ENTRY 227: DEC 8-12 Paul’s Letter to the Church in Rome Acts 20:2-3a; Romans

 This entry covers FIVE days of reading and topics such as GRACE, FAITH, GOD’S LOVE & MERCY, and OBEDIENCE, as well as a myriad of other wonderful teachings.

Dr F LaGard Smith’s chronology places the following passage from Acts around the time Paul finished writing 2 Corinthians:

 

He travelled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, where he stayed three months…

Dr Smith then concludes that during this short stay in Corinth, sometime between AD 56-57, Paul would have written the letter to the Romans, indicating his desire to visit them but his inability to do so at that present time. The rest of this entry will go through the book of Romans chapter by chapter.

 

Chapter 1

Paul certainly had different reasons for writing his letters. As far as we know, Romans is the only book he wrote to a church he had not yet visited, or for that matter, started. Therefore, when he wrote to the other churches, he had some kind of personal relationship with them, on which to base some of his assertions. The letter to Romans was different – they would be reading the letter before meeting him in person. It seems to me that the way Paul wanted to introduce himself as a person and leader was through explaining the whole gospel of Jesus. Yes, they were already Christians, but it seems as if Paul wanted to make sure that they were all on the same page before he got there. As such, we can see that even in his opening lines, he started getting all doctrine-y. Next, instead of telling them how he thanked God for them and missed them (since he hadn’t met them yet), he told them how he prayed for them, and he especially wanted them to know that he had been praying to be able to come and visit them. Perhaps Paul was thinking, “By reading this letter, the church in Rome will know me, they will know the gospel, and they will know that it is on the gospel alone that I stake my life. Hopefully that will help them to be better disciples of Jesus, and be even more receptive to me in person when I finally get there in person”. Who knows? Just my fun speculation…

 

After his introduction, Paul launched into an explanation of how denying God or misrepresenting God would lead to immorality and depravity. We can see this around us today in the 21st Century – people don’t acknowledge God, and when they do, it is often a completely wrong understanding of Him. At the same time, people seem to have an insatiable desire for more and more pleasure, which causes them to do more and more depraved acts. None of us are immune, if we let go of God. All forms of sex outside of marriage between husband and wife fit into this category, as do the other sins that Paul mentioned in his list, and the apostle said that not only must we not participate in these things, we must not even approve of them. (I believe that Paul was concerned about the breakdown of the family – note that his list of sins contains being disobedient to one’s parents!) Having said this, there is a difference in approving of a sin and showing acceptance to someone practicing that sin. Every human has a universal need to feel connected and accepted. It doesn’t make the gospel attractive when Christians shun “sinners” (usually forgetting they are sinners too!) because of not wanting to show approval of someone’s sin. More on this in chapter two…

 

Chapter 2

Paul then made sure that his readers would not misunderstand him and think that he condoned looking down on others, so he wrote a whole section on religious pride, hypocrisy, and being judgmental. Paul wanted the Romans to remember God’s kindness and use it as motivation to repent! Good lesson for us! There will be a “judgment” one day, whether we know the law or not. From here, Paul segued into what cannot justify us – neither the law nor circumcision! He even inserted a rebuke from Isaiah to those with religious pride who boasted but still lived like sinners, “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Heaven help us if we boastfully recount all of our good works and sacrifices, only to sin even more in the process and cause non-believers to speak ill of Christianity! Just like God told the prophet a thousand years before, “God looks at the heart”. 

 

Chapter 3

At the same time, Paul didn’t want anyone looking down on Jews, so he spoke up for Jewish heritage, and defended God’s teaching on grace, sin, and judgment. He wanted all Christians to understand that everyone was a sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, that all would face judgment, and, therefore, that all needed God’s grace. (This was also a pretty strong argument against being “SELF-righteous” and against boasting!) Verses 21-26 are so beautifully clear that I can’t resist sticking them all in: 

 

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.

