The Christ that Paul Preached

Text: Romans 1:1-4

Romans’ is, in my opinion, the most important book in the Bible. Down through the centuries, Paul’s epistle to the Romans has served as a catalyst for Reformation, and for centuries it has nurtured the evangelical faith. Here are two examples. In the fourth century a distinguished philosopher and teacher named Augustine was under conviction concerning the truthfulness of Christianity. He was a brilliant and attractive man: but he had also lived an immoral life, as many of the pagan intellectuals of his day did, and his past practice of immorality held him in a vise-like grip. He tells about it in the eighth book of his Confessions, relating how, although he was convinced of the truthfulness of Christianity, he nevertheless kept putting off a true repudiation of sin and a commitment to Jesus Christ. One day, while in the garden of a friend’s estate near Milan, Italy, Augustine heard a child singing the words tole lege, tole lege (“take and read”). He had never heard a song with words like that before, so he received it as a message from God. Obeying the message, he rushed to where a copy of the Bible was lying, opened it at random, and began to read the words that first met his astonished gaze. They were from Romans, the thirteenth chapter: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Rom. 13:13-14). This was exactly what was needed by Saint Augustine, as he was later called. The words were the means of his conversion. Afterward he wrote, “Instantly, as the sentence ended—by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart—all the gloom of doubt was vanished away.” Augustine became the greatest figure in the early Christian Church between the apostle Paul and Martin Luther.

The second example of the Romans epistle’s influence is the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther. He was no profligate, as Augustine was. Quite the contrary. Luther was a pious, earnest monk—an apparent Christian. But Luther had no peace of soul. He wanted to please God, to be accepted by him. But the harder he worked, the more elusive the salvation of his soul seemed to be. Instead of growing closer to God, he found himself moving away from him. Instead of coming to love God, which Luther knew he should do, he found himself hating God for requiring an apparently impossible standard of righteousness of human beings. In desperation Luther turned to a study of Paul’s letter to the Romans and there, as early as the seventeenth verse of chapter 1, he found the solution: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” As God opened the meaning of this verse to him, Luther realized that the righteousness he needed was not his own righteousness but a righteousness of God, freely given to all who would receive it. Furthermore, this was to be received, not through any works of his own but by faith only (sola fide). Faith meant taking God at his word, believing him. Luther did this, and as he did he felt himself to be reborn and to have entered Paradise. Here is how he put it: “I had no love for that holy and just God who punishes sinners. I was filled with secret anger against him. I hated him, because, not content with frightening by the law and the miseries of life us wretched sinners, already ruined by original sin, he still further increased our tortures by the gospels…But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood the words—when I learned how the justification of the sinner proceeds from the free mercy of our Lord through faith…then I felt born again like a new man…In very truth, this language of Saint Paul was to me the true gate of Paradise.” Luther called Romans “the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel”; he believed that “every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, [and] occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of his soul.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the English poet, called Romans “the profoundest book in existence.” The great Swiss commentator, F. Godet wrote that in all probability “every great spiritual revival in the church will be connected as effect and cause with a deeper understanding of this book.”[1] Recently, however, we have been told by highly respected (and professing evangelicals) scholars, that the Reformation misunderstood Romans and in particular, distorted the doctrine of justification by faith (sola fide). The so-called New Perspective on Paul[2] has called into question the validity of the Reformers emphasis on sola fide and surprisingly, many in the Reformed community, have gladly embraced the new and improved insights of the New Perspective (here after NPP), all the while contending that they are still loyal to the Reformed faith.[3]

As we go through this magnificent epistle we will examine the claims of the NPP. Is justification by faith alone at the heart of the gospel as the Reformation contended or is it as the advocates of the NPP a secondary issue with the Apostle Paul and not to be confused with the gospel? The Gospel is at the heart of Romans. I need, however, to qualify the focal point of the Gospel according to Romans. Paul’s main theme is not primarily human salvation, but the work of God vindicating His purposes and glorifying Himself in the cross of Christ. Within this grand perspective, God’s work of saving sinners is revealed. Romans, as Leon Morris has observed, is ultimately a book about God: how He acted to bring salvation, how His justice is preserved, how His purposes are worked out in history, how He can be worshipped and served by His people.[4]

I.          Paul’s Credentials as an Authoritative Teacher of the Gospel:  As an apostle, Paul was given direct authority by Christ to communicate the Gospel. He had been set apart (APHORISMENOS, separated for a specific purpose) for preaching this Gospel. This explains the nature of his calling (cf. Galatians 1:15 and Jeremiah 1:5).

