Romans 6: You are dead to sin and alive to God.
The topic is freedom. When I was bound in sin, living a dead end life without hope Jesus came to rescue me. Taking my sin as his own, he carried it to death, stripping it of its grip on me. Then, in the resurrection, the possibility of new life came to me. When I join Christ at the cross I die to sin. When I join him at the tomb on resurrection morning, that resurrection life becomes mine. Now, I stand a free man, made new by the work of Christ. I’m filled with thanksgiving and forever indebted to the One who has made it all possible. The freedom I’ve received is a cherished possession, one that I guard carefully, realizing that some acts are out of bounds for me because to do them would place me back in bondage from whence I came. Instead, I willingly serve the One who gave me freedom, bound, not by sin and death, but by love.
Take Away: I’m bound…not by sin, but by God’s love.
Romans 5: When it’s sin verses grace, grace wins hands down.
Obviously, it all starts with Adam, the first human being. This first man’s failure puts in motion a whole string of failures. Humanity is in a death spiral. One man’s sin results in the sins of many. One man’s sin results in the deaths of many. Without an intervention this story is going to end badly. Then, God’s own Son, Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, steps into history. Adam’s disobedience brings death. Jesus’ obedience brings life. For humanity it’s a gift beyond understanding. Our sin: our crushing, destroying, death dealing sin seems insurmountable. Now, through Jesus, the remedy is given. Sin, as powerful as it is, meets its match. Grace wins.
Take Away: No matter how great the sin, it meets it match in God’s matchless grace.
A “me-story” or a God-story?
Romans 4: The story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story.
The Old Testament story of Abraham doesn’t start with “Abraham sought God” or “Abraham was a righteous man.” Rather, the focus is on God who approaches Abraham, makes promises to him, and calls him to follow. Obviously, without Abraham’s response there would be no story. However, it’s even truer that without God’s first call, Abraham would have had no opportunity to obey in the first place. In the book of Romans, Paul wants us to understand the route to righteousness. We don’t arrive at a certain place where the Almighty is impressed by us and decides to take us under his wing. Rather, even when we’re hopelessly lost the Lord seeks us out, calls to us, makes promises to us and then awaits our response. The greatest thing Abraham ever does is to respond to what God does. As I apply that to my life I find all the rules being rewritten. If it’s just me doing stuff, even things that impress others, it’s not worth much. However, if I respond to God’s grace in my life, and then live my life in him, things happen that would have never otherwise been accomplished. My life becomes, not a “me-story,” but becomes a God-story.
Take Away: It all starts with the grace of God. I plug into that grace by faith.
Grace extended to both insiders and outsiders
Romans 3: Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself.
The Jews, Paul says, have a special relationship with God. They’re the writers of Scripture, introducing God to the world. That’s a place of great honor, but it’s no guarantee of salvation. Not only that, but these custodians of God’s Word have, themselves, failed to live according to it. Meanwhile, the outsiders have gone their own way. Ignorant of God’s commands, uninterested in his ways, they too have failed. The result is “that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else.” So now what? Those with the inside path to God haven’t followed it and those on the outside haven’t found it. Hope for salvation has to come from, not within, but from outside of humanity. Enter Jesus. Through him the remedy for failure and sin is offered. The Jews need him because they’ve rejected what they knew God wanted. The outsiders need him because they’ve never started down God’s path in the first place. The generous provision of God is his making a way to life for all people, Jews and non-Jews alike. The hope of salvation, then, is in this wonderful expression of God’s grace to a lost human race.
Take Away: For those who know the law but haven’t kept it and for those who never kept it because they never knew it, that is, for all of us, our only hope is God’s grace.
God at work here
Romans 2: There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong.
Paul hasn’t spent his time locked up in some ivory tower thinking about hypothetical situations. Rather, more than anyone else, he’s gone out into the real world dealing with people from all walks of life and a variety of religious beliefs. We think that if we have a spirited exchange with a friend who’s a Catholic or a Pentecostal or a Baptist that we’ve been debating religion. Paul has encountered a variety of religious views that reveal our denominational differences to be as trivial as they really are. He’s worked with idol worshipers and with a wide variety of pagans. In all that, Paul has never backed away from his faith in Jesus Christ and he’s proclaimed that faith at considerable personal cost. Still, even in the most non-Christian settings he’s discovered in people the image of God. He’s seen in those who’ve never heard of the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount an innate understanding of the concepts taught to God’s people by them. This, Paul says, is a proof of God’s hand in their lives and a reminder that their coming to Christ isn’t as distant a journey as one might think. On one hand, I don’t want to drift into the dangerous waters of universalism. Among other things, that diminishes the sacrifice our Lord made on the cross. On the other hand, I want to appreciate the good things I see in people who haven’t yet come to the Lord. On every human heart, follower of Jesus or not, a sign can be hung declaring “God at work here.”
Take Away: Before I ever think of God he thinks of me and before I ever respond to him, he’s already at work in my life.
A theology book
Romans 1: I write this letter to all the Christians in Rome, God’s friends.
No one knows who it was who took the Gospel message to Rome. Some think Peter, but that’s due to a particular theological agenda that isn’t supported by the historical commentary of the book of Acts. I do have the idea that some who heard Peter’s great message on the Day of Pentecost were from Rome and were among the 3000 who became believers. Perhaps they returned home and established Christianity in Rome. If I understand the chronology right, as Paul writes this letter he’s about three years from the events recorded in the closing chapters of Acts that will bring him to Rome. In his other letters, he deals with specific concerns because he’s had personal contact with the churches. When he writes to the church at Rome he takes a different approach. The result is the finest book of theology ever written. I don’t know what the original readers thought of this letter but can only guess that they were as blown away by its depth and complexity as I am. Happily for me, I’m not committed to write a commentary on Romans, just some devotionals. Humanity, Paul says, has ignored God resulting in a sort of downward spiral into more and more outrageous and destructive sin. This book of theology describes how it is God has acted to remedy that situation.
Take Away: If you like to read theology you can do no better than to commit yourself to becoming an expert on the book of Romans.