J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

The Obedience of Faith – Romans 25ff

There are so many motivators to obedience.  I suppose that there are just as many motivators to disobey, but if you think about why you would or wouldn’t do something, so many ideas come to mind.  For example, if your boss, your wife, your husband, or anyone else whose opinion you care about asks you if you have sent an email that you know you haven’t sent, several options come to mind.  Biblically, you know there is a command not to lie or even if you don’t, you have a sense that lying is wrong, especially if someone lies to you.  What would keep you from lying?  You don’t want to be caught having forgotten to send that email.  At work, it makes you look like a slacker and might highlight other weaknesses you have on the job.  At home, it makes you look like the email your spouse wanted you to send was unimportant.  Basically, your reputation is on the line, and for some, reputations are worshipped more dearly than God Himself.

Is it enough to know that God has said, “Thou shalt not lie,”?  I wish it were, but if that was the case, anyone who has ever read the 10 commandments would always tell the truth.  Sadly, that’s not the case.  Maybe the threat of punishment pops into your mind.  You think, “If I tell a lie, I might get caught and get into big trouble.”  Or maybe you think, “If I lie, God is going to punish me.”

The amazing thing is that you have wired in your head and heart to make the decision to answer the question with a yes or no in a millisecond.  You are either going to tell the truth or lie, and your heart processes the decision quicker than you actually answer the question.  Sadly, our hearts tell us to lie quite often if it means that others are going to think something about us that is different than what we want.  Worshipping other people’s approval is the strongest of motivators.

What if you knew that approval, affection, and love would be heaped upon you whether or not you had actually sent that email?  What if you would not be thought of less but actually loved and delighted in whether or not you hit “send”?   Would you be motivated to tell the truth then?  I think so.  I think security causes people to be honest just as so many other areas of obedience would come about easier if you can rest in secure relationships.

That is why SK preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ:  a secure relationship with God brought about by the loving work of Jesus Christ.  The motivation to obey rises from the security of your relationship with God through His son Jesus.  And that, is exactly what Paul is going to emphasize as we close out the book of Romans.  With that in mind, let’s answer this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  Why are the Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ essential to a life of obedience?

Romans16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ,

So here we are with the final 3 verses of the Book of Romans.  Paul is ending with his benedictory blessing meaning he is praying a blessing from God upon all the readers of this letter.  In that blessing, we see what Paul wants the Romans, and us as well, to finally take away from his teaching.  The benediction is a prayer that God would secure those truths to their and our hearts.

Paul begins, as all benedictions do, by referring and relying on God alone to secure the blessings that he is praying for in the life of the believer.  Look at how Paul describes God in the blessings:  God is described as Him who is able to strengthen you.  Paul understands that if you or any one else is going to be strengthened in any real or lasting way, its going to be a strengthening that comes from God.  Though other strengthenings are important like getting a good nights sleep, eating right, exercising regularly, they are only temporary strengthenings that have temporal effects on the body and mind.  They are important, even commanded by God, but not the type of strengthening that Paul is mentioning here.

Paul is speaking about a supernatural strengthening that God gives His people spiritual in nature that enlivens the entire person.  Now when you hear that, I hope it moves you.  I hope it inclines your heart a bit toward this passage or maybe even causes you to sit on the edge of your seat.  Strengthening from God is what I imagine many of us need in the midst of family, work, and life.  Finding it and experiencing would be worth the price of admission.

Let me give you an example about learning this lesson in my own life the hard way.  I do my best to go running several times a week.  I try to hydrate before, during, and after.  On days I run, I know that I have to put in protein and other replenishments to take care of my body.  I should probably get more sleep, but I do take care to adjust my sleep if I’m feeling overly sluggish.  Two weeks ago, I got in two great runs, was eating right, had decent sleep and was looking forward to a restful weekend.  But then disaster struck.  Amy threw up for 4 days straight and I caught an odd virus whose only symptom was to zap the strength out of my body.  No amount of sleep, exercise, or eating right was going to strengthen me all the while there was a sermon to preach, kids to take care of and Amy puking her guts up.  What I needed was strength other than what I could produce on my own.  If I was going to be strengthened it was going to come only by the work of the Holy Spirit.  After leading the first three songs that Sunday, there was just no energy in me.  During the time of repentance, I was sitting in a chair up front, drinking a juice box, praying that God would strengthen me.  By His grace, He did.  I had enough energy, encouragement, and guidance from His Holy Spirit to lead music, preach and make it through the service.  Oh the fatigue wasn’t gone, but the strengthening was there.  That is one example of what Paul is talking about here.

