A Godly Ambition
Scripture: Romans 15:14–15:24
Synopsis: As we approach the end of this sermon series from the Book of Romans, Pastor Cam takes time for a brief review of the Gospel and looks at 3 responses called for by the “Good News” from God. Find out what they are and how the third response (elaborated in Romans 15:14-21) can (and needs to) become A Godly Ambition that should shape not only the coming year, but the rest of our lives.
Welcome to this first ECC worship service of 2013! The start of a fresh new year! It’s a good time for taking stock; reflecting on the year that has passed and looking ahead and setting goals for the year ahead. So on that note, I have a question to ask you. What are your ambitions for 2013?
As Christians, sometimes we shy away from that word “ambition”. It sounds rather fleshly, worldly, man-driven. And often it is. The Bible warns us against something called “selfish ambition”. Philippians 2:3 in the King James Version warns us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition and vain conceit.”
But such a warning does not mean that we as Christians should be passive and without ambition. There is another kind of ambition. We might call this “godly ambition.” So I will qualify my question: What are your godly ambitions for 2013?
We are moving into the final section of the Book of Romans. In a sense, we have completed the teaching section of this great epistle. He has concluded his treatise on the Gospel, and the rest of chapter 15 and chapter 16 will be taken up with personal notes and information on his plans for the future and a proposed visit to Rome. But even from his personal notes, we can learn some valuable lessons. And one of the things we learn is that Paul was an ambitious man. He was filled with godly ambition. He writes in Romans 15:20, “and thus I make it my ambition…”
What was Paul’s ambition? At this point, his answer should not surprise us: “and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel…”
This has been Paul’s subject and preoccupation from the opening sentence of this letter. In Romans 1:1 Paul opens his letter by introducing himself as, Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…
As I said, we have completed the teaching section of the epistle and Paul’s exposition of the Gospel, but let us take just a moment for a very brief review. The Gospel (or “good news”) is the message that as human beings, we can become righteous in God’s sight and before God’s court by faith.
In the opening section of the letter, Paul addresses the question: Who needs the Gospel? Who needs this righteousness that comes from God and is received by faith? The presupposition is that anyone who has his or her own righteousness does not need the Gospel. But Paul argues skillfully to show that, in fact, there is no one whose personal righteousness will withstand God’s piercing and thorough judgment. As Paul tells us in Romans 3:23: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And what is more, in Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death…
So, who needs the Gospel? Every one of us needs the Gospel! So just what is the good news? Well the good news can be found in the second half of that verse we just looked at (Romans 6:23): For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. This message is both expanded and summarized in Paul’s words in Romans 3:24-25. It is the good news that we can be
justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
The Gospel is all there in this sentence, so rich in theological language; Justification, grace, redemption, propitiation, faith and the blood of the perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel message distilled into its most concentrated and essential elements. Jesus Christ shed his blood on the cross as the sacrifice that satisfied the wrath of God against our sins. So, now we can be declared righteous before God by grace, a free gift. All we have to do is to receive this gift by faith.
In the following chapters, Paul not only defends his message, but also expounds on the benefits we receive when we are justified by faith: Benefits like peace with God and hope for eternity and the endurance which that hope brings us in the hard times of life. It is the reality that there is now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
So, who needs the Gospel? We all do. What is the Gospel? It is the good news that we can be made right with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That brings us to the third great theme or topic of Paul’s letter. How shall we then live? What effect does this Gospel have on our lives: our daily thoughts, words and actions? That has been the topic Paul has been expounding in Romans 12-15, beginning with the call in Romans 12:1 for us to put our bodies on the altar as living sacrifices, devoted to living out the will of God.
Well, as I said, that is a very brief review, touching on only the very highest of highlights from this great epistle. For more detail, you can go back to the church website, or even get a CD containing the recordings of all these sermons.
We have been working our way through Romans now for almost a year and a half. We started in September of 2011. We will wrap up with a final message next Friday. As we come to the conclusion of this series, I sincerely hope that we have all grown in our knowledge and understanding of Romans and of the Gospel. But there is a more pressing concern. We have grown in our knowledge. But what shall we do with this knowledge we have acquired? What shall we do with the Gospel message?
I believe the Gospel calls urgently for three responses. First, the Gospel is something to believe. This is the first and most essential matter that is pressed upon us in Romans. It is the simple and fundamental question: Is this good news true? Do you believe it? In one of my early messages, I made the point that there was an important division of labor between myself as the preacher and you as the hearers. My task was to explain Paul’s words (God’s words) as clearly and accurately as I could. I have sought to do that. In reliance on the guidance and anointing of the Holy Spirit, I have brought every effort and skill at my disposal to present the truths of the Gospel and the Book of Romans to you week after week. But there is another part of the contract that only you can fulfill. That is believing it. Believing is something I, as the preacher, cannot do for you. It is something your parents cannot do for you. It is something your teacher or your Christian friends cannot do for you. It is something you have to do for yourself. It is the 18 inches the Gospel must travel from your head to your heart when you say with genuine faith and conviction: I believe.
