“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ.”
If you were introducing yourself (to an individual or to a group of people) for the very first time, What are some of the things that you would be sure to include? And, as you present these aspects of your identity and your vocation, whether you are a mother, a father, a husband or a wife, whether you have 1, 2, or 10 children, whether you’re a stockbroker, a businessman, a school teacher, or still a student – here’s the question: Do you relate these aspects of your identity and calling directly to your relationship with Jesus Christ?
That’s a searching question. And it’s a question that no doubt challenges you to reconsider, at the most fundamental level, things like Who you are, and Whose you are. What you are called to do and Who has called you to do it, in this world. And Reader, that’s a question that each and every one of us needs to always keep at the forefront of our minds, and as we make our way through this passage of Scripture – we should consider this as a wonderful opportunity to learn, and to be instructed, by the example of a man who in this text is introducing himself to a number of people for the very first time.
And as we do so, we notice that to begin with, Paul identifies himself by two familiar but very important designations. First you’ll notice that he calls himself “a servant of Jesus Christ.” That phrase is significant because in reality it actually cuts across the grain of sinful human nature. Just the idea of having to spend the rest of your life in subjection to another man’s will can easily stir up feelings of anger, pride, fear, and even hatred. In Luke 19, where Jesus gives the parable of the ten pounds – we have an example of this very thing. According to the parable, a certain nobleman journeyed into a far country to receive a kingdom and return. Before he left, he gave ten pounds to his ten servants and charged them saying, “Occupy till I come.”
Then in verse 14 we read,
But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.
Now of course, we could multiply examples from the word of God, but I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that the life and the status of a servant is to the natural human mind a very undesirable thing. And because of that, it makes it all the more significant that Paul introduces himself first as a servant of Jesus Christ. For him, the life of a servant was nothing to be ashamed of, but instead, it was something to be embraced as the very highest and most honorable status that any man could receive.
And why is that? It’s because, when we are serving Jesus Christ, we are serving the only one who is truly worthy of our service! In other words, the greatness of Christian servanthood is directly related to the greatness of Christ himself.
In Psalm 84:10 the writer declares,
For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
Likewise John the Baptist confessed,
I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose?
What John is saying there is that the service of Jesus Christ – even at the lowest of all possible positions – is an honor and a privilege that no man deserves. It’s no wonder then, that Paul was eager to introduce himself as a servant of Jesus Christ.
But secondly, notice how Paul moves in verse one from the general to the specific, when he adds the phrase, “Called to be an apostle.” The idea here is that the office of a servant is an office to which every Christian, in every place, and in every age belongs. You and I are no less servants of Jesus Christ than Paul himself. But with the calling of every servant, there is also the assignment of a special work. For Paul, his work was that of an apostle – one who is sent, and thereby authorized to speak and to act in the name and with the authority of the person who sent him. In simple terms, Paul was a messenger, or even better, an ambassador.
And of course, when Paul identifies himself as an apostle, he uses that term in a very special and restricted sense – equal to the twelve – since like them, he received his commission immediately from Jesus Christ himself. If you’ll look down to verse 5 you’ll see that he writes, “by whom we have received grace and apostleship.” Elsewhere in his writings we see Paul emphasizing this very point.
For example in Galatians 1:1 we read,
Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.
So in verse one of our text we see that Paul is not only a servant, but more specifically, he’s an apostle, and even more specific than that, he tells us that he’s an apostle who’s been “separated unto the gospel.” And so notice here what the apostle Paul is doing. We can learn from this. Right in the middle of introducing himself, he quickly and almost seamlessly redirects our attention from himself, to the gospel. Without skipping a single beat, Paul moves the focus from the messenger to the message itself. So let this be a point of encouraging application: As we read this text you are witnessing – most likely for your own admonition – the apostle Paul’s faithful execution of his Christian calling. As he’s about to write later on in verse 16, He is “not ashamed of the gospel.”
And as he introduces the gospel now, he does so under the heads of two very central and indispensable factors:
It’s from God, and it’s about Christ.
