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What, So What, Now What

In this series on Paul’s introductory words to the church in Rome (Romans 1:1-7), we’ve looked at the “what” of the passage. We’ve identified the unique identity every Christian has who puts their faith in Christ and lives in faith and obedience to Him. We are doulos (slave), kletos (called), and aphoridzo (separated) to Christ through faith in Christ.

We have also considered the “so what” of this passage. Not only does faith change our position relative to sin and guilt, it changes our lives relative to function and practice. Once we were slaves to sin, now we are slaves to righteousness. Once we practiced rebellion, now we live for faithfulness. Faith in Christ changes not only God’s attitude toward us but our attitude toward God. And not only does our attitude change, our living changes. We change from self-servers to Christ-servers. We change from efforts to fill our little world with our own glory (sense of personal worth and value) to obedient efforts to fill the whole world with the knowledge of God’s glory (the realization of His personal worth and value.) Now we’ve come to the “now what” consideration. What do we do with what we have heard and learned?

My question this morning is a “how” question. In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic protocols, which forced isolation, fragmentation, and segregation from one another, as well as frustration, burnout, suspicion, and confusion among us, how do we, personally, as followers of Jesus, connect with the reality of our status? How do we “feel” what we know to be true? We are doulos, kretos, aphoridzo. We accept from God’s word that these are true of us. The question is, how do we go from head knowledge to heart knowledge? How do we experience for ourselves emotionally, spiritually, personally, the depth of these privileges in such a way that we are encouraged in faithfulness, empowered in obedience, overflowing in love, peaceful in mind, and satisfied in heart? How can we, as Paul writes later to the Philippian Christians, have the mind of Christ who took on the form of a doulos and became obedient even unto death?

In still other words, what makes this reality of our identity in Christ real for us? What can make it a living experience from which we draw real joy, real hope, real determination, and real satisfaction? The Holy Spirit who inspired Paul and his letter to the Romans provides some clues as Paul moves on in the letter.

Romans 1:7 (ESV)  To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, let us secure in our thinking, by faith, God’s revealed heart position toward us. Much of contemporary Christian preaching and teaching has led us to a false conclusion that God’s love for us, God’s favor upon us, God’s goodness to us is entirely reliant on our choosing Him, loving Him, obeying Him. Our infatuation with “free will” has enslaved us to an idea that a successful relationship with God is a transaction whereby God exchanges grace and mercy and love on his part for a payment of faith, obedience, and will on my part. Not so.

Jesus said,

John 15:16 (ESV)  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

The apostle John reflects Jesus’ intent when he writes,

1 John 4:19 (ESV)  We love because he first loved us.

God’s love for us is a choice He makes sovereignly, without reliance on our efforts or merit. That’s why it’s called grace. God loves us because He loves us. God loves us because it furthers His intent to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, his glory being reflected in His saving, sanctifying, justifying, glorifying love for those whom He chooses. God takes a position of goodness and love and grace and mercy toward us, not because He has to pay us what He owes us, but because He is love and it His delight and glory to be what He is! God’s heart toward us, as revealed in the word and in Christ through the Holy Spirit, is love. And He expresses His love in our lives by calling us into relationship with Himself through faith in Jesus, a faith which he Himself provides!

God’s love for us is not passive, standing by waiting for something from us to activate it. God in His love pursues us, finds us, rescues us, changes us, fills us, moves us, grows us, conforms us, sends us, empowers us, and will ultimately embrace us in grace for eternity for His glory! God’s active love is the staring point for those who are, through faith in Christ, doulos, kletos, and aphoridzo.  So, first of all, let’s get into our conscious thinking that we are loved and called by God.

The next few posts will examine four more clues the Holy Spirit includes in Romans 1 that tell us how we can experience for ourselves the depth of the privilege we have as douloi of Jesus Christ.

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