In the epistle to the Romans, Paul spends the first 11 chapters talking about the theology and doctrine of the church. Not the doctrinal distinctives of a particular type or denomination of a church, but the general theology and doctrine which believing through faith leads to salvation, through which you are made a part of Christ’s church. You cannot join this church, you must be born again to be a member of this church. And Paul uses the first eleven chapters to teach the doctrines of being born again, which is the doctrine of salvation. That doctrine is what is called the gospel. Belief in the gospel is what qualifies you for salvation, which is the means by which you are a part of Christ’s church.
That’s why at the very beginning of the epistle, Paul says in chapter 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The gospel is the power unto salvation, which is the means by which you are made part of Christ’s church.
Then starting in chapter 12, Paul shifts gears to focus on the practical aspects of being the church. The first 11 chapters teach how to become a part of the church, and then starting in ch 12 it deals with what it means to be the church. I don’t have time this morning to summarize all the messages we have given on the church in chapters 12, 13, 14 and now 15, but suffice it to say we looked at the worship of the church, the essentiality of the church, the love of the church, the church’s attitude towards outsiders, towards your neighbor, towards the government, the edification of the church, and so forth. These 4 chapters are all about life in the church.
Now as Paul winds up his letter, as he approaches the conclusion to this very detailed, dense doctrinal essay which is called the Epistle to the Romans, he gives this last bit of exhortation or admonition concerning the model for the church. Now he tends to refer to it as his ministry, but that is essentially in this context the church. And so Paul gives us a model for church, and illustrates certain principles by which it is to operate.
So many books and seminars and so forth have been written or presented on this topic. How to have an effective church. How to have a relevant church. How to grow your church. How to plant a church. To paraphrase what the Apostle John said, “the world could scarcely contain the books which are written” about the church, by supposedly the experts of the ecclesiastical world. I can’t tell you the number of pastors I have heard about that have modeled their church after the prototype presented in one of those kinds of books. And they may achieve a certain measure of success if you are evaluating it from a human perspective, or especially from a business model perspective. But what really counts is whether or not it is successful from God’s perspective. Does it follow God’s template? I would suggest that God does indeed have a template for the church, and it is not according to man’s wisdom but according to God’s. In fact, it is often considered foolishness to the world. 1 Cor. 1:21, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
Now if anyone should know about how the church should look and operate it should have been the Apostle Paul. His entire life was devoted to the church, to planting churches all over Asia Minor, and establishing churches by his letters and missionary travels. It’s ironic that the Catholics revere Peter as the founding father of the church, but in actuality, Paul deserves that title much more so than he. And I believe in this closing part of this chapter Paul gives this template for the church, or as I have titled this message; “A model for the church.”
Starting with vs 14 then, Paul acknowledges that these Roman Christians are a part of Christ’s church. And he does so by acknowledging their salvation. He characterizes their salvation by saying in vs14 “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.” Paul cannot be saying that these Romans were inherently good people. That cannot be what Paul is saying because he spent the first 3 chapters of this epistle telling them that all were sinners by nature, that there is none righteous, not even one.
So then what is he saying? Paul is acknowledging the evidence that they have been justified. They have been given the righteousness which comes as a gift from God on the basis of faith in Christ. The word rendered goodness is perhaps better translated as uprightness. According to Galatians 5:22, goodness or uprightness is one of the fruits of the Spirit. So their life is evidence that they have received righteousness and as a result are living righteously. That’s evidence of their salvation. That they have been made a part of Christ’s church.
The second evidence he says is that they are full of knowledge. What Paul is referring to is the knowledge of salvation. The very things he has been talking about in this epistle – the theology of God, the doctrines of the gospel. It’s the knowledge of God according to the truth of God’s word. To know the truth is essential to salvation.
And because they have that knowledge, they are able to teach one another, or admonish, as Paul says here. So they have all the requirements necessary for the church. That’s what Paul is recognizing, that they are believers, who are growing in knowledge and are able to teach.
