This sermon is part of the sermon series "Regarding God's Son". See series.
"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, 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: Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 1:1-4).
The first four verses of Romans is one extremely long sentence. The problem with any long sentence, with a number of modifiers that each supports the main idea, is that you can easily lose the main point in all the details—you get the idea. What is Romans 1:1-4 about? It's about the gospel of God (promised in the Scriptures), regarding his Son (his nature and his Sonship), Jesus Christ our Lord.
The "good news" of God is regarding his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Christianity is unlike any other religion because Jesus Christ is unlike any other person. Over these next three weeks, I want you to see the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in his Lordship (he is God's Son and our Lord), in his humanity (he was a descendant of David), and in his resurrection (through the spirit of holiness, he was declared to be the Son of God through his resurrection from the dead).
First Thessalonians 1:9 says, "You turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven." We live in a time when many people have only experienced a shallow, emaciated form of Christianity. But in the New Testament, whenever a person encounters Jesus Christ, they're converted. This is always a life-changing experience. When people are converted to Christ, repentance, faith, service, hope, sacrifice, and love are all born together at the Cross.
The gospel has become "upgradable."
In our time, the gospel has been widely redefined and repackaged as a decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. This, we are told, involves saying a prayer, and if you believe certain things about Jesus, your sins will be forgiven and you will go to heaven.
Thousands of people have bought into the idea that you can have faith without repentance, justification without sanctification, heaven with Christ in the next world without obedience to Christ in this world. With that mentality, Jesus serves as Savior, but not as Lord. If a gospel is preached in which you can receive Jesus as Savior but not as Lord, then we should not be surprised when we hear people saying, "I accepted Jesus as my Savior, but my life didn't really change. Then, years later, something happened and I bowed my knee to him."
Sixty years ago, writing in Chicago, A. W. Tozer lamented the loss of a gospel that really changes people's lives:
The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be "received" without creating any special love for him in the soul of the receiver. The man is "saved," but he is not hungry or thirsty after God.
When my niece was here over Christmas, I got into playing "Rush Hour" with her. It's a puzzle in which you move little cars around to get them out of an exit. It's like an overcrowded parking lot. My kids then told me that I could get the game as an app on my iPhone, so I downloaded "Rush Hour"—the free version, with 70 different puzzles for me to play with when I have nothing else to do. Included with this free version is an advert that invites me to buy the full version with 2,500 puzzles that will take me to ever higher levels of difficulty. I won't be buying the full version; the free one gives me everything I want.
That is precisely how many people have come to think of Christianity. There's salvation—in which you get your sins forgiven and entrance to heaven—and that comes free. Then there's discipleship—in which you are called to repentance, holiness, and sacrifice—and that's costly. So, why not go with the free version? It gives you all you need.
Here's the problem: we've lost the gospel that is centered on the person of Jesus Christ. The gospel is not a program; it is a person. The good news of God is regarding his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. The gift of God to us is not an upgradeable product, but the unchangeable person of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
New Testament believers celebrate the Lordship of Christ.
Christ offers himself to you. He is Savior and Lord. You cannot divide him into pieces. In our time there is great interest in Christ the Savior and a strange reluctance over Christ the Lord. But in the New Testament, you find believers celebrating the Lordship of Christ: "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11). And in Acts 2, Peter explains to the people on the day of Pentecost that the risen Christ is Savior and Lord: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2:21). Jesus is Lord over sin, death, and hell. That is why he's able to save people from them.
This early Christian hymn celebrates the Lordship of Christ: "God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).
And in his letter to the Colossians, Paul describes how the lives of these believers were transformed by Jesus Christ, who is their Lord: "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness" (2:6-7).
There is nothing here in the New Testament even close to the idea that you get saved and only sometime later think about consecrating your life to Christ. These early believers "received Christ as Lord," and the rest of their Christian life is a continuing of what started at their conversion.
Paul says, "This is what you were taught." The gospel he preached was "the gospel of God … regarding his Son … Jesus Christ our Lord."
Jesus is first Lord, then Savior.
The story of Paul's own conversion shows that his first discovery was not that Jesus is Savior, but that Jesus is Lord. Saul was on the road to Damascus, filled with anger, resisting Christ, and persecuting the church:
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:3-6).
Far from receiving Christ as Savior and then somehow moving on to crown him as Lord, the first discovery Saul makes is that there is a Lord in heaven. He is the Christ, and Saul needs to be reconciled to him.
On Pentecost, Peter proclaims the resurrection of Jesus Christ: "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). Peter proclaims, "Jesus is Lord. And since you're in rebellion against him, you have a problem." They believe Peter, so they ask, "What shall we do?" Peter says "Repent." There's forgiveness, there's grace, there's mercy, there's the gift of the Holy Spirit, but it all comes from Jesus Christ the Lord.
The Savior who is ready to forgive us is the Lord who lays claim to our lives. Since Christ is Savior and Lord, and never Savior without Lord, he calls us to faith and repentance—never to faith without repentance.
Becoming a Christian can never amount to adding a belief to an unchanged life. True faith is shot through with repentance, because it is faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.
When the gospel is properly preached, it becomes clear that there is a Lord in heaven to whom we must give account, and with whom we need to be reconciled, there are sins against his law from which we must turn, and there is rebellion against his Son that we need to end.
Trusting Christ as your Savior involves turning from the sin from which you are asking him to save you. You cannot ask him to save you from your sins and then not turn from them. Trusting Christ as your Savior also involves placing your whole life under his authority.
What makes the Lordship of Jesus Christ good news?
