PAUL TO THE CHURCH AT ROME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-17-92 10:50 a.m.
You are now part of our wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the senior pastor bringing the message entitled Paul’s address, his epistle, his writing To the Church at Rome. In these last good many months, we have finished preaching through the Book of Ecclesiastes. And now today, we begin the first in a series of messages from Paul’s book to the church at Rome.
When I open my Bible, I notice that this epistle to the Romans is number one. Is that because it was first in time? No. In the series of epistles that we have in this Holy Book written by that glorious apostle Paul, first was 1 and 2 Thessalonians written about 50 to 52 AD. Then that was followed by 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and then Romans, written about 55 to 57 AD. Then that was followed by the Roman prison epistles, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon written about 60 to 62 AD. Then finally, his ultimate words written about 65 to 67 AD, 1 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Timothy. Then why is it, in my Bible this Book of Romans is first? Because it was the most important.
It was written by the apostle in about 55 AD from Corinth. He was a guest in the home of Gaius, whom he says he baptized. And it was carried to the church at Rome by Phoebe [Romans 16:1], who was a servant in the church at Cenchrea, the shipping port of 1 Corinthians on the south side of the Corinthian isthmus. And it is by far the most important document to be found in literature. I say that not because of my own appraisal, but I’m just quoting some of the greatest scholars of all time.
The apostle Paul was known as an effective missionary and preacher. Wherever he went, people were converted and churches were organized. But in this he became known as an incomparable author and writer. For example, Frederic Godet, in the last century, one of the greatest Swiss theologians, said, “This is the cathedral of the Christian faith.” And Samuel Taylor Coleridge, that incomparable English poet who was also a theologian, said, “The Book of Romans is the greatest book in literature.”
So when we turn to this incomparable letter, it starts off, the first word is “Paul” [Romans 1:1]. The first word is “Paul.” And I am astonished, “Paul!” I would have thought it would have been “Peter,” for there is a denomination prominent in Spain, the Catholic Church, that speaks of an invention—a human invention—that Peter was the pastor of the church and the founder of the church at Rome. Actually Peter never was in Rome, nor did he ever have any contact with the Roman Christians.
As Paul describes the great conference in Jerusalem, he says it was agreed—and he expatiates on this—that Peter would go to the Jews, and he, Paul, would go to the Gentiles [Galatians 2:7-9]. You see that in the two letters in the New Testament that Peter wrote [1 Peter 1:1]. He addresses his letters to the Diaspora in Asia Minor, both letters [2 Peter 2:1]. And Paul expressly says in this first chapter that the church at Rome is a Gentile church [Romans 1:13].
Another thing; in this letter, chapter 16, Paul names twenty-seven other members of the congregation in Rome, twenty-seven of them and he never names Simon Peter [Romans 16:1-24]. There were five letters Paul wrote from Rome. And he never mentions Simon Peter. Yet the Catholic Church says Peter was the pastor of the church at Rome at that time. It is unthinkable and impossible! Not only that but the apostle Paul said he refuses to go anywhere preceded by an apostle [Romans 15:20]. The church at Rome was founded by unnamed Christians. In the second chapter of Acts it says, “There were present at Pentecost”—the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God—“there was present,” the King James Version translated, “strangers from Rome” [Acts 2:10]. This Believer’s Bible translates it, “visitors from Rome.” And Paul expressly says in chapter 16 that there were Christians there before his coming [Romans 16:5-7].
Now the occasion of the writing of the letter. Paul says that he’s had it in his heart, a deep desire to go to Rome to preach the gospel, but was unable—was “let,” as the King James Version says, was “let hitherto,” was hindered hitherto [Romans 1:13]. So instead of his presence, he writes a letter, this letter. And the occasion arises out of the Judaizing confrontation. Wherever Paul established churches, Judaizers followed him saying to the Christians, “You can’t be saved by trusting Christ. You must keep the law of Moses, and you must be circumcised” [Acts 15:5].
