The Gospel; Faith-Rest Drill; Spiritual Growth
Open your Bibles with me to Romans 15. While you’re turning there I want to comment on some things going on in the national news. Most significant, of course, is this case of ebola in Dallas. I think that as believers we really need to think through how we’re going to respond if this gets out of control. I’ve read a number of things recently about the possibility of this really getting out of control not being very distant. We think that we have things under control.
We, as a generation, have been really blessed in this country with an incredible amount of health. My mother was a victim of the polio epidemic in 1952, which was centered here in Harris County. Prior to that, going back into the early part of the 20th century, there would be these periodic outbreaks of polio that just put fear into the nation. People were scared to death to let their kids go outside, to go to the swimming pools, and to go to any kind of gathering when these epidemics occurred. Most of us have never had to live with that.
You go back to 1918 and the flu epidemic. The other night I misspoke. I thought it was about 18 million that died but the actual number of deaths worldwide were between 50 and 100 million. It ravaged the trenches of World War I. We’ve never seen anything like that.
If you’re not familiar with ebola, a book I would recommend is a book that came out in the mid 90s called The Hot Zone. Many of us read that back when it first came out. One of the people mentioned in there was a Colonel David Franz, who at the time was the director of USAMRIID, the United States Army Medical Research and Infectious Disease Institute in Frederick, Maryland. He’s got a fascinating testimony because when he was a college student, I think in Kansas, either University of Kansas or Kansas State, he had grown up as a Mennonite, a pacifist Mennonite. He got hold of a book called Freedom Through Military Victory and that changed his life.
He rose to be a full colonel in the army and he was the director of USAMB. In 1998, right after I’d gone to Preston City, Pam and I went down to visit Dan Inghram in Washington, D.C. and Colonel Franz gave the three of us a personal tour for two or three hours through the “hot zone”. Then he took us into one of the briefing rooms because he had been in charge of the teams that went in to dismantle the biological and chemical warfare stuff after the first Gulf War. He gave us the same briefing he gave to Congress minus whatever was top secret that he couldn’t communicate. That was absolutely fascinating. The movie that Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo were in in the late 90s called Outbreak was based loosely on that book.
The predictions in that book and the film very much fit the scenario that we’re seeing right now. There’s an outbreak of ebola in Africa. Someone is exposed. They get on an airplane and they come to the United States and dozens of people become exposed and infected and you can just have a pandemic that occurs. This is something we have to think about. I don’t know if that’s what’s going to happen. I’m not saying this to be a gloom-and-doomer. I’m saying this because a) This is a real threat to the world and I have no confidence whatsoever in civil servants and bureaucrats which is what the Center for Disease Control is. Maybe they can get a handle on this. I’m reading some things showing where they’ve dropped the ball already. We need to be prepared in our souls and in other ways to face whatever threats may come. I don’t mean we should be survivalists or preppers or any of the extreme stuff, but we need to be thoughtful and aware of what’s going on around us. If this goes beyond this one case, the fear that will hit people is going to give us a wonderful opportunity for us to communicate the gospel. And it’s going to give us a wonderful opportunity to remain calm and to remain stable in the midst of panic. Many will be scared to death because suddenly their whole fantasy of a stable, secure world will have disappeared.
Last time when we were going through the text in Romans, which starts in Romans 15:14 and goes down to verse Romans 15:33, I focused on some key things that show up in the introduction and are parallel to what goes on in the conclusion, like any good piece of literature. I’m not going through this section at this point verse by verse although I’m doing some spot exegesis on some key passages.
There are some important things that run through this particular section. One of those is the word gospel. Just look at your Bibles with me for a minute. In Romans 15:16 Paul says, “That I may be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel.” You ought to underline the word “gospel” every time it occurs in this section. In Romans 15:19 he says, “I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” In Romans 15:20 he says, “So I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named but in new places.” In Romans 15:25 he says, “I’m going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints but I knew that when I came to you I should come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.” The gospel is mentioned so many times in Romans 15:14-33 that it’s a major theme of Paul’s.
