Paul wrote almost one quarter of the New Testament. During his travels, he established churches around the Roman world. These churches, comprised of Jewish and Gentile believers, had a wide variety of struggles during their early years. Paul wrote to address the issues these and other churches were facing. His thirteen letters to churches and individuals have been deeply influential in Christian belief and practice. Here is just a smattering of what each of his books details. Romans explains and applies the foundations of the Good News. 1 Corinthians addresses a wide range of problems in a young church. 2 Corinthians answers challenges to Paul’s apostolic authority. Galatians proclaims freedom: salvation through faith in Christ. Ephesians reflects on how Christ’s body unites both Jews and Gentiles. Colossians proclaims the preeminence of Christ and new life in him. 1 Thessalonians helps believers withstand severe antagonism. 2 Thessalonians corrects false beliefs and guides believers to prepare for the day of the Lord. 1 Timothy commissions Timothy to deal with false teachers and restore order in God’s house. 2 Timothy passes Paul’s torch to Timothy to carry on his work faithfully. Titus commands a young and undisciplined church to heed appointed leadership. Philemon appeals to the owner of a runaway slave to welcome him back as a brother in Christ. The Book of Romans is dated 57 AD, written most likely during Paul’s third missionary journey. For many years Paul had wanted to visit Rome to minister there but he had always been kept from going there. Some believe he wanted to use Rome as a base for missionary work in Spain. Others believe he was writing to heal divisions within the church in Rome. But whatever his purpose, it is clear that a major concern of this book is the relationship between Jew and Gentile in God’s overall plan of redemption. You will find the recurring topics of faith and works, law and grace, sin and righteousness, and judgement and justification.
Gentiles came from a background of idolatry and unbelief and Jews came with a heritage of knowing the law and promises of God, BUT; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Justification is by faith and not works but this is not a license to sin. Here are a couple of tidbits for you. Jews of the day regarded themselves as superior to Gentiles because they had the Mosaic law. But the law does not save; it convicts. The gospel saves. Often large amounts of wealth was stored in pagan temples for safe keeping. In New Testament times baptism so closely followed conversion that the two were considered aspects of a single event. Here are three themes to watch for. First, God’s faithfulness. One of the central themes is God’s covenant faithfulness. Both Jews and Gentiles find righteousness before God through faith in Jesus Christ. Second; righteousness. Through Jesus’ death, God credits his own righteousness to all who believe and rely on His promise of salvation in Christ. Third; reconciliation. Romans is marked with Paul’s concern for racial reconciliation and cross cultural sensitivity. His advice on resolving internal conflicts in the church lifts up Christ’s attitude as the example for our own. Paul reiterated Jesus’ teachings that love of neighbor fulfills the law’s intent.
The first 17 verses of the Book of Romans contain the normal features of New Testament letter introductions: an identification of the writer and readers, a thanksgiving and the theme of the letter. Paul calls himself a slave. The Greek word here is doulos which can be translated either as servant or slave. Paul intends slave here. Servants are free to come and go, have a set schedule and return home at the end of their shift. Slaves are all in, all the time. Paul sees himself as a slave for Jesus Christ. This is complete and total subservience to the Lord. He calls himself an apostle, placing himself on the same level as the original 12, and he claims authority from God for His work. He has been sent out to do the work of the Lord. Humanly speaking Jesus was a descendant of David. He was fully human and fully divine. The fact that Jesus was a descendant of David’s links Him to the Davidic covenant. When Christ returns to reign over all, He will fulfill God’s promise to David to give him a dynasty that will last forever. Jesus did not become the Son of God by the resurrection. Instead the Resurrection proved that Jesus was the Son of God, revealing Him in all His power and glory. Paul reminded the Romans that the purpose of the apostles work was to persuade people to obey God’s command to trust Christ. The summary in verse 5 is Paul’s purpose in preaching to the Gentiles and it brackets the book, appearing again at the end in a slightly different form. (16:26). Paul wanted the Gentiles to believe in Jesus Christ: he underscored that believing in Jesus as the Lord, entails a commitment to obey Him. Faith and obedience are not identical but one does not occur without the other. Being holy means to be set apart, different from the world. Paul makes it clear that Gentiles are now fully included among God’s people.
