Romans: my favourite book of the Bible. It took the great bible teacher Martin Lloyd-Jones nearly 700 consecutive weekly sermons to exposit its teachings – on Friday evenings from 1955 to 1968. My task is to cover it in just sixteen daily posts! An introduction to the book is found in the weekly notes to The Big Picture reading plan. Hopefully, this link will find it: Romans . Many years ago, I also did a very brief summary of the first twelve chapters of Romans, found here at: Romans Summary .
I am also thinking, in practical terms, of the way that the gospel is preached, and disciples made: how is such a complex epistle ‘translated’ into the kind of teaching and training that young disciples need from the outset? Compared with the relatively simple stories that Jesus told, Romans is harder to understand and needs closer attention and a higher degree of concentration. Should this kind of scriptural book be withheld from immature ‘new-born’ believers until they are ready, or we perceive that they need it?
Personally, I think not. This book was written to the believers in Rome, not just to the theologians! It was authored by the Spirit of God, who can bring to life His thoughts to his children, even without our help! So, partly, we need to simply let them read it and trust that the Holy Spirit brings understanding. But partly, we should realise that church leaders and spiritual mentors have a key role here: biologically, a mother eats adult food and digests it, producing breast milk that her young child can digest – so the nourishment goes indirectly from mother to child. The spiritual analogy is that mature believers ‘digest’ the complex parts of the scriptures and ‘regurgitate’ them to their young disciples in more ‘digestible’ form so that they can benefit immediately. See 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-8; Hebrews 5:11-14 and 1 Peter 2:2.
Paul begins his great prologue: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’.” This verse was the powerhouse of the European and English Reformation, breaking away from the concept of earning God’s favour by doing good works or purchasing ‘favours’ from the Pope. ‘Righteousness’ – getting right with God – is obtained from Christ, by faith, in the works that He has already done on the cross. The fact that, as Christians, we later on do many amazingly good works (or so we hope!) is no coincidence, but evidence that our salvation is entirely by faith.
Paul has already said in Romans 1:5 that obedience to God comes first by faith in him. Furthermore, the gospel, when received fully by faith, gives us the power to obey. It is obedience that is a vital key; we are not simply pushing an academic gospel that ‘tickles’ and challenges the mind alone, but rather a training course in a righteous way of living that models the life of Jesus and reproduces millions of little ‘Christs’ around the globe. Understanding by the mind must lead to faith in the heart and obedience of the will. Romans was never intended to be a ‘heavy’ bible school topic, but part of a life-changing, world-transforming apprenticeship scheme!
The great prologue over, Paul begins at the beginning by emphasising the justice and righteousness of the Lord; you cannot possibly understand his grace and mercy until you comprehend what you deserve when measured against God’s standards. 1:18-32 features the whole of the human race, Jew or Gentile, and declares how we have all fallen so short of his righteous requirements. His ‘wrath’ – a holy and just reaction to everything that opposes his will and denies his nature – is not only stored up for the Day of Judgment but is also revealed even today in judgment and punishment for certain sins and crimes against his divine nature. Key verses are 1:18-20, which state that no-one has any excuse, since God’s creation contains all the qualities of its Creator; mankind ought to look at creation and learn about God from it. This doesn’t mean that there is sufficient information around us to save us, but there certainly is enough to condemn us.
The general drift downwards in individual lives and in whole societies and nations – away from what God intended us to be – is sketched out in the rest of chapter 1. The sequence is: Idolatry, sexual impurity, sexual deviancy, depravity of the mind and approval of those who deny and oppose God. Included with many of the more striking and obvious sins are gossip, disobeying parents, greed, and boastfulness. If there is a key idea, it is that mankind is without excuse! God has every right in the world to punish every one of us, for we all fall short.