Gentiles Transformed by the Gospel (v. 14)
The Holy Spirit began this letter by exposing the sinfulness of our race. Of Jew and Gentile, he said, “There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (3:10-12). There is no difference; “all have sinned” (vv. 22-23). The whole world of men stands guilty and condemned before God’s holiness and justice (v. 19). How, then, can the apostle now speak of the Romans as “full of goodness?” God saves sinners. Though we have offended him and spit in his face, the Son of God incarnate took our shame and spitting upon himself; he received our stripes. The holy God put him to grief so that we may be forgiven, cleansed, and renewed. By his Spirit, he enables us to repent and believe his gospel promise. Thus, any goodness in us – AND THERE WILL BE PLENTY IN TRUE CHRISTIANS – is because we are joined to Jesus Christ, the Mediator of every saving blessing (Eph. 1:3), so that his life begins to be formed in us.
The true gospel is more than a change of sentiments, a few pious feelings, or interest in religious things. The gospel is fundamentally the saving power of God, the revelation of his righteousness to sinners. We receive both justifying righteousness and sanctifying goodness from our Lord Jesus. When the Father gives us faith to believe his truth, we draw from our Savior the “living waters” of which he spoke (John 7:37-38). He makes us new creatures, good not simply on the edges of our life but upright in heart and kindly disposed toward men. The weak and the strong alike needed to be reminded of the power of the gospel of God. We need to be reminded of it – desperately. It is his gospel. When he teaches it to us, he also fill us with goodness, the “fruits of righteousness that are by Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11). Without the gospel of God, we cannot be good.
Never has the world had the stomach for this gospel, for in exposing our sinfulness, it humbles our pride. God’s gospel teaches us that goodness must come from outside us, from Jesus Christ. The world craves man-made gospels, secrets, laws, governments, and spirituality that mask the true source of our misery and lessens the consequences of ours evil. Many even in the church want a knowledge that will make them self-contented in their spirituality and assure them that all is well. Remember that little line in Romans 3:11: “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” True knowledge of the Holy One is the gift of God. Due to our sin, it is not something we want or can attain by reason or experience. Like Adam, we hide from the truth about God and the truth about ourselves. Our minds become darkened; our wills enslaved to corruption; our affections teeming with various lusts. This is true of all, though it does not come to the same expression in every man or manifest itself with the same intensity. But blindness dominates all. We do not want the true knowledge that the gospel gives, for we do not want for our pride to be humbled. We do not want to stand as we truly are before God: wretched, naked, blind, and poor, with nothing to commend ourselves to him and no excuse to offer for our rebellion. Only the true gospel of God can dispel our darkness. He gives us true knowledge so that instead of running away from the truth we want only to draw near to him. He makes us willing to be exposed as sinful before him so that we can be forgiven and restored to fellowship with our God. We begin to love him, adore his character, and wonder before his grace. We willingly face the truth about ourselves, that we are fallen, corrupt in every part, and without hope except for God’s sovereign mercy in Jesus Christ. Then, we are made docile before his truth, willingly embrace sound doctrine, and desire nothing more than to be taught God’s holy word.
This is the marvelous change that the gospel of God works in men. It also changes the way we relate to one another. Instead of wanting everyone to leave us to our own opinion, we are able to admonish and willing to be admonished. This word noutheto means a confrontation of sin with God’s truth that renews our minds and humbles our prideful hearts so that we are made teachable before him. On our own, we can no more give or receive useful admonishment than we can fly to the moon. We cherish a bitter resentment against those who confront us. This is true of many professing friends of God, who when confronted with some uncomfortable aspect of his truth or for their sins, sulk or lash out against those who would dare say anything to them that they do not like. The gospel of God sings a different tune. Because it humbles our pride, we are willing to listen and desire to please God in all things. Tamed before him, we are able to confront others for their sins, with kindness and gentleness (2 Tim. 2:25).
Above all, this word “admonish” reveals the transforming power of God’s gospel. We must accept no substitutes, no false gospels that flatter man’s pride to believe as he pleases, or any of the other drivel that is fool’s gold instead of God’s heavenly pearl. His word comes with power when it is received by faith. If we are not filled with goodness, filled with knowledge, and able to admonish one another, it may be that we have yet to learn the true gospel. Or, we may have forgotten it, or quenched its power in our lives through neglect, willful sinning, and worldliness. But make no mistake. God’s gospel brings his power to bear upon every child of God. Jesus Christ always transforms his friends.
The Gentiles an Offering to God (vv. 15-16)
Personally unknown to these Roman believers, Paul felt compelled to justify the boldness of his letter to them. Not only are the doctrines themselves very bold, but also his more interpersonal guidelines in the last two chapters are surprisingly direct given his lack of personal involvement with their congregation. They must remember, however, that he was simply “putting them in mind” of God’s truths. Like Peter (2 Pet. 1:12), Paul did not hesitate to remind the church of basic gospel doctrines and practices, for we are so prone to forget them or to allow them to lose their hold upon our hearts due to our worldliness and ingratitude, as well as the constant pressure to compromise God’s truth in order to lessen the cost of cross-bearing. Paul also speaks of God’s grace to him as an apostle. He had responsibility for all the churches of Jesus Christ. He did not address them as a “foreigner,” a Jew, which might have offended Roman pride, but as a called apostle of Jesus Christ. He calls them to share in the grace the Lord had given to him by yielding all faith and obedience to God’s holy word.