Chapter 4

Paul used logical reasoning to show how Abraham, who certainly did many good works for God, didn’t trust in his own works to save him, but in God alone. The apostle continued to “stamp out boasting” by showing that if the great Abraham couldn’t boast in his works (and all Jews looked up to him as their father), than there was no way anyone else could boast about their works. Paul quoted Psalm 32 about forgiveness – oh how abundantly happy is the man who knows he is forgiven! We cannot be happy trying to “earn” our forgiveness! Remember the soapbox Paul got on when he wrote Galatians – he really wanted his first century brethren (and his 21st century brethren) to get this point! 

 

Paul argued that Christians are saved by faith through grace, and that Abraham was the father of all who were saved by faith, not just all who had been circumcised. He pointed to Abraham’s faith in God’s promises as an example for us and how we should have faith in God’s promises, particularly our faith in God’s promise that He raised Jesus from the dead for our salvation!

Chapter 5

Paul then spoke of the peace that comes when we are saved by faith, not by works. When we understand that we have access to God’s grace through faith, we can truly rejoice in our hope! (Paul got so excited talking about hope that he went off the topic a bit to let us know that not only should we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, but that we should also rejoice in our sufferings because of what is produced during suffering, which leads back to hope anyway!)

One of the sweetest and most beautiful passages explaining God’s love is found in the next few verses: 

 

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

It was inconceivable to Paul that someone could hear the gospel story and not be moved. This true reconciliation through Jesus’ death was so much better than following the law (and all the anger and frustration that accompanies not being able to keep the law) that Paul was sure anyone with brains would be won over by this emotional and logical argument! He added more wood to the fire by explaining how Adam, just one man, brought sin into the world, and now Jesus, just one man, has taken that sin away. It is all by the grace of God!

Chapter 6

Paul’s reasoning led some to accuse him of teaching that we should sin more if it will cause God’s grace to be magnified. Of course, Paul had a counter-attack for that – he let his hearers know if they understood sin at all, they would never make such an accusation. In this context, Paul was not really giving them a lesson on baptism, but he used the memory of what the Roman Christians had done when they were baptized to help them “get it”. In a helpful way, this passage ends up being a “blow by blow” description of what happens during baptism.

 

What happens when a person is baptized, according to this chapter? They are baptized into the death of Christ, they are buried with Christ into death, and they are raised to live a new life. They are united with Christ in death and in his resurrection, because their old self gets crucified during baptism! In fact, this is when sin gets “done away with”. As the old hymn goes, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Where do we reach the blood of Christ? It makes sense that we reach it when we are united in his death and crucified with him. No wonder the person who is baptized comes out of the water free from sin and born again! 

 

When we witness a baptism, it is always special, but when it is someone we know and love and have invested in, it is even more special, and when our children, the feeling is incredible. My daughter, Sonia, was baptized just a few weeks before her 14th birthday and then two years later, on December 7, my son, David, was baptized into Christ. It was truly amazing! What a celebration! When we got on a plane the next week to go the USA for Christmas, he said, “Well, if the plane goes down, I am ok!” He really appreciated his salvation! Since that 

 

How does all this fit in with the first two verses of Romans 6? Cause Paul is reminding the Romans of how they died to sin when they were baptized! You don’t repent of sin and die to it and then later try to see how many sins you can commit in order to magnify God’s grace! Completely illogical in Paul’s book! He used the memory of their baptism to remind them that sin could no longer be their master because they were under grace and slaves to righteousness. Mike Hammonds, my campus minister, used to explain that “the form of teaching” mentioned in verse 17 is the Greek word “tupos”, which means “pattern”. If we wholeheartedly obey God’s pattern of getting our sins forgiven at baptism, we are set free from sin!

 

And just to make sure his readers got the point about sin, Paul hit where it hurts:

 

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.

