All Roads Lead to Rome (Survey of Romans)

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.

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How Much Do You Know About God?

Something that has always made me cringe is when someone is giving a personal testimony and says something like, “I’ve always known God for as long as I can remember.” And I think to myself, “No you haven’t.”

I do understand that a person stating this is communicating essentially that, as far back as they have conscious memory, they have always known about God, Jesus, the Bible, etc., and they have accepted these things. I could say the same, though I would clearly identify a moment in time where I understood the debt of sin and necessity for trust in the specific payment of Christ on the cross.

I understand also that the concept of God does not need a great deal of definition for children. My boys never looked at me in lost confusion when hearing about God, even as toddlers. There is an innate sense of the divine that is there in every life, though some suppress it at great length.

Even so, what does anyone know about God apart from being told specific information? It is in Romans chapter 1 where there is some measure of discussion about this, and in theology we refer to this knowledge of God as general revelation or natural revelation. It involves a sense mankind has of being a creature of a divine being, a sense of something more vast and powerful, something to hold in awe (if not also to fear), something to venerate and appease …

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

So there was enough knowledge of God from the created world to condemn a person, but not enough to save him or her. Apart from specific knowledge, mankind over the years has come up with all sorts of objects of worship, mostly from the created world and cast into the form of idols …

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

So, logically, there needs to be a messenger of the truth that brings the truth to those who do not know it or trust in it. And so it is later in Romans 10, as Paul speaks of the need for the Jewish people to hear the truth of the gospel of Jesus as the Christ, that he says …

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” [from Isaiah 52:7]

The feet speak of the messenger who brings the good news, and the good news of salvation is the best news of all. That is a blessed and privileged person to be a bearer of this news – the words that are so completely necessary for life eternal and a relationship with God. This lost world needs speakers of the gospel and senders of the speakers.

The step-by-step logic of this passage therefore speaks to the topic for this week: our mission as members of the body of Christ, the church. A first of four statements we’ll make about mission is this: Mission is necessary because no one is born believing the right things about God.

It is the only way, the only hope, for those who do not yet know the truth of the most important message ever. Delivering such truth is an important mission to be on! It should define who we are and how we view our lives in this world.

The Day God Gave Up (Romans 1:18-32)

After Sunday’s rather intense sermon about the sinful condition of man, I received a humorous note that said, “Thanks Randy for telling us how bad we are!”  You’re welcome.

Malcom Muggeridge, the British journalist and author, is famous for noting that “sin is the one thing that man tries to deny, but the one doctrine most easily proven.”  Indeed, if you can’t see the problem in the world around you, just look into the mirror.

Before one can be “found,” one must understand that they are “lost.”  Reflecting back to even my high school years and in times of sharing the gospel with people, I recall early on that it seemed to me that the majority of people with whom I spoke had no sense of being lost or being in eternal danger.

I am unlikely to go to the doctor and pharmacy to get a prescription for something unless I am convinced that I have a medical condition that needs medicinal treatment.

Martin Luther famously wrote that … “The [manifold corruption of nature] should be emphasized, I say, for the reason that unless the severity of the disease is correctly recognized, the cure is also not known or desired.  The more you minimize sin, the more grace will decline in value.”

So just how bad is the problem of sin?  It’s bad … very bad. Paul writes …

2:18 – The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Paul says that God’s wrath — his anger at sin — is justly focused upon human sin, godlessness and wickedness. This is because people have suppressed the truth that is plainly evident to them, having been put there for them to clearly see by the creator God.

We are talking here about what we call “general revelation” or “natural revelation.”

John Calvin wrote best in speaking of this. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, he taught that man was to look at himself, and also to look at the majesty of creation, and to sense that he was a creature in a created world. This should cause him to desire and seek to know the creator. But over time, this truth was lost, the natural condition of sin prevailed, and truth has been set upside-down.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

This is a history of the natural decline of the human condition after the fall of man. Truth was forgotten, foolishness and futility prevailed, and rather than the creature worshipping God, man fashioned his own stupid gods out of the materials of creation.

