Salvation is in Christ alone. There is no arguing that fact, and why would you want to. Each one who is in Christ is saved by grace alone through faith alone. Our natures are set against God from birth. We are in darkness. We must each be born again to even see the kingdom of heaven. Christ came into the darkness, condescended to us, in order to reveal the truth and set us free from the bondage of our sin natures. He chooses and saves a people for Himself. I’ve clarified these doctrines over the years at Christmas time. Over the past couple of years, God has been working on me in ways He hasn’t necessarily before. I guess that means I am growing into greater maturity. In my zeal to defend sound doctrine and practice, I became a very critical person, even when it was unnecessary. I had a nagging need to make sure everyone knew what was correct. It is true that truth needs to be spoken, but we forget about the gentleness and respect Christ calls us to (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). We feel like we always have to lecture. We forget to listen quickly and speak slowly (cf. James 1:19). I recognize that I spent too much of my energy trying to speak about controversial things, it doesn’t matter how many people liked it. The Gospel, the Christmas story, is for the glory and exaltation of Christ alone. It is, however, for the good, edification, of all people. This Christmas, I want to show you the wonderful community we have in Christ. How, because of Christ’s birth, we can love one another.
I want to spend this Christmas season in Romans, a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to new believers and Christians who were not yet gather with a local body of believers. In his letter, he encourages the saints to come together in response to the work of Christ, to treat one another well, and to edify one another in Christ.
Romans 1:1-7, 11-12
Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, κλητὸς ἀπόστολος, ἀφωρισμένος εἰς εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ 2 ὃ προεπηγγείλατο διὰ τῶν προφητῶν αὐτοῦ ἐν γραφαῖς ἁγίαις 3 περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ, τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ κατὰ σάρκα, 4 τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν, 5 διʼ οὗ ἐλάβομεν χάριν καὶ ἀποστολὴν εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ, 6 ἐν οἷς ἐστε καὶ ὑμεῖς κλητοὶ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, 7 πᾶσιν τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Ῥώμῃ ἀγαπητοῖς θεοῦ, κλητοῖς ἁγίοις· χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ… ἐπιποθῶ γὰρ ἰδεῖν ὑμᾶς, ἵνα τι μεταδῶ χάρισμα ὑμῖν πνευματικὸν εἰς τὸ στηριχθῆναι ὑμᾶς, 12 τοῦτο δέ ἐστιν συμπαρακληθῆναι ἐν ὑμῖν διὰ τῆς ἐν ἀλλήλοις πίστεως ὑμῶν τε καὶ ἐμοῦ.
Introduction (v. 1-7)
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul introduces himself to this loose collection of believers and interested persons in Rome. He introduces himself as a bond-servant of Christ who is called to be an apostle—a word meaning missionary, one who is set apart to take the gospel of God to the nations. From the outset, Paul is clear about his intentions. He doesn’t begin by saying anything other than he has written in order to share the gospel. There is no show, no attractive lure—just the gospel.
Paul claims that God promised His gospel beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures. Since Rome is nearly all gentile, and Paul is teaching the Jewish scriptures, that the Scriptures are meant for all nations. Further, we can see that the starting point for a proper gospel presentation is the Scriptures alone–no pomp and circumstance. The prophets lived beforehand, and the prophetic gift is no longer supplied like it was with the prophets who lived beforehand. God said what He needed to say. Paul says that clearly right here.
Paul explains that the Scriptures promise a Son of God who would be born a descendant of David according to the flesh. This is what we talk about every Christmas. Paul desires to tell the people about this Son of God. He was declared God’s Son when He was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit. “Son of God” is the Old Testament name given to Israel and her king (cf. Genesis 6:2; Exodus 4:22; Job 1:6; Hosea 1:10; in some places referring to the people of God in general). At the moment of his resurrection, this Son gained all power in Heaven and on Earth. Not only is He God the Son. He is the Son of God, God’s federal head of creation and ruler in Heaven and on Earth. His kingdom was established at His resurrection. His name is Jesus Christ. We do not have to wait until His second coming to see Him as king. Paul is clear. His words are to the point. He is not manipulating emotions or begging people to accept such a truth. He does not insist that the church age is anything other than the Messiah’s millennial reign. He certainly isn’t wrapping the gospel in personal health, wealth, prosperity, or technology. He is simply describing how the Scriptures have been fulfilled in the present rule of Christ we sing about every Christmas season.