But hen he adds that it was necessary for him to write them regarding certain points of the gospel in order to remind them again. It’s important that as Christians we don’t neglect the teaching of the basics of our salvation. We need to be reminded of what it means to be saved, and how we are saved, and what the purpose of our salvation is. That serves to strengthen our faith, and we run into trouble when we think we have progressed to the point where we no longer need to hear about salvation and our need for a Savior.
Now at this point, Paul gives a synopsis of his own ministry as an apostle to the Gentile church. And while we don’t have apostles in the church anymore – they were a one time gift to establish the church, to be the foundation for the church according to Ephesians 2:20 – we do have pastors. Pastors do not have apostolic authority, they are not inspired by God to write the scriptures, but they are given the authority to preach the inspired scriptures. And they are given to the church for the edification of the church. Eph. 4:11-12 says, “And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
So we can correlate the ministry of the apostle Paul to the ministry of pastors, at least to some degree. Now Paul says concerning his ministry first of all that it was because of the grace of God. In other words, Paul’s ministry was a gift of God. Being a pastor, a preacher, is a spiritual gift, a calling of God upon a man’s life. God has to call a pastor, and He has to equip a pastor. And so Paul rightly recognizes that his ministry is a gift from God. I believe there are a lot of pastor’s in churches today that are probably not called by God. They may have been called by a church, but they are not called by God. For them being a pastor is a profession. They got a degree at a seminary, they became ordained by a denominational board, and were called to fill a position in a church by a pastor’s search committee. And as a result, they answer to the people who hired them. And their preaching is evidence that they were called by men and not by God.
Notice though that Paul says that he is a minister of Christ, vs 16, to the Gentiles. Not a minister of the First Baptist Church. But he is a minister of Christ. He is an under shepherd of Christ. Pastor means shepherd, by the way. Christ is the Great Shepherd of the sheep, but the local pastor is an under shepherd of Christ. He is not a hireling of a church, but a minister of Jesus Christ.
Not only a minister of Christ, but even more specifically, he says, ministering as a priest of the gospel. This is a very interesting analogy. In the old covenant priesthood, the priests offered sacrifices on behalf of the people. They were ministers of God in the temple. But in the church, the people are the temple of God. Back in Eph 2:19-22 Paul makes that clear; “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner [stone,] in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
So Paul is ministering in a priest like fashion the gospel in the church “so that [his] offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” So in accordance with 12;1, which talks about our offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice which is our acceptable service of worship, Paul says that the church of which he is a minister is to be an offering, a living sacrifice to God. And the gospel which he is preaching is accomplishing that sacrifice to be acceptable by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
That shows us that the preaching of the gospel is the means of sanctification in the church by the Holy Spirit working through the word of God. That’s why it’s so important that we submit regularly to the preaching of the whole counsel of God as a church. The preaching of the gospel is essential to the church. It is the main thrust of the church. So that the church might become knowledgable in doctrine, mature in their walk, sanctified, living godly, acceptable, upright lives in the midst of a perverse world. Eph 5:25-27 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” The washing with the word sanctifies the church.
Notice that Paul uses the word “acceptable” in regards to his offering of the church. That is a direct reference to 12:1, where the living sacrifice of our bodies is our acceptable service of worship. Do you realize that not all offerings which are given to God are necessarily acceptable to God? Do you remember that God did not accept the offering of Cain, for instance? Do you remember the way God rejected the strange fire of the priests Nadab and Abihu, and in fact the Lord struck them dead as they were supposedly ministering to God? Let us be clear, God does not accept all offerings of worship. It must be acceptable, holy, good, and according to the will of God. So Paul by his preaching of the gospel makes the offering of the church acceptable.
I think it’s clear that the preaching of the gospel is job one as far as Paul is concerned. “Therefore,” Paul goes on to say, “in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God.” What Paul is saying is that the of preaching the gospel has resulted in being able to give praise to Christ who has brought about this sanctification of the church. It isn’t Paul’s wisdom, or his eloquence as a speaker, or his charisma, or his power of persuasion that has brought about these things in the church. But it is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ working through him.
