The Need for Righteousness: Obedience of Faith

Why is Romans first among the letters written in the New Testament?  It doesn’t seem that chronology is the reason.  Galatians and the Corinthian letters were more than likely  written at an earlier date.  However, its placement in the New Testament makes perfect sense.  I have just finished preaching through the last half of Acts surveying the life of Paul.  Acts ends with Paul in Rome.  He was transferred as a prisoner from Jerusalem to Rome.  Jerusalem and Rome are central to the dissemination of the Gospel throughout the first century Jewish and Gentile peoples respectively.  Jews and Gentiles constitute all people.  There is no other category of people.  Either one is a Gentile or a Jew.

Romans reveals God’s nature and eternal purpose for all mankind (Romans 8.38-39), of the Jew first and also of the Greek (cp. Acts 28.17-29).  Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!  Romans teaches that the incomprehensible power of God to salvation is for everyone who believes (Romans 1.16).

Paul wrote to Christian brothers and sisters in Rome.  Some were Gentiles and some were Jews.  Some of them had been saved and filled with Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Acts tells us that people from Rome were present at Pentecost (cf. Acts 2.10).  Indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit, they went back to Rome with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul said that the faith of Roman Christians was spoken of throughout the whole world (cf. Romans 1.8).

Romans is written to provide a theological understanding of the fullness of God’s plan of salvation for all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike.  Romans demonstrates that the plan of salvation is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Romans is filled with close, connected reasoning.  It is so tightly packed, that much is overlooked when simply surveying the book during Bible reading time.  The other danger is becoming too myopic when studying the book. It is a letter that should be read straight through. Individual paragraphs should be read within their context.

Significantly, Paul quoted from the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) when citing the many passages of the Old Testament Scriptures in Romans.  He did so because his audience was primarily a Gentile or Greek-speaking audience.

As already mentioned, Galatians and both letters to the Corinthians were written before Paul wrote Romans.  But the confrontations with the churches of Galatia and Corinth governed the content of those letters.  Romans is a cool, calm statement of the salvation of God for everyone who believes.  It is a universal book for a universal audience.

I am hesitant to say that one must master Romans, because it is impossible to master any book of the Bible.  I would say especially this book.  However, I do think it is important that you know its basic content, memorize portions of it, and know it very well.  For instance, until a Christian studies in detail Romans 5 – 9, I believe that they will struggle immensely with the Christian life.  I do think it is important for you to read Romans many times and meditate on it contents.  Romans, more than any other book of the Bible in my opinion, clarifies one’s understanding of the righteousness of God and the salvation of mankind.  My former pastor and seminary professor would say that instead of you mastering Romans, Romans should master you.

Very important questions will be addressed throughout the book.  Paul may state the questions explicitly, or the questions are implicit derived from factual data in the book.

  • If one is justified freely by faith alone, how can God be just?
  • How does the Gospel relate to the Old Testament Law?
  • How should a Christian view the Law of Moses?
  • What is the Christian’s relationship to the Law?  Does grace give us the right to ignore the Law?  If not, does one need to keep the Law in order to be saved?  Do we need to keep the Law to please God and advance in the Christian life?
  • Since God’s grace abounds even more than our sin, what will keep the moral fabric of our lives in tact?  What incentive does Romans offer to NOT sin?
  • What about Israel?  Has God cast Israel off forever?  Does the Church replace Israel?  Are the promises of God made to Israel fulfilled in Christ?  Will they be fulfilled at a yet future time?

These questions are all answered by Paul in Romans.  Paul calls himself the least of all saints and the chief of sinners.  He is a Pharisee of the Pharisees and yet an apostle to the Gentiles.  God led Paul deliberately through the Old Testament Scriptures.  The Lord Jesus Christ Himself taught Paul.  Paul paid the price for identifying with our Lord’s teaching and suffering.  Still, his overarching desire was to know Christ and be found in Him.

God breathed out this letter to Paul.  This is called the process of inspiration.  But inspiration is mysterious in so many ways.  God communicated through Paul’s experience, suffering, vocabulary, background, and education.  There are both divine and human aspects to the inspiration of this letter and of all Scripture.  The result is a masterpiece, a foundational document for the whole of Christianity.  How do we approach such a letter?