As we come into this conclusion, the thing I pointed out last time is that, like Paul, we should have serving the gospel as the central priority of life. Just to review, Paul said he was separated to the gospel of God in Romans 1:1. In Romans 1:9 he came to serve with his spirit the gospel of His Son. In Romans 1:15 he said he was ready to preach the gospel. Finally in Romans 1:16 we see a verse that many of you should have memorized that says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek.”
I went through these verses at the end where he emphasizes the gospel. In the closing benediction in Romans 16:25 Paul says, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching in Jesus Christ.” I looked at this last time and one of the important things that come out of this that is easy to miss is a series of words that are used that have this overtone of service of a priest. The bottom line is that Paul is viewing his ministry as an apostle as a priestly ministry, serving the people with reference to the gospel.
We have words like the verb LATREUO which means to serve. A lot of people miss the point that these words are used in a cluster and not just individually. They’ll focus on the word service but it’s a worshipful service. This is a word that is commonly used to describe the worship of a priest in the tabernacle or a temple. Romans 1:25 uses that same word in terms of the idolatry of those who have rejected God, that they serve the creature rather than the Creator.
We see this same word again in Romans 2:1 as Paul sets up the theme for the last part of Romans saying we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. There’s that word “living sacrifice” and a parallel word meaning offering shows up in verse 16 again indicating this aspect of worship that is behind this. We are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is our reasonable service. The parallel word is LEITOURGOS where we get our word liturgy. It’s not just someone who’s being a servant but it’s always used within some sort of relationship to God. It’s used of the Lord Jesus Christ as a minister of the sanctuary and the tabernacle. It’s used of Epaphroditus’ ministry to Paul in Philippians 2:25. It’s also used in Romans 13 to refer to the government authorities as a minister of God. It’s always in that context of somehow serving God in relation to this kind of ministry.
In our passage in Romans 15:16 Paul uses the term minister of Jesus Christ [LEITOURGOS] clustered with the next word ministering. See, we use the same English word there to translate two completely different Greek words. I am always critical of that by translators because the concepts that are represented in the Greek are not identical to the English word “minister”. There is a connection. The second word ministering is the Greek word HIEROURGEO which means to serve as a priest. We lose the sense of that meaning by translating it with the English word ministry. Then it uses the word offering PHOSPHORA in Romans 15:16 where Paul says, “ministering the gospel of God.” So he is serving as a priest in his proclamation of the gospel. He is serving people.
Remember in the Old Testament you had two basic roles. A prophet represented God to man and a priest represented the people to God. A priest is the one who would come into the tabernacle or into the temple and present offerings. Even though priests were often responsible for teaching the Torah to the Jews, it was so they could have acceptable worship to God.
Paul says his ministry to the gospel of God was primarily focusing on the Gentiles. Then as they offered their lives as in Romans 12:2, presenting their lives as a living sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable, it was set apart or sanctified by God the Holy Spirit. That’s one of the major themes in this section, the emphasis on God the Holy Spirit. PHOSPHORA is an offering term. It’s used to describe Christ’s work on the cross, that He loved us and gave Himself for us as an offering and sacrifice. That uses both the words PHOSPHORA and the word THUSIA for sacrifice in Ephesians 5:2.
This gets us down to the last couple of words. One is acceptable. It’s a different word than what is used in Revelation 12:2. It’s a synonym, though, showing that the offering of the Gentiles might be pleasant or pleasing to God. It’s done for the right purposes, walking in fellowship, having been sanctified by God the Holy Spirit. The word there is HAGIAZO and again, the grammar is important. It is a perfect tense participle, indicating something that had been accomplished and completely accomplished in the past with ongoing results. So a perfect tense verb, whether it’s a participle or a verb, emphasizes the present result of a completed, past action. That completed, past action would have reference to positional identification with Christ at the cross which we call positional sanctification.
