|Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
When does a Christian who is justified by faith begin living? There are many Christians who say that we begin living at the second coming of Christ. But that is not Pauls teaching. We begin living the justified by faith life the moment we are converted, from the moment we have been baptized by faith into Jesus Christ. In other words, the moment we accept Christ as our righteousness, the moment we surrender this Adamic, sinful life to the cross where it belongs and in exchange accept the life of Christ, that moment we begin to walk in newness of life.
From Romans 12:3,4 onwards, right up to the end of chapter 16, Paul is giving us a series of exhortations. How should a person live who is already justified by faith? In other words, Christian living is the fruits of justification by faith. In our passage today, verses four to eight, Paul is beginning with the church because Christian living begins in the church first. Then it goes out in our relationships to the world, towards our government, towards different people and different situations.
I want you to look at verse three. It is the transitional text. In verses one and two Paul reminds us that we, as Christians, should no longer walk in the course of this world. We need to be transformed by reminding ourselves that we are no longer of the world. We are walking in newness of life. Then in verse three he goes on to say:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
That word faith needs to be explained because the word faith has more than one meaning in the New Testament. We need to get the correct definition of faith here because in this verse Paul is not talking about the believers faith in Christ. Thats the primary meaning of faith but the word is used in many other ways in the New Testament. For example, when we studied Romans 3:31, there the word faith was referring to the doctrine of justification by faith. And if you go to Galatians 3:24,25, there the word faith is used to refer to Christ Himself. When he said, now that faith has come, he meant before Christ came. What about the word faith in verse three of Romans twelve? The word faith here, according to the context, is referring to the spiritual gift that you and I received, every believer received, at conversion which is to empower us to function within the church which is the body of Christ. For example, look at Romans 12:6:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a mans gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.
The word faith here is a gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now we are coming here to a very important section, because the gospel is not a theory. It is not an idea. It is a truth that has to be experienced. We are spending so much time discussing justification by faith, we are spending so much time arguing about justification by faith, but in the New Testament the doctrine of justification by faith is not something to be argued about or discussed but to be experienced. Paul is giving us some very good counsel on how we can experience this. First, I want you to look at what he says in verses four and five, because thats the key statement in our passage today:
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Let us study this step by step. First of all, baptism in the New Testament as a subjective experience. Im not talking about the experience in which the pastor puts you in the water, but as a spiritual experience is always into Christ. We saw this when we studied Romans 6. Baptism is always into Christ.
Another passage dealing with the same area is found in 1 Corinthians 12. In verse thirteen of chapter twelve, Paul makes this statement:
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
In other words, Christianity is entering into Christ. When we are baptized into Christ, we are identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ and Him crucified, which means His death is our death, his burial is our burial, and His resurrection is our resurrection.
Therefore, when a Christian is baptized into Christ, subjectively, two things take place in his mind. Thats why Paul says we need to renew our mind, to remind ourselves who we are. Number one, we have said good-bye, by our faith and baptism, to our Adamic life that we were born with, which stands condemned and which did die on the cross. So we have said goodbye to that.
In exchange, we have accepted the life of Christ, which becomes ours through the new birth experience. We have accepted this life of Christ now as our life. This exchange brings about a tremendous and dynamic change in us, in our status, in our position, and in the way we look at things and the way we do things.
When we were unconverted, when we were still living in the old life, we belonged to the world. I am not talking of the physical or the political but I am talking of the spiritual world. We belonged to the world that was under Satan, the evil one. When we became Christians, we said good-bye to that citizenship and we became members of the body of Christ, which the New Testament defines as the church. In fact, the word church comes from two Greek words ek klesia, which means a called-out people. We are a special people of God. This means that we must now have a different attitude.
While I was of the world I belonged to a nation, I belonged to a society, I belonged to a tribe. I could belong to a class, I could belong to a group and, therefore, the world is full of distinctions. You had to belong to a certain clique to belong or you have to have some qualifications to belong to a certain clique. The rich have a clique, the educated have their certain clique, and, in fact, if you dont have a Ph.D., you dont belong to their clique. You are looked upon as an outsider. So in the world we have all kinds of distinctions, all kinds of factions, but when you become a Christian, all distinctions must go. Why? Well, lets see what the text says. 1 Corinthians 12:14:
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.
He on goes to explain that, just as the human body has many members or parts, the church has many members but we are one body. There must be no distinction in the church. Paul says in Galatians 3:27-28 that, when you are baptized into Christ, you have put on Christ:
...For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
There is no male, there is no female. There is no slave and there is no master. We are all one in Christ. This is radical, but this is one of the major distinctions.
