The Book of Romans, Part 1by
Jack M. LaneWe’re going to take a tour of the first half of the book of Romans, hitting some of the high points, to see what message Paul had in mind when he wrote this letter. If we better understand the context of this epistle, we can better appreciate what Paul was saying when he wrote to the Christians in Rome (and, by extension, to us). Paul not only discusses some of the foundational concepts of our faith; he also gives us some good solid pointers on how to live. This is the first in a series of articles on the book of Romans.
Romans is a treatise on some of the foundational understandings of the Christian faith. That’s probably why it was placed as the first epistle by the folks who put the books of the Bible in the order we’re accustomed to seeing. We can learn a lot of basic Christianity from this book. But we can also appreciate the book of Romans more, and actually understand more of what Paul is trying to say, when we know why it was written.
Paul is writing specifically to the Jewish Christians in Rome. He is contrasting the Jewish Christians, with their background in the law (better thought of as the torah), to the Gentile Christians, who didn’t have the same background. Because the ekklesia (congregation) in Rome was multicultural, there were some times when the two cultures didn’t mesh smoothly.
Paul was a Pharisee, and the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). Yet he writes to the Jewish members of the ekklesia, taking them to task for their arrogance about being Jews, while at the same time he lifts up the Gentiles. Paul uses some skillful rhetoric in this letter, bringing the Jews down a few notches as he elevates the Gentiles, to show that all the members of the body are on an equal footing. (He mentions in other epistles that we are all one in Christ, i.e., Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11.)
Paul shows that law-keeping doesn’t save anyone; however, law-keeping is required of all of us. Now, why would law-keeping be required if it doesn’t save us? The answer is this: Our heavenly Father expects us to obey Him because our obedience has a relationship with our being righteous. Obeying our Father leads to righteousness, which in turn leads to treating other people appropriately, in love. And it’s that righteousness that leads to salvation. (See the article, "A Tale of Two Husbands.")
The Jews relied on their knowledge of the law to save them, but that’s not the same as actually being righteous. In fact, it puffed them up instead of making them righteous. This is the motivation behind Paul’s letter to the Romans. Let’s begin our study of this epistle and follow along as Paul develops his thesis.
Chapter 1 – Demented deviants
An important verse to examine as we begin is Romans 1:4. Paul is writing about Messiah, and in verse 4 he says: “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” (NIV throughout).
It’s important to notice that Messiah was not considered to be the Son of God, in all the fullness of that title, until his resurrection. Whatever Messiah was before his human birth, he wasn’t the Son of God until he was born as a human. When Mary became pregnant, the child she was carrying was God’s only-begotten Son, as other scriptures show, so naturally he was the Son of God during his human life. But Romans 1:4 shows him to be, as the KJV says, “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” This is a small point, but an important one.
In Romans 1:16-17, Paul writes: “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. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
Paul’s emphasis in this letter is not on law-keeping, but on the power of the gospel, and on the righteousness that comes, not from law-keeping, but from our Father Himself! Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, and neither should we be. It – the gospel – is the power of God that allows all believers to be saved.
Many of us are familiar with Paul’s tirade beginning at Romans 1:18 “against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” He rails against all sorts of wickedness. We use this passage when we discuss evolution versus creation, morality versus debauchery, false knowledge versus true knowledge, and many other topics. This is a favorite passage we use often. I won’t even quote the passage here; it’s really a disgusting passage of scripture, because of the human filth it describes.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why this passage is in here? It really has nothing at all to do with the rest of the book of Romans. It begins abruptly, and it ends just as abruptly. Paul talks about these losers, then never mentions them again. It seems to be simply dropped into the text. Why is it here?
Actually, Paul was using this illustration to make a point. As the epistle was being read to the members of the ekklesia in their congregations, no doubt the Jews in the congregations were getting upset about these horrible sinners. It would have been easy for their blood to start boiling as they heard about those horrible people over there, and to think those wicked people should be destroyed for their behavior.
Chapter 2 – It’s all about you!
Then, right about the time all the Jews are upset and angry about these horrible sinners, Paul stops the analogy and says, at the beginning of chapter 2, “It’s all about you!”
