Series on Romans, I The Gospel Paul Proclaimed, A Called, Text: 1:1-7. Title: The Three Calls


Of all the letters of Paul, Romans has long held pride of place. It is the longest and most systematic unfolding of the apostle's thought, expounding the gospel of God's righteousness that saves all who believe; it reflects a universal outlook, with special implications for Israel's relation to the church. Both Jewish and Gentile Christians worshiped in the house churches there. Like all Paul's letters, Romans arose out of a specific situation, when the Apostle wrote from Greece, likely Corinth, between A.D. 56 and 58. Paul at that time was about to leave for Jerusalem with a collection of funds for the impoverished Jewish Christian believers there, taken up from his predominantly Gentile congregations. He planned then to travel on to Rome and to enlist support there for a mission to Spain. Such a journey had long been on his mind. Now, with much missionary preaching successfully accomplished in the East, he sought new opportunities in the West, in order to complete the divine plan of evangelization in the Roman world. Yet he recognized that the visit to Jerusalem would be hazardous, and we know from Acts that Paul was arrested there and came to Rome only in chains, as a prisoner. Almost all of this information is found in Chapter 15 of Romans. Paul's Letter to the Romans is a powerful exposition of the doctrine of the supremacy of Christ and of faith in Christ as the source of salvation. It is an implicit plea to the Christians at Rome, and to all Christians, to hold fast to that faith. This is the lengthiest salutation of any of his epistles because of Paul’s extended discussion of Christ Jesus. Then as usual he includes comments about his ministry and about the people receiving this letter. Thus we have here three calls, the call to be a Savior, the call to be an Apostle, and the call to be saints.

I Called to Be a Savior

Jesus is called to be a Savior as Paul makes clear in verses 2-4, regarding the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus is the gospel, the good news and he is the subject of Paul’s letter and Paul’s preaching. We learn from Paul’s words here that Jesus’ coming was part of a plan since Paul says he was promised beforehand by the prophets. When the Apostle says he was declared to be the son of God by His resurrection, he is not saying that Jesus became the Son of God when he arose. He is saying that the resurrection is the ultimate sign that proves that Jesus is who he said he was. This plan was executed by Jesus but as we read in verses 1 and 2 it was guided by God the Father, and demonstrated by the Holy Spirit. It is therefore a work of the Triune God. We should observe that the Father has chosen a specific people to give to the Son, and that the Son has purposed to redeem these alone as we read in John’s gospel in John 6:37-40,  All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. This means that even as Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, so His people, His sheep, are a people redeemed from the foundation of the world because they were given to Christ by the Father. In the words of Psalm 110:1, before the world was created there was a Trinitarian counsel of salvation in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit agreed. Then the Son as the eternal Word was appointed to be the one who secured our redemption. David wrote,The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Literally this is, “Jahweh said to my Adonai,” in other words a conversation between the Father and the Son. This is why Jesus repeatedly tells us he has come to do the Father’s will.He means he has come to carry out the plan. Thus he is the “sent one” or the Apostle of our confession. He was called to His work just as we are called to ours.

II Called to Be a Servant

The Apostle Paul describes his calling in verses 1 and 5, Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. We notice immediately that before Paul calls himself an apostle he calls himself a servant. In the original Greek this word can mean either servant or slave, there is no distinction. Paul is set apart to the gospel in the same way that a slave is set apart to serve his master. There is no room for coffee breaks, vacations and bonuses. It is not a job, it is a life lived to please the master. As Jesus did everything to please His Father, so Paul is called to do everything to please Jesus. The office of Apostle was the most exalted office we can conceive. The apostles were only 12 in number. They were the first foundation stones of the church. They were first in dignity, honor and esteem. Theirs was the solemn responsibility to communicate the faith for all time. Their names are inscribed on the foundation of the city of God in Revelation 21, yet Paul says he is called to be a slave. This reminds us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is even more poignant when we remember that Paul was a free citizen of Rome; an empire that held millions in slavery. I remember the story of a small mid-western college that needed money. A foundation representative came to the campus to research. He engaged a workman in coveralls who was painting and asked where he could find the President’s home. The next day he went to visit the president and there answering  the doorbell was the workman dressed in a business suit. The college got the gift it needed. How much more should the royal servants of the living God take their calling seriously.

III Called to Be Saints

The most wonderful thing of all in this introduction is that the people to whom Paul is writing are also called. We read in verses 6 and 7,  And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. They and we too are called to belong to Jesus and called to be saints. The Greek word for saint is hagios, and the holiest place in the tabernacle and temple which was set apart was called hagion. In normal Greek of New Testament times, the word hagios was used in the meaning "devoted to the gods", but in the Greek text of the NT, hagios mostly referred to those people who had been devoted (separated, set apart) to (or for) the true God who is in Heaven and his son Jesus. This is a glorious title and an inestimable privilege to be called a saint and all Christians are called by that name. However, we must understand that to be called that is not simply an honor and a privilege because it means God has loved us. It is also a word which means that like Jesus who was set apart and Paul who was set apart we are set apart to service. We are God’s property. We are Christ’s slaves. We can never be on the fringe of Christianity, or on the fringe of the church or on the fringe of discipleship. We are called to serve with all that we are and have. Thus Jesus, and thus Paul, and thus us. No one will ever be able to say to Jesus that he was tricked into discipleship. Jesus made it very clear that it was costly and the path of a true service is the cross. Charles Haddon Spurgeon illustrated it with a story. There was a man with an orchard who kept inviting his friend over to taste the apples. One day he asked him why he never came over. The friend said to be honest he had been walking by and an apple fell over the fence, and he picked it up and tasted it. It was the sourest apple he had ever eaten. He didn’t want any more. The orchard owner smiled and said.Those apple trees around the edge of the orchard are for the boys. I traveled many miles to find the bitterest fruit available to prevent stealing. Come into the center of the orchard and taste an apple as sweet as honey. For us, too, the reward and the blessing is in the center of God’s will and not on the fringe.