Chapter 7

Paul went back to his discussion of the superiority of grace over the law and how, interestingly enough, it is necessary to understand the law in order to appreciate grace. All of us can relate to Paul’s feeling of frustration: 

 

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 

And all of us who have been Christians for a while can surely say a hearty amen to Paul’s statement:

 

I know that nothing good lives in me. 

The apostle’s frustration came about because in his inner being he delighted in God’s law but saw another law at work causing him to sin. At the end of the day, hand in hand with Paul, we must all look up to heaven, beat our breast, and cry out:

 

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Hallelujah! No wonder there is no place for self-righteousness or boasting! We all fall short and fail miserably left to our own devices. But wait…before you beat yourself up, keep reading!

Chapter 8

Here’s the good great news!!!

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.

Isn’t that awesome! How can we not be excited when reading that?! God the Father knew that salvation through the law ultimately wouldn’t work – that’s why He had to send Jesus. The Message translation words it this way:

 

…the law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. 

 

Again, does this mean that we should forget about righteousness and just sin out hearts out cause we are saved by grace? No way! Look at verse six:

 

So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. (NLT)

Paul never meant for us to trust in “cheap grace”. But he sure did mean for us to trust in grace and not the law! To those who cry, “freedom in Christ” and mean that we can do anything we want and still be saved, Paul countered with the “living by the spirit” argument: 

Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

When we walk in the spirit, and understand that we are free from condemnation, we feel close to God and freely cry out to him, “Abba, Father”. This is peace. This is freedom. This kind of closeness and intimacy with the Spirit allows us to cherish our future salvation, and also helps us to pray. John, my husband, has preached before that sometimes we may pray something, “God, help me to not get fired” or whatever, and then the Spirit translates it to God as, “Father, please direct his employment path so that he can be a Christ-like employee and have a great impact on his co-workers”. Or perhaps, “God help me to get well” and the Spirit says, “Father, please work out her health situation such that she eventually feels better, brings glory to you, and is able to fulfil her duties responsibly, plus help her to reach out to people in the medical community.” The reason that we can trust the Spirit to pray for us in this way is:

 

we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

How can we not trust a God like that?

The rest of this chapter is just too good to leave out…I would venture to say it is one of the most encouraging passages in the Bible!

 

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sigh…….If you want to memorize an encouraging passage to get you through the dark times, try Romans 8. It works for me!

Chapter 9

After reaching the crescendo at the end of chapter eight, Paul continued on a more sombre note. You see, the truths in the preceding lines show how the Jews had missed the plot, so to speak. Paul felt bad about this and wrote earnestly of the anguish this caused him. He even said that, if it would work, he would be willing to go to hell for them! Now that is love! After all, the law was supposed to tutor us to Christ (I stole that from Galatians), so who better to appreciate Christ than those who understood all that was in the Old Testament and through whom Christ had come? Paul didn’t want anyone to doubt God or His plan but instead to be mindful of God’s mercy, and he referred to the Potter/Clay analogy used by the prophets to underline his point. I love the way Paul included lines from Hosea here – one of my favourite passages on grace in the Old Testament:

“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; 

      and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, 

   “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, 

      ‘You are not my people,’ 

   they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

Verses 30-33 contain the sad truth:

 

…the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” As it is written: 

   “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble 

      and a rock that makes them fall, 

   and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Chapter 10

Paul reiterated that he loved his Jewish brethren, that he wanted them to be saved, and that he respected their zeal. Unfortunately, he also knew that their zeal was based on works and not on submission to God’s plan for righteousness. In the midst of this assertion, Paul shared that the number one qualification for salvation is belief in Jesus. Without that, there is nothing else,  “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Interestingly, when Luke wrote about Paul’s conversion in Acts 22, he quoted Ananias as having said, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”)

Paul then logically shifted his focus from “the good news” to “getting the good news out”: 

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Verse 17 has been used for years to help Christians remember that faith comes when people hear the word of Christ – i.e., don’t try to impress people with your wonderful wisdom; get them to read the Bible! In this context, however, I believe that Paul was making the argument that the Jews had heard God’s message, but they had not believed/obeyed. That is why their zeal did them no good. (Faith, grace and obedience seem to be inseparable themes in Paul’s writings.)

