Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Romans 1:1 - A Transformed Life


Jesus Christ transforms lives. Do you know him?

He's been doing it from before he was born right up to this present day. He's been at work in my life transforming me. I was an atheist, but now I'm a firm believer in the God of the Bible. I've found that true pleasure is in the Son of God. (But, I'll mention a little more on my transformation at the end of this blog. If the Lord wills, I'll write an entirely new post that goes into further detail about how God rescued me from drug-addiction and immorality for his glory in Christ.) Jesus Christ has given new life to many people through the book of Romans. In fact, the author of Romans, Paul, is one of the most stunning examples of this life-transforming, life-from-death power of Jesus.


"Paul,
a servant of Christ Jesus,
called to be an apostle,
set apart for the gospel of God"
(Romans 1:1, ESV). [1]


The Epistle to the Romans has been used in an instrumental way during the nearly 2000 years of its existence. And my hope in God is that he would draw you to Jesus through this blog - that you, dear reader, would know and treasure and trust and obey and extol Jesus in a way that suits the glorious way he's revealed himself in this Word from God.

The custom, in Paul's day and culture, when writing a letter, was for the author to begin with an identification of himself. So, let's consider the identity of the author of Romans:


"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God."

Paul was a servant of Jesus; but it was not always so. He used to hate everything that had to do with Jesus. He used to be a strict Pharisee - a man who thought he could earn favor from God by obeying the Law. When Jesus' followers started to announce that he had risen from the dead, Paul initially considered Jesus' followers to be a blasphemous sect fit to be silenced.

But Jesus really had come back to life. He showed himself to Paul. And consequently, Paul was transformed.

Luke records that Paul (whose name used to be Saul), "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way [which means: belonging to Jesus], men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' And he said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do'" (Acts 9:1-6, ESV). Paul also says that when Christ knocked him over with his splendor, he said to him, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me'" (Acts 26:15-18, ESV).

So here we see why Paul introduces himself as a servant in the beginning of Romans. Christ got a grip on him and transformed him from a violent persecutor of Christians into a zealous servant of Christ. Through Christ, God transforms sinners into servants.

Next, Paul relates that he served Jesus as a called apostle: "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle." What was Paul trying to communicate to his readers by mentioning this? Divine authority. The same authority of the Son of God that had mastered and transformed a persecutor of Christians into a servant of Christ - this same authority Christ imparted and entrusted to Paul, to be Christ's sent one, his delegate, his ambassador, his apostle.

Paul was no mumbling, bumbling fool writing to give vent to his own speculations. He was an apostle of Christ, invested with the very authority of God. Paul was writing to Roman Christians holy Scripture that was to be trusted and cherished and heartily obeyed. Romans is a book wherein we can know God because, coming from a called apostle, Romans is Scripture. Romans is the word of God.

Romans is full of good news! That's the most joyful way we recognize it as the word of God. Good news: That's what the word "gospel" means. Paul spends the rest of the sixteen chapters of Romans unfolding this gospel for which he was "set apart." So I would be remiss if I failed to publish the essential nature of this good news. Paul reveals in his first letter to the Corinthian church that the gospel is: "of first importance... that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me" (15:3-8, ESV).

Even as Paul was transformed by meeting Christ, we ourselves can meet this same risen Christ through the gospel and therefore be made new. Like Paul, I've experienced my own transformation. It started when I was about 10 years old. I wasn't convinced that God even existed until I saw proof of his existence in my dad's life. I've always had great respect for my dad. And when I saw that his life had great stability, I wanted to find out why. Through his ministry, I found out that the foundation of his life was the Bible. "Well, why should I trust the Bible?" I wondered. And through him I learned that there is no other book more trustworthy than the Bible. I learned through the things he'd watch and listen to on Christian radio and TV that the Bible was written by about 40 different authors from all walks of life (kings, scribes, prophets, shepherds, fishermen, apostles, etc.). And in addition to that it was written over about a 1,500 year span of time. And the amazing thing is that none of its 66 books contradict each other. Actually, there is amazing unity; they all speak as with one voice, with the very voice of God. And the entire Bible points to one person: Jesus, the Son of God.

I was awe-struck. I was convinced that this Bible truly was the word of God! So then, I was guided to the logical conclusion that since this truly was God's word, I should trust it, submit to its divine authority, and do what it says. It said that I was a sinner who deserved punishment, eternal punishment, God's wrath because I had offended the eternally righteous God. That was seriously bad news. But the seriously good news was that God mercifully sent Christ to willingly lay down his life under God's wrath for me.


Christ died for everyone who would ever trust in him. If you trust in Jesus, God will forgive you of all your sins and accept you as he does his own righteous Son forever. So I plead with you to trust in Christ!


Jesus came back to life, having defeated sin and death, and now reigns at the Father's right hand as King of kings and Lord of lords! Jesus can do the same thing for you that he's been doing for thousands of years for people, like Paul and myself. He can give you new, everlasting, abundant life. That doesn't mean a life without suffering. (In fact, you may even suffer more as a follower of Christ.) New life with Christ means a life full of meaning and satisfaction, even in the midst of suffering, because it's a life full of God.


Jesus Christ transforms lives. Do you know him?


[1] All Scripture quotations are from: The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.
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