Paul: the Man Behind the Message (Rom. 1:1)

4th Century Image of the Apostle Paul

I intend, beginning today and in the coming weeks, to expound Paul’s epistle to the Romans.  As I have indicated before, I think this is one of the most important books in the Bible because it is one of the only books in the Bible where you have a systematic exposition of doctrine.  In Romans, you have a systematic development of the gospel, and for that reason it is worthy of all our consideration.  

The way I plan on doing this is by taking this epistle and going through it at a slower pace than I did with Hebrews and Revelation.  One reason for this is that I think it is worth-while to preach not only with the aim of making clear Paul’s reason and logic in the text, but also to exhibit the doctrines of Romans and to take them out and give them careful consideration.  I think Lloyd-Jones was right when he argued that this letter really gives us the main points of Paul’s presentation.  We can see this in that when he went to Ephesus, for example, he didn’t just preach one hour-long sermon and then move on, but spent several years there, teaching daily.  What was he saying in all that time?  What was all that teaching about?  One thing we can be sure: he wasn’t just repeating the same thing over and over.  Surely, Paul was doing what we want to do here: he was taking the same truths that he gives us in Romans and fleshing them out.  So that’s what we want to do as well. To accomplish that end, I want to preach this expositionally and theologically, which means taking the points of theology and doctrine that the apostle gives us here and looking at them at various angles and working out their implications. We want to consider its truths, first of all in the context of Romans itself, and then in the context of all of Scripture.  So this will take some time!  Don’t worry, though, I’m certain that I won’t be giving you the kind of length Lloyd-Jones gave this in his sermon series on Romans, but it will probably be longer than our previous expositional series. I think Romans is very well worth all the time spent on it.

What is this epistle of Paul to the Romans?  It was a letter written by Paul the apostle when he was in Corinth and sent to the Christian church in Rome, probably towards the end of his third missionary journey and sometime around the year A.D. 57.   It was written to set before the Roman Christians a systematic exposition of the gospel.  The theme of this book is the gospel of Christ, and you can take 1:16-17 as the apostle’s thesis statement, which he goes on to work out in terms of exposition (1:18-4:25), implication (5:1-11:36), and application (12:1-16:27).

But this immediately raises the following question.  Why should you listen to a two-thousand-year-old letter written by a radical leader of a despised Jewish sect sent to an embattled group of powerless people in the ancient capital of a fallen empire?  Isn’t it a bit weird to be spending time preaching through something so old and out-of-date?  Isn’t it a waste of time to be looking back to the beginning of the Christian story in a post-modern world?  When what is new and improved is what is prized today, why dust off an ancient text?  Of what possible value could it have for us in the twenty-first century?

Some would answer all those questions by saying that we shouldn’t listen to Paul, and we shouldn’t read Romans.  They would say that this book and this Bible represents an outdated way of thinking and requires an outmoded way of living.

Now it is true that the message of the twenty-first century, the message that is being preached all around us, the message with the money and the cultural momentum behind it, certainly isn’t the message of Romans.  The message of our time, insofar as you can nail it down, is that there is no single message, that we are all to do and to be what our feelings are telling us at the moment.  Behind this is the conviction (if you can call it that) that there is no truth, no absolutes, no certainty, no reality.  We are told that we must shape our own reality and our own truths.

But what if that is all wrong?  What if there is truth to be found, an objective reality that is not created by us but to which we must conform?  What if there is a God who is absolute reality, who determines truth from falsehood and good from evil?  What if this God has spoken to us?  This is the contrary message of the Bible.  It tells us about God.  But it does more than that; it tells us that its very words are the words of God, and that in it he tells us who he is and what he requires of us.

If this is true, then we cannot ignore the message of the Bible.  We cannot ignore the message of Romans.  It’s not just that these are two options that we can pick from, like flavors of ice cream at the grocery store.  These are antithetical stories and if one is right, the other is deadly wrong, and its adherents are hurting themselves.

