Last week we focused on the phrase in verse 6, “the called of Jesus Christ.” The Christians in Rome, and the Christians in Minneapolis are “the called of Jesus Christ.” I argued that this means Christians are called by God to belong to Jesus Christ (Romans 8:30; 1 Corinthians 1:9); and that this call of God is not just an invitation, but is the kind of call that creates what it commands.
I closed the message with a reference to 2 Corinthians 4:4–6 where Paul says that the reason people do not see the truth of Christ in the gospel is that “the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In other words, human unbelief and demonic blinding conspire to make the gospel look like a stumbling block or like foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Miracle of Faith
So how is it that anyone comes to faith? Paul said that two things were necessary. In 2 Corinthians 4:5 he says, “We preach . . . Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bondservants for Jesus’s sake.” The first thing needed is the preaching of Christ from a servant life. Christ must be preached and shown. No one can believe apart from the gospel. We must tell the gospel to people and show it to people.
But Paul knows from painful experience, and so do many of you, that people whom we love hear the gospel and see our servanthood, but do not believe so as to be saved. Which is why Paul went on, in 2 Corinthians 4:6, to mention the second thing necessary for someone to come to faith. Not only must the gospel be preached from a servant life, but God himself must supernaturally give divine, spiritual light or sight to the heart. “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the one who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
“God himself must supernaturally give divine, spiritual light to the heart.”
This is what Paul means by the call of God (1 Corinthians 1:23–24). Just as God in the beginning of creation brought about light by a simple word of call: “Light shall shine out of darkness,” so now, in the unbelieving and demonically-blinded heart, God issues an omnipotent, light-giving call. And the effect of the call is that we no longer see the gospel as a stumbling block or as foolishness, but now we see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” In other words, what once looked stupid or boring or meaningless or irrelevant or weird now looks beautiful and precious and desirable, so that we freely reach out and embrace it.
In other words, when Paul says in Romans 1:7 that Christians are “the called of Jesus Christ,” he means that God has spoken to our hearts so powerfully that we have been wakened from the sleep of unbelief, and our blind eyes have been opened to see Christ for who he really is, and our hardness of heart has been taken away, and we have been raised from spiritual death — just as Christ raised Lazarus by simply calling him — “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43).
And the result of all of this is that now we see the greatness of Jesus in the gospel and we trust him and love him and value knowing him above all things. And so we are “the called of Jesus Christ.” We live among the Gentiles (as verse 6 says), but we belong to Jesus — and not the way a person belongs to the Democratic Party or to a labor union or to the Minneapolis Club, but we belong to Jesus by an omnipotent call of God that creates what it commands.
The Call Comes from God’s Love for You
Now today I want to deepen and sweeten the experience of your call by showing you two things: that your call comes from the love of God which he has specifically for you; and that it ushers you into a realm of God’s love that no one knows but those who receive it. The reason I choose to stress this is simply because the next crucial word in our text is “beloved of God.” Verse 7: “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“To all who are beloved of God in Rome.” They are “the called of Jesus Christ” and the “beloved of God.” Oh, know yourself this way, Christian! You are “the called of Jesus Christ,” and you are “the beloved of God.”
God’s Love for the World
Now, what does this mean? I want to enlarge your vision of the love of God. I don’t want to shrink it. I want to enlarge it. For many people, the only way they have ever conceived of the love of God is that he loves the world, and therefore he loves everyone in the same way. And indeed he does love the world. Jesus said in Matthew 5:44-45, “Love your enemies . . . so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” In other words, God’s love is as broad and as general as the rising sun and the falling rain.
And John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In other words, we may offer eternal life to every person on this planet who will put his faith in Jesus, the Son of God. And it was the love of God that sent his Son so that offer could be made to the world.
So in at least these two ways God’s love is broad and general: he sustains the unbelieving world with sunshine and rain, and he offers eternal life, at the cost of his Son, to any and all who will believe.
God’s Love for His Called Ones
But is that all that Paul means in Romans 1:7 when he writes, “to all who are beloved of God in Rome”? Doesn’t this sound like he is saying, “Among all the people who live in Rome, I am writing to the ones loved by God”? In other words, doesn’t it sound like he is saying that those who are called by God to belong to Jesus Christ are loved by God in a special way, not that they are loved because everybody else in Rome is also loved by God?
If I write a letter to Noël and say, “I write you, my beloved, Noël, be strong and be encouraged by the grace of God,” would anybody really say, the reason he calls her “beloved” is because he loves every woman the way a Christian should, and, since Noël is a woman, she too is loved by Pastor John, because he loves all women? No. Nobody would say that. Rather, if I write, “To my beloved, Noël,” everybody would assume there is a special love that I have for Noël.
“God has a special love that puts the fear of God in our hearts and keeps us from turning away.”
I don’t think Paul wants us to miss this in Romans 1:7. I don’t think he wants you, Christian, to say, “God calls me ‘beloved’ because he loves everybody the same, and, since I am part of everybody, I am also beloved.” That’s not what verse 7 means. Paul says, I write “to all who are beloved of God in Rome.” But he does not mean everybody in Rome. He is writing to those who are “the called of Jesus Christ.”
