Those Roman Christians

Study of Romans as given by Dr. James Montgomery Boice: Romans 1:6-7

6And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

During Paul’s era letters that were written usually contained 3 items at the beginning: (1) the name of the writer, (2) the name of those to whom he or she was writing, and (3) a greeting. Paul’s letter follows the same pattern, except Paul becomes overtaken with a desire to speak about the gospel. Paul begins simple enough, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus…” Paul then beings to add more to who he is, “…called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”, the word “gospel” sets him off. Paul is so compelled to get to the main message, the gospel, that he forgets letter writing protocol. It is a gospel “…promised beforehand…in the Holy Scriptures,” concerning God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, “who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” As we continue to read we might think Paul was already well into his letter, but he returns to his starting point in these later verses.

“And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saint: Grace and peace to you form God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” We finally get who the letter is being written to and the greeting, which make up the final 2 elements of letter writing protocol. Dr. Boice compares these early verses of Romans to a sine wave. It begins low, swells to a great peak, and then falls back to an emotional low point again. You will notice this pattern time and time again as you read through the letters Paul wrote and are included in the New Testament. Eventually Paul includes all three elements, but at times he is so consumed with the gospel, that he jumps the gun and begins to preach the gospel before including all three elements. This is a man who, at times, is unable to contain himself when it comes to the gospel and sharing it with others. Paul not only gives us a pattern of discipleship, he also gives us a pattern to follow in the defense of the gospel. Are today’s Christians just as consumed with the gospel?

  1. Where Did They Come From?

    1. Paul is writing about A.D. 58 or 59, less than 30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ= the faith of this hcurch is being spoken of “all over the world”.
    2. As we learn from history the church at Rome becomes increasingly strong, influential, and powerful, eventually corrupt.
    3. Where did this church come from? Who started this church?
      1. We are sure Paul did not start this church.
      2. Although Paul wanted to come to Rome, he was prevented from doing so. Paul eventually got to Rome, which Luke writes about in Acts, but it was years aftetr the church was planted.
      3. Catholic tradition holds that the Roman church was founded by Peter and that he wast he first pope.
      4. “The First Letter to Clement to the Corinthians,” implies, though it does not prove, that Peter was there.
      5. The evidence does not support the idea that Peter founded the Church at Rome.
        1. In the last chapter of Romans there is given, by Paul, a long list of names which shows that Paul knew the Rome church even though he had never been there. Peter is not mentioned at all in Romans.
        2. Paul says that it had always been his amibtion “to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” Why would Paul write this if the church HAD been founded by Peter and received their teaching by Peter.
        3. How was the church established? We do not know for sure.
        4. The second chapter of Acts might give us a clue. The chapter tells of Pentacost and it tells that Rome was one of the many nations reprresented.
        5. Since it specifically speaks of “visitors from Rome” we are right in supposing that most of these visitors returned to their home and established the first churches in Italy there. If this is the case the church at Rome existed from the very early days of Christianity.
      6. Rome was also the center of travel and many Christians probably came and went. Some probably setteled there helped the church grow.
      7. In this city of gross sin there was a fellowship of people who rejected Rome’s sin and instead lived an entirley differend kind of life. A life marked by holiness, mutual sharing of burdens, love, and compassion.
  2. How Did They Become Different?

    1. How did the Christians in Rome become different?
    2. Here is a group of people who were in the midst of a corrupt pagan society, yet were entirely different from the mainstream.
    3. Paul gives us four important things about the early curch at Rome.
      1. The Christians at Rome, like all Christians, were called to belong to Jesus Christ.
        1. This is a general description of Christians, which is different from being called a saint.
        2. Some have attributed the work of calling Christians to Christ, but Christians belong to Christ.
        3. Christians are Christian because they have been called by God and are now attached to Jesus Christ.
        4. before God’s calling “we were dead in our transgressions and sins” and were “by nature objects of wrath”. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
        5. As a result of God’s calling Christians are now “mad alive with Christ” and given “good works” to do.(vv. 4, 9)
        6. This is the essential definition of a Christian. A Christian is one who belongs to Jesus Christ.
      2. The Christians at Rome, like all Christians, were loved by God the Father.
        1. This love is an electing, saving love.
        2. The statement “loved by God” actually describes how those who are Christians come to bleong to the Lord Jesus Christ in the first place.
        3. Some think people become believers by their own choice, but how can this happen if we all are “…dead in…trangressions and sins?”
        4. Some people think that God, in his onciscience, sees some small bit of good in us, but how could God see good in us if “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good not even one (Rom 3:12).”
        5. Why does God love us? Because he chose to love us. There just isn’t anything else beyond that.
        6. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “We are Christians for one reason only and that is that God has set his love upon us.”
      3. The Christians at Rome, like all Christians, were called to be believers by God.
        1. This call is the same call that was mentioned earlier in the verse, “…called to belong to Jesus Christ.”, but has a different emphasis.
        2. Earlier in the verse it is describing what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is one who belongs to Jesus Christ; this is his or her identity.
        3. Here the emphasis is on the call itself and it is followed up by the truth that Christians have been loved by God.
        4. First loved. Then called. The calling is what is known as “effectual calling.”
        5. There are two kinds of calling in the gospel.

