16I 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. 17For 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.” ~Rom 1:16-17
Today, I’d like to start our study through the book of Romans. I am not sure how many weeks it will take, but I trust that it was no accident that we studied Romans a few weeks ago for our devotionals during a very critical juncture in my life and at our church.
The Reformer, Martin Luther said, “Romans is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”
I am only begun to scratch the surface of Romans because I was kind of scared by its deep and profound truth claims, but I am starting to know what Luther means when he says, the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.
And esp. in a time of transition for our church with the Parks departure, I feel more than ever, we need to find our grounding and anchor in the Word of God. To find our center individually and as a church in the essential things.
And what are the essential things? At a high level, we know it has something to do with the person of Jesus Christ. He is the object of our faith. He is the gospel embodied. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the Author of Life.
The whole OT is a pointer to Jesus Christ. And based on Christ and his work on the cross and His promises, we are called to live a life of faith.
Living a life of faith in Christ is the most essential thing. We can differ and disagree about many things but as believers I hope that we can come to an agreement about what is most essential in life. Faith in Christ.
If you look at the NT and study Paul’s epistles to the churches, Paul is constantly urging his fellow brothers and sisters in the faith to return to the most essential things. There were so many controversies and factions and leadership conflicts and people being led into all kinds of non-essential things. And God through Paul was continually trying to reel his people back to the essentials. Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ. A life of faith.
This is esp. the case in the book of Romans. The church at Rome is unlike the rest of Paul’s letters because it is the only church that Paul was not the founding pastor.
If you compare the introduction in Romans with his other letters, Paul has a lengthy self-introduction in Romans 1.
1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4and who through the Spirit[a] of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God[b] by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5Through 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. 6And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. ~Rom 1:1-7
In the other letters, Paul’s self-introduction is very short — Paul is like, hey, this is Paul, you know me, I know you, let’s not beat around the bush, why are you guys having this problem and he gets right to the heart of the matter.
Not in Romans. Paul has to explain who he is and perhaps he even needs to defuse some rumors that were swirling around about him. Esp. after what happened at the Galatian church, it is very possible that Paul had the negative reputation of being anti-law or anti-tradition. The church at Rome consisted of a Gentile Christian majority and a Jewish Christian minority so Paul had to walk the fine line of telling the Gentile Christians one thing and the Jewish Christians another thing and preserving the unity of that church. And so to both groups, he wants them to focus on what binds them together — the gospel, the most essential thing, faith in Jesus.
You get the sense in reading Romans that Paul wants to get his facts straight and get his theology down in writing prior to visiting Rome so that he can earn a bit of their trust. So Paul is saying, whether you observe the law, i.e. circumcision, or you don’t, that’s not the point. The practice of your faith and your interpretation of the necessity of obeying the law or not obeying the law is not the point. Those are non-essential things. What is essential is being firmly grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s all about Jesus and how we need to place our faith in him.
Today, I’d like to unpack that a little bit more and what it means to place our faith in Christ. I want to focus on 3 realms. The realm of the unrighteous, the realm of the self-righteous, and the realm of the righteous. I believe it is critical to identify which realm we are in and how we can all end up in the realm of the righteous.
I believe each of the three realms has a guiding principle. Something that everyone in that realm lives by. If I can give a summary statement for each realm, it would be —
1) The unrighteous will live by self-interest.
2) The self-righteous will live by judgment and defensiveness.
3) The righteous will live by faith.
Once we identify what realm we are living in and by what principle we are living by, then there’s hope that we can ground ourselves in what is essential, which is faith in Christ.
1) The unrighteous will live by self-interest.
These are the people who don’t know God so they just end up living for themselves. Some live for their careers. Some live for comfort. Some live for their families. Some live for a cause. Whatever that person prefers. Whatever gets them excited. Whatever seems right to them. Whatever floats their boat. It’s all in the end to gratify the self.
If we are in this situation, what can we do? Can we live a good life and earn our way to heaven? Can we do a bunch of nice things and hope that on the cosmic scale of morality that the good things we do outweigh the bad? Can we say, I’m not hurting anyone, I keep to myself, I am a good father and mother, if there is a God, that’s good enough? No. Rom 3 says we all fall short. That there is not one righteous, not even one. Not even Mother Teresa with her decades and decades of service to the poorest of the poor was righteous because of what she did. No one is righteous, not even one.
There’s nothing we can do to move even one inch closer to God. No amount of donating money or good deeds is sufficient to move us toward God on our own.
That is why Jesus had to come down to us, he had to cross the chasm that we could not cross, he had to pay the debt we could not pay. That’s what we call salvation — we were objects of wrath, we were in rebellion toward God, we were cut off and dead in our transgressions and sins. But the Author of Life came down to us, and he saved us and he took us by the hand and he asks us to follow him. We are no longer slaves to the world but we are voluntary slaves of Jesus. We belong to him and we go wherever he leads. This is salvation.
We are saved solely, exclusively, absolutely by believing in Christ and placing our faith in him.
My kids are young and when we are out walking around the streets, they want to run around because they have a lot of energy. But they have no idea where they are going. So many times, I take them by the hand. And I lead them to our destination. And sometimes my kids are tired so I put them on my back and I carry them.
For me, this is a picture of salvation. I cannot save myself. I have no idea how to even go about saving myself or which direction I need to go, but I take my Father’s hand and he leads me to salvation and when I am too tired to make it on my own, he puts me on his back.
That’s the realm of the unrighteous.