Romans 1:1-17--The Greatest Letter Ever Penned.
Note from Admin: I found Dain’s notes from his first two Romans Bible study meetings rolled up and stuffed into the tailpipe of another pastor’s church van. After careful removal I then set about to edit them into a coherent summation of the two studies. Therefore, blame me. At least this makes us all that much more pleased that we now have the equipment needed to film Dain in the act. The Bible studies I mean, not the thing with the tailpipe. Here’s Dain…
Imagine you are standing on the goal line of an American football field. One hundred yards away is the opposite goal line. Let’s pretend that far line represents the moment the Earth formed into a planet. According to current scientific thought, the Earth’s ozone layer formed at the 13 yard line, thirteen yards from where you are standing. Fish arrived at the 11 yard line, insects at the 8, dinosaurs at the 5. Apes join at the 1 foot line. Homo Erectus shows up at the ⅛ inch point. Known history is the width of a human hair. And let’s don’t even think about our physical size compared to the unimaginably huge universe God created! The point here? We are minuscule in time and space!
Now with this in mind, ponder these three events that occurred this week in that time and space: Jennifer Anniston made a funny face at Brad Pitt; the US government assassinated an Iranian general; my daughter said she wants to attend Wittenberg University. What is important?
Your answer to the question “What is important?” is your world view. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? What does it mean? What you think about these things is your “WORLD VIEW”.
The Book of Romans presents a definitive world view. Romans posits that there is a Designer/Creator God, and we are not Him! It lets us know we are not like God in that we are abject sinners, the problem that causes with our relationship to God, and how that problem is solved. The details will unfold as we go through Romans.
The Romans World View Gives Meaning Where Others Can't
During World War II, after the bombing of a concentration camp, the guards made the Jewish prisoners move rubble for weeks. When they finished, they were made to move all the rubble back again. When Jews realized that their work was pointless, many rushed the barbwire, committing suicide. The point is, we can endure all kinds of deprivation if our lives have purpose, but life without purpose causes deep despair. Even people “at the top of the heap” can live in despair. Kurt Cobain is an example.
In the movie Trainspotting, a group of people blow off all of “real life” in pursuit of getting high on heroin. They look at all the pressures of a normal life and see no point in it, so they focus on the one thing that gives them some sort of meaning: heroin. What is interesting is the title. Trainspotting is a hobby in Britain where train enthusiasts wait for trains and them mark the train number, engine type, number of cars and at what time it goes by. What a hobby, right?! The point is that Trainspotting is probably about as meaningless a pastime as heroin.
The Most Incredible Letter of All
I believe that Romans is the most influential letter ever written. A HUGE claim, but consider: the Bible is clearly the most influential book ever, consisting of 66 books that have propelled Christianity to the highest point of Western attitudes about justice and morality.
RC Sproul points out that out of those 66 books, Romans has MOST influenced the greatest Christian thinkers. Saint Augustine, Martin Luther and John Wesley all converted in response to verses contained in Romans. In my case, I’ve taught 22 of those books, and Romans is the one that “changed my life.”
Carrots are considered to be the most “whole” food with a balance of proteins, carbs, etc. You could apparently exist on nothing but carrots for a long time. Point being, Romans is most “whole” book of the Bible with everything you need to know about faith, salvation, and Kingdom living.
In the New Testament, the Book of Romans immediately follows the Gospels and the Book of Acts. The Gospels and Acts explain what happened regarding Jesus during His public ministry and the actions of the early Church after His ascension into heaven. Romans tells us the significance and meaning of the events in the Gospels and Acts. Romans tells us what it all means.
A Quick Outline of the Book of Romans
1. “Hi, I’m Paul. You may not know me, but I’m a messenger of God with a message for you!”
2. The World is lost. Everybody sins. The Gentiles are hopeless, and the Jews are worse because they ought to know better.
3. Because of this we are reaping God’s wrath.
4. But there is hope for forgiveness in the blood of God’s Son Jesus Christ.
5. In that hope we are justified by our faith.
6. We now have freedom from sin’s soul-killing grasp.
7. Sidetrack: God hasn’t forgotten the Jews.
8. How do we now live with this freedom?
9. "Here are my travel plans, say howzit to a few people and…Praise God!"
Let's Jump In....
Romans 1:1: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…” (All verses are from the NIV Bible, 1984 edition. We’ve taken the liberty to capitalize the pronouns for God).
Paul uses the word doulos; slave. Why was it radical for Paul to say this? He was a Roman citizen. He was free. But he says, in essence, “I have given up myself to the will of another.” He had chosen to be dependent on Christ and obedient to Him.
Paul calls himself “set apart.” Paul, a pharisee, had been set apart to study the law. Now he becomes set apart for the gospel (good news) of grace. Paul’s job is to announce the good news. Not Paul’s good news, God’s good news. It is God's gospel. He owns it, God originated it, God designed it, and now God is simply using the apostle Paul to communicate it. Thus this book is not just Paul’s theology, it is Gods message to us.
