The Good News
If you were going to give the most important news to the most influential people in the world, how would you start? How would you introduce yourself? How would you broach the subject of the Messiah, knowing that the religious community would think they didn’t need it and the irreligious community would think you were crazy? Well, that was Paul’s dilemma as he began the book of Romans.
Paul begins with a pretty shocking description of himself. He calls himself a slave and a God-ordained apostle. These terms put together seem to imply a powerful person who has freely laid down his power to represent someone higher. This would get attention in a hurry. Like the time the Pope wanted to drive and his chauffeur rode in back. As they exited the car someone asked “who was in that limo?” The reply, “I don’t know but it must be someone remarkable because the Pope is his chauffeur!”
Most of Paul’s writings were really letters. Interactions between people he knew, and situations he was somehow involved in- even if at a distance. But the book of Romans is not nearly as personal (at least in the first half) and is more like a theological textbook explaining the truth of the gospel. Some commentators point out the legal terms that Paul uses and equate the book to a legal case. So after giving a detailed description of who he was serving (Jesus Christ our Lord, a descendant of David and the Son of God) and the good news he was proclaiming (salvation for all who believe), Paul goes straight to presenting the case that we are all in need of the grace of God.
He begins with the easier task of the talking about how the outcasts of society, the publicly broken people, need salvation. This would probably make the religious community say “amen”. Even the people he was describing would not have a hard time agreeing with him. (Remember when we talked about the tax collector in the temple who was quick to ask for God’s mercy when the religious man could not?) But Paul continues to build his case that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. He eventually concludes that even the most moral Jews who obey the laws to a great degree are still without righteousness. These first chapters build and build until we are all in a desperate place for some good news. At the end of chapter 3 we find ourselves asking “well who is good enough?”. Basically Paul is telling us all that we need this gospel of grace and then he leads us to where we can get it.
In Chapter 4, Paul takes us all the way back to Abraham and explains that he was not pronounced righteous because of his good works, but on account of his belief in the lavish grace of God. Can you imagine what the moral Jew thought about Paul pulling out Abraham’s name as a believer in grace? In Chapter 5, Paul asserts that although we all have Adam’s sin nature we can be credited as blameless because of Jesus’ obedience. God’s love and grace are more lavish than we could have ever expected and Jesus’ work of salvation even more profound. Chapters 6 and 7 begin the process of unpacking how we are to live in light of this new life. Paul camps on this theme for the rest of the book.
Tips for Reading (Interpretation tip)
(Note: This section is help for Bible Reading in general. It has been building throughout the year under the topics of Observation (what the Scripture says), Interpretation (what it means) and Application (what it means to your life). Feel free to look back over past weeks to get the whole picture.
A Simple Question
As we start to study the writings of Paul, we can see a simple pattern Paul uses. Paul likes to ask questions in his letters and then he likes to answer them! The question is one of the most powerful tools of communication. If I ask you a question, doesn’t it more or less force you to think? Paul uses this tactic to engage his readers and to encourage them to discover the answers. In Romans 6:1 Paul, raises the question, “What shall I say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Then he answers “by no means.” Again in verse 15 he uses the question: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” Again the answer is “By no means.” (See the repetition too!!) These important questions lead us to consider how we approach God. Do we take grace for granted? Do we abuse God’s gift and live for ourselves? Or do we stand in awe of the work of Jesus on the cross that gives us the stamp of RIGHTEOUS before God. In that awe we are called to live a life of gratitude devoted to the one who did the work for us.
As you read the book of Romans, pause when Paul asks a question, try to answer it before you move on. You can learn a lot about what you really believe when you let his questions penetrate your soul.
Notes from David's Journal
Romans is the pinnacle of theological truth. In it, you find the Gospel outlined in great depth. For example, in Romans chapters one through three Paul outlines how all have sinned and fall far short of God's glory. In Romans one he says how all are "without excuse," creation and our moral consciences proving the existence of God. Romans two shows how the Jews don't obey the very law they uphold. Romans three shows how the Gentiles also fall short of God's glory. Then Romans four begins the conversation about the importance of faith, not law, being what leads us to God's forgiveness. David and Abraham are used as examples of Old Testament men who lived by faith and received God's blessing and forgiveness by faith.Romans one through three is the "bad news." We are fallen people, all of us, and cannot earn God's favor by words. Romans four exalts the power of faith to bring us before God's favor. Romans five through eigh is the "good news," God's forgiving love through Jesus, given freely, thorougly. It is the only thing that can free us from the things we don't want want to do, yet do (see Romans seven).