This is when the power of the Gospel is released as Paul told us in Romans 1:16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…
It is not enough to understand the Gospel. We must believe it! Belief is more than intellectual assent. It is more than nodding our heads to say, “I agree. That makes sense.” It is a transfer of trust. It is putting our weight down on the finished work of Christ on the cross.
There is a very old and over-used sermon illustration. You’ve probably heard a version of this story somewhere along the line. I have no idea if it’s actually true – but it clearly illustrates the point. It is the story of a tightrope walker who was performing on a high wire stretched over Niagara Falls. He first walked across the wire and everyone cheered. Then he rode a bicycle across the wire and everyone cheered again. Then he pushed a wheelbarrow across the wire and everyone cheered some more. One man was especially enthusiastic in his cheering. So the tightrope walker approached him. “Do you believe I can push the wheel barrow across the wire with a person sitting in it?”
The man was enthusiastic in his response. “Of course! You’re the greatest high wire artist ever. You can do it!”
“Good,” the high wire artist said. “Then get in.”
That’s when we find out whether our enthusiastic, intellectual belief is genuine faith. Jesus Christ is asking us to get in his wheel barrow, to trust in him and him alone as our Savior from sin. And so I will ask you again, as I have asked you repeatedly during this sermon series. “Do you believe?” The Gospel is first of all something to be believed. If the Gospel is true, then your eternal destiny is riding on your answer to that question.
But the Gospel is more than something to be believed. The Gospel is also something to be lived. In fact, the one thing that Paul has made clear in this letter is the fact that it is impossible to genuinely believe the Gospel, to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, and to remain unchanged. If the Gospel is true, and if we genuinely believe it, our lives will be transformed.
This is the point that Paul made in Romans 6:1-4:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
The Gospel changes us. Faith in Christ changes us. We are given a new heart. The Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us. We are called to “walk in newness of life.” As we present our bodies as living sacrifices, the Spirit of God transforms from the inside out by renewing our minds. We think differently and in turn our thoughts, word and actions are transformed. It doesn’t happen all at once. It is a process that takes place over time. We may have times of rapid growth and times of slow growth, stagnation, or even backsliding as we hinder the Spirit’s working by quenching him or grieving him. But the clear teaching of Scripture is that we will be changed and transformed. If there is no transformation of life, then there is a serious question as to whether genuine faith is present. The Gospel is something to be lived.
But we are not quite finished. And this is where we come to the question with which we began this message. It is the question of godly ambition. The Gospel is something to be believed. The Gospel is something to be lived. And the Gospel is something to be proclaimed. This was Paul’s sacred, holy and godly ambition. Listen to the language and imagery he uses to explain this holy calling in Romans 15:15-21.
But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.”
Now there are some things in this passage that are unique to Paul and his role as an Apostle, and more specifically as an Apostle to the Gentiles. But I believe the imagery he uses can be applied to all of us as followers of Christ. Paul pictures himself as a priest serving God in the temple. The temple is the Gospel. And as a priest, Paul is placing a sacrifice on the altar. His offerings on the altar in this case are the people who have come to Christ through his ministry; in his case, the Gentiles. His prayer is that his offering will be accepted and pleasing to God.
I believe that we can all have that same godly ambition; to offer our service to God and his Gospel. Now Paul’s ambition and his calling were specific. As he says: I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.
Not all of us are called and gifted to do frontier or pioneer evangelism. But I believe that all of us are called to serve as priests before God and to offer our service to him and to the Gospel. And one of the primary ways we can do that is by sharing the Gospel message with the people around us. How could it be otherwise? How could we possibly know this good news, genuinely believe it, experience its transforming power in our lives…and then keep it to ourselves?
So, what are our ambitions for 2013? To lose some weight? To start an exercise program? To get out of debt or start saving for the future? There is nothing wrong with any of these. But have we given any thought to our ambitions in the spiritual realm? Do we have any godly ambitions? More specifically, what are our ambitions regarding the Gospel we have heard from the Book of Romans? The Gospel is something to be believed. It is something to be lived. And it is something to be proclaimed. What will we do with the Gospel in 2013?
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions for 2012 (the past year)? How did that go? Spend time in your group discussing the value of making such resolutions (based on past experience).
- Have you made any Resolutions for 2013? If so, share some of these with your group (as much as you are comfortable doing so).
- The message for this week is titled “A Godly Ambition”. What is the difference between a resolution and an ambition (if any)? Should Christians have ambitions? Why or why not?
- In this message, we look at 3 responses called for by the Gospel. What are they? How have you responded to this series of messages on Romans (concerning the Gospel)? Have you made any new responses? Renewed previous ones? How has this series of messages impacted your life?
- What ambition does Paul refer to in this passage (Romans 15:14-21)? What is the word picture he uses to describe his ambition? (Think altar and priest.) What is unique about Paul’s ambition? What should be universal (to all believers).
- What are your “godly ambitions” for 2013 and the rest of your life?