Loved by God, Called to Christ (Rom. 1:6-7)


We are continuing to look at Paul’s epistle to the Romans together; we are still in the introduction.  Here, we come to the identification of the ones to whom he is writing and the blessing that he gives them in verses 6-7.  Verse 7 won’t end the introduction, however, which will go on to verse 15, at which point the apostle will state the theme of this letter (which is the gospel in terms of the righteousness of God by faith) in verses 16-17, which he then goes on to expound to the end of chapter 4.  This is followed by the apostle’s development of the gospel in terms of its implications in chapters 5-11, followed by application in chapters 12-16.

It is easy to just skip over introductions, and we have to be careful that we don’t do that here.  I think it’s important to hear what the apostle is doing here.  One reason why we shouldn’t is because he is describing real Christians in the middle of the first century.  These are not storybook people.  These are not imaginary Christians.  They were real flesh and blood people with all the problems people have, believers or not.  

In particular, we don’t need to skip over those words: “To all that be in Rome” (7); that is, to all those who were Christians in the city of Rome.  When Paul wrote these words, Nero was the emperor of the Roman empire.  He was not yet the mad persecutor of Christians, for that was in the future, but he was thoroughly pagan, as pagan as the realm he ruled.  These Christians in Rome had no power, were insignificant and probably unnoticed people who lived in the shadow of the mightiest empire up to that time.  It would not have been easy to be a Christian in such a place.  There would have been a lot of difficult choices.  You would have had to relearn what it meant to live and thrive when you become a Christian.  In addition to all the ordinary worries and wants of people, you would also have had to deal with the ostracism and unfriendliness of your neighbors.  There would have been no support or encouragement from your environment for the Christian faith.  

And remember that Paul would come to Rome a few years later, not a free man as he hoped, but in chains.  He would in fact spend the last part of his life in the Mamertine prison in Rome before being executed by the then-persecuting Nero.  But the point is that just as Rome is a real city, these are real people who had embraced the Christian faith in the first century.  We should take the things Paul writes about them with equal seriousness.  

And the reason why we ought to pay attention to the way the apostle is describing them is that the things he says of them are true of any Christian anywhere.  Remember that Paul had never been to Rome.  This was not a church that he had established.  He knew it by reputation only (see verse 8), and many of the believers there he had never met.  So he’s not saying what he’s saying in verses 6-7 because he knows them all personally.  He therefore must be saying what he is saying because these are things that are just true of any believer anywhere in any time.  Believer, we need to receive this as a description of us and to receive the benediction as a blessing for us, we need to apply them to ourselves if we too are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Just what are these things that characterize believers?

There are three main things the apostle draws our attention to.  First, he points us to the fact that believers are loved by God.  Second, he wants us to know that they are called to Christ, and being called to Christ are also called to be saints. Finally, don’t read over the benediction: “grace and peace” which come jointly from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  It means that they are blessed beyond measure.  Let’s look at these three things together. 

Loved by God 

“To all that be in Rome, beloved of God” (7).  Note that: all who were in Rome – that is to say, all who were believers in Rome – all of them were loved by God.  All of them.  Not some of them, or most of them, but all of them.  Not just the especially godly ones.  Not just the ones who knew their Bibles the best, but all of them.  They were all loved by God.

I think if we’re honest most of us would have to admit that we imagine or feel that God loves some of his people more than others, even if we would never dare say it out loud.  Do we not imagine the measure of God’s love to someone to be on the basis of how much they have done for God?  You see some great missionary who sacrifices everything for the gospel and who is used by God to bring many into the kingdom.  And then consider the poor widow who is bed-ridden, who can’t do anything for the kingdom beyond prayer for the simple reason that she can’t.  Is there not some secret feeling that we think God must favor the missionary above the bed-ridden believer?  Oh my friends, there is coming a day when we there will be a great reversal.  The first will be last and the last will be first.  God does not measure things the way we measure them.  I tell you that the believer who is bedridden is no less loved by God than the preacher who sacrificed everything for the gospel.  God’s love doesn’t make those kinds of distinctions.  It’s humans that do that.  

