Speaker: 
John Piper
Date Given: 
November 24, 2002

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. 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all
of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.

I would like to base my message this morning on Paul’s
letter to the Romans, chapter 1, verses 7-8. "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. 8 First, I
thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your
faith is proclaimed in all the world."
You can see from verse
8 where I got the title for the message: "Thank God for Famous
Faith." Paul is thankful to God, he says, "because your faith is
proclaimed in all the world." In other words, the faith of the
Roman Christians was famous and Paul was thankful to God for
that.

My aim is to help you share in this faith that Paul is so
thankful for. If you are a believer in Christ this morning, my aim
is to help you be stronger in your faith – the same goal Paul
had in writing to the Roman church (verse 12): "That we may be
mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine."
And if you are not a believer this morning my aim is that through
this message you will see Christ as true and trustworthy and
beautiful and indispensable for the forgiveness of your sins and
for the hope of eternal life.

Question: Why Was Paul thankful that the faith of the Roman
church was famous?

I am going to ask only one question from this text and give six
answers from the Bible and from our common experience. The question
is simply this: Why was Paul thankful that the faith of the Roman
church was famous? When he said, "I thank my God through Jesus
Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the
world," why was this?

Here is a man who has never been to Rome. He was not saying: I
am really glad that your faith is so famous because that means my
work has not been in vain. Their faith was not his work (in more
ways than one!). He had never been to Rome. Some of his converts
may have traveled there (see chapter 16). But Paul had not planted
this church.

So he was thankful not because it reflected on his own successes
or fruitfulness, but evidently for other reasons. That is what I
wanted to find out for myself and for you this morning. Why was he
so thankful that their faith was proclaimed in all the world? My
prayer is that in answering this question, that very faith might be
wakened and strengthened in us this morning.

I see six reasons that Paul is thankful for the famous faith of
the Roman Christians.

Reason # 1. Paul is thankful for the famous faith of the church
because Christ is the one they have faith in.

He says in Romans 3:21-22, "But now the righteousness of God has
been manifested apart from the law . . . 22 the righteousness of
God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." He said it
again even more clearly in Galatians 2:16, "We know that a person
is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus
Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be
justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law."

So when Paul says that he is thankful for the famous faith of
the Romans, he means faith in Jesus Christ. Not vague faith in any
God, like Allah, or a Hindu deity, or Buddhist principle, or New
Age spirit medium, or even a vague notion of the true God
disconnected from his Son, the Savior who came into the world to
save sinners. Paul is thankful that faith in Jesus Christ was
becoming famous throughout the Roman world.

Reason # 2. Paul is thankful for the famous faith of the church
because he had a passion and a calling to see the name of Christ
exalted among the nations.

Look back in the text at Romans 1:4-5, "[Christ 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, 5 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."
Notice that last phrase: "for the sake of his name among all
nations." Whose name? The name of Jesus Christ.

Verse 5 says that God had given Paul grace and apostleship to
preach and teach and suffer so that the obedience of faith would
spread. And then he adds, "for the sake of his name among all the
nations." In other words, Paul’s assumption is that when
faith spreads, the name of Jesus is exalted and honored.
That’s what he means by "for the sake of his name."

The name of Jesus here stands for the fame of his truth and
wisdom and power and beauty and dependability. Paul has seen Jesus
Christ and knows him and loves him and has a passion to see others
know and love and exalt him. So when it happens, he is thankful.
This was his life and his calling and his mission. Let everything
be done for the sake of the name. Let every plan we frame and every
choice we make have this aim: to make much of Jesus Christ. To show
that he is the greatest person and the greatest treasure in the
world.

Reason # 3. Paul is thankful for the famous faith of the church
because Christian faith is well founded.

In Paul’s mind faith is not a leap in the dark; it is a
response to the revelation of Light. And this Light is not merely
subjective. It is rooted in history and mediated through
God’s Word. It is experiential. It would be of no use or
interest to humans if it weren’t. But this famous faith is
vastly more than experiential. People have all kinds of experiences
that have no root in historical reality, and no authenticating
warrant in the Word of God. That is not what Paul is thankful for.
Paul is not thankful that a myth is spreading in the world.