First of all, the gospel is from God. And so you see at the end of verse 1 that Paul says, this is the gospel “of God.” Grammatically speaking, Paul gives that statement to us in the genitive form to express the idea that the gospel is God’s gospel. But again, it’s God’s gospel not so much because it belongs to God (although it does), and not so much because it’s about God (although it is), but more accurately, the gospel is God’s gospel because it’s from God. In other words, God is the source of the gospel – and that’s true from both an eternal as well as a temporal perspective:
We know of course that God is the source of the gospel because it originates with Him; He is the Author, and He is the Architect. He alone designed, and He Himself decreed every point and every detail of our redemption.
In 1 Corinthians 2:9 Scripture says,
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
That means that the gospel is the product of the mind of God alone. It is nothing less therefore, than the eternal and unchangeable purpose of the Triune God, which is why it’s always good, and it’s always right for us to sing, Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.
But also (and definitely more to Paul’s point), God is the source of the gospel in the sense that He Himself revealed it, and delivered, it to His people – in time. This is the meaning of the text, because that’s exactly what we find in verse two. Paul says, “Which he had promised afore.” So the gospel is God’s gospel because it came to man from God Himself.
Then notice that Paul explains that God promised the gospel, “by his prophets in the holy scriptures.” This phrase, according to W.G.T. Shedd, should be understood broadly, to include all of the “Messianic promises, prophecies, and types of the Old Testament,” so that in a very real sense, the whole of Scripture is prophetic and each of its inspired writers is a prophet.
Question 19 of the Heidelberg Catechism, after identifying Christ as the only Redeemer and Mediator of men, asks, “Whence knowest thou this?”
The answer reads,
From the Holy Gospel, which God Himself first revealed in Paradise, afterwards proclaimed by the holy Patriarchs and Prophets, and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law, and finally fulfilled by His well-beloved Son.
And because all that is true, we need to understand that for Paul the gospel that he preached was no religious novelty. I think that point is super important and that it needs to be understood today, more than ever. The Gospel that Paul preached, is the same Gospel that God has been preaching since the very beginning of the world. He not only preached it directly to Adam and Eve in the garden, but He also preached it through the prophets, and preserved it in the Scriptures. So in effect what Paul is saying here is that if you believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is some New Testament phenomenon and was not being effectually administered in the Old Testament era – you believe wrongly. Throughout the book of Romans, Paul repeatedly turns back to the Old Testament scriptures to substantiate the truth of his arguments and to prove that what he is teaching is what the Scriptures have always taught.
In Acts 26:22 Paul emphasized this very point to King Agrippa when he said,
Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come.
To put it succinctly, Paul is a new man – no doubt. But he’s a new man with an old message. The only difference between Paul’s message, and that which we find in the Old Testament is the degree to which the details of the gospel are now being explained. But it’s the same gospel – because it’s God’s gospel and like Pastor Jesse Gistand likes to say, God Himself, “cannot lie, cannot change, and cannot fail.”
But secondly we see that the gospel is about Jesus Christ. In verse 3 Paul tells us that God’s Gospel is “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” And just so you know, this is by far the most important part of Paul’s message, because, if you think that any man can preach God’s gospel and yet not preach God’s Son, then again you’re tragically mistaken. Why? Because by definition there is no difference between the two.
The gospel proper is nothing less and nothing more, than the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ. If you remove Christ, or any aspect of his finished work, you remove the gospel, because without him you have no Savior, no Redeemer, and no Mediator between you and God. Which basically means that you have no forgiveness, no salvation, and no hope for eternal life. At that point, how it’s even possible to describe such a message as anything close to “good news?”
Tell me if you can, what good news there is for guilty and polluted sinners, if it’s not that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was for the penalty of your sin crucified, dead, and buried? And tell me if you can, what good there is in a message to dead and dying sinners, if it cannot go on to affirm, with absolute historical certainty, that three days later, he was quickened by the Holy Spirit, raised from the dead, and for the salvation of his people, is now sitting at the right hand of the power of God?
That’s the gospel – and if you notice, all of that is actually summarized in verses 3 and 4.
In verse 3 Paul tells us that God’s Son “was made of the seed of David, according to the flesh.” That’s not only a reference to the incarnation, but also a confirmation of Paul’s previous statement, where he said that God pre-announced the gospel by the prophets “in the holy Scriptures.” Paul is validating that claim as he identifies Jesus as both the Son of God and the seed of David.
