Today we commence looking at the letter of Paul to the Romans and even in the introductory sentences we see some insights that help us to understand what this letter was about and why it was written the way it was.
For some reason I often thought that this letter was written after Paul had visited Rome. This is probably because the letter to the Romans follows on immediately after the book of Acts, which ends with Paul spending two years in Rome teaching and preaching the word.
But that perception is incorrect when you look at the first few paragraphs of the letter to the Romans for Paul did not address the letter to the church in Rome, as he does with a number of his other letters as if he had already so been there. Instead we see in verse 10 he asks The Lord in the hope he may be able to come to Rome, in verse 11 he is longing to go to Rome and in verse 13 he says he has often intended to come to Rome but, “…thus far have been prevented…” And finally in verse 15 Paul writes, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”
Had Paul already been to Rome he would not have written his introduction in this manner. Thus it is clear he had not yet visited Rome to preach to the people when he wrote this letter. This is important for it explains why the letter was written the way it was, as we shall see.
Starting at the End
To get an insight into how and why Paul wrote this letter as he did we need to go to the very end of the book of Romans where he makes the following statement in Romans 16:25-26.
25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith
So first we know that Paul had not visited Rome before writing this letter and so unlike many of his other letters, he was not addressing specific problems in the church or answering questions from the churches as he does in Corinthians, Galatians and Thessalonians.
Instead what we see laid out in the letter to the Romans is what he described in the few verses above. The letter to the Romans is Paul's gospel and, “…the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages.”
In this book Paul is laying out the gospel for the people in Rome so that they can grasp the fulness of what the gospel of Jesus Christ is and understand the mechanisms of the salvation that Jesus bought for us with His blood.
Laying Out Paul's Gospel
The letter to the Romans is a journey. It commences with the state of the non-believer caught and trapped in the bondages of all manner of sins and then describes the progression from that sinful state of mankind through to perfection in Jesus Christ.
The book of Romans is a step by step guide showing the pathway to the fulness of the message of Jesus Christ to bring us into perfection. It is very much a description of the path for an individual and how to come to Christ and learn to walk with Him and what is necessary to know, believe and learn to grow into maturity in Jesus Christ.
I believe it is because Paul had not visited the Romans at this time that he wrote this letter in this way. He wanted to give them an understanding of how the gospel worked, and what the procedures and processes were to attain the maturity and perfection that is possible through grace, faith and the knowledge of how the gospel works. Paul was not there to preach it, so he gave them this ministry in writing.
And when we look at this letter at a high level we see this progression. It goes something like this:
Starts in chapter 1 with a person in a full blown state of the most dire sin and shows that all mankind are sinners and all have fallen short of the glory of God.
He shows that we are all subject to the just and righteous judgement of God and all mankind will be held accountable for their sins.
He then shows that we cannot rely on works of the law or any form of righteousness we may think we have by trying to keep the law.
He then starts to open up in chapter 3 the better way through the new covenant in Jesus Christ where he explains that we can now be righteous by faith. He shows how this principle existed long before the law as Abraham was declared righteous by God because he believed God, that is he had faith in the word of God.
So too when we have faith in the word of God he shows how we are released and set free from sin and declared righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. This indeed is the only way we can have righteousness before God, through faith in His word and believing what Jesus did for us.
Then in chapters 5-6 Paul shows that through this righteousness by faith we are set free from our past sins. Not only are they forgiven, but they are removed and taken away and we are set apart from them. And he shows that this separation comes through the death and the blood of Jesus Christ.
As chapter 6 continues Paul explains how this works. We are set apart from our sins and separated from them through taking on the death and the blood of Jesus Christ when we are baptised into His death. It is baptism that is the doorway into the righteousness by faith that we have in the new covenant. This is why Jesus included baptism as one of the key three things that are now known as the great commission. Jesus told the disciples to do three things, make disciples, baptise them and then teach them all that He had shown them. Baptism is critical to achieve the righteousness by faith for we believe in our baptism that we have died with Christ, taken on His death as our own and then been raise as new creations in Him through faith.
In chapter 7 Paul then shows how God deals with the potential for future sin. What is the point of having your past sins removed if a person then goes out and sins again? If we were to remain or become sinners again it would require a further sacrifice, just as it did under law. But Jesus was a perfect sacrifice and did not need to be offered up again and again and again. He died once for all and that was all that was needed.
So in chapter 7 we see how God dealt with “future sin.” He defines sin as the breaking of God's law and so to prevent a person from breaking the law, in our baptism we die to the law and are separated from it. When we have been baptised, by faith we take on the death of Christ as if it were our own and so we have died with Him. Now the law is binding on a person only while they are alive (Romans 7:1) so if we are dead through faith, the law is no longer binding on us. And if we are no longer bound by the law we can no longer break it. And if we can no longer break the law then we can no longer be subject to sin and thus we have righteousness by faith.
But God wants us to be mature in Jesus Christ. It is one thing to be righteous by faith, but God seeks His people to do what is right and to think, act and behave in a righteous manner so that they do not have to always rely on the grace of God when they fall down, but instead can live a life perfect as Christ was perfect. Indeed Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48).
Paul begins to deal with this in chapter 8, and from this chapter on he talks about the work of transformation that takes place in us through the working of the Holy Spirit. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to take us, teach us and mould us into the image of Jesus Christ. In chapter 8 Paul begins to teach us about the need to walk in the spirit and how we are to set our minds on the things of the spirit and not of the flesh.
This is the essence of walking in the spirit. Whenever the flesh steps in to upset or condemn us, to make us depressed, angry, jealous, frustrated or any of the other negative emotions we have as human beings, that is when we need to take control of our minds by walking in the spirit. That is when we need to stop thinking about the things that are upsetting us and turn to The Lord by walking in the spirit and handing the problems over to God. With humility, trust and obedience God can and will deal with the issue, and as we draw near to God, He relieves the negative emotions so that we have peace.
Over the next few chapters Paul shows how this promise of salvation is open to all, Jews and Gentiles, regardless of position or state of sinfulness, everyone has access to this salvation in Jesus Christ. And as we walk in the spirit we continue to grow and the final part of this walk and this journey is described in the last couple of chapters.
The final stage of the journey is to walk in love for when we are walking in love we are walking as Christ Jesus walked and we are truly reflecting the nature of the Father. In the end this is where we need to be if we are to be like God. God is love and He wants us to be like Him. All of the gifts and teachings He has given us are designed to lead us to this place, where we share the image of Christ and thus walk in love.
But it does not happen overnight for the love of God is not like the love of men. It is something we must learn for it is not an emotional love but is an active love that guides every part of our lives. It is a love that teaches us how to act, think, behave and deal with the things that occur around us all of the time.
And you cannot walk in love without going through all of the other steps and stages of the process of growth in Jesus Christ. You must learn to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run.
And this is how Paul has laid out the mystery of the gospel in the book of Romans. He has provided this book as a map of the journey in Jesus Christ to come into the perfection of love that is available to all mankind if they will follow God's plan and do what this map of the mystery reveals. And I believe it is because Paul had not yet visited Rome that he wrote this map out for them so that they could learn from it and follow it as they commenced their walk with Christ.
Over the coming weeks and months I will go into all aspects of this map and this journey to further unravel the mystery of this new covenant as it is a fascinating and truly astounding insight into the work that God gave to Paul and all the disciples. This book of Romans is possibly the most profound piece of writing ever put on paper because it explains in a way that no other document ever has how the new covenant works.
I do hope you will join me on this journey of discovery as we unravel this work and learn to see the fulness of the new covenant as The Lord intended.
(Picture sourced from clip art at ChristiansUnite.com)
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