Romans 2:1-6: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’”
I’m sure some of the members of the congregation were blinking, looking around, wondering what was going on. Paul had used a literary device to bring out the anger in these people toward sinners, then immediately held up the mirror and said, “Hey! I’m talking about you! You want to get mad at sinners? Look at yourself!” Paul begins rather strongly to bring some of the people in the congregation to an abrupt halt by confronting them with some of the things they were doing.
Romans 2:9-11: “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.”
Whatever is good for the goose is good for the gander. Or, whatever is appropriate for the Jew is also appropriate for the Gentile. Paul is leveling the playing field in the beginning of the book. Then he’ll strengthen the whole team in later chapters, and finally give the signals for a successful game toward the end of the book.
Romans 2:12-13: “All who sin apart from the law [that’s the Gentiles] will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law [the Jews] will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Knowing the law isn’t good enough. You have to live by it if you want to be righteous.
Continuing in verses 14-15: “(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)”
Paul said even the converted Gentiles in the congregation have the law written on their heart – not the written laws of rules and regulations, but the requirements of the law, which are to walk humbly and obediently with the One who made those laws.
Romans 2:17-22: “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? [Now they might start defending themselves as they sat and listened: “No, I don’t steal!”] You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? [“Absolutely not! What’s he getting at?”] You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? [“What? Preposterous!”]
Verses 23-24: “You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’”
Now the Jewish believers in his audience might be saying to themselves, “What? Break the law? What’s he talking about?” They might even ask, “Which law?”
Then he comes to the point, in verse 25. He speaks of circumcision, but his real point is that, whether a member of the congregation is circumcoised or not, it's obedience to God that really matters. He writes: "Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker" (verses 25-27).
You might remember the gathering of apostles and elders described in Acts 15. That’s what the summit meeting was all about: Circumcision and taking on Jewish customs and traditions! The apostles and elders in Jerusalem decided during that historic meeting that it was not necessary to become a Jew in order to become a Christian.
In Romans, Paul is writing to the Jewish disciples in Rome to show that circumcision, the traditions of the elders, and reliance on having the law and doing the old traditions are not the things that bring people to salvation. He spends the rest of chapter 2 explaining that the circumcision that counts isn’t a physical operation, but rather a state of being, a way of life. True circumcision is of the heart, not the foreskin.
Paul ends chapter 2 with an interesting statement. He says, “Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:29). What does this mean? It’s a pun, a play on words. If you take the name “Judah” and translate it into English, it becomes the word “praise.” “Judah” means “praise.” The Jews thought they were being praised by the Father simply because they were Jews and were circumcised. Circumcision, and being of Jewish heritage, meant a lot to the Jewish people. This attitude carried over into the ekklesia of Christ. Paul is telling them that being circumcised might bring praise from men, but what they should really strive for is praise from our Father because of their circumcised hearts. Their real praise, their true “Jewishness” as it were, is not from men, Paul says, but from God.
Chapter 3 – Justification and righteousness
Let’s look again at what Paul wrote in Romans 2:13: “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Yes, obedience to the law is important. However, Paul later writes, in Romans 3:20: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
This is a fine point, a narrow distinction a lot of people miss. Paul says (1) those who obey the law will be declared righteous, but (2) it isn’t the obeying of the law that makes us righteous. The purpose of the law is to point out which behaviors are in the realm of sin. It’s getting out of the realm of sin, and staying in the realm of obedience, that will cause us to be declared righteous. But Paul says it isn’t obeying the law that makes us righteous. The truth is, it’s the other way around: It’s being righteous that makes us obey the law!
Paul goes on to describe righteousness, and justification as well, in Romans 3:21-26: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
Our Father emanates righteousness from the core of His being. We can have some of that righteousness from God placed directly into us if we have faith in the redemption that comes from our Messiah and His sacrifice.
But remember, this faith is being contrasted to the faith they had at the time – faith in their being Jewish, reliance on knowing the law and being circumcised. Sort of a pale thing by comparison, isn’t it?
Our Father freely justifies those who have faith in Messiah. This justification means we are forgiven of “sins committed beforehand” – our past sins. He does this to demonstrate His justice, because He is just, and He justifies those who have, not faith in scrupulous law-keeping, but faith in Messiah.
