Sunday, March 25, 2012

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears...

                Wow, what a week and a weekend! Last week, we had an incredible three days of teaching from Chad Hampsch on the Book of Romans. To be honest, I had always been a little intimidated by Romans before. All that I really knew was that it was a book of sixteen chapters chalk full of deep, challenging theological ideas. Now that I am at the other end of this week, I have realized that it is much more manageable than I originally thought.

                To give a little background, the Book of Romans was written by Paul towards the end of his third missionary journey, probably in 57 AD. He was preparing to take a trip back to Jerusalem to a deliver a gift from Gentile believers to the Jewish believers in the city. At this time in early church history, there was a constant tension between Jew and Gentile believers. The gift that Paul was bringing was an attempt to bridge the gap. Paul’s heart, according to Romans 15:20, was to take the Gospel to where it has not been heard. His desire at this point of his ministry was to travel to Rome and, eventually, on to Spain.

                There is no full-proof evidence as to how to gospel got to Rome. However, most scholars believe that the word of the Good News got there within two years of Christ’s death. One possibility is that, since there were people from Rome represented at Pentecost (Acts 2:10), they could have possible taken the Gospel back home. No matter how it got there, it’s fun to think about what an amazing and powerful God that we serve! He was able to take His Story so far, so quickly! And, on top of that, the Church in Rome began without any presence or direction from an apostle. My, how powerful and amazing the Holy Spirit is! It is also important to realize that the Church in Rome was very diverse, consisting of both Jew and Gentile believers. As you dig into Romans, you can see how Paul seeks to unify the two backgrounds through their faith in Christ. 

                In a nutshell, Paul’s letter to the Romans follows a very logical order as it looks at the subjects of salvation and the Christian life. The beginning of the book (1:1-1:17) is an introduction, with the key idea coming from verse 16, where Paul states, “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.” He then enters into five major sections with progressive themes: Condemnation (1:18-3:20), Justification (3:21-5:21), Sanctification (6:1-8:39), Restoration (9:1-11:36), and Application (12:1-15:13). Finally, he concludes his book from 15:14-16:27. Within each of these sections, Paul breaks it down even further to address specific topics.

                Within “Condemnation”, Paul begins by discussing how we, as humans, are in need of God’s righteousness (1:18-3:20). He addressed first the unrighteousness of the Gentiles (1:18-1:32) and then the unrighteousness of the Jews (2:1-3:8), where he takes a particular look at the Law and circumcision. However, he also recognizes the value of the Jews and the revelation of righteousness in the Law and the Old Testament (3:1-3:8).  To wrap up “Condemnation”, Paul addresses the unrighteousness of mankind as a whole (3:9-20).

                In 3:21-5:21, Paul moves from talking about “Condemnation” to “Justification” and the provision of God’s righteousness. He begins by discussing the source of righteousness, which is God through Jesus Christ (3:21-3:31). In chapter 4, we see an example of righteousness. We learn that faith was and is the standard of righteousness, even back to the times of Abraham and David. We also learn that faith is more than tradition; it is greater than the Law and Abraham had faith against all hope and it was “credited to him as righteousness” (4:22). In chapter 5, Paul teaches of the blessings of righteousness and ascribes righteousness to Christ (in contrast to Adam). 

                As Paul enters chapter 6, he begins discuss “Sanctification” and the demonstration of God’s righteousness (6:1-8:39). As believers, Paul teaches that we identify with Christ in His death and resurrection (6:1-14) and, as a part of our new life in Him, we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness (6:14-23).  In chapter 7, Paul shows us that, although there is purpose to the Law in revealing sin, as believers, we “were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (7:4).  As he enters chapter 8, hope is presented. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death”. (8:1-2) He goes on to explain of the power of the Holy Spirit in the process of sanctification and how creation is groaning and longing for future glory. He ends the chapter by describing believers as overwhelming conquers. In our process of sanctification, we have hope in knowing that the end is victory and defeat over the evil of this world.

                Chapters 9-11 describe “Restoration” and Israel’s reception of God’s righteousness. In chapter 9, Paul describes how the Jews are God’s sovereign choice, but the Gentiles have been grafted into this grace.  Salvation is the same for both the Jews and the Gentiles, yet Israel has rejected the Gospel (chapter 10). However, Israel’s rejection is not total. There is a “…remnant according to God’s gracious choice”. (11:6) In Israel’s rejection, God still had a purpose. (11:11-11:36) “I say then, they (Israel) did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.” (11:11) Because of the Jewish rejection of the Gospel, salvation was made available to the Gentiles and, in turn, is now making the Jewish people jealous for their God so that the Gospel may come back to them in a life-changing way!

                Finally, Paul moves into “Application” in 12:1-15:13, where he takes a practical look at the behavior of God’s righteousness. First, he discusses how we have been given spiritual gifts to be used to God’s glory (12:1-8). He goes on to describe other ways that we have been called to live our lives to glorify God: with brotherly love (12:9-21), by submitting to authority (13:1-7), through our interactions (13:8-14), by striving for unity in diversity (14:1-12), and through personal sacrifice (14:13-23) and authentic worship. (15:1-13)

                As Paul concludes his book to the Romans, he encourages them to take the Gospel to where it has not been proclaimed (15:14-21). He describes his own ideas to them about where he desires to take the Gospel. (15:22-33) The final chapter includes in his greetings to specific people and a final benediction. 

                Though learning this “big picture” view of Romans last week, I now feel encouraged and empowered to study the book more on my own. I hope that this explanation was an encouragement to you as well and that our eyes will continue to be opened to God’s truth in His letter to the Romans some 2000 years ago.