One other thing I want to point out in Romans 15:16 before we go on to the second area of comparison between the introduction to the book and the conclusion, is that Paul emphasizes that his focus is to serve in this priestly way the gospel of God. Now that’s really important because as I pointed out the word there for minister in the first case is that word LEITOURGOS where we get our word liturgy. He’s not relating this priestly service to some sort of liturgy. If you’ve grown up in a Roman Catholic Church or an Episcopal Church, or in a high Presbyterian Church or any church where you go through regular liturgy, then you understand.
We have more of an informal liturgy on Sunday morning. We go through a pattern that’s similar every Sunday but in high churches they repeat the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. They will sing the “Gloria Patria” and the doxology and three or four other things. Often they follow the so-called Christian calendar throughout the year. At different times of the year they’ll change the colors of all the vestments up on the platform or different things like that. That’s a liturgical church but Paul isn’t talking here about serving in the Church in terms of liturgy, in terms of the kinds of offering sacrifices in the tabernacle or temple.
This is all oriented to Paul’s operation and function as one who proclaimed the gospel. That’s a function of our priesthood. Every one of us is a priest. We are a believer-priest and part of our function as a priest is to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, completely focused and dedicated to the mission that Jesus gave. This is called the Great Commission and says that we are to make disciples.
That’s not something directed to pastors or evangelists or only to the early church or just the prophets and apostles. Everyone is included in that. That is a mission given to everyone. Where you fit within that ministry will differ depending upon your spiritual gift and depending upon the circumstances in your local church wherever that may be.
We serve the gospel in different ways. Some people are involved in gifts of helps. Some people are involved in gifts of administration. Others are involved because of gifts of giving. In some way at a personal level, we should also be involved in getting involved in evangelism. I’ve often thought about different ways that we can develop an evangelistic outlook into a community. I think that I’ve been intrigued by one that Bret Nazworth’s church developed down in Brownsville. I’ve been hearing from different churches that adopted that. That’s a preview of coming attractions after we get past my Israel trip and past Christmas and everything when we get into the winter. We’ll be looking around at different things and I think this has some great possibilities. It will certainly be a challenge to people. Not a tough challenge. It’s a pretty simple way and I like it. We’ll focus on that.
The principle here of application is, like Paul the focus of our life should be on the gospel. We should be thinking all the time about how we can turn certain circumstances and conversations to the gospel. Now that doesn’t mean necessarily with some people that it’s an overt gospel conversation. Sometimes you’re just putting a thought out there. Sometimes you’re just challenging their pagan suppositions. It all depends on understanding and knowing the individual and how to get them to think about spiritual things by the questions that we ask.
I find that one of my biggest problems and the problem with many people who know a lot about the Bible is that we want to start correcting people’s misconceptions right off the bat and straighten them out without giving them the opportunity to think through the path from where they are to understanding the gospel. We jump in there way too soon in my opinion in telling people what they ought to be doing without leading them so they come to their conclusions on their own as a result of some of the questions that we ask.
So when we look at the phrase “gospel of God” I just want to go through several points so that we understand with clarity what the gospel is. First of all, the phrase “of God” tells us that the source of the gospel is God. Of God indicates source. It indicates its origin. It indicates that God is the One who came up with and designed the gospel in eternity past. Before God ever created anything, in His omniscience, He already knew all of the knowable. So when we talk about what God knew in eternity past, we communicate this in a logical sense but not a chronological sense because God has always known everything. He’s never learned anything. He’s never forgotten anything. All of His knowledge is direct and intuitive whereas all of ours is learned and progressive.
Isaiah pointed out that our knowledge is not like His knowledge at all. He designed a gospel plan in eternity past, understanding the problem of sin, all of the different aspects of the problem of sin because man, the fallen creature, would not be able to do it. So the gospel comes from God. He is the only One who can apply the gospel ultimately in terms of bringing people to salvation.
