December 29, 2012

A New Year's Resolution

Philippians 3:10-3:14

As the new year of 2013 approaches, for many of us it is a time of reflection, a time when we take a look at our past deeds and future goals. When we take inventory. And When we do that, we inevitably start thinking about some changes we would like to make in the coming year.

One tradition in the western culture is to make resolutions for the new year; that is, a determination to make changes that will better our circumstances …we may set financial goals, decide it’s time to make that job change we have been contemplating, and, of course, typical resolutions such as to be more organized, to exercise more, and to eat healthier foods.

I’m not sure why, but someone paid for research about New Years resolutions, and a survey in the U.S. determined that 4 out of 5 people don’t keep their New Years resolutions. I’m not sure what the company that commissioned this research planned to do with this knowledge, but I would say the result is about what we would expect: most of us aren’t very good at following through on our New Years resolutions. I read joke just yesterday that illustrates this very well. (Question): What is a New Years resolution? (Answer): it is a plan for the first few days of January.

Maybe the reason most of us tend not to realize the goals we set as the new year dawns is that we tend to concentrate just on fixing the symptoms and the problems. That can be like mowing the weeds in the garden rather than committing to cultivate throughout the season, rather than deciding to make the kind of life we want even if it’s going to be hard to do. Mowing weeds is a temporarily fix. Any farmer will tell us that unless the weeds are removed, they will continue to sap nutrients from the soil, making the harvest less plentiful.

For the Christian, the harvest is to be like Christ in every way:
How we think
What we say
How we live
How we treat others
How we work
How we spend our time and money

God, through the writing of Paul, gives us the framework for accomplishing this in Philippians 3:10-14:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s overall purpose is to know Christ, to be like Christ, and to be all Christ had in mind for him.  This took all of Paul’s energies. For us as Christians, if we are to put all our energies into one thing, our resolution for 2013 should be … to be like Christ.

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead."

(12) "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, ..."

In this statement, we see not only Paul’s sense of honesty, but also his feeling of dissatisfaction. Being like Christ...starts with the realization that I am a work in progress, and while Paul’s goal was to be as much like Christ as he possibly could be, he admitted to his readers that he had not achieved that goal yet.

 “. . . but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

The term “press on” that Paul uses was an athletic term and referred to the the sprinter’s extra effort as he or she strained every muscle in the effort to win the race. It also could be applied to the marathon runner exerting the supreme effort it takes for the final sprint for the finish in the last few hundred yards of the 26-mile race.

Paul says he is pressing on to “take hold,” that is, to make completely his possession, to take and own. And what is that he is pressing on to take hold of? He wants to take possession of Christ’s will for him—and Christ's will for him is that he be a reflection of Christ in his life and his teachings. That is Christ’s will for every Christian. Paul expresses this thought uniquely: he wants to take hold of Christ’s will just as Christ has taken hold of him. Christ sought him and chose him to be a reflection of Him.

Jesus chose each of us for the ultimate purpose of conforming us to His image. As Paul explains in Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.”

(13) "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.”

Again, he reminds us that Christlikeness is not something he completely possesses in his life yet. Paul’s emphasis is that we always recognize we are not 100% like Christ in the way we live, but that we continually strive to more closely conform to Christ.

 “. . . But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, …”

Forgetting our past can be our big hangup. It could have been a hangup for Paul, too, because before he was saved, his purpose in life as a Pharisee was the persecution of Christians. He was part of the crowd that stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58). And when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, he was on the way to arrest the Christians in that area. As a dedicated Pharisee, he had arrested and caused the executions of hundreds—perhaps even thousands—of Christians.

So when he tells us to “forget what is behind,” Paul is not just tossing out some cheap advice. He has lived in such sin and rebellion that most of us have never experienced. Yet he also demonstrates for us something else that is in Christ’s will for him: that, regardless of the extent of past sins, we can know that God forgives, and we can leave them in the past where they belong, just as he has forgiven and forgotten them.

Like Paul, we must not allow our past sins and failures to become a roadblock to our faith. They are past. They are forgiven. And as far as God in His grace is concerned, they are forgotten.

Did you hear what God is telling us through the words of Paul? If you are struggling with your past, realize that those sins and errors are in the past, not in the present. Let me repeat...God has forgiven and forgotten.

Conversely, neither can we rely on virtuous deeds of the past—and those wonderful mountaintop experiences—to define our Christlikeness. To forget what is behind isn’t just to accept the forgiveness of past sins and rebellion against our Savior, but also to realize we can continually grow to reflect more and more of Christ in our lives.