The remaining verses we look at today contain a statement repeated three times: “God gave them over…”

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

So, what does this mean that God gave them over? Does it mean that he gave up? Well, yes, in a sense. It is a Greek word (paradidomi) that means to give over, to hand over, to allow something — in the sense of giving up the resistance against an action.

So in this context it has the idea of God withdrawing his restraining and protective hand, thus allowing the consequences of sin to have their inevitable and destructive outcome.

That’s cold, that’s hard.

But wait, there’s more …

This is not the only time that “paradidomi” is used of God giving up. It is the verb in this sentence as well, later in Romans (8:32) “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

But wait, there’s more …

It is used of what Christ did … “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

But wait, there’s more …

Again, of what Christ did as a model for us … “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

But wait, there’s more …

Again, of the model of Christ’s sacrifice … “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”

So aren’t you glad that God didn’t give up on us, but that he gave up for us?

The Essence of the Gospel (Romans 1:1-17)

The essence of the gospel is the focus of this month-long sermon series and associated devotional writings. A summary statement could be the following, as oft-spoken by the well-known New York City pastor Tim Keller …

The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed than we could imagine … Yet more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.

I underlined accepted in Jesus Christ. That is because our acceptance is truly “in Christ — due to what HE has done.”  It is not because God just can’t stop loving us a humans because he’s a sucker for how cute we are, as if he sees us like a bunch of little puppies and kittens tumbling all over each other in the most adorable fashion, or like a grandfather in his dotage who can’t see anything wrong in his grandkids. No, it is by his grace that he loves us, based upon what Jesus has done.

In this series we will focus on two elements: human sin and God’s love—the latter explained through the forgiveness of the cross (week two), the righteousness imparted to us (week three) and the promise of new life in him (Easter Sunday and week four).  But we open this week with the first element that sets the stage: human sin.

And to talk about the natural condition of man as fallen into sin and hence under the pending judgment of a righteous God, we of course turn to the opening chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans. We will read this week from Romans 1:1—3:20.

Our primary interest today as we open in chapter one relates to the final verses of this section through verse 17. But let’s begin with Paul’s opening greetings to the Christians in Rome. He too begins to talk about the gospel immediately in his opening sentence, noting that the gospel is not a Johnny-come-lately teaching, but is rather sourced in the promises of the prophets of old …

1:1 — Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Paul continues with basic greetings, expressing his thanks for them and his longing to be able to personally be with them.

7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

Paul is writing to Christians, to “brothers and sisters;” but then he goes on to speak of the obligation of his calling: to preach the Gospel to them in Rome. But wait, these people already know the gospel, right? They are already believers.

But here is something to understand, the gospel — the good news — is more than the basic entry information packet that gets you saved and in right standing with God, it is the defining message that is pervasive throughout everything that defines faith in Jesus Christ. It is the big picture of it all, not just “Roman numeral #1 about Christianity.”

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. 17 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.” [from Habakkuk 2:4]

Verses 16 and 17 are those of greatest interest for us. In any study of the Book of Romans, these verses are identified rightly as stating the theme of what Paul is writing about: the gospel message of the righteousness of God that brings salvation to all who trust in it through faith.

Any of you who are reading this who have also at some point over the years attended one of my community groups … you have gone through the following exercise …

Let me ask this question: what is the one most important thing that you need to be saved?

I ask that, and then receive the answers. What invariably comes back is first something like “faith.”  And I’ll say that yes, we need faith for sure, but there is a better answer. And the next person will say “grace.”  After all, it says in the Bible that we are saved by grace through faith … but I’ll again say there is a better single answer. A few other suggestions will be offered, but seldom does someone give the very, very best answer. And that is “righteousness.”

God is perfect; that is what righteousness is — perfection. God’s justice demands judgment on anything in his presence that is not perfect and pure. So, if we are to be saved and to be with God and not face his judgment, we have to be perfect; we have to have righteousness. And there is the great problem. We do not have it, we cannot earn it, it has to come from somewhere else, only one person has ever had it, and we therefore need to get it from him.