He calls them to consider yet loftier purposes in the salvation of the Gentiles. Paul speaks of himself as a “minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.” This word minister is a liturgical term, referring to one who serves in holy things. Paul was not a priest in the technical sense, but his labors as an apostle were so that through the gospel of God, the Gentiles might be offered up to God as an acceptable sacrifice. He served so that we would all serve as God’s kingdom of priests. This is a beautiful, captivating picture of God’s saving purposes. The whole world, Jew and Gentile, are destined to praise God for his mercy (vv. 8-11), to offer up “spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). How are men to be consecrated to God as living sacrifices except through belief in the gospel of God? We are filthy and have nothing to offer to God that will be pleasing to him. His gospel cleanses and renews us. How can rebels be subdued so that “as soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me” (Ps. 18:44)? The gospel of God is God’s power unto salvation. Through the preaching of the gospel, the Holy Spirit sanctifies men so that they turn from their idols to serve him (1 Thess. 1:9). God’s gospel word is never without effect. Paul thus sees the entire world as a consecrated offering to God, to give him praise for his mercy, to be subdued to God through his gospel, and to rejoice in serving God and devoting itself to his service.
Without a doubt, Paul has in mind the prophecies with which Isaiah concludes (66:18-24). The prophet speaks of God gathering all nations and tongues to see God’s glory (v. 18). His glory will be declared among the Gentiles (v. 19) and all will bring offerings to him (v. 20). From all nations, God will make men “priests and Levites” (v. 21), and “all flesh shall come to worship before me” (v. 23). Paul knew that the preaching of God’s gospel was the appointed way for his glory to fill the earth. Who and what are the themes of this gospel? Jesus Christ sent from the Father’s love; Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead; Jesus Christ reigning and subduing all things to himself by the “sword coming out of his mouth.” This gospel of God is destined to gather all nations into a choir consecrated to the praising of God. Paul thus returns to the theme that began this section (12:1). Since God has shown such mercy to us through his Son, should we not be consecrated to him as living sacrifices? Are we? When the true gospel is preached faithfully, it has this purpose: to set men free from sin to serve God with joyful hearts. This is no constrained, servile obedience but a heartfelt obedience prompted by thankfulness for his mercy to us in Jesus Christ. It is not within our power to trust God’s gospel or to be living sacrifices. The power of the Holy Ghost effects this renewal. His power sets men to praising God.
We must not miss this purpose of God in sending forth his gospel by the apostles and the great company of preachers who have followed them. Many will say, “Well, I believe the gospel, but I have not been changed like this. My life is not a living sacrifice to God.” Or, Well, I would like to be, and I know others who seem to be, but my life is too complicated.” Nothing thwarts God’s purpose. Can we say that we know his gospel if we are not praising him for his mercy? Obeying his word? True faith is not of human ability or origin. God must grant men repentance unto life (Acts 13:48). Therefore, we have no right to define faith on our own terms or to force God’s truth to fit our circumstances. When God saves men, he exerts his mighty power and enables them to trust him and to surrender their lives to him. The entire emphasis here is upon the purposes of God, the living Savior, and the sanctifying Spirit of God. Rather than making God fit into our boxes, we must be stirred to examine ourselves seriously. Am I praising God for his mercy? Am I devoted to him? Do I love him? Are there places in my life where I refuse to obey him? True gospel faith makes us servants of God who are devoted to his glory. We mourn over our sins, but we also trust God and return to Jesus Christ for cleansing. Lovers of God, he makes us, and delivers us from the power of sin. The gospel, child of God, is not of man. It is God’s gospel. When he gives it, he gives renewal. He gives the ability to repent and believe. He changes us by his omnipotence.
Boasting in Jesus Christ Alone! (vv. 17-19)
God’s gospel of grace and power humbles man’s pride. Therefore, we have nothing in which to boast except in his mercy and in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul also boasts in what Jesus Christ accomplished through his ministering. When he saw the mighty work of God through such a sinful and weak instrument, his rejoicing knew no bounds! Paul would not boast in himself, but he would boast in what Jesus Christ had accomplished through him. He did not forget his past. That God would use a killer of Christians to be an instrument to bring salvation to the Gentiles left him amazed at the power of God. He speaks with awe of what Jesus Christ had done through him (v. 18). He would not dare to speak of anything else, for he had nothing else of which to speak. God had rescued him, saved him, and had called him to be an apostle of the very gospel that he once tried to destroy. Thus, Paul knew the power and glory of the gospel he preached. He now preached the gospel that is destined to subdue all nations. He preached throughout the Mediterranean regions, from Jerusalem, the southwestern extremity of his circuit, to Illyricum, the northeastern boundary lying between Italy and Germany. His preaching was marked by “mighty signs and wonders,” wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 19). These “signs of an apostle” were not done to leave men mesmerized but to make them obedient to the word of God in word and deed.
