Today we begin in our reading the great book of Romans. It is the first of Paul’s letters to churches in the New Testament, although it was actually not his first letter; 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and probably Galatians came before Romans. These letters turned out to be an important part of Paul’s ministry; they were a part of Paul’s continuing ministry to churches that he had planted or helped in his missionary activity. Through letters, Paul could continue to teach young Christians facing moral, doctrinal, and persecution tests and trials. And, of course, Christianity down through the centuries has benefited enormously through these inspired letters, which continue to teach and extend Paul’s service to the Lord’s church long after his death.
This letter (book) it turns out, was written from Corinth (see Romans 15:26 and 16:1,2) just prior to leaving for Jerusalem (where Paul was consequently arrested, as we read just a couple of days ago in Acts). It is heavy with doctrine (chapters 1-11), but also full of practical application (chapters 12-16), and Paul carried this pattern of doctrine followed by application is most of the rest of his letters. This system of doctrine before application reflects the truth that actions come out of beliefs — and beliefs come from teachings. This is a distinction that we too often lose in modern times, and this aversion to doctrine that our age seems to suffer from is the very reason why immorality, apathy, and worldliness are so prevalent today. Paul knew this and we’d do well to follow his lead on this in our own service to the church.
Romans is considered Paul’s opus magnum, probably the New Testament’s clearest teachings on man’s need for salvation and God’s great plan for redeeming man. So with this brief introduction out of the way comment on a few things found in the first three chapters of Paul’s inspired letter to the church at Rome.
Not ashamed — Romans 1:16
Even in the first century people were tempted to be embarrassed about the Gospel. Jesus was, after all, crucified as a criminal. So “helpless” that He couldn’t save Himself from the death of the cross! “And you’re telling me that He’s the Son of God!? Don’t make me laugh!” Our embarrassment these days comes from not wanting to be considered a kook, from not wanting to be different, from believing in any thing but science. But Paul refused to be ashamed, because he knew that the Gospel is the only way, the only way, that men can be saved — the power of God unto salvation. Maybe that’s the difference between us and Paul; maybe we’re not convinced that without Jesus we’re damned. Our all-inclusive world scorns the idea that there might be only one way, but Jesus taught this truth over and over again. If we say we believe that He is the Son of God, we need to put on our big-boy pants and believe Him and act accordingly, despite what the world might say. Are you ashamed?
They are without excuse — Romans 1:20
I’ve heard people in the midst of sin justify their actions and boastfully saying that in regard to what sinful thing they just did, they’d just have to deal with God about it. What they mean to say is that they think that they can talk God out of appropriate judgment. They believe that their situation is different or that they’ve got a unique excuse, or they’ve run up against something that God didn’t anticipate, when He commanded some things. Paul makes it plain that none of us will be successfully excusing ourselves. Jesus’ teachings mentioned a number judgment scenes; in some of them those who were condemned offered excuses. None were accepted. Are you living in disobedience to God’s word and hoping that you’ll be able to offer an excuse for it? Please rethink that one.
The kindness of God leads to repentance — Romans 2:4
Have you ever thought about God’s blessings as being one of His ways to try to bring us back? We get the punishment side of things — and complain about it, when it happens. But when God blesses — well, I just deserved that, because I’m such a good guy. Later in Romans 12 we’ll read advice from Paul about how to deal with enemies: Romans 12:20 ““BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”” The idea is to do so much good for someone who’s done you evil that you change his heart (through guilt or good example or something else). Have you ever thought that God might try some of His own advice? Imagine, blessings from the God we’ve offended. Don’t we all have a little something to clean up in our lives to thank the God who has been so good to us?
A stumbling block for blasphemy — Romans 2:23,24
This passage applies not just to the Jews of Paul’s day who had brought reproach on God and His word, it happens today, too. I can’t help but wonder sometimes at the things that Christians put on Facebook, for example. Not only are they telling on themselves to fellow Christians (a real discouragement, thanks for that) but a cause for people who are not Christians, but know these people, to think “hypocrite” and “not for me” and blaspheme the name of Christ.
Just and Justifier — Romans 3:26
What a wonder God has performed in our salvation. God is both just and merciful at the same time. His justice calls for punishing all sin with death (what He’s promised for all sin). But the merciful side of Him doesn’t want to see anyone die! How does He manage this? Well, the mercy of God has a name — Jesus. On the cross Jesus deals with the justice of God, paying for all our sins, and we are dealt with not as our sins deserve, but with mercy! Praise God!
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.