You know, it wasn’t really any different in the first century.  The same contrast was apparent then as well.  Many cultural commentators have picked up on the fact that we are really in a very similar situation that the church faced in the first century.  In Paul’s day the gods ruled.  Paganism shaped the contours of society and made it very difficult for Christians to fit in.  It was a mighty confrontation between the God of the Bible and the gods of paganism, and for several hundred years these two very different visions of reality battled it out – literally – as believers lost their jobs, were marginalized, were thrown to the lions, were burnt at the stake, were killed with the sword.  People in that day didn’t become Christians to get social standing; they lost it when they became Christian.  So why would they believe a message that would get them thrown out of the synagogue, thrown out of the trade guilds, thrown out of their families?  What was so compelling about the message of the Bible, that people took to the Way (as Luke calls the Christian faith in the book of Acts) and did this despite the fact that they were warned, “We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of heaven” (Acts 14:22)?

Well, I think as we work through this letter, we are going to see that Paul gives us reasons to take this book seriously and to read it carefully. But as we start out, we see that even the very first verse helps us to see why the message of Romans is something to which we ought to give our studied attention and serious consideration and why this is a message to believe and act upon.  Why should you believe this book?  Why should you listen to the epistle to the Romans?  Well, consider its author.  Consider who he was and what he did and where he came from.  This is what we’re going to do, and as we do so, we will begin to see why this letter is something which should arouse our interest and notice and why this letter is still as real and relevant for us today as it was two thousand years ago.

There are three ways I want to focus your attention on the ways in which Paul could speak to us with genuine authority regarding the most important realities ever to confront humanity.  I want to do it in terms of these three phrases we meet with here in the first verse: Paul was a servant (“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ”), sent (“called to be an apostle”), and separated (“separated unto the gospel of God”).

Servant: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.”

Why should you listen to what this man has to say to you?  Well, first of all, you should listen to him because of his conversion.  Something had happened to this man that really can only be explained by the direct intervention of God himself.

The opening words of Romans conceal the tremendous upheaval that had to happen to make them a reality.  We know that Paul was not always Paul; in fact, there was a name change from Saul to Paul, a change that reflected something even deeper in the character of this man we now know as Paul the apostle.  

He was known at first as Saul of Tarsus.  Here is how Paul describes himself before his conversion: “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:5-6).  Or as he explained to fellow Jews, “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day” (Acts 22:3).  So here we see a man who had been raised in the strict observance of the law of Moses, taught by a preeminent and respected rabbi, and who grew up full of ambition to be a rabidly zealous persecutor who wanted to stamp out this fledgling sect of people called Christians.

Paul himself clearly had a brilliant mind and great abilities.  The enemy of Christians was not a matchstick man.  He was gifted and motivated.  He was well-educated.  I believe it was R. C. Sproul   who said that from what we know of rabbinic training, Paul had the equivalent of two PhD’s by the age of twenty-one.  It is said that Tarsus, where he grew up, was a center of Roman and Greek culture and in some ways the equal of Athens and Alexandria. Hence, Paul had not only memorized Moses, but he was also able to freely quote the leading ancient and contemporary philosophical authorities of his day, evidence of which we see in the book of Acts and in his epistles.  Here was a formidable foe of the followers of Jesus.

Nor was he only words and no more.  He was a man of action.  Saul held the clothes for the men who stoned the first Christian martyr Stephen, and we are told that he consented to his death (Acts 7:58; 8:1).  He went on after this to “made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3).  He was, by his own admission “a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious” (1 Tim. 1:13).  

But something happened.  Here is how Paul himself described it to king Agrippa: 

I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:9-19).

We are told in other places that he was blinded by the light of the glory of Christ and had to be led by hand to Damascus.  There, instead of persecuting the Christians, he was baptized by a Christian by the name of Ananias and began to preach the faith he had once tried to destroy (Acts 9:1-20).  

This was amazing.  The foremost opposer of the Christian faith now became its most outspoken adherent.  What is to explain this sudden change?  Well, by Paul’s own admission it took the direct intervention of Christ himself.  For a blazing moment, he saw the risen and glorified Christ with his own eyes.  He heard with his own ears the words of the Lord Jesus commanding him to follow him.  Why was Saul converted?  Not because of an argument.  Not because he liked the Christian faith over its alternatives.  He became a Christian, according to his own words, because he personally met the very real, very living, and very powerful Jesus Christ, whom Paul recognized instantly to be his Lord.