(14) “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

The goal, Paul reminds us again and again, is Christlikeness. The prize? To be completely changed when we are present with Him in heaven. After a lifetime of serving Him and conforming more and more to His character, our Christlikeness sees its completion when we are with Him in heaven. Paul explains a few verses later in Philippians chapter 3, in verses 20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

The upward call of God—the time when God calls each believer to heaven and into His presencewill be when we receive the prize. And that prize? Finally, we will be completely Christlike...not because of merit, but because of the transforming act of our Savior and Lord.

Paul describes our progress toward Christlikeness on this side of heaven as a race we run until the moment we see Jesus face to face. Nearing the end of his life, Paul wrote to Timothy ... “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Strategies in running the race

To progress ever closer to reflecting all that Christ is in my life, I may need to change the way I think. I may need to learn to put others before myself. I many need to change the way I think of those less fortunate and then play my role in providing for them—widows, poor, hurting—in such ministries as the cancer ministry and the food and clothing ministry in our church. Perhaps I may need to become a servant; to want to serve one others, to pray for others, and to love others unconditionally, as Christ loves them.

Most of all, we need to learn to be singleminded…to put Christlikeness above every other purpose in life. We need to make sure we put Him above our financial goals, above our career objectives, above our desire for social position or popularity. In short, we may need to learn to put Christlikeness above every other goal of our life on earth.

In addition, we must make sure we see ourselves accurately and accept the fact that we are a work in progress, not yet a perfect reflection of Jesus, but also not an utter failure either. We can confess our past failures and know that they are forgiven and forgotten. If God can let go of them, then surely we can, too.

Remember that God has predestined us to reflect His image, and with His help we can continually get closer to His purpose for us. That means for the Christian that the only definition of success is that we are becoming more like Christ in our thinking, in our talking, and in our way of life. We must realize that we are valuable to Him and created with destiny and purpose…so valuable, in fact, that He died so we can have an eternal existence in His very presence.

And what about the world around us? Satan wants to steal our identity in Christ through the distractions of the world in every decision we face and through discouragement when we see we are less than perfect. But Paul is teaching us that no matter what happens to us, we want to push forward and become what God wants us to become.

We also may need to change the way we think about how God sees us. Because we are in Christ the old is gone. We are a new creature. We are not the people we were before meeting our Savior. We also must remember that God has forgotten our past and that in the place of our past sins and rebellion, God has a purpose and destiny for each of us. We can really trust in God, His word, and the plan He has for us.

So how do we break this “pressing on toward the goal” into workable pieces in our lives? Let me ask that in a different way…twelve months from now where do you want to be in your walk with God? What do you want to understand better? What life changes would be appropriate? As you read your Bible and pray every day, what areas would you want to ask for His special attention to guide you and empower you?

November 25, 2012

Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7: And His Name Shall Be Called . . .

Year after year, I find myself returning to the marvelous prophecy of Isaiah at during the Christmas season. Isaiah, who, writing in the 7th century B.C., provided the ancient Israelites very important prophetic insight about the Messiah Whom God the Father would send to His people.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:14

6 For unto us a Child is born,
      Unto us a Son is given;
      And the government will be upon His shoulder.
      And His name will be called
      Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of His government and peace
      There will be no end,
      Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
      To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
      From that time forward, even forever.
      The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.  Isaiah 9:6-7

Like other peoples of the Middle East in early history, the Israelites very carefully picked names for their children. The names tended to be descriptive of the child’s heritage or the parents’ (in some cases, God’s) hopes for him or her.

Some examples:

Abigail (first wife of David) in Hebrew means “Father’s Joy” (lit., “my father has made himself joyful”)

Elisha—“God Is Salvation”

Elijah—“Jehovah is God”

Gideon—“Great Warrior” (lit. “One Who Cuts Down”)

Daniel—“God Is My Judge”

Abram—“Exalted Father”

Abraham—“Father of a Multitude”


Joshua—“Jehovah Saves” (pronounced “Yeshuah”); this is the Hebrew form of the name “Jesus”: Matthew 1:21:  “and you shall call His name Jesus (Yeshuah), for He will save His people from their sins.”).

Most of Isaiah’s prophecy deals with a terrible calamity taking place in Israel, as Israel is overrun and destroyed by the Babylonians.  But Isaiah does not stop with the message of calamity. He encourages his readers—and us—about God’s promises of a redeemer, a future king from heaven who would rule the world . . . the Messiah or Savior. Isaiah shows what we may call a “foreshortened” view of the prophetic future—foretelling both the first advent of the Messiah and the second advent without always clearly distinguishing between the two in the text. His message, however, is that the calamity about the envelop Israel is not permanent. God will send His Messiah. And eventually the Messiah will rule the earth.