This is important to stress today because it might help overcome
some of the reasons people reject the gospel. For example, one
reason people reject it is that you have to be arrogant to believe
it, and the other is that you have to be a fool to believe it.
Being even a little bit closer to downtown makes me aware of both
of these. There are clergy nearby, perhaps preaching at this very
moment, whom I know by name and have met with, who think we are
arrogant to believe that there is reliable historical evidence for
the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the Son of God who is the only
way to heaven.

And yesterday morning I was jogging downtown and ran by a man
reading an interesting book. So I stopped and asked him about it.
One thing led to another and soon we were talking about Christ. His
name was Jonathan. I invited him to come and hope he is here
listening to this. I told him I was going to tell this story. He
said he did not believe in Christ and then, with a certain flair,
said, "Any one who can believe that an angel came down and made a
virgin pregnant with the Creator of the universe has got to be
almost insane." Then I made things even worse by saying, yes, the
Son of God, who created the world was born of a virgin (not from an
angel, but from the Holy Spirit) and he lived a perfect life and
died on the cross to take our place and forgive our sins. To which
he said, "I don’t believe that: no one can die for another
person." And I made it worse one more time. I said that God is just
and angry at sinners like me and you, but if we believe on Christ
he will accept us and give us eternal life. He said, "You folks are
so afraid – afraid of God, afraid of everything."

Well, I urged him to make a little room in his mind for mystery,
and not to call it insane too quickly. And I urged him to remember
what I said because one of these nights he would wake up in fear
and know that he was guilty before God just like I am. And I urged
him that there are things that we, as lost sinners, ought to be
afraid of, and that believing in Christ takes away the fear. And
then I begged him to come and pointed to the Convention center from
where we were standing.

Now here is the point of that little story from yesterday
morning. Jonathan has rejected Christianity because it sounds too
fantastic and almost insane and unsubstantiated. In fact, at one
point he even said, "That’s too good to be true." So let me
just say this to Jonathan and others of you who may feel the same.
Even though I can’t give a lecture now on the credibility of
the Christian faith, I can show you this: the apostle Paul, who
wrote these words, intended to base them on real historical
evidence – especially the resurrection of Jesus from the
dead. He said in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8,

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4
that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in
accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,
then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred
brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some
have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the
apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also
to me.

So my plea to
Jonathan and all of you is not that this proves it
or settles it, but that you not turn away from the good news that
Christ died for our sins. And that you seek him in the Bible and
test the witnesses to see if these things are so.

Reason # 4. Paul is thankful for the famous faith of the church
because faith in Christ shows that Christ is trustworthy and
valuable.

We learned from verse 5 that Paul had a passion and a calling to
exalt the name of Christ among all the nations. He wanted Christ to
look great. That was his life. He said, "To me to live is Christ."
How then do you make Christ look great? Answer: trust him. When you
trust someone, you are saying: he is trustworthy. So when the faith
of the church is proclaimed throughout the world, what is being
proclaimed is this: "Christ is trustworthy! Christ is wise enough
and strong enough and loving enough to save me from all my sin and
bring me home to God."

But that’s not all faith shows. Christian faith is not
just believing THAT Christ will save. It is a certain gladness or
satisfaction that Christ IS that salvation. In other words, we
don’t trust Christ merely to get something besides Christ.
Our trust in Christ means receiving him as our treasure. He is what
we trust him for. When we trust him. we get what is best. And what
is best is Christ himself. Therefore when faith spreads, what
spreads is not only the trustworthiness of Christ in what he can
do, but the value and worth of Christ in what he is in himself to
satisfy our hearts forever.

Reason # 5. Paul is thankful for the famous faith of the church
because faith produces visible acts of sacrificial love.

God’s purpose in the world is not merely to produce
invisible faith in human hearts. He aims for his glory to be
visible. That’s why Jesus said, "In the same way, let your
light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and
give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Paul
knows that these good works of love are the fruit of faith.
Remember that back in verse 5 he said that God gave him "grace and
apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of
his name among all the nations." Not just faith, but the obedience
of faith.