Does that mean we no longer have an obligation to obey our Father? No, the justification we receive is the forgiveness of our past sins – “he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” The slate was wiped clean. We were forgiven when we rose out of the waters of baptism. But we still need to live by God’s laws.
Remember what we saw earlier, in Romans 2:13: “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Yet, we see in Romans 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” Is this a contradiction? No, these two verses are talking about two different things: being righteous (2:13) and being justified (3:28).
Justification comes from our Father’s grace, or special favor, based on our faith in Messiah. Being righteous comes from the way we live, obeying our Father and walking uprightly before Him. It’s important to understand the distinction between the two – justification and being righteous. Justification is by grace, which comes from God to us. Righteousness is a result of faith, and that goes from us to God. Our relationship with God is a two-way street. He does something for us (He saves us), but we must also do something for Him (love Him and obey Him).
Chapter 4 - Abraham
Romans 4:2-5: “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works [he wasn’t, but for the sake of this argument, Paul is saying he was], he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
Notice how Paul continues to draw a distinction between righteousness and justification. Abraham had faith, which is a part of righteousness, but our Father did the justifying.
Was Abraham obedient, or was he a callous law-breaker? It’s rather obvious that Abraham was obedient as part of his faith, as part of his righteousness.
Romans 4:13-15: “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, [and remember, that’s what the Jews thought – they were Abraham’s heirs because they had the law!] faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.”
I’ll explain what that means in a moment. Paul is placing the law in its proper perspective, step by step, for the Jewish Christians in Rome. He’s not saying that the law is done away, but that reliance on the law, and obedience to the law, will not save anyone. Yet there will be some who see Paul’s statement that “law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression” and assume that means there is no law. The context of the book of Romans shows this is not what Paul meant at all.
Chapter 5 – Adam
Further explanation is found in Romans 5:12-14: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned – [Now he goes off on a side point] for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.”
Sin entered the world through one man, Adam. Yet the law wasn’t given until Moses went to Mt. Sinai. For the purposes of this discussion, there was no law from Adam to Moses. We know that’s not exactly true, but this is the argument Paul is using here, to demonstrate a point. If there was no law during that time, from Adam to Moses, does that mean there was no sin? No, because Paul says “sin entered the world through one man” (5:12) and “before the law was given, sin was in the world” (5:13) and “death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses” (5:14).
Paul explains that “sin is not taken into account when there is no law” (5:13). That helps us understand his earlier statement, “where there is no law there is no transgression” (4:15). It’s not that there was no law, but rather that sin was not taken into account during that time, from Adam to Moses.
The point is: God is not holding the people of the world accountable for their sins from the time of Adam to the time of Moses. Beginning with the time of Moses, the people of Israel had the Ten Commandments, so they have no excuse. With the spread of Bible-based religion around the world, people everywhere have the Ten Commandments, so they have no excuse.
This is what Paul was telling the Greeks in Athens, when he was giving his “Unknown God” speech to the Greek philosophers in Acts 17:30-31: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” Paul was of the opinion that, since Messiah was resurrected, and everyone had heard about it, they had no more excuses.
We can go back once again to Romans 3:23-26: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance [that is, in His patience, restraint, tolerance, leniency, mercy] he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
How does this demonstrate God’s justice? By our way of thinking, all those lawbreakers should have perished when they sinned. They should all stay in their graves forever, unless God brings them up in a resurrection just to cast them into the Lake of Fire and burn them to a crisp for their disobedience to His laws! Now that’s justice! Well, that’s justice to our way of thinking.
But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). Our Father has a better plan. He’s building a family, and this planet-load of people will be His children. He has a plan for all humans, which involves all of us, from Adam and Eve forward, to go out into the universe with Him, as His children, and be the family of God forever.
How could He bring that plan to completion if He kills everyone who sins? To paraphrase Romans 3:23-24: “for [we] all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [however, rather than being destroyed for our sins, we] … are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” That same free justification is available to everyone else, too, as soon as they believe, as soon as they repent. Does this redemption come through scrupulous law-keeping? No, it comes by faith.