When we are baptized into Christ, not all of us belong to the same part of the body of Christ. One may be the hand. One may be the ear. One may be the eye. How are we to function in the body of Christ? God has given every member a gift. The next thing I want you to notice is the reason that God gave you that gift. 1 Corinthians 12:7:
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
In other words, God has given each believer a gift so that he or she may function within the church so that the whole church may benefit. I have a hand but, Ill tell you, this hand is essential not only for the hand but for the whole body. I have eyes and my eyes are essential to the whole body. Thats what Paul expounds in 1 Corinthians 12:15 and onwards:
If the foot should say, Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
Then he goes to the ear and he goes to the hearing. Imagine that I see something very important in the distance. I cant see it properly and I need to get closer. What do I need to get closer? The eye cant go by itself. It needs the legs.
There is something that you need to know which is very important. There was a time when the political scientist was trying to prove evolution would use the argument of what they called the vestigial organs, i.e., the organs of the human body that are no longer essential. I believe in the 19th Century there were approximately 100 vestigial organs, organs that used to be useful while we were animals but now we dont need them: the appendix, the tonsils, the coccyx they had a whole list of them. The problem was that it wasnt because they werent useful but medical men had not discovered their use. That was the problem. Today they have been reduced to almost nothing.
What Im saying is that there is no member of the church that is a vestigial organ. Every member irrespective of the age, or of qualifications, or education has a part to play and we must restore this. We must not get the idea that the work of running the church is the work of the pastor and we are only spectators. That is so in football but not in the church. In the church, every part has to function.
Tell me, what would happen if one of your human parts did not function? Let us say your legs no longer could walk. Who suffers, only the legs? No, the whole body suffers. So please remember, Paul is saying that every member has a part. Look at the counsel he gives in Romans 12:6-8:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a mans gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
Here we are told we all have different gifts, according to the grace, not according to your natural ability, but according to the grace that is given to us let us use them.
Then he gives a list of gifts. If you have the gift of prophecy, use it. If you have the gift of ministry, use it. If you have the gift of teaching, use it. If you have the gift of counseling, use it. God has even given some the gift of giving. God has given some members extra wealth that it may be used for the glory of God.
Then God has a gift of mercy. Its a special gift. We need it in the church. Remember, Paul and Barnabas argued over Mark. Paul was a very strong-minded, strong-willed person. He did not believe in failure. So when Mark failed the first time, he would not give him a second chance. But Barnabas had the gift of mercy. He said, Look, man, this is just a young kid, give him another chance.
Paul said, Nothing doing. So they separated and Barnabas took Mark and gave him a second chance and Mark did prove that, given a second chance, he was a faithful servant. But I thank God for Paul. Years later he said, Mark, please come to me. I need you. What would Paul have said if Barnabas wasnt there. We thank God for those who take people under their wings and are patient with them.
But what is Paul saying to us in this passage we are covering? Hes saying that the church is the body of Christ. He is also saying, This body has many members and this body, in order for it to function as a unit, must have all its members, all its parts in working order. This is the crying need of our church today. I dont mean just the local church but the Christian Church.
I want to give some practical counsel coming from the word of God on how we should apply this truth to ourselves. First, let us be very clear that when you accept Christ you are accepting salvation. Salvation is not only from death to life. It is not only from condemnation to justification. The first experience subjectively of salvation is from the world into the church and the church is the body of Christ. In John 15:19, Jesus talking to His disciples says:
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
You no longer belong to the world. You belong to Me. In 1 John 5:19, John tells us:
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
In Galatians 6:14 Paul says:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
I dont belong to the world because by the cross of Christ I have been crucified to the world and the world has been crucified to me. We are a special people, a peculiar people. Thats number one. Number two, we belong to the body of Christ. Now, everybody needs a boss. Who is the boss? If you turn to Ephesians 5:23 and Colossians 1:18, Paul tells us that the boss of this body is Jesus Christ:
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the first-born from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
I would like to emphasize our loyalty to Christ.
It took me four years from the time I gave up my Roman Catholic faith to become an Adventist. One of the things that kept me back was my loyalty to the church, the organization. Here was the oldest church in history. Here was the largest church in Christendom. How can they be wrong and these few people, the Adventists be right? It is important that our loyalty is to Jesus Christ. Every other loyalty will take place correctly if our loyalty to Christ is correct. Because Hes the One who will direct us. We must be loyal to Christ because the church as an organization will disintegrate in the time of trouble but Christ is our Lord and Master. Our loyalty must be to Him. If our loyalty is correct to Him, He will be sure that our loyalty to the brethren, to the organization will be correct because He will lead us.