The scriptural reference is 2 Samuel 7:12-14, where God said to David,
And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
Then in verse 4 Paul tells us that Jesus Christ “was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Now it may help to know that in verses three and four, Paul marks a contrast between “flesh” (σαρκα) and “the spirit of holiness” (πνευμα αγιωσυνης) by using two parallel κατα statements, “according to the flesh” (v3), and “according to the spirit of holiness” (v4).
But what is the significance of the parallel?
The vast majority of commentators are divided into two basic interpretations: The first group understands the contrast to be in reference to the two natures of Christ (human, divine) with the resurrection as the certain declaration of his deity (see Calvin, Hodge, Shedd, Haldane, etc). The second group understands the contrast to be in reference to the two states of Christ (humiliation, exaltation) the former being introduced by his incarnation through the agency of the flesh, and the latter being introduced by his resurrection through the agency of the Spirit (see Lenski, Murray, Stott, Hendriksen etc).
In other words, on the first interpretation “the spirit of holiness” (πνευμα αγιωσυνης) is a reference to the Godhead of Jesus; in the second, it refers to the Holy Spirit Himself. But which of these is correct? Of the two, the latter interpretation is preferable for the following reasons:
First, the term ορισθεντος is consistently rendered throughout the New Testament as “determined,” “ordained,” or “appointed” (Lk. 22:22; Acts 2:23; 10:42; 11:29; 17:26, 31; Heb. 4:7) rather than simply “declared.” If we keep with its normal usage, the idea would be that by his resurrection Jesus Christ was appointed the Son of God with power.
Contrary to some, this view introduces no sustainable christological concern. Admitting that Christ was always the Son of God, this view sees “with power” as necessarily modifying “the Son of God” rather than “declared.” So it’s not so much that the declaration of Christ’s sonship was somehow empowered by the resurrection, but rather that the Son of God, by virtue of his resurrection, was himself invested with power (Eph. 1:19-23).
John Murray writes,
The apostle doesn’t say that Jesus was appointed ‘Son of God’ but ‘Son of God in power.’ This addition makes all the difference.
This is consistent with Acts 2:32-36 which likewise affirms that by his resurrection, God (in some sense) “hath made (εποιησεν) that same Jesus both Lord and Christ.” Was he not already both Lord and Christ?
Moreover, this interpretation is consistent with the New Testament presentation of the pre and post resurrection states of Christ, which are often contrasted in terms of “weakness” and subsequent “power.”
In 1 Corinthians 13:4 Paul writes,
For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God.
In 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 Paul contrasts pre and post resurrection life in similar terms. At death, says Paul, the human body is “sown in weakness.” But at the resurrection, it is “raised in power.”
Finally, this interpretation avoids the awkward identification of “the spirit of holiness” with either the spiritual (as opposed to the physical) aspect of Christ’s humanity, or of his divine (as opposed to his human) nature. In light of passages like Isaiah 63:10 and 51:11, it’s better to take this phrase as a reference to the Holy Spirit. As to the scriptural connections of the Holy Spirit with “power” and the “resurrection” of Jesus Christ, see Luke 1:35; Acts 1:8; 10:38; Romans 8:11; 1 Pet. 3:18, etc.
So even though the English makes it a little hard to see, what Paul is actually saying here is that God appointed Jesus Christ to be invested with resurrection power, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who raised him from the dead. Incidentally, Paul’s summary of the gospel can be divided almost perfectly into what Reformed theologians call “the two states of Christ,” (1) his humiliation and (2) his exaltation. Or as the apostle Peter called it in 1 Peter 1:11, “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”
And finally, Paul concludes his salutation with a statement informing us of his ultimate purpose. In verse 6 He explains that the goal of his apostleship and the aim of his preaching, was “for his name,” that is, “for the reputation of Jesus Christ.” In other words, every sermon that Paul ever preached, and every letter that Paul ever wrote – even down to the jot and tittle of his own testimony – was intentionally designed to magnify the glory and honor and praise of Jesus Christ.