Transformative Power of the Gospel (Romans 1:1-17)
Dr Vikas reminds us that we do not have to pay anything to be saved from the punishment of our sins, but we do have to pay the cost of discipleship.
The book of Romans is not only one of the longest letters written by Paul, but it also presents God’s plan of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ in a very detailed manner.
It has been one of those New Testament books that has had a very profound influence on many individuals. For instance, Augustine in the fifth Century and John Wesley in the eighteenth Century were greatly influenced.
Let me quickly share Augustine’s experience (AD 354 - 430) while he was reading Romans 13:13 b - 14. As he read these lines, he stopped reading because he was powerfully touched by the Holy Spirit. Since then Augustine’s life was changed forever. Here is what he writes about his life:
“No further would I read,” he tells us, “nor had I any need; instantly, at the end of this sentence, a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”
Likewise, John Wesley (AD. 1703-1791) and many others down through the centuries have been powerfully touched and transformed by the message contained in the book of Romans.
Today, we are going to look at the first 17 verses of Chapter 1, where Apostle Paul presents an introductory message to the book of Romans.
Today’s message is entitled as the ‘Transformative Power of the Gospel ’
1. Nature of the Gospel: Gospel was a political term in the ancient Greco-Roman word; Gospel represented the news about the coming of a great new ruler – a new Caesar. The news was proclaimed as good news that birthed a new hope in the lives of the subjects.
When Paul used the word ‘Gospel of God’, it was seen as subversive by Roman authorities – something that challenged the leadership of the Roman Empire. But Paul and other writers of the Holy Bible did not have a less-offensive option because they believed that in the coming of Jesus Christ, God had brought His Kingdom on earth.
In fact, when we look at the opening message of
In Mark 1:15, we read: “The time has come,” he said. “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Good News!”Lord Jesus Christ, when he talked about the arrival of God’s Kingdom, he also used the word ‘Gospel’.
But we need to understand that the Kingdom that God inaugurated on earth by sending the Lord Jesus to earth is not political, but spiritual and is established in the hearts of humans.
The coming of God’s Kingdom meant the final defeat of Satan (who has been given temporary rulership in this world) on the cross and it is established in the hearts of those, who believe on him and surrender their lives to follow Him.
Let us look at verses 1-16 to find out what we can learn about the Gospel.
1.1. It is not a new Gospel but Old (v.2): Paul is sharing that the message is not out of nowhere; it is primarily in accordance with all that the prophets and servants of the Lord have spoken in the past. In fact, verse 2 says that the Gospel that Paul preached was actually a fulfilment of the promises of God – it was God (not actually the prophets) who communicated His Word (in advance) about the coming of His Son, who will usher or bring His Kingdom on earth!
So, the Gospel is not new but fulfillment of God’s promise;
And second, It is about God’s Son – Lord Jesus Christ! (v.3) – Let us remember that Gospel does not become gospel unless Jesus Christ is in it. A gift box is not made up with just a wrapper – it includes a gift or a present inside. In the same manner, Gospel is not just about listening to an exciting story that is marked with many unbelievable events; it is also not about preaching and believing upon a great message on forgiveness of sins and eternal life; It is not even about reciting a sinner’s prayer!
Then, what is the Gospel all about? The Gospel is about Jesus Christ!
What is my point?
1 John 5:12, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
What is the nature of God’s Son (Jesus Christ)?
1.2.A. God’s Son lived a Holy Life (v.4): Jesus lived a holy life, so His message and His life were not in contradiction. In an exercise with my students many years ago – I asked them to step out of their shoes as Christ-followers and I asked them to type all those qualities that they would like to see in God they would like to commit their lives to.
Then they began to write all those qualities they could think of: holiness, truthful, eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, merciful, having the power to forgive sins, having the power to remove the wickedness of the human heart and to cleanse his life, One who is able to keep us in His presence, One who is able to protect us from all evil, One who does not use His power to oppress or to harass, One who has not or does not need to enter into sexual relationships, One who is able to restore that what has been lost, One who is truthful, One who is not violent but is slow to anger/compassionate.
It was very interesting to notice that all of them wrote ‘holiness’ to be among the top few qualities they would like to have in their God. And, in this short introduction about Jesus, we find among the first marks of Jesus – that he lived a holy life!