Now you can try to say that Paul made this up for nefarious ends and dismiss it on that basis.  But that doesn’t make sense.  Why would he do that?  Paul’s conversion didn’t lead to money and fame and ease.  In fact, it led to the opposite.  You can’t say Paul did what he did to make money.  You can’t say Paul did what he did to obtain power.  You can’t say Paul did what he did to become famous.  He didn’t get any of that.  In fact, this is what Paul got:

“…in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands” (2 Cor. 11:23-33).

Paul’s life as a Christian was not a charmed one, to put it mildly.  He was not doing what he did for personal gain.  You can’t explain it that way.

Nor does it make sense to explain this, as I have heard some do, that what Paul experienced was a gigantic hallucination.  Paul himself heard people try to explain his commitment to Christ in terms of madness: this is what Festus did as Paul was presenting his case to Agrippa (“And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad” [Acts 26:24]).  However, the life and labors of Paul don’t reflect any kind of mental instability on his part.  Moreover, we know that he wasn’t the only one to see the risen Christ, as he himself was able to point to more than 500 people who saw the resurrected Lord (1 Cor. 15:6).  People saw Jesus after he had risen from the dead at multiple places, at different times.  They touched him and spoke with him (1 Jn. 1:1-3).  I’m not saying people don’t hallucinate; but it is really hard to explain all of this in terms of hallucinating.  No, the more likely and plausible explanation, it seems to me, is that Paul really did meet the risen Christ.

And once he met him, he never turned back.  As he put it to the Philippian believers, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8).

Now, if this is true, then here is a man to listen to.  You might want to listen to someone who is very educated or a recognized scientist or who is a great inventor or a respected stateman or perhaps someone who is just a great speaker.  But here is a man who personally met Jesus Christ and whose life was forever changed by that encounter, so that he went from being a persecutor to a promoter of the Christian faith.  This seems to me to be a compelling reason to hear Paul and to listen to what he has to say.

In fact, the apostle himself argued in this way; he used his own experience as a sort of apologetic for his ministry and message.  As he put it to the Galatians: “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” (Gal. 1:11-16).  Why should you hear Paul?  Because his message didn’t originate in metaphysical mind games but in the direct commission of the risen Lord himself.  So we have every reason to listen to what he has to say because of his conversion.

But though we must pass on from here, before we do so we must pause for a moment on these words “a servant of Jesus Christ.”  This points us not only to his conversion but also to his consecration.  You might know that the word for “servant” is the Greek word doulos, which just means “slave,” and that is how Paul thought of himself.  I think it is tremendously significant that this is the way he begins this mighty epistle.  He doesn’t begin straightaway by telling them of his apostolic credentials but by telling them that he is the servant of Christ.  More fundamental to his identity than apostleship even was “I am a slave of Christ.”

Paul wasn’t out to serve himself.  He writes, “But [we] have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. . . . For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake” (2 Cor. 4:2, 5).  The ministry of Paul was a ministry first of all to serve Christ and then to serve his people.  This was not a man on a mission of self-aggrandizement.  And for that reason, we have another reason to listen to Paul.  That doesn’t mean people can’t speak the truth when they have self-serving motives; but it does make it hard to trust what they have to say.  But here is a man whose entire life demonstrated that he was willing to lay everything down for Christ and his people.  Here, I think, is a man whose motives were pure, whose word you can trust.  He was a slave, not to his own reputation, but a slave of Christ.

He glories in this.  You can tell that he doesn’t see slavery to Christ as antithetical to true joy and freedom; for him it is the essence of joy and freedom.  You see this in his words to the Philippians that we looked at a minute ago.  The fact of the matter is that you are going to serve somebody.  It will either be the devil or Christ; and of the two only Jesus gives his followers eternal life and unending joy.  

What are you?  Are you a servant of Christ?  Are you devoted to him in this way?  Is he your master or is mammon?  Are you all in for him?  Does he have your heart and your talents and your time and your money and your plans and purposes?  Does his word govern your choices?  Do his promises inspire your hopes?  Is Christ your master and are you his servant?  There is no other way to relate to Christ if we are to relate to him rightly.  He is our Lord, and he will be so to all for whom he is their Savior.