I’m afraid that far too often the pastor of a church is selected or chosen according to the wrong criteria. He is chosen on the basis of his sense of humor, his eloquence, how he looks, how his wife looks, or whatever. The success of his church comes down more to a popularity contest rather than whether or not he is truly called by God and given the gift of God to preach the gospel. As Paul warned in 2Tim 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
But Paul’s preaching and teaching was intended to sanctify them. To complete them so that as a priest he might offer to God the Gentile church as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. A sacrifice was to be holy, without spot or blemish. And the church is made righteous, acceptable, holy in position, in practice by the preaching of the gospel.
So Paul is able to boast of the Gentiles, not because of his own work, but because of the sanctifying work of the Spirit which worked in them through the gospel which Paul administered. The result being, in vs 18, that the Gentiles were obedient. That is the completion or perfection of faith. Obedience to the truth, to the gospel. Not simply stopping at justification, being saved by faith, but growing in sanctification, by being obedient to the truth. Not just righteousness imputed resulting in justification, but righteousness worked out, resulting in sanctification.
Now Paul was able to affect this transformation on the part of the Gentiles by four methods, none of which are independent of the others, but which all work together synchronistically. The first method utilized by Paul to affect this change in the Gentiles is his word and deed. The first method is the personal example of his life; his word and deeds. How Paul conducted himself in his day to day life as a Christian served as a living sermon that was evident by the way he spoke and conducted himself on a daily basis. So that Paul was able to say elsewhere, “be imitators of me.”
Listen, there is no expiration date on your personal testimony. How you live in your day to day life is a much more telling testimony of your salvation than simply words. We had a couple of men in the church give their testimony recently of how they were saved at one of our Wednesday night Bible studies. And the whole purpose of that was to illustrate that it’s important that we are able to verbalize what brought about our salvation and what that means in order to help others to come to the knowledge of the gospel. But, what is a fundamental precursor to their spoken testimony is the realization on the part of other people who are watching their lives, that there has indeed been a change in these men. That their words and deeds are manifest witness to having been saved.
Secondly, he says another method God used to bring the Gentiles to obedience of the truth was in the power of signs and wonders. Now that phrase has become problematic in 21st century churches. There are some denominations out there who feel that signs and wonders are existent in the church today, and that they are vital for a vibrant Christian life. What they really are teaching through this though is the idea that God is the equivalent to the genie concept of a deity, a genie that exists to grant my every wish, my every command.
Rather than God’s control over my life being evidenced by my words and deeds, as Paul indicated his life was visibly different, visible righteous living – they think that God must manifest Himself in me through some mental or physical or spiritual experience that proves to me that He is real. And furthermore, that we can expect and even demand of God that He overturn earthly crises as I see fit. So that I can heal, I can raise the dead, I can move mountains, or do whatever I think is necessary. I can harness the power of God to do whatever I name and claim it in the name of faith.
Listen, that expectation and demand on our part to see God manifest His power is not of faith. That which is seen is not of faith. That which is unseen is of faith. We err in unbelief when we expect and demand that God do what we want Him to do. We demote God to the form of a genie who is under our authority as long as we use the magic formula. That’s not the God of the Bible.
This whole problem with signs and wonders goes back to the issue of the apostles. There are no apostles today in the church. But in Paul’s day, signs and wonders were a sign of being an apostle. Acts 5:12 says, “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.” Signs and wonders were the purview of the apostles to establish that they were speaking the word of God. And that’s stated even more clearly in 2Cor. 12:12 “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” Paul makes it clear there that the sign of a true apostle, that they were truly speaking for God, was that they performed signs and wonders. But when the age of the apostles faded away with their deaths, so did the age of signs and wonders.
But don’t be deceived, Satan is able to give the power of signs and wonders to his ministers as well. Jesus warned in Matt. 24:24 “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” It can be dangerous to follow someone just because they do signs and wonders. And Paul made it clear in 1 Cor. 13 that many of those gifts of the Spirit which were at first manifest in the church would eventually pass away.
