By Will Dole
I currently work with South Lake Youth Ministries (SLY) in Plummer, ID. The reason SLY exists is to see young people reached and changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ; particularly young people in rural areas that lack large churches along with the large youth ministry budgets that often accompany them. We spend a good chunk of our time not only working directly with youth, but also working to challenge and equip leaders in rural churches to disciple the next generation.
A couple of months ago we were in Montana at a workshop regarding youth ministry in rural settings. The workshop was split into two sections. The first part was a discussion on the philosophy of ministry and the second part dealt with the more practical application of such programs. I taught the former, while the Director of SLY, Wayne Eve, taught the latter portion.
As I wrestled with how to communicate our passion for keeping the gospel at the center of ministry, I turned to the first chapter of Romans. My intention was to use Romans 1:16, but God has a sense of humor, so as I read the entire first chapter of the Paul’s letter to the Romans to understand the context of this verse better, I realized how askew my preparation was. So instead of trying to prove my opinions using the text, I decided to let Scripture speak clearly for itself. While we do not have space here to go over everything I learned through my investigations, we are going to discuss the part of this letter. I now consider this passage near the top of my favorite passages of Scripture, because it so clearly demonstrates what God has saved us for and therefore, what ministry is to be about.
“Paul, a servantof Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,concerning his Son, who was descended from Davidaccording to the flesh and 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,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,including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 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” (Romans 1:1-7 ESV).
The first thing that grabs my attention about this passage is that it is all contained with Paul’s introductory greeting. This is Paul’s longest introduction of himself and I believe that fact should cause us to take note. He tells us first of all that he is a servant of Christ who is called to be an apostle.
He then makes a statement that I find absolutely fascinating. He says that he, as a servant and apostle of Christ, has been “set apart for the gospel of God.” He goes on to make clear what exactly that gospel is. He explains there was a Savior promised to Israel in the Old Testament Scriptures, who was to be a descendant of David. That Savior, who is Jesus, came and was not only a descendant of David, but also is the Son of God Himself, as proved by His resurrection from the dead. Through this gospel we have received grace by which we are saved, (Ephesians 2:8-9) and apostleship. This all seems pretty straightforward. But I want to draw our attention to the tail end of these verses.
It is very interesting that we have not merely received grace and apostleship as ends in themselves. Grace and apostleship are to bring about the obedience of faith. This means that the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not just so that I can go to heaven when I die. This short-sighted teaching of evangelism is something that I have pointed out before in this column, but it is shown clearly unbiblical here. Eternity with God is certainly promised for those who believe (John 3:16, Revelation 21:7), but that is far from the whole deal. Faith is to bring about obedience or it is no faith at all (James 2:17). Faith is itself an act of obedience to God (see John 14:1, Hebrews 11:6, James 1:6-7). Because of this, we are unable to generate it in and of ourselves, it must come from God as a gift (Romans 3:24, Ephesians 2:5, 8). Having been given that gift of faith, our lives are to be fundamentally different (see also Romans 6).
Again, we see that even obedience is not the end goal of the gospel. We have seen that Jesus came and through His work we are given grace through which we can obey. But that obedience has a meaning deeper than the actions themselves. They are designed and intended to bring glory to God among the nations. Let’s look at a couple of those verses again,
“…Jesus Christ our Lord,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” (verses 4 and 5 ESV, italics mine).
Our obedience and faith has an end in mind and that end is bringing glory to God among all the nations. Jesus told us that this was the point of our good works, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) We also see elsewhere in Paul’s writing that God has saved us for the praise of His glory and grace (Ephesians 1:6,12,14). And Ephesians 2:10 implies that God had these good works in mind when He saved us. This might sound somewhat like slavery to the skeptical person reading. God saves us to make Him look glorious and gracious? Is this not narcissism at its worst? No! It truly is gracious and glorious. We see in Isaiah 43:7 that God made us for His name’s sake, but we also see in places like Romans chapters one and three that we can pursue things other than God. This means we end up unfulfilled and dissatisfied in life because we pursue something entirely different than what we were created for. But God, in saving us and calling us to an obedience which proclaims His name throughout the whole earth, not only is displaying His magnificence, but is also allowing us to have the most fulfilling joy possible (John 15:11)! This is how we can proclaim with Paul in Philippians 1:21 that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Our salvation is bigger than praying a prayer and waiting to die. It is a call to spread the glory and fame of God wherever we are called on this earth and that is where our joy is found.Raised in a Christian home in North Idaho, Will Dole is a sinner saved by the amazing grace of Jesus. He is pursuing a life in ministry and currently works with South Lake Youth Ministries in Plummer, Idaho. He enjoys spending his time reading, studying, writing, fishing, hiking and hanging out with his beautiful wife, among other things. He is student at the Rocky Mountain Bible Mission’s Bible Training Center in Missoula, Montana. You can check out Will’s occasional musings in both written and video form at www.cdubthinking.blogspot.com