Sent: “called to be an apostle”

Second, Paul was a called apostle.  He was called by Christ to be an apostle.  As he reminds the Galatian churches, he was “Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1).  An apostle is a unique calling and office that cannot be reduplicated.  This is for at least two reasons.  First, to be an apostle, you had to personally see with your own eyes the risen Christ and be commissioned by him personally.  Second, the apostleship had to be attested to by special miracles.  Paul refers to both of these things when he defends his apostleship.  He writes to the Corinthians, for example: “Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1).  So he saw the risen Christ, and that was part of the proof he was an apostle.  And then he tells us, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (2 Cor. 12:12).  Paul had both marks of an apostle: he was personally and directly commissioned by Christ and this commission was testified to by miracles and mighty deeds.  This being the case, it means that not only was Paul truly an apostle, but it’s also clear that there are no apostles in this sense today and haven’t been since the first century.

Another reason the office of an apostle cannot be occupied today is that it served a special purpose in laying the foundation for the church (Eph. 2:20), symbolized in John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:14).  In any case, Paul himself says that he was the last of the apostles to see Christ risen from the dead, and since it is necessary for an apostle to personally witness the risen Christ with his own eyes, this means that there are no apostles after Paul (see 1 Cor. 15:8).  Church history also shows us, as far as I know, that none of the great church fathers in the early church called themselves apostles, not Irenaeus or Tertullian or Athanasius, not Augustine or Chrysostom.  They understood that there was something unique and special about the authority, mission, and mandate of the apostles.

It has been argued, especially by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, that the bishops are the successors of the apostles.  That’s true as far as it goes, of course, but if that means that the bishops have the same authority as the apostles, then it’s not true.  The bishops, elders, and pastors are the successors of the apostles in this sense: they extend the ministry of the apostles by teaching the doctrine they laid down in the Scriptures.  Pastors exercise authority, but not the kind exercised by the apostles, which was revelatory and universal.  The apostles gave us the Scriptures which are inspired, infallible, and inerrant.  On the other hand, pastors do not give Scripture-level revelation; they simply teach it.

So Paul’s authority is therefore unique.  His apostleship can hardly be questioned, any more than his conversion can, for the two go together.  When Christ called Paul to faith, he also called him to be an apostle.  

In other words, here is why you should listen to Paul.  Christ didn’t just save him and convert him.  He also commissioned him to be his apostle.  He was sent by Christ on a mission.  That’s what apostle means: an apostle is a sent one, one who is commissioned by another for a specific task, a delegate or messenger.  Paul is Christ’s messenger.  He is sent to us with a message, and it behooves us to hear what this message is about.  And that brings us to our last and final point.

Separated: “separated unto the gospel of God”

Paul was not only a servant, he was not only sent, but he was also separated.  As a servant of Christ, as his apostle, he was set apart to carry a specific message to the world, and especially to the Gentiles.  This message is the message of the gospel of God, a gospel which he is going to unpack for us in the coming chapters of Romans.  Even before the full exposition of the gospel, Paul begins to unpack what this is in the next few verses (2-4).  We will look at those verses in the future.  But for now, I just want to make the following observations.  Remember, we are asking the question: why should we listen to Paul?  Why should we read Romans?  And to answer that question, I want to focus on those two words at the end: of God.  

Now there are all sorts of things we should read and study.  If you are in a profession, you should study that profession.  If you are a historian, you should study history.  If you are a chemist, chemistry.  If you are an entrepreneur, we might want to study business models, and so on.  However, there is one thing needful, one thing above all other things, and that is the study of God.  A man can go to heaven without knowing calculus, but he cannot go to heaven without knowing God.  A person can go to heaven without knowing current events or the latest fad in philosophy, but he or she cannot go to heaven if they are a stranger to God.  A person can go to heaven if they were never successful at anything and were as poor as Job’s turkey, but you cannot go to heaven if you don’t know God.  If you should know anything, if you should study anything, let it be the study of God.

The problem is: how can we know God, especially when there are so many competing voices and when they are all saying different things?  Well, this is why the opening words of this epistle are so important.  We need to listen to someone whose word we can trust.  And what I think Paul’s life demonstrated is that he was that kind of person.  He didn’t just write about Jesus; he met him personally.  He was commissioned by him personally and clothed with his authority to give us the gospel.  And this gospel is the gospel of God.  If you want to know God, you find him by embracing and believing the gospel.

But in what sense is the gospel the gospel of God?  Is it the gospel of God in the sense that God is the one who gives it to us?  Or is it the gospel of God in the sense that he is the one it is about?  Is God the author or the subject matter of the gospel?

