Thank God for Famous Faith
To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be 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 all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.
I would like to base my message this morning on Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 1, verses 7-8. "To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be 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 all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world." You can see from verse 8 where I got the title for the message: "Thank God for Famous Faith." Paul is thankful to God, he says, "because your faith is proclaimed in all the world." In other words, the faith of the Roman Christians was famous and Paul was thankful to God for that.
My aim is to help you share in this faith that Paul is so thankful for. If you are a believer in Christ this morning, my aim is to help you be stronger in your faith – the same goal Paul had in writing to the Roman church (verse 12): "That we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine." And if you are not a believer this morning my aim is that through this message you will see Christ as true and trustworthy and beautiful and indispensable for the forgiveness of your sins and for the hope of eternal life.
Question: Why Was Paul thankful that the faith of the Roman church was famous?
I am going to ask only one question from this text and give six answers from the Bible and from our common experience. The question is simply this: Why was Paul thankful that the faith of the Roman church was famous? When he said, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world," why was this?
Here is a man who has never been to Rome. He was not saying: I am really glad that your faith is so famous because that means my work has not been in vain. Their faith was not his work (in more ways than one!). He had never been to Rome. Some of his converts may have traveled there (see chapter 16). But Paul had not planted this church.
So he was thankful not because it reflected on his own successes or fruitfulness, but evidently for other reasons. That is what I wanted to find out for myself and for you this morning. Why was he so thankful that their faith was proclaimed in all the world? My prayer is that in answering this question, that very faith might be wakened and strengthened in us this morning.
I see six reasons that Paul is thankful for the famous faith of the Roman Christians.
Reason # 1. Paul is thankful for the famous faith of the church because Christ is the one they have faith in.
He says in Romans 3:21-22, "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law . . . 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." He said it again even more clearly in Galatians 2:16, "We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law."
So when Paul says that he is thankful for the famous faith of the Romans, he means faith in Jesus Christ. Not vague faith in any God, like Allah, or a Hindu deity, or Buddhist principle, or New Age spirit medium, or even a vague notion of the true God disconnected from his Son, the Savior who came into the world to save sinners. Paul is thankful that faith in Jesus Christ was becoming famous throughout the Roman world.
Reason # 2. Paul is thankful for the famous faith of the church because he had a passion and a calling to see the name of Christ exalted among the nations.
Look back in the text at Romans 1:4-5, "[Christ was] declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations." Notice that last phrase: "for the sake of his name among all nations." Whose name? The name of Jesus Christ.
Verse 5 says that God had given Paul grace and apostleship to preach and teach and suffer so that the obedience of faith would spread. And then he adds, "for the sake of his name among all the nations." In other words, Paul’s assumption is that when faith spreads, the name of Jesus is exalted and honored. That’s what he means by "for the sake of his name."
The name of Jesus here stands for the fame of his truth and wisdom and power and beauty and dependability. Paul has seen Jesus Christ and knows him and loves him and has a passion to see others know and love and exalt him. So when it happens, he is thankful. This was his life and his calling and his mission. Let everything be done for the sake of the name. Let every plan we frame and every choice we make have this aim: to make much of Jesus Christ. To show that he is the greatest person and the greatest treasure in the world.
Reason # 3. Paul is thankful for the famous faith of the church because Christian faith is well founded.
In Paul’s mind faith is not a leap in the dark; it is a response to the revelation of Light. And this Light is not merely subjective. It is rooted in history and mediated through God’s Word. It is experiential. It would be of no use or interest to humans if it weren’t. But this famous faith is vastly more than experiential. People have all kinds of experiences that have no root in historical reality, and no authenticating warrant in the Word of God. That is not what Paul is thankful for. Paul is not thankful that a myth is spreading in the world.
This is important to stress today because it might help overcome some of the reasons people reject the gospel. For example, one reason people reject it is that you have to be arrogant to believe it, and the other is that you have to be a fool to believe it. Being even a little bit closer to downtown makes me aware of both of these. There are clergy nearby, perhaps preaching at this very moment, whom I know by name and have met with, who think we are arrogant to believe that there is reliable historical evidence for the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the Son of God who is the only way to heaven.
And yesterday morning I was jogging downtown and ran by a man reading an interesting book. So I stopped and asked him about it. One thing led to another and soon we were talking about Christ. His name was Jonathan. I invited him to come and hope he is here listening to this. I told him I was going to tell this story. He said he did not believe in Christ and then, with a certain flair, said, "Any one who can believe that an angel came down and made a virgin pregnant with the Creator of the universe has got to be almost insane." Then I made things even worse by saying, yes, the Son of God, who created the world was born of a virgin (not from an angel, but from the Holy Spirit) and he lived a perfect life and died on the cross to take our place and forgive our sins. To which he said, "I don’t believe that: no one can die for another person." And I made it worse one more time. I said that God is just and angry at sinners like me and you, but if we believe on Christ he will accept us and give us eternal life. He said, "You folks are so afraid – afraid of God, afraid of everything."
Well, I urged him to make a little room in his mind for mystery, and not to call it insane too quickly. And I urged him to remember what I said because one of these nights he would wake up in fear and know that he was guilty before God just like I am. And I urged him that there are things that we, as lost sinners, ought to be afraid of, and that believing in Christ takes away the fear. And then I begged him to come and pointed to the Convention center from where we were standing.