There are three major sections in the letter according to one of my favorite writers, J. Sidlow Baxter.  Baxter sees a doctrinal section (Chapters 1 – 8), a national section (Chapters 9-11), and a practical section (Chapters 12 – 16).  Some commentators divide the book into five sections dealing with the topics of sin (Chapters 1 – 3), salvation (Chapter 4), sanctification (Chapters 5 – 8), sovereignty (Chapters 9 – 11), and service (Chapters 12 – 16).  This division provides a good, memorable and alliterated outline.  Verses 16 – 17 provide the central thrust and theme of the book.  Paul reasons:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith'” (Romans 1.16-17).

What is revealed in salvation according to Romans 1.17?  The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.  That is, we are growing in our understanding of God’s righteousness as we read and study Romans.  Our faith grows.  We live out of a vibrant and growing faith in the righteousness of God.  This is an eternal quality of life that enables our acts of righteousness through the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.  So the core doctrine in Romans is the righteousness of God.  The outline of the book I am using reflects this.  It is an outline modified from my reading of Romans and several other outlines of the book.

Romans 1.1-15 provide an introduction to the letter.  Verses 16-17 state the theme of the letter.  Then the body of the Letter is divided three major sections:

1.    The Revelation of the Righteousness of God (Romans 1 – 8)

2.    The Vindication of the Righteousness of God (Romans 9 – 11)

3.    The Application of the Righteousness of God (Romans 12 – 16)

Here are the three major sections along with a break-down of their sub-sections:

The Revelation of the Righteousness of God (Romans 1 – 8)

1.    The Need of the Righteousness of God (Romans 1 – 2)

2.    The Gift of the Righteousness of God (Romans 3 – 4)

3.    The Benefits of the Righteousness of God (Romans 5.1 – 11)

4.    The Contrast to the Righteousness of God (Romans 5.12 – 21)

5.    The Demonstration of the Righteousness of God (Romans 6 – 8)

The Vindication of the Righteousness of God (Romans 9 – 11)

1.    Election:  The Righteousness of God Vindicated in Israel’s Past (Romans 9)

2.    Rejection:  The Righteousness of God Vindicated in Israel’s Present (Romans 10)

3.    Restoration:  The Righteousness of God Vindicated in Israel’s Future (Romans 11)

The Application of the Righteousness of God (Romans 12 – 16)

1.    Righteousness Reflected in Our Duties (Romans 12 – 13)

2.    Righteousness Reflected in Our Support (Romans 14)

3.    Righteousness Reflected in Our Obedience (Romans 15)

4.    Righteousness Reflected in Our Fellowship (Romans 16)

While righteousness is the theme of Romans, this theme poses quite a problem for all mankind.  The reason this is true is because we are ungodly and unrighteous people.  Romans 1.18 states that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”  Our problem is that we must be godly and righteous, but we are ungodly and unrighteous.  God has revealed His wrath from Heaven against all mankind for this reason.  Our default position is “condemned already.”

Therefore, Romans is a study on evangelism.  It explains how the ungodly and unrighteous become godly and righteous.  “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1.17).  The Gospel or Good News is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1.16).  It is only by faith that the ungodly and unrighteous become godly and righteous.

Thus, we begin with The Revelation of the Righteousness of God in Romans 1 – 8.  Our first series of messages will key in on our need for righteousness as it is communicated in the first two chapters of the book.  This first study, examines the first seven verses of Romans 1.

Romans 1:1–7 (NKJV) — 1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. 5 Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

These seven opening verses identify who Paul is, what the gospel of God is, and what obedience to the faith is all about.

The Identification of Paul (Romans 1.1)

“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God…” (Romans 1.1)

He is a bondservant of Jesus Christ.

Paul identifies himself as a bondservant or slave of Jesus Christ.  It is a privilege to be a slave of Christ.  While it was a great honor for a man or a woman to be a slave in the household of the Caesar or some other great dignitary at the time, how much more so to be a slave of the One for whom all things were created!  But, as a slave…

He is called to be an apostle.

Apostle literally means sent one.  However, it is used in an official sense in our text.  Paul is called to be an apostle.  Paul was called in the sense that he was invited to be God’s messenger of the gospel.  The understanding of called includes an invitation.

It certainly would have never occurred to Paul to reject this invitation or calling after his experience upon the Damascus Road.  As an apostle, he would witness firsthand the resurrected Christ.  All apostles must do so.  This is one reason why there are no apostles in the Church active today.