Second, the gospel is good news. That’s the meaning of the word EUAGGELION. The “u” in the word is usually pronounced like a “v” which is where we get our English term evangelism. It’s just a term borrowed straight from the Greek. It means good news. That “eu” prefix always indicates something that is good and positive so if you’re going to say something good about someone or something it would be a EULEGEO or a eulogy. That’s how that prefix works and it comes over to many different words in English.
The gospel is good news. It’s something we should be excited about. Too often Christians are fearful. They’re afraid of rejection. You’re not being rejected. God is the One being rejected in a gospel presentation. Too often people are fearful that they will say something or do something that will create a problem. The gospel, then, is good news for everyone, both Jew and Gentile.
Specifically in the context of passages like Romans 11 and in this passage where Paul is talking about Jew and Gentile and in other passages like Ephesians 2 the issue is that the gospel is for everyone. Jews had a problem with that because many of them thought that the Messiah was coming only for Israel, only for the Jews. Messiah, however, was coming for everyone, the Jew first, and also the Greek which means the Gentile.
We need to understand that God provided a salvation for all mankind. What I mean by that is that it’s without exception and without distinction. These are theological terms that you might hear. Remember that Calvinist theology is summarized with the acronym “TULIP”. The “T” stands for total inability, “U” is unconditional election, “L” is limited atonement, “I” is irresistible grace, and the “P” the perseverance of the saints. It’s that “L” in the middle that is what is usually referred to as the fifth point.
Calvinists are often split between moderate Calvinists who believe in 3- or 4-point Calvinism whose issues are on limited or unlimited atonement and maybe how they understand election but your 5-point Calvinist would say in defining limited atonement that when the Scripture says that Christ died for all, it means that Jesus died for all without distinction. What they mean by that is that He died for Jew and Gentile. So they will teach that when you read in the Scripture that Christ died for all what those passages mean is that He died for Jews and He died for Gentiles, all without distinction.
In unlimited atonement we say that Jesus died for all without exception. He died for every single human being without exception. To make it clear I like to use both terms and say that Jesus died for all without exception and without distinction. There’s no one that was left out. There’s always that challenge for people of understanding unlimited atonement. If Christ actually died as a substitute for someone who is an unbeliever, how is it that they end up in the Lake of Fire if Jesus paid the penalty for their sin?
I remember when I was contemplating going to Dallas Seminary I went up there to visit a close friend of mine who had become converted to 5-point Calvinism as a student at Dallas although I didn’t know this. It was the result of S. Louis Johnson, a well-known professor at Dallas Seminary. My friend’s name was Randy Price. Randy is still a 5-point Calvinist and nothing is probably ever going to be able to change that. He brought to my attention this one theological problem that if Jesus died as an actual, real substitute then how is it that anyone is lost, that is, if Jesus truly died and paid for their sins. That was a good question.
I thought that through over the years and actually came up with a good answer for that. The good news is that Christ paid the price to free every person from the sin penalty. There are actually three problems that people have. First of all, we’re all born spiritually dead. Ephesians 2:1 says that we’re born dead in our trespasses and sins. We’re born spiritually dead. There is an aspect of our immaterial being that cannot have a relationship with God.
Second, we’re told that we’re born lacking perfect righteousness. Only a creature with perfect righteousness can have fellowship with a God of perfect of righteousness. Isaiah 64:6 says that all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. Third, we’re born under the condemnation of Adam’s original sin. Because we’re born under that condemnation, that penalty for that sin has to be paid for. So Christ paid the penalty for the condemnation but even though the penalty for every sin is paid for the person still has the first two problems.
Jesus solved the third problem but His death provided the basis for solving the first two problems. The first problem is that we’re born spiritually dead. Jesus may have paid my eternal penalty for being condemned under Adam’s original sin but I’m still born spiritually dead. Number two, I’m still born without righteousness. You’re born without righteousness. You’re born in a state of spiritual death and unrighteousness and that has nothing to do with the penalty for Adam’s original sin which Christ paid for. The only way to have the spiritual death and the righteousness problems solved is for us to trust to Christ.
