For both the church in Rome, and for us today, Romans serves as an introduction to Paul’s theology and core message. As the only letter Paul wrote to a church he did not know, Romans does not address any specific conflicts or issues; instead, it lays out a broad account of the problem of sin, God’s solution in Jesus Christ, and our response to that solution.
In the first chapter, Paul begins to explain why “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness.” While we don’t often speak about God’s wrath today, we affirm Paul’s assertion that God is holy and just; he cannot tolerate sin or selfishness in his presence. Therefore, our sin, which Paul traces back to idolatry, breaks our relationship with our creator. Significantly, Paul claims that both Gentiles AND Jews are all equally sinful in the eyes of God. Paul wants to make it clear that obeying the law in the Old Testament was never sufficient to earn salvation; instead, Jews and non-Jews alike are justified not by what they do, but by their willingness to have faith in Jesus Christ. Using the example of Abraham, Paul affirms that even in the Old Testament, we were saved by faith, not by works.
This fundamental distinction is at the heart of the Christian tradition. We receive forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift of God, not as the wages of our actions. Yet this prompts some challenges as well. For example, if my moral choices do not determine my eternal destiny, why should I be obedient to God?
Paul answers this by affirming that we are dead to sin, and slaves now to righteousness. That the effect of faith is obedience to God (not perfect obedience - even Paul confesses that he struggles with sin - but a desire for obedience).
Do you feel freed from sin? Or are there times when you still feel enslaved to selfish behaviors? What does it mean for us to live into this new reality, knowing that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”?
Paul will discuss the process of faith formation, and also the challenge of the many Jews who have not become disciples of Jesus. This is heady stuff, and gets into the topic of “predestination” and the interplay between our will and God’s.
Then in chapter 12, Paul shifts and begins to speak about our response to God’s grace. Romans 12:1-2 is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. What does it mean to be a “living sacrifice?” Do we find ourselves generally conformed to the world, or transformed by the renewing of our minds?
Notice the conversation about “weak” and “strong” Christians in chapters 14-15. How do you see yourself, on this spectrum of faith?
See you Sunday!