Set Apart by God – Romans 1:1

“Set apart” might refer to Paul’s separation from Judaism, or his missionary activity (Acts 13:2.)  But it is more likely that the separation that Paul has in mind is his “consecration to a future task,” specifically the task of bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul uses the word ἀφορίζω (aforizo) in both Gal 1:15 and this passage to describe his calling.  But the word is used in the Septuagint for setting apart a firstborn man or animal to God (Numbers 15:20) or  consecrating Levites to God’s service (Numbers 8:11).  In a few cases, the word is used to describe God  separating Israel from the nations to be his people (Lev. 20:26).

Art by christina-mccowanPaul chose this word to emphasize his belief that his life was something of a sacrifice to the Lord.  A sacrifice no longer lives its own life, but he is wholly given over to the purpose for which he was chosen.  But Paul takes this a bit further than a literal sacrifice – Paul set apart by God from birth (Gal 1:15)!   This is more like the prophet Jeremiah, who says that he was set apart for prophetic office before he was born (Jer  1:5).

Paul is separated for the purpose of the gospel of God.  Since most Christians have an idea of what the “gospel” is they overlook the rich background behind this word.   There is both an Jewish and Greco-Roman background to the “good news.”

Looking at the “good news” from the Jewish perspective, the word is associated with the coming time of eschatological judgment and salvation.  In the Hebrew Bible, the word בשׂר (bashar) is used in Isa 61:1, for example, to describe the activity of the anointed one, and is associated with both the coming of God’s salvation and his vengeance.  This word is translated as εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion) in the LXX.  Jesus used the same phrase to describe both his teaching and healing ministry in Galilee (Matt 11:5 and Luke 7:22).

But the Roman world used the phrase “good news” as well.  They considered important events in the life of the Emperor as “good news” and celebrated them.  It is possible that this word was chosen intentionally to contrast the real good news of salvation with the false peace which comes from the Roman “good news.” This is a counter-cultural and dangerous idea, since it says that the “good news” about the emperor fades into insignificance in the light of the Gospel of God.

On one level, Paul is unique as one who was set apart by God to be the light to the Gentiles.  But on another level, Paul is a model for all Christians.  Later in the letter Paul says that all believers are to be a “living sacrifice” (12:1).  If Christians really lived out their “set apart”  calling, I think that the gospel could again be just as counter-cultural as it was in A.D. 55.

16 thoughts on “Set Apart by God – Romans 1:1

  1. Paul’s active ministry definitely set him apart from the world. But as far as him believing that he was set apart at birth, is a very interesting concept to me. When we accept Christ as our personal Savior, then we are set apart. So I am not really sure what Paul means when he says that he was set apart before he was born, because we are all born sinners. Yes, Paul was set apart from the world and the Holy Spirit worked through him in amazing ways, but God can use anybody. God’s purpose for him was to share the Good News with the Gentiles. But it is the mission of Christ’s children, whoever they may be, to be set apart from the world and proclaim the Good News to nonbelievers. When we are sanctified through Christ, we then are set apart from the world by Jesus’ blood. But it is our job as believers to continue to live a lifestyle that is obviously apart from the world’s.

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    • Election. Read Romans 8,9, and 10. I’d say go directly to 9, but I think you’ll lose the bigger picture of the gospel if you hone in on a concept like total depravity and predestination without having a firm foundation in which to justify those other positions.

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  2. I believe Paul is a great example of what it means to be “set a part” for a superior purpose. Widely known for his impressive persecution of the Church, Paul did not let his past dictate his future. God, all knowing, foreknew the wonderful works that Paul would carry out after his conversion. I don’t believe anyone can argue with that. Nevertheless, Paul, sanctified and consecrated, comprehended that he had been called, or had been “set apart,” to fulfill the mission of presenting the Gospel to the Gentiles, henceforth Paul’s cognomen as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
    Another great example is evidently Jesus Christ himself. In the book of Luke we can see with our own eyes Jesus’ calling. Shortly after coming out of the desert, following a grueling forty-days being tempted by Satan, Jesus walked into the synagogue and took the scroll of Isaiah and pointed directly to the passage that revealed the purpose that he was to about to embark on.
    If we only ensconced more on the breathing examples that were in Paul and Jesus, as Christians we would only come to embrace that he does have control over our lives and we have been “set apart.” Although this might seem as a substantial undertaking, it is important to remember that the Lord will lead us through and all that he requires is that we see ourselves for who we really are—“set apart” for the sake of the Gospel.

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  3. I think the word ‘gospel’ or the phrase ‘good news’ has lost its true meaning nowadays. People don’t really seem to think much of it, or that it requires you to change anything – it is just a ticket to heaven. However, thankfully we have the wonderful example of Paul to show us what the gospel/salvation really is and requires of us. Polhill says, “Christ presented himself as a sacrifice for us. The proper and logical response to this divine act of grace is to sacrifice ourselves in sacred service to our Lord” (Polhill 297). God calls us to live for Him in everything we do, yet we seem to miss this and neglect it. If all, or even most Christians lived out the example of a servant in Romans 12, everything would be radically different. That being said, I do think that we were set apart before birth to do what God has called us to do. He has just placed circumstances and people in our lives to help guide and direct us.

