I write my “devotional commentary” blogs for two reasons. One, writing helps me think more deeply about Bible texts. Two, I hope the Holy Spirit may use whatever insights I may have to help you think more deeply about Bible texts.
Having said that, I must admit I approach Paul’s letter to the Romans with some trepidation. John Piper has called it “the greatest letter ever written” (and spent at least two years of Sundays preaching through it). Many commentators consider is the magnum opus of Paul’s writings.
Here are a few of the famous lives which Romans has impacted . . .
In 386 A.D. he sat in a friend’s garden, weeping over an imminent change in his life. A neighborhood child’s song floated on the air with these words: “Take up and read.” He opened a nearby scroll and read spontaneously from Romans 13:13b,14—“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts thereof.”
Later he wrote his response: “Not further would I read, nor had I any need; instantly, at the end of this sentence, a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” In short, Romans changed him from a lustful, self-gratifying man into a believer whose life still impacts the church.
In 1515, Luther, a professor at the University of Wittenberg, began to teach Romans to his students. The more he studied, the more he realized the doctrine of justification by faith was crucial to the letter. He describes his ensuing struggle and eventual conversion . . .
“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous … Night and day I pondered until … I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before ‘the righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven.”
In the 18th century Wesley wrote this in his journal . . .
“… went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans … About a quarter before nine while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken my sins away, even mine; and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
OTHER SCHOLARS IN LUTHER’S WORDS.
Luther wrote the following in his preface to Romans . . .
“This Epistle is the chief book of the New Testament, the purest gospel. It deserves not only to be known word for word by every Christian, but to be the subject of his meditation day by day, the daily bread of his soul … The more time one spends in it, the more precious it becomes and the better it appears.’ He spoke of it as ‘a light and way into the whole Scriptures …’ Calvin said of it ‘when any one understands this Epistle, he has a passage opened to him to the understanding of the whole Scriptures.’ Coleridge pronounced Romans ‘the most profound work ever written!’ Meyer considered it ‘the greatest and richest of all the apostolic works.’ Godet referred to it as ‘the cathedral of the Christian faith.’ … Gordon H. Clark recently wrote of Romans that it is ‘the most profound of all the epistles, and perhaps the most important book in the Bible …’ Hamilton, in his recent commentary on Romans, calls it ‘the greatest book in the Bible.”
(The above historical information compiled from https://bible.org/seriespage/exploring-riches-book-romans-romans-1-16.)
Romans and Galatians share the same theme, Galatians being “Romans condensed.” In 1969 I sat in a “Romans and Galatians” class at Bible college. Like a light suddenly turned on in a darkened room I realized Christ had died for all my sins, and I understood for the first time his righteousness was mine before God. I could add nothing to nor take anything away from the justification he gave by grace and I received by faith. I had grown up in the church, sat in hundreds of Sunday school classes, heard as many sermons and was preparing for Christian ministry. Yet, subconsciously I always assumed, somehow, I was right with God through Christ’s life and death plus my “being good.” Crazy, I know. But that day in that classroom, the gospel of Romans and Galatians set me free.
BIBLE COLLEGE GRADUATION.
I was blessed to be chosen to deliver the sermon for my graduating class. So, in May 1971 I stood before hundreds in a packed local church in Springfield, Missouri and preached from this text . . .
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God . . . “ (Romans 1:1).
We, I told my fellow-graduates, are servants of Jesus Christ. We are his authorized ambassadors to the world. And we have been set apart for God’s gospel. It was that Word which propelled me into 44 years of pastoral ministry. I hope it did the same for all of us that night so long ago.
Father, I’m inadequate to comment on Paul’s letter to the Romans as it should be communicated. In coming weeks, therefore, I pray the Holy Spirit will enable me to proclaim its gospel, so that unbelievers may be brought to faith in Christ and believers will grow in the grace and knowledge of this great gospel. “For from you and to you and through you are all things. To you be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (from Romans 11:36).