Paul prayed for the Roman church every time he prayed. He told them he prayed with his whole heart, meaning in his spirit. The Word spirits refers to the deepest part of a person. The mention of spiritual gifts here doesn’t mean Paul will be distributing spiritual gifts but instead he will use his spiritual gift to aid them in their faith. He also recognizes that we encourage one another in our faith, something that is true even today. Paul also carries a heavy burden to reach as many people as he can with the Good News of Jesus Christ. The New Testament speaks of salvation in the past tense (Ephesians 2:8), the present tense (2 Corinthians 2:15), and the future tense (13:11). In the past the believer has been saved from the penalty of sin. In the present the believer is being saved from the power of sin. In the future the believer will be saved from the very presence of sin. Paul consistently emphasizes that the Good News is for everyone. He also insists that God first chose the Jews to be His people, made promises to them, gave them a unique place in the continuing plans of God. They have a special responsibility to respond to the Good News and will be judged first if they turn away. God’s righteousness revealed from faith to faith means that faith is at the beginning of the salvation process and it is the goal as well. God makes us right in His sight is a key phrase that appears eight times in Romans. This has Old Testament roots, where God’s righteousness refers to his character, or, to an act of declaring His people sinless and perfect in His eyes. Paul uses the second meaning in this verse. The Good News has the power to save because it is the fulfillment of God’s promise to vindicate His people. In the first four chapters of this book Paul repeatedly insists that only through faith can human beings be made right in God’s sight.
Here are some key words and meanings. Paul and other New Testament writers portray Jesus Christ, on the basis of His sacrificial death on the cross in the place of sinners, as the Author and Provider of salvation. This spiritual deliverance is graciously and lovingly offered by God to all people, but only those who repent and trust in Jesus will experience its blessings. And what exactly are those blessings? We can summarize as salvation from the penalty of sin, salvation from the power of sin, and salvation from the presence of sin. Theologians use the terms of justification, sanctification, glorification, and regeneration. Allow me to explain. Justification is the divine act of declaring sinners to be righteous on account of their faith in Jesus Christ. He paid for their sins completely and finally on the cross, and through faith in Him their sins can be forgiven. Closely related to justification is regeneration. This is where the Spirit of God in dwells a repentant sinner and imparts eternal life to his or her spiritually dead soul. Sanctification is the process in which God develops the new life of the believer and gradually brings it to perfection. It is how we continue to become more and more like Jesus. Glorification is the ultimate salvation of the whole person. This occurs when we are face to face with our Savior in His coming kingdom. At that time God will completely mold us into the image of Christ. Then we will be able to enjoy complete fellowship with God, singing His praises forever.
The rest of today’s reading is Paul teaching about universal sinfulness. Both Gentiles and Jews are equally under sin’s power and cannot find favor with God by any action of their own. God’s anger is not a spontaneous emotional outburst but the Holy God’s necessary response to sin. The Old Testament often depicts God’s anger and predicts a decisive outpouring of God’s wrath on human sin at the end of history. Paul usually depicts God’s anger as occurring at the end times. Our knowing God typically means having an intimate, saving relationship with Him. Here, knowing God meant they knew about God, but rather than learn about the Lord, they worshiped gods of their own making. When humans exchanged the living God for idols, God abandoned them, a point Paul makes twice in this paragraph. Verses 26-32 contain one of the most extensive lists of sins in all of scripture. It contains the rebelliousness of the human heart and the exhaustive sweep of human depravity. Society has chosen certain of them to use to condemn people and others society tends to rationalize. But the truth is, God judges all sins. And a sin is a sin is a sin. Here Paul declares that all unrighteous people are without excuse. God’s judgement will be meted out according to the truth, according to works, and according to the light one has of the law. And, encouraging others to sin is worse than sinning oneself.