It’s perfect that Paul starts by talking about the gospel, because the whole book of Romans is really an extended presentation of the gospel. In fact, he uses the term 60x in this letter alone!
Verse 2: “…the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures…”
The gospel was not new with Paul. It has precedence all through Scripture. We will see more on this later. Paul’s enemies accused him of preaching something unlike proper Judaism. But he will point out that the gospel has its roots in Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, etc.
Verses 3 and 4: “…regarding His Son, who as to His human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Here we find a quick summary of Jesus as God and man! Jesus, who was born like all humans by flesh (albeit through the line of King David), proving His human nature, also is the Son of God, as evidenced by His resurrection.
Verse 5: “Through Him and for His name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.
Calling all Gentiles! Through God’s power and for HIS glory (name’s sake). At this point, Paul gives us a big clue about faith, which he will thoroughly cover in his letter to the Romans. He tells us that when we come to Christ through faith, the main result or purpose is obedience. We often get that wrong. We think that happiness is the reward for faith, but it’s obedience that comes through faith. That’s the promise here.
Verse 6: “And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”
With the same conviction that Paul says he was called (kleytos), he says you, dear reader, have received the (kleytos) or “invite” as well. Pretty big statement.
Verse 7: "To all in Rome are loved and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Who is loved by God? John 3:16 makes it clear that God loves all people, powerfully. Paul declares that we are called to be saints, “set apart ones.”
Applications We Can Take From These Verses
1. Sometimes God frustrates YOUR plans, to do much greater things. This is based on Paul’s statements in the next few verses that he longed to visit Rome, but had been prevented. If he hadn’t been, he would have had no reason to write this incredible letter!
2. Obedience vs. Happiness. Our obedience is more important than our happiness. Unfortunately, modern churches often preach a twist on this: “My happiness is God’s desire”. Also, “My obedience will lead to happiness” (but take a walk through the Old Testament to see this was not always the case).
And this brings us back to the Book of Romans world view. “If obedience doesn’t guarantee my happiness, why bother?” Exactly! This world view takes you away from YOU being the center of reality, and compels you to make HIM the center.
The Bible opens with one of the most bold, provocative and daring statements in the history of the world: “In the beginning God created…everything”. The rest of the Bible tells the story of how a perfect God created men and women in His image, how they rebelled against Him, and His amazing plan to rescue them and bring them back. This is a very specific world view that has altered the course of history. The book of Romans is perhaps the most comprehensive and concise explanation of that world view.
Let's recap. We have been and will keep covering grace extensively because our sinful nature never stops dragging us back to works righteousness and performance-based salvation. I use the illustration of a car with faulty alignment. If I don’t constantly keep my hand on the wheel (metaphorically leading me along a faithful, grace-centered life in Christ) then the car drives off the road into a ditch of works righteousness, guilt and despair.
Last time we talked about various world views. National Public Radio ran a story on a new “Secular Bible” and how to be “spiritually secular.” Total ridiculousness, but it is a “world view” that wants to incorporate all benefits of so-called spirituality without actually having any fundamental spiritual world view, or even an acknowledgement of a spiritual realm.
(Click HERE to jump down to the article's footnote on the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism world view.)
The world views of many fall into one of two extremes. The straight Materialist struggles to find reasons for love, justice, morality or even meaning. The Spiritualist, on the other hand, says nothing material even matters and thus struggles with injustice, pain and suffering. But Christ perfectly united material and spiritual when He came to earth and taught us how to live a material life in view of the spiritual.
OK, let's get into Romans 1:8-17!
Verse 1:8: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.”
Paul begins with encouragement. Encouragement is so heartening! Todd and Yvonne Gumbrecht who attended KCF back in the Rainbow Plaza days had an outsized gift of encouragement. They constantly told me encouraging things and sent me encouraging cards. I STILL get cards from them ten years later telling me how much I blessed them!
Encouraging words were a common start for Paul, in fact. But can you guess his only letter not to start with any form of encouragement? Galatians! See Galatians 1:6,9 and 3:1-2; Paul nails them. And the reason he does, as he makes clear, is that they were deserting the gospel of grace to return to good works to build their own righteousness.
But you know what? The church over in Corinth was sinning terribly, and Paul wrote to them about it. But as in Romans, he greeted the Corinthians warmly. So why did he fry the ones turning from grace to works more than the body of believers in Corinth that allowed horrible sexual sins? Maybe it’s because, while all sin leads to death for the sinner, abandoning grace kills the Church, the hope of life and the seat of the Bible’s world view.
Paul's Prayerful Concern
Verses 9-10: “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of His Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.”