          1. General Calling

            1. This means that all who hear are called to turn form their sin to Jesus Christ.
            2. This calling is a call to obedience, which was discussed in the previous outline.
            3. Not all will hear this calling, not all will respond.
            4. Human beings do not obey God if left to themselves. No one responds to God’s offer. None want to.
          2. Specific Calling

            1. Since no wants to respond to God’s offer God adds to the general call a specific call.
            2. God’s chosen ones inwardly hear and respond, becoming Christians.
            3. We can equate this to Jesus’ call to dead Lazarus. Left to ourselves we are all spiritual corpses.
            4. When God calls us inwardly we spiritual corpses come alive in Christ. Anyone who has heard this call has responded to it.
      4. The Christians at Rome, like all Christians, are called saints.
        1. Here “saint” does not mean what it has come to mean in large sectors of the Christian church: one who has attained a certain level of holiness and is therefore worthy of some special veneration.
        2. Being a saint means being sanctified and set apart to God and his work. It is what Paul says of himself “set apart for the gospel of God.”
        3. Having been loved by God, and called by Him, the Christians at Rome were then also set apart to Him, to live for Him and work for Him in this world.
        4. This is why the faith of the Roman Christians were being reported all over the world.
        5. They were saints because they were called by God. They were called by God because they were loved by God.
        6. Them being saints was not the cause but the result of their election.
  3. Grace for the Rugged Upward Way

    1. There is struggle. What this struggle requires is the grace and peace of God each step of the way.
    2. Whan Paul closes with “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is not some causual greeting.
    3. Paul in choosing those words is wishing what they, and we also, need every day we remain on this planet.
    4. We have been saved by grace. We must live by grace also.

Personal Reflection

8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses to Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). I start with this verse because I believe it develops a connection between Acts 2 and the early church in Rome. These were the words of Christ after his resurrection and he was meeting with some men, mainly apostles. What Christ gave in these words were not a request or a plea, it was a command. When we jump to Acts we read about the day of Pentecost and who were there on that day. In verse 10 of chapter 2 we find that there “…visitors from Rome” there. We covered this in the outline above, but I bring it up to make this point. When Christ gave the command to witnesses to the ends of the earth, the visitors from Rome, who were probably not there when Christ spoke those words, knew instinctively that this was something that needed to be done. There is strong evidence that it could have been these visitors from Rome who started the Christian church in Rome. I believe these visitors were also baptized and were part of the “…three thousand added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:41). These visitors from Rome were also in the group, I believe, that were part of the fellowship of believers who stuck around and witnessed the miraculous signs, broke bread, prayed after the day of Pentecost. We are not told how long this went on, but, eventually the visitors from Rome returned to Rome and it was at this time they founded the church.

When we hear the call of God and respond, it should become part of our nature to want to share what we have been saved from and who saved us from it. We have been saved from death, we have been saved from spending eternity separated from God. The visitors at Rome seemed to know that they were to be witnesses to the upmost parts of the world, and this began with the founding of the church in Rome. As we learned, they set themselves apart in an overtly pagan culture to be different, to serve God. This was their witness to the world. Their difference spoke of a new way of life, a new way to free oneself from the bondage of sin. God set them apart, God called them to be different, and He did this just because he decided to show His love to them. This is what God does. He loves us and because of that love He calls us, not letting us bath in the muck of life. Because of this calling we are to be different.

How are we to be different? Different in speech, different in action, different in approaching life, different in how we handle our finances, different in how we interact with people. Most important we are to be different in how we interact with culture. The early church in Rome knew this, they lived it. I write these words thinking about how different am I. When people see me do they see Christ? Do they see a person who loves God with heart, soul, and mind? Do I set myself apart from this American culture where people can look at me and know that there is something different? I have to say no to some of these questions. Sometimes my speech is not uplifting. Sometimes my actions are not pleasing to God. Sometimes sin weighs me down and I know that I am not living as someone set apart by God. These are weighty truths that I have to admit about myself and I fear the day that I don’t recognize these truths about myself. The day I forget my weaknesses is the day I have moved so far away from God that I no longer have a conscience and God has hardened my heart and I have become more dependent on myself for salvation than I do on Christ and what he did for me on the cross. I believe the church at Rome understood this, they understood the depth of their sin and the height of their redemption though Jesus Christ. Because the early church at Rome understood this, they were eager for others to hear this and to see this. They were determined to be different and to be “…witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”


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