Derek Prince - A Letter To Those Who Are Called
In our first session in this study we looked briefly at the structure of the epistle to the Romans. I suggested that it could be divided into four sections. Chapters 1 through 8, the logical scriptural basis of the gospel. Chapters 9 through 11, the theology of divine election illustrated in the case of Israel. Chapters 12 through 15, the application of all this teaching in personal Christian living. And chapter 16, personal greetings and benediction. I also pointed out to you the kind of basic structure of an epistle. It will give you information about the writer, it will give you information about the ones to whom the letter is addressed and it will probably give you some brief indication of the main theme of the letter, all of which we find here in Romans.
Then I suggested to you that in this first main section, chapters 1 through 8, we are on a spiritual pilgrimage. Our destination is chapter 8 which is the kind of life we all should be living. The kind of life, I believe, we all would like to be living. But I said you can’t get there unless you go through the percolator, The percolator is chapters 1 through 7. So we’ve just begun to put ourselves in line to go through the percolator. Then I spoke briefly at the end of the previous session about Paul’s introduction of himself. First of all, a slave. Second, an apostle, particularly separated out to the gospel and particularly the gospel as it’s presented to the Gentiles.
Now we’ll continue with this outline that you have in your little booklet and we’ll come to... I think we’ll deal next with the people to whom the letter is addressed. In your outline that is section C. So we’ll go back to section B, which is the gospel, in a few minutes. Let’s consider what Paul says about the people to whom this epistle is addressed. Verses 6, 7 and 8. I’ll read those verses once more. I hope you understand the repetition of Scripture is really not a bad thing. In fact, it’s important.
I was a trainer of teachers, I was a principal of a college for training teachers in East Africa for five years a good while ago. One of the things we taught our student teachers is recapitulation is an essential part of good teaching. So I never apologize for recapitulation. Here we are, Romans 1:6-8. Among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ... That word "called" is a very important word because that’s what determines whether we are Christians or not. This, of course, is a little bit out of line with our whole theme but, you don’t become a Christian because you decide. You become a Christian because God called you. You have to respond but the initiative, dear brothers and sisters, is not with us, it’s with God. He calls us.
The word calls could be translated: invited. The church in Greek is called ekklesia. The word for called is kletos. They’re directly related. Ekklesia is: a company of people called out, that’s what the preposition ek means. What are we called out from? The world. It’s very important to remember that. We’re not part of the world, we’ve been called out from the world. If you belong to the true church of Jesus Christ, you don’t belong to this world. You can’t belong in both places at the same time. Verse 7: To all who are beloved of God in Rome... That’s the next important thing to remember, that God loves the people He calls. That’s good news, isn’t it? God called us because He loved us. He loved us before the foundation of the world. He’d made all these important decisions before time ever began. But it’s only when we hear His call that we begin to enter into the experience.
I remember very vividly how and when God called me. I had no intellectual knowledge of the gospel whatever. I was a philosopher reading the Bible as a work of philosophy. But by a strange set of circumstances I ended up in a Pentecostal church. I’d never been in one, I didn’t know there were such people. After that, I didn’t know there were such people as Baptists! But, in that church, God called me in a very unorthodox way because when it came to the end of the sermon (which I didn’t understand), the preacher said: To anyone who wants this (whatever that was), put your hand up.
I had no intention of putting my hand up. I felt indignant and embarrassed that anyone would ask me to put my hand up in a place like a church. I sat there (I was in soldier’s uniform) in stony silence, no background music, nothing to alleviate the embarrassment and two inaudible voices were speaking to me. One of them said: If you put your hand up in front of these old ladies and you’re a soldier in uniform, you’re going to look very silly. The other voice said: If this is something good, why shouldn’t you have it? I was paralyzed, I could not respond to either voice. Then I experienced my first personal miracle. I saw my own right arm go right up in the air and I knew I had not raised it. That was the frightening thing. For one thing, in my own confused way, I knew God had called me.
Somehow by intuition I knew that I could never count on Him calling me again but I had to make my decision. Thank God, about five days later I made that decision. To me, being called is very solemn and very serious. I would never dare to trifle with the call of God. Paul says these Christians in Rome are called by God because they’re loved by God. God’s call is the outworking of His love. He reaches out His hand and says: If you’ll take My hand I’ll lift you out of that mess you’re in and I’ll place you on a rock beside Me. I didn’t know all those words then, but He did it anyhow. Then Paul goes on in verse 7: called as saints...
Now you’ll notice a little earlier he said: called as an apostle, of himself. But if you look at one of those versions that have the words in italics that are put in, you’ll notice that as is in italics. What Paul said was he was: called an apostle. What he says of those Christians are they’re: called saints or holy ones. It’s good to leave out the as because, you see, when God calls you something, you are what He calls you. You may not feel like it, people may not see you that way but what God calls you is what you are going to be. When you’re called: holy ones, you’re going to end up a holy one. You might as well start quickly. God means business. Then he gives this beautiful, familiar New Testament greeting: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
What a beautiful greeting. It would be interesting for you to notice how many times in the first eight chapters of Romans Paul uses the name Jesus, the word Christ (or Messiah), and the word Lord. I think it’s 32 times. That’s why Romans is so powerful, because it centers on the center which is Jesus. Wherever we get off center and get centered on anything but Jesus, the power begins to leak out and we have to resort to human energy, human methods. When our single desire is to present and uplift the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit says, I’ll give you all the help you’ll need.
