Romans 1:5, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship”
The word “grace” it could be argued is one of if not the most important word in Scripture. It makes its first appearance in the letter to the Roman church here in verse 5. It will appear again two short verses later and it will be found a total 22 times in the entire letter. “Grace” is one of the great words of the Book of Romans and a wonderful Biblical concept. It is my opinion that the word appears here because Paul has just stressed the Lordship of Christ at the end of verse 4 and then in verse 5, he stresses the necessity of being obedient to Christ’s call to repent and believe. Paul is very much aware that those who are obedient to the Gospel do so only because God has graciously been at work in their lives. James Montgomery Boice says that “The gospel is itself the means by which the unmerited favor of God toward us is made operable.”
What is “grace?” Years ago, in a small country church I was blessed to pastor a dear saint explained it this way one evening in Bible study: “Grace is God’s unmerited favor.” It is also described as God’s favor toward the undeserving. But it is more than that, it is God’s favor toward those who deserve the exact opposite. What we deserve is hell. We don’t even deserve a chance to hear the gospel, let alone experience the regenerating work of God within, which then enables us to turn from sin and obey Jesus. You and I deserve God’s wrath. We deserve His judgment and condemnation. But instead of wrath, we find grace. Instead of condemnation, we find the One who died in our place bearing God’s judgment and now lives to rule over our lives.
It’s of course impossible to know what Paul was thinking as he wrote this. But one has a suspicion that Paul was recalling his own experience of God’s grace as he talks about his apostleship here in verse 5. He says that it was through Christ that he “received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.”
In 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 Paul has been writing of Christ’s resurrection and the appearances of Christ after His resurrection. Paul says that after appearing to James and all the other apostles, then in verse 8 he says that Jesus then appeared to him “as to one untimely born.” Then in verses 9-10 we see that Paul had this acute sense of God’s rich grace toward him, “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”
Like anyone who has been genuinely saved, Paul could never forget what he had been apart from God’s grace. In his old life he had been self-righteous, cruel, a violent persecutor of the church. But God had stopped all of that and brought Paul into his right mind and into right relationship with God. Up to that point in his life Paul had been disobeying God. But when Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, the rebellious will of the future apostle to the Gentiles was broken and Paul became Jesus’ obedient servant and disciple. How was this even possible? How could some one so rebellious and violent like Saul be brought to total submission to Christ? It was the grace of God. Only the grace of God can produce such changes in a person’s life.
We find it tragically easy to fall into two wrong points of emphasis when we present the gospel. We either present the gospel as something so easy and simplistic that we fail to deal with sin and so there is no true conversion. Or we present a harsh gospel, forgetting that it is only the love of God and not the condemnation of the law that saves anyone.
It is only the gracious love of God that motivates us to be his ambassadors. We are not apostles, like Paul was, but we do have a corresponding function. We are God’s witnesses in this world, and, like Paul, we are to take the gospel to the nations. What motivates us to do that and then keeps us at it when the going gets difficult? There is only one thing and that is remembering the grace of God, which we have first received.
Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” Then in verse 18 he says, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”