In a fury, Paul wrote his Galatians letter. These Judaizers had taken advantage of the new Christians in Galatia over there in Asia Minor and had persuaded them to leave the faith of the Lord in order to be saved by keeping creeds and ordinances and laws [Galatians 1:6-9]. And Paul in a fury writes this letter to the churches of Galatia [Galatians 5:1-10]. Then a little later in a calmer spirit and with a programming of quietness and thoughtfulness and meditation, he writes this book called Romans.
As men look at the book, they say many things about it. For example, some read it and say, “This epistle is the product of a brilliant mind, a logical thinker.” Others will look at it and say, “This epistle is the great foundational underpinning of Pauline theology. It is a treatise on systematic theology.” Others will pick up this letter and read it and say, “This is a description of Paul’s inner mental struggle when he left the viewpoint of the Jewish nation and embraced the Christian faith.” Not so.
Paul writes here in the Book of Galatians:
I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
For I neither received it from man, neither was I taught it from man, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
He says, “I received it from the Lord God Christ Himself.” And then he says upon his conversion, his experience with his confrontation with the risen Lord [Acts 9:1-6], he went to Arabia and spent three years there [Galatians 1:17-18]. At which time he says Jesus revealed to him the substance of the gospel of the Son of God [Galatians 1:11-12]. It is not a product of a man’s logical and brilliant thinking. It is not a treatise on systematic theology. Least of all, it is something that Paul received from men. But the Book of Romans is a revelation from Jesus Christ Himself. And when we read it, we’re reading the whole message of our salvation in the love and grace and atoning mercy of our living Lord. That is the Book of Romans. Nor could I expatiate too much upon the tremendous depths of this glorious epistle.
Martin Luther—not a boy in the world, I suppose that goes to school isn’t aware of this—Martin Luther climbed the Scala Sancta in Rome, those steps, you know, that are supposed to be the steps that Jesus walked going up to Pontius Pilate. He was going up those steps as thousands and uncounted thousands of pilgrims do, going up those steps. And in the middle of the steps, suddenly like a thunderbolt from God, there came to his heart this word from the Book of Romans, “The just shall live by faith” [Romans 1:17]. And he got up from his knees, walked back down those steps, returned to Germany. And the Great Reformation was begun. Thomas Carlyle, the incomparable literary critic, says that that moment in which Luther stood up with that ringing word from the Book of Romans in his heart, he says that that is the greatest moment in modern history.
Well, here’s what Luther wrote in his preface,
It is the true masterpiece of the New Testament and the very purest gospel which is well worth and deserving that a Christian man shall not only learn it by heart, word for word, but also that he should daily deal with it as the daily bread of man’s soul, for it can never be too much or too well read or studied. And the more it is handled, the more precious it becomes.
And John Wesley, reading that at Aldersgate Chapel, said that his heart was strangely warmed. And John Wesley was converted. And he and George Whitefield began the Great Awakening, the greatest revival the world has ever known. That is the epistle to the church at Rome.
The outline of the church, the outline of the epistle is very, very simple. It’s very much divided into three distinct parts. Number one, chapters 1 through 8, they are doctrinal. Paul in those first eight chapters describes the guilt of mankind before God [Romans 1-8]. All of us are sinners. “There is none righteous, no, not one” [Romans 3:10]. And in the second doctrinal part in that section he describes the love and mercy of God in providing an atonement to cover and to wash away our sins [Romans 6:23]. And in the third part of that doctrinal dissertation, he says that the just shall live by faith [Romans 1:17, 8:1-4]. We are saved by trusting the grace and the atoning goodness of Jesus Christ [Acts 16:31]. That’s first.
The second part is chapters 9, 10, and 11 [Romans 9-11]. They are dispensational, Dr. Merrill. He deals there with the problem of Israel’s unbelief and says that the day is coming with Israel is going to be converted [Romans 11:25-29]. Can you imagine that, that the state of Israel someday will be a great Christian foundation and compound, and that the Jews of the whole world will be the greatest emissaries and preachers and missionaries the earth has ever seen? That’s what Paul says. That’s what Paul says. Then, of course, the last chapters then, chapters 12 through 16 are hortatory, pleading us with earnestness that we love and follow the wonderful Lord Jesus [Romans 12-16].
