In our study of salvation through Romans we have learned many things. Paul has taught us how God, from the very beginning, foreknew us and predestined us to become recipients of the gospel call. He has explained that because all have sinned salvation is necessary for everyone. He has described the various components of the salvation process which include justification and reconciliation, regeneration and sanctification, and finally glorification. Perhaps most importantly, Paul has taught how a person can receive salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. If a sinner will repent of their sins, asking Christ to forgive them, and then will commit their lives to Him as Lord and Savior they will be saved.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul has also described how Christians should behave. The effects of salvation are not limited to our eternal lives in heaven, but rather should have practical application to our present lives on earth. Those who have accepted Jesus and been born-again should live in a manner that reflects their salvation and differentiates them from the world. Paul has named several characteristics that should be exemplified in the lives of believers. They should serve others, display a Christ-like attitude, submit to legitimate authority, demonstrate love for one another, shine as light in the darkness, accept and respect each other, and resist passing judgment.
In the first half of chapter 15 Paul concludes the teaching portion of his letter. His formal and systematic instruction on the theology and practical effects of salvation comes to an end. We have meticulously studied this material over the past several months. Following today's message only 2 sermons remain in this series, and both have to do with Paul's benedictory remarks to the Romans.
This morning we will examine one last trait that should be visible in the lives of God's children - self-denial. Even after a person receives salvation and the forgiveness of their sins, their carnal nature with all of its lust and desires remains. Christians therefore must learn to resist the sinful impulses of the flesh in order to walk as Jesus' disciples.
I. DENY YOURSELF ON BEHALF OF OTHERS (Romans 15:1-4)
In the previous chapter Paul introduced the idea of the "stronger" helping the "weaker". He was not trying to demean or ridicule those who he described as weaker, but rather he was simply trying to distinguish the differences between these two groups. He echos this comparison again in the opening verse of chapter 15 by encouraging the strong to bear the burden of those who are weak. A willingness to carry the load of another who is unable requires a person to practice self-denial.
Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who denied themselves in order to please others. He forsook His own will and ambition in order to accomplish the plans of His Father. In so doing, He willing bore the sinful reproaches that had been committed against God upon Himself at Calvary. Paul cites the words of David in Psalm 69:9 stating that these Old Testament verses were written to foretell the coming work of Christ, that we might persevere with encouragement and hope.
Notice that we are called to bear the weaknesses of "those without strength" - not those who are strong enough to carry their own load. In our zeal to help and serve others who are in need, we must be careful not to become enablers of those who could otherwise help themselves. As we seek to show compassion for those in despair, we must by wary of taking on the problems of others who are able to confront them but simply don't want to. The self-denial which we read about in Scripture calls us to bear the burdens of those who are weak and unable, not the burdens of those who are lazy or indifferent. We don't need to carry any more weight than we are called to.
II. BE OF THE SAME MIND WITH ONE ANOTHER (Romans 15:5-6)
This same God who gives perseverance and encouragement to His followers also grants them to be of the same mind. Paul encourages the Christian believers in Rome to share a single-mindedness. In many of his letters, Paul urges his readers to be of "one mind" or of the "same mind" or of "like mind" with each other. He wrote to the Philippian church, "Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel..." (Phil.1:27)
Being of the same mind does not mean that we are to think the same on all issues. If that were the case, there would be no need to accept and respect one another's differences because everyone would think the same thing. Thus, Paul is not arguing that we should have uniformity of thought. Rather, he is urging us to lay aside our differences in order to focus on a single and common purpose that is greater than our various individual desires. Again, this like-mindedness of purpose will require some level of personal self-denial.
This single-mindedness is "according to Christ Jesus". Elsewhere Paul writes that we are to have the mind of Christ. Therefore, the common purpose that should bind all believers together in one mind is none other than that of Christ Himself. So what was the Lord's purpose for coming and dying on the cross as the means of atonement for humanity's sin? He came to save the lost, desiring that none would perish but that all would receive eternal life. Therefore, we must embrace the Great Commission and be of one mind, striving to reach any and all unsaved people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
III. ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER (Romans 15:7-12)
As we have stated frequently during this series, the church at Rome consisted of a large contingent of both Jewish and Gentile believers. Though they were united by their faith in Jesus Christ, significant differences remained in their religious customs and practices. Many of the Jews were hesitant to accept the Gentile believers in the church unless they were willing to embrace the Jewish laws and traditions. Knowing this, Paul cites several Old Testament passages that indicate that it had always been God's plan to accept the Gentiles into His family.
Psalm 18:49, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10 are all listed as evidence that God's name was to be praised among the Gentile nations and that He was the LORD of the Gentiles as well as the Jews. On this basis, Paul again urges the Roman congregation to accept one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. He further states that Jesus became a servant to the Jews ("the circumcision") to confirm the promises made by God to their fathers and a servant to the Gentiles in order to extend the mercy of God. Jesus freely and lovingly accepts both, and so should we.
While we don't have a large faction of Jews and Gentiles worshiping together in the modern Christian church, nevertheless we still have differences of opinion regarding various religious customs, practices, and traditions. Accepting one another will demand, once again, that we deny ourselves at times for the edification of us all. This should not be interpreted to mean that we are willing to compromise the truths of God or to overlook sin, but rather that we are willing to put aside our personal preferences on occasion for the good of the body.
IV. ABOUND IN HOPE (Romans 15:13)
Paul closes the teaching portion of his letter with a brief prayer sentence. He asks God to fill his readers with joy and peace, so that they will abound in hope. This will be accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. The word abound is defined, "to be present in large numbers or in great quantity; to be copiously supplied". Paul's prayer is not simply that the Romans will have hope in Christ, but that they will overflow with an abundence of hope.
The hope that is discussed here goes well beyond the future expectation of heaven. It is a hope that should shape our present realities as we endure hardships and persecutions. In every circumstance, no matter how difficult or extreme, Christians have the hope that God will see them through. In every dark night there is hope for a new and brighter day in Christ Jesus. Such hope gives us strength to endure heavy affliction for the cause of Christ. Such was the case for the Roman Christians.
When I look into the eyes of people today, it seems that many have lost hope. The economic decline has hit many people very hard. The joblessness and poverty is wide-spread. On the news, we see reports of terrorism and violence running rampant. People are being tortured and killed by the hundreds. Christian persecution is greater now than its ever been, and it continues to increase - even here in America. Even still, just as in the first century, we are encouraged to abound in hope.
While teaching His followers, Jesus closely connected the concepts of denying oneself and taking up one's cross. As He made His way to Golgotha to be crucified, the Lord carried His own cross. The cross represented His accomplishment of God's purpose for His life, to make salvation available to all people. It serves as a robust picture exhorting us to carry this burden for the lost every single day. In other words, we are not told to deny ourselves for the sake of self-deprivation or to earn God's favor. Rather, we are to do so for the cause of Christ in order to reach this lost world.
Some of the things we should deny ourselves of include our own selfish ambitions, our desires for fame and fortune, our own personal interests which conflict with God's plan for our lives, our lusts and passions for sinful things, and our inclination to live for ourselves rather than for God. We must purposely submit our will to His, and at times our opinions to those of others. We must learn to say "No" to ourselves and "Yes" to Him.