But maybe that is not your story.  Maybe yours is a fatigue both physical and spiritual that never seems to go away.  You might think, “How do I get this strengthening from God?  Look at how Paul says God strengthens His people:  God strengthens His people according to the Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.  Scripture defines the Gospel in several ways.  Technically, the word means “good news” and in the 1st century culture, “a gospel” would be proclaimed to herald a new ruler or emperor.  In light that, the Gospel of Jesus is both – good news of a new gracious ruler in the lives of God’s children.

So what is “the Gospel”?  We should nail this down as we talk about it a lot here at SK and lots of people need strengthening.  Well “the Gospel” sets people apart as seen in Paul’s life in Romans 1:1

  • It is the power of salvation in Romans 1:16
  • It is salvation by faith alone in Romans 10:16
  • It is full-time occupational ministry in 1 Corinthians 9:14
  • It gives the believer full rights and access to God in I Corinthians 9:18
  • It is the light of Jesus Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:4
  • It is something to be confessed in 2 Corinthians 9:13
  • It stands opposed to any misrepresented view of Jesus in 2 Corinthians 11:4
  • It is something to be entrusted with in Galatians 2:7
  • It sets people apart for gospel ministry in Ephesians 3:7
  • It brings peace in Ephesians 6:15
  • It is something that creates partnership among God’s people in Philippians 1:5
  • It comes in the power of the Holy Spirit in 1 Thessalonians 1:5
  • It is to be obeyed in 2 Thessalonians 1:8
  • It is the eternal plan of God to save His people in Revelation 14:6

BTW, this is less than half of the references to the Gospel in scripture.  The Gospel declares that salvation is God’s property.  He secures and gifts it.  He proclaims it, and he promises to complete.  The Gospel is the power of God not only to save but also to change the believer.  The Gospel declares that those who have been changed by the Gospel are His unique creation.  He has gifted you with faith, trust, forgiveness, and the power to change.  Essentially, miss out on understanding the Gospel and miss out on Jesus, salvation, and Christianity.  If you, a pastor or someone else preaches a Jesus without the absolute freedom of the Gospel, then you haven’t preached Jesus.  .

Paul is praying that the Romans would be blessed by the power of the Gospel that comes through preaching Jesus Christ.  More than likely, Matthew, Mark, and Luke had been written by the time Paul wrote Romans.  Paul is saying, in the midst of our study of scriptures, no matter the topic, what we should search for, examine, and preach is Jesus Christ.  Sick?  Preach Christ and the power of the Gospel.  Discouraged?  Preach Christ and the power of the Gospel.  Mourning?  Preach Christ and the power of the Gospel.  Confused?  Preach Christ and the power of the Gospel.

Paul is saying that whenever we preach the message we have is Christ.  Did you know that you preach a Gospel every day to your heart?  It is either one of the bondage of effort or it is the Gospel of the freedom of Jesus Christ.  The preaching of the Gospel and Jesus Christ is God’s gracious substituting of your sinful self for Jesus’ righteous self.  It is Jesus’ death on the cross substituting your death.  It is Jesus’ righteous life in substitute of your sinful life.

The great preacher Spurgeon said it this way:  There is one word that every true servant of Christ must be able to speak very distinctly; and that word is substitution. I believe that substitution is the keyword to all true theology; — Christ standing in the place of sinners, and numbered with the transgressors because of their transgressions, not his own — Christ paying our debts, and discharging all our liabilities.  This truth involves, of course, our taking Christ’s place as he took ours, so that all believers are beloved, accepted, made heirs of God, and in due time will be glorified with Christ forever.

