Sermon – April 11, 2021
Before you take a trip, it is always a good idea to look at a map of the place you will visit, even if you can navigate the city with your phone’s GPS. Doing so allows you to orient yourself correctly where you visit, and will undoubtedly help you to keep your experiences in context. Today, as we plan our visit to Paul’s letter to the Romans, we will look at the map of Romans, trying to capture the layout of the letter from a 30,000-foot view. What is it that Paul is trying to say in the book, and what are the major themes? Let us find out today, as we study the book of Romans.
1. The background of Romans
Paul, unsurprisingly, wrote this letter to the Roman Christians sometime between 53-55 a.d. The recipients were a mixture of both Jewish and Gentile believers, but the numbers heavily favored the latter. The book was written as a missionary letter, demonstrating what Paul thought about our salvation in an effort to elicit the aid of the Christians in Rome for his journey to Spain.
2. The basics of Romans
i. Introduction (1:1-15)
The introduction to the book captures the first 15 verses, and holds within it the themes that will comprise the remainder of the letter. Paul here demonstrates the centrality of this letter is about the nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ, his status as an authoritative missionary, and the unity of “all nations” under the obedience of this faith.
ii. The equality of the gospel (1:16-4:25)
The first four chapters are bent around Paul’s demonstration that both Jews and Gentiles are bound to death and under God’s wrath. That equality in sin means that there is the same salvation afforded to both: faith in Jesus Christ alone. And, what’s more, this is not some grand innovation on Paul’s part – it is part of the very salvation of Abraham and is witnessed to by no less than David.
iii. The effects of the gospel (5:1-8:39)
The gospel, first and foremost, removes our condemnation before God and gives us life instead. This is the burden of chapter 5, as Paul compares and contrasts Adam and Jesus. Chapter 6 then functions to spell out how this life is given: we are unified with Christ, and therefore, having died with him, we are slaves to righteousness now. 7:1-8:11 details how we have therefore also been freed from the consequences of the law through our death in Christ. The remainder of 8 shows the final effect of the gospel in this life: glorious hope! If there is no condemnation from the law and we are free from sin, there can exist for us only hope for glory in Christ.
iv. The exoneration of the gospel (9:1-11:36)
An objection that seems to come to mind is, simply, if this is all an extension and completion of the OT, then why have not more Jews believed? First, Paul argues (ch. 9), God simply wanted it that way. It was always God’s gracious choice and election, even in the choosing of Abraham and his sons. Secondly (ch. 10), Paul argues that it is our faith that saves us. We sometimes have trouble fitting the two together, but nevertheless Paul provides a wonderful description of God’s sovereignty and our agency back to back! In the end, we ought to be humble, for God can easily graft back in the natural branches.
v. The ethics of the gospel (12:1-15:13)
Chapters 12-15:13 consist of many imperatives, centering on loving others and a general outward focus of life. The largest section, from 14:1-15:13, deals with how we bear with those who differ with us on matters of the conscience. Paul desires that all might live in unity, formed and based on the work of Jesus Christ.
vi. Conclusion (15:14-16:27)
Paul finishes his letter with an extended section about his travel plans and desires to visit Spain. He also greets many people in Rome, demonstrating not only his extensive knowledge of folks who live there, but also cataloging the help that he has gained through many faithful believers.
3. The burden of Romans
While the book has a number of arguments, too many to detail here, there are some strong threads that run throughout it. First, righteousness is a key to understanding the book – both what it is, how it is displayed, and how it is gained through faith in Christ. Secondly, Paul strongly desires unity (not just peacefulness!) amongst believers. Third, Paul wrote the book with an eye to missions; any knowledge gained without a larger desire to see the lost of all nations come to know the Lord is a misreading of the text! And, lastly and most importantly, the glory of God permeates all of the letter. It is Paul’s concern for preaching the gospel, and God’s concern in giving the gospel. As Paul said last “to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ!”