Point four is that Christ’s payment for the penalty of sin doesn’t save us or give us righteousness or impart life. It paid the penalty for sin, the judicial penalty for sin on the cross. So fifth, only by trusting Christ do we then receive spiritual life and perfect righteousness. Christ died for all. He paid the sin penalty for all but that only solved one of the three problems. The other two problems get solved when we make a volitional decision to trust in Christ. At that instant, His life is applied to us and we are born again, given spiritual life, and we are justified which takes care of perfect righteousness. So under point six, at the instant of faith alone in Christ alone, we are positionally, that is legally, totally forgiven of all sin. It’s wiped out personally.
Now we’ve studied this in Colossians 2:10-12 in the past that when Christ died on the cross the certificate of our sin, that death penalty, was nailed to the cross and was wiped out. But we’re still left being spiritually dead and unjustified. We receive a new human spirit instantly at the point of salvation. We’re regenerated. We’re made a new creature in Christ at that instance. God regenerates that human spirit, that aspect of our soul that allows us to have a relationship with Him. That is given birth to at that point and that is called regeneration.
Second, and I think this is the logical order. It all happens simultaneously and instantly. That new human spirit receives the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. God doesn’t save us because He sees anything good in us but because at the instant that Christ’s perfect righteousness is credited to us, it’s imputed to us, God looks on us as possessing that perfect righteousness. Third, He declares us then to be righteous. We are then given eternal life. All of that happens instantly. Christ died for our sins. That’s unlimited atonement but its application in terms of regeneration and justification is limited by individual volition.
Unlimited atonement is not universal which is what this Calvinist argument attempts to say. They say that if you’re really consistent and Christ died as a substitute then everyone ought to go to heaven. That’s a theological trap that many people got caught up with for many centuries. But it’s not true. You have to understand there’s an objective payment of the penalty which is for all and a subjective application which has to do with regeneration, imputation, and justification. That’s the gospel.
That’s why it’s not based at all on how we lived before we’re saved or what we do before we’re saved or how we live after we’re saved or what we do after we’re saved. It’s based upon one decision to trust in Christ alone for salvation. The instant that we do that then we’re regenerate and all of this is irreversible. We are secured forever.
Another thing that Paul says in Romans 15:19 is that Paul relates this to his own ministry. He says, “For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me.” We have a lot of personal issues in our lives that are really irrelevant in terms of eternity. We spend a lot of time talking about our kids, about our parents, about our hobbies, and about all kinds of things. If we’re really engaged with people, we spend time talking about things that really matter such as religion, their view of God, and politics. Everything else is really irrelevant. Paul puts it in perspective here and says that if it doesn’t have anything to do with what Christ has accomplished through him it’s not worth talking about. He’s not a master of small talk. He says, “I will not dare speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me in word or deed to make the Gentiles obedient in mighty signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit of God so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”
There are a couple of things we need to observe here. First of all, look on a map. [Pastor Dean shows a map on slide 24.] What we see here is that Israel and Judea are located down here and here is Jerusalem. Paul’s first missionary journey basically covered what is now southern Turkey. The second missionary journey took him across Turkey. He was not allowed by the Holy Spirit to go into Asia. He crossed over and went into Philippi, came down through Thessalonica, through Athens, and Corinth and then came back home. On the third missionary journey he retraced those steps. Apparently when he covered the area in Macedonia, he was involved in sending out people who took the gospel into Illyricum. This would have included areas of the old Yugoslavia and going up into areas of Switzerland and even into Southeastern France which are all part of Illyricum. So he’s taking the gospel there.
He’s saying his gospel has been confirmed by signs and wonders. That’s a term that refers to performing miracles, especially sign miracles which would substantiate his claim to be an apostle. In 2 Corinthians 12:12 we read, “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance and signs and wonders and mighty deeds.” Apostolic ministry was not restricted to just the 11 or 12 but there are associates like Steven and Phillip in Jerusalem in the early part of Acts. They were serving with the apostles and so their signs and wonders confirmed that apostolic ministry. Ephesians 2:20 talks about the fact that the prophets and the apostles are the foundation of the church. So how would you confirm that someone was an apostle? It was through these signs and wonders.