There is a curious reluctance about the Lordship of Christ in our discipleship today that you don't find in the New Testament. What did they grasp that we don't? I want to suggest to you three discoveries that have the power to transform your discipleship.
First, New Testament believers grasp that Christ is Savior precisely because he is Lord. When I was young, my father took me, on a number of occasions, to a junkyard outside Edinburgh (Scotland). The place was filled with scrap cars and trucks. It was a marvelous place for a child with a vivid imagination to play.
Dad went there to get spare parts that he needed for our car. The system was simple: you could strip pieces that you needed off the old cars, and then pay for them at the gate as you left. The problem was that some people were in the habit of throwing parts over the perimeter fence, walking past the gate without paying, and then picking up the stuff in the wasteland outside. The junkyard needed some security. So the owners decided to run a rail around the perimeter and brought in guard dogs that were leashed to the railing. As long as you did not go within a few feet of the fence, you were perfectly safe.
One day while my father was underneath a car, removing the speedometer, I found a truck and climbed up into the cab. I was enjoying the imaginary world of truck driving, when suddenly one of the guard dogs broke free from its chain and came bounding toward me. I don't think I've ever been so terrified in my life. I screamed, as any small child would, and I remember seeing my father rushing over from where he had been working. He grabbed a stick and, after a struggle, subdued the dog. He saved me by subduing the dog.
If you can't subdue the dog, you can't save the boy. Christ is able to save us from our enemies precisely because he has authority over them. He is able to deliver us from sin because his power is greater than the power of temptation. He is able bring us safely through death because he has triumphed over the grave. He is able to open the doors of heaven because all authority in heaven belongs to him. The fact that Jesus is Lord qualifies him to act as our Savior. That is why Scripture says, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13).
Second, New Testament believers grasp that our highest good is to be wholly owned by the Son of God. Paul is writing to Christian believers, and he says, "Jesus Christ is our Lord." That means we are wholly owned by him; we belong to him: "You also are among those who are called to belong to Christ" (Romans 1:6).
There's a great story about a little boy who made a boat. He spent hours on it, gluing the pieces, shaping the hull, attaching the sails. He built it from scratch. It was the work of his hands, and when it was done, he carved his initials on the hull and gave it pride of place in his bedroom.
One day the family was away from home, and when they returned, they discovered to their horror that the house had been burgled. Their stuff was thrown around everywhere. The boy ran to his bedroom, and when he got there, the boat he had made was gone. He was inconsolable.
Six months later, the boy was walking past a resale shop in the town where the family lived, and there in the window was a boat. As soon as he saw it, the boy knew that this boat was his. He rushed home and got out all of his money. When he counted what he had, it was exactly the price that had appeared over the boat in the window. He ran back to the shop and paid for the boat.
A few moments later, he came out with the boat in his arms, and he said, "You are twice mine now. You are mine because I made you. You are mine because I bought you."
When Jesus Christ is your Lord, you are twice his. You belong to him because he made you and because he bought you. "You are not your own; you were bought at a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). That price was not silver or gold; it was the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:19).
When Jesus Christ is your Lord, you are wholly owned by him. "Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Corinthians 5:15). What does it mean, practically, to be wholly owned by God? J. I. Packer makes this very insightful comment: "The repentance that Christ requires of his people consists in a settled refusal to set any limit on the claims which he may make on their lives."
No limits! No limit on what he may call me to do, no limit on where he may call me to go, no limit on what he may call me to suffer or endure.
Christ lays claim to your obedience, your energy, your gifting, your time, your dream, your family, and your retirement. You may ask, "How can that possibly be my highest good?" Here's why: Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Then he gives the reason: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it" (Luke 9:23-24).
Your greatest good is to be wholly owned by the Son of God, because in keeping your life from Christ, you will eventually lose it, but in losing your life to Christ, you will find it, keep it, and gain it forever.
Thirdly, New Testament believers grasp that if belonging to Christ is your highest good, being his servant will be your greatest joy.
It's striking to me that Paul introduces himself as a servant. The word he uses is literally "a slave." How can this man be happy about being a slave? The answer is because he is a slave of Christ. And he knows that being wholly owned by Jesus Christ is his highest good.
In ancient Israel, as in other societies, if someone owed a debt that they could not pay, they could work for the person they owed. But unlike other nations, God gave them laws that were designed to protect the freedom of his people. You could be employed by someone you owed, but you could not become their slave: "If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker" (Leviticus 25:39-40).
The problem of course with a person who is forced to sell himself to someone else is that this could lead to generational poverty, in which the children of one family ended up serving the children of another. So, God gave additional laws to protect the poor.
Every seven years, all debts were to be cancelled, and all servants were to be set free. And servants were not to be sent away empty-handed; they were to be sent away with a generous gift of sheep, grain, and wine:
If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. Give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you (Deuteronomy 15:12-14).
But suppose that over the six years of working for them, you have come to love this family—the father, the mother, and the children. Your life is bound up with their lives. You cannot imagine living without them. If a servant came to the conclusion that he had a better life serving the family he was with than any other life he could have on his own, the Old Testament had this extraordinary provision:
If your servant says to you, "I do not want to leave you," because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life (Deuteronomy 15:16-17).
Can you imagine this scene? You have been serving this family for six years. One day the father says to you, "Next week it will be time for you to leave. I've got sheep, grain, and wine ready for you to take with you. It'll give you a great start. What are you going to do with your life?"
You say, "I don't want to leave. I don't want a life without you. Here's an awl. Pierce my ear against your door. I want to be your willing servant for life. I have no greater joy than to serve you and your family."
When you grasp that belonging to Christ is your highest good, being his servant will be your greatest joy.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Colin Smith is pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois.