Dr. Richard L. Strauss
October 14, 1990
Purpose: To help us get a fresh appreciation for how good the good news really is, and a new vision for sharing it with others.
It was August 22, 1953, and I had big plans for the evening with the girl I was dating. I picked her up and drove her to an elegant restaurant called "Lavendar Hall" where we enjoyed a lovely dinner. After dinner we drove to the nearby Washington Crossing State Park and parked overlooking the river with the moon in full view. That's when I popped the question, and when I got the right answer, I pulled out a diamond ring and slipped it on her finger to seal our commitment.
We were sitting there basking in the ecstasy of our future life together when a police officer knocked on the window of the car. "You'll have to move on," he demanded rather gruffly. "Don't you know that the park is closed?" But that didn't deter Mary. She rolled down the window, stuck her hand in the officer's face and squealed, "Look, officer, we're going to get married." Here I am, about to get arrested and thrown in jail for trespassing, and she's announcing our engagement. Why? Because it was good news, and good news is for sharing. You just can't keep quiet about it. You can't keep it to yourself.
You know what I'm talking about, don't you? What did you do when you got an "A" on that tough exam? Or graduated at the top of your class? What did you do when your first child was born? Or when you got that big promotion? Or when the loan was approved for your first house? You told somebody. You couldn't help it. It was good news, and good news is for sharing.
That's the point Paul made at the outset of one of the most powerful letters ever written, his letter to the Romans. There are many Bible scholars who believe Romans to be the greatest book in the New Testament. It is without a doubt the foundational treatise of the Christian faith—a cathedral of Christian doctrine. And the theme of the book is the gospel, which means "good news"—it's the good news about Jesus. And the gospel is not just something to be investigated, examined, analyzed, and dissected. It is something to be shared.
Sharing the Good News Is a Lofty Occupation
Sharing the good news is, first, a lofty occupation. It was Paul's major occupation. It was his calling.
Romans 1:1. "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the—here it comes, the theme of the book—"separated to the gospel of God."
He was called to be an apostle, a "sent one." And what was he sent to do? Proclaim God's message of good news! Share the gospel! He viewed himself as set apart for this task above all others. Whatever else he had to do in life, this one thing held a place of absolute precedence. Why was that? Why was this news so great that Paul had to devote his entire life to sharing it with others? If we could find out why, then maybe sharing it with others would assume a place of greater prominence in our lives. We may even begin to view it as our primary calling in life. In the next few verses Paul tells us three things about this good news that account for his dedication to it.
Gospel Was Promised in the Old Testament
Romans 1:2. "Which He had promised before,"—this gospel, which He promised before—"through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures."
You can't read the Old Testament and miss the anticipation that Someone is coming, and that something is coming. God is going to send His Son to solve the world's sin problem and establish His kingdom of righteousness and peace on earth. The prophets talk about Him. The sacrifices and ceremonies look forward to Him. Faithful men and women all through those ages longed for Him. But when the Old Testament came to a close He still had not come. None of those faithful believers had the opportunity of enjoying fully the salvation which He would bring (refer to Hebrews 11:39-40; 1 Peter 1:10-12).
But when the New Testament dawns, angels appear to some shepherds near Bethlehem and announce, "...behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11). Good news indeed! The Savior has arrived. The one who was anticipated since the day Adam and Eve sinned is now on the scene, soon to provide eternal salvation from sin.
We know how exciting something can be for us when we anticipate it even for a short time. We looked forward for about three months to getting into our new home in Escondido. When the day arrived and the move was completed, we were delighted, and we wanted to tell everyone the good news.
Can you imagine something that has been anticipated for thousands and thousands of years, which brings great benefit to us personally? And now it's happened! Why, if we ever get a hold of that truth alone—the fact that this is something that was predicted and looked forward to for thousands of years and now it's happened—if it would grip us, sharing the gospel will undoubtedly become our highest calling.
Gospel Is Centered in Christ
The second thing about the gospel, that accounted for Paul's dedication to it, was that it was centered in Jesus Christ.
Romans 1:3. "Concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David, according to the flesh."
God's good news is all about a Person, His Son, Jesus Christ. And look at what Paul teaches us about Him. First, He was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, that is, as far as His human nature was concerned. His Davidic lineage gave him the right to rule on the throne of David. But it clearly established that He was fully human. Only a human being could take the place of other human beings and pay the penalty which their sins deserved.