Paul is thankful that the faith of the church is famous because
it means something is visible. Faith must be producing love. And it
was doing so in the face of persecution almost everywhere. Stephen
Neil wrote in his History of Christian Missions, "Every Christian
knew that sooner or later he might have to testify to his faith at
the cost of his life." (p. 43). But this did not stop conversions
and the growth of Christianity. Emperor Julian wrote of the church
in the fourth century that love was the thing that drew
converts.

Atheism [i.e., Christian faith] has been specially advanced
through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their
care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not
a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans
[Christians] care not only for their own poor but for ours as well;
while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we
should render them." (History of Christians Missions, p. 42)

This is what Paul meant by the obedience of faith. "Faith
working through love" (Galatians 5:6). This is why he was so
thankful that their faith was famous in the whole world. It was
producing love and showing that Christ really was saving and
strengthening and satisfying the hearts of his people and freeing
them to love and showing that "to live is Christ and to die is
gain" (Philippians 1:20).

Reason # 6. Paul is thankful to God for the famous faith of the
church because God is the one who gave the faith, and he should get
all the glory and all the thanks.

Suppose pastor Brent Nelson drives by our house and sees my wife
working to change a flat tire and stops to help her. And suppose
that later I find out about it and call Pastor Rick Gamache and
say, "Rick, thanks so much that my wife got help changing the
tire." You would think I was losing my senses. Why? Because you
thank the person who brought about the good deed. So when Paul says
in verse 8, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you,
because your faith is proclaimed in all the world," this means that
God has brought about this famous faith.

Someone might say, "No it doesn’t say that. All it says is
that God brought about the fame of the faith, not the faith. So it
might mean that they produced the faith on their own and then God
saw to it that it was proclaimed in all the world: "I thank my God
through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is
proclaimed in all the world." It’s true that Paul does not
say that God gave the faith. But other places in Paul do say this,
and that is why I think Paul is thanking God here for their faith
and the fame of the faith.

For example, he says in Philippians 1:29, "For it has been
granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should . . . believe
in him. In Ephesians 2:8 he says, "By grace you have been saved
through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of
God." In 2 Timothy 2:25 he says, "[Correct your] opponents with
gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a
knowledge of the truth." In 1 Corinthians 4:7 he says, "What do you
have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you
boast as if you did not receive it?" And finally, in 1 Corinthians
3:6-7 he describes how a church with this kind of spreading faith
is planted when one person starts the work and another follows: "I
planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he
who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives
the growth."

So we may be sure and rejoice that faith is a gift of God. And
the reason I say "rejoice" is that none of us here today would
believe in Christ if left to ourselves. We are rebellious,
self-exalting, proud people. But saving faith is submissive,
Christ-exalting, and childlike. So we need help to believe.

And this is why we can be hopeful as we close this service that
you don’t have to leave this service hard and unbelieving.
God has brought you here. God has given you
ears to listen. God right now is drawing you to himself. So I join
him and say, believe in Christ. Turn from self-reliance and say, "I
repent. I am sorry. I receive you, Jesus Christ, as my Lord and my
Savior and my Treasure."

The Testimony of C. S. Lewis

Perhaps God may encourage you to trust him by hearing the
testimony of how it happened to C. S. Lewis, the writer and Oxford
scholar who died the same day John Kennedy did.

Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully.
Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. . . . For the first time
I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I
found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a
nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion. .
. . How could the initiative lie on my side . . . If Shakespeare
and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare’s doing.
Hamlet could initiate nothing. . . . In the Trinity term of 1929 I
gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed:
perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all
England. . . . The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own
feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high
gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling,
resentful and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of
escape? (Surprised by Joy [New York: Harcourt, Brace and World],
pp. 226-229)

That was Lewis’ testimony. Perhaps yours will be similar.
And if it is – or however God brings you home – there
will be thanksgiving to God. Amen.

© 2014 Bethlehem Baptist Church