I’m teaching a Bible study at my church on Romans, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. Studying a book of the Bible so closely–and then having to teach it–is a wonderful experience. Even though you’ve read a book a hundred times, new aspects and new connections are brought home as God opens it up for you.
In his letter to the Romans, I’m finding, Paul is doing something far more expansive than outlining fundamental doctrines (that is, teachings)–though he is doing that. When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he wanted to help them understand the truest and grandest picture of the world: God and God’s action toward all people; humanity in its injustice and need for redemption from its slavery to sin and death; the good news of God for the whole world about his Son Jesus, through whom we no longer receive a death sentence but new life and a promise of resurrection. In order to help us see the world as it truly is, in other words, Paul had to teach us about God and what God has done in Jesus.
Through the first five chapters of Romans so far we’ve already seen: the varied kinds of human injustice in idolatry (1:18-25), sinful behaviour (1:26-31) and hypocritical judgment of others (2:1-5); Paul’s attack on Jewish grounds for justification in the keeping of the law (2:17-24) and circumcision (2:25-29); the precariousness of human life ‘under sin’ (3:9), since no one–Jew or not–will be ‘justified from works of the law’ (3:20); God’s wondrous provision of a new source of justice before his judgment in Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice (3:21-26); our welcome into the people of God as a spiritual descendant of Abraham and heir of that man’s promises as we ‘follow in the footsteps’ of his faith (4:12); the majesty of the God who ‘makes the dead alive’ (4:17) and the daring of Abraham’s and our faith in him (4:18-25); the gifts we receive ‘through our Lord Jesus’ by having faith in him (5:1) and the ‘superoverflowing’ of his grace over our sin and death (5:20) in order that we would ‘reign in life’ (5:17).
Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about ‘God’s good news … about his Son’ (1:1-3). It is this ‘good news’ which gripped Paul’s spirit, for the sake of which he ‘left everything and followed’ Jesus (Mk. 10:28). This is the good news that, through Jesus, God has made a way for us to be saved from everything wrong with ourselves and the world, that is, with our propensity to harm one another and offend our Creator and with our imperfect, mortal bodies: through Jesus we are justified before God’s judgment and released from the grip of sin on our hearts and death on our bodies. Let our hearts and minds be taken with this same good news.