After spending a month in the rich history and poetry of the Old Testament, we move to the New Testament and the masterpiece of the Apostle Paul, the letter to the church at Rome. Paul had never visited the church there, but he knew their reputation (v.8) and he was eager to teach them (v.15). His desire did not come from curiosity or sentimentality, but from his God-given ministry as an apostle. Besides making some new Christian friends and doing some “Great Commission networking”, Paul had a responsibility: to evaluate the church, preaching the truth of the gospel in order to strengthen their doctrinal foundation and to refute false teaching (see 16:17-19).
This letter is the Holy-Spirit inspired “study guide” he sent in advance of his visit. The first 11 chapters are intensely doctrinal and focus on our beliefs, while the last 5 chapters are pastoral and personal, focusing on our behavior. Because of the highly detailed content of Romans, it will be a challenge to summarize each chapter without writing too much, but I’ll try. Here goes…
Of the 100 times the word “gospel” is used in the Bible, 75 of them came from the pen of Paul — and 60 of those are found in the book of Romans. The gospel (the good news of the work of God to redeem the world for the glory of God) is mentioned in the very first verse. The gospel is the theme of this letter, just as it is the theme of the entirety of Scripture (v.2-3). In verses 16-32, Paul lays the foundation for his message by presenting the utter lostness of humanity and the desperate need for God’s intervention.
The place to begin to talk about being saved is to talk about being lost. Every person is a guilty sinner who deserves the wrath of God (v.18). No one is innocent, no one is without excuse. The world God created, with all its beauty, order, variety, and complexity, provides the basic truth that God is and God can be known (v.20). As people who are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), we are hard-wired to perceive our Creator and to seek to know Him. Responding to the glimmer of the light of truth in the natural world will lead to more light, but rejecting it will lead to darkness (v.21).
The more people reject the life-giving truth of God and His gospel, the more He allows them to sink deeper and deeper into sin. His love is strong, but it is never forced. When we choose to “free” ourselves from the truth, we find ourselves enslaved by lies. As people run further and further from the truth, they sink down to the depths of depravity. They sin against their Creator by ignoring Him and worshiping His creation instead (v.24-25). They sin against the way God created men and women to relate to each other sexually, exchanging beautiful, natural sex (between men and women) for shameful, unnatural sex (homosexuality). They plunge headlong into sin — the list in verses 29-31 is representative of the thousands of places sin will drag the person who is determined to reject God. Every sin adds to their guilt and incurs God’s wrath.
That is the bad news of the Good News, sin’s pull and sin’s power. But Paul shares the power of the gospel in verse 16: salvation for everyone who turns to Jesus Christ in faith. This is the powerful grace of God, forgiving sins and saving lost sinners! Praise the Lord!