With utmost seriousness must we take this phrase “to make the Gentiles obedient in word and deed.” Paul’s preaching and the confirming miracles wrought by Jesus Christ had as their goal the subduing of men to a teachable frame. Those today who speak negatively of obedience know nothing of God’s gospel. When the gospel comes with saving power, it makes men obedient. It cannot do otherwise. It was our disobedience that plunged the entire world into ruin. It was our disobedience that nailed Jesus Christ to the cross. The power of the gospel is seen primarily in its subduing, cleansing, and renewing power. It makes men obedient to God’s word so that they are “willing in the day of Christ’s power” (Ps. 110:3). His Spirit writes God’s law upon our hearts so that it is no longer a chaffing burden to us (1 John 5:3). Like the Savior who preaches the gospel, our truest and deepest joy becomes to obey God. We delight to do this will. Obedience has its own joy that is unique, unparalleled, and sustaining, as it was to our Savior (John 15:9-11). Obedience is the way we glorify and enjoy God.
This is not an obedient age. I speak not of the world, which has never been obedient to God. Within the church, there are so many false gospels that it seems the Lord is chastening us with blindness, stupor, and unbelief. God’s precious grace is often treated as a free pass to sin, a guarantee of forgiveness, however carelessly or presumptively we live. Very few think of relating to God in terms of obedience, find joy in obedience, or seriously “think on their ways and turn their feet unto his testimonies” (Ps. 119:59). Yet, here we see that the true gospel and obedience are inseparable. Through the obedience of his saints, he reveals the transforming power of his grace to the world. He answers Moses’ prayer: “Lord, show me thy glory.” If we love the Savior who died for us, we shall seek his strength to obey him (John 14:15). If we are his friends, we shall love nothing better than to do his will (John 15:14). This is not because we are strong or earn anything by our obedience. It is because Jesus Christ changes his friends. His gospel is the “power of God unto salvation.” His name is Jesus, and he will save us from our sins.
Laying the Foundation (vv. 20-21)
Paul’s preaching was energized by love for the Savior and the desire to honor him. He launched out in the vessel of faith to new areas, where Christ was not named. He very much appreciated the need of a settled pastoral ministry, as his letters to Timothy and Titus make clear, as well his careful attention to the regulation of the churches he planted. He provided for their government and discipline, and as we see in this letter, addressed many issues of doctrinal and practical concern. Yet, he never forgot that he was preeminently called to be the apostle to the Gentiles. He never forgot our Savior’s dying wish and his living, reigning purpose: “So shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them they shall see; and that which they had not heard shall they understand” (Isa. 52:15). The gospel of Jesus Christ is no local phenomenon, destined to pass away with the changes of time and faithlessness of men. God intends to make the whole Gentile world a freewill offering of praise to him for his mercy.
By his abundant labors, the apostle Paul offered to God the wave offering of Gentile praise, the first-fruits of our Savior’s mighty work of harvesting the nations by his gospel. The Gentile world owes a debt of love to this faithful servant of God. Yet, the apostle would gladly say with John, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Is Jesus Christ increasing in us? Can we say, “For me to live is Christ?” Are we praising God for his mercy, thinking about his mercy to us through Jesus Christ, and then contributing to the sacrifice of praise by “provoking one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24)? Are we living the gospel of forgiveness in our families? Do our children see its power in us, or hear only religious words and feel guilt manipulation? Fathers, when was the last time your children heard you speak tenderly of Jesus’ saving love? Do they see you in earnest to know and serve him? Mothers, do you place your necessary commands upon a platform of love for Christ?
The secret of Christians praising God is Christians knowing God’s gospel. When we know it, we shall praise God. Yes, there are seasons of sin and struggle, tears and suffering. Behind these dark clouds shines brightly the hope of God’s everlasting kingdom of grace. Those who are in this kingdom speak of God’s mercy. They are humbled by God’s love in Christ. They love God – not some scattered ideas about him but him. They love Jesus, for he has opened heaven and secured our inheritance by his blood. Give yourself to these things, child of God. Praise God daily for his mercy. Allow his love to humble your heart again, to motivate obedience again, especially in those thorny areas of your life where willfulness and despair have sown tares in your soul. Come before the cross. Hear the gospel of God. It is his power unto salvation. He intends to raise a mighty, universal chorus of praise from the Gentiles. Add to it by praising him day and night. Sing of mercy, and the cross will be lighter. You will share in your Savior’s joy. Nothing pleased him more than doing the will of his Father. Let obeying God be your pleasure. If it does, God has come to you with his gospel and made you a part of his choir. He sings over his people the chorus of mercy and love (Zeph. 3:17), and his gospel enables us to return the song with grateful, obedient hearts.