In the 1980s there was a development of a new trend in the charismatic movement that was called the signs and wonders movement. It was started by an adjunct faculty member at Fuller Seminary by the name of John Wimber. It was also called “power evangelism” because Wimber said that it’s not really evangelism unless you have it confirmed with signs and wonders. What was different from the charismatic movements was that they de-emphasized tongues but they emphasized miracles and casting out demons and many other strange things.
They misunderstood the point that signs and wonders were not given to convince people in an unerring way of the truth of the gospel. The Gospel of John is written around eight signs that John emphasizes in giving the gospel. Many people have rejected the Gospel of John. Jesus performed many signs and wonders and many people rejected His claim to be the Messiah. Paul performed many signs and wonders and people rejected the gospel. Just because signs and wonders are there doesn’t mean that that guarantees that people would believe in the gospel.
That was the mistake in the whole signs and wonders movements. These things were aberrations in the late 70s. They got a lot of play in the 1980s because there were some well-known pastors, even a professor at Dallas Seminary who got caught up with this. There were others who kind of kept their head underground. One of the most well-known Calvinist preachers in America who has recently retired by the name of John Piper was into this whole signs and wonders things in his entire ministry, although most people don’t know this. He just didn’t emphasize it like others did. Others who are involved at Phoenix Theological Seminary such as Wayne Grudem whose systematic theology is highly touted among evangelicals today was caught up in this signs and wonders movement and has been since I studied it back in the mid-eighties.
This has entered mainstream evangelicalism. We see these generic evangelical churches spring up all over everywhere and they have huge numbers of people. I always wonder where they advertise and where they get all of their money. I have no idea but this is part and parcel of the modern, young evangelical movement that anyone who questions the continuation of the sign gifts or signs and wonders are being arbitrarily dogmatic and there’s no basis in the Scripture for that.
It’s because many young Christians are still thinking in terms of moral and philosophical relativism, including logical relativism and post-modernism. They don’t want dogmatism at all from the Scripture. They want to sit down and talk about the five different views of this or the three different views of that, where no one ever really comes to any kind of definite conclusion. But God intended His Word to communicate something, not many different ideas. He intended to communicate one and only one thing and we have to discern that from the text through a study and exegesis of the text and come to a conclusion of what the text says and what it doesn’t say.
People who say you’re being too dogmatic are operating like a post-modern pagan. This is what’s happened to the evangelical church over the last forty years. We have been infiltrated by believers who have not left their pagan thought modes at the door. They come in. They sit in the pews. They want to sing music like they sing out in the world. They want to conduct the church service with entertainment like they have out in the world. They want to focus on how you evangelize people by using salesman techniques like they learned in the world, not from the Word of God. They do not want to hold to a hard and fast distinction between the human viewpoint techniques and modern techniques.
One of the great emphases in learning Biblical apologetics is to recognize as a foundational principle that you don’t bring people to an understanding of the gospel of Christ by validating their assumptions about life. If you validate their assumptions about music, and you sing the same kind of music they do, how are you going to give them an unadulterated gospel that you’ve already perverted by your compromise by affirming their pagan assumptions on music? Or their pagan assumptions on morality?
This is how you grow an organization. You grow it by having entertainment. You grow it by providing what people want. If you provide what people want, then of course you’re going to build Summit-size churches but you’re never going to be teaching people the Bible. It’s going to be different when you have Biblical presuppositions. You’re not going to build a very big church because people today don’t want that big of a change. They want to make sure they’re going to go to heaven but they don’t want to disrupt the pattern of their life too much. This has always been a problem we face.
