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Romans (Series 2)

The Righteous Shall Live By Faith

Romans 1:1-17

Lesson audio

It is of some interest that the last time we did a series on Romans this section of Scripture was skipped entirely. It cannot be said, necessarily, that this was a mistake – but we can certainly take a look at it now.

Salutation

Romans 1:1-7 NASB Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, (2) which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, (3) concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, (4) who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, (5) through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, (6) among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; (7) to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It was not until the early 20th century that scholars discovered that this sort of salutation was not unique to the Epistles. Its form is somewhat different from that which might be used today (think of a business memorandum for a parallel), but we can gain somewhat from disassembling its form.

From: Paul

Paul begins by telling us something about himself. He points out three things to us:

  • He tells us that he is an apostle – the highest rank of those in the church.[1] It is an honor restricted to those who have seen the resurrected Christ in the flesh, though recently the title has been stretched beyond recognition.[2] Even beyond the experience the early church recognized none but Paul and the Twelve after the Resurrection.
  • Such rank does not inflate his pride, however. He calls himself the bond-servant of Christ. The word is also correctly translated, “slave.” In this he carries forward the Christian conception of servant-leadership.
  • He also tells us that he has been set apart for this task. What task? The Gospel itself – something which is not a creation of Paul, or the other Apostles, but something which God had prophesied long before.
Subject: Christ

Paul makes two important points about Christ, both of which are crucial to our understanding of the faith:

  • Christ is a lineal descendant of David, King of Israel, founder of the dynasty that God said would last forever. This implies first that Christ is completely human; second, that he is of royal rank, entitled to reign; and third that he is the one who was indeed prophesied in the Old Testament.
  • Christ is the Son of God. That means that he is fully divine, shown by the miracles he performed by the power of God. Only the fully divine would be rescued from death.

That last was done “according to the Spirit” – in which Paul here confirms the existence of the Trinity.

To: Romans

Why is Paul writing to the Romans? One very important reason is that Rome is the center of the Empire. “All roads lead to Rome.” But there are two other reasons:

·         They are among the “beloved of God.” We sometimes forget that God’s love extends to all the church, not just those who are near, or who agree with us. A true Christian who happens to be a Catholic is also the beloved of God – and we should treat same accordingly.

·         They are saints – holy ones. Consider that at the resurrection of the dead such people will be so awesome that if one were to present himself to us at this instant, we would instinctively fall down and worship (and be corrected, one assumes). We are surrounded by spiritually dangerous people in the church – wherever the church is.

Paul’s Heart

Romans 1:8-15 NASB First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. (9) For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, (10) always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. (11) For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; (12) that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine. (13) I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. (14) I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. (15) So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Heart for the Romans

Paul shows us here just in what manner he has a heart for the Romans. See if this reflects your heart for those you love:

  • He thanks God for them. Is your heart longing for your grandchild? Do you thank God for him or her? It is a natural reaction; if someone is a blessing to us or the cause we love, we thank God for that person.
  • He prays – unceasingly – for them. If you love someone, you pray for them. Even if they are going astray.
  • He wants to come to them. Does going to visit your grandkids please you? The same sort of reaction is shown here – with the caveat that God is willing to allow it.
Desires for the Romans

When my wife and I go visit the kids, she fills half a suitcase with suitable gifts. So what kind of gifts does Paul desire for the Romans?

  • First, he wants to give them spiritual gifts – things like healing, for example. As far as we have record, this can only be done by an Apostle.
  • Second, he wants them “established” – perhaps we might say, “solidly grounded.”
  • Finally, that they might mutually encourage one another. The life of the evangelist can be lonely; it always helps to hear of the great things God has been doing in other parts of the church.
Goal: Fruit among you

The object of his approach – indeed, of his entire life’s work – is to produce fruit for the kingdom. That means new saints who have accepted Christ, and growth for those already in the church. To this end Paul mentions his track record in other locations – always encouraging – and tells them that it is not for lack of desire he’s been prevented from coming to Rome.

