The Book of Romans plays a central role in the faith of Christians. In the Bible we have today, it is placed the first of Paul’s many epistles. Historically, it was written during a time of persecution under the reign of Nero as a defence of the faith.
If you have ever struggled with what it means to follow Christ, the Book of Romans has much to instruct and encourage us. It covers large areas and major issues such as faith and works, law and grace, righteousness and justification. It transformed Martin Luther and John Wesley to be the type of men they were.
The church of SIB KL is currently going through a series of studies on the book, and recently Pr Fergus Ong shared a foundational message, anchoring his sermon on Paul’s greeting to the Romans (Romans 1:1-7); the first part of Romans 1. He shared that while many have read over the text because of its grammatical complexity, there are various reasons why this passage is valuable.
To begin with, it is all-encompassing and says everything about our call. In these few verses, Paul makes 4 digressions. From his identification as a servant of Christ (v1), he points to the Gospel (v2) which was promised beforehand by God, concerning the Son (v3), in whom we have a calling (v5). Going further, the word calling occurs 4 times in this short passage (v1, 5,6,7).
We are called to belong to Jesus (v6). This word Belong is loaded and it is ingrained in our lives. It’s in our culture and in our relationships. We belong to our family, we belong to our nation, we belong to our companies, and when we get married we belong to our spouses. But what Paul meant goes even deeper than this. How do we define who we belong to?
Pr Fergus shared that the simple way to know this is when they call, you answer. That’s who owns you. When push comes to shove, when the calling comes, we drop everything and answer the call.
For many of us it’s our boss, for some of us who are married it’s our spouses or girlfriend, for some of us opportunities to make money, for some of us our families. Though relationships are necessary they can be oppressive if we do not handle it well and we centre our lives on struggling to always please others. For even others, owned by their sin, and even the spirit of religiosity can end up owning a person.
But we were already bought with a great price. Scripture defines our relationship with Christ as that of a Shepherd and His sheep. We are in His fold and He watches over us and He covers us with His covering of protection and security. Far from an oppressive thing, it is the most important relationship we can ever have. He rescued us from a life of slavery and struggle. As Christians, we are called to belong to God.
Because we belong to God, as with many families, we are also called to make His reputation great (v5). We do this by our obedience. This obedience arises from an obedience of faith, not a begrudging compliance. We obey because we trust whom we obey. Pr Fergus shared that the terms obedience and faith in this context are mutually defining. They cannot be separated; faith is shown in obedience, and obedience comes from faith. A life of faith therefore results in a life of obedience.
Why do we obey? We obey for the sake of His name and to be living testimonies that will lead to the praise of God. Our obedience must be Christ-centered and not for selfish gain. The problem of the human condition is that like Adam and Eve, we traded off the glory of God for a counterfeit. We have the most valuable thing ever, that which was immortal and priceless, and we traded it off for possessions or something that is temporal, that does not last. When we are not trained to recognize the value of something we will pass it over. ‘That’s the biggest tragedy and it breaks the heart.’
We are called to be distinct from the world (v7). Scripture uses the term saints, meaning to be pure, holy, and blameless. The truth is this is an impossible call, and so we try and try. We genuinely want to be better persons and we struggle to be all the things that we aspire but we never reach to be the person we want to be.
We can only transform when we are in Christ. When we belong to Jesus, He comes into our lives, forgives us, takes away all our sins, and puts on us His righteousness. The transformation work is done by Christ, comes from within, and results in outward behaviour. When Christ comes into our lives, He transforms us through the renewal of our minds. When Scripture enjoins us to let our light shine, it is Jesus’ light shining through us. This is made possible when Jesus inhabits our lives.
What is our call? It is to belong to Christ and to know what it means. To know Christ’s love and to live life to its fullness. To love Him in return and to be the best disciple and testimonies for Him. To go beyond just getting by in life.
NOTE: This is a simplification of a much deeper message shared by Pr Fergus Ong at SIB KL on the 12th of March 2017. It has not been vetted by Pr Fergus or the church. To access the original message you may visit the video page uploaded by the church at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUFNJeUbME8
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