But let me tell you something which I am sure you already realize. There is no greater miracle than the miracle of salvation. There is no greater sign than the sign of someone’s changed life. I visited a certain denomination’s pastors conference many years ago and heard a charismatic missionary speaking about a mission trip in Africa where they went from village to village preaching the gospel. And according to him, everywhere they went the whole village would end up getting saved. He said thousands of people were saved as they traveled through these small villages preaching the gospel. But then one day they were at a river doing a baptism after a service, and for some reason, (I could hardly understand him because of his accent), but for some reason a woman came forward holding a baby who had just died. And he said he took the dead baby from the mother and baptized it, and the baby began to cry. The baby came back to life from the dead.
Now I have a lot of questions I would like to ask about that story, and to say I am skeptical is to put it mildly. But what really was troubling was when he said that the baby came back from the dead, the entire auditorium of these charismatic preachers stood up and gave a standing ovation. And I could not escape the irony of what they were in effect saying. Just a moment before, the same man gave testimony that thousands of people were saved, transferred from death to life. And no one even said amen, much less clapped and gave a standing ovation. But one baby was supposedly raised from the dead and that warrants a standing ovation. I could not help but think that they did not truly understand the miracle of salvation.
So I do believe we still have signs and wonders operating in the church today, but it may not be of the kind which we are looking for. And in fact, many signs and wonders are not indicative of God’s presence, but are very likely indicative of a great deception in the church.
The third method given in Paul’s ministry is the power of the Holy Spirit. This shows the power of the Holy Spirit is not always equated to signs and wonders, is it? Because Paul lists it separately. In fact, signs and wonders may not be of the Spirit of God at all. But it is essential that the power of the Spirit is working in the church. But how He works is not always in visible ways. He works in our inward parts, in our minds, in our hearts, in our consciences. The Holy Spirit works through preaching, He works through the word of God. He works through prayer. And if He is not working then I can guarantee you that the church is not Christ’s church. And if He is working then He will make what we do effectual.
Listen, no one is saved without the Holy Spirit leading that person to the knowledge of the truth, without Him opening the spiritual eyes and hearts of the blind. No one is given new life without the power of the Holy Spirit. No one is able to be taught by God without the power of the Holy Spirit. No true church is ever established without the power of the Holy Spirit. No one is able to walk the Christian walk without the power of the Holy Spirit.
When you read about Jesus’s ministry in Luke 3 and 4, when He came up out of the water the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and it says that He went out to do ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. And likewise Paul constantly referred to the leading of the Spirit in his travels, in where he went and does and what doors are opened to him. It is essential that we lean upon the Spirit for wisdom, and that He will open doors that no man can shut, that He will open the eyes of the blind, He will give us the words to say, and He will soften the soil of the heart to be responsive to the truth.
The last method Paul mentions of his ministry is the preaching of the gospel. He says in vs19; “so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was [already] named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written, “THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND.”
Paul had a desire, a calling to preach the gospel, not just to those in Jerusalem, but to the far regions of the Roman Empire, to take the good news to people who had not heard. Paul’s ministry was unique in some respects to that missionary aspect. Today it is difficult to find people anywhere in the world who have not heard something about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is in large measure due to the zeal of the Apostle Paul in the early years of the church.
But nevertheless, those who have heard and have not believed have just as much a need for salvation as those who have never heard. And our ministry is to proclaim the good news. Our mission is to take the gospel to our family, then to our neighbors, then to our communities, and from one person to the next we will end up taking it to the world.
The church is to be about the business of the kingdom of God. We are to be ambassadors for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to be actively pursuing those who are lost, who have not heard, who have not believed, persuading them regarding the truth of the gospel. And we do so through sound doctrinal preaching of the word, through righteous living, through the miracle of the new birth, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray that God will use us, each of us, in the ministry of the gospel. Not everyone is called to be an apostle, not everyone is called to be a pastor or teacher, but all of us are called as the church to go and tell others the truth of the gospel. Let us be the church of Jesus Christ and accomplish that mission by prayer, by following the leading of the Spirit, by the power of the word of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit working in us through the gospel which we proclaim.