Now its message for us today; you listen to me, if you interpret religion in terms of creeds and golden rules and men’s goodnesses and our attempt to be righteous and ethical philosophy; if religion to you is a matter of striving for goodness and righteousness, Romans will be an anathema to you. The thesis of Paul is that our works, however we strive, are never good enough [Romans 3:10-20]. They still lack in the presence of God. The thesis of God is that the only righteousness that God will accept is imputed, it is imparted, it is given to us in the love and grace of Jesus Christ, that a man in himself can never be good enough to inherit heaven [Romans 3:21-22]. I want you to take time if you will and listen to this. It’s longer than I could hope for, but I want you to see it. Prayerfully, O God, grant that we may.
It was not because men did not know to do right that the world perishes. Hundreds and hundreds of years before Christ, I mean hundreds of years before Christ, there were great—there are great—religions founded upon the righteousnesses of men. For example, Hinduism, 2000 years before Christ, 300 million of them today; listen how Hinduism teaches. “Let him patiently bear hard works. Let him not insult anybody. Against an angry man, let him not in return show anger. Let him bless when he is cursed.” That is Hinduism.
Mahavira, 599 years before Christ, Jainism, 50 million of them, “Learn from me the noble law of the Jains as it is. Deceit, see greed, anger and pride; a wise man should abstain from these. If beaten, he should not be angry. If abused, he should not fly into a passion. With a placid mind he should bear everything.” What do you need Jesus for?
Buddha lived 560 years before Christ. There are 200 million Buddhists. Buddha taught, “The man who is angry and bears hatred, who speaks falsely, who exalts himself and despises others, let one know him as an outcast. If a disciple should desire to become converted, to be assured of final salvation, then let him fulfill all righteousness. Let him be devoted to that quietude of heart which springs from within.” What do you need Christ for?
Confucius who lived 551 BC; there are 300 million Confucianists. “What do you not want done to yourself, do not to others”—a golden rule turned around. Call it the silver rule. Again, “Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness.” What do you need Jesus for?
Lao-Tse, Taoism lived 604 years before Christ. There are 43 million Taoists today. “To those who are good to me, I am good. And to those who are not good to me, I am also good. And thus all get to be good. To those who are sincere with me, I am sincere. And to those who are not sincere with me, I also am sincere. And thus, we all get to be sincere.” What do you need Jesus for?
Look again Shinto, founded in 660 BC. There are 150 million Shintoists. “Cease from gluttony and abandon covetous desires. Chastise that which is evil and encourage that which is good. Curse, arise from wrath and refrain from angry looks. Be not envious.” I don’t see any need for Jesus.
One other; Zoroaster who lived 660 BC; founder of the Parsees religion; the first verse of the Avesta, the great book of the Parsees, “Ahura-Mazda, the creator, radiant, glorious, greatest and best, most beautiful, most firm, wisest, most perfect, the most bountiful spirit. Whether one is lord of little or of much, he is to show love to the righteous. Make thy own self pure, O righteous man. Anyone in the world here below can win purity for his own self, namely when he cleanses his own self with good thoughts, words and deeds.” What do you need Jesus for? All of these great religions of the world teach us to be righteous and holy and godly. All of them do.
What we need Jesus for is somebody to cover our sins. We need somebody to take our place in the hour of judgment and death. We need somebody to plead our cause at the great judgment day of Almighty God [Romans 7:24-25]. And Christianity is not doctrine. And it is not ordinances. And it’s not rules. And it’s not all kinds of creeds. Christianity is Christ and Christ alone. That’s what Christianity is. It is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the faith.