Notice the order. Grace and peace. Many of you, I’m sure, have been to Israel. You’re familiar with the typical Hebrew greeting: Shalom, which means peace. But notice that in the New Covenant we have grace before peace. Grace is what we can’t earn. We’ll be studying that in greater detail later. Grace is the free, unmerited favor of God. We didn’t earn it, we can’t deserve it, we just receive it. So before we get peace we need to remember it’s by grace. Grace and peace. Then in verse 8 Paul says: I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all. It’s very important to notice that Paul almost invariably began his epistles by thanking God for the people to whom he was writing. That’s a very important principle. I tell people this: If you can’t thank God for somebody, don’t pray for them. I don’t think it’s legitimate. There’s just one interesting exception. The Corinthian church was in confusion, they had adultery, they had drunkenness at the Lord’s table, and Paul said: I thank my God for the grace of God which is given you. There’s one church he didn’t do it. Galatians.
What was the problem in Galatia? It wasn’t drunkenness, it wasn’t adulterers, what was it? Legalism. That’s the one thing that upset Paul. He knew everything else could be dealt with but legalism, that kind of set him aback. One more thing about these Christians in Rome. He says: thank God because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. Of course, Rome, as the name indicates, was the great capital city of the Roman Empire which dominated the whole of that area of the earth of that time, and so whatever happened in Rome would affect the whole of the Roman Empire. And one of the principles of Paul in his missionizing was get to the main cities, get to the capital cities. He never went to little villages unlike some modern missionaries. He didn’t start out in the jungle. I was with a mission that did that. It was so romantic.
We wore pith helmets and we were right off the beaten track, but we were really missing the point. The place where things happen is the city. If you reach a city, you’ll reach the places around it because things will go out from the city. If you study Paul’s methods, it was always: strike at the heart, strike at the main city wherever it is. Now he hadn’t been to Rome but he had a lot of friends in Rome and he was proud of the fact that the whole empire was talking about these Christians at Rome. How did they achieve that? I think there are a lot of possible answers but I really believe the most important instrument that the early Christians had was their personal testimony. Jesus said: You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you shall be my witnesses.
You see, here were people from all sorts of different backgrounds: national, social, every kind of different background all saying the same thing. This person Jesus has changed my life. And everybody started to want to know: Who is Jesus? They got the amazing answer. He was a carpenter’s Son who was crucified some years ago. But that wasn’t the only answer. They also got the answer that He rose from the dead the third day. And I would say of all the various spiritual instruments available to the early church, and I think they used them all the most effective single instrument was personal testimony.
Now let’s come to the other in fact, the main theme of this introductory section which is the gospel. It’s dealt with, as you’ll see from your outline, in verses 2 through 4 and then in verses 16 and 17. So let’s look, first of all, at verses 2–4. Verse 1 ends with the words: the gospel of God. And then concerning this gospel Paul says: Which He [that is, God] promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, You’ll find that Paul is always extremely careful to make sure that no one thinks he’s improvised this gospel, that it’s something he thought of, that it’s his idea. He invariably emphasizes that the whole concept and coming of the gospel was clearly predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures. He says all we are doing is fulfilling what the Scriptures have said. That’s very, very important, especially hen you deal with the Jewish people.
Probably some of you would not be familiar with their way of thinking but in 1979 Ruth and I lived with a Jewish family in Jerusalem for nearly three months who spoke virtually no English. We were studying at the Hebrew University and we chose a family that didn’t speak English because we wanted to be forced to speak Hebrew. It was an interesting experience, we’d never met one another before we arrived at their house, we’d made the arrangements through an agency. They were a couple probably in their late fifties, I think, at that time, or early sixties. Both of them from Poland, each of them the only survivor of a total family. At first we were very careful and discreet about how we spoke to one another and we kind of kept very polite and on our best behavior.
But after a little while somehow the wall was broken down and I don’t know how it was but the man asked me, How did you become what you are? By a miracle of grace I gave him my personal testimony in Hebrew, which was not easy. He got so interested. Then I told him the story of my first wife and we lent him the book to read. I can’t go into all that, but he said one thing to me that stayed with me ever since. He was familiar, of course, with what the Jewish people call the Tanakh, what we call the Old Testament. He’d never seen a New Testament in his life. When I told him I believed the Old Testament and the New, he asked this question: How did you make this synthesis between the Old and the New?
