Saturday, April 11, 2015

Romans 1

    I will always remember sitting in Africa on a rainy afternoon when we couldn't leave the training center when one of the American pastors, Dr. John Gillespe, took the time to share with some of us some helpful notes on analyzing and interpreting Scripture. I will never forget how sweet that moment was, almost like a flashback to the apostolic days, with a group of young people gathered around an older mature Christian with Bibles open, reading and studying by candlelight.

    Anyhow, looking back through some notes I took from that session, I ran across something that will apply often as I begin this series through Romans. It's a basic concept, but it can change your view of a passage a lot! It's simply this: The Bible is a book about Jesus. Thus, when we realize the centrality and focus of Scripture is Jesus Christ, then we naturally will ask this very important question, one I hope we will ask a lot as we read the Bible personally and as we read through Romans together. Why is this passage in the history of Jesus' redemptive story? So, when you read these passages in Romans ask yourself that simple question, because it will help you see Jesus and the gospel everywhere!

    It is often helpful to find a verse, similar to our modern thesis sentence in formal writing, that summarizes the book's intent and purpose. Why is Paul writing Romans? What is His point through it? I personally believe that 1:16-17 are the synopsis of the entire book, the lens through which we can understand Paul's writings. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel. for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'But the righteous man shall live by faith.'"

    Paul, whose greetings in his epistles can often help us see his purpose in writing and intentions in doing so, seems to outline the reason behind this letter in v. 11-13, 15. Clearly, Paul had tried or at least wished to come to Rome and communicate what's contained in this book in person, but was detained or unable, so he sent this letter as a temporary fix (since we know he would come to Rome later, although as a prisoner).

    V. 1-5 are his introduction and greeting, which, while boring in our modern letters, contain some beautiful truths in Paul's. He introduces himself as an "apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised before hand through His prophets..." Paul doesn't pull any punches. Most scholars believe he was writing to Roman Jews, so his authoritative statement that he was simply an apostle to the gospel (the good news), prophesied by the prophets, and fulfilled through the Son of David (v. 3) and named as Jesus Christ (v. 4) would have instantly made him enemies among the many Jews who believed that Yeshua was simply a false Messiah, a blasphemer, and deceiver. Paul starts off the book with the bold declaration of what he will preach throughout the entire book, that the prophecies are fulfilled through Jesus Christ.

    V. 14 is so interesting! Paul makes the statement that he is "under obligation" to Greeks (the wise philosophers of the day) and the barbarians (the backwards hillbillies of the day), and because of this, he is eager to preach the gospel in Rome, the center of the world at the time. Paul felt his call to share the gospel with the entire world was not an option or job, but instead an obligation, a debt he owed to the world. Interesting choice of words indeed! Are we any less under the obligation that the good news God has opened our eyes to needs to be shared with the world than Paul was? I don't believe so!

    V. 18-32 is where Paul begins his argument for the need of a Savior, who he will ultimately name as Jesus Christ. First, however, Paul begins his book with what will ultimately be a two and a half chapter dissertation on man's fallen nature, depravity, and guilt before God.

    In these verses, I believe Paul proves beyond a shadow of a doubt man's complete and utter guilt before God and that nothing good resides in the heart of man apart from God's redeeming work. V. 18 states why all this study must occur. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness". This is why salvation is a concept that should be of stark interest to us! If God's wrath is upon all sin, and we are convicted as sinners (which is the undeniable final result of Paul's chapter 1-3 arguments), then the question of how we can be freed from that wrath should be of evident, all-consuming interest to us!

    Paul mentions quite a variety of sins in these verses, enough certainly for us to stand condemned before God. V. 25 condemns the idolatry of all nations, once again placing quite a bit of condemnation on all nations but Israel. V. 26-28 speak of what I believe to be homosexuality, while 29-32 speak more of the results of man having been turned over to a depraved mind as said in v. 24.

    Man's guilt before God is never more clearly presented than here in Rom. 1-3. While today's is a blanket condemnation of those who have hardened their hearts against God, next post will begin getting a little more interesting, as Paul targets a specific group, the superior ones, and proves their utter undeservedness of Christ.

    While reading about sin and man's depravity may not be exactly fun literature, Paul put it here for a reason that he says in Rom. 9. We are all shown to be condemned under sin, that Christ may show mercy on us. Without the realization of our complete and utter lostness, we would never realize our need for Christ, the whole point of Paul's writing!

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