Paul brought forth teaching from the Lord Jesus in order to establish the Church.  Again, this apostolic doctrine or teaching was received by Paul firsthand.  It was then ‘enscripturated’.  As a bondservant, Paul lived out his function as an apostle for the sovereign will and purpose of God.  Paul was a bondservant, an apostle, and…

He is separated to the gospel of God.

What is the gospel of God?  It is the good news of God’s salvation for everyone who believes (1.16).  It is the righteousness of God which comes through faith (1.17).  Paul was set apart for communicating the gospel of God.  Paul is a bondservant, an apostle, and he set apart for the gospel of God.

Once you choose to believe on Christ alone for eternal life, you are choosing to become His bondservant or slave.  Once you belong to Him, you are not permitted to choose for yourself in life.  You cannot pick and choose what you will obey in the Scriptures.  The true attitude of a Christian is one of complete devotion (Romans 12.1-2).

The Identification of the Gospel of God (1.2-4)

“…which [this relative pronoun refers to the gospel of God] He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1.2-4).

Verse 2 indicates that the gospel of God was promised beforehand through the Old Testament prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The gospel of God also concerns His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Again a connection is made with the Old Testament.  We are told that Jesus Christ was born of the seed of David as the incarnate Son of God (v. 3).  The Holy Spirit powerfully declares Jesus Christ as the Son of God or God the Son through His resurrection from the dead (v. 4).  The gospel’s two necessary components are the death and resurrection of Christ.  

These verses remind us that the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ is complex.  He is beyond our ability to explain.  He is fully man as the words “according to the flesh” indicate, but He is also the “Son of God with power.”  He is fully God the Son.  We cannot understand how it is true, but we believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man.  He is the son of David and the Son of God.  Born a baby in a manger, Jesus came in the weakness of human flesh.  Raised from the tomb, He broke the power of sin and death.  He died for our sin and was raised for our justification (4.25).

The Scriptures are God’s gift to us, and they all speak of the power of the resurrected Christ.  If we are to benefit from that power we must search the Scriptures.  All Scripture testifies of Jesus Christ.  All Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

Jesus said that religious people search the Scriptures because in them they think they have eternal life.  However, they fail to understand that the Scriptures testify of Christ.  They are not willing to come to Christ that they may have life.

John 5.40 does not teach that Son of God is unwilling to give people like this life; therefore, they do not come to Him.  No, Jesus teaches they were not willing to come to Him believing so that they may have life.  God is willing; man is unwilling.  We must search the Scriptures for the resurrected Christ!  See John 5.39-40.

Remember too that the Scriptures teach that Jesus Christ is our Lord as v. 3 plainly states.  If Jesus is Lord, we must obey Him.  You are not your own, but you’ve been bought with a price.  You are God’s unique possession.  As such, you must glorify Him in your soul and body, which are His.  This is the Gospel of God according to Romans.  Finally, we seek…

The Identification of Obedience of Faith (Romans 1.5-7)

There are five aspects to our understanding of the phrase “obedience to the faith” in these verses:

Obedience is an expression of God’s grace (1.5).

“Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name…” (Romans 1.5)

Through the resurrected God-Man, Paul and others received both grace and apostleship (v. 5).  Remember that Paul is a bondservant and an apostle set apart for the Gospel of God.  He may only fulfill his work as an apostle by the grace of God.  This grace he received from God.  The apostleship of Paul is an expression of the grace of God.  Paul could not be an apostle apart from the grace of God.  Yet, notice that…

Obedience is an expression of our faith (1.5).

Paul’s grace-enabled apostleship was for obedience to the faith among all nations.  Literally, the phrase in Greek translates “obedience of faith” [see NASB].  Faith is the substance of things men hope for, the evidence of things men cannot see (cp. Hebrews 11.1).  Faith is your personal trust in someone or something.

Obedience is sometimes tied to faith in the Scriptures.  This is because faith submits to its object.  Faith in Christ is giving up the notion that there is another way.  No, He alone is THE Way!  Faith is the realization that God alone gives us righteous and godly lives.  Faith in Romans is submission to the righteousness of God available through His resurrected Son.  Our faith obeys.

Faith is available to all.