The Messiah’s Identity

He would be humble leader who is “God with us” (Hebrew: Immanuel), and He would come as a child—“For unto us a Child is born”—The future king would be the child Isaiah first mentioned in 7:14 . . . a miraculous birth of a Son who would be Immanuel (“God with Us”). The name “Immanuel” applied to the future Messiah is a key theological statement in that Isaiah correctly identifies the future Messiah and King as God Himself coming to be among mankind.

Isaiah’s prophecies are the first to communicate the humble nature of the advent of God on earth.  He pictures the Messiah as a both humble servant and everlasting king. Rather than dealing just with the Messiah’s first advent, however, Isaiah also shows us the Messiah as the future ruler who is the one having the birthright to assume the throne of David (9:7).

Isaiah tells us what the Messiah will be like:

"Wonderful" or "Wonderful Counselor"

Some debate about whether this designation is one term (“Wonderful Counselor”; i.e., an adjective modifying a noun) or two (“Wonderful” and “Counselor”; i.e., two distinct qualities). There is no punctuation in Hebrew text, so this is an issue we cannot resolve from a study of the text itself. However, the difference is not something that radically changes the meaning. The term “wonderful” in Hebrew is used only to describe God. It is used 21 times in the Old Testament, every time referring to the work of God. For example, Isaiah 28:29 reads: “This also comes from the LORD of hosts, Who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance.”

The Hebrew terms refers only to “the ability to accomplish something that cannot be accomplished; to do or show marvelous works and miracles; to do the works only God can do.” Thus, the ability to perform miracles was the commonly accepted “sign” of God or God’s work and hence was referred to by the term used only for God and His works: “wonderful.”

So when Isaiah identifies the Messiah as “wonderful,” he is telling us that the Messiah would be God Himself; that is, corresponding to the term “Immanuel” (God with us) in 7:14. This theme is found throughout the Bible. For example, John the Baptist sent some of his followers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?”  Jesus answer was, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:20-22).  In other words, the miracles He performed proved He is God.


The Hebrew terms means “a guide, teacher, or intercessor.”  It can be taken here to mean all three—guide, teacher, and intercessor. “Counselor” is a term associated with government. Every king had many counselors who were experts in their fields to advise him. So when we see the Messiah as the “Wonderful Counselor,” we know Him as a miracle worker, and miracle of God the Father Himself, a counselor or teacher who does powerful works only God can do.

But, we say, aren’t these roles of the Holy Spirit?  Isn’t it the Holy Spirit who is our Counselor and Guide? Yes, but as two of the three persons of God, the Son and the Spirit are one.

Look at John 14:15-17: “15 ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper (“Counselor”), that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”

Jesus is teaching the disciples that He will not always be with them, and when He is gone, the Father would send them another Counselor (also translated “Helper”).  The word “another” here means literally “another exactly like.”  So Jesus is indicating that at that time He was filling the role of Helper or Counselor, and another exactly like Him—that is, a person of God—would follow and be present with believers once Jesus was gone. This Helper—the Holy Spirit—would be with us, live in us, and fill the purpose of being our guide and teacher, just as Jesus had done when He was physically present with His people.  And, in fact, Jesus works together with the Holy Spirit to intercede for us with God the Father.

"Mighty God"

Isaiah is emphasizing that the Messiah would be God Himself—reiterating the identify He gave Him in 7:14 (Immanuel— “God with us”).

In Scripture, this truth is repeated in different ways. For instance, in Colossians 2:9 we read “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (lit., “in bodily form”).” In other words, the Messiah is God Himself, or as we refer to Him, one of the three persons of God or the Godhead.  In addition, we have Jesus’ own words: “If you have seen Me you have seen the Father” and Paul’s description in Colossians 1:15-16: “15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”

The Messiah is consistently identified at God Himself throughout Scripture—the image of the invisible God, the creator, the one in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily; “Immanuel.”

Isaiah does not describe the future Messiah only as God, but uses the adjective “mighty,” the Hebrew term meaning giant, strong, valiant, chief; one who excels. Isaiah wanted to stress the power and might of the Messiah as Immanuel, God of infinite power dwelling among His people. He uses this phrase “Mighty God” to refer both to the coming Messiah and to the Father. For example, we read in Isaiah 10:21: “The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the Mighty God.”

"Everlasting Father"

The Hebrew term here would be literally translated “Father of Eternity” and can mean not only the eternally existing God, but also the One who gives His people access to eternal life. The Septuagint translates the term “Father of the world to come.”