Chapter 11

Still approaching his audience with logic, Paul asked if the above meant that God had rejected His people? The answer to his rhetorical question seems to be that God didn’t reject His people, but rather was gathering to Himself a remnant, presumably the Jews who had embraced the teachings of Christ. The apostle asserted that even this was by grace, not by works. He reasoned that the Jews’ mistakes had helped the Gentiles to be saved, and that eventually, many Jews would surely be led back to God through the Gentiles. He also warned the Gentile Christians to be humble and not haughty toward the Jews, since everything they had as disciples came through the Jews to begin with (more reasons to not boast or be self-righteous)! Paul knew that he couldn’t do anything about the salvation of his Jewish brethren other than keep preaching and trust God, and he trusted enough in God’s love that he was convinced that the Jews would eventually repent and be saved. 

 

He worked himself up emotionally to a mini-crescendo again, and ended this section of his letter with a beautiful doxology: 

  Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! 

      How unsearchable his judgments, 

      and his paths beyond tracing out! 

 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? 

      Or who has been his counsellor?” 

 “Who has ever given to God, 

      that God should repay him?”

 For from him and through him and to him are all things. 

      To him be the glory forever! Amen.

There is an invisible demarcation between the Indonesian islands of Bali and Lombok which divides the living worlds of Asia and Australia, with elephants, pheasants, and towering Dipterocarp trees found on one side and marsupials, cockatoos, and Eucalyptus on the other. Named for the 19th century explorer-naturalist Alfred Wallace, Wallace’s Line is at the heart of the sprawling Indonesian archipelago, one of the world’s richest storehouses of biological diversity – both on land and under water. The distance between Bali and Lombok is small, a matter of only about 35 kilometres, but the distributions of many bird species observe the line, since many birds refuse to cross even the smallest stretches of open ocean water! (See Wikepedia article on Wallace’s Line.) That’s why the flora and fauna of Australia is different than anywhere else on the earth! In a similar way, there is an invisible line separating Romans 11 and 12. (Hope you didn’t mind the geography lesson!) Virtually everything in the first eleven chapters is “theology” whereas the bulk of chapter 12 and beyond is “practical rules for Christian living.” The way I see it, Paul didn’t want to tell the Romans the “what” until he made sure they understood the “why”! 

Chapter 12

Paul began chapter twelve with the word “therefore”, which my campus minister told us means “what is it there for?” In other words, “therefore” is a sign that we should look behind to see what the writer is referring to, and in this case, I believe it is all of chapters 1-11. So, Paul was saying, in view of the fact that we are saved by grace not by works, and in view of the amazing love of God and His mercy, I beg you to live for him! Totally, 100%! This is true religion! So the practical stuff is important, crucial even, but we must understand the “why” behind it! 

 

I appreciate verse 2 for many reasons, in my own life and when helping others. Recently I have used this verse in Christian counselling, and I have come to love it especially when teaching parenting. The NIV renders it as follows:

 

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

However, I have to say that the New Living Translation puts quite a good spin on this verse: 

 

Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

(Trivia point – the word “schema” from which Jeffrey Young took the name for Schema Therapy is a Greek word, the verb form is contained in verse two…Dr Steve Kinnard renders it as “Don’t be schematized by the world…”) 

 

What does this verse mean for us in the 21st century? Well for one thing, except for those of us living in the mountains of Bhutan, most of us are bombarded by the media during every waking hour. It is hard not to copy the behaviour and customs of the world when it is in your head 24/7. The only solution is to switch it off, literally, and to have “Media-free Zones” in your mind, in your home, and in your schedule. This is so important. Otherwise, when will you be free and available for God to transform you by renewing your mind/changing the way you think? All cultures offer some positive teachings and mores, but many of the values in our cultures are driven by selfish ambition, indulgence, greed, and prejudice. Our quiet times need to be daily, and they need to make a big impact. I can sure see the difference in myself when I neglect my time with God for a few days – the world is very loud! I am not that strong. I need to be transformed by God every day! That is how I know that I am in sync with God and that I am practicing his will to please Him. 

