1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God - 2 the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding His Son, who as to His human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through Him and for His name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of His Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong - 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
There is no book of the Bible which is more important than any other, but there is just something about the book of Romans.
It has been used by God many times in the past to awaken the Church. Probably the best-known example is the Great Reformation of the sixteenth century. It can be traced to Martin Luther’s study of Romans. The doctrine of justification by faith suddenly became clear to Luther, and this was the beginning of a major change in Christian thinking and teaching. In a sense, Christianity was reborn through the Reformation.
While the reformists began to understand the Scriptures in new ways, it must be pointed out though that the Gospel has never changed.
The message has always been the same.
In the words of Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” but there was a fundamental shift during the Reformation in how we understood how God has reached into our lives.
And the catalyst was a detailed study of Romans.
Two hundred years later the book of Romans lit new fires of revival through the conversion of John Wesley. Wesley’s encounter with Jesus was the spark of a whole new wave of evangelism by the Church, and just as with Luther, it was after Wesley spent time studying Romans that his faith grew.
Fortunately, we have the entire Word of God at our fingertips today.
We have the complete story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
But if we were forced to choose only one of the 66 books of the Bible to study and learn from, many Christians would chose Romans.
I have told you this story before, but it’s worth telling again. The Victorian author and poet G.K. Chesterton was once asked which book he would like on a desert island, and his classic reply was “Thomas’ Guide To Practical Shipbuilding.”
If asked a similar question about a single book of the Bible, many Christians would choose the book of Romans, because it encompasses all the essentials of the Christian faith.
The apostle Paul is the man who wrote this letter, and as we read the introduction in the first chapter we are given an insight into the amazing passion of Paul. He had a passion for Jesus, and he clearly understood the call of God to preach the Gospel. You cannot read Paul’s letters in the New Testament and Romans in particular, and not be impressed by his single-mindedness to be faithful to Jesus. And he sums it up so well in verse 16: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.”
We can learn a lot from Paul and his commitment to God.
This morning we’ll be looking at the opening verses of Romans – the introduction to this letter, and how we are challenged to be as faithful to the Gospel as the apostle Paul was.
So what do we know about him?
Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus. You can read about this supernatural encounter in Acts 9. Paul (or Saul as he was known in those days) had been an enemy of Christ, and as a Pharisee had made it his life’s mission to do as much as he possibly could to destroy the Christian faith and the Church.
But after he met Jesus, his life was totally transformed.
Paul introduces himself in his letter to the Roman Church as ‘a servant of Jesus Christ.’ The word ‘servant’ in the original text here actually means ‘slave’, rather than a hired worker, and it implies the Lordship of Christ over Paul’s life.
He then says that he was called to be an apostle. This wasn’t a title he made up for himself to show how important he was.
God had called him to that task, but because Paul had such a close relationship with God, he clearly understood that call.
One of the most fulfilling things for a Christian is to know the mission and purpose which God has called them to.
Paul is just one of countless believers through the centuries who heard and acted on God’s call on his life.
If you have yet to fully understand what He is saying to you, keep asking.
In verse 1 Paul also says that he was ‘set apart for the gospel of God.’
We know about his orthodox Jewish background and his training as a Pharisee, which all formed part of the preparation for his task as an apostle. Paul had all the head knowledge he needed, but once he heard the call of God on his life, he applied that knowledge as he lived out his mission for Jesus.
Are we using what God teaches us to do our bit for the Kingdom? We can attend Sunday services faithfully, we can read books and articles about the Gospel and we can attend courses and retreats which build up our faith and knowledge of God, but we do need to apply what we learn.
Paul addressed this letter to “all in Rome.” Rome was the centre of the world of that day. This was where commerce, culture, and religion came together, but as we read on through the book of Romans, we soon realise that Rome was also a centre of sin. It might have been the hub of modern life for those times, but Rome was about as ungodly a place as you could find.
So it’s interesting that Paul called the Roman Christians ‘saints.’ If you could be a saint in Rome, you could be a saint anywhere.
And this was more than just a term of endearment. It was a name that was fully justified. In verse 8 Paul says, “Your faith is being reported all over the world.” The work and witness of the early Church in Rome was the stuff of legend. Just like the world we live in today, those early Christians faced tremendous opposition in their work for the Kingdom, but they not only persevered – their faith was world famous. They were not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this is our focus for this morning.
Can the same be said of the Church today? Can the same be said of this congregation? Are we being faithful to the command of Jesus to be salt and light? Are we serious in our commitment to making disciples of all nations? Are we baptising in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and are we teaching each other to obey everything Jesus has commanded us?
To be faithful to Jesus requires many things, and one of those things is that we should not be ashamed of the Gospel.
Do your non-believing friends know that you are a Christian?
I’m not saying you should beat them over the head with a Bible at every opportunity, but is there something about you which makes you stand out from the crowd?
Colossians 3:15 says “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” If the peace of Christ really ruled in our hearts, they would see the difference.