How does this fact affect us? The Bible says in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
1.2.B. Declared to be Son of God through resurrection from the dead (v. 4b): In the Bible, we learn that ‘sin’ which is disobedience to the commandments of God produces death (Eze. 18:20; 1 Cor. 15:56). The fact that death could not hold Jesus in its grip is the proof of his holiness.
He not only rose again from the dead but even before he was crucified, he called himself to be ‘resurrection and life’ (John 11:25)– thereby claiming himself to be God. And he also said that those who trust in Him will not be under condemnation but will experience eternal life through Him –
John 5:24. “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”
This is the transformative power of the Gospel!
Let us understand this clearly: Lord Jesus Christ did not come to make us holy or morally upright people, but he came to rescue us from the punishment of our sins and experience resurrection from our original condition of ‘death’.
1.2.C. His name offers grace (v.5): In Jesus, we find grace - unmerited favor of God. According to the law of Moses, the only option for sinners was ‘death’ but in Jesus, God has poured his undeserved favor on the sinners – so that now there is ‘hope’ for the most wicked person who surrenders his/her life before Jesus.
1.2.D. He commissions His Disciples to call people of all nations to follow Him (v.5): God has not abandoned the human race in their wickedness. He is in the process of reconciling the sinful human race and whole of creation to Himself. And he calls His disciples and commissions them in this work of reconciliation or peace-making.
Again, it is not preaching about any religion – but it is sharing about how God became man and died for us so that we might become reconciled to Him!
Sometimes, we feel that proclaiming this message of reconciliation is the responsibility of only a few, very spiritual people who are called to serve as pastors or evangelists. But when we read Matthew 28:18-20, we find that it is a command given to each and every follower of Christ.
1.2.E. The Son Offers His Fellowship (v.6): Lord Jesus makes us spiritually alive and reconciles us, and brings us into a close fellowship with himself. We develop a deep sense of belonging. We may belong to a particular family, a particular town, a particular state, a particular region, a particular nation, a particular ethnic group – but all these distinctions fade when we realise our eternal identity – that we belong to the Lord of all creation and He calls us His own! He is not ashamed of us! He loves us so much that He calls us his children
John 1:12, Eph 1: 4, 5: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—,”
It is based on this new identity that we are able to live a life of victory over sin and over every temptation that we face in this world. Let us remember this - our belief about who we are determines our behavior!
2. Necessity of the Gospel (v.16-17): The Gospel is not optional because it reveals God’s power to save everyone all over the earth!
Let us remember that Lord Jesus came so that those who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life – John 3:16. It does not specify the kind of people that Jesus came to save – or the religious background of the people (people of all religious backgrounds are sinners before God and in need of His forgiveness). It says – anyone who believes in His name, shall be saved.
I would like to ask you a question: Have we experienced God’s salvation through Lord Jesus Christ?
3. New Life-Purpose through Gospel (v. 1): The Gospel is that Lord Jesus not only resurrects us, not only gives us His grace, not only commissions us, not only gives us the right to be called God’s children, but He also reveals to us our life’s purpose. While the calling to preach the Gospel is given to each and every follower of Christ, Christ also calls people with unique callings.
Let us remember that only the Creator knows fully the purpose for which He created us! And when we are reconciled to Him through trusting in the Lord Jesus, we can discern God’s purpose for our lives.
But fulfilling God’s purposes does not come without a cost.
In verse 1, Paul himself as a slave of Lord Jesus Christ. In the ancient world, slave tradition was practiced and when someone used to buy another person as a slave, he used to have complete rights over him. When Paul is using the word ‘slave’, he is saying in effect that I do not have any rights over my life.
Paul’s life echoes Jesus’ words recorded in Luke 14:26, where he shared about the conditions of discipleship: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Let us remember that we do not have to pay anything to God to be saved from the punishment of our sins (He sent Jesus to endure the punishment of our sins), but we do have to pay the cost of discipleship! We cannot follow Christ if we are not willing to deny ourselves and give Lord Jesus the first place in our lives daily!
Are we willing to pay the cost to follow Him? Are we prepared to always give the first priority to His will; Are we mentally prepared to deny ourselves so that we fulfill His desires for our lives?
Dr Vikas Ram is a Researcher based in Bangalore.
Photo by Daniel Day Media on Unsplash