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  4. Paul’s ministry set him apart with his ministry the way our Christianity is called to be set apart in modern culture. A common enemy from the time period of Rome and now is something always sets itself up against the Gospel and tries to make it seem as important as God’s word. As its painted as a literal sacrifice the american church wouldnt understand what sacrifice really is unless the country flipped upside down and outlawed church over night. Often in modern times we give our 10 percent and maybe more, but when is the last time we made the choice between feeding a homeless man or McDonald? when is the last time we gave more than what we thought we could afford to do and not be able to buy the latest gadget or toy that came out? When is the last time we tried to spend time with a person who has nothing he could ever give back to us? or even tried to help a person get the skills he needs to survive in this world? In Romans we are called to be set apart but i look out my window and i dont see anyone set apart for the gospel, sadly not even me. Somedays i wonder if there is a Paul in this generation?

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  5. I believe that set apart just means that Paul was set apart for his missionary activity. His ministry and missionary journeys are valid proof and the success of those should be of enough significance to help understand that that’s what he meant when he said that he was set apart. I don’t see or understand why he would mean anything different other than the fact that he was set apart to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. He definitely sacrifices all that he had to do what God wanted him to do. he was beaten to near death countless times, house arrested, and tortured just because of what he was doing for God. Paul’s mission was to spread the gospel to those that have not heard and to those that were set apart from the promise of God. God then set Paul apart to introduce them to that promise and that gift. I think that Paul just used the phrase, “set apart,” just as we would say, “God called me to be a preacher, or a missionary.” I think that it is the same meaning but different phrase or different terminology.

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  6. I really like how Katie brings up the point of how Paul saying that he was set apart when he was born is a very interesting concept to me as well. When I look at Paul’s life before his conversion, I would say that there wasn’t anything different about him that would set him apart from anyone else. He was persecuting those for this belief in Christ, and when he was converted, he was on his way to Damascus to persecute more people. “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts9:1). I don’t see how a man that is persecuting the Lord’s disciples can be set apart, in a good way. We are nit set apart until we a r e saved, and I feel that this is the same for Paul. I do not see any difference from Pail before his conversion that would set him apart.

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  7. It seems that Paul keeps trying to turn the Christians in Corinth from looking to their pagan society as ways that are okay to behave or do in the church. Paul wants the believers to realize that they are set apart and therefore should not be acting or doing church in the same way one might act in the Roman culture. It seems that the Corinthians were struggling with the same things we still struggle with in the modern church: how much do we include culture in the church? The Corinthian believers were still involved in many of the same practices instead of taking their new faith into account and how that should affect the way one lives. In this way, the church was failing to realize the need to distinguish themselves from their culture. We struggle with this very thing today. Church today has been made so accessible with several different services, casual dress codes, etc. For example, I go to church on Saturday nights and therefore I can work on Sunday mornings. It’s an interesting experience for me when all the “church folk” come into Applebee’s and I am working. Sometimes I get these looks and I realize that people do not know that I’m a Christian. They just see the server girl who is working on a Sunday instead of being at church. I realize that outward marks are difficult to distinguish Christians by. (Outward in the sense of dress, church attendance on Sunday mornings. etc) Then I think, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).” This is the most distinguishable way for people to see Christ in you. If we love as Christ loved us, it seems only logical that our actions will be those that distinguish Christians from the rest of the world.

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  8. I totally agree that if Christians really lived out their calling the gospel could be just as counter-cultural as it was in Paul’s day. If we were all willing to serve God as “living sacrifices” who considered everything in life to be worthless compared to knowing Christ – as Paul did (Phil 3:8) – then Christianity would change the world in a dramatic way. The problem is, like the Israelites and the Corinthian church, it is difficult to serve God without conforming to the ways of the world around us. Still, we have to remember that, like Paul, we are all set apart for service to God. Ephesians 2:10 says: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Serving God is what we have been designed for, it would be a shame to life your life for any other purpose.

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  9. Once again the lines of following the world around us and following our higher calling to be set apart can seemingly be blurred. I agree that if we focused on our being set apart, then we would be able to have a truly radical, counter cultural, life changing movement in Christianity. It is interesting, there are studies out that show we have not done a great job explaining the Gospel. Many students when posed with the question of what Christianity and the Gospel is don’t come up with a solid answer or miss some important elements. (see the book “Sticky Faith” by Dr. Kara Powell). If we are missing out on the good news, then its hard to get to the point of living a set apart life where we follow God’s calling and follow him in everything every day. Everything hinges around the Gospel message and if we aren’t getting that and having a deep love and passion for it, then its difficult to really live out our Christianity in a truly life changing way that impacts the world around us.

