Thursday, November 02, 2006

Romans and the Gospel

Earlier this week I was reading in Romans and in chapter 1:13-15, I was puzzled why Paul refers to having a harvest among the Roman Christians and his desire to preach the gospel to them. Those phrases are usually reserved for preaching to unbelievers, so why is Paul saying this to the church in Rome?
So I dragged out my husband's thick commentary on Romans by Douglas Moo and began reading. Moo says that harvest refers to the "product of his[Paul's] apostolic labors including here probably both an increase in the number of Christians through evangelization among the Romans and a strengthening of the faith of the Roman Christians themselves". So for Paul having a "harvest" was not simply having unbelievers convert to Christianity it was also having the current believers built up and discipled further into their new faith. This idea is repeated again by Paul in verse 15 where he expresses a desire to preach the gospel to them. Looking to Douglas Moo's commentary again, he says that "the 'preach[ing] of the gospel' is referring to the ongoing work of teaching and discipleship that builds on initial evangelization".
For many Christians, gospel preaching means preaching to the unsaved in hopes that some will repent of their sin and trust in Jesus as their Saviour. From the verses mentioned above, that is an incomplete understanding of what it means to preach the gospel. For Paul, preaching the gospel also included discipleship and edification of the church. It was not merely a time when the unbeliever was targeted for salvation, but also a time for the Christian to be strengthened in the faith as their understanding of salvation was expanded. Thinking this way about the gospel then can change the way we view evangelization.
As long as I can remember, the gospel of John is what is almost always recommended and passed out to unbelievers and new believers universally. The third chapter of John especially being the beacon light by which unbelievers will see God's love for sinners displayed in His Son, Jesus. This is accurate and I am certainly not knocking John's gospel. But I mention that to show that while John's book is the most popular for gospel preaching efforts, it is Paul in his epistles, especially Romans who speaks the most about the gospel. Eleven times in the book of Romans is the term for gospel and evangelization used by Paul to describe his calling and his preaching topic.
In using the commentary I did the reverse of what most Bible students should do, I looked at the specific passages I had questions about, then I turned to the beginning and read what the author thought the intended theme of Romans was. Douglas Moo after affirming that "justification by faith" is certainly central to Paul's argument, goes on then to say that the theme of Romans is, actually, "the gospel". Funny how in a book that is largely regarded as a book of doctrine, which means teaching or instruction, the gospel is central to the book's theme. The gospel which has been watered down by so many evangelists to simply meaning, telling the unsaved that they are sinners and need a Saviour, actually encompasses all of theology, notably Christology and soteriology.
For church leaders and pastors to delegate a service or portion of a service to the preaching of the gospel as they earnestly plead for sinners to turn to Christ for salvation is showing a misunderstanding of the full meaning of the gospel. The gospel as Paul shows is for the believer; the preaching of the gospel is for conviction of sin of course, but it is also for training and equipping as a means of building up the church.
Understanding the full meaning of the gospel should then lead us to preach it in a way that not only is the unbeliever hearing about sin, wrath and forgiveness, but the believer is being deepened in their theology. The separation of gospel versus doctrine(ministry as some call it) that has affected many preachers is unfortunate and erroneous. The apostle Paul sought to preach the gospel to both groups of people and allowed the Holy Spirit to discern the personal application.
The book of Romans is the Christian's world view because it describes God's transcendent worldview. Understanding God's transcendency entails an acknowledgment that what God says about the world is true and is not up for debate or disbelief.
As the Protestant church has just celebrated the anniversary of the Reformation, Romans 1:17 has been quoted extensively by many bloggers and preachers.
For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

This verse has many pages dedicated to its understanding with many scholars and teachers have varying opinions on what meaning Paul intended with each particular phrase. My eyes caught the part, "a righteousness that is by faith from first to last", which is revealed in the gospel Paul tells us. Calvin understood this to mean that as our faith makes progress and as it grows in knowledge, the righteousness of God increases in us at the same time. Under this view, the gospel speaks then not only of salvation but also of perseverance and sanctification. This well explains Paul's desire to preach the gospel to the believers in Rome; he wanted to see them persevere and continue in their pursuit of holiness. In Paul's apostolic ministry there was no division of preaching material. It was all for the gospel.
Understanding this part of the book of Romans as shown me that any conversations that I undertake in my limited sphere of influence should all flow from the same desire as Paul: to see "a righteousness from God" revealed both to the Christian and the non-Christian.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:48 PM

    This notation about the content of the book of Romans is good nourishment to the soul. Kind of reminds me of what the hymn writers must have been thinking when they penned the words to "I Love To Tell The Story", as well as "Tell Me The Stories Of Jesus".

    Always like to read your blog entries.



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