Before our conversion, we could do what we liked because, under the world, the principle of self is the principle of Satans kingdom. Each one lives for himself and herself. In the church, the principle is: Not I, but Christ. Hes the head. I am the servant. He is my Lord and Master and, therefore, I do not have the freedom to do what I like. I have to be led by Him. If He says to me, I want you to go to Uganda, I dont say, But there are snakes there. He takes care of snakes. He took care of the one that bit Paul. And if He wants me to die of a snake bite thats His problem, not mine. But I know one thing. He has conquered death so why should I worry? All I must do is obey Him.
But to obey Him we must come to the next point. It is not enough to be having Christ as the head. We must have a living connection to Christ, just like my members have a living connection with the head. What would happen if the nerve that connected my hand to my head was severed? What would happen? I would still have a hand but it would be dead for it would be useless. It would be cumbersome. It would be a nuisance to our body. It would be paralyzed. There are too many paralyzed members. Thats why the church is not functioning as it should.
Remember what Jesus said in John 15:4:
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Hes the vine and we are the branches and these two need to be connected, linked together vitally through prayer, through communication. You dont have to go on your knees all the time. A wonderful thing is that God can read your thoughts. He is the only One who can read your thoughts. Thank God for that. Thats one thing you cant hide from. And you can talk to God with your thoughts. You can keep a link to Him with your thoughts. You live for Christ and you die for Him and you connect yourself with Him. But that is not the way of the world, it is the way of the church.
When we went to Ethiopia, the famine was terrible there. You are familiar with the famine. The Swedish government sent some young pilots because they were unable to take the food to the area of starvation, the roads were so terrible. Even the best trucks with high clearance could not make it. So they sent these small engine planes with daring pilots and they had little hooks under the wings where they would hook bags of wheat and they would fly just like the crop dusters here, very low, and drop those bags and take off. The only trouble was that Ethiopia is very mountainous. The air currents are terrible. So it is a very risky business, just like crop dusting is risky. These young Swedish pilots were doing this.
I spoke to one of them and said, This is a very risky job. Why are you doing it? There must be a reason. Are you doing it to help these people?
Well, he said, yes, but thats not the main reason.
I asked, Whats your main reason? Well, the Swedish government gave each of these pilots a trip around the world at no charge on any airlines they chose. They also gave them a full scholarship to any university in Sweden. I said to this young man, If the government wrote to you a letter and said, Im afraid our budget has to be cut and we cannot give you these blessings, would you still serve these people who are starving?
He answered, Im not a fool. But Christians are fools; they serve for nothing. That is the wonderful privilege of being a Christian.
There is a final point, a very important point. Just like the human body must grow, so must the church. When I say grow, Im not talking numerically. We can increase from one million to six million and still not grow spiritually. There has to be spiritual growth. These are related. If all of us would do our part, if all of us were linked to Christ vitally, we would grow spiritually and that is one of the main reasons God has given us the gifts.
Let us go back to Ephesians 4:11-13 concerning the gifts which we are studying. Why has God given me the gift? He has given me a gift for the blessing of the church, not for my personal blessing. So when God gives you the gift of tongues, it is not so that you may become convinced that you are saved. Thats a misuse of a gift. God gave you a gift so that the church may benefit. But here it is in Ephesians 4:11-13:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare Gods people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
That is Gods goal for this church, to grow spiritually, that in unison together we reflect the character of Christ. That is Gods goal for this church.
Here is an opposite example. What happens when we do not use our gifts? We remain stagnant. May I ask you mothers something? Its wonderful to have babies and its a great privilege for some to even change diapers but tell me how would you like to change the diapers of a baby for 10, 15, or 20 years? You laugh, but that is sometimes what a pastor is faced with. He is changing diapers of members that have been in the church for 20 years. Of course, Im not talking physically, but spiritually. And I say to my Lord, When are my members going to grow up? Why are they behaving still like babies?
Well, we are not the only ones. The Corinthian Church faced the same problem. Turn to 1 Corinthians 3. Paul was the one who evangelized the Corinthian Church but 10 years later he wrote this tough letter to them. In verse one he says:
Brothers, I could not [past tense] address you as spiritual but as worldly mere infants in Christ.
When you first accepted Christ, you were a baby in Christ. I accepted that; I fed you with milk. Verse two, I could not give you solid food, that was fine:
I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
But the tragedy, he says, even now, ten years later, you are still not able to take solid food. I have to feed you with milk. Now remember, in those days they did not have blenders and they did not have supermarkets where they could buy soft food for babies. They had to mash it. It is one thing to do it for a one-year-old baby but when you do it for a ten-year-old baby it gets a bit too much. Dont you think so? Now look at verse three:
You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?
