Romans is a required course for all seniors at Cairn University, offering them a chance to consider how biblical theology should inform their service to the church, society, and the world. While we often focus on this book’s rich theology and practical instruction, we must be careful not to skip over the important opening and closing sections of Paul’s letter. In particular, the closing section of Romans has much to teach us about how Paul approached his future work and how we should approach our future work in light of God’s grace.
In Romans 15:14-33, we learn that Paul approached his work with a deep consciousness that his vocation was a result of God’s grace. Even writing this letter to the Romans was an example of such work: “On some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God” (Rom 15:15).
This word “grace” was Paul’s way of speaking about his unique calling as the apostle to the Gentiles. He had been given the task of taking the Jewish gospel and proclaiming it to all the other nations (Rom 15:16; cf. 1:1-7). In the opening of the letter, Paul says he received this grace of apostleship from Christ (Rom 1:5). In the closing, he says it had been given to him by God (Rom 15:15). Thus, he appropriately describes his vocation as a divine gift—as a result of God’s grace.
Lest we think that only Paul’s calling was a result of God’s grace, I should observe that Paul also says that each Christian has been given “grace” by God to fulfill a specific calling in the church (Rom 12:6). Christians should be deeply conscious that we are not a self-made people. We are what we are and do what we do because of God’s grace.
[blockquote align=”left”]Christians should be deeply conscious that we are not a self-made people. We are what we are and do what we do because of God’s grace.[/blockquote]What difference did a consciousness of God’s grace make in the way Paul approached his work? First, it told him what he could boast in: “For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience… so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum, I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ” (Rom 15:18-19).
This letter was written after a major accomplishment in Paul’s career. He had finished establishing churches in all the major urban centers east of Rome—from Jerusalem to Illyricum, the province across the Adriatic Sea. Still, Paul knew that all of his work was actually Christ’s accomplishment, because it was a result of God’s grace.
In the same way, in whatever work we accomplish as individuals, as churches, or as a university, we must recognize that it is a result of God’s grace. Our boast should always and only be in Christ and what He has accomplished through us (Rom 5:11; 15:17).
Second, Paul’s consciousness of God’s grace led him to craft specific goals for the future. Up to this point in his career, his calling had kept him from visiting Rome, because he knew God had called him to preach among the Gentiles where Christ had not been named (Rom 15:20-22). But now that he had accomplished his work in the east, he made specific plans to drop off an offering in Jerusalem and then to preach the gospel in Spain, passing through Rome on the way there (Rom 15:23-29).
To some, the idea that God sovereignly directs our lives is incompatible with the idea that we humans are responsible to plan wisely. But to Paul, a consciousness that one’s calling is a gift of God’s grace should propel the Christian to fulfill that calling through specific plans for the future.
Finally, Paul’s consciousness of God’s grace in his calling caused him to seek the prayers of God’s people as he worked to carry out his plans: “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf ” (Rom 15:30).
Those who have read Acts 21–28 know that things turned out a little differently than Paul had planned. But at this point in his career, Paul, conscious of God’s grace in his vocation, asked the Romans to join him in seeking the Lord about his future work. In the same way, conscious of God’s grace, we should ask the people of God to “strive together” with us in prayer for the work God has given us to do.