To me one of the most challenging verses in the Bible is 1 Peter 3:15 –
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Depending on the situation and the people who are asking you to give an answer for the reason for your hope, this can be a real challenge sometimes.
But we must be faithful to the Gospel.
Being faithful to the Gospel of Christ is what drove Paul. It was what got him out of bed in the mornings.
And all of this despite the opposition he’d faced for years because of his determination to preach the Gospel.
He had been imprisoned in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Berea, ignored in Athens, laughed at in Corinth, stoned and left for dead in Lystra. So what could possibly make him want to go to Rome? You’d think that Rome would be the last place he’d want to go to next.
Rome was the heart of the empire. It was the place of the modern thinkers, philosophers and poets. It was the home of every conceivable idol and the seat of emperor-worship.
Rome was the centre of intellectual arrogance and the greatest city in the world.
And where does Paul want to go and preach? In Rome.
There was only one thing that would enable Paul to survive in that place – the power of the Gospel.
He said that he was ready to preach in Rome because he was “not ashamed of the gospel”.
But if you look at what Rome was like in those days, Paul had many reasons to be afraid or ashamed.
The gospel had no official standing in those early days.
It was a minority religion, which was despised and rejected by people.
Thirty-odd years earlier the people had rejected Jesus and had Him executed, and not much had really changed.
But Paul was confident and he was bold. Nothing was going to stop him proclaiming the truth of Jesus.
What about us today? How bold are we in proclaiming God’s truth in a world which is just as hostile to Jesus as it has always been?
Far too often the Church is guilty of just gathering together in little holy huddles. As much as we would like the non-believing world to just go away and leave us alone, it will not.
What is it that we are so afraid of? Why is it that we so easily forget that we have the Spirit of God within us, giving us the words to speak when we need them?
It is because we forget so easily the promises of God.
1 John 4:4 says “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Do we really, honestly believe that promise? If we did, would we be ashamed of the Gospel?
Or to put it another way, why was Paul not ashamed?
The answer to that question is easy. Because he believed it. In verse 16 Paul wrote, “it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”
Paul had seen the amazing transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus in his Christian colleagues, and even more clearly in himself.
Paul’s attitude was this: If God could take an enemy of Christ like himself and change him so radically, then what more proof did he need of the power of God?
We speak often of Paul’s Damascus Road experience. The way that God showed up in his life and turned it the right side up so dramatically is simply amazing, so I suppose it makes sense that Paul believed in the power of God – he’d seen it for himself.
He was bold and unashamed of what the gospel is, because of what the gospel does. The reason why Paul was not overcome by the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel, and the reason that he proclaimed it with such joy was because it is powerful, it changes lives, and his in particular.
For the vast majority of Christians though, their conversion experience was nowhere as dramatic as Paul’s…
Don’t you believe that for one second.
The day I accepted the gift of salvation which God offered me through the death of Jesus, the angels danced in the presence of God.
How could I possibly be ashamed of that?
If the salvation of my soul was important enough for the angels to rejoice, then surely I can muster up enough guts to not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ!
The Gospel of Christ is the good news that Jesus came to earth. He died for us, for you and me, and He was raised from death.
The power of God that raised Him from death is the same power that will give you life after your death.
Jesus has paid the price of your sin, and the moment you accept and believe that truth, nothing will ever be the same for you again. That’s what the power of God can do. By making one simple, but profound decision, you will change absolutely everything in your life. Forever.
Don’t be ashamed of that.
Make no mistake – you will face persecution as a Christian. This world is a hostile place for Christ-followers. It always has been. The world will give you more than enough reasons to be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.
satan is powerful, and the hatred which Christians experience in this world is very real, and it is not going to get any better.
Paul knew that. He knew the power of Rome, but he also knew a greater power.
1 John 4:4 again: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Remember, you have Holy Spirit power.
God’s power, and the power of the blood of Jesus is greater than the power of sin over your life.
The very same gospel that Paul proclaimed is ours. The same power that Paul experienced on the Damascus Road and throughout his life of ministry is available to us.
We simply cannot and must not be ashamed of the Gospel.
The alternative just does not bear thinking about: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His Father's glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)
Are we able to boldly echo Paul’s words?
“I am not ashamed of the Gospel.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Romans 1:16-17
The persecution and opposition that Paul faced as a pioneer of the Christian Church is well documented, yet he boldly proclaimed that he was not ashamed of the Gospel.
Which reasons can you think of for his boldness?
Generally speaking, we do not see this kind of boldness in the modern Church today. What do you think might be the reasons for this?
What are some of the occasions when you have seen boldness?
Paul’s conversion experience (you can read about it in Acts 9:1-19) was dramatic in the extreme.
How have you experienced the transforming power of God in your life?
What similarities and differences are there between your story and Paul’s?
Read 1 Peter 3:15
What opportunities have you had to give for the reason for the hope that you have, and how was your testimony received?
Read Mark 8:34-38
How do you understand Jesus’ words in verses 34-37?
Discuss in your group the implications of His statement in verse 38.
Close by praying for a new boldness in the Christian Church’s evangelism efforts, and in our congregation in particular.