That is the Gospel.  I think the church and consequently many believers, are weak today because we either don’t know our scriptures where Jesus is found or we search the scriptures but miss Jesus.  There is always an inherent danger as you deepening your study and pursuing theology.  Instead of finding Jesus, you find self-righteousness.  But the proper study of theology is a deepening of one’s understanding of Jesus within the scriptures.  All theology flows from there.  I know there is some joy in exploring the minutiae of scripture:  the point that very little of which is known and the discovering is joy.  All scripture study is of benefit and encouragement.  But pursuing the smallest bit of doctrine without knowing the depth of mercy of Christ is silly.  If people don’t see you as Christ like, don’t pursue theological respect from them until they feel like they have been with Christ because they have been in your presence.  Having a reputation of being like Christ is far greater than having a reputation of being a theologian.  The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive but they can be.

This message that I am to preach to you, that each Christian must proclaim to the world and preach to their own heart is not a new message.  Listen to its origins.  The preaching of Christ is

according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations,

One of the consistent themes of Romans has been the pursuing of truth.  Just a quick glance gives us these verses.

  • Romans 1:18 – For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
  • Romans 1:25 – because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
  • Romans 2:8 – but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
  • Romans 3:7 – But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?
  • Romans 9:1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—
  • Romans 15:8 – For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

In these and other verses, we have talked about the continual and absolute need for each and every one of you to pursue knowing God in more depth by studying the scriptures.  In it, you become wise to what is God and innocent as to what is evil.  But this verse also highlight another aspect of your studying the scriptures.  You see, prior to Christ, God’s people knew that God had promised to rescue them.    We spent a good amount of time last week, speaking about that promise of God harkens all the way back to the Garden of Eden where God promised to crush death and our enemy Satan underfoot.  Our Savior Jesus, His arrival and work were coming about

According to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations.

The scriptural promises of Jesus were secure, strengthenings, and encouragements to the people of God.  God made a promise to save and the scriptures spoke of this Jesus throughout all of the OT.  A quick look tells you that Jesus is

  • Anointed One (Messiah)… Psalm 2:2.
  • Branch… Zechariah 3:8
  • Foundation Stone… Isaiah 28:16
  • Fountain… Zechariah 13:1
  • Mighty God… Isaiah 9:6
  • Redeemer… Isaiah 59:20
  • Ruler… Micah 5:2
  • Servant… Isaiah 42:1; 49:5-7
  • Shepherd… Psalm 23
  • Wonderful Counselor… Isaiah 9:6

This is a just a small sampling of verses that show that God’s word is rich to encourage you and grow you up in your understanding of Christ.  And we study because that is where we find Christ:  in the Scriptures.  And you know what I noticed for the very first time in my study of these passages?    Look at what this preaching of the Gospel, Jesus Christ, and the scriptures come about.  You see it at the end of verse 26

26b according to the command of the eternal God,

The eternal God’s command brings about your strengthening in Jesus.  This verse had me thinking all week.  Much like many of you have varying interests and things that take up my time of even distract me.  I love sports, books, and movies and because of that I know various minutiae about both.  Some of you love politics.  Others of you enjoy web design or following all things related to your college alma mater, and on and on.  In and of itself, those things are not necessarily evil or even bad…but many of them are not eternal.  In fact, much of what we waste time on is not.  The other night I was exhausted but stayed up to watch Game 7 of the NBA Finals.  Fun…but not eternal therefore lacking in some way.  You guys might pour over CNN or FoxNews or the paper or your favorite TV show.  Fun…but not eternal and therefore lacking in some way.  I’m not prudishly telling you that you can’t enjoy those things, but I will say that often the pursuit of those things leaves us empty because they are not eternal.

But the eternal God’s commands in scriptures are and they are intended to encourage and strengthen you.  Investing in and getting to know other people has eternal value because God tells us to do those things.  Studying his scripture has eternal value.  Perhaps we are often discouraged because we rationalize the hours in which we spend doing some things but we are often discouraged and weak because we spend so little time with that which is eternal:  our God and His word.

