For almost two months I’ve commented on Romans 1-5. Before launching into Romans 6-8, I need a rerun. Just the high points. To fix them in my mind. Not only because Paul’s words are so profound, but because they paint a worldview sharply counter to our culture and, in some cases, even to our Christian culture.
This counter-culture theological worldview comes in the form of a letter written to a church in Rome. We might rather expect a revelation of God to come mysteriously—maybe Paul alone in a cave when an audible voice speaks or a golden tablet appears. But here it is in “ordinary” written correspondence, which, it is claimed, is Holy Spirit-inspired. Mystery in everyday form!
Paul begins by boasting of the gospel ( “good news”) which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”. At the heart of the Christian faith we don’t find an encyclopedia of fine theological regulations to follow or even to simply believe. At the heart of the faith is God’s power to save those who believe. God’s power. To save. Those who believe. Any who believes.
But why save? Because God is revealing his wrath. Humans have exchanged the Creator (known through his creation), and all his glory, for images of created things, including (maybe especially) of themselves. Instead of blocking their desires, God gives them over to them—and to the consequences. Perverted sex and gory violence are just two terrible examples. This—God giving humans over to what they want instead of him—is God’s wrath revealed.
Even so, the day of God’s wrath is coming. Everyone (even religious people, who refuse to admit their sin) is storing up wrath against themselves for that day. No one is righteous. No one truly seeks God. It’s not just that humans sin; we are all under the power of sin.
But now, in God’s timing, we can be put right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Anyone can. Sounds simple. It is. We can be put right with God by God’s grace as a gift. Just accept the gift! It’s free—but not to God. God presented his Son as a sacrifice, and his Son willingly surrender to suffer God’s wrath (to absorb it someone said) so believers could be saved from it. Free to us—just trust that it’s true—but infinitely costly to God.
Why by faith? Because faith makes this salvation possible for anyone. The least likely human—the biggest sinner, the most simple-minded, the most hypocritical religious “saint”—can be put right with God. Why by faith? Because there’s absolutely nothing we can do to get right with God. All our attempts to dress ourselves up in our Sunday best for God is like dressing up in dirty rags. Why by faith? Because if we bring nothing to the table, then we get all the good as a gift and God gets all the glory as the giver.
When we trust God, regardless of how impossible this all seems, we become a descendant of Abraham—the old guy with a barren wife. He became a father at age 100. And God promised him and all his descendants would one day inherit the world. What world? A new one. A paradise without all the “bad stuff” of this one. And it will be ours.
Before that day, however, being put right with God brings believers a lot of good “stuff”. Like peace with God—not more alienation or wrath from him. Like grace every day no matter what. Like rejoicing in suffering, because God uses suffering for good. Like love from God poured out into believers’ hearts by the Holy Spirit. Like reconciliation with God through the death of his Son. Like rescue from the coming wrath.
It all comes down to the story of two men. Adam is the first—and was the first. When he ate God-forbidden fruit, sin entered the world, and death entered—the consequence of disbelieving and disobeying the Creator. Everyone is Adam’s progeny. And everyone by nature stands under sin’s power and repeats Adam’s sin. Everyone exchanges God for something that, at the moment, looks better.
Jesus is the second man. God’s Son who offers the free gift of right-standing with God—and that leads to eternal life. All humans are connected by birth with Adam and his sin. All humans can be connected to Jesus Christ and God’s grace through him by trusting this good news of God’s power to save is really true.
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Turns out what I’ve written isn’t a high-points summary of Romans 1-5. More like sailing thoughts through my mind based on those chapters. Though it’s not a scholarly overview, I have two hopes from them.
One, that we realize how radical is this “gospel” we’re called to trust our lives to. Over time, it becomes so familiar to us that it seems like “the same old thing”. Radical? Extreme? No. Maybe even kind of common-place. This is crazier than touching an angel-written golden tablet to be made holy! How out of step with the culture this calls us to walk! How far beyond our imagination is this revelation of God, this dark wrath of God, this amazing grace of God! And how incomprehensible that the death of Christ on the cross could save believers from all their sins and all God’s wrath they deserve for all believers of all times and places!!
Two, I hope my thoughts prepare us for Romans 6-8. Because if the first chapters seem “out there”, wait . . .