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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:Saving Faith Is a Most Marvellous Gift from God
Text:Romans 1:8-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2009-08-16
Added:2010-01-30
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing: Psalm 89: 1, 7

Sing: Psalm 1: 1, 2, 3

Read: Romans 1:1-7

Sing:  Psalm 16: 1, 4

Text: Romans 1:8-17

Sing: Hymn 53: 1, 2

Sing: Hymn 10: 1, 9, 10

 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,

 

In 2009, two journalists from the USA were convicted of having illegally entered North Korea. They were sentenced to 12 years of hard labour. From what we know it was a totally unjust sentence. And it appears that there was nothing anyone could do about it. These two young women would have to be resigned to their fate and serve their full sentence. North Korea does not have diplomatic relations with the USA or with any other Western country. It is a totalitarian regime which has no interest in human rights. It has no interest in real justice. It is no wonder that these two young women were in the depths of despair. It was, in their own words, "the nightmare of their lives".

 

But then an official came to visit them in the prison cell and told them that they had to come to a meeting. When they opened the door to where the supposed meeting was to be held they saw former President Bill Clinton standing there in that room. At that point they realized that their nightmare was about to end. They would be set free; finally, some justice. They described in tears how relieved they felt. One moment they were full of despair, and the next they're full of joy. They are free to go home, to their families, to their parents, and children. When they arrived back home in the United States they wanted everyone to know about it. They told their story to the whole world. They were not ashamed to tell it.

 

I suppose you know what this is leading to. Since those journalists were so happy to be set free, we should especially feel that way because we have been set free from our sins. That is what God tells us in his Word. And we should want to share that good news with everyone as well. We should not be ashamed of the gospel.

 

Indeed, you are right. That is the conclusion you are supposed to draw. For, have we not been set free? Has the Lord Jesus not set us free from our prison? Has he not saved us from the sentence of death, eternal death? Indeed. It is really something to be glad about. Because of the Lord Jesus Christ and what he has done, our circumstances have vastly improved. We have been brought from the brink of disaster to everlasting life.

 

Yet we have not experienced the fullness of that salvation yet, have we? You could say that in a certain sense we are still in our own prison. For we still live in a world full of sin and injustice. We still live in a world full of pain and sorrow. And we are waiting. We are waiting for the Lord Jesus to set us totally free. That will happen on the last day.

 

While those journalists were languishing in prison, they had little hope, or at best a shaky hope. All they could hope for was that somehow there would be a diplomatic breakthrough that would result in commuting their sentences, or in some way lessening their punishment. They were hoping that somehow justice would prevail but they had no certainty. They had to put their faith in other people. And that is a shaky faith. And so, while they were in prison they were, understandably, full of despair.

 

But our circumstances are different. While we are still on this earth we have to live out of faith. Our faith is not a shaky faith. It is not the faith in man, who is fickle and capricious, who is unreliable. Our faith is in God. It is a sure faith. It is a faith that is based on a sure thing. For we know that the Lord Jesus Christ has already defeated all the evil forces that we experience all around us, including the head of those evil forces, Satan.

 

We know that we have been set free from our sins. It is a fact. The evil one has no power over us. But you have to believe that. You also have to live out of that faith. That means that you are not ashamed of the gospel either. For you know what a marvelous gift God has given you. That's what we will hear about in today’s sermon. The theme is as follows:

Saving Faith Is a Most Marvellous Gift from God.

1. It is visible;

2. It helps others;

3. It brings God's righteousness.

 

Even though the city of Rome was the most important city in the world of that time, Paul had never been there. As he states in his letter, he had been prevented from going there time and again. On various occasions he had every intention to go, but for legitimate reasons he was not able. And he wanted the church in Rome to know that. Paul wanted to have a relationship with them. One of the reasons that he wanted them to know him was because of his intention to use Rome later as a springboard to do mission work in Spain. From there he wanted to go to the outer reaches of the empire. And he needed the co-operation of the church in Rome in order to accomplish that. And not only that, Paul by now would have become quite well known in the Christian churches. He had visited many important cities all over the Roman Empire. The people would have wondered why he had never come to Rome, the most important city.

