching about Christ is in the New Testament in the Bible. We have been delivered this foundation. That’s how Paul describes it in Ephesians 2:20. That the church has been founded upon the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. This of course again makes the case that we don’t expect more apostles and prophets, just like we don’t expect other new Christs. No, the foundation has been laid. The prophets and apostles have discharged their duty. This is why we say that the canon is closed. That we aren’t looking for new books of the Bible to add anymore to the Bible. The Bible is complete. Because the prophets did their job, and the apostles like Paul here did their job.
And so then think of the ramifications of this just a little bit further. Old and New Testaments speak about Christ. Prophets and apostles speak about Christ. This is what the foundation is all about. That’s why the foundation has Christ as the chief cornerstone. This is what we are here to talk about first and foremost. Yes, as pastor I bring you many important things from Scripture. But if we miss this, then we miss what Scripture is all about. If we talk about all the laws so as to pursue ethical living and social change, but miss Christ, then we’ve missed the point. And we’ve missed the power to live those laws out. And if we talk about all the academic aspects about the Bible – the archeological connections, the historical truths, the beautiful literary compositions, and the scholarly discussions on authorship and origin and so much more – If we talk about all those good things, but miss Christ, then we’ve missed the point. The Bible is about Christ and the gospel, from cover to cover. If that is not where you keep coming back to, then you’ve missed the point, no matter how much you appreciate the good book academically. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “We preach Christ crucified!”
So then, do not miss how Paul applies this to the church at Rome. This gospel message has bearing on them. All this about Christ and the gospel has an application to them. Paul sets them up in verse 5 to start making the application to them in verse 6. Paul said that his apostleship was so that he could bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations. In verse 6, Paul then includes the Roman Christians in that. “Among whom you also are called of Christ.” The church at Rome was also a recipient of this apostolic ministry that called for the obedience of faith. This is the start of how Paul now applies all of this to them.
Well, scholars like to discuss what this “obedience of faith” is all about. Whenever you have in grammar what’s known as a genitive relationship like this, something of something, “obedience of faith”, there can be some ambiguity. Is this obedience of faith talking about obedience that springs from faith? Or is it saying that our faith is an act of obedience: obeying the call to believe is the obedience of faith. Well, I think it’s best to understand this as the latter. That this is simply saying that the apostles have gone around calling, or commanding, people to believe. We obey that call and believe. But either way, however you take it, the point is still the same. There is faith involved in this. And it’s that faith that apostles are looking to bring out. Faith in Christ. That’s clear when he applies it to the Romans and says that this is what happened with them. They have been called of Christ in verse 6. Called to faith in him. Called to believe and trust in what he did in his life, death, and resurrection.
And what a wonderful result comes from all of this for the Romans. They benefited from the ministry of the apostles and the historic ministry of the prophets. Because of this, verse 7 brings out further application. They have been called to be saints. And they have divine blessing and benediction showered now upon them. Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Think of that first one. Called to be saints. Just as Paul it said in verse 1 had been called to be an apostle, here, same word, it says they have been called to be saints. In other words, called to be holy. To be set apart. That is what Christians have become. The Christians at Rome were made holy unto God as their sins were forgiven in Christ. They had been washed clean by the blood of Christ. And Jesus was then at work in them to grow them in holy living. They had been called to be saints in a very rich way. Sainthood is not just for some elite subset of the church. Each of the Christians in Rome was called to be holy ones. They had been declared holy in God’s sight in their justification when they first became a Christian. They were being made holy in their living by their sanctification, in God’s ongoing work that he was doing in their lives.
And then think of the blessings. Grace and peace. Grace in that the Roman church had received the opposite of what they had earned. They were given heaven and eternal life and divine sonship when they had deserved hell and damnation and divine wrath. And grace in that God was continuing to gift them and grow them and feed them as part of the body of Christ. And this peace is especially peace with God and peace in themselves. Peace in that they are no longer enemies of God. Peace in that they are reconciled to God instead of under the threat of judgment from him. And a growing peace inside us as we find greater contentment and joy and rest from our sins and worries and struggles as we find the greatest satisfaction in knowing God and living life Christ’s way.
So do you see all the application to the Roman church? The ministry of the apostles and prophets was not just something theoretical to them. It had bearing on them. It meant for them a call to faith in Christ. A call that united them to Christ. A call that saved them and set them apart as saints. A call that meant blessings from above. A call that showed as it said in verse 7, that they were “beloved of God.” Well, Trinity Presbyterian Church, this is the ministry that is going on here. This is the ministry for which I as a pastor have the great privilege to perform among you. I am not an apostle. I am not a prophet. At least not in the technical sense of these offices. And yet my ministry among you is indeed an apostolic and prophetic ministry, in the sense that I am bringing to you the message of the apostles and the prophets. I am not bringing some new strange teaching to you. I am bringing to you what they have already brought. I am bringing you Christ and the gospel, as what we have recorded right here. I am bringing to you that same call to be a saint. You are called to be a saint; called to faith in Christ!
And so what that means to you is the same thing that it meant to the church at Rome. It means that for you here who have believed in Christ, you are saints. You are beloved of God. God loves you and is blessing you. Blessing you more and more with grace and peace. That’s why as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I start and end our service with blessings. God wants you to know that this is for you. Blessings as his holy people.
And yet realize that Paul is writing all of this to an existing church. To those who had already come to know Christ. And yet he believed it nonetheless important to remind them of it. To strengthen them in it. That’s what we have done today. And that’s we’ll be doing as we study Romans. We will continue to proclaim Christ and the gospel. We’ll think about this in great detail, that we would know the love of God more and more. That we would grow in holiness and in grace and peace.
So then, let us continue to look to respond with this obedience of faith. To continue in faith, and grow in faith, as we study the Holy Scriptures. These glorious scriptures that we have passed down to us from the holy apostles and prophets. These precious revelations that testify to us about Jesus Christ. Praise be to God who has not left us in darkness. But has sent these apostles and prophets and Christ Jesus, so that we would know God and be saved. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.