Romans 1:4. "And He was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead."
As we well know, He was always the Son of God, even from eternity past. But the Sunday morning He emerged from a garden tomb near Jerusalem, after being dead three days and bound head to toe in strips of cloth, it was indisputably demonstrated to all that He was the Son of God who possessed all authority and power—even power over death. The resurrection proclaimed the truth that Jesus was not only fully man, but fully God. Only God could be sinless Himself and therefore able to pay for the sins of others. And only God could pay the infinite debt of the whole world's sins. This Jesus was the God-man. That's the good news.
I know how excited I got when each of my four sons was born, and then each of my four grandchildren. I wanted to tell everybody about it. It was good news. And they're neat kids. God's been really gracious to us—blessed us, both with our children and our grandchildren. But I have to tell you, they all have sin natures.
The best news of all is that God Himself has come in human flesh, died for our sins, and risen from the grave to demonstrate irrefutably who He is and what He did. If we ever grasp the immensity of that, we won't be able to keep quiet about it. We'll make sharing that message our major occupation.
Gospel Is Sufficient for All Peoples
It was promised in the Old Testament. It was centered in Jesus Christ. Paul is also excited about the fact that it's sufficient for all peoples.
He wants to get back to his high calling again, but note what he says when he does.
Romans 1:5. "Through whom"—this Lord Jesus, it's through Him—"we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for His name."
"Obedience of faith" means "obedience which consists of faith." It was Paul's aim to bring people from every nation on earth to faith in Christ. The gospel isn't a message for one little tribal group isolated in some obscure corner of the world, as so many other religions are. Christ's death is sufficient payment for the sins of the whole world, and the whole world needs to hear about it.
My son Steve had the opportunity of attending the second Lausanne Congress on Evangelism in Manila, where thousands of Christians from 190 different nations gathered to praise Jesus Christ. He shared with me the thrill of being a part of something so immense, that has touched so many cultures for good. You cannot be exposed to the universality of the gospel like that and still keep quiet about it. It's too good to be squelched. It has to be shared.
The Roman Christians were among those who had heard the good news and believed it: "Among whom you also were called of Jesus Christ," (Romans 1:6). And Paul addresses them in his salutation: "To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:7).
Will you notice please that he calls them "saints" or "holy ones." It's the same word in Greek. The word means "separated." To what were they separated? Unto the Lord, certainly. But like Paul (verse 1), they were also to be separated unto the gospel. It wasn't just Paul who was called to the noble task of sharing this good news. It was the Romans, as well. And by application, it's the Escondidans, and the Rancho Bernardans, and the San Marcosites, and the Vistans, everyone else who names the name of Christ. And when we grasp just how good the good news is, we won't let anything stand in the way of sharing it. As with Paul, it will be our grand occupation, our highest calling.
Sharing the Good News Is a Solemn Obligation
I want you to see, secondly, that sharing the good news is not only a lofty occupation, it's a solemn obligation. This section, from verse 8 through 15, is intensely personal. Paul talks about his desire to visit the Romans and why he wants to see them. But he never strays far from the major idea: that good news is for sharing. As a matter of fact, we find out that he views it as more than just a calling. He sees it as a debt, a serious and solemn obligation.
The Essence of Paul's Desire
Let's look at it as we note first, the essence of Paul's desire.
Romans 1:8. "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world."
Paul has never been to Rome. He doesn't know these people personally. But he thanks God for them. To know that there is a strong contingent of believers in the imperial capital of the Roman empire thrills him. As we might expect, that word has spread all over the world, and Paul is elated.
Romans 1:9-10. "For God is my witness, Whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son"—there's that good news again—"that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if by some means, now at last, I may find a way in the will of God to come to you."
The one thing Paul prays for above all others when he thinks about the Roman Christians is that he might have the opportunity of visiting them. Why?
The Reason for Paul's Desire
Look next at the reason for Paul's desire.
Romans 1:11. "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established."
He isn't saying that he wants to come to Rome to give out spiritual gifts. That wasn't his prerogative. But he does want to exercise his own gifts among them so that they will be strengthened in their faith and spiritually enriched. And he prays to that end.
He's praying that when he comes to Rome, he will be a blessing to those people. You know, that's not a bad idea. Are you planning a trip somewhere? Did you ever think about praying before you leave that God will use you to bring spiritual blessing to the people you will be with when you get there?
And that's not all.
Romans 1:12. "That is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith of both you and me."
He anticipates that they will be able to make a contribution to his spiritual life as well. Think of that! The great Apostle Paul is going to be helped by these relatively young and untaught Christians. There isn't another believer alive from whom we cannot learn something that would be beneficial to our spiritual lives, if we are alert and teachable. Are you?
Let me tell you, I learned a great deal from some Ethiopian Christians in the last few weeks. A great deal. Men who don't have nearly as much theological training as I have, but men who put me to shame in the power of their faith and the simplicity of their trust in God. In the openness of their witness. In the boldness and testimony for Jesus Christ. In their willingness to do a job with far less resources than I have had and have been blessed with. Men and women who knew God intimately and who had grown in the likeness of Christ far beyond me. They had a lot to teach me. We can learn from others if our hearts are open.
But here's the main reason he wants to go to Rome.
Romans 1:13. "Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often plan to come to you but I was hindered until now, that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles."
FRUIT! He's talking about converts. And now we're back to the major theme again. He wants to go to Rome to proclaim the good news, because good news is for sharing. Surely the Romans were sharing the gospel. But he wants to join them. And he's confident that people will respond to the message of forgiveness and life in Christ.
The Urgency of Paul's Desire
But after learning the reasons for Paul's desire, note the urgency of his desire.
Romans 1:14-15."I am a debtor, both to the Greeks and to Barbarians"—that was the term used for non-Greeks in the ancient world—"both to wise and unwise, so that as much as is in me I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also."
He sees himself as a debtor. Becoming the recipient of God's gracious salvation puts us in debt—a debt of gratitude. It isn't like a debt I would owe if I borrowed money from you, but rather like a debt I would owe if you gave me money to deliver to somebody else.
When we went to Guatemala last April, someone gave us money to take to a missionary there. I felt a sense of urgency about giving that money to the proper person, and I didn't rest until I had delivered it. It was a debt that I owed.
Now God has deposited with me the treasure of the gospel. Remember Paul said that to the Corinthians? "We have this treasure in earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4:7). And He tells me that I am to share it with others. That's a debt I owe them.
I wonder why I don't always feel the same sense of urgency that I felt about the money I delivered to Guatemala. And sometimes I don't. Why is that? Could it be that I fail to recognize the supreme value of this good news, this great treasure, this gospel? Sometimes I'm talking to professing Christians about witnessing and they say, "Oh, no, no, no. This is a personal and private matter. God doesn't want me to talk to other people about it. That's just between them and Him." Friend, that's not what the Bible says. If you believe the Bible, I don't see how you could possibly say that.
When we grasp the inestimable worth of our salvation, what it cost God to purchase it for us, and the infinite and eternal benefits that it provides for us, we won't be able to keep from sharing it. We will view sharing it not only as a lofty occupation, but also as a solemn obligation.
Sharing the Good News Is a Glorious Opportunity
Third, sharing the gospel is a glorious opportunity. Paul said he was ready to preach the good news in Rome. And now we find out why.
Romans 1:16. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek."
Isn't it interesting that Paul should put this negatively. Why didn't he say, "I'm proud of the gospel of Christ," or "I glory in the gospel of Christ"? That's what he meant by "I am not ashamed." Could there have been times when he, like us, was tempted to be ashamed of the gospel, embarrassed to speak out boldly? But he resisted the temptation. He was not ashamed. He saw every situation in life as a glorious opportunity to share the gospel.
What could ever possibly make us ashamed of sharing good news? I'm sure you heard the story of the pastor who went out early Sunday morning before church to play nine holes of golf. He was feeling a little guilty because he knew that wasn't the best preparation for worship. But the worst part was that he shot a hole in one, and couldn't tell anybody. Guilt could keep us from sharing good news. But there's nothing to feel guilty about when we share the gospel. It's the good news that relieves guilt. That can't be it.
The only thing I can think of that would keep us from sharing the good news about Jesus is pride. Not pride in the gospel, but personal pride makes us afraid of what people might think of us. "You don't really believe that God became a man, do you? That sounds like Greek mythology. Educated people can't buy that." And it's hard for us to speak up confidently and say, "Well, yes I do believe that. The evidence is overwhelming."
Or afraid they'll say something like, "You don't really think that there's only one way to heaven, do you? Isn't that rather narrow and bigoted?" We're a little ashamed to say, "Well, yes I do believe it. That's what Jesus said, and there is every indication that He spoke the truth."
