Robert Jeffress - Grace-Powered Living - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". The book of Romans is one of the most well loved and theologically rich books of the New Testament, perhaps even all of the Bible. It's words have inspired theologians over the millennia, and directed the course of Christianity. And today we're going to embark on a study of the first five chapters of Paul's profound letter and his foundational teaching on the topic of grace. My message is titled Grace-Powered Living, on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Lord Littleton and Gilbert West were two English barristers, lawyers who lived in the 19th century. And they felt like it was their life's calling to destroy the Christian faith. And they decided if they were going to accomplish that formidable goal, there were two barriers, two obstacles they would have to overcome. Two events in history they would have to disprove. One was the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The other was the conversion and calling of the apostle Paul. And so they met together and decided to divide their tasks. Gilbert West would take the subject of the resurrection and disprove it. Lord Littleton would take the subject of Paul's conversion and calling and disprove it. They would do their work independently, they said, but they would come back together periodically to discuss their progress.
And so they set about upon their journey. A couple of years afterwards, they met together to check up on one another. Gilbert West said, "Lord Littleton I have to confess, I'm actually finding some evidence to support the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but I'm going to continue my studies". Lord Littleton said, "That's funny that you say that, because I too am starting to find some evidence for the credibility of Paul's conversion and calling". They went their separate ways. They came back again, several years later Gilbert West said sheepishly, "I need to confess something to you. I've come to believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually occurred, and since I last saw you, I've given my life to Jesus Christ". Lord Littleton said, "I too have taken the evidence of Paul's conversion and weighed it against laws of legal evidence, and I too am convinced that it actually occurred, and I too have become a Christian". Both of these men, Gilbert West and Lord Littleton wrote books about their findings. Gilbert West's book, "Observations on the resurrection of Jesus Christ," Lord Littleton's books, "Observations on the calling and conversion of the apostle Paul," remain in libraries today.
Now at first, you certainly understand why the resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. We've talked about that many times before. But at first glance, she may question the importance of the conversion and call in of the apostle Paul. Why is that almost of equal importance to the resurrection? Well, think about it. The apostle Paul was the greatest missionary in Christian history. Secondly, he wrote almost half of the New Testament, 13 of the 27 books. And not only that, he is the greatest systematizer of Christian theology. One writer observes, "If Paul was not converted on the road to Damascus as he claimed, and did not receive the Gospel by direct revelation from Christ, then Paul was a charlatan, half of the New Testament is a lie, and Christianity has lost its single most important teacher after Christ".
Next to Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul is the single most important figure in the New Testament. And Paul's letter to the church at Rome is the most important of the 13 letters he penned. And today we're going to begin as a church studying this book which provides the foundation of our Christian faith. If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Romans 1, as we begin this study I'm calling Romans' Grace-Powered Living. Let me say, just at the beginning, a word about the significance of the book of Romans. Will you notice in your Bible that Romans is the first letter in the New Testament. After the Gospels, after the record of the acts of the Holy Spirit, the first epistle is Romans. And the reason it's first in your Bible is not because it was written first chronologically, but because the early church considered it the letter of primary importance, and that's why it's there. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that most all of the reformations and revivals in the history of Christianity were sparked by a study of the book of Romans.
Let me show you what I mean by that. First of all, consider the conversion of Saint Augustine. Between the late 300s when the New Testament books were finally decided upon, the late 300s and the mid-1500s, the time of the protestant reformation. Between those 1200 years, there was no more important figure in Christianity than Saint Augustine. Do you remember his story? He was a philosopher. He was a professor, respected, living in Milan, Italy, but he was totally lost. He lived a Godless immoral life. And one day he was seated in the park. He was weeping over the condition, the lossness of his life. When he heard a group of children, schoolchildren, singing the song and latin translated "Take up and read," "Take up and read". And Saint Augustine took those words and decided to act upon them. He left the park, he went back up to his apartment, and beside his bed, there was a scroll of a book.
The book was the book of Romans, and he opened that scroll and accidentally, no providentially his eyes fell on Romans 13:13-14. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity or sensuality, not in strife and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. Augustine later said of that experience, "No further would I read, nor did I need, for instantly as that sentence ended, all the gloom of doubt vanished away".
That's Saint Augustine. 1.000 years after Saint Augustine, there was a monk in the Roman Catholic Church. He was a professor at the university of Wittenberg. His name was Martin Luther. And Martin Luther was teaching a course on the book of Romans. He was actually a part of the Roman Catholic order named after Saint Augustine. He was teaching the book of Romans at the university of Wittenberg, but as he read the book of Romans over and over and over again, he became convicted that our righteousness, our right standing before God is not earned by our works, but by the grace of God. And he decided right then that what he had been taught in the Roman Catholic Church was wrong. That we are saved not by our works, but our faith in God's grace. He came to that decision after reading the book of Romans.