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  10. I agree that Paul is a model to all Christians. When I think about his life and how boldly he proclaimed Jesus as the son of God, I often admire his commitment and dedication to being “set apart”, and as pointed out in the blog post, if Christians now were to live with the same fearlessness for spreading the gospel, it would be very counter-cultural as said in the post (Long). What we believe goes completely against societal norms. I guess my question to myself is, what is stopping me from breaking the norm and being bold as Paul was- truly living out what it means to be set apart. Mkosten19 brings up a valid point that Paul did not go with the flow of society like we do today. I think we live in a very timid society; in the sense that we don’t want negative attention drawn to ourselves, we are taught as young kids to be nice and not offend anyone, and that blending in isn’t all that bad. Paul did the opposite of blend in and he had a tremendous impact on spreading the gospel (obviously). As a personal lesson, I think I definitely need to be more bold in my speech about Christianity and not be so afraid to stand out from the rest of society.

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  11. for this post it really stuck out to me in the second paragraph that Paul is a living sacrifice that really shows that we need to take note of that. we think we can never do great things as Paul but we never make the sacrifices. giving our live to Christ is just the start it don’t end there. and we can see a living testimony of that through Paul. called to be set apart is a big label on his life and I think we are called to the same mission as Paul states in scriptures that we are called to preach the gospel so as a Christian why stay comfortable we need to be preaching his word to non believers. it was interesting to see the words Good news seen as something else in the bible like good new of the romans but now used for the label as the gospel as the “good news” because as we know that is the truly good news and the news we are called to spread to all people regardless of the situation. before I even read on in the last paragraph it says Paul is a model for all Christians and I believe that one hundred percent.

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  12. Paul thought of himself set apart from everyone else from his childhood. As a sacrifice, a literal living sacrifice. Well thinking about it, its not really that hard to see the points he is arguing for. The blog post mentions how the Prophet Jeremiah was set apart from God for the prophetic office before he was born. Paul thought of himself as a sacrifice, and because of that view. He believed that a sacrifice no longer lives its own live, but rather the purpose to which the sacrifice was called to do. If we look at Paul’s life, we can see how he was being prepared for the work of God. Paul was born a free Roman citizen, he was also a descendant from the tribe of Benjamin, I believe it was Benjamin. He was also a Roman soldier and a Pharisee. Because he was half Jew and half Roman, he was raised in a setting that gave insight to both cultures and probably shaped his worldview. Because he was a Roman citizen, he had some special privileges that Jews or other non-Roman citizens didn’t have. And because he was a Pharisee, he had the Torah and theological knowledge that non-Jews didn’t have. By knowing the Torah, it provided him with the knowledge to preach the Gospel to Jews. And due to his Roman citizenship and his time in the Roman military, he knew what Romans believed in, customs, and social norms. And Yet he was able to take everything he knew and use it to preach to both Gentiles and Jews. Taking all of this into consideration, it’s not unbelievable to see how or why Paul believed that he was set apart from birth.

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  13. I personally believe every individual person is being set apart by God; our creator whether he/she is a Christian for a particular purpose. Purpose plays a significant theme in the life of a person, and it serves as a fundamental question of life as well. As a human being, we yearn to find an answer to the question of purpose. And our purpose in life has significant factors to our behavior and psychological elements. For instance, before Paul discover his true purpose, he was blindly led by what he thinks to be the purpose of his life by executing and murdering Christians. However, Paul soon finds out his genuine purpose, being set apart Christ before the creation of the world, and his calling was to fulfill that purpose and being fully devoted to his master which he did. As a Christian, although I am aware of my purpose most of the time it’s so difficult to stay focus on the track. Especially, in western cultures, there are tons of distractions and stumble blocks for our journey, and unless we devote ourselves highly to our master, and led the Holy Spirit and the light of the scriptures to guide us, it’s too tempting to fail our sacred calling. I believe that why Paul want us to follow his footstep so that we can also finish the race.

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  14. I find this post to be very interesting because I never knew all of the meaning behind such a simple phrase. In the current day good news isn’t used as a big deal at all but reading all of these different uses shows how much more the gospel affected human life in the past. And as far as him saying he was set apart I believe he was right because of all the trials and obstacles that he had to overcome before he committed himself to God fully. And I believe everyone of us has the same potential. God made us all in his image to do great things and serve him we just have to find our way to him and avoid all the temptations of the world.

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  15. The idea of Paul mirroring what the prophet Jeremiah said is interesting but not totally unexpected. When you read any of Paul’s letters you can clearly see he believed that he was set apart from the Jewish traditions as well as the Roman traditions in order to spread the good news of the Gospel. Paul was never afraid to say what needed to be said in order to share what it meant to be saved in Christ. The fact that the word Gospel can mean the same thing in two different cultures yet, infer different things is something that Paul new how to nuance well. His belief that he was set apart to wholly and fully share the Gospel of God and sacrificed so much of his life to do it is amazing. It should not be a wonder that modern Christians look to Paul as the example of how we should not only spread God’s word but live our lives in service to obeying God when he calls on us. It is very easy today to forget we should be willing and ready to share the Gospel with anybody at any time and Paul was always ready regardless of what the cost was.

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