The Sanctifying Power of the Gospel

 

“So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Romans 1:15

In the first chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul introduces his most profound and dense letter to the saints of Rome.  Undoubtedly the most quotable verse of this chapter occurs just after the one quoted above.  Verse 16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” has garnered a significant amount of attention, and rightly so, but it has in part caused me to overlook what the Apostle has said right before it.

“So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”

For me, the focus for this verse has often been on Paul’s desire to go and preach at Rome.  This is no doubt true, for Paul has prayed “that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you,” “long[s] to see [them],” and has “often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented).”  However, lost in the anticipation for Paul to preach at Rome is the content of the message he intends to bring to the saints there.  The Gospel.

Remember that in the opening verses of chapter 1, Paul is intentionally addressing the saints, i.e. the saved, collectively the Church.  He writes in verse 7, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”  This is important not only for the passage we’re looking at today, but for the overall scope and direction of the letter.  It is not intended to be a letter for unbelievers.  Though we often use the “Roman Road” for evangelism, the Epistle to the Romans, like the other letters of Paul (and arguably the entirety of Scripture), was intended for the Church, i.e. believers only.

As it relates to verse 15, this becomes all the more significant in that Paul doesn’t intend to bring the Romans a message of high-theology, a second work of grace, or philosophical musings that will grant them a deeper understanding of the workings of God.  He intends to bring the message of the Gospel to the saints!  Perhaps a first or second reading of this chapter might leave one with the impression that Paul’s anticipated mission to Rome is one of evangelism, however the Church is his intended audience and the gospel his intended message.  We must step back then and ask why would this be his message?  Given our understanding of the gospel in so many of today’s evangelical churches, who see it as a first step unto salvation rather than the beginning, middle, and end of all the Christian life, it’s no surprise why this verse might be overlooked.

Throughout Paul’s writings, he views salvation as past-saved (Romans 5:1, et.al.), present-being saved (1 Cor. 15:1,2, et.al.), and future-will be saved (Phil. 1:6; 2:12-13, et.al.).  When he follows up his statement on his desire to preach the gospel with, “for it is the power of God unto salvation” I think it is helpful to understand that for Paul, salvation most always encompasses more than a past event.  Secondly, we must come to understand the significance of the gospel in our lives as an on-going reality of the finished work of Christ on the cross and the implications of this as we become more conformed to the image of Christ.  Practically speaking, the Gospel is the key, the fuel, and the destination of the Christian life.  It is inaugurated (justification), anticipated (sanctification), and consummated (glorification) in the life of a believer.

Note how Paul unfolds the Gospel in chapter 6 of his epistle,

1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

In verse 1, Paul begins his argument for sanctification in the life of a believer by asking the rhetorical, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (for complete context, refer back to Romans 5).  He then frames his argument by referencing the finished work of Christ on the cross, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” and the implications for us of His resurrection, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  This is the Gospel and woven within Paul’s description is the implication for how the believer ought to live a life of holiness.  The significance of Paul’s statements here is the union of Christ with the believer.  Again, this unappreciated doctrine, can be expressed in Romans 6 in terms of past (vs. 3,4,5,6), present (vs. 4,6,7,11), and future (vs.5,8,).  The elect of God have been united to Christ before time began, “Even as he chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” Eph. 1:4  Believers have been united to Christ by faith in the present (Eph. 1:7,11, 13; Gal. 2:20; 3:26; John 15:5) and will be united to him, as His bride – fully consummating this union, at His second coming having been saved from the wrath of God (Romans 8:1; Eph. 1:10,13,14).

This is the Gospel.  It is not an introductory Sunday School lesson for unbelievers or infant Christians.  It is the entirety of the Christian life and all that he or she is flows forth like a fountain from this great and powerful work of Christ through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Hasten to know the Gospel in and out, daily returning yourself to the meditation herein, for truly it was, is, and will be the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

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