- Sermon Notes
Live the Set-Apart Life
August 27, 2023
This week we are starting our study of the book of Romans. This book speaks about the deepest issues of faith and our relationship with God and is one of the most powerful New Testament books we have. The entire Protestant/evangelical modern church movement has its roots in this book and even in this first chapter.
We finished out the book of Acts with Paul at last arriving in Rome. Paul wrote this letter to the Romans about two years before he eventually got to Rome.
Paul begins with his name, that he is a servant of Christ Jesus, set apart for the gospel of God. That’s his whole life, he’s filled with zeal and eager to tell them about the gospel of God.
Why is that so important? Because that’s what God is about. The good news of the gospel and the redemption of man is important to God. He promised this gospel long ago through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures, speaking of God’s Son who was born a descendent of David, and declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.
These verses have to do with the biggest questions of life. Why are we here? Does it matter how we live? What happens when we die? Does it matter if we are righteous or unrighteous? What does God think about the mess the world is in? How does God want us to live? Many think how we live doesn’t matter. Some ‘Christian’ movements have even gone to the extreme that, because of the grace of God, we can do whatever we want.
When people hear ‘set apart for the gospel of God’, they many times conjure up the image of a monk sitting in a monastery, withholding himself from all the ‘fun, exciting’ things of the world. It easily gets a negative perception. But is this what it means?
We are to be set apart for what? We are to be set apart for the gospel. Good news, in other words living a set apart life for Christ is living a set apart life for and chasing after the good news, that which is good and beneficial and has a good ending.
So not living for and chasing after the good news, by default is then living and chasing after the bad news.
This is the point we will see Paul make. He exalts the gospel. It is beautiful. It is the highest purpose. Chasing after it is chasing after the pinnacle of life. Because the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ and all that that entails: righteousness, peace, and joy. In short, real LIFE. The kingdom of God.
God’s heart for us is to have a beautiful life, a life infused by His Life, bringing forth what is good. Good treasure.
We will, however, see in this section what the opposite of a beautiful life is. That type of life chasing after the things opposed to God might be described with euphemisms like “having fun, living on the edge, living an unrestrained exciting life, being my own boss, but inevitably it is NEVER beautiful. It is always the opposite of beauty.
We should keep in mind that, although sin might look like fun, doing the world thing might stir “excitement’ in the moment, darkness is always the undertone. It is never beautiful. It is death. Paul creates this canvas of darkness, showing the result of a life without God before introducing hope and light.
I. God Expects a Response
- We have heard this quote many times, but it is so fitting. It is a report by the Minnesota Crime Commission that describes the condition of man better than almost anything. I want to read it again to set the stage.
- Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants, when he wants it – deny him these wants, and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness, which would be murderous, were he not so helpless. He has no morals, no knowledge, and no skills. This means that all children, not just certain children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free rein to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up to be a criminal, a thief, a killer, and a rapist.
- That is the condition we were born in. People are basically selfish and self-centered in their nature and the end result is ungodliness and unrighteousness.
- God, however, is completely righteous and holy and there is a great divide between His righteousness and our unrighteousness.
A. No excuses allowed
- Verse 18 – For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
- Many people have the standpoint that God cannot one day be angry with people if they didn’t know about Him. Paul blasts this notion out of the water.
- God’s wrath is justified because they suppress the truth. This means they KNOW the truth but choose to suppress it. The truth about who God is, and man’s responsibility towards God.
- That which is known about God is evident, for God has made it evident to all people.
- Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, they are without excuse.
- Psalm 14 says: The fool said in his heart, ‘There is no God’.
- Because man does not want to submit to God but follow his own rule, we see man turning to the created things looking for a theory of existence excluding God. This is the whole foundation of evolution: some scientists trying to explain the universe without God, yet without success.
- This is the modern equivalent of worshipping the created idols Paul speaks of. We continually hear the words ‘Mother Earth’, or ‘Mother Nature,’ referencing the earth or nature as the real source of life in and of itself.
- Seeing that even science now refutes this notion that life could just happen on its own, it has now gone even further and has gotten more ridiculous.