Paul doesn’t tell them that they are all loved by God, but some more than others.  Of course not!  God’s love doesn’t work like that.

I’ll tell you the reason it doesn’t work like that.  The word Paul uses here is agapetos: “beloved” in our translation.  It’s the same word that God uses of Jesus at his baptism: “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17).  The same word!  And here’s the point: God the Father can’t love anyone any more than he loves his own Son, his beloved Son.  And yet that’s the very word Paul uses for the believers at Rome!

Now you may think that I’m stretching the interpretation and application of the word here.  You might think, well, it’s the same word, but it doesn’t necessarily have the same richness, the same depth, and width, and breadth, and height as it does for the Lord Jesus.  But then we read the words of our Lord in his high priestly prayer to the Father for his disciples.  Listen for what he prays for: “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (Jn. 17:22-23).  Did you hear that?  He prays that the Father may love his people just as he loves the Son.  We wouldn’t dare believe that if the Lord didn’t say it out loud.  But he did, and I believe he said it out loud because he knew the apostle John was going to record it for his people in every age to know and believe and be comforted and strengthened by it.

But what does that mean?  What does it mean for God to love the believer as he loves the Son?  Well, go back to that passage in Matthew.  God says that Jesus is his beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased.  Now take that and meditate on it.  For God the Father to love you as he loves his only begotten Son means that he is well pleased with you.  It means that he delights in you.  He loves you in that way.

Now don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not implying that God’s love to us means that we are on an equal plain with the eternal Son.  He is God and we are not.  He is infinitely above us.  The Son shares in the unity of the Trinity with the Father and the Spirit and the three are one.  But what the Scriptures tell us is that the love that is shared between Father, Son, and Spirit overflows through the salvation of the elect in the fellowship of man with God.  We are not made equal with God, but we are loved by God, and this love is an immeasurable love.

Such a love has certain characteristics.  First of all, it is a special love.  Now you often hear people rattle on about God’s love for all people: “God so loved the world,” and so on and they think this means that God loves everyone indiscriminately and equally.  Some will even go so far as to argue that this means everyone will be saved in the end.  But this a gross misunderstanding of the love of God.  We will see in chapter nine of this very epistle that the apostle will remind us of the reality: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:13).  There are some people that God justly and righteously hates.  They are not loved by God.

What then about all these verses that talk about God’s love for the world, as in John 3:16?  Well, we’ve dealt with this recently, but let me remind you that it doesn’t mean that God loves all without exception, but rather that his love is a love that is for all the nations in every age (cf. Rom. 1:5).  It’s a love without distinction, that encompasses people from every nation and tribe and people and language.

At the same time, we do recognize that there is a general love that God has for his creation as such.  This is what our Lord is referring to in the Sermon on the Mount when he commands us to love our enemies, and then gives God as the great example: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:44-45).  The point is that God is good even to the wicked.  Even Esau was given worldly riches and prosperity.  And it’s not wrong or unbiblical to call this a kind of love that God has for all his creatures.

However, that’s not what Paul is talking about here.  Instead, he is talking about God’s special love, the love that he has for his elect, for those who have turned from their idols in repentance and who turned in faith to Christ.

This is something that distinguished them from everyone else in Rome.  It was a special love.  And to know that God loves you in this way ought to make a difference, shouldn’t it?  Think about the situation of the believers in Rome.  They had pagan rulers over them.  These rulers loved those who served them.  They showed their appreciation for those who gave their lives to the empire, and part of that meant offering sacrifice to the emperor, something a believer in Christ could never do.  So these pagan rulers would not have understood or appreciated or loved the Christians in Rome.  But no matter!  For God loved them; with them he was well-pleased.  

Second, this is a saving love.  It is a love that saves us from our sins.  It is God’s love, not our worthiness, that lies at the bottom of our salvation.  If you go back far enough to the root of your salvation, you are going to run into the love of God.  We love him because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19).  As Paul put it to the Ephesians, after describing their death in sin, tells them why and how they were rescued from that: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).  God’s love doesn’t just pity us; it saves us.  It doesn’t just make salvation possible – where in the Scriptures can you find that ridiculous notion? Rather, it secures and effects salvation for his people: “He shall save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21)!

Now, how should we respond to this?  What effect should this have on us?  Well, if we really believed it, would it not free us from the fear of man, from the fear of our circumstances, from the love of the world?

Why is it that we spend so much time trying to please people?  Why is it that we are so afraid of what another person might think of us?  Why is it so hard to be despised and rejected of men?  Well, I think a big part of our problem is that we are not sufficiently confident that God does in fact love us.  We hold it as a doctrine, but do we really believe it?  

And why is it that we fear what might happen to us?  Is it not because we do not really believe that God loves us?  If I really believed this, then when trials come my way, I would see them as sent to me by a wise and loving Father who will work them for my good.  We need to remember that it was in the context of hard things that Paul becomes most eloquent about God’s love in the eighth chapter of Romans: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).

We look at hard things and think they prove God doesn’t love us.  Paul looks at them and says they can’t separate us from his love and that through all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.  

How can Paul do this?  I think he could do it because he had experienced God’s love even in the darkest of moments and even through the hardest of trials.  He knew, as Betsie Ten Boom would put it to her sister Corrie, that God’s love was deeper than the deepest pit.  But if you haven’t yet experienced this, what might give you the courage to do so?  What truth might help you to hold on to the promise of God’s love as you descend into a gloomy pit of pain and privation?

Go up from the end of Romans 8 to a few verses before, and hear what the apostle has to say there: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).  This verse teaches you how you reason when you are tempted to doubt God’s love in hard times: it teaches us to say that no matter what God may give or take away, he has already given me the greatest gift of all, namely, his Son, who was delivered up for me and this gift secures every other good gift and eternal life.  And because this is true, I can believe that God will give me everything that I need, even when I am hurting or grieving or feeling hopeless.  He who brought his Son to a grave and then brought him out of it will do the same for me through Christ.  

I am so thankful for the faithful witness of many believers throughout history who have tested Paul’s words and found them true.  One such man was Edward Payson, the eighteenth and nineteenth century pastor and father of Elizbeth Prentiss.  He had this to say about his experience of God’s love for him at the end of his life.  He wrote:

Christians might avoid much pain and inconvenience if they would only believe what they profess, that God is able to make them happy without anything else.  They imagine that if such a dear friend were to die, or if such blessings were to be removed, they would be miserable, whereas God can make them a thousand times happier without them.  To mention my own case, God has been depriving me of one blessing after another, but as each one was removed He has come and filled its place.  And now, when I am a cripple and not able to move, I am happier than ever I was in my life or ever expected to be; and if I had believed this twenty years ago I might have been spared much anxiety.

Not only will a sense of God’s love free us from the fear of man and adverse circumstances, it should also change the way we look at his laws. Our Lord said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15).  A man or a woman who loves God’s word will say with the apostle John, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 Jn. 5:3).  If we love God, we won’t find God’s commandment grievous, or burdensome.  Rather, we will say with the apostle Paul, “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man” (Rom. 7:22).

In other words, a sense of the love of God, knowing that you are beloved by him, is not a spiritual sedative to put you to sleep but a medicine that will awaken your heart to delight in him and in his ways.  It’s not something that, if truly grasped, will help you make excuses for your sins.  Rather, it will cause you to grieve over the ways you have not obeyed God and will spur you on to greater efforts for holiness before him.

Is this the case with us?  Scripture says, “God forbid!” to those who want to say, “Let us sin that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1-2).  The Bible makes it very clear that those who are loved by God are the same who love God, and it is impossible to love him without loving his word and ways.

