Freed to Love - the Book of Romans
Discover the good news of the gospel with new excitement when you study through the book of Romans with us. Paul explains why salvation by faith for all should change the way we extend grace to ourselves and others.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God - the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his son, who has to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 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. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles were called to belong to Jesus Christ. 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.
When we write a letter... well, we don't write many of those anymore, do we?... we may open with the classic, “Dear So-and-so. How are you? I hope you are well.” Whether or not you are seriously inquiring about the recipient’s well-being, this is a standard opening for our modern-day letters - well, those we still write.
In the days of email, we have shortened our greeting even further. Maybe simply stating the recipient’s name is plenty. We get right to business. How much do we think about the opening of a letter, at least beyond our desire to simply sound appropriate or not rude?
Paul, however, was always very intentional with his openings. They are full of truth and purpose. When writing and sending a letter is as big of an ordeal as it was in Paul's days, you better believe you thought carefully about every word. When you know you are being used by God to spread truth, you certainly do not take a single word for granted. You rely on the Holy Spirit to write and impart wisdom.
Paul likes to call himself a servant of Jesus Christ. He was an apostle who had traveled many places and whose reputation even spread to the places he had not yet visited. Rome was one of those places, as we will soon find out. Even still, Paul remains humble. He is a servant of Jesus Christ first and foremost. He knows his calling is to be an apostle and to spread the gospel.
The gospel: that is what this letter to the Romans is all about. Who knew that such a simple truth - Jesus died on the cross so that anyone who believes in Him may have eternal life - could elicit so many questions and even frustration?! Yet, this is the situation in Rome as Paul writes to the believers there.
Paul writes this letter to both Jewish and Gentile believers. Nowadays, we never think much to distinguish between the two. Most of the Christians you know are Gentile believers, meaning they do not have Jewish descendants. We don't think much about it. We take for granted that, of course, salvation is available to all.
However, in Paul's day, this still felt radical to many Jewish believers. Of course, God did not suddenly decide to include Gentiles into His plan of salvation, though it appeared out-of-the-blue to some. God had planned it all along. But as with many things, while the Old Testament Jews read these prophecies, they did not fully understand them.
The first thing Paul says about the gospel is that it has been promised long ago by the prophets. The Jewish believers would have grown up learning all about these prophets and have regarded them with high esteem. In making the point that the gospel is all about Jesus Christ, Paul calls this Son of God a descendant of David “as to his earthly life”. He connects with the Jewish believers by emphasizing that, yes, Jesus was of Jewish descent.
It is because of Jesus that Paul preaches and has received his calling to spread the gospel not only to the Jews but to the Gentiles as well. Paul was passionate about calling Gentiles to faith in Jesus Christ. It is at this point that he also addresses the Gentile believers in Rome.
Here is his opening blessing to all: Grace and peace to you! Aren't we all in need of that? Grace and peace.
Why would a believer object to the gospel?
You may be wondering why the Jewish believers would object to the message that salvation is available to all, including Gentiles. After all, each one of us is in need of the Savior and His unending love. There are enough grace and mercy to go around. Why not share it?
However, the Jews of this day saw Gentiles as people deep in sin. They did not follow the Law of God, given through the prophets. They did not even have the Law or know it. In contrast, Jewish believers prided themselves in having learned and followed the Law and Jewish regulations for generations. Paul's words to them are sobering…. but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Unity among believers was important to Paul. He takes this letter to clarify the essential truth of the gospel as well as to bring both groups of believers together in humility and love.
Note that throughout this epistle, Paul refers to many Old Testament passages and stories in order to show the Jewish believers that God has not changed but that this is, indeed, the gospel that has been promised long ago. It is not a new teaching that is in contrast to the Old Testament. Rather, it is the fulfillment of all that has been promised through the prophets. As we read this letter, we will draw on our Old Testament knowledge and jump back to fully understand what the Jewish audience would have intrinsically known.
We will come to understand and appreciate the gospel on a deep level. We will encounter tough theological issues. And lastly, we will be motivated to see the gospel as the foundation to love the people around us actively. Enjoy the ride!
Who is Paul?
Paul was an apostle, but he came to faith later than Jesus’ disciples. Paul was a zealous Jew during the days of the early church who set out to persecute Christians. You can read about Paul’s dramatic conversion story in Acts 9. God took a hold of his heart and changed the course of his life.
If ever someone understood the transforming power of the gospel, it was Paul. He would have appreciated deeply his need for forgiveness. Having once followed Jewish Law and tradition eagerly himself, Paul would have understood his audience’s concerns with the idea of salvation through faith alone. He used to rely on obedience and circumcision himself.
He is also in a unique position because he felt specifically called to share the gospel with the Gentile world. So, not only could he relate to the Jewish believers of Rome, he had a heart for reconciling them with their Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ.
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