Ray Stedman said, “Embedded in the pages of Paul’s letter to the Romans is the power to change individual lives and entire societies. It is a power that we all long to experience as followers of Jesus Christ. Every Christian should study and master the book of Romans.” Understanding this letter is what sparked the Protestant Reformation, which shared with the world that Christianity is not based on rituals or works, but instead that we who are justified and made righteous by Jesus “shall live by faith” (Rom 1:17).
Paul begins his letter with an introduction that is packed with God’s truth that as believers we must submit to: “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God” (Rom 1:1).
First, Paul calls himself a bondservant of Jesus. The Greek word used is doulos, which is appropriately translated as “slave”, because in Greek culture it was someone who sold themselves into slavery by choice to another person. Paul considered himself to be owned by Christ (Gal 2:20).
After calling himself a slave of Jesus, Paul next calls himself an apostle, which means “a person who is sent by another to represent him and his authority”. The apostles of Jesus Christ spoke with the authority of Christ Himself. As believers, we are all given the Great Commission to tell others about the saving grace of Jesus Christ in His authority (Matt 28:18-20).
Paul begins this letter by making it clear to his readers that he is both a slave and his words carry the authority of Christ Himself. Finally, Paul identifies the mission Christ has given to him. He understands himself to be “separated to the gospel of God”, which means he was set apart, or sanctified, for the particular purpose of preaching the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.
Being separated to the gospel, means that he was separated from other things. First, Paul separated himself from his father’s beliefs. Paul’s father was a Pharisee, a person who took great pride in his strict adherence to the law of Moses (Acts 22:3; 23:6). But when Paul came to knowledge of the truth, he broke away from his father’s beliefs.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matt 10:34-39)
Second, Paul was separated from his own past beliefs. Before his conversion, Paul was zealous of the law to the extent he sought to prohibit the preaching of the gospel and destroy the church. Likewise, we must be willing to separate ourselves from our own past beliefs when we find we are in error. We are told, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Eph 5:11) We are also told that we should separate ourselves from those who live contrary to God’s doctrine (Rom 16:17).
Third, Paul was separated from the law of Moses. Paul was well educated and had a love for the law (Phil 3:4-6). After learning the truth, Paul was willing to separate himself from the law. “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (Phil 3:7). Many still today have failed to realize that the old law was nailed to the cross (Col 2:13-14).
Fourth, Paul was separated from the sinful things of the world. As Christians, we are not to be conformed to the world, but rather we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, thus presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Rom 12:1-2). We are to seek those things that are above, rather than those things that are on the earth (Col 3:2). We are to put to death our old fleshly desires (Col 3:5-6).
Paul was not only separated from something, he was also “separated to the gospel of God”. First and foremost, Paul’s separation to the gospel was characterized by his obedience to it. Obedience is necessary in order for a person to be purified of his sin (I Pet 1:22). Those who refuse to obey the gospel will one day experience God’s vengeance (2 Thess 1:8). Jesus Himself pointed out the stark difference of saying He is Lord when it’s obvious our actions don’t agree with our words: “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)
Second, Paul was separated unto a willingness to teach the gospel to others, fulfilling his calling as an apostle to teach the gospel to all. “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.” (Rom 1:14-15) Likewise, we as Christians ought to possess that same willingness to teach others (2 Tim 2:2).
Third, Paul was separated unto a willingness to defend the gospel that he once attacked. Likewise, we are to be prepared to defend the gospel before others: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.” (I Pet 3:15)
Fourth, Paul was separated unto a willingness to be governed by the gospel. Many want the benefit of eternity in heaven without the desire to have a relationship with Jesus, and be willing to submit to the gospel of the lord. Christianity demands that we repent from our old ways and attitudes. As Christians, we are to put aside our pride, humble ourselves to our Lord, submit ourselves to Him and His will because it is Christ who has all authority (Matt 28:18). Ask the Lord to show you anywhere you have failed to submit to Him as His slave and be separated to the saving grace of His gospel.