By Amir Tsarfati and Barry Stagner
The book of Romans is known as the Magna Carta of the Gospel. It is known as the very letter that relates to every important issue in the life of a believer. And it’s quite interesting, that in the very first chapter of that letter Paul writes to the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
From the moment he started writing the doctrine of faith, from the moment he started communicating the heart of the Gospel, he makes it very clear that even if it’s all about faith in Christ, and it has the power of God to salvation for everyone, there is order in which God is advancing in this world. And it is to the Jew first.
The Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. It is concerned with many practical matters and specific grievances relevant to the oppressive system under which they lived. There are two principles expressed in the Magna Carta that resonate to this day:
“No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, (deprived wrongfully) outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.”
“To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice.”
The book of Romans reminds and instructs us on living free of the tyrannical rule of the god of this world, Satan. It opens with a reminder of who Christ is and who we are in Him;
“…Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ…”
The word God appears 153 times in Romans, more than any other New Testament book. This identifies the central theme of the epistle and also gives us insight on how to live in this world but not of it, how to live for God and not for the things of the world. While Romans addresses many other aspects of the Christian faith and walk, living for God is the core of them all.
It is also crucial to our understanding that we recognise that Christians were very unpopular in Rome at the time of Paul’s writing. They were considered “enemies of the human race” and accused of incest and cannibalism. Paul was writing to the church at Rome even as Caesar Nero was growing in his aggression against Christians and would ultimately be responsible for the death of the Apostle Paul himself. It was in this political and spiritual climate that Paul said;
“…For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek…”
Paul was saying what many need to hear today and that is; No matter what public opinion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be, I am not going to adapt the message to what is socially acceptable. In other words he was not ashamed of the content of the Gospel. So, what is the Gospel? God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life? Those things may be true, but that is not the Gospel message.
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
The word “repent” means; to change one’s mind for the better. This also reminds us that the mind and body work in conjunction with one another leading Paul to write later in Romans;
“…I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God…”
Paul makes it clear that the change of mind will lead to changes in the life of those who are living as proof of the good and acceptable and perfect will of God as they present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. Many today reject any call to holiness in the life of the believer labeling it either “Lordship salvation” or “works righteousness.”
“…Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: …”
Paul also makes it clear in Romans that the holiness he is referring to is not just positional but it is also practical, it transforms minds and lives. It is this Gospel that Paul said he was not ashamed of, a Gospel that was counter-culture. We are living in a time very similar to that which Paul wrote, only on a much larger scale. The world rejects our message because the Gospel says not all mindsets and behaviours are acceptable to God. Many in the “church” reject the Gospel because it says not all behaviours are acceptable to God and repentance is one of the manifestations of belief in Christ as Savior and Lord.
In a time when Christians are called bigots, haters, homophobes, intolerant and a host of other untrue and insulting names we are not to be ashamed of the Gospel for it is “still” the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. It came to the Jews first, then through the Jews to the rest of the world.
“…Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles…”
“…But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God…”
Though Paul’s commissioning by the Lord was as the apostle to the Gentiles, and though receptivity to the Gospel was low among the Jews and many times hostility and persecution were experienced by Paul and Barnabas and later Paul and Silas, whenever the missionary team would enter a city they would seek out the “synagogue of the Jews” first. They understood that this was God’s designed method of advancing His kingdom. This is why Antisemitism in the church is not just unbiblical, it is heretical.
Paul opened the book of Romans with the declaration of not being ashamed of the Gospel in the face of growing persecution. Whether the persecution was from fellow Jews or government officials like Nero, Paul and whomever was travelling with him, well understood the one message that can save Jew or Gentile is the uncompromising Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Are you telling the Jews you encounter in your life about the King of the Jews who came into the world to save sinners? Paul would if he were alive today and so too should we!
Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!