 

Nowadays you have many modern means of communication which facilitate long-distance relationships: telephone, e-mail, Skype. Nevertheless, such relationships are still difficult. Just ask those young people who have a boyfriend or girlfriend living far away.

 

The only means of communication that Paul had was through the written word. It is most likely that, at the time of this writing, Paul was in Corinth. From there he was about to go to Jerusalem. He is not aware of it yet, but he is going to be arrested in Jerusalem and he will end up in Rome eventually, but as a prisoner, not as a free man. It will be good that Paul established a relationship with the Romans through this letter.

 

But how do you establish a relationship, even if it is only by letter? Well, how do young people do that when they are looking for a partner? When they meet someone they are interested in, then they look for the positive in that person and they will mention those positive qualities. They say nice things about the other person. Sometimes you even exaggerate a little bit in order to emphasize that certain quality.

 

That's what Paul does here as well. He says that their faith is being reported all over the world. It is a slight exaggeration, but nevertheless he makes the point that their faith is known all over the Roman Empire. We do not know exactly how the Roman Church became established, but we do know that there were people from Rome present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. And it may well be that when they came back from Jerusalem to Rome they established the church there. These people were very excited about their new found faith. They couldn't keep their mouths shut about it. In this way they made their faith visible to all. Paul was quite impressed and he wants them to know that. He commends them for their faith.

 

How else do you establish a relationship? Well, you do that, by showing in every way possible that you care about the other person. Paul does that as well. He says that he constantly remembers them in his prayers at all times. He is interested in their welfare. He is interested mostly in regard to their relationship to the Lord God. He does not want anything to be in the way of that relationship.

 

Another way that you establish and maintain a relationship is by telling the other person that you long to be with him or her. That’s what young people do when they have a long distance relationship. That is also how Paul feels about the Romans. He says that he longs to see them. He pines for them. He wants to be in their presence. Paul has heard what is going on there in that newly established church; about the trials that they are going through and the way that they have put their trust in the Lord through it all. He finds an incredible bond with them. It is the bond of faith. They are going through some of the same things that he is going through.

 

Why else does he want to be with them? He says, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.” Paul does not say what that spiritual gift is. He leaves that somewhat vague. He leaves it vague, no doubt, because he does not know exactly what their spiritual needs are at this point. But he knows that he has a lot to offer them. And whatever he has to offer them he wants to impart to them. He wants to help. He also needs their help. We come to the second point.

 

2. Any relationship is never a one way street. It goes both ways. It is not as if Paul is the only one who has something to offer and that the Romans are just passive recipients. No, Paul says that he also wants to be with them so that they can mutually encourage one another in their faith.

 

Paul is not too proud to admit that he needs them as much as they need him. It may well be that he is an apostle and that he has been chosen by Christ himself to bring the gospel; to create faith in others. But that does not mean that he is superior to them. That does not mean that he has more to offer. Each person in his own way always has something to offer.

 

Let me tell you a story about a young girl with Down syndrome. Apparently this truly happened. It was reported by a man named Milton Cunningham. A young girl with Down syndrome was sitting on a plane beside Mr. Cunningham and she wanted to start a conversation with him. And so she asked him innocently whether or not he smoked. The man told her, "No, I don't". She said, "That's good. Because my mother says that smoking is bad for you." But then she pointed to the businessman who was sitting on the other side of him and said, "Does he smoke?" Mr. Cunningham was naturally a bit embarrassed by this but he thought to humor the girl, so he asked the businessman sitting next to him, "Excuse me, the young girl next to me wants to know if you smoke?"" No ", the businessman said. That's good", said the girl.

 

After a short pause the young girl said, "Do you love the Lord Jesus?" "Yes", Mr. Cunningham said, "As a matter of fact I do love the Lord Jesus." "That's good" she said, "Everyone should love Jesus." And then the man suddenly realized what the girl was going to say next. And he hunched down in his seat and hoped against hope that she wouldn't... but, she did. "That man next to you", she said, "Does he love the Lord Jesus?" Mr. Cunningham swallowed hard and turned to the businessman sitting next to him and asked him. And then the businessman said, "You know I've wanted someone to ask me that for a long time. I’ve been wondering what Jesus could do for me. My life is a mess right now. Thank you for asking. Please tell me what Jesus is all about." According to Mr. Cunningham the Lord used him through that little girl to lead this businessman to Christ. He became a believer.

 

That little girl with Down syndrome not only encouraged another person in his faith, she also indirectly brought the other person to faith. You would not expect that for she doesn't have normal intelligence. In man's eyes she has little to contribute. She is disabled. But in God's eyes she has everything to contribute.

 

Brothers and sisters that is the way it is in the church as well. You don't need to be a learned person, or someone who is eloquent with words, or someone who is impressive of stature in order to bring the gospel. No, all you need is a simple faith. And when you have a simple faith, then you are not ashamed of the gospel either.

 

That's also what Paul says here in this passage. He says in verse 16, "I'm not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." Why do you think he would say that? Well, no doubt he would say that because there would have been times when he was tempted to be ashamed. He had to bring the gospel in all kinds of difficult circumstances. The Greeks thought quite highly of themselves. They had developed elaborate systems of philosophy. As a matter of fact someone once said that all philosophy is nothing more than footnotes on the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. It is a very sophisticated system of human thought. And those philosophies were prevalent at the time that Paul walked on the earth; the Romans knew them.

 

And Paul had to bring the gospel to these people. He felt compelled to bring it to them. Paul did not feel ashamed; moreover he felt compelled not only to bring the gospel to the Romans, but also to everyone. He says in verse 14 that he is obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and foolish. What does that mean that he is obligated? Does that mean that he feels like a Jehovah witness who stands trembling at your door because he or she has to fill a certain quota? Does it feel like God is standing behind him with a whip? No. That's not the way it is with good news. That’s not how Paul felt either.

 

Imagine, for example, a young child who has been given the news to tell her relatives that she is going to receive a baby brother or a baby sister. Her mother had given her the news to tell the grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. This young child would gladly fulfill such a role. She runs all over to find all of the relatives to tell them. Her mother had told her to spread the news. And so she was obligated to her. But she certainly didn’t feel compelled. She was very glad to bring the news.

 

Well, in that sense Paul also felt obligated. God had given him some wonderful news about salvation. And he wanted to pass that on. He knew how wonderful the news was, and therefore he overcame the shame that he would have felt because he was different. He realized how wonderfully different he is, and he wanted others to be that way as well. He wants to share his faith.

 

Please note that the word "faith" is pivotal in this whole passage. The word is mentioned six times. Faith binds you together. There is no greater bond than the bond of faith because through faith you are saved. Through faith you are saved from everlasting damnation. Do you not want everybody to know that? You want as many people as possible to have that same faith so that they too can be saved.

 

Let me ask you, are you ever ashamed of the gospel? I think it happens to all of us. A professor in the classroom ridicules the Christian faith and you are afraid to speak up. A friend uses God's name in vain and you don't say anything. You can talk to your neighbour about all kinds of things, but you don't know how to start with regard to your faith. You keep it private.

 

But now listen to what Paul says about the gospel. He says he is not ashamed of it because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. It is the power of God. It is the power of him who spoke, and caused this world to come into existence. It is the power of him whose voice we can hear in the thunder; whose strength we can feel in the hurricanes, and in the pounding of the waves of the seas. It is the power of the Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth.  Should we be ashamed of him?

 

When we think of power, we think of mighty armies. We think of people who have clout. For they are the ones who can make things happen. They're the ones who have influence. Are they really powerful? What kind of power do they really have? They have nothing compared to the power of God.

