My year-long journey through The MANual, an NIV Bible for Men, continues with the book of Romans, the sixth book in the New Testament, which follows the Acts of the Apostles.
You will recall in my post on the MANual Lessons: The Acts of The Apostles, Paul was originally named Saul as a persecutor of believers in “The Way” of Jesus. After his encounter with the risen Jesus on the Road to Damascus, Paul goes on to lead three missionary journeys throughout the regions around the Mediterranean Sea. Paul writes thirteen letters –or what some call “epistles” (from the Greek word epistole meaning “letter” or “message”) to churches he visits, which make up the majority of the rest of the New Testament.
Appropriately titled Romans, the sixteen chapters are directed to the new Christians in Rome. Written in approximately 57 A.D., Romans is the longest and doctrinally most significant of Paul’s writings. This letter has been intensely studied and was the basis of Martin Luther’s teaching on justification by faith alone, which is one of the main differences between Catholic and Protestant beliefs.
Paul was finishing his work in the eastern region and planned to visit Rome on his way west to Spain. Paul felt a bond with these brothers and sisters in Christ and longed to see them. While still in the city of Corinth, Paul wrote an organized statement of his faith to introduce himself ahead of his arrival.
Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire that spread over most of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. The city was full of military strength. It was wealthy, literary, and artistic as the cultural center, but was morally decadent. Most of the people worshipped pagan gods and idols. In stark contrast, the followers of Christ in Rome believed in one God and lived to high moral standards.
This gathering (congregation) of those who came to faith began after Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit came upon believers after Jesus’ ascension back to Heaven (Acts 2). Many Gentiles also joined the church in Rome so both Jews and Gentiles needed to know the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Paul writes to both so they knew what to believe and how to behave.
The Blueprint for Paul’s Letter to the Romans
Paul opens Romans by humbly calling himself a slave of Christ (Romans 1:1). Born as a Roman citizen, it was unthinkable to choose to be a slave. He also acknowledges he is an apostle (“one who is sent”) to preach the Good News that God promised through the prophets long ago.
The key verse states Paul’s conviction without any hesitation, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:6)
Paul clearly sets forth the foundations of the Christian faith. All people are born sinful, Christ died to forgive sin, and the Good News is we are made right with God through faith.
Paul doesn’t go lightly though about God’s anger with our sin (Romans 1:18-32), specifically abandoning natural sexual relations. Paul writes a strong message that we should not condemn people for their sins. He writes we are all just as bad and Christ will judge everyone’s secret life (2:1-16). Chapter 3 reminds us that God remains faithful and loves us enough that God, through Jesus, the Son, took our punishment and forgives us when we turn to Him in faith.
Judging Others’ Sins
Today, homosexuality, or what Paul calls “unnatural sexual relations and indecent acts“ (1:26-27), is considered acceptable in some circles and hotly debated in others. Scripture is clear where God stands on sexual sins of all kinds, including a heterosexual man’s lust of the heart. Matthew 5:27–28 is especially convicting: “That whosoever looketh. on a woman to lust after her hath committed. adultery with her already in his heart.”
That said, as Christians, we need to learn to communicate God’s truth about our sin in a loving way with an abundance of grace. It is not up to us to judge others’ sins because no one is beyond sin. We simply need to learn to emphasize God’s incredible grace and let Him work in our sinful hearts and render the final judgment.
- What is your position on what Scripture says about unnatural sexual desires?
- What does it look like to show more about grace than judgment?
In Chapter 4, Paul uses Abraham, the founder of the Jewish nation, as a good example of someone saved by faith. Sure, Abraham’s life was marked by mistakes, sins, and failures. But he had a right relationship with his Creator and never doubted God would fulfill His promise to bless him and all his descendants.
