Living for Jesus
What is it like to live life as a Christian? Here in this very personal section of his letter to the church in Rome the apostle Paul gives us an insight into just how the gospel had impacted his life. Paul was not only a man who understood the good news message of Jesus; he also understood the implications of the salvation Jesus gives for the life of the believer.
Paul's life as a Christian pioneer missionary was exceptional in a number of ways but the principles which motivated him are relevant to us all in the different spheres of service to which Jesus calls us as his disciples.
Most of Paul's letter contains a lengthy and detailed explanation of the Christian faith. There he showed how God had worked to provide a way for men and women to be put right with him. Salvation was the free gift of God in Jesus Christ and to be received by faith – it was not something that might be won as the result of a long and strenuous effort on the part of the sinner who needed it. In fact we can say that the Christian life begins with salvation and then continues as that salvation in Jesus Christ is lived out in everyday life. In short the Christian life is entirely bound up with Jesus Christ – it was for Paul and it must be for us too.
And such a life can be and should be profoundly satisfying: isn't that just what Paul says as he surveyed his life and declared:
v.17 "In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God."
Paul had been called to be a pioneer missionary, a minister of Jesus Christ and looking back over his ministry Paul is satisfied with what he saw. Now it wasn't that Paul was unaware of personal failures and shortcomings because he was keenly aware that he wasn't perfect and needed to press on (Phil.3:12) but it was because he didn't focus on himself but upon Christ who worked through him!
If we would enjoy a similar pride in our Christian lives then we too must make sure that we too are looking in the right direction – at Jesus and not at ourselves!
Let us look more closely at this together.
All of grace
In evangelical circles we are familiar with the thought of salvation being all of grace ie. we understand ourselves to be saved by what Jesus did for us when he died in our place upon the Cross of Calvary. We don't try to merit our acceptance with God by our own efforts but rely upon that extraordinary effort of Jesus on our behalf. So salvation is "all of grace".
But sadly we sometimes (often?) continue as though everything did depend upon us and we think exclusively about what we can do and what we must do. If we're not careful grace gets left behind and we begin to think of doing our bit, making our contribution.
Paul didn't do that – if he had he wouldn't have been able to look back on his ministry life with pride because there was plenty that went wrong. No, Paul continued by grace and looked to what Jesus Christ did through him.
Just as Paul saw his salvation as being entirely due to Christ, so Paul's ministry was made effective and fruitful entirely because Jesus was pleased to work through him!
Paul wasn't putting himself on a pedestal at this point as though he was the only one through whom Jesus worked – this was simply the way things were in the Christian life and in Christian service. Yes, Jesus worked through him but Jesus worked through others too: the Christian is an instrument in his Master's hands.
Acts 14:27 And when (Paul and Barnabas) arrived (in Antioch) and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
Acts 15:4 When (Paul and Barnabas) came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.
Acts 15:12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
Acts 21:19 After greeting them, (Paul) related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
Gal.2:8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles),
Paul's consistent pattern, then, is not to put himself forward but to direct attention to what God (Jesus) accomplished through him. This is in harmony with what Paul had earlier written to the Corinthians:
2Cor.10:17 "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
Paul wasn't writing to the Romans saying he was proud of himself and his achievements – but he was writing saying he was proud of Jesus and Jesus' achievements!
What did Christ do through Paul's ministry?
Jesus used the ministry of the apostle Paul to bring men and women, particularly those from a Gentile background, to genuine faith in Jesus Christ. Their faith showed itself to be genuine as their lives were transformed and obedience to God began to characterise them.
Paul preached, taught, argued, warned, admonished, exhorted, pleaded and counselled – what made the words that he used effective was that Jesus took them up and used them.
Similarly in his everyday life Paul lived as a committed Christian man and Jesus used the details of his daily living to impact the lives of others.
In addition Paul had been enabled by the power of the Spirit of God at perform miracles – Paul understood these miracles to be the proof of his call to be an apostle specially appointed by Jesus. (If you look carefully through the Acts of the Apostles you'll discover descriptions of some of his miracles which Paul had been enabled to carry out.) Paul was glad – not of the miracles per se because a miracle on its own doesn't bring anyone to Christ – but because Jesus was at work bringing unbelievers to faith. (Elsewhere Paul is happy to talk about his weaknesses and his sufferings because they too enabled Jesus to be honoured and glorified – Paul's pride was not located in himself but in Jesus!)
We've noted that Paul was specially called to be an apostle. His calling was to be the apostle to the Gentiles. As such Paul had made it his ambition primarily to proclaim Jesus Christ where he had not been known before. Paul wanted to be a pioneer missionary explaining the good news about Jesus and the salvation he offers to people who hadn't heard about it all before and in places where it hadn't been explained before. He was pleased that by God's grace he had been enabled to cover a wide geographical area. Such a policy Paul understood to be fully in line with what the Scripture taught – and he quotes from the prophet of Isaiah to make his point:
v.21 "Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand."