Obedience of faith is among all nations.  This fact is not surprising to 21st century Christianity, but it would have been very surprising in the 1st century.  The Gentiles or the nations were considered dogs by the Jews.  But the gospel of God has changed all that.  Paul’s gospel includes the Jews but also every other nation.  He refers to the nations as Gentiles.  He uses the words nations and Gentiles interchangeably.  Thus faith is available to us.  But…

Faith is for His name.

Obedience of faith is among nations for His name.  The name of Jesus Christ must be defined by His perfect character and work.  The name of Jesus Christ is what Paul and all believers live for.  We long to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, and conformation to His death (cp. Philippians 3.10).  Thus, we look forward to our own resurrection from the dead.
 Obedience is a response to God’s call (1.6)

“…among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;” (Romans 1.6)

Paul speaks to all believers in this letter …not just apostles.  We also are the called of Jesus Christ.  We are called in the sense that we too have been invited, and we have come.  We too are obedient just as Paul was.  We too have believed just as Paul did.  Not everyone called will hear, understand, or believe.  But we have.  Many are being called, but few are chosen because few believe.  Many are saying, “Lord, Lord!” but few truly know Him.  The many are not chosen or obedient because they will not believe.

It is important that we obey and believe.  As believers we are urged to cast down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10.5).  Faith requires obedience.

Obedience is characterized by love and holiness (1.7a).

“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1.7).

Verse 7 now brings the letter’s salutation:  To all who are in Rome.  Obviously, Paul speaks of believers.  These believers are characterized as the objects of God’s love and especially set apart for His work.  They are beloved and they are saints.  Love and holiness walk hand in hand when it comes to Christian character.  If we are growing in love, we are growing in holiness.  If there is growth in holiness, there will be growth in love.

Obedience is demonstrated by grace and peace (1.7b).

“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1.7)

This verse speaks of two provisions for believers who are loved and set apart.  These provisions come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Again, Christ and and the Father are One in this verse.  They are co-equal, co-eternal, and co-eval (of the same duration – both have always been; there has never been a time when One existed apart from the Other).  The Father is eternal; the Son is eternal; the Spirit is eternal.  Three Persons; one God.

Grace is God’s gift coming to us in many forms.  First, grace is God’s favorable disposition toward the believer and unbeliever alike.  Grace includes all we need in the work He has for us to accomplish.  It is a gift because it is unearned.  God bestows it without partiality to those who believe.  For believers, the grace is God for us; grace is also God in us.  Second, God provides peace.  Peace simply means that all hostility between God and the believer has ceased.  As the hymn writer put it, “It is well with my soul!”

Peace as an objective reality is now a part of our lives.  But the believer may often be unaware of the peace he has.  His condition does not reflect his position.  Nothing can take away the peace of God.  We sin, are chastened, and face great opposition and sickness throughout life.  Peace guards and protects our hearts and minds at all times.  However, we often fail to experience the subjective aspects of this cessation of hostility with God.  But whether or not we experience peace, we have it!

The reason subjective peace is so elusive for us is that we don’t understand that hostility with God has indeed ended.  Peace in its subjective sense is for everyone who works what it good (Romans 2.10).  While we have peace with God, we often find it elusive because of our disobedience, rebellion, and pride.

Unsaved people do not know the way of peace (Romans 3.17).  Peace is a result of being made right with God (Romans 5.1).  But subjectively, believers are often carnally minded.  The Bible calls the carnal mind death.  However, we can be spiritually minded and find life and peace, but only as children of God (Romans 8.6).  The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14.17).

Paul prays that the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15.13).  At the end of Romans Paul states that ultimately the God of peace will crush Satan under our feet in a relatively short amount of time (Romans 16.20).

So, obedience stems from the grace of God.  Man responds to God in obedience by relying upon that grace through faith.  Therefore, we are called of Jesus Christ because we have responded to God’s grace through faith.

The obedience we offer by faith is characterized by love and holiness.  We know our obedience stems from grace through faith when it manifests the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in our present lives.

Prayer:  Father, teach us that we are your bondservants purchased with the blood of Your Son.  Convince us that Jesus Christ is both fully man and fully God.  Reveal to us the power of His resurrection in our present lives and in eternity to come.  Give us grace for obedience to the faith.  May we be willing to be set apart so that we might reflect your grace and peace to a world that is lost in darkness and at enmity with you.

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