This might sound hypocritical from some; Paul rightly evinces no such hypocrisy. Rather, as is known, Paul is a man driven by a sense of obligation to the Lord who has forgiven him – an obligation which extends to all the human race. A man who is forgiven much, loves much – and Christ has commanded him to take that love to the world.

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

Romans 1:16-17 NASB For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (17) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."

In the original

The passage is a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4. In the original passage (see verse 3) we find a prophecy of the coming Christ. The implication is clear: no longer would salvation come by going through the Jewish rituals and works, which were meant to be a picture of what was to come.[3] The time would come when true reality sets in – and in that day the righteous man will live by faith.[4] As Paul put it to the Galatians,

Galatians 3:11 NASB Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."

This principle – justification by faith – is a commonplace of the Christian faith. Any study of James will contain the usual dilemma of faith versus works, resolved in “faith without works is dead.” But a new form of the debate has arisen lately, and as we shall see it has the power to lead many astray.

Works and faith

We must pose the question carefully, explaining as we go. “Is man morally perfectible?” Do not misunderstand; the question is not about obtaining moral perfection but sustaining moral perfection. Once a Christian is forgiven, and (legally speaking) morally perfect at that moment, can he by his own efforts alone remain that way?

Phrased that way, it is clear that we are dealing with the Semi-Pelagian heresy (see the study on 2nd Peter). But that is not how the question is phrased these days; indeed, it is not phrased as a question at all. We have instead an assertion clouded in fuzzy language.

To the ancient Christian this question would boil down to whether or not a man could avoid sinning again. Paul answers that question at length here in Romans, and his answer is a definite “No.” But the question is not phrased that way. The usual approach is this:

  • The speaker outlines some problem in which a person has “made a mistake.” Not sinned; sin is a church word and must be avoided in the seeker friendly church. “Made a mistake” could mean sin; it could be just a failure to read the manual for the lawn mower. By making it fuzzy we blur away the guilt that comes from sin, leaving only the consequences.
  • The consequences must be repaired and the mistake prevented. Fortunately, we have pop psychology to help us here. The speaker then outlines some number of simple rules which obviously fix the problem. The listener usually nods positively at this step.
  • Finally, the speaker adds some quotations from the Bible – usually from a paraphrase, several of which espouse this view – which seem to add God’s stamp of approval. The Bible is no longer source but “familiar quotations.”

One author called this “moralistic therapeutic deism.” If you object to this by saying that faith (and thus repentance) are called for, you will be told, “Faith without works is dead.” But that is not the argument. It may also be said that works without faith are dead; for example:

Hebrews 11:6 NASB And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

The Gospel is the power of God

The fact is that the power of God comes through the Gospel; as Paul tells us here the Gospel is the power of God. In this we see an answer to another heresy of modern times: the idea that “good people in other religions go to heaven too.” The idea is based on the premises above. If man is morally perfectible, then why shouldn’t a Moslem go to heaven – if he’s good enough? We don’t even have to know what “good enough” means; that’s Christ’s problem.

Not only is this false by direct statement of the Scriptures,[5] but it negates the central fact of Christianity. For if man is morally perfectible by himself, of what use is the Cross? Does not this new doctrine tell us that the Cross must have been non-essential? The core of the faith now isn’t.

For reasons like this, the “emergent church” (as this movement is called) de-emphasizes Bible study. Obviously, if the Bible proclaims the existence of sin – that seeker-unfriendly word – then we need to keep the Bible on the bookshelves, and out of the hearts and minds of Christians.



[1] 1st Corinthians 2:28

[2] For an exposé of just how ludicrous this has become (in the name of feminism) see Touchstone magazine’s article on St. Junia at http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=21-08-022-f

[3] An idea capable of great elaboration.

[4] John 3:36

[5] John 14:6

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