I expect babies to fight like cats and dogs, pulling each others hair, but when I see grown up people doing it, verbally, it bothers me. When will we grow? If we dont grow, then we are still carnal and, if we are still carnal, we are behaving like (1 Corinthians 3:3) mere men. What did he mean by mere men? What he meant was our behavior, our performance, is no different from the worldly people. In other words, the world cannot see the distinction between the church and themselves. This is the greatest stumbling block to evangelism.
People are not converted primarily by the message. They are converted by what they see today. We are living in the scientific age and science demands a demonstration. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 4:20:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.
There were two great Germans in the last century. One was Detriech Bonhaufer. He was raised a Lutheran but he saw where his church had failed miserably but he did not look at the church. He looked at the word of God and was transformed. He was a wonderful Christian. When he was in this country lecturing at Princeton and Harvard universities, World War Two broke out. His colleagues said, Please dont go back to Germany.
He said, If I dont go back to Germany, how can I tell my people to stand up for Christ even though it may cost your life? How can I do that when I myself am remaining in this wonderful free country? So he gave up the privileges of this country and went back to Germany, was captured by Hitlers men, and, two months before the end of the war, he was executed as a martyr at the age of 39.
There was another German by the name of Frederick Neitzche who was also raised a Lutheran; in fact, his father and his grandfather were both pastors in the Lutheran Church. And he looked at the church and all he saw was hypocrisy. He saw corruption and he gave up the Christian church and wrote the book AntiChrist and in that book he condemned the Christian Church. He condemns God as a myth. Then he made this statement to the Christian Church: If you Christians expect me to believe in your Redeemer, you will have to look a lot more redeemed! Tragedy! How long are we going to be superficial Christians? For as long as we are, the world will not see God in the flesh. They will not see Christ. They will see only human beings who are outwardly trying to behave like good people but inwardly are no different from them. So it is my prayer that as the end of this section that we will remind ourselves of two things:
When Christ lives in us, His love will permeate through us and we will love each other, for Jesus said in John 13:35:
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Everyone will know that you are My disciples when you have love, when you have agape for one another. We may not see eye to eye in many things but love doesnt look at differences. It loves in spite of what we are.
I was at Andrews University on furlough. They used to have what they called Eventide at Friday sunset. The young people would gather around and play the guitar and sing. My wife and I joined them and, as we looked in the crowd, we saw a young man. He had long hair that had probably not seen a comb for months. He looked like what we called a hippie. He looked like a real tramp, but his face looked very familiar. I said to Jean, You know, that fellow looks like Torry Paulson. He was my roommate at Newbold College. His father was the president of the Norwegian Mission.
She said, He looks like him.
He kept looking at us. So we wormed our way gradually right to his side. I turned to him and said, Are you Torry Paulson?
He said, Yes. We took him home and we had supper together. He told us a very sad story. He said, I came to this country and I saw so much hypocrisy. Here is the headquarters of the Adventist Church. I expected something better, but I saw hypocrisy. So I gave it all up. He was at Andrews University, and he gave up his studies there and went to Notre Dame and there he got mixed up with a crowd of young kids that were full of drugs and he joined them and became one of them. After six months, he became very lonely. He found that there was no joy and no peace in that. He wanted to come back to the church. So one Sabbath he crawled and sat in the back. He sat next to a young couple. The lady opened her purse and pulled out a comb and said to him, Maybe youd like to use this before you come in.
He walked out and he said, I dont want to step into this church. Where will I go? Three months later he came back and said, Let me try. Thats when we met him.
Stop looking at people from the outside! They are children of God. Let us remember that God works from inside and He will clean the outside as we grow. It is my prayer that each one of us will function in the work that God has given us to do. I do not know what gift you have been given. There are now programs that tell you which gift you have. I dont know that we need programs to discover that. God will tell you. But Ill tell you one thing, the problem is not knowing your gift. The problem is using it.
Remember that that gift has nothing to do with your natural ability. Im an introvert by nature. I dreaded the thought of standing behind this pulpit but, by the grace of God, I am what I am. I pray that you will be the same. Thats my prayer for this church that we will grow, not numerically only (that is not the most important part), but we will grow spiritually. When we grow spiritually, the numerical numbers will come. It is a natural result of it. May God bless this church that we may remember who we are. We are members of the body of Christ and, therefore, members of each other. We need each other. In closing, look at 1 Corinthians 12:25-27:
...So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
We must have the same concern for each other. There must be no schism in the church. If one suffers, all suffer. If one rejoices, how many get jealous? None. We all rejoice with that person.
May God bless you.