Chapter 5 starts a section of four chapters that contains some difficult concepts about the two-sided reality of Christian life. On one hand, we feel the pressure of daily life (5:12-21). On the other hand, having faith brings joy. We still face daily problems due to our sinful nature (6:1-7:18-20) but God’s wonderful grace breaks sin’s power over us. All-in-all, Paul writes that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ since nothing can separate us from His love (8:31-34).
You Can Ignore Sin
Everyone struggles with wanting to obey Christ and resisting our sinful nature. Even someone like Paul struggled. In Romans 7:19, he writes “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
Romans gives us three lessons about dealing with our sinful desires:
- Knowledge of the rules is not the answer,
- Self-determination (struggle with one’s own strength) alone will not succeed, and
- Becoming a Christian does not stamp out all sin and temptation from our life.
It’s why Paul reminds us that “everyone who calls on the name of The Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13).
- What are the sins that are most difficult for you?
- What guardrails do you need to put in place to help beat temptations?
In Romans 9–11, Paul returns to the immediate problem his letter would address—the conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christians. He reminds the people of God’s history with Israel. He explains how God’s salvation also comes to the Gentiles. Jews experienced God’s salvation first, beginning with Abraham (9:4–7). But many have fallen away, and at present, it seems as if the Gentiles are more faithful (9:30–33). But the Gentiles should not become judgmental, for their salvation is interwoven with the Jews (11:11–16). God has preserved a “remnant” of his people (9:27, 11:5) whose faithfulness will lead to the reconciliation of the world.
Chapters 12-16 is where Paul moves from theological to practical since how we choose to behave each day in the Christian life has eternal implications. It’s not enough to just know the Gospel. We must let it transform our life into what God desires for us. Romans 12:2 exemplifies this principle by telling us not to copy the way of the world but to let God transform us into a new person. Paul wants us to be a living sacrifice whose love is sincere as “brotherly love” by keeping your spiritual fervor and serving The Lord. (12:10-11).
Respect for Authority
Chapter 13 is often misunderstood to mean we must always live at peace and never question the authority of any government or business leader. Well, we do have the right to voice our opinion when we disagree with things. We have the right to vote leaders out of office in a free society. But we must also recognize that God has ordained those people for a reason in that particular place and time. This includes a president, boss, or supervisor. He calls us to pray for their wisdom and make sure we stand up for righteous reasons rather than prideful reasons.
Paul reminds us that there is no authority except that which God established. Paul sums it all up with Jesus’ commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (13:10). Sharing ideas and opinions can bring us to a fuller understanding of what the Bible teaches. Differences need not cause division. They can be a source of learning and richness in our relationships.
- Do you have a hard time respecting authority?
- What do you think is the source of Paul’s take on authority since it was the government authorities who sent him to jail?
Paul writes in chapter 15 that his delay in visiting Rome is a result of preaching the Good News. He still plans to go to Spain, but would first need to stop with a gift for the poor in Jerusalem. While in Jerusalem though, Paul was arrested on the charge of causing a riot in the Temple, tried, and convicted before he is sent to become a prisoner in Rome. Little did Paul know that he would write his remaining letters from a prison cell.
Paul concludes with a final blessing to the Romans with instructions to watch out for people who cause divisions and speak contrary to those serving Christ. He commends Phoebe, a rich deaconess, for delivering the letter to Rome. He gives a greeting to Priscila and Aquila, the missionary couple sent ahead, and others of his friends in Christ. Paul gives greetings from Timothy as well. This young missionary would become the subject of two of Paul’s later writings called the “pastoral letters” (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) that I will cover separately.
God Buddy Focus
Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome is his masterpiece. He insists that God’s grace is available to everyone who believes. None of us deserve this free gift of grace. There are times when we don’t feel we are worthy and wonder how God can continue to love us despite our ongoing sins.
This week, discuss these questions with your group of buddies:
- Why do you think Paul has strong feelings toward the Romans even though he had never met them?
- Why is it so hard not become “conformed to the world” and to “transform your mind” (Romans 12:2)?
- What is one truth from Romans that has stayed with you?
My next post is Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.