In fact, as the apostle Paul will pray for the Ephesian believers, to know the love of God in Christ will cause one to be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph. 3:18-19).  Now that state of things is simply incompatible with spiritual laziness or worldliness or earthly mindedness.  To be filled with all the fulness of God is, I imagine, at least in part, to be holy as God is holy, to have the heart fully calibrated to love what God loves and to hate what he hates.  

Indeed, we should pray this prayer right alongside Paul.  We should not only want to know about the love of God, but we should want to experience it more and more.  We want the knowledge of God’s love not only to have a glancing blow upon the mind but to make an indelible impression upon the mind and heart and will.  We want God’s love to form us and to shape us, to strengthen us and to comfort us, to give us assurance and boldness, to build up our faith and love to God and others.  In fact, I think that the great thing all of us needs is to know more of the love of God in Christ.  We all need to really let this reality sink into our souls: that God loves the believer in Christ.  If you are a believer in Jesus, God loves you!  We throw those words around so cavalierly, but it is the greatest reality in the universe, isn’t it?  May God cause us to really know this love and be filled with all the fulness of God!

Called to Christ

The next thing we see here in verse 7 is that those who are loved by God are called to be saints.  This ties up with how the apostle had just described them in verse 6: they were “the called of Jesus Christ.”  Now being called to be saints and being the called of Jesus Christ is really describing the same thing, the same reality, the same experience.  Believers are the called of Jesus Christ in the sense that they are called to belong to him (cf. ESV).  Look back up to verse 1, when Paul says that he is “a servant of Jesus Christ.”  Now that clearly means “a servant who belongs to Jesus Christ.”  In the same way, the “of” in verse 7 functions similarly: called of Jesus Christ means called to belong to Jesus Christ.  That is the meaning.

And being called to belong to Jesus Christ means that we are now separated from the world.  We were servants of the world, the flesh, and the devil; now we are servants of Christ.  We are sanctified, set apart, from the world.  It is in this sense that Paul says that they are called to be saints.  We often think of a saint as someone who is super-spiritual or super-holy, but this is not the Biblical usage.  Biblically, what we see consistently in the NT epistles is that every believer is a saint.  You’re looking at Saint Jeremiah up here.  Not because I am a special Christian in the sense of having some kind of remarkable life and ministry, but in the sense of belonging to Jesus.  You don’t have to be perfect or a miracle-worker, and you don’t have to have constant joy to be a saint.  If you are a believer, you are a saint, according to the holy apostles of our Lord.

Then notice that the believer is called to this: called to belong to Christ and thus called to be a saint.  What is this talking about?

In the NT, in Paul’s writings in particular, this calling is something God does and which he does effectively.  It is the call of God that secures the response.  It has been described as “the divine summons to embrace Christ” by faith.  I think that is right.  Paul will put it this way to the Thessalonian Christians: “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:13-14). God effectually calls us to the belief of the truth by the gospel.  

Now this is different from (though not separated from) the general call that goes out to all men.  “Many are called, but few are chosen,” as our Lord put it to his disciples. But you will notice that what Paul says to the Thessalonians is that those who are chosen are called.  As many as are called are chosen.  This is a different call.  There is a gospel call that proclaims the Lordship of Christ and summons all men to bend the knee.  God has commanded all men everywhere to repent.  But then there is this special call, an effectual call, a call in which God by the Holy Spirit effectually draws a person to faith in Christ through the gospel.

For example, you see two men hear the same gospel message, and one believes and the other is totally unaffected.  What makes the difference?  I will tell you what makes the difference: the call of God and the grace of God makes the difference.  It’s what Paul is describing to the Corinthians: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. . . . But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:18, 23-24).

This is a great privilege.  First of all, it ought to make us grateful for the grace of God that opened our ears and our hearts to receive the gospel.  You can’t take credit for that; God is the one who did it.  God is therefore the one who gets the praise.  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  No boasting in the sight of God because if you are saved it is because God in his grace had mercy on you and drew you by his Spirit to his Son (Jn. 6:44).