Romans 4:18-25: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He [Messiah] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”
Justification and faith
Here’s an important point in reference to God justifying us. This justification can be freely given to us because Messiah was raised to life! He died for our sins, but was raised to life so we can be justified. This concept is reinforced in Romans 5:10: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
It was through Christ’s death that our sins were forgiven, and we were reconciled to our Father. It is by Christ’s life that we have been justified, and we also will live. According to Paul, if Christ had died for our sins and stayed dead, our past sins would be forgiven, but we would not be saved – we would not come back to life in a resurrection. We would be forgiven, but we would remain dead. It’s because of Christ’s resurrection that we can have the faith, the hope, the confidence of our own resurrection.
That's the gospel message! It’s because Christ rose from the dead that we, too, may rise from the dead! Too many people are running around with a different gospel message, that you have to do this and do that in order to be saved. That’s not the gospel message Paul preached. Paul taught we can be reconciled to God because Messiah died. But then, we can be justified – made right, made holy, made into a different person altogether – because Messiah lives, and the Spirit of God lives in us!
Because Messiah came back to life, He was able to ascend to heaven and send the Holy Spirit – the Comforter, the parakletos, mentioned in John chapters 14, 15, and 16. That Spirit changes people!
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! [And by the way, that also applies to frictions between Jews and Gentiles in the same congregation!] All this is from God, who reconciled us [all of us] to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Are you ready for that? Paul is saying we can not only obtain some of our Father’s righteousness in our lives, but we can actually become, in some way, God’s righteousness! And we need that, because it’s not obeying the law that helps us to be righteous – it’s being righteous that helps us obey the law! Therefore, the strict law-keeping of the Jewish members of the congregation is not what matters; what matters is the righteousness that comes from God, apart from the law (Romans 1:17; 3:21)!
Remember Romans 1:17: "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'" Also Romans 3:21-22: "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe."
Let's continue now in Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Do we feel as if we have peace with God? We should. Are we at peace? We should be. We’ve been justified – made right, made whole, made over – through faith, so we should feel peace with God. If that’s missing in our lives, perhaps we need to re-evaluate our state of grace, or the strength of our faith, or our understanding of what God offers us.
Frankly, some of us – some people we’ve known – have missed the mark over the years. Many times we look at God’s law and find all these requirements, and we think we need to do all these requirements in order to be saved. I spent many years thinking along these lines. I know many people who still think this way. But it’s not obedience that saves us, it’s faith that saves us. Obedience is required, yes, but if God remakes us into a new person – if we are justified, or made right – obedience comes naturally, because we’re not the same person any more!
Chapter 6 – Resurrection and slavery
Romans chapter 6 shows how our baptism pictures the part we play in Messiah’s death on the tree, and how our coming up out of the waters of baptism are a picture of how Messiah rose from the dead, and also that we too will rise from the dead. A key scripture in this chapter is Romans 6:4-5: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
In Romans 6:15-18, Paul defends against the idea of “cheap grace,” and the idea that “the law is done away,” two ideas which people believed then as much as they believe now.
Romans 6:15-16: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
Notice Paul states again that the law is there, but the purpose of law-keeping is not salvation, but becoming righteous. He said, “obedience … leads to righteousness.” Is this a contradiction to what we saw earlier? Not at all. In becoming slaves to obedience, we must, at first, learn the commandments and the laws, and train ourselves to obey them, and train ourselves and our children to obey them. But later on, when God’s Spirit enables us, we will receive the righteousness that comes by faith, and that righteousness from God will give us the power to be obedient. Obedience leads toward righteousness at first, but in the mature Christian, our Father’s righteousness in us helps us to be obedient.
We have to show our Father that we are moving toward that goal of righteousness, and that we really want it, before He will freely give it to us through His Spirit. If we truly open ourselves to our Father in every way, in every facet of our lives, without holding anything back, without a secret lust for some secret sin – if we truly desire to be cleansed from our sinful nature, then our Father will see our sincerity and grant us our heart’s desire.
It won’t work if our heart’s desire is a new car, or a beautiful this or that. Our Father will give us the desire of our heart when the desire of our heart is also the desire of His heart, which is reconciliation. He doesn’t want our words, or our lip-service. He wants our souls, our entire beings. When we give Him our entire beings, He will share some of His righteousness with us, which will make us righteous. When we are empowered by the righteousness that comes from the Spirit, we won’t have any trouble obeying our Father’s laws, because they are there to show us how to live.
