In our modern, democratic, sensitive age we have crafted a church that for many people emphasizes love, acceptance, grace, mercy, and the more friendly aspects of the Bible and Jesus’ character. We talk a great deal about receiving Jesus as our Savior but sometimes we forget to emphasize what he saved us from, or another equally important aspect of his identity.
In modern Christianity we want to be sensitive to perceptions of those outside the church. There’s nothing wrong with that. We take our cue from the Apostle Paul who instructed us to be “all things” to all men (I Corinthians 9:22) and to maintain a good reputation with those outside the church (I Timothy 3:7). We don’t want to give offense, unnecessarily. Yet there is another side to Christianity that in our day of modern sensibilities we often overlook. It is the side that emphasizes the supremacy of Jesus Christ above all else. It is the side that emphatically and unquestionably stands for truth, righteousness, and authority. It is the side that sometimes in the midst of over-sensibilities must stand up and say without reservation, there is only one God, and one truth, and one authority that is over and above all others.
Also taking our cue from Paul, we should sometime say it right from the start.
When beginning his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul began with a greeting that if written today by a missionary or pastor might seem foolish and even dangerous considering whom he was writing too. It’s an opening greeting that if we treated it as a model, could get us or some of our flock killed.
Roman Christians at the time of Paul’s writing were about to face a long season of persecution. Roman Christians were considered a bit of a nuisance; but full scale persecution was yet to come. Christians were sometimes thought of as traitors to the Roman state. In the midst of this festering bigotry, one of modern sensibilities would think that the best course of action would be for Paul to write a non-threatening letter that emphasized love, personal character, and a cooperative and humble spirit. Paul certainly did that in Romans, but he didn’t start that way.
First, Paul purposely raised Jesus’ authority as King when he mentioned in verse three that Jesus was “born of a descendent of David according to the flesh.” The reference to being David’s descendent was a Jewish claim to kingship. Remember that Jesus was crucified under Roman law for claiming to be a king. Make no mistake, this reference by Paul was a slap in the face to Roman authority that had to deal regularly with Christians who prescribed kingship to a man they had already executed for treason!
In no other letter to any church does the Apostle Paul begin by emphasizes the kingship of Jesus. It is almost as if Paul is thumbing his nose at the authorities of the day by declaring within their own capital city that Jesus Christ is King. Under Roman law such a declaration was treason, punishable by death. But here, within the first three verses, Paul draws a line in Roman soil saying from the very beginning of his letter that Jesus Christ is the highest authority. Paul certainly knew that his letter, with such an emphasis, could put its receivers at grave risk—yet he did it anyway.
If that were not enough, Paul upped the ante, claiming an authority for himself that only the political or military authorities of his day would dare claim. When speaking about his authority as an apostle of Jesus, Paul says he had the power “to bring about the obedience of the faith among all the Gentiles.” His language was chosen very carefully, and specifically. Paul claimed to have authority to demand obedience, and by using the phrase, “among all the Gentiles” he challenges the authority of Rome that ruled over his part of the world.
There is a lesson here for the modern Christian who regards his Christianity with an over developed sense of nicety. Christianity is not a democracy, or a rights movement, or even about making people good. Christianity is about the person of Jesus Christ and His supremacy over all. We wussify our faith when we cover over the harder truths of the Bible in lieu of the Jesus who loves, but doesn’t judge. In fact, He does both with equal fervor, right, and authority. Do we not embrace his love because we also fear his judgment?
Paul asserted Jesus’ sovereignty above all rule and authority. In fact, Paul went on in chapter one to rip Roman cultural and religious practices to shreds. These were the cornerstones of Roman morality, which Paul needed his readers to break from in order to follow Christ.
The sovereignty of Jesus Christ means that He alone has absolute authority to command from our lives whatever He wishes. We have the comfort of knowing that He is a benevolent and loving king, but we can never forget, as Paul reminds us throughout Romans 1, that He is also wrathful against sin and those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness (1:18).”
It is important that we remember the niceties of the Christian faith. Love, grace, mercy, peace, and humility—they are all cornerstones of Jesus’ character. They should be cornerstones of our character as well. But we must not forget that the same Savior who demonstrated love, gave grace, showed mercy, and encouraged humility was also the same Lord who demanded obedience. If Jesus Christ really is the sovereign Lord above all earthly authority—Rome in the past or any nation today—then how much more should He be sovereign over those who call themselves by His name?