- The accepted answer to the question of where the ‘soup’ came from which the first living thing crawled out of billions of years ago, is that it was planted here by aliens who visited the earth billions of years ago, wanting to start a new civilization through the evolutionary process.
- The logical question to this would then be, who created them? This question puts the evolutionary theory into an internal loop. The truth is that something cannot come into existence out of nothing. There must be a source.
- Yet some of the most ‘brilliant’ minds in science hold on to the science fiction of evolution because they will not bow to the notion of the fact that there is a God, because this would make them accountable to the One who created them.
- Paul goes on to say that what was known about God was evident within them. This truth is written in the deepest part of man’s conscience. Everyone, if they are brutally honest with themselves, knows there is a God, an uncreated Being that is above all.
- This is why Paul says that no one will be without excuse.
- No one will be able to stand before God and say, “You didn’t make it plain enough for me, God, I didn’t understand that you actually existed and that’s why I lived the way I did. I’m not trying to throw you under the bus or anything, but I’m just saying that if you tried a little harder to make yourself known I wouldn’t have been such a sinner.”
Illus – Excuses are used to avoid the truth. The dog ate my homework is a classic. Apparently, excuses aren’t limited to humans. Koko, the gorilla, is famous for mastering more than 1000 signs of American Sign Language to communicate with researchers. One day they discovered a steel sink in her enclosure torn from its moorings, when confronted, she pointed to her pet kitten and signed, “Cat did it.”
B. If Jehovah is God, then serve Him
- Verse 21 – They knew God, but they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks.
- A commentary I read on verse 21 said this: Anyone who attributes the existence of the world to chance or to a different ‘creator’ is already guilty of deliberately rejecting God, because to reject the true God one must set aside common sense. The rest is just theories.
- That really is the problem right there. They knew God, they knew He created the heavens and the earth and that He gave them life, but they wouldn’t honor Him as God, or give thanks.
Illus – A few years ago a talk show host criticized a sports star for speaking openly about his faith. He said, “If you’re doing the whole God thing and it’s working for you, that’s great for you. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in God, I’m just not into the whole God thing.”
- This is such an example of the mindset of so many people. Knowing there is a God but CHOOSING to not be accountable to Him.
1 Kings 18:21, Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word.
C. Acknowledge God by how you live
- Verse 28 – They did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer and the result was disaster.
- If the Lord is God, then we should acknowledge Him, we should honor Him in how we live.
- But they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. (Verse 25) To live as though God does not exist brings tragic results and tragic consequences.
Illus – The problem with sin is that it gets out of control and becomes the master. We had an advert in South Africa many years ago where a guy had this craving for a piece of chicken. The craving was portrayed as a little monkey sitting on his back. During the day, this monkey grew and grew until it got so heavy and disruptive that he just had to give in to the craving. But the craving is never satisfied.
- For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions. He was speaking of degrading sexual passions and used, as an illustration, women with women and men with men sexually.
- Paul’s words have straightforward directness. These were not politically correct things to say in Paul’s day and they are most certainly not politically correct things to say in our current day.
- If there ever is a reason why Bibles will be banned or burned, it will be because of this chapter in the book of Romans.
Galatians 6:7-8, Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption (ruin, decay), but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
- Yet it is not just about sexually degrading things. Verse 26-32 shows us how a life without God spirals into a cesspool of evil.
- This is the story of Adam and Eve, reverberating and repeating throughout history, as man consciously chooses over and over to have his own will be done, driven by his own lust and pride.
- You might say, I don’t do these things, but verse 32 is an indictment of our actions. Do we through that which we sometimes watch silently agree with and relish in the things others do? It stirs an excitement watching someone else do it.
- Be careful. We are being bombarded on every side by Satan’s wiles, seeking to ensnare us and draw us in. Because it is fascinating, it is interesting, “Oh, it is just life and I am just interested in life, flipping through Facebook, Instagram.”
- Rationalize how you please. Be careful if you take pleasure in people who do these things, watching them do these things.