So the book of Romans will talk about how all of that happens. And the first item is to make the case that, indeed, all mankind is totally lost and justly in line for God’s judgment. Paul will prove that whoever you are — Jew, Gentile, a really fine person compared to everyone else — you are a condemned sinner in a heap of trouble.

This shouldn’t be hard to do, right?  Everyone knows they’re a sinner. But obviously, since the vast majority of people are not worried about this by being keen to see the issue of their pending sentence of judgment nullified, we have to spend time talking about the underestimated gravity of the sin situation.

And the situation is, as we said in the summary above, worse than we imagined.

No Excuses for Mankind’s Situation (Romans 1:16-32)

Before talking about today’s Scripture reading, let me welcome you to the first of what will be a total of 30 devotional readings and writings (Monday to Friday for six weeks) that supplement the current Tri-State Fellowship teaching series called “Cross Words.”  These writings are timed daily to hit at 6:00 each morning, and I remind you that you may have them delivered automatically to your email.

The Reason for Cross Words

Of course, what we mean by cross words are those Bible and doctrinal terms that are connected to the work of Jesus Christ in dying on the cross of Calvary to save us from the debt of sin. But before we can begin to delve into these terms, I thought it appropriate to take one written session to be reminded why the cross was necessary.

So, Just How Bad are Things?

The answer – worse than you can even imagine … as bad as it could possibly be. It is a death sentence.

The Great Epistle to the Romans

The Apostle Paul’s premier writing is the book of Romans – a message that describes in greatest detail all which God has done through Jesus Christ to make us acceptable to Him in His perfect kingdom and presence. In a word, to be His presence, we must be perfect – righteous. We need righteousness – and that is the theme of the Book of Romans … as it says:

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. 17 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.”

Paul begins to describe this salvation in chapter 3, verse 21 and following. But first, Paul writes from 1:18 to 3:20 to prove that all mankind is totally lost and without hope – condemned by sin. The style of writing throughout this section is of a prosecuting attorney presenting a foolproof case of condemnation against the accused criminal – all mankind. You may have heard some preacher at some point say that, when sharing the Gospel with someone, you have to get them lost before you can get them saved. Well, that is a kind of simplistic statement, but it contains a lot of truth.

My wife Diana comes from a largely Pennsylvania Dutch family background. And it is from her grandfather that I heard a term I had never encountered before: “Nix Nootz.”  This was a way of most often describing a child who was misbehaving, but doing it in a sort of cute and endearing way. Unfortunately, that is how many people believe God looks at our sins and our all-too-human condition … a sort of “boys will be boys” way of it not really being THAT big of a deal! After all, they’re just human!

But as you read through this passage, you see that there are no excuses. Mankind is lost in sin. It is not even a matter that, well, some folks just haven’t heard the truth very clearly, so they should be acceptable and excusable if anyone is! But the answer even there is a solid “no.”  The creation shouts out that there is a God to be sought after and to be known and obeyed – leaving them also without excuse.

There are no excuses whatsoever. Man in his own state and condition is totally, utterly, impossibly lost and condemned to death and separation from God. In theology, this is what is termed “total depravity” … which does not mean that every person is as bad as they could be, but that every person is lost and possesses nothing in themselves of righteousness that might give them any merit with God.

Simply stated, man is lost … needing “cross words” to find a connection of salvation with God and any hope for eternity. And that is what we are going to talk and write about over these six weeks.  (If you read today’s Scripture in your own Bible or translation, be sure to look under this attached Scripture reading for the first of the daily puzzles.)

God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Here is the daily puzzle where we will regularly identify a couple of words every day… for a total of 66 cross words altogether. On April 22nd, the missing letters will be filled in to spell something for which YOU may be a prizewinner if you can be the first to identify what it says.

Our words for today:

Wrath – This speaks of God’s anger toward sin. As Christ took our sins upon himself, God’s wrath executed a judgment of them upon the cross.

Curse – No, not saying something wrong … this means that sin entered the human race through Adam’s rebellion, and the curse of death has passed down to everyone (except Christ), making us unacceptable in that state to a perfect God.

puzzle 1