When we know that something is true and we're committed to it, it doesn't matter what people think of us.
When we lived in Alabama, our kids played pee-wee football and I would try to go to their games if I possibly could. During one of the games, one of my kids, who was about 11 at the time, was playing defensive end, and he broke through the line on a punt, blocked the kick, recovered the ball and ran it in for a touchdown. Let me tell you something: I let people know about that. Ah, man, I was so proud of him. It was good news, and I took advantage of every opportunity to tell anybody who would listen. I didn't care what they thought of me. I knew what my boy had done, and I was proud of him and committed to him.
I wonder why I'm not always as proud of the gospel and committed to my Savior, and as ready to speak up for Him and this good news. Maybe it's because I don't give enough thought to how great the gospel really is. Paul wants to remind us.
Gospel Is the Power of God unto Salvation
He's not ashamed of the gospel because it's the power of God unto salvation.
The Romans, with their mighty world-conquering armies, understood power, as we modern Americans do. But there are some things we don't have the power to do. Like find deliverance from the guilt that plagues us. But that's what the gospel provides—that's what salvation is!
Like have the assurance that we shall be delivered from God's final righteous wrath and judgment against our sin. But that's what the gospel provides—that's what salvation is!
Like experience daily deliverance from the misery and destruction that sin brings to our lives, our families, and our other relationships. But that's what the gospel provides—that's what salvation is! The gospel is the power of God unto SALVATION, to deliverance from sin and all its ramifications. But that's not all.
Gospel Is the Righteousness of God for Believers
Romans 1:17. "For in it"—in the gospel—"the righteousness of God is revealed, from faith to faith, even as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.'"
Every religion of the world is man's effort to get himself right with God. But not one holds out the absolute assurance that we have attained that righteous status with God that we seek, because they all teach a salvation by works, and we can't ever be sure we've done enough.
That's why the gospel is such good news. It's different from the religions of the world, you see. It offers righteousness, a right standing with God—the one true and living God. This good news offers righteousness, not by works, but by faith alone—"from faith to faith." What important words. Don't miss them. They become the key to this book. From faith to faith. That is, totally and completely by faith, from beginning to end. And Paul offers an Old Testament quote to substantiate what he is saying. It says, more accurately, "For he who is righteous by faith shall live" (Habakkuk 2:4).
That's the great message of the book of Romans. A right standing before God is granted freely to those who will acknowledge their sin and put their faith in Christ Jesus. And those who do believe and receive God's gift of righteousness shall truly live. They will experience real living here on earth, followed by the most marvelous life of all—life in God's matchless heaven forever. That's good news. And if you truly believe it, you won't be able to stop sharing it. Because good news is for sharing.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Maybe you've been trying to make yourself right with God. Struggling to the best of your ability, to do enough to earn God's favor. And if you have, I can assure you, not only from multiplied experience with many people, but on the authority of God's word, that you have faced one dead end after another and full frustration. Because it can't be done.
You see, God is infinitely righteous, and neither you nor I can ever measure up to His standard of infinite righteousness. That's why He had to send His Son: to do for us what we couldn't do for ourselves. To bear our sin in His own body on that cross, so that He, with His righteousness satisfied, could freely offer us forgiveness and life in His Son.
Will you acknowledge your sin—and open your heart to Jesus Christ—and receive His Son as your savior? By faith? God offers you that good news today. Eternal salvation is available in Him. Let's bow our heads and our hearts together in prayer.
Bowed prayerfully in His presence, may I ask you if you know Christ as your savior? Or maybe you are one of those who has heard the world's philosophy and the religions of the world and their message: do good, be good, try your hardest. That's not the message of the Bible. The message of the Bible is: acknowledge there isn't anything you can do to deserve God's free and full salvation. Jesus paid for it in full.
Will you trust Him alone as your savior? Oh, it will change your life. You'll begin to do good things you never did before. Your life will be transformed. But it begins by this act of implicit trust in the person of God's Son and His sacrifice at Calvary for you.
Will you pray with me right in the quiet of your own heart and soul right now?
"God, I'm a sinner. I believe Jesus died for my sins. Come into my heart and save me, Lord Jesus."
Oh, God, I pray, that not one person who has neglected this message of good news will continue to neglect it, or ignore it, or reject it. God, bring them to faith, in Jesus Christ, we pray. In His name, amen.
Continue to ROM 02: It's Raining Wrath from Heaven