“Father” in the context of Isaiah’s time and culture included a whole bundle of attributes inherent in the father role: protector, provider, the one whose name the children bear. The term was used more widely than to refer only to the father of a family unit. The king was regarded as the father of his subjects (protector and provider).  Also, various spiritual leaders of the Israelites—Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, to name a few—were at times referred to as “father.”

Describing the Messiah as “Eternal Father” also emphasizes the Messiah’s identity with and sameness with the Father—both always were and always will be. Jesus attested to this also in John 14:8-11: “8 Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.’ 9 Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.”

"Prince of Peace"

When the Bible speaks of peace through Christ, it almost always refers to “peace with God.” For instance, Romans 5:1 tells us “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Peace” is that familiar Hebrew term “shalom,” which literally means harmony, wholeness, well-being. Jesus came to bring peace (peace with God, reconciliation with God) to those who would trust in Him. There also may be a dual emphasis in this name for the Messiah, also. The prophecies of the Messiah in Isaiah do not clearly differentiate between the first and second advent of the Messiah. Therefore, the Messiah is described both as a babe and a powerful king. In his foreshortened view of the advent of the Messiah, Isaiah’s use of the identify “Prince of Peace” can reasonably be understood in terms of the first advent (Jesus enabled mankind to find peace with God) and the second advent (when Jesus returns to bring peace, in a fundamentally changed physical world where there will be no strife).

When the heavenly host sang “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14)—they were singing of the Father’s goodwill and peace toward mankind, made real by His sending the Son, the Messiah, as the means of restoring peace with Him.

January 27, 2012

The Heart of a Person of God: Romans 1:1-17

Throughout the history of the church, there have been many well-known people who have left their mark because of the change that took place in their lives after studying the book of Romans.

Augustine is one. He was a man leading an immoral life. In 386 A.D., while studying the book of Romans, he came to Romans 13:13-14, and his life was never the same from that point forward. Romans 13:13-14 tells us, “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”

Another person whose life was changed by the book of Romans is Martin Luther. In 1515, Martin Luther’s life and destiny were changed by the book of Romans. He cited Romans 1:17 as having a profound impact on his relationship with his Lord: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

John Bunyan, English preacher and writer in the 17th century and author of Pilgrim’s Progress, and John Wesley, 18th century preacher and founder (with his brother Charles) of the Methodist movement, both noted that they were never the same after they studied the book of Romans.

Among church historians, theologians, and scholars, in fact, it is proverbial that the book of Romans has played a key role in every revival and awakening in the church’s history.

Today I want us to look at the heart of a man who was changed to the core by Jesus and who authored the book of Romans. We will look at Paul’s heart for the Gospel, his heart for the people, and we will finish up with what motivated Paul by looking at the theme of the book of Romans. I pray as we study through the book, we will let God change us and become more Christ-like.

Background and Purpose

Paul wrote this book, which is a letter to the church in Rome, in 58 A.D. while he was ministering in Corinth. The purpose of his writing was to let the Christians in Rome know of his desire to visit them (1:10-11, 13; 15:24); to answer the question of God's future purpose for Israel (chapters 9-11); and to present a clear exposition of justification by faith because of the legalistic Judaizers who were attempting to deceive the Roman Christians (Romans 16).

The key thought of the book of Romans is justification (“set free”). Paul uses the terms “justify” and “justification” 17 times, the term “faith” 37 times, and the term “grace” 24 times in the book as he emphasizes that salvation and the ongoing relationship with God on the part of the Christian are the results of God’s grace through faith, and not in any way earned, merited, or deserved.

Paul’s heart for the gospel (Romans 1:1-7)

Paul calls himself a “bond-servant of Jesus Christ” (verse 1). A bond-servant was a person who was enslaved—sold and bound to another person for total submission to the will of the master. This is an allusion that his Roman readers would understand immediately. A large number of people in the first century Roman world were enslaved. His readers understood the total commitment being a bond-servant to Christ was. Paul is saying that he has given himself up to Jesus in this manner.

There also may be a play on words in calling himself a bond-servant. In the Old Testament (Isaiah 20:3, Jeremiah 7:25, Amos 3:7) the word “servant” or “bond-servant” is used for the prophets of God—one who speaks for God. Paul is telling his readers of both his relationship (a bond-servant of Jesus Christ) and the purpose of his commitment to this relationship (to speak for God; i.e., preach, teach, advise, admonish, etc.).

This brings an important question to the Christian’s mind. To what degree do I see myself as a bond-servant of Jesus? Am I completely submitted, as though a servant to my master?  Am I submissive in all things? Do I trust the will of God for me? Am I willing to be used by God no matter what?

Paul also says was called to be an apostle—one who is sent out with the gospel message, a parallel to our service as people who communicate our Savior’s love and grace to others.

