As shared previously in this series, one of the items that define the meaning of “the fullness of time” for the incarnation (as stated in Galatians 4:4) is the rule of the Roman Empire and the system of roads and bridges throughout. Built for the use of the Roman legions in maintaining rule and order and defending the frontiers, they served as well to facilitate travel over distance as never before. And this likewise made possible the travel of missionaries and itinerant ministers like Aquila and Priscilla, etc.
The saying that “all roads lead to Rome” was literally true! They really did. The expression now is a metaphor, but in the time of Paul’s preaching and travels, Rome was the most amazing place on the planet. Having walked through the ruins of ancient Rome and been in the Coliseum, it is still plenty impressive even 2,000 years later.
As the missionary to the Gentiles in particular, Paul had a great yearning to visit the imperial city. (Romans 1:11 – I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.) But circumstances had thus far prevented the fruition of this desire.
From the book of Romans we can see that the Christian community there was comprised of both Jews and Gentiles (probably many more of the latter), likely meeting in a variety of homes and gatherings (churches). And again, after Paul’s extended time in Ephesus on the third missionary journey, we turn to chapter 20 …
Acts 20:1 – When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. 2 He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, 3 where he stayed three months.
Just after the writing of 2 Corinthians, it is from Corinth in Greece that Paul writes to the Romans. It must have been even a bit frustrating and sad for Paul that his journeys had taken him to so many places but not yet to Rome. And finally, the Apostle feels compelled to write a greeting to them and tell them of his hopes to visit and fulfil his calling of preaching to both Jews and Gentiles especially …
1:14 – I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. 16 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.
A question that arises in the minds of readers of Acts and Romans relates to how a church was established in Rome, since Paul was yet to get there. Well again, all roads lead to Rome, and anything that was happening anywhere else was going to find its way to the center of the Empire. Additionally, it says in the text in Acts 2:10 on the Day of Pentecost that there were “visitors from Rome” amongst those in the crowd that heard Peter’s sermon. Likely among the 3,000 converts that day were those who returned to the city, sharing the gospel and establishing some semblance of a church community.
But how would these folks know how to make a viable community of faith work? Well, Paul had such concerns about not only this practical matter, but also that they be clear in the detailed teachings of the theology of the gospel. Hence we have in the letter to the Romans the very best statement of the nature of salvation. All of this was bolstered by a wide group of people who had personal experiences with Paul in other places. In fact, Paul mentions greetings by name to a total of 28 different individuals in the letter, including Aquila and Priscilla who were originally from Rome and now having returned to live and serve there again.
We too, in our day as in every era, have a need to rightly understand the essence of the gospel. The clarity is needed not only for our own salvation, but also that we be accurately equipped to speak of it to others. The theme verse of the letter is verse 17 of chapter 1 … 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 statement is at once both simple and complex – with books written upon this theme of righteousness. And just as Paul desired to draw to these hearers’ minds a clarity about the gospel, I trust that y’all at TSF will long remember the same from my teaching … remembering even that I talked over and over about this word: righteousness.
What is the one thing you need to be saved?
I’ve asked that question many times in small groups and will invariably get the following answers: faith, trust, forgiveness, justification, etc. And all of these things are correct. But there is a better single word answer: RIGHTEOUSNESS. This means you need perfect perfection. And that is a problem. As humans we have inherited the curse of sin at birth; we don’t actually become sinners and are therefore separated from God, when we sin we prove we are sinners who are already separated from God. And as this Romans letter goes on to teach so well, we can’t do anything to earn perfection (righteousness). We need to get it from somewhere else – the only source being to have it imputed to us by faith in Christ … so that at the end of it all, we stand not in the worthlessness of our own “goodness” but rather before God in the righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus Christ.
We could maybe even say that all theological roads lead to central truth of the Christian gospel of the need for righteousness.