He claims that “we” (those involved in writing this letter, or possibly those who hold the apostolic office) received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake. Apostleship is something Paul received. He received by grace the gifts necessary to fill the apostolic office and to be a missionary. They are gifts given by the Holy Spirit. He received these gifts and his position in order to bring about obedience of faith among all the Gentiles. When Jesus instructed his disciples to go out and make disciples, Jesus defined that as teaching all nations to obey everything He commanded (cf. Matthew 28). Sharing the Gospel is about more than merely telling people that Christ died for them. It is about more than sharing or hearing the Christmas story once a year. That’s the starting point. The gospel leads the nations, all gentiles according to Paul, into the obedience of faith (not of law but faith). So, God does not send his angels to punish us for every sin. Our obedience is something that comes from within us according to our sanctification in Christ by the Spirit, not forced upon us externally. The goal of evangelism, then, is to see all people on the earth come to such an obedience without exception. The goal of preaching Christ to the nations is not to get as many people as possible into Heaven. According to Paul, here, it is for Christ’s name’s sake. It is for the exaltation of Christ and glory of the Father. So if I ask why we practice evangelism, the answer is: to exalt Christ and glorify the Father.
In verse 6, Paul writes that those who receive his letter are also called of Christ among the apostles who are taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Notice the past-tense in Paul’s language. He trusts that whoever receives and reads his evangelistic letter is already called of Christ to be among the people of Christ partaking in the mission of Christ. So, this is not a matter of persuasion for Paul. Those who have been called will hear and respond. God alone will be glorified.
Considering the birth of Christ—His life, death, resurrection, and present lordship over all things—Paul addresses his letter to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints. He does not address it to all those who love God or who are currently in a church group. So, later, when he mentions that he wants to come to them to preach the gospel and see evangelistic fruit among them (v. 13), we see Paul’s theology come out. Those who come to love God are first beloved of God—even before their conversion. We love because He first loved us. Those who become saints are first called as saints—even before their conversions. Instead of complaining about those who are not yet of the faith or are infants in the faith, Paul blesses them and greets them with grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Right out of the gate, Paul is focussed not only on the glory of the Father and exaltation of Christ but the edification of his fellow man—even those who are not yet in Christ. Why? Christ condescended to the earth. He set the example in the incarnation. Christ is Lord, therefore, grace and peace to you—a necessary connection I didn’t always make and that I don’t hear as often as I would like.
Purpose of Romans (v. 11-12)
For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.
Paul prays that he may be able to go to Rome in order to impart some spiritual gift to the people there—spiritual gifts that will establish them. Spiritual gifts are called such because they are given by the Spirit, not Paul. People often need training, and Paul can provide that. Paul does not go into detail, here, about what the spiritual gifts are. In today’s world, there are many abuses and misinterpretations of the gifts listed in Scripture. Why would spiritual gifts establish the people in Rome, called as saints, as a local church? Paul answers, “…that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” It is by their spiritual gifts people come together to serve and edify one-another. Without the proper use of spiritual gifts, there is no local church. Further, we see at least one qualification to recognize a spiritual gift as sincere—it serves to edify others, not accuse or tear down.
I recently interviewed with a local church that majored on the spiritual gifts. The men, lay pastors in the church, were concerned about my views on the spiritual gifts because they wanted the freedom to receive “words of knowledge” in order to offer accusations against their brothers and sisters in the church without regard to Christ’s biblical instruction (cf. Matthew 18; 1 Timothy 5:19). If that is where our attention is, we have already lost and cannot be the source of edification Christ meant us to be as His body.
Spiritual gifts are specifically given particularly to each individual for the purpose of edification and encouragement. That’s it. I am cautious of anyone who claims “special knowledge” to do the opposite. There are wolves, brothers and sisters. Even if they believe themselves sincere, they are ravenous. They use claims to spiritual gifts to glorify self and fail to edify the body of Christ. Spiritual gifts are real. When the Spirit gifts us according to our callings in Christ, He does so that we may serve the saints, edify one another. Paul, the Apostle, here ever explicitly writes that the gifts of the saints in Rome will encourage him. Gifts are not for pastors or apostles or evangelists alone. In a properly girded local church, even the leadership will be edified by the gifts of the congregants.
This means a local church is not a concert hall or event center where we go to hear music and preaching. A local church is not to be marked by bad attitudes and unnecessarily critical assessments. A local church is a group of people who come together to use their spiritual gifts to edify the others who have covenanted with them for such a purpose—which includes music and preaching and self-evaluation but is not a spectator event.
There is much to be said about the defense of sound doctrine. There is much to be said about church discipline. There is much to be said about critical thinking and evaluating society and speaking truth into the madness of our time. There are plenty of people talking about those things. This Christmas, I want to share what the Spirit has been showing me. χάρισμα (charisma), the Greek word for gifts, is given with the birth of Christ in view for the purpose of mutual edification—peace on the earth and goodwill to those favored by God (cf. Luke 2:14).