Verses 2-6 offer a brief summary of the gospel to which all Christians have responded and which are sent out to proclaim. In these verses he briefly states the gospel’s basic message: the Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would come and told what he would be like; Jesus, the Son and our Lord, was a descendant of David (a prophecy); Jesus’ miracles and resurrection proved true His claim to be God.

Just like Paul was called to be an apostle, we are called by Jesus to be obedient to the faith and proclaim the gospel. That brings another question to mind for each of us to wrestle with individually: What does it mean to be obedient to the faith?

Paul’s heart for people (8-15)

One mark of active faith is that we are known by others for having it.  We are different.  People notice it in our lives, our demeanor, and in our words.  We tell them about Jesus not only with our words, but in the way we live. In other words, if Jesus is important enough to me—if I am truly His bond-servant—then other people will notice.  People have learned to rely on the fact that I won’t put God aside when He is inconvenient, that I won’t compromise. And if I do not demonstrate my commitment to Him with my actions, people have the right to question whether I indeed have the relationship to my Savior that I claim.

Paul also gives us a great example to follow by letting his readers know he always prays for them. One of the marks of active faith is that we pray for each other. Paul is not referring to the public prayers in the worship service every Sunday, but to the private, heart-to-heart talks with God.

In this instance, he is not only praying for them, but also praying that he would be able to visit them. Paul had not yet been to visit the Roman church, and he wanted to do so in order to help put the church on strong doctrinal footing.

The church at Rome most likely started from converted Jews returning 25 years earlier from Pentecost in Jerusalem, where Peter’s preaching resulted in thousands of visiting Jews to accept Jesus as Messiah (Acts 2). Paul wanted to help them become more “established” (verse 11; literally “to strengthen, make firm, stabilize”). It is no surprise, then, that we find a lot of doctrine in this letter, especially in light of some legalistic tendencies of the church in Rome.

The same is incumbent on Christians and especially Christian leaders today—to know and understand what is accurate doctrine and what is not. For the pastor and teacher, the responsibility is not to preach or teach soft, “feel-good” sermons and lessons, but to teach the truth of the word of God. It is attempting to live up to this responsibility that has motivated me throughout my years of preaching and teaching to present mainly expository messages—the verse-by-verse exposition of the Bible and the resulting impacts the teachings of Scripture should have on what we know to be true and the way we live.

Paul’s motivation and the theme of the book of Romans (verses 16-17)

Paul points out that he is proud that he is a bond-servant of Christ his Lord. He sees his faith for what it is—a special honor to be called a follower of Christ and to proclaim the gospel. Just a few years later, Paul was in Rome, not as a visitor, but as a prisoner.  He was still proud of calling himself a Christian and being able to proclaim the gospel, writing to the Philippians from his place of captivity in Rome: “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). It was still his privilege, he was telling the Philippians, to serve his Lord even though he had suffered so much because of it.

In Romans 1:17 Paul gives us the reason he felt so proud: in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed. According to Paul, his faith is not the result of just a story or a fable, but of the truth. He wants the people in the Roman church to fully realize that to know Christ is to know God and His righteousness. In Christ is power, the power to know God, to know what He is like, and to know how we, too, are not only declared righteous by our faith (justified), but also how we can become righteous in our thinking, our motivations, and our actions. It all happens not through our human efforts, but through the power of God. The gospel has the power to save people from eternal separation from God and that power can be evidenced through us.  People don’t just hear the gospel from us, but they see its power in our lives. We have a power that not even world leaders and their armies have: the power of God for salvation and the power of God to preach His message of love and grace.

Paul also gives us one of his key doctrinal teachings in verse 17: “The just shall live by faith.” This truth provided the foundation of the protestant reformation.  It is the one verse Martin Luther points to that changed him from a discontented Roman Catholic priest to a firebrand proclaimer of the truth—that faith and trust is a matter between the individual and God.

Paul had the privilege of teaching doctrine and proclaiming the gospel.  But once he understood that the just shall live by faith, he never again saw himself as a mediator or a Christian with special rights and privileges. Rather, he saw that each Christian—that is, those that are the “just” (lit. “the justified ones” or “those who are justified”)—lives by faith and the resulting one-on-one communion with God, with no human intercessors needed and no human intercessors either required or empowered to impart special benefits to the masses of Christians.

These are the two key truths of the book of Romans: (1) God’s grace in calling us righteous and (2) our faith as His bondservants. Together, they give us a heart for God, a heart for God’s people, a heart for proclaiming the gospel with our words and the way we live, and a desire to be His bondservant, making His will our will. All this is not a burden but the highest privilege of the child of God.