Paul faced it all the time and he says in Romans 15:19 that he “fully preached the gospel.” “Fully” is the word PLEROO the same word that’s used in Ephesians 5:18. It means to complete something, to fulfill something and to fill something up. Here it has that idea of completing something. It’s a perfect active infinitive. Once again we’re dealing with grammar. Perfect tense means it’s a completed action. So he says he’s completed the action relating to the gospel. This is usually translated something like “I have fully preached the gospel”.
In that English translation, the word preach is presented as a past tense verb. There’s no verb for that in the Greek. There’s the word for gospel, EUAGGELION, but there’s no word for preach. It should be translated “I have completely fulfilled the gospel.” The noun for gospel is in the accusative case indicating it is the object of the verb “completed”. What has he completed? The gospel and that would assume the word ministry. What Paul is saying here is that he has fulfilled the Great Commission. He has proclaimed the gospel. He has taken the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum. He is going out and taking the gospel around the world. In that sense he has completed the gospel of Christ. That’s all related to that first point of similarity between Paul’s introduction to the book of Romans and his conclusion.
The other parallels between the introduction and the conclusion are not as involved or as long. The second thing, Paul commends his recipients. In Romans 1:8 in the introduction he says, “First of all, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” He says something very similar to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 1:9. He is thankful to God that they are acting or living out their faith.
The word faith can mean a couple of different things. It has the idea of naming or identifying or trust in God at the gospel. The second meaning it identifies the content of what we believe. Sometimes we talk about a person’s faith, like they’re Christian, Jewish, Presbyterian or Methodist, or whatever they are. The content of your faith is spoken of throughout the world, Paul tells them. A third meaning is your outworking of your faith, your actions of believing, your on-going trust in God.
I believe that’s what he’s talking about here. I believe these believers in Rome have a reputation, like the Thessalonians who Paul said their knowledge of their faith, the way they’re trusting in God, has spread through all of Macedonia and all of Acacia. It’s going out through all the world. To the Romans he’s telling them they have a reputation that has gone through all the whole world, throughout the Romans Empire and beyond.
The emphasis here is on what we call the Faith-rest drill. Now there are three components to the practice of the Faith-rest drill. We’ve gone over this somewhat. I’m recording a whole series on the Faith-Rest drill that is part of the videos that you will be watching over the time I’m in Israel and the time I’m in Kiev in January, going through verse by verse, promise by promise, how we use the Faith-rest drill.
First of all, we mix faith with the promises of God. In Hebrews 4:2 the writer says, “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them. So “us” means 1st century Christians. “Them” is referring to the Old Testament believers, the wilderness generation, who left Egypt in the Exodus.
By the way, did you know there’s a new movie coming out called “Exodus: Gods and Kings”? It’s supposed to be quite interesting. It comes out around Christmas so everyone needs to read Exodus five or six or ten times between now and then so that when you go to the movie, see who can come up with the most Biblical discrepancies. That’s how you engage your mind and you don’t just suck it in but you think critically about the film. It should be a fascinating, interesting film. I still can’t get past Charlton Heston. I don’t know if I ever will. To me, he epitomized Moses.
So the writer of Hebrews was saying, “Indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them in the Old Testament.” When did you ever see a reference to the gospel in the Old Testament? Can anyone give me a chapter and a verse for the gospel in the Old Testament? No one can because it’s not stated that way in the Old Testament but the writer of Hebrews under inspiration of Scripture says they had the gospel in the Old Testament to believe. When you read the Old Testament you don’t find it but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.
A lot was known and a lot was going on in Old Testament times that God didn’t see fit to tell us about in Scripture. In Hebrews we learn that yes, the gospel was preached to them but the word which they heard [the gospel] did not profit them. The wilderness generation were believers but they were disobedient to the message proclaimed to them in the wilderness. They failed to trust in God to take them into the land and to take it away from the Canaanites. They had to go through forty years of wandering in the desert, the Wilderness of Zen.