The question revealed to me the depth of difference between his background and mine. I’d never known a Bible without a New Testament. He’d never known a Bible with one. But you see what Paul was fighting, this separation of the Old and the New. He said everything we are preaching in the New has its origin in the Old. If you really want to be able to reach the Jewish people you have to come to the place where you can show them that directly out of their own Scriptures. There is a gospel of the circumcision and a gospel of the uncircumcision. The circumcision are the Jewish people, the uncircumcision are the Gentiles. It’s not a different message but it’s a different approach. You can just go amongst Africans or others and present Jesus. But to go to the Jewish people you have to show them this is what was promised right from Genesis onward.
So Paul, as I say, was very, very careful never to open up to the possible accusation that he was improvising something. ...which he promised through his prophets in the holy Scriptures Now we come to the very essence of the gospel which is verse 3. ...concerning His Son, who was born of [a descendant] of David according to the flesh, who was declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord. Please remember that Christ represents the Greek word for which the Hebrew word is Meshiach or Messiah. Every time you say: Jesus Christ, whether you know it or not, you’re saying: Jesus the Messiah. And every time you talk about the Messiah, you’re talking about the Christ.
Again, there’s a tremendous gap. Both: Multitudes of both Christians and Jews don’t realize that Christ is just the same as Messiah. When we talk about Jesus Christ, we’re saying Jesus the Messiah. So the gospel centers in one Person. Who’s that? Jesus, that’s right. And this is what Paul says about Him. He was the Son of God and He was also the son of David. He had a human nature, He had a divine nature. Verse 4, He was declared or separated out as the Son of God by a mighty act of power, which was the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness. Now, Paul wrote in Greek but there’s many evidences he thought in Hebrew. And sometimes if you’re not aware of the Hebrew phrases, you won’t understand. Hebrew doesn’t talk about the Holy Spirit. It speaks about the Spirit of holiness. Ruach HaKodesh.
And so when Paul says the spirit of holiness, my conviction is he’s saying the Holy Spirit. But he was thinking like a Jew and it got into the language. What was the power that raised the dead body of Jesus from the tomb? The Holy Spirit, What did the Holy Spirit do by that? He declared Jesus to be the Son of God. He separated Him out from all other men who had ever died and been buried as the Son of God, as the Spirit of holiness. As the Spirit of holiness, He bore testimony to Jesus’ perfect holiness. If there had ever been anything unholy in the life of Jesus at any point, He would never have been resurrected. But the resurrection attested that He really was what He claimed to be, the Son of God and it attested His perfect, stainless holiness.
You see, God reversed the decision of two courts. A Jewish court and a Roman court had sentenced Jesus to death, appointed that He was to be buried and, it’s a strange thing. The unbelievers have much more faith in the resurrection than the believers, have you noticed that? The enemies of Jesus were really anxious in case He should arise from the dead. The disciples couldn’t believe. So after His death and burial the Jewish leaders went to Pilate and said: Now we know that deceiver said that He would rise on the third day. So we don’t want that to happen. Would you give us a guard to protect the tomb? And Pilate said: You can have your guard and you can take the seal and seal the tomb. So that the stone could never be moved without the seal being broken. So these two courts, in a sense, pinned their all on Jesus staying in the tomb. But on the third day God reversed their decisions, in the highest court in the universe, and brought Jesus out from the tomb.
Now when the women came, they found the stone rolled away. This is just a personal opinion. I don’t believe the stone was rolled away so that Jesus could get out of the tomb. I believe it was rolled away so that the ladies could see the tomb was empty. No stone could have kept Jesus in that tomb when He was resurrected. But, bear in mind that the gospel centers in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. If we ever get away from those central, historical facts we’re not dealing with the gospel. I have to say that there’s a whole lot of what is called gospel preaching which doesn’t contain the gospel at all. The gospel consists of three certain, simple, historical facts. It’s unlike other religions which just have sacred books that present abstract truth. The gospel relates to human history. It's either true or it’s false, but it must be one or the other.
And also, it’s attested in human experience. God impinged human history with Jesus. He’s made something available to us which is both attested by history and confirmed in our personal experience. That’s the gospel, the good news. I’d like to look at two other passages which state the gospel and you’ll see that in both cases the emphasis is the same. In Romans 4 verse 23 and following, we’ll look at this later more fully. But notice that Abraham is taken as the pattern of believing God and having righteousness accredited to him. Paul goes on to say in verse 24: But for our sake also, to whom it [that is, righteousness] will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered up because of our transgressions and raised because of our justification.
We’ll go into that more fully later. But let’s just notice that the gospel centers in three historical facts: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. And the more we can focus our testimony and our teaching on those, the more effective it will be. It is not primarily a matter of emotion. Many attempts to stir people emotionally will produce a temporary response but it doesn’t last. What we’ve got to do is communicate to people’s minds and spirits these three glorious facts. Jesus died for our sins, He was buried and He rose again on the third day.
We’ll turn also, for a moment, to 1 Corinthians 15 which is the well-known, glorious resurrection chapter. Paul says in the first four verses: 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received... Now what did he deliver? You notice: ...that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. What is the gospel? Try and say it together. Christ died for our sins. He was buried. He was raised on the third day. Let’s say that again. Christ died for our sins. He was buried. He was raised again the third day. So from now on, never let yourself be distracted from these great central facts.