Romans 6:17-18: “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
There are those who will tell you that we’ve been set free from the law. Paul says we have been set free from being slaves to sin. The law is still there. However, our relationship to the law has changed! We have been set free from sin because we have been purchased, bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). Because of that, we now have another Master. We have become slaves to righteousness. We’re not slaves to the law. We’re slaves – bondservants, employees, share holders, interested parties, staff – to our Father in heaven and our Savior at His right hand.
In Romans 6:20-23, Paul repeats this important point: “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I want you to notice this very important point. Because we are slaves to God, we reap the benefit of holiness. How do we become holy? God gave us rules of life to follow, patterns of behavior in dealing with our fellow human beings, ways of thinking that are unlike other humans’ ways of thinking, and the Spirit to strengthen us so we can do those things. By being slaves to God, the benefit we reap leads to holiness. The result of that holiness is eternal life.
As Paul taught the Jews, so I teach anyone who will listen: The purpose of obedience to God is not to “get on His good side.” It’s not to tip the balances in our favor. The gospels, Acts, and epistles are full of illustrations of people who placed their hope in the law, but Messiah will say, “I never knew you.” (See, for example, Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 6:46.)
The purpose of obedience is to make us holy. The result of being holy is eternal life, not through our own efforts, but because it's the gift of God, and it is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Our faith must be based on our Messiah. We should not overly emphasize other things, nor should we diminish the importance of Messiah in our daily religious practices. He should be the center of our faith. He taught us to look to the Father, and pray to the Father, and obey the Father, but without Messiah and His sacrifice, the whole thing would be meaningless.
We should be able to quote from memory the last verse in this chapter, Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Or, as the King James Version translates it, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." It is because of our Messiah's sacrifice that salvation is possible. It is because of our faith in that sacrifice that we may reach out and grab hold of that promise.
As the Jews in the congregation of Rome were finding out, their undue emphasis on strict law-keeping did not earn them their salvation. Paul is addressing what we today call "legalism." There is a place for law-keeping, to be sure, but the emphasis on being Jewish and doing Jewish things was not the thing that mattered; that only served to separate those members of the congregation from others members of the congregation.
Chapter 7 – The law
Chapter 7 is Paul’s last direct assault on the law as the crutch on which the Jewish converts had been leaning. He’s not trying to kick the crutch out from under them, but to show them that they are relying on this crutch when they should have been ready at any time to stand up and walk because of their faith in Messiah.
Paul has spent all this time in Romans trying to convince the Jews in the ekklesia that reliance on the law is reliance on a flawed savior. Then, in chapter 8, Paul will begin to turn around and have some really positive and uplifting things to say. But first, he must address the legalism factor once more.
Romans 7:1: “Do you not know, brothers – for I am speaking to men who know the law – that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?” What does that suggest? It sounds as if Paul is implying that faith has authority over us even beyond the grave! And that’s what the gospel is all about – where you will spend eternity!
Romans 7:4: “So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.”
We belong to Christ, who rose from the dead, and we also will rise from the dead. The law can’t bring that about. The Jewish Christians at Rome needed to place their hope in something better than the law, and circumcision, and being Jewish. None of that would save them. Only our Father could save them, and only if they had faith in Messiah.
Romans 7:6: “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
Notice it doesn’t say the law was done away, but rather that we – or the Jewish Christians in first-century Rome – were released from the law, or more accurately, released from slavery to it, or released from the death sentence they incurred because of disobeying the law. Now, instead of slavishly following the written code, whether or not they really wanted to, the Spirit in them helped them to have a desire to live in this Way. That’s what Paul meant when he said “we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
And lest we think Paul was claiming the law is evil, in Romans 7:12 he said: “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.”
By now, Paul’s audience must have been getting a little dizzy as they sat there listening to this letter! They needed some good news. Chapter 8 provides that good news.
Chapter 8 – There’s good news tonight!
Romans 8:1-4: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man [He didn’t condemn the law, but He condemned sin!], in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
Chapter 8 is a special passage that preaches the good news. Notice Romans 8:15-19: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.”