- Once again, it is important to see that evil and the wrath it incurs is not God’s heart. His heart is that we will have a beautiful life which is the exact opposite of all these poisonous worldly things. His heart is that we will be transformed into beauty.
II. Be Transformed By Faith
- The answer is found in verses 16-17. Paul is eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome because he knows that God has an answer, God has made a way for us sinners to have a relationship with a holy God.
- Rome was the center of the known world at that time. Rome had great power, but it did not have the power to change lives. The philosopher Seneca called this pinnacle of human achievement, “The great cesspool of iniquity.” The writer Juvenal called it, “A filthy sewer into which the dregs of the Empire flood.”
- The paradox is that humanity at its ‘best’ brings forth the worst in humanity.
A. The power of God saves those who believe
- Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
- The power of God is the only way man can be saved, our part is simply believing and taking God at His word, receiving it as a gift from Him.
John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
- What are we saved from? We are saved from the wrath of God that is against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, They report to us how you turned to God to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.
- There has to be a turning, a choice to be done with that which is slowly killing you.
Illus – In the new movie ‘Sound of Freedom’ there is a gripping scene involving a former drug cartel member. He started buying young girls who were abducted to be used as prostitutes, and then setting them free or putting them in safe houses to save them from a life of prostitution. When asked why he was doing it, he said that one time he looked into the eyes of a young girl he solicited as a prostitute and he saw that he was the death in her soul. In that moment he just wanted to die when confronted with the evil he saw in himself. But then he alludes to the fact that God told him to make it right and do something about it.
- When confronted with our own brokenness it demands a choice.
B. By faith a sinner becomes righteous
- We can relate to the people of Rome. They lived in the great “cesspool of iniquity”. If you look at what was happening in Rome at that time and what’s happening today, you will see many similarities.
- We all grew up in this world and know what unrighteousness looks like and some have been there, done that. So how does a sinner become righteous?
- That’s the gospel, that’s the good news of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:21, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
- So what does it mean to become the righteousness of God? It means that He has taken our sins and placed them on His Son so that the wrath of God does not fall on us, it fell on Him.
- Not only that, the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus was given to us so that the moment you receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you stand before God as righteous. You will never be more righteous before God than the day you receive God’s righteousness.
- The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” There’s nothing you can add to it, nothing you can do to deserve it or earn it.
- It is about trusting (having faith) what God says about you. He has MADE you righteous, and it is a GIFT from God, applied to you by the sacrifice of Jesus. As you trust in this, taking hold of the fact and growing in it, it leads to more faith. From faith to faith.
Illus – That one verse is what brought about the modern Christian movement. Martin Luther, a Catholic at the time, couldn’t get this verse out of his mind. What did it mean?
In Rome there is a set of 28 white marble steps called the “Holy Stairs.” According to tradition, these are the steps that led up to the praetorium of Pontus Pilate on which Jesus stepped on his way to be tried. They were brought to Rome in the fourth century and the Catholic Church granted indulgence, in other words, partial or full forgiveness of sin, for climbing the stairs on one’s knees. Martin Luther climbed one step at a time, finally with knees bleeding, the meaning of this verse came to him and he got up and ran down the stairs forever free from trying to earn his way to God.
- Through faith we receive forgiveness, but more than that, we also receive a new heart. This is the miracle of the new life in Christ. Now I want to live a life that is beautiful.
- The flesh is still there, it is still pulling, but your innermost being is not satisfied with what the fleshly nature wants. In fact, now your soul is able to discern the death and poison in it, especially when and if one stumbles.
- We are made righteous before God, but living righteously is a process. It becomes the new goal, then new focus.
Hebrews 12:1-2, Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.
- We are called to grow into the righteousness which we already have, into that which God sees us as already through Jesus Christ.
- How? By fixing our eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. All that is beautiful. That which is His Spirit and what His Spirit works in us.
Galatians 5:22, The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, etc.
- Christ makes you righteous, but righteousness is also a work in progress. By faith, we become like Him, but there’s still much to change.
- V 25 -They exchanged the truth for a lie. Now God is doing a new beautiful exchange. We can exchange the lie for the truth.
Romans 1:1-32 NASB
1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. 9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.