II.         Paul’s Description of this Gospel:  The Gospel was promised by God throughout the pages of the Old Testament. The Scriptures of the old covenant foretold of Christ’s coming, of His mighty works, and His sufferings and death and resurrection (cf. Acts 3:18, 21; 4:25; I Corinthians 15:3; I Peter 1:11). The word for Gospel, EUANGELION, is used again and again in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, (abbreviated as LXX), especially in Isaiah (cf. 40:9; 52:7; 60:6; 61:1).

III.        Paul’s Declaration of the Contents of the Gospel: The Gospel is concerned with the Person and work of Christ. “Nowhere else,” wrote Warfield, “do we get a more direct description of specifically the Christ that Paul preached.”[5]

A.        Christ is Lord:  Note how the Apostle designates himself as the servant of the Christ Jesus. The word “servant” (or slave) is patterned on the Old Testament phrase “servant of the Lord” (cf. Joshua 14:7; II Kings 18:12; Nehemiah 1:6). It indicates total devotion to one’s master. “Indicative of Paul’s high Christology is his replacement of Yahweh with CHRISTO IESOUS as the master whom he serves.”[6] Paul’s estimate of Christ is further illustrated by the way he couples the Lord Jesus Christ with God our Father as the source of grace and peace (verse 7). “This is normal with Paul. God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are not to him two objects of worship, two sources of blessing, but one object of worship, one source of blessing. Does he not tell us plainly that we who have one God the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ yet know perfectly well that there is no God but one (I Corinthians 8:4,6)?”[7]

B.  Who is Jesus Christ?:  No doubt, most of you have seen the covers of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. Over the past few years all three devoted cover stories to the claims of the New Testament that Jesus rose from the dead. As was to be expected, they gave great credibility to the findings of the Jesus Seminar,[8] particularly to one of their leading scholars, John Dominic Crossan. This ex-Catholic priest dismisses with a wave of his hand the historical Christian belief in the resurrection of Christ and claims this to have been impossible because the body of Jesus was probably eaten by dogs!

1.         He is the Son of God:  It is the eternal Son that Paul served as Lord. Notice that this was critically important to Paul’s preaching and central to the Gospel. Who is this remarkable Person?

2.         He is the Promised Messiah:  He who always was the eternal Son of God now became flesh, and dwelt among us (I John 1:1-4). More specifically, He was of the house of David, thus He is the promised Messiah (cf. II Timothy 2:8).

Note: How are we to understand verses 3 and 4? Did Christ cease to be of the seed of David when he rose from the dead? Did His resurrection make Him the Son of God? “Paul is not here distinguishing times and contrasting two successive modes of our Lord’s being. He is distinguishing elements in the constitution of our Lord’s person, by virtue of which He is at one and the same time both the Messiah and the Son of God. He became of the seed of David with respect to the flesh, and by the resurrection of the dead was mightily proven to be also the Son of God with respect to the Spirit of holiness.”[9]

Conclusion: The Jesus that Paul preached was fully God and fully man. He became a man in order to accomplish the will of His Father, to bring many sons into glory (Hebrews 2:10). The Jesus that Paul preached was not subordinate to God; He was God and Paul knows no difference in dignity between his God and his Lord. His is the only Jesus that Paul proclaimed.

References:

 


[1]       As cited by James Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary I (Baker, 1991), pp. 12-14.

 

[2]       The New Perspective owes its inception to the Jewish scholar E. P. Sanders and his Paul and Palestinian  Judaism (Fortress, 1977). J. D. G. Dunn, professor of Divinity at the University of Durham is a leading NT scholar who follows in Sanders wake, cf. his commentary in two volumes in the Word Biblical Commentary (Word, 1988) and his more recent The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Eerdmans, 1998). The individual who has had the most influence amongst evangelicals is the noted Angelican Bishop N. T. Wright, cf. his popular work, What Saint Paul Really Said (Eerdmans, 1997) and his commentary in Romans in The New Interpreter’s Bible X (Abingdon, 2002).