That’s you and me, and countless others who have already fallen asleep in the faith, and whoever is in the Body of Christ around the world today, and even more who will come into the faith during the tribulation of the last days (Revelation 7:9-14). That also includes all of mankind who will come to life and stand before the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15). Our Father’s plan is to create a family to go out into the universe with Him, forever.
Earth is our cradle. This solar system is our nursery. This galaxy is our backyard. The universe is our neighborhood. And eternity is ours – if we have faith in Christ Jesus!
Paul is looking forward to the time referred to by the modern-day prophet Buzz Lightyear, who said, “To infinity, and beyond!”
Beginning in chapter 9, Paul makes a sharp angle and begins to lift up the Gentiles in the congregation. He has whittled the Jews down to size, demolishing their stronghold. Now it’s time to address how it is that God can extend salvation to the Gentiles. That’s even more good news, and we'll look at that in the next article in this series.
But before we close, let’s stop to ponder why this book is in the Bible. After all, we don’t have Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians at odds with each other in the ekklesia today. Or do we?
Many of us in our independent Bible study group have mentioned how we have visited other congregations and gotten the cold shoulder. Not only is this true regarding some split-off groups of our former church organization, but this was never more apparent than it was in some of the Messianic congregations we’ve visited. Not only were we the outsiders who were visiting – and with any luck we’d only be visiting once – but we were definitely different because we were not Messianic, in the sense of being as "Jewish" as they were, with all the trappings of Judaism. We really stuck out. And we were really unwelcome. Perhaps the book of Romans is still valid today, as a warning to Messianics not to think too highly of themselves, or think they’re more special because they have the torah scrolls.
But I really wonder if, instead of just Jewish Christians, there are applications for all Christians everywhere. What happens when the old line high church Catholics and the new age rock 'n' roll Presbyterians get together? Or the evangelicals and the traditionalists? Or the "Saturday people" who love God and the "Sunday people" who love God?
In our little congregation, we’ve faced the fact squarely that there are different ways to interpret the Bible, and different ways to worship our Creator with a pure heart. People in other groups, or in other denominations, tend to cluster together around a statement of beliefs, or a set of traditions, or a strong leader, and that’s what sets Christians apart from each other. (See the article, "Doctrine Divides!") I think that’s what Paul was really writing about. We’re all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11) – or at least we’re supposed to be. That’s the ideal. That’s what Paul is doing in the book of Romans; he becomes a cheerleader for the gospel of forgiveness, the ministry of reconciliation.
Paul was trying to help in any way he could to reconcile mankind to God. Humans tend to do everything they can to break apart, split into groups, build walls, point fingers, look down on their fellow believers, and try not to have anything to do with other believers who go to a different group or follow a different leader. Paul’s message is: Don’t do that. That isn’t what God has in mind. That’s what Satan has in mind. He’d love to divide and conquer. And from the looks of things, he’s succeeding – at least temporarily.
During these times of Satan’s sway over mankind, I’d like to ask that we be aware of divisiveness, and try really hard not to be carried away with divisive behaviors. “Divisive” means to divide. Let’s try instead to bring together.
We can’t bring everyone out there together into our way of looking at things, nor can we give up what we know and follow what we perceive to be another Jesus, or a different spirit, or a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). Our group looks at things a certain way, and we’ve found that people who attend other churches or independent groups will probably never see things exactly the way we do.
Not only that, but within our group we have variations in understanding. There are some things which are really important to some of us, but not to others. Since we don’t really have a unified statement of beliefs that we all subscribe to, in every last little detail, we are an enigma to many people. This kind of environment is very threatening to many people.
We may never be able to sway everyone out there to see things the way we do. But we can encourage people to follow whatever difficult and narrow path they’re on (Matthew 7:13-14) if it leads to our Savior, and if it leads toward our Father, toward reconciliation with our Father, and toward eternal life.
There is an interesting story told in Mark 9:38-41: "'Teacher,' said John, 'we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.' 'Do not stop him,' Jesus said. 'No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.'" Jesus has a bigger plan, and a bigger heart, than many of his followers do.
In Romans 5:11, Paul writes: "Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."
Again, in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20: "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God."
Let’s join Paul in his ministry of reconciliation.
The Book of Romans, Part 2