 

Paul writes to the Romans, citizens of the most powerful city on earth. That is where the government of the civilized world resides. That is where decisions are made about life and death all over the empire. That is where the Emperor lives. That is also where the highest court of justice is.

 

Do you know what the Romans were admired for the most? Justice. They actually had a court system where an accused could receive a hearing. Before the Romans came along, the barbarian nations didn't have such a system. You were often tried by a lynch mob or by an unbending despot, not unlike the justice system in North Korea.

 

But if you were a Roman citizen, then you were assured complete access to the Roman judicial system. It was an advantage to be a Roman citizen. Justice was in those days as popular a concept in the world as today the concept of democracy. It is the aim of the United States, the most powerful country in the world, to bring democracy all over the world. Well, in those days the operative word was justice. That is what the Romans were known for. The Romans brought justice to the world.

 

3. It is the same word that is used here in this text. Paul says in verse 17 that “in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed.” We have come to the third point. The word "righteousness" is the same word as “justice”. The English word justice comes from the Latin word justitia. The word "righteousness" comes from the Germanic language groups. But their meaning is exactly the same.

 

Paul speaks here about the righteousness, the justice, from God. When you are dependent on earthly justice then you will often be disappointed. A lot of injustices happen in this world, also in our court systems. And even the most powerful people in the world cannot bring about true justice. Not even a former president such as Bill Clinton. By nature he is an unrighteous man, as we all are. Oh sure, he can set a few things right. But he is still part of a human justice system. And he could come to North Korea only as a beggar. The North Koreans could just as well have sent him back home. You will never be assured of true justice here on this earth.

 

But now Paul speaks here about a justice, a righteousness that comes from God. Verse 17 is one of the most profound statements in the Bible. It summarizes the gospel in the most profound way. It puts us in touch with all of the Old Testament sacrificial ceremonial laws, and with all the prophecies, and with everything that the New Testament has to say about the mercy of God and the plight of man.

 

For in Paradise after the fall into sin the great need for true justice became apparent. Adam and Eve had broken the law of God. Therefore things had to be set right again between them and God. The penalty had to be paid. Obedience had to be shown once again. The relationship with God had to be restored. The only way that could happen would be through God himself.

 

And that is what happened through his Son Jesus Christ. He established justice here on earth. He paid the penalty. He allowed a horrible punishment of death to be visited upon him. Not just physical death, but death in the sense of being forsaken by God. That is the ultimate penalty. And he was obedient to every letter of the law both actively and passively. In this way he brought justice on the earth.

 

And now Paul says that through faith you can have the righteousness from God. All you have to do is believe. All you have to do is to believe that the Son of God died for your sins. That, brothers & sisters, is the power of the gospel.

 

But what do you believe in? What is your faith? Well, your faith is not a hope based on an arbitrary God. It is not based on the whims of a fickle God. God's standard of judgement is always the same throughout all circumstances. You can totally depend on him.

 

And it is not based on anything you do either. Our God is not a God who sits in heaven with a weigh-scale on his lap to weigh your good deeds over against your bad. You need not wait with trembling hands and heart at the entrance into heaven to see whether or not you have done enough good deeds, whether or not you have made it. Thank God that that is not the way it is, for if that were the case then you would be uncertain about your salvation all of your earthly life.

 

No, your faith is based on a God who alone is truly just. On a God who is totally reliable. Your faith is based on a sure thing. You don't have to wait and see whether or not you are saved. If you believe you will be saved. That is the promise of the gospel.

 

And it is not on the basis of your faith that you are saved either. No, faith is merely an instrument. It is the Lord Jesus Christ alone who saves you. And he already acquired your salvation at the time when he died and when he subsequently rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.

 

Brothers and sisters, are you looking for justice? True justice? There’s only one place you can find it. With God who has revealed himself in the Bible, through faith in him. Free of charge. Isn’t that something to be glad about? Isn’t that something you would want to pass on? Amen.

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.edmontonimmanuel.ca

(c) Copyright 2009, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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