The answer is both.  The gospel is from God, and it is about God.  We can see the first sense from the way the apostle Paul describes himself and elsewhere.  He is the messenger of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and therefore the gospel is from God as its source.  We need to understand exactly what this means.  Our Lord himself promised the Holy Spirit to guide his apostles into all truth (Jn. 16:13).  Hence the apostles wrote like the OT prophets, who “were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:20-21) as they wrote the Scriptures.  Or, as the apostle Paul puts it to his disciple Timothy: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16).  It is the testimony of the prophets and the apostles that their words were not merely their words, but the words of God.  It is why the apostle John will say, “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1 Jn. 4:6).  He is saying that those who know God and who know his voice will hear it in the voice of the apostles.  Those who reject the apostles are rejecting the words of Christ.  

I know that sometimes you will hear people saying that they are true Christians because they don’t follow Paul and Pauline theology; instead, they just get their theology about Jesus from the gospels.  But you see that’s impossible, don’t you?  For one thing, you can’t even separate from the gospels from the apostles because they were all written, either by an apostle or by an associate of an apostle.  Luke, for instance, was the associate of the apostle Paul himself.  But further, the apostles were the mouthpieces of Jesus Christ.  To reject them is to reject Christ; to reject their words is to reject Christianity.  As our Lord himself said to his apostles, “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me” (Mt. 10:40).

Now think about this.  I know that there are other Scriptures that claim to come from God.  I know, for example, that Islam considers the Koran to be the very word of God.  The Mormons believe that Joseph Smith received revelation from God.  Now I don’t doubt that they received something, but it wasn’t the word of God.  On the other hand, we’ve argued that there are very good reasons to believe. that Paul received genuine revelation from Christ.  And we can be confident that we have his words preserved down through the ages.  Therefore, to add to them or to subtract from them is inconceivable, which is what you have to do if you accept either the Book of Mormon or the Koran.  If someone comes to you with “another gospel” you need to remember the words of Paul to the Galatians: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9). 

However, the gospel is not just the gospel of God in the sense that God is its author.  It is the gospel of God in the sense that God is its subject.  The gospel is about God.  The gospel is not a new law.  It’s not a therapist’s manual.  It’s not something to make you feel good about yourself.  The gospel is meant to show you God and to bring you to God.  It is meant to glorify God and to cause you to glorify him as well.  I anticipate that someone may complain, “But isn’t it about Jesus dying for sinners?”  Well, yes, but why did Christ die?  The apostle Peter tells us: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).  In fact, the way that Paul ends the exposition of the gospel in the first eleven chapters underlines this reality.  How does Paul finish up?  He does so in worship and prayer: 

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen”  (Rom. 11:33-36).

My friend, this is the thing we most need.  “One thing have I desired of the Lord,” said the psalmist, “that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4).  That ought to be our one thing.  I am thankful for all God’s blessings.  I am thankful for health and provision and family and friends.  I thank God for his gifts and it is our duty to enjoy them as gifts from him.  But let us not substitute God’s gifts for God himself.  They are poor replacements, and almost all the sorrows of this world can be boiled down to man’s long attempt to forsake the fountain of living waters for broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13).

A friend of mine sent me this quote from the great Puritan John Owen.  It is the view of someone who knows what it means to believe the gospel of God: “One of the greatest privileges the believer has, both in this world and for eternity, is to behold the glory of Christ. No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight in heaven who does not, in some measure, behold it by faith in this world. On Christ’s glory I fix my thoughts and desires, for the more I see of His glory, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes, and I will be more and more crucified to this world.”  May the Lord make it so with each of us!

May the Lord make all of us willing to listen to the great apostle Paul.  Because in hearing him you are hearing Christ.  Hearing him you are hearing the gospel of God, the good news that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:19-21).

But may we not be satisfied simply to stop at hearing.  The good news of the gospel is not something to be merely heard but also to be responded to, to be acted upon.  The only appropriate action to take with the gospel of God is to believe its message.  And that means putting your trust in Christ and turning from your sins.  When Paul beseeches us to be reconciled to God, this is precisely what he had in mind.  The gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, and the righteousness of God which saves us is a righteousness from faith to faith (Rom. 1:16-17).  Not faith in ourselves, but faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as he is revealed to us in the gospel.  May all who hear these words, who are yet unbelieving, turn from their sins and turn to Christ!


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