 

After a warning against pride (how can we be proud when God made us all different on purpose?), Paul explained that whatever we do for God we should do with all of our hearts. This is not out of legalism – on the contrary – it is out of love for God that we give our best! Another point to consider here – no gift is more important than another. Therefore, the Christian who has the gift of showing kindness to others is just as important as the Christian who has the gift of leadership. 

 

What attitude will help us to practice all of these principles? Sincere love for one another! Read through verse 9-19. So many gems! Brotherly love, humility, joy, prayerfulness, hospitality, unity, zeal, forgiveness – Paul included them all. 

Chapter 13

Paul continued by exhorting the Romans to submit to earthly authorities, such as obeying the speed limit and paying taxes, amen?! Great principles to remember: 

 

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour. 

And 

 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 

Put aside the deeds of darkness and the acts of the sinful nature and live for the spirit, clothed in Christ.

 

Chapter 14

All this talk about practicals brought Paul to an extremely practical subject for his day (and ours) – the idea of judging one another on opinion matters. The great apostle asked the Christians of Rome to:

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 

We will inevitably disagree on some issues, but we should not be quick to make them “matters of salvation”, and we should be quick to make sure we are acting in love. What is really important? 

 

the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit… Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. 

How wonderful if we would love one another more than we love our freedom in Christ. O God, help us to have your love. 

Chapter 15

Paul taught us to learn from the past, and show true love for one another by accepting one another.  

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 

What’s the condition? “Just as Christ accepted you”. That means totally! Wow! I guess we need to improve in this area! Meditate on some areas where you find it hard to accept other Christians, and on how repenting in this area will affect your relationships!

I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

This was the verse made “famous” in the Jay Adams book, Competent to Counsel. 

(The word, instruct, can be translated as “teach, admonish or counsel”.) All I want to say here is that if we truly love one another, we will love one another enough to listen respectfully, show acceptance, and speak up to each other in a loving way in order to help each other make it to heaven.

 

Paul also wrote that it had always been his ambition to preach where Christ had not yet been preached. It was because of a sermon by James Lloyd based on this verse that I decided 29 ½ years ago to live in Asia and preach the gospel there. So far, I do not regret that decision! 

 

Paul then mentioned that he was bringing a monetary gift from the Gentile churches for the churches in Judea, and he ended off this chapter asking for prayers. 

 

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

This was a three-part prayer request. Paul asked for the Romans to pray that: 

(1) he would be rescued from the unbelievers in Jerusalem when he delivered the gift 

(2) the gift he was bringing to the Jerusalem church would be acceptable

(3) he would come to Rome in joy and that they would all be refreshed. 

In the next entry, I will show how Paul’s prayers were answered (I stole this insight from one of my husband’s sermons!) 

Chapter 16

This chapter seems to have been almost an after thought. In fact, Paul didn’t write in chapters – these are man-made, added in to help us with referencing. So as far as Paul was concerned, he ended his letter in chapter 15, and his chapter 16 was like a giant PS. But being such a relationship person, he couldn’t help but add all of his personal greetings and thanks. And being the verbose fellow that he was, he then couldn’t resist sticking in a few more warnings against disunity and self-serving leaders. He promised them that Jesus would win over Satan in the end (“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”), credited his fellow-workers, and finished off with a beautiful closing befitting a book of inspiring theology: 

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

When the Romans finished reading this letter, they would have certainly understood God better, and they would have known a lot more about Paul, and what made him “tick”. I am hoping that you feel the same way. I know I get inspired each time I read this book. 

 

karenlouis@seachurches.org