I have to conclude. What does that mean for us? Number one, it reveals to us—this Book of Romans and what Paul is avowing—it means for us the way of salvation, the gospel of redemption [Romans 3:24]. And the whole world, practically the whole world is ignorant of it. You say to me, “Preacher, you mean to declare that all I need to do to be saved is to just to trust in Jesus, just to receive the Lord Jesus [Acts 16:30-31], and then I can do anything I want? Religion, true Christianity is not creeds and rules and righteousnesses and man’s attempt to be good? You mean to tell me if I believed in the Lord Jesus, I can go out here and I can sin all I want to? I can murder and I can rob? And I can steal and I can lie and I can be promiscuous and still be saved?”
Amen! You’ve got it! You understand it because you see, as a Christian, I can rob all I want to. I can cuss all I want to. I can steal all I want to. I can rob all I want to. I can be as promiscuous as I want to. The only thing is I’ve been born again! [John 3:3, 7]. I’m new, I’m a new creature [2 Corinthians 5:17], and I don’t want to, don’t want to. I don’t want to cuss. I don’t want to rob. I don’t want to steal. I don’t want to hurt. I don’t want to be promiscuous. I’ve got a new heart. I love the Lord Jesus. And it is amazing when you fall in love. When you fall in love you’ll do everything possible to please that somebody you love. You just will.
And that’s the way we are with the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re not saved by rules and by personal righteousnesses. We’re saved by looking to Jesus and loving the Lord Jesus [Acts 16:31, Hebrews 12:2]—just not interested nor moved nor enticed by all of these things of the world. It’s a new life. We’re new people. We’ve been born again [John 3:7].
Let me take time for one other. So many people, the vast throngs of people, are concerned as to whether they are saved or not. O Lord, am I good enough? Am I really going to heaven when I die? O God, what of me in that great judgment day of Almighty God? [Matthew 24:31-46]. And they are full of anxiety and concern. They don’t know whether they’re really saved or not. And they don’t know of any assurance of heaven. And they live like that. This is the marvelous, wonderful imputed, imparted grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. My salvation does not depend upon me. It depends upon Him.
Will He keep His word? If I trust Him and give my heart and life to Him, will He see me through? Will He open the door of heaven, will He? Sweet friend, I cannot understand how we live in this world by faith and by trust, and stagger before just loving and trusting the Lord Jesus Christ.
Look at your life. Ever get on an airplane? Just sit there in the airplane, trusting that pilot with your life and trusting the manufacturing company that made the vehicle, made the airplane—and just trusting. Man, I couldn’t fly that plane. I don’t even know what those instruments are up there in the head of that vehicle. But I don’t have any care at all. I just sit there, trusting that pilot.
Go to the bank here, put money in the bank. Don’t worry about it at all; just trusting that bank, its rectitude, its honesty, its care—just trusting the bank.
Get in a—did you ever try to read a prescription that one of those doctors writes? Did you ever try to read one of them? Man alive, they write in Greek and Hebrew and Hindu and everything else! God only knows what they are! Never think about it at all. Just take exactly what the prescription says.
Got a seventy-story building here in Dallas; never even think to examine that elevator. Just go up into the top of that thing seven hundred feet high, just trusting, just trusting. Driving down a highway, I don’t ever get out and examine a bridge. I just go across. Just go across. Sit down in a restaurant that I’ve never seen before. Eat there. Never review it. How do I know but the guy got strychnine in that food? Never occurs to me. We live in a world of faith and trust. Why can’t I trust the wonderful Lord Jesus? He said if I look to Him and if I’ll commit my heart and life to Him, He says, “I’ll stand by you in life and in death” [John 14:21-23].
I have to close. I want to close reading this precious part of the fifth chapter of the Book of Romans:
Therefore having been justified by faith, by faith, by trust, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ:
Through whom we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of glory. . .
God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Then having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
Just loving the Lord, just trusting the precious Savior [Romans 10:9-13], and living in that beautiful faith, and dying in His goodness and grace; sweet people, there is nothing in the world comparable to loving Jesus and following in His blessed way.