Here we see Paul’s genuine pastoral concern for the Roman believers. His primary concern was to preach the gospel, yet he took the time to pray for them constantly. Based on various Scriptures we know that Paul prayed these things for people: That they would draw nearer to God; walk more righteously; practice repentance; bear fruit; increase in knowledge; be rooted and grounded in love; filled with the fullness of God and to first and foremost give glory to God. Remember! God’s glory is our primary purpose in the Christian world view.
Verses 11-12: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong--that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
Here we see Paul’s humility. He longs to give them strength. The early Church was small, poor, threatened by false teachings and living in the shadow of the most powerful nation in the world, one that wasn’t exactly pro-Christian. Paul seeks to strengthen their individual faith, which will of course strengthen the body of Christ in a large way. At the same time Paul, perhaps the greatest theologian ever, was humble enough to be eager to be spiritually helped by all the believers in the church at Rome.
The Church today tends to promote “A” types who are naturally self-disciplined, can speak the lingo articulately and live the Christian life “successfully”. This becomes a rather sketchy definition of Christian maturity and success. “B” types see this and just wanna give up. I’m an anomaly because I am a “B” type personality. But by being transparent with my failings, I am able to encourage others to keep trying. Paul’s humility was encouraging to the Romans.
Verse 13: “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.”
As we said before, God denied Paul’s good intention and we thus reap the benefits of this marvelous portion of Scripture, the Book of Romans!
There is also a subtle hint at his successful ministry among Gentiles. This sets up the next verse....
Barbarians at the Gate (of Heaven)
Verse 14: "I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and foolish."
Paul announced the good news to the Greeks (symbolic of the educated and affluent) as well as the Barbarians (the uneducated and uncultured).
The NIV translates it as “non-Greeks” but it is actually the word for Barbarians. The word is said to come from the Greeks mocking them, saying that their speech sounded like they were mumbling “bar-bar-bar.” Ha!
Historical importance: Rome lost militarily to the Barbarians, but as the new crowd learned about the Kingdom of God and joined it, they took the gospel everywhere, eventually around the entire world!
Verse 15: “That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.”
It seems as though Paul here is implying the Roman church was full of a deep cultural mix: Jews, Gentiles, wise, foolish, cultured, uncouth. He was eager to get there and preach to them all…but ironically his letter would accomplish way more throughout history!
The Good News: Salvation
Verse 16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”
Are we unashamed? Do we pretend at church that God is real, and then go back to “reality”? More likely, how we are at church is reality, but we pretend to the world.
Tomorrowland, in Disneyland, painted for me as a child an idealistic future where mankind has solved all our problems through technology. Humanity can save the planet. But Paul knew the truth: God saves, and the gospel is His powerful way to make His salvation known to us. Paul knew power, not shame. The word for power is dunamis, from which we take the word dynamite.
My moment of shame came at a wedding dinner. I allowed a smart guy to completely dis my faith in Christ and had no answer. I could not adequately defend the gospel with power. Instead I was ashamed. I learned my lesson!
It’s so important for us to know what we believe. When my nephew was about 14 he announced that he was an atheist. This was right when 9/11 happened. I then asked him to explain to me why it wasn’t an act of evil, based on the “survival of the fittest” theory. His new world view didn’t give him the answer.
Concerning salvation, the word is soteria, meaning “rescue.” What are we rescued from? God’s wrath! Romans 5:9 says, “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!”
Now, why does Paul say that salvation was to the Jew first? Well, Abraham, the founder of the Jewish nation, was perhaps the first person in the world to learn of God’s grace. Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” And this is a great lead-in to our final verse…
The Failure of the "Doing Good" World View
Verse 17: “For in the gospel a righteousness is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from the first to last, just as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
Boom! God is holy, holy, HOLY. We are NOT. No amount of “doing good” could ever satisfy His justice for our transgression. So He sends His Son to die for our sins. We gain His righteousness by believing and trusting.
It is so important that we Christians understand this concept, many don’t. The world has no clue, and it’s up to us to make the gospel of salvation clear to them.
Martin Luther is a classic example of a man who desperately needed to get his understanding of grace versus works straightened out. He was a monk living under extremely heavy conviction of sin. He would literally be in the confessional hours every day. It was driving the other monks nuts! But when he finally opened his eyes to the words of Paul in the Book of Romans, Luther was saved by grace and filled with overflowing joy. Our world is dying for this joy.
Next Week: WRATH!!
If you hate that word you especially need to watch next time's video 🙂
Addendum: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
A look at a humanistic world view shared by many. Based on a book by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton called “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers”.
1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Moralistic = Gotta be good.
Therapeutic = God/Christianity can help you “heal.”
Deism = “Belief in a God who created the world but has since remained indifferent to it.” In this sense God is around, but not overly concerned with you and your life unless…you need Him.
It views God as "Something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he's always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process."
(Click HERE to return to your place in the article)
About Dain Spore
Dain is pastor of Kauai Christian Fellowship in Hawaii.
When I read the great truths of God's Word, I get chicken skin: Goosebumps! Join me each week and maybe you'll get chicken skin too 🙂