Now here is the point of that little story from yesterday morning. Jonathan has rejected Christianity because it sounds too fantastic and almost insane and unsubstantiated. In fact, at one point he even said, "That’s too good to be true." So let me just say this to Jonathan and others of you who may feel the same. Even though I can’t give a lecture now on the credibility of the Christian faith, I can show you this: the apostle Paul, who wrote these words, intended to base them on real historical evidence – especially the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He said in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8,
Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
So my plea to Jonathan and all of you is not that this proves it or settles it, but that you not turn away from the good news that Christ died for our sins. And that you seek him in the Bible and test the witnesses to see if these things are so.
Reason # 4. Paul is thankful for the famous faith of the church because faith in Christ shows that Christ is trustworthy and valuable.
We learned from verse 5 that Paul had a passion and a calling to exalt the name of Christ among all the nations. He wanted Christ to look great. That was his life. He said, "To me to live is Christ." How then do you make Christ look great? Answer: trust him. When you trust someone, you are saying: he is trustworthy. So when the faith of the church is proclaimed throughout the world, what is being proclaimed is this: "Christ is trustworthy! Christ is wise enough and strong enough and loving enough to save me from all my sin and bring me home to God."
But that’s not all faith shows. Christian faith is not just believing THAT Christ will save. It is a certain gladness or satisfaction that Christ IS that salvation. In other words, we don’t trust Christ merely to get something besides Christ. Our trust in Christ means receiving him as our treasure. He is what we trust him for. When we trust him. we get what is best. And what is best is Christ himself. Therefore when faith spreads, what spreads is not only the trustworthiness of Christ in what he can do, but the value and worth of Christ in what he is in himself to satisfy our hearts forever.
Reason # 5. Paul is thankful for the famous faith of the church because faith produces visible acts of sacrificial love.
God’s purpose in the world is not merely to produce invisible faith in human hearts. He aims for his glory to be visible. That’s why Jesus said, "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Paul knows that these good works of love are the fruit of faith. Remember that back in verse 5 he said that God gave him "grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations." Not just faith, but the obedience of faith.
Paul is thankful that the faith of the church is famous because it means something is visible. Faith must be producing love. And it was doing so in the face of persecution almost everywhere. Stephen Neil wrote in his History of Christian Missions, "Every Christian knew that sooner or later he might have to testify to his faith at the cost of his life." (p. 43). But this did not stop conversions and the growth of Christianity. Emperor Julian wrote of the church in the fourth century that love was the thing that drew converts.
Atheism [i.e., Christian faith] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans [Christians] care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them." (History of Christians Missions, p. 42)
This is what Paul meant by the obedience of faith. "Faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6). This is why he was so thankful that their faith was famous in the whole world. It was producing love and showing that Christ really was saving and strengthening and satisfying the hearts of his people and freeing them to love and showing that "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:20).
Reason # 6. Paul is thankful to God for the famous faith of the church because God is the one who gave the faith, and he should get all the glory and all the thanks.
Suppose pastor Brent Nelson drives by our house and sees my wife working to change a flat tire and stops to help her. And suppose that later I find out about it and call Pastor Rick Gamache and say, "Rick, thanks so much that my wife got help changing the tire." You would think I was losing my senses. Why? Because you thank the person who brought about the good deed. So when Paul says in verse 8, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world," this means that God has brought about this famous faith.
Someone might say, "No it doesn’t say that. All it says is that God brought about the fame of the faith, not the faith. So it might mean that they produced the faith on their own and then God saw to it that it was proclaimed in all the world: "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world." It’s true that Paul does not say that God gave the faith. But other places in Paul do say this, and that is why I think Paul is thanking God here for their faith and the fame of the faith.
For example, he says in Philippians 1:29, "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should . . . believe in him. In Ephesians 2:8 he says, "By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." In 2 Timothy 2:25 he says, "[Correct your] opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth." In 1 Corinthians 4:7 he says, "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" And finally, in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 he describes how a church with this kind of spreading faith is planted when one person starts the work and another follows: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."
So we may be sure and rejoice that faith is a gift of God. And the reason I say "rejoice" is that none of us here today would believe in Christ if left to ourselves. We are rebellious, self-exalting, proud people. But saving faith is submissive, Christ-exalting, and childlike. So we need help to believe.
And this is why we can be hopeful as we close this service that you don’t have to leave this service hard and unbelieving. God has brought you here. God has given you ears to listen. God right now is drawing you to himself. So I join him and say, believe in Christ. Turn from self-reliance and say, "I repent. I am sorry. I receive you, Jesus Christ, as my Lord and my Savior and my Treasure."
The Testimony of C. S. Lewis
Perhaps God may encourage you to trust him by hearing the testimony of how it happened to C. S. Lewis, the writer and Oxford scholar who died the same day John Kennedy did.
Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. . . . For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion. . . . How could the initiative lie on my side . . . If Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare’s doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing. . . . In the Trinity term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. . . . The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? (Surprised by Joy [New York: Harcourt, Brace and World], pp. 226-229)
That was Lewis’ testimony. Perhaps yours will be similar. And if it is – or however God brings you home – there will be thanksgiving to God. Amen.