We’re going to go to the Wilderness of Zen when we go on our Israel trip in about a month and we’re going to see just how barren that area is that they wandered through for those forty years. The writer of Hebrews says “The word that they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith.” That’s the key phrase. They didn’t believe it. That’s what that phrase “mixed with faith” means, that you have to believe what the Word of God says and you have to believe that it’s true.
In the first stage of the Faith-Rest Drill, we think about a verse that we know or a part of a verse that we know and we wrap our mental arms around that and we grab it and say, “God this is a principle or promise you’ve given me. Here’s what you’ve said. I’m claiming this for you to fulfill this promise.” We don’t just claim an abstract principle or say, “God, somewhere you’ve said something that I think means this. I heard someone say this or I heard some preacher say that.” That’s not what Jesus did in the wilderness. He quoted Scripture verbatim against the temptations and the attacks of Satan. So we mix faith with the promises of Scripture. We need to memorize Scripture.
Second, we need to understand the embedded reasoning contained within the promise. For example, one you’ve heard from me many, many times is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.” Now there are three commands there. To trust, to lean not, and to acknowledge. Then there’s a conclusion.
So how do those three commands relate to each other? The first command is that we’re to trust in the Lord completely or totally with our whole being, our whole heart. Second, we’re not to lean on our own understanding. Those are complete opposites. It’s not that we’re going to trust in the Lord but we’ve got to think through this and figure it out as well. No, we have to base our thinking completely and exclusively on God because He knows all the issues. We don’t.
When you’re making tough decisions with relation to career, with relation to life, we have to think through those issues. We think those through but we tell the Lord that we’re trusting Him. You admit you don’t know all the data here but you’re trusting God to guide and direct you. You will make the best decision you can based on the data that you have. I used to pray this all the time, “Lord, keep me from making a bad decision. Keep me from making a foolish decision. Keep me from making a decision that I’m going to regret down through the years.”
So we trust in the Lord. We don’t lean on our own understanding or our own frame of reference. “In all our ways, acknowledge Him.” That means put Him first. What’s the conclusion? The conclusion is that He will direct our paths. Not necessarily overtly where He’s going to put traffic lights out in front of us, directing us to turn left here and turn right there. As we make those decisions He’s going to close and open doors and give us opportunities. When we get done we look back and see how the Lord directed us down through the years. That’s the third aspect, when we reach a conclusion then that stabilizes our emotions and stabilizes our soul.
Paul is praising them in the introduction because of their faith that has gone out. In the conclusion he does the same thing. In Romans 15:14 he says, “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another, for your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I’m glad on your behalf.” Notice how positive towards them he is because they are moving forward spiritually. He uses this idiom about goodness. It’s a descriptive term. They’re good people in terms of intrinsic goodness. It’s describing their character. They’re good. They’re kind. They are upright.
Second, they are filled with all knowledge. There’s our word PLEROO again. It’s a perfect passive participle, meaning completed action. They’ve already been filled which is accomplished through the Holy Spirit. This is the same word used in Ephesians 5:18 where we’re commanded to be filled by means of the Holy Spirit. They have responded to that command and they are full of knowledge from God the Holy Spirit. That’s what he fills us with, spiritual knowledge.
As a result they are able to admonish one another. This is a Greek word NOUTHETEO which is an interesting term because it comes from the noun NOUS which means the mind. It has an element of instruction or teaching with it but it also has an element of admonishment. It has the idea of addressing not only the intellect in terms of this is what you need to know or this is what you need to do but also challenging their will and their emotions. The meaning of the word is wide-spread. It has the idea of admonition, advice, and warning, reminding someone of the truth, teaching in terms of instruction and then challenging them, spurring them on to correct behavior. So this is the result of someone who is spiritually mature. They are “filled with all goodness and admonishing them.”
Next time we’ll come back to the last four points where first of all, Paul is persevering and overcoming all the obstacles in getting to Rome. Rome was God’s destiny for him. There are a lot of things God wants us to do but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get there. So he persevered in overcoming those obstacles to get to the goal.