Chapter 2 begins with addressing the Jews, “you may think” , meaning their feelings of superiority to the
Gentiles. Paul uses what is known as a diatribe where a writer tries to win over an audience to their own views by portraying a debate between themselves and a hypothetical opponent. Paul’s point here is that Jews, like Gentiles turn from God’s revelation to go their own way. Paul used the word wrath in verse 5 but it is a different wrath than that which he used in 1:18. There God’s wrath was His present anger but here it refers to God’s future wrath. Thus, the people who continue in their rebellion against the Lord are accumulating wrath for themselves. Paul tells the Roman church that God will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good. But he also makes it crystal clear that no one can receive eternal life except as God’s gift through faith. As the letter unfolds Paul makes it clear that the standards of God’s holiness cannot be met by any human. God will pour out His anger in those who live for themselves. The Greek word here is not often used but it conveys the ideas of selfish ambition or strife. And at the end, the wicked will be destroyed. Condemned sinners do not cease to exist but suffer eternal punishment which includes separation from God. Paul also makes the point that there are Gentiles who are living in obedience to God’s law and they don’t even know the law. For Paul that means they actually have God’s law written in their hearts. The secret life addressed in verse 16 refers to our thoughts and intentions. And again Paul addressed the Jews who were certain that being God’s chosen people and having his law gave them immunity from judgement and the superiority to have complete knowledge and truth. In a series of questions Paul uses a diatribe again to expose the inconsistency of the Jews claims.
God instituted the ceremony of circumcision as a sign of His covenant with Abraham. It represents God’s covenant with His people Israel. But if you are marked with the sign of circumcision and have nothing to do with God and His laws then you are no better than those who have never been circumcised. Paul goes so far as to say that uncircumcised Gentiles who obey the law will judge the Jews who are circumcised and do not obey the law. Finally, the letter of the law refers to the law of God written on tablets of stone while the Spirit now writes His law on people’s hearts. Outward conformity is thus contrasted with obedience motivated by a change of heart.
The advantages of being a Jew? Paul moves his argument along by asking questions. By this point Paul had preached the Good News for nearly 20 years and he knew the questions people asked. So he answered them before they could ask. The advantage the Jews had was that they had received the Word of the Lord. It was revealed to them, highlighting the fact that God has personal communication with His people. He tells the Romans that God is never unfaithful to His people. Paul quoted Psalm 51:4 where David confessed his sin with Bathsheba. God punished David and David admitted God was proved right and would win His case in court. His punishment was entirely just, and God is faithful to what He has said in the past. God punished all sin and He retains all righteousness as He does so. God even makes use of human sin for His own means. But even when God does that, the sin is still punished. Believing does not entitle us to sin, and the more we sin does not bring glory to anyone. Believing is not a license to sin as we want. There are six quotes in verses 10-18, drawn from various parts of the Old Testament, and all of them address human sinfulness. Paul followed the practice of other rabbis who gathered together Old Testament texts on similar themes in a practice called pearl stringing. Perhaps the most severe is verses 14-18. Humans apart from God are not blessing others. Instead they asked often cursing them. They are not loving but bitter. People apart from God are prone to shed blood. They murder and kill because they have no respect for the life of another. Worse yet, people apart from God have no fear of God. This is an Old Testament expression for respect and reverence for God. It is also said to be the beginning of knowledge. Because people without God are spiritually dead, they produce only deceit, damage , and destruction.
In verse 21 Paul returns to the central theme of the righteousness of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus and is available to anyone who believes. Verses 21-26 are the fundamental statement of righteousness, in verses 27-31 Paul elaborates on this and in chapter 4 illustrates this with the experience of Abraham. Paul reiterates God puts people in a right relationship with Himself through His righteousness. The old covenant looked forward to the climactic revelation of God’s righteousness in His Son and now through His Son we are able to come to Him. God in His grace has chosen to make us right in His sight. He doesn’t have to do this but has chosen to do so. We are helpless slaves to sin and our righteous status before God can and will never be earned. It happens only through Jesus Christ. The phrase sacrifice for sin, in the Greek, means atonement cover. This is the cover on the ark of the covenant that resided in the most holy place in the tabernacle and later the temple. Paul characterizes Jesus Christ as God’s provision of final atonement for His people. Jesus absorbed the wrath of God in our place so we would be made right with God.
Paul used the foundational Jewish argument of monotheism, only one God. He argued that if that is indeed true, then the Lord, Yahweh, is equally the God of both the Jews and Gentiles. Paul even acknowledges that some people will object to his insistence on faith apart from the law because it seems to dismiss the demands of the law. However, faith actually enables people to fulfill the law. The Holy Spirit is given to those who have faith, and He makes it possible for people to do as they should.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W