I started studying through Romans a few days ago, and there’s one phrase I just can’t get out of my mind. It’s in the very first verse, where Paul introduces himself, just like he does in almost every other letter he wrote. This introduction was a very crucial part of letters in New Testament times, for many times the recipients had not seen the writer in many years or even decades. In the Romans’ case, they had never even met Paul! And so, after he states his name, he adds some descriptive terms: a servant and an apostle. And then he adds a very interesting phrase, the one I keep mulling over in my mind. He describes himself as one who is “set apart for the gospel of God.”
The following few verses go on to describe that gospel (good news) of God, both its promise by the prophets and its fulfillment through Jesus Christ, the only One who was ever fully man and fully God, who conquered sin and death and provides grace and salvation for those who believe in Him. And he states how we (believers in Jesus) have received a commission (“apostleship”) to preach the gospel to the world (“to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name”).
Paul then writes some encouragement for the believers at Rome, how their faith has become well-known to the world at that time, and adds that he desires to visit them and share the gospel with them. And then he writes those well-known verses about not being ashamed of the gospel (16-17):
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ “
Stop here for a moment; I want to challenge you with something. Remember that phrase I mentioned in the beginning? About being “set apart for the gospel of God“? I want you to re-read verses 16 and 17, replacing every instance of the word “gospel” or a pronoun referring to it with the phrase “what I am set apart for.” Got it? Here goes:
“For I am not ashamed of [what I have been set apart for], for [I have been set apart for] the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in [that which I am set apart for] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ “
Doesn’t that bring an extra sense of purpose to our lives? We who are believers in Jesus Christ – who believe that He is righteous and demands righteousness of His creation, who believe that He has offered Himself (His Son) as the payment for our lack of righteousness (deliberate un-righteousness), who believe that through Him alone we can meet that standard and have perfect communion with Him for ever and ever – we have been “set apart” or chosen specifically for the purpose of that good news. The greatest news there ever could be! We have been purposely chosen for the sake of the gospel. So what exactly does that mean for practical, daily living?
1. We have not been set apart for the sake of the world, or for success, or pursuit of pleasure, or for fulfillment of anyone else’s desires. We have been set apart for God and His righteousness, and for His message of redemption.
2. We have been called out of those things listed above, literally removed from their influence spiritually, and transferred into a different spiritual kingdom with a different King. We no longer are slaves to our desires or the world’s demands. We have freedom to not give in to them. We have a different Master and a different purpose for living.
3. We were each chosen specifically and individually. When God created His plan for the ages, He knew every person who would one day be born, and He wanted you and me for Himself. He picked us out from the billions of people that would ever live on this earth, not because of anything good within us, but because He wanted to find pleasure in us, and He wanted to live out His love through us, and He wanted to redeem us for Himself.
Therefore, we have neither right nor reason to be ashamed! We have no reason to hide our purpose from the world. We have no right to try to blend in with those who have not been set apart, because we belong to Someone Else. We have no reason to feel any embarrassment or hesitation at the thought of sharing that good news with the world.
Think about it! That for which we have been specifically chosen is the very power of God! The word for “power” in the original Greek carries the idea of dynamite. That is how powerful our God is, and how powerful His gospel is! His good news literally dynamites salvation to everyone who believes in it. And we have been chosen to tell the world of that dynamic truth, and to live out the details of that gospel on a daily basis. Why else do we have God’s Word? It tells us how to live in a “set apart” manner. It tells us the story of life from eternity past to eternity future, and how God’s perfection and holiness (the basis for His gospel) have been made known through those who’ve had true faith in Him. Think of Abraham, David, the prophets. Think of Paul and the other apostles. Don’t we see the greatness and righteousness of our God through their day-to-day faith in Him? Don’t their lives help us understand what it means to be “set apart for the gospel of God“?
So what does it mean for us today? It means being different than the rest of the world, not trying to fit in or follow their examples. It means remembering our sense of purpose every moment of every day. It means doing everything we do for a reason, to let the gospel speak through us, both to other believers and to the unsaved world at large.
Reflection Time: What does ‘being set apart for the gospel of God’ mean to you?