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06.13.10 What Does it Mean to Have Faith? Romans 1:8-17 Sermon Summary

by on June 14, 2010

Romans is the longest and most systematic theological treatise we have in the Bible. It has done more to influence Christianity than any other book in the Bible. Romans 1:16-17 sets the stage, and concludes with these words: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ So what does it mean to live by faith?

Summary Points

  • Christian faith is exemplary
  • Exemplary faith is produced by discerning and doing God’s will
  • Christian faith is communal
  • Communal faith means contributing to others with money and service
  • Christian faith is renewed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  • The good news of Jesus changes to meet our growth needs

(1) Christian faith is exemplary. Paul says the Romans’ faith “is being reported all over the world.” Jesus was crucified and his disciples persecuted by Roman authorities. In the very place where one would expect a marginal Christianity the church thrived.

Why can’t you have exemplary faith? Don’t know the Bible or theology well enough? Rome had exemplary faith before they received this letter. Too much confusion or discord in your life? In chapter 12, Paul begins to exhort and instruct the church in Rome how to get along with one another. You can have exemplary faith even if you don’t know the Bible, theology, or get along with everyone in your life.

So how do we have exemplary faith? In Romans 15:16 Paul says he proclaims the gospel of Christ so that people can become an acceptable offering to God. In Romans 12:1-2, he tells us how to do this: we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. We can have exemplary faith by not conforming uncritically to the world around us, but rather by being transformed through the prayerful discernment of God’s will.

(2) Christian faith is communal. Paul wants to come to Rome to, “impart some spiritual gift to make you strong,” then rephrases that to say, “that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” In other words, Christian faith is communal.

The way we have communal faith is by helping one another. One reason Paul writes Romans is to “have harvest among them,” and he can’t be talking about conversion because they already have exemplary faith. He’s talking about money. From chapter 15:24-28 we know how Paul intends to use their money; it will fund his missionary work (15:24), and he will use it to support churches that are poor (15:26-28).

In today’s church, this means the church collects money for spending it on ministry (including supplies, facilities, and salaries for leaders), and on helping people who are poor. And this principle should guide our giving to the church as well. We should give not because we like what the church does for us, but because the church is doing ministry and helping those who are poor.

But money isn’t the only way to have communal faith. In Romans 12 Paul talks about various gifts that people have, gifts God has given us to serve one another. Gifts of service, of encouragement of leadership, of preaching and teaching. Paul includes the ability to contribute to the needs of others as a gift.

If you don’t know what your gifts are, pray that you may discover them. Ask others what they are. Think about what you like or are good at. If you know what they are, pray how you may use them, and undoubtedly you’ll be led to the practice of communal faith.

(3) Christian faith is renewed by the gospel of Christ. Paul wants “to preach the gospel also to those who live in Rome.” Why? They already know the gospel! They already have exemplary faith. They are already living in community.

The reason is that Christian faith is always growing, always evolving, always on the move. Christian faith is living. It is dynamic. Christian faith is personal. Christian faith isn’t frozen in the Bible, or in doctrines, or in traditions, or in churches. Christian faith is situational and conditional, dependent on where we are in life.

Christian faith is different for a single person than for a married person, for a child than for an adult, for someone who is on top of life versus someone in the “dark night of the soul.” And Paul knew this. In all his travels and experiences, he knew that Christian faith can always be deepened by the gospel of Christ. And so he desires to come to Rome and proclaim the gospel to them also.

Too many of us are living with a stale Christian faith. We’re afraid to admit this because we were taught that Christian faith doesn’t change. But it does. What can we do? We can do the things Paul talks about in this passage. Begin to pray to know God’s will and how to follow it. Then your Christian faith will be exemplary. Find an opportunity to give of yourself to the community. Then your Christian faith will be communal. And open yourself once again to the good news of Jesus Christ, to the right relationship with God that is available through him, a relationship that grows with you throughout your entire life. Then your Christian faith will be renewed by the gospel of Christ.

God has called us to have faith, and the righteous by faith, will live. Amen.

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