Listen to what he said, his own testimony. He said, "I greatly longed to understand Paul's epistle to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, the righteousness of God, because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous, and deals righteously and punishing the unrighteous. Night and day I pondered until I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby through grace and sheer mercy. He justifies us by faith. There upon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of scripture took on a new meaning. And whereas before the righteousness of God had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven". And it was that book of Romans that sparked the protestant reformation. That was in the 1500s.
200 years after that there was another minister of the Gospel who was struggling to understand what the Gospel was really all about. He was an ordained minister in the church of England. His name was John Wesley. Listen to John Wesley's testimony. He wrote this in his journal on Wednesday evening, may of 1738. He wrote these words, "Tonight I went very unwillingly to a meeting a society at Aldersgate street, where a scholar was reading Martin Luther's 'preface to the epistle to the Romans'. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation. And an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death".
Again, it was the book of Romans that worked in John Wesley's heart and caused him to found a movement, methodism, that reached millions around the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The renowned English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called Romans the profoundest book in existence. Martin Luther, whom I quoted just a few moments ago called Romans quote "The chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel". And he said that every Christian should know it word for word by heart and occupy himself with it every day as the daily bread of the soul. And it is that book of Romans that we're beginning to study today. Now, whenever we launch into a new book of the Bible, I think it is always helpful to gain an overview of the book.
Whenever I go to a strange city that I'm unfamiliar with, since I'm technologically retarded and don't know how to use the GPS, what I do at the airport counter, the rent-a-car counter is I ask for a map of the city, because I want to get an overview of the city. I want to see how it's laid out before I try to navigate the individual streets and sections of the city. Well that's helpful when we come to unfamiliar territory in the Bible as well. And so in the few minutes that we have today, we're going to do three things with the book of Romans to give us an overview. Let's first of all, talk about the background of Romans. All you have to do to find out the author is look at the first word in the Greek text, Paul. Paul is clearly identified as the author.
Now remember a couple of things about Paul that we've looked at in other studies of other books of the Bible. Remember, first of all, his con his conversion. Paul was a member of a very wealthy family that lived in Tarsus, which was one of the three centers of Greek culture. And because he was from a well-to-do family, no doubt he went to the university of Tarsus, one of the most respected universities of the day. But not only was he well versed in the Greek culture, his father was a Jew, specifically, a pharisee, a member of the strictest sect of the pharisees. And so Paul was taught the tradition of the pharisees. In fact, he studied under the greatest Jewish teacher of the day, Gamaliel, who himself was the grandson of the greatest rabbi of all time Hillel.
So Paul had training as both a Greek and as a Jew. Paul was so zealous in his Judaism, that when he heard that there was somebody rowing about claiming to be the Messiah, and that he claimed to have been raised from the dead, and that people were following after him. And not only that, they were saying our salvation comes from faith in this Messiah, rather than keeping the Jewish law, to Paul, that was heresy. And he determined in the name of his faith, he was going to do everything he could to stamp out this heresy called Christianity. So he started his work in Jerusalem. Acts 8:3 says, "Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house and dragging off men and women and would put them into prison". The Bible says in another verse he compelled them to renounce their faith.
How do you compel somebody to do that? By torturing them. That's exactly what Paul was doing in the name of Judaism. And he wasn't content just to stamp out Christianity in Jerusalem. He went to the high priest in Jerusalem and asked for permission to go to the city of Damascus, which was north in the country of Syria. He had heard there was a band of Christians there. The city was about 150.000 people. So he asked the high priest, may I go to Damascus and round up Christians there and bring them back for trial in Jerusalem? And he received permission to do that. And of course you know, from the passage we read this morning, it was while Saul was on that road to Damascus to stamp out those Christ followers, that the Lord Jesus Christ himself appeared to Paul and said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me"?
And that day Saul fell on his knees. He trusted in Christ as his Savior. And not only did Jesus convert Paul, but he called him to a unique ministry. He said in Acts 26:16 and 18, "But arise and stand on your feet, for this purpose I've appeared to you to appoint you as a minister and a witness, not only to the things which you've seen, but also to the things which I will appear to you, delivering you from the Jewish people and from the gentiles to whom I am sending you". Paul was called to be the missionary to the gentiles. That's his conversion. Secondly, his credentials. I mentioned just a moment ago, that Paul had been trained in a secular education at the university of Tarsus. Not only that he received an education at the feet of Gamaliel, and notice all of this training occurred before he was a Christian.
You know, today there is a skepticism, even among Christians, about secular education. There are some Christians who think Christians should only go to Christian schools. Now I don't think there's a general rule for everyone. You have to seek God's will for yourself and for your children in that manner. But it's wrong to say God can't use a secular education for his purpose. Who was the greatest leader in the Old Testament? Who was it? Moses. He was the greatest leader of the Old Testament, Moses. Who is the greatest leader of the New Testament? The apostle Paul. Isn't it interesting that both men had secular educations? Moses in Egypt, Paul in Tarsus, and God used their secular education to enhance their ministry for him. Secondly, I think it's interesting that the secular education occurred before Paul was saved.
You know many times we tend to think everything that happened to us before we became a Christian is worthless and has no meaning to God, but that's not true. We think of a dividing line before we were saved, after we're saved. And we think everything before we're saved is worthless. God doesn't view our life like that. God sees our life as a continuum. And you know, the great message here is that God can use everything in your life for him. He can use that terrible home environment in which you were raised. He can use your education. He can even use your greatest mistakes in life in order to enhance your ministry for him. That was certainly true for the apostle Paul.
Number two, let's look at the date and setting of the book. It really is key to understanding this. Remember Acts 13 to 21, Paul made three different missionary journeys and on his third missionary journey, he went to the city of Corinth for a third time. And he stayed there in the winter of 57 ad for about three months. And in the letter to the Romans, he mentions he was staying in the home of a man named Gaius. He had an assistant or secretary named Tertius who recorded the letter, and Tertius and Paul stayed in Gaius' home for three months. It's interesting at the end of the book in Romans 16:23, Paul also mentions another resident of Corinth named Erastus. And he mentions that Erastus was the city treasurer.
You say, well, why is that important? Did you know if you visit the city of Corinth today as some of us have done, you can actually see an inscription on a piece of stone that says Erastus, the commissioner of public works, laid this road at his own expense. That's just one of the hundreds upon hundreds of archeological confirmations for the truthfulness of the Bible. That was the setting for the book of Romans. I imagine, as Paul sat in that second story apartment and looked out over the streets of that bustling city of Corinth and saw the men and women going back and forth, God impressed upon him the need of all humanity for faith in Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, let's look at the purpose and the theme of Romans. Why did Paul write this letter to the Romans? Remember up to this point, three missionary journeys, Paul had never visited the city of Rome. He wanted to. In fact in Romans 1:13, he says, "I would love to have come to you, but I've been providential hindered from coming". Paul wanted to go to Rome. That was his desire to go to Rome. Why did he want to go to Rome so badly? Well, one reason is because it was a growing church. We don't know how the church started. Probably some of the converts at Pentecost, Jewish converts, went back to Rome and they started the church. But Paul knew it was a growing church, but secondly he wanted to visit there because no apostle had visited there yet.
You say, well some people believe Peter went there and founded a church there and so forth. How do you know no apostle had been there? Because Paul said in Romans 15:20, that he never went to a city where an apostle had already been, that he never wanted to build upon somebody else's foundation of teaching. Paul wanted to go to this growing church at Rome because no apostle had been there, and Paul wanted to help ground them in the faith. He knew that this growing church would wither away unless their faith was rooted in truth. And so Paul wanted to go and teach there just as he had been teaching in Ephesus for two years.
You know, it's interesting, Acts 19 tells us that Paul was in the city of Ephesus for two years teaching, and that he taught daily in the synagogue. James Montgomery Boice notes in his commentary that one of the manuscripts of Acts 19 has written off in the side by one of the copyists that Paul spent five hours a day, six days a week for two years teaching the Christians at Ephesus. What did he teach them? That's 3.100 hours of teaching. What do you think he taught the Christians at Ephesus? I submit to you he taught them the material in the book of Romans, because it was on that same missionary journey that Paul sat down and wrote this letter of the book of Romans, which is the foundation of our faith.
What is the theme of the book of Romans? The purpose was to ground these new Christians in the basics of the faith. What is the theme of the book of Romans over and over again? You find this phrase, the righteousness of God, the righteousness of God, the righteousness of God. Righteousness simply means a right standing with God. And I want you to write this down. Here's the theme of the book of Romans. The righteousness of God is available to everyone who comes to Christ through faith.
Let me say it again. The righteousness of God is available to everyone who comes to Christ through faith, and the key verses of this entire book, Romans 1:16 and 17, "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and then to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. For as the scripture says, the righteous shall live by faith". That's the theme of Romans. The righteousness of God is available to everyone who comes to Christ through faith.