So the love that he has in mind here must be different from the love that God has for everybody in Rome — just like I would have in mind a different love when I say, “to my beloved, Noël.” I don’t mean that there is no love in my heart for other people. I mean I have a special love for Noël. I have a covenant love for Noël. I chose Noël to be my wife. And I made a covenant with her. And we sealed it with sacred vows. And God sealed it in heaven (Matthew 19:6). And now the love between Noël and me is utterly different from the love I have for any other woman or man. Even though there are others I would die for.
I said: I want to enlarge your vision of the love of God. I don’t want to shrink it. In other words, if I can persuade you that God loves “the called of Jesus Christ” with a special covenant love, I don’t want you to conclude that he is less loving than he would be if he only loved the world in general and equally, but made no covenant with his bride the church. I want to argue from the Scripture that God holds out love to the whole world, but that he chooses his wife, “the called of Jesus Christ,” and loves her (you, Christian!) with a special, precious, covenant love.
Love That Leads to Fear
Now I think that is implied in the very wording of verse 7, “to all who are beloved of God in Rome.” But you may not see it so clearly here. So let me give the bigger biblical picture very briefly.
In the Old Testament, God promised that someday he would make what he called a “new covenant” with his people (Jeremiah 31:31) — an everlasting covenant. And the wonder of this covenant is that in it the love of God does not just offer safety to people, but promises to keep them safe from destruction. So, for example, in Jeremiah 32:40 God promises, “I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from me.”
Do you see what kind of love this is? This is more than the general love of invitation and offer. This is a love that “puts the fear of God in the heart” (similar to 2 Corinthians 4:6). This is the kind of love that works powerfully “so that [we] will not turn from God.” This is not a general love for all. It is a special love that puts the fear of God in our hearts and keeps us from turning away. This is the new covenant.
Now when Jesus comes into the world, he comes to die and purchase the privileges of this new covenant for us with his blood. So in Luke 22:20, Jesus says, at the Last Supper, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” So the blood of Jesus, in a very special way, was poured out to secure the promises of Jeremiah 32:40 — that God will put the fear of him in our hearts and keep us from turning away from him.
This is a very special and precious love. This is what you should feed on daily. This is sweet and this is strong. To know that you are loved in this way is the very heart of Christian assurance. That God has called me, that he has shone in my heart to give the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, that he will work omnipotently to keep me, and bring me to everlasting glory — this is what it means to be “the beloved of God.”
Who Can Separate Us from the Love of Christ?
Let’s see this illustrated in Romans 8. In verse 35 Paul asks, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” In other words, “Is there any way that Jeremiah 32:40 and the new covenant will be broken or nullified in the life of “the called of Jesus Christ” (see Romans 8:30)? Remember, in Jeremiah 32:40 God promised that he would work in his covenant people “so that they will not turn away from me.” That will be Paul’s answer here.
He asks in Romans 8:35, “Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword [separate us from the love of Christ]?” And he answers in verse 37, “[No, rather] in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us.”
Notice what keeps us from being separated from the love of Christ: we are kept from separation “through him who loved us.” So verse 35 asks, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” And verse 37 answers: nothing will separate us! And the reason given is that we overwhelmingly conquer “through him who loves us.” Or to put it simply and bluntly: the love of God keeps us from being separated from the love of Christ. Will “the called of Jesus Christ” be separated from him? No! Why? Because God loves us! The covenant love of God triumphs in preserving his own.
“The special, covenant love of God for us will triumph over everything that tries to destroy our faith.”
Then to confirm it again, Romans 8:38–39 attributes total triumph to the keeping power of the love of God in our lives: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In other words, the special, covenant love of God for us will triumph over everything that tries to destroy our faith and pull us away from God.
This is not the general love of God that offers eternal life to the world, nor is it the sustaining love of God that gives sun and rain even to his enemies. This is the love of God for his bride, his chosen people. He calls us from death to life, and he keeps us from falling away. And, as Romans 8:30 says, he will bring us to glory. “Those whom he called he justified, and those whom he justified he glorified.” This is the new covenant love of God. “I will put the fear of me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from me.”
This is what Paul means in Romans 1:7 when he says, “to all who are beloved of God in Rome.” And it is what God means when he says to you Christians today: “You are the called of Jesus Christ; you are my loved ones. I have chosen you for my own; I have called you; I have justified you; I will keep you; I will work in you what is pleasing in my sight (Hebrews 13:21); nothing will separate you from me; because I love you with an everlasting love. You are my beloved.”
Oh that God would grant you to know this love. Grasp it. Savor it. Rest in it. Be freed and made radical and risk-taking by it. And spend the rest of your life commending it to everyone you know. And if you do not yet know it, receive it now. Is not God even now speaking to your heart? Is he not even now revealing the beauty and truth of Christ who died for sinners so that everyone who believes in him might be saved? Believe in him. I urge you on behalf of God, believe in his Son!
Texts that connect the love of God with election: Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
Text that connects the love of God with sovereign grace in conversion: Ephesians 2:4–5.