This wasn't then, and isn't now, the only way to serve the Lord Jesus. Then as now there are some who sow and others who water but still it is God alone who gives the increase. However, there is still a need for pioneering missionaries in the world. There is a need still for men and women to carry the gospel to foreign fields where Jesus remains unknown but there is also a very real need of pioneering missionaries in our own cities and towns and on our own housing estates where the only use of the name Jesus is as a swear word!
There is a price to be met
When Jesus spoke about discipleship he urged would be followers to count the cost before taking the plunge. It is no light or easy thing to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is how Jesus put it:
Lk.14:33 "So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."
Sometimes people imagine that adopting the Christian faith is a way to safeguard one's life from the hurly-
The apostle Paul knew that serving Christ could involve much hardship – he wrote about experiencing "afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights and hunger". He also wrote about imprisonments, being often near death, receiving 39 lashes on several occasions, being stoned, shipwrecked and in danger from various sources.
Nor was this the only way in which his whole-
Paul had committed his life to Jesus and consequently had determined that gospel priorities were going to take first place in his list of priorities. Do you see that:
v.22 "This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you."
It had long been something that Paul longed to do, to visit Rome and share with the church in that city, but he had had to put back and put back any such visit while other more pressing matters called for his attention.
Firstly it was his desire to fulfil his calling as a pioneer missionary – making Christ known where he hadn't been before – and Rome with its church was obviously not such a place – so a visit had to wait.
Secondly, having completed his first programme of pioneer missionary endeavour he still was not yet free to travel so far west because he had been entrusted with another ministry that would take him back east to Jerusalem. One of the fruits of his ministry in planting churches amongst Gentiles was the joy of seeing those new congregations wanting to participate in a financial aid package to help the hard-
Paul would get to Rome but not at all as he had originally intended – but that's another story!
Do you want to be satisfied as a Christian? I imagine none of you who are Christians this morning will want to review your life in a few years time and conclude that you made a complete hash of things – rather you want to carefully evaluate things and be satisfied with how you have lived your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Well, Paul's example shows us how:
Be Christ focused. Be much more taken up with Jesus Christ and with what he does and is able to do than with your yourself and your own performance. That is how Paul lived, he focused upon what Christ did through him and that was the important thing.
Had Paul drawn up a careful inventory of what he himself had done he would, had he been honest, have come up with a very mixed bag. Amongst other things he had fallen out with missionary colleagues so seriously that it led to rupture and to a temporary breakdown in relationships.
Were Paul to have focused upon himself alone then he would never have been satisfied with the record of his life. It will be similar for us. If we focus upon ourselves we'll become:
a. insufferably proud becoming full of our own importance forgetting that anything good and useful is the work of Jesus through us and not to be attributed to our own intrinsic abilities or
b. completely downcast as we fail to see anything other than our own failures and weaknesses.
If on the other hand we focus on Christ and his graciousness in working through us we can admit our failures without either giving way to depression or falling into obnoxious self-
Recognise that being Christ-
Paul's own personal preferences and desires had to be replaced by gospel priorities as he lived the life of a committed Christian.
We all have room for change in our lives at this point. We live all too easily to please ourselves: we do what we want to do, we go where we want to go, we invert our values and ask how or whether something will serve my interests rather than asking how I may best serve the interests of Christ and of others.
Do we ask ourselves how much we can give (of our time or of our money) to the church and to mission? Or do we give the impression of being more interested in how little we can get away with when it comes to our giving or our commitment?
Be fully committed to Jesus Christ and don't be half-
Paul understood the gospel and responded with a passionate, serious commitment to serving Jesus Christ. He knew that becoming a Christian was a radical step and involved radical change which he was ready to take:
Is your appreciation of Jesus in any way similar to that? I hope it is.
But perhaps you are still trying to hedge your bets; you're trying to avoid taking such a radical step and are trying to maintain a foot in both camps as it were? Let me tell you that is sad path to tread – with a little bit of Christ you won't any longer be at ease in the world as you once were – you may still find pleasures there but they will have become guilty pleasures to you; and the worst of it is you won't have the compensatory joys of Christ because he has made it very clear that no-
Jesus warned his disciples of the perils of world and of seeking one's satisfaction there when he asked his question:
Mk.8:36 "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?"
He went on to say that no man could secure his own life if he were to turn away from the Son of Man!
So my friends this morning the Word of God urges us to be focused on Jesus Christ, to realise that this will involve what is at times a costly choice as our priorities are altered, and live our lives as enthusiastic and committed Christians.
And to God be the Glory.