A Reputation Worth Having (part 1)
Romans 1:8, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”
In the play As You Like It by William Shakespeare there is a speech by Lord Jacques in which he proclaims, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Lord Jacques speaks of a soldier as one “seeking the bubble of reputation even in the cannon’s mouth.” The “reputation” that he is speaking of is depicted as worthless and unimportant. In the Shakespearean play Othello! Othello, who also is a soldier who acted foolishly and tragically says, “I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part, sir, of myself, and what remains is bestial!”
What are we then to think of reputation? Is it just a fragile bubble, or is it immortal? Is it worth having, or is it better for us not even to be concerned with such matters? The answer lies in what we have a reputation for.
Here in the first chapter of Romans, in a section that is really sort of a second informal introduction to the letter, Paul writes about the reputation that the Roman Christians had, and the important point is that Paul thanks God for that reputation. The reputation that the Roman Christians had was for their faith, and what Paul tells us is that their faith was being talked about throughout the world, which at that time and in Paul’s context meant the world around the Mediterranean Sea. Since Paul begins his comments by thanking God for this reputation for faith, it is obvious that however worthless some worldly reputations of some worldly persons may be, this reputation was very much worth having.
In this text there are four reasons that having a reputation for faith is worth having. Over the next few days we will look at all of these.
The first reason that a reputation for faith is worth having is that the faith on which it is based is genuine. It is a true faith, just like the true faith that these Roman Christians had. This is so vitally important in the world we live in today because there is so much so-called “faith” that is not Biblical, and it is not true nor genuine.
In many people’s minds, faith is chiefly viewed as a subjective religious experience and feeling. It is based entirely on feelings and completely divorced from the Word of God. One finds this subjectivity to be alarmingly true when one begins to share the truth of God’s Word. Many people call themselves Christians but don’t believe many of the core tenets of the faith. Such as, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, His bodily resurrection, His sacrificial death for our sins, and the importance of faithfully and obediently having His Word rule their lives. Yet, they still call themselves Christians. How do they do this? Because they base their supposed Christianity on some sort of emotional experience or set of experiences. This is not true faith; it is just an outlook on life that can change based on their feelings.
Another form of faith is that of optimism, or the belief that God only exists to make your dreams come true. The late Norman Vincent Peale popularized this thinking with his best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking. This has fallen very neatly into the prosperity gospel in which one is told that if you just have enough faith, if you just believe enough, if you will speak a word of faith over your dreams then they will come true. If they don’t come true, then you didn’t have enough faith.
In his book Peale taught that one should collect strong New Testament texts about faith and then memorize them and let them sink into one’s subconscious. He used verses like Mark 9:23, “All things are possible to him who believes.” Matthew 17:20, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” Peale wrote, “According to your faith in yourself, according to your faith in your job, according to your faith in God, this far will you get and no further.”
The problem with that thinking is that faith in yourself, faith in your job and faith in God apparently is all the same thing, so what this means is that the object of your faith isn’t relevant. The late John Stott wrote of Peale’s thinking, “He recommends as part of his ‘worry-breaking formula’ that the first thing every morning before we get up we should say out loud, ‘I believe’ three times, but he does not tell us in what we are so confidently and repeatedly to affirm our belief. The last words of his book are simply ‘so believe and live successfully.’ But believe what? Believe whom? To Dr. Peale faith is really another word for self-confidence, for a largely ungrounded optimism.” There is indeed some value in being an optimist. But this is not the same thing as Biblical faith, and it is not the faith that the apostle Paul was thanking God for on behalf of the Roman Christians.
Why was the faith of these Christians in Rome genuine? First, because their faith, as all true faith is, was in Jesus Christ and in the Gospel, which is centered on Him. In the first seven verses of this letter Paul has written about the gospel, defining it as the gospel in verse 2, “which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures.” In verse 3, “concerning His Son, who was born of a descendent of David according to the flesh.” And in verse 5, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” Then Paul praises God for the faith of these Christians in Rome, and it is obvious that this is exactly the kind of faith that He has in mind. The reputation they had was one worth having because their faith was a true faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and our Savior. All other “faiths” are worthless because they will save no one.
The other reason that this was a genuine faith was that this was a faith that was brought about by God and not something that sprang up unaided in the heart of mere humans. This is why Paul begins by thanking God for these brothers and sisters and not by complementing them for their faith. If faith were just a mere human achievement, then Paul would have praised them. But Paul praises God, not man, for the brothers and sisters at Rome.
The commentator Robert Haldane said, “Paul…thus acknowledges God as the author of the Gospel, not only on account of his causing it to be preached to them, but because he had actually given them grace to believe.”
John Calvin wrote of this verse, “Faith is a gift of God.”
Is your faith like this? Not a faith that is subjective and based on some emotional experience or feeling. Is your faith a faith that has been worked in you by God, as a result of which you have believed in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, as your Savior? If your faith is like this, then your faith is a reputation that is well worth having, because it will bring praise to God Himself, who is the author of that faith.