 

[3]        To my great surprise, John Armstrong has embraced N. T. Wright, cf. Reformation & Revival Journal: Justification  Modern Reflections (Vol. II, No. 2, Spring 2002). Equally as puzzling is what goes by the name of The Federal Vision also known as The Auburn Avenue Theology  which includes Doug Wilson and Peter Leithart of Credenda/Agenda cf. The Auburn Avenue Theology Pro & Con: Debating The Federal Vision ed. E. Calvin Beisner (Knox Seminary, 2004) and “A Pauline Take on The New Perspective” by Doug Wilson in Credenda Agenda (Vol. 15, No. 5, 2004).

 

[4]         L. Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 20ff. Morris notes an all to familiar mind set among Christians of our day who, regrettably, treat the Bible as a self-help manual for solving their problems. “But many students seem not to have noticed Paul’s preoccupation with God. The thought of God dominates this epistle. The word God occurs 153 times in Romans, an average of once every 46 words”, p.20.

 

[5]        The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield II (rpt. Baker, 1981), p. 236.

 

[6]         Douglas Moo, The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary Romans 18 (Moody, 1991), p. 35.

 

[7]        Warfield, op. cit., p. 238.

 

[8]         Cf. my inaugural issue of The Pastor’s Perspective (March 1993) for a critical assessment of the Jesus Seminar.

 

[9]        Warfield, op. cit., p. 246.SS

Romans: An Expositional Commentary

Dr. Sproul’s sermons at St. Andrew’s Chapel are the foundation of these never-before-published expositions on Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

Chrysostom had it read aloud to him once a week. Augustine, Luther, and Wesley all came to assured faith through its impact. The Reformers saw it as the God-given key to understanding the whole of Scripture.

Throughout church history the study of the book of Romans has been pivotal to understanding Christian life and doctrine. Convinced that “Paul’s fullest, grandest, most comprehensive statement of the gospel” is just as vital today, R. C. Sproul delivered nearly sixty sermons on Romans from October 2005 to April 2007 at St. Andrew’s Chapel, where he has pastored for more than a decade. These never-before-published, passage-by-passage expositions will enrich any study of this weighty epistle.

Endorsements:

“‘R. C. Sproul,’ someone said to me in the 1970s, ‘is the finest communicator in the Reformed world.’ Now, three decades later, his skills honed by long practice, his understanding deepened by years of prayer, meditation, and testing (as Martin Luther counseled), R. C. shares the fruit of what has become perhaps his greatest love: feeding and nourishing his own congregation at St. Andrew’s from the Word of God and building them up in faith and fellowship and in Christian living and serving. The St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary will be welcomed throughout the world. It promises to have all R. C.’s hallmarks: clarity and liveliness, humor and pathos, always expressed in application to the mind, will, and affections. R. C.’s ability to focus on the ‘the big picture,’ his genius of never saying too much, leaving his hearers satisfied yet wanting more, never making the Word dull, are all present in these expositions. They are his gift to the wider church. May they nourish God’s people well and serve as models of the kind of ministry for which we continue to hunger.” —Sinclair B. Ferguson (Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina)

“R. C. Sproul, well-known as a master theologian and extraordinary communicator, now shows that he is a powerful, insightful, helpful expository preacher. This collection of sermons is of great value for churches and Christians everywhere.” —W. Robert Godfrey (President, Westminster Seminary California)

“R. C. Sproul is the premier theologian of our day, an extraordinary instrument in the hand of the Lord. Possessed with penetrating insight into the text of Scripture, Dr. Sproul is a gifted expositor and world-class teacher, endowed with a strategic grasp and command of the inspired Word. Since stepping into the pulpit of St. Andrew’s and committing himself to the weekly discipline of biblical exposition, this noted preacher has demonstrated a rare ability to explicate and apply God’s Word. I wholeheartedly recommend the St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary to all who long to know the truth better and experience it more deeply in a life-changing fashion. Here is an indispensable tool for digging deeper into God’s Word. This is a must-read for every Christian.” —Steven J. Lawson (Senior Pastor, Christ Fellowship Baptist Church, Mobile, Alabama)

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