But look at the end of verse 26.  Look at the intended purpose of your being strengthened by the Gospel, the preaching of Christ, and your pursuit of His scriptures.  These things happened in order…

26c to bring about the obedience of faith

I love this expression “the obedience of faith” because it is so distinct from what so often passes as obedience.  The obedience of faith is the change that God does in your heart and life where you choose to obey God by trusting in His power and not your own.  This is the difference between wishing to obey and actually obeying.  This is the difference between merely obeying outwardly and obeying both in heart and body.

If you want to truly grow in being like Christ, it is going to take God’s supernatural strengthening of you by the power of the Gospel in the preaching of Jesus Christ by the eternal God’s command.   It takes all of that.  No amount of wishing will cause you to obey or change.  The will is not strong enough to actually cause change.  A humility of spirit is required.

It takes a God-gifted humility in and of yourself to say, “I cannot obey in any real way unless God strengthens me according to the Gospel, Jesus Christ, and His word.”  Unfortunately, the heart doesn’t do that often.  You see, if you profess faith in Christ, God has given you the desire and ability to obey whereas prior to knowing Christ, you didn’t want to obey at all.  So, you have this desire to obey, but if you don’t approach obedience by faith, then you will be immensely frustrated and perhaps even give up trying.

The obedience that comes by faith is real change because it is done by God.  It is humility to admit your needs.  It is faith to ask God to help you.  It is perseverance to push through hard times.  It is joy in the midst of pain.  It is affection for those who hurt you or disappoint you.  This real obedience, this life of glorifying God, only comes by God’s strengthening you by Christ to be like Christ.  This is why so many churches and Christians are ineffective.

Again, we either spend all of our free time pursuing things that have little or no eternal value or we seek to obey God in our own effort.  However, we should be seeking to obey God by the strengthening that comes by the Gospel and the preaching of Christ instead of entertaining our selves to death.

Gang, as we wrap up this incredible study of the book of Romans, let’s ask God to do this.  Let’s ask Him to change us so that our motives are not so we can be puffed up and think we are smarter than everyone else.  Let’s ask God to change us so that our motives are not so we can feel superior over others.  Let’s ask God to change us so that our motives are not to do things by own power but to trust in His power for real change.  Let’s ask God to change us so that we will live out verse 27.

27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Right now, ask yourself, in the course of a typical day, how much do you think about giving glory to God?  Do you consider how your words can be words of grace thus giving glory to God?  Do you consider getting to know people who are grossly different than you are because loving and serving them in humility would bring glory to God?  Do you consider not complaining about something in order to give glory to God or do you spend more time making sure you exercise your freedom to speech that says its okay for you to be annoying in how much you complain?  Do you think at the start of your day how each thing you say and do might give glory to God?

Gang, we will not be strengthened by the Gospel and preaching of Jesus in the scriptures if our goal is to glorify self.  Unfortunately, the only option other than giving glory to God is giving glory to self.  So in order for us to give glory to God, we have to die to self by admitting we need God’s strengthening that comes from the wonderful Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It’s hard to know exactly how to finish up a 2 year series, especially when the book that we have studied is the Book of Romans.  So, let me exhort you in this way:  As we work here at SK, God has given us a wonderful mission.  The community that God is creating here and the community in which we get to engage and serve is incredible.  God is doing those things among us.  If we are not humbled by what God is doing, we are seeking our own glory.  If we are not seeking the eternal over temporal joys and distractions, we are not giving glory to God.  If we don’t seek to be strengthened by the power of the Gospel and Jesus Christ, then we are doing all of these things in our own power, and doing things in our own power is actually trusting and worshiping our self.

But we are called to so much more.  The life of the believer in Christ is called to a joyous service that reflects the love and grace that has been poured out to us.  In that we seek with all we do to give Jesus glory out affection in our hearts for what He has done.

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June 23, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Gordon,Are your sermons recorded or on a blog somewhere?

    Comment by tom tucker | July 7, 2010 | Reply


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