But we should also let this call of God free us from lethargy, from spiritual paralysis, from despair and hopelessness when it comes to the sins in our lives.  Brothers and sisters, you do need to fight hard against the sins in your life.  Fight hard against the greed and the lust the worldliness that is there.  Fight hard against the selfishness that is there.  But if you look at killing the sin in your life entirely in terms of your own efforts, then you will be ground down and eventually defeated.  And the problem with this is that when we do it like this, we have forgotten this reality of the calling of God.  The call of God doesn’t just zap you and then leave you; it changes your life forever, and the grace that brings you to Christ is the same grace that enables you to put death to sin.  This truth is so important that Paul will elaborate upon it more fully in chapter 6.

Brothers and sisters, thank God for calling you to belong to Jesus Christ!  Thank God for making you a saint!  Thank God that because of this you can put off the old man and put on the new man.  What a privilege!  Let us be grateful for it, and let us live out this reality in changes lives.

Grace and peace

Paul finishes here in verse 7 with the following benediction: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Again, we are so tempted to skip over these things.  We say the words, grace and peace, and they roll off our lips like the Pledge of Allegiance without realizing what we are saying.

But these two things, grace and peace, really summarize everything that we need.  Every good gift from God is a gift of grace.  The breath we breathe, the things we have, the food we eat, are all gifts of grace.  But more importantly, salvation from sin and all its consequences is a gift of grace.  Eternal life is a gift of grace.  Reconciliation with God, acceptance with God, are gifts of grace.  The presence of God that helps us in our hour of need is a gift of grace.  And so on, there is an innumerable list of things we could put here, but the way to summarize it all is by saying that everything we need is a gift of grace.

However, one way to summarize the gifts of grace is by the word peace.  Grace from God gives us peace with God.  Peace is what every one wants.  They want to be free from turmoil and restlessness.  They want to be free from inner and outer causes of distress.  Peace is the absence of all causes of turmoil.

Now we know that this side of heaven we won’t be freed from trials and things that cause us stress.  There will always be things that can cause us anxiety.  But we do have this through Christ: we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1).  And having that, we can be sure that every other form of peace will and must follow.  So Paul will pray later in this letter for his readers, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 15:13).  Twice in this epistle the apostle calls God the God of peace because that is what he is and what he gives (15:33; 16:20).

The peace that comes from the grace of God is first of all an objective peace.  That is to say, it is something that we have, regardless of the way we feel at the moment.  If you are in Christ, you have peace with God, and that peace is unassailable from all the stresses of your life.  It is a permanent reality.  But here’s the thing: because we have this objective peace with God, it follows that we will inevitably have an inner sense of this peace.  We will certainly have it in heaven.  And by God’s grace we can have an increasing sense of this peace as we bring all our anxious cares to the throne of grace: “Be [anxious] for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

This is what Paul prays for his audience: grace and peace.  They have already experienced grace and peace and they have it in Christ.  But he is asking that they will have an increasing fulness of the experience of God’s grace and peace in their lives.  More grace and more peace.  Believer, do you feel like you need these things?  Then pray for them.

They come to us, not from ourselves, or because we are clever or good, but from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Christ God is our Father.  His love to us in the love of a Father.  It is a perfect love, a never-ending love, a wise love, a good love.  We are safe in his hands.  He will give his children grace and peace when they ask for it.  “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).

Believer, take advantage of these privileges.  Live upon them.  Let them shape the way you think about everything.  The heart of sanctification is living out what we are, and these things are the things that describe every believer.  If you are a believer, these things are really true of you.

Are you not a believer in Christ?  My friend, the Bible teaches that those who put their trust in Christ have all these privileges.  The love of God, the call of God, grace from God, and peace with God.  This is not pie in the sky because Jesus Christ the Son of God purchased them for all who believe in him.  I call upon you to put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.  As the Scriptures say, “Blessed are those who put their trust in him.”


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