Romans 1:1-32 I, Paul, write to the believers in Rome by the authority of my role as an apostle, on the topic of Jesus Christ: the resurrected and divinely affirmed Messiah. The faithfulness of your community is widely known, and while I pray that I will soon be able to come and see you in person, know that I am constantly praying for you and your ministry. Like you, I am not ashamed of the gospel which makes clear the difference between a righteous and unrighteous life. While humanity suppresses Truth and clings to all manner of sin, this same gospel also reveals God’s saving power and holy nature.
Be careful to leave the business of condemnation to the LORD; do not mistake your relative obedience for moral perfection. God alone is qualified to judge the hearts of men. Instead, check your motives and focus on doing well in His eyes, according to His Law, which you know. Jesus Christ will pass judgment on both Jew and Gentile in the end. Beware, you who think of yourselves as particularly knowledgable and obedient: your hypocrisy will be painfully obvious when you do inevitably fail. Though men praise you for upholding the letter of the law, how will you fare in the court of God when He examines your spirit?
The Jewish people have a spiritual advantage only in that we have known our sin longest (thanks to our stewardship of the Law). We are no better off than our Gentile brethren when it comes to fulfilling God’s holy requirements for redemption, and our own scriptures record our long history of broken covenants and failures, declaring that “all have turned aside.” But now God has manifested His righteousness outside of the Law, in the Person of Jesus. Though we are damned by our insufficiencies, Christ is sufficient. He perfectly and completely fulfils the behavioural and sacrificial requirements of the Law on our behalf, accepted by the Father as the justification of any soul who accepts His substitution by faith.
Consider that Abraham was counted as righteous by his faith, not as a consequence of any deeds done. The promise was not given to him as though earned and owed, but as a gift before even the Law was given. Obedience to the Law is, therefore, a sign of righteousness and not the definition of it. Abraham believed God when the evidence of his senses protested; Abraham trusted God when his everyone dismissed His promise as impossible. It was this faith -- this act of the will -- that God labelled as righteousness. It is the belief in Christ that saves us now, made through a similar decision of the heart. As for Abraham, so for us now: salvation cannot be earned and is not owed.
So Christ is justified by the Law, and we are justified through Him by faith. He is our access key to the eternal glory and love of God. Jesus died willingly to offer us the gift of heavenly reconciliation, while we were ungodly and hopeless -- and now, in light of His act of redemption, even our suffering can become a catalyst for hope. Understand that Adam’s initial sin caused a spiritually fatal division between all of creation and the LORD. The Law was then given through Moses to expose the hereditary brokenness of sin that has infected every descendant of Adam, including Abraham. One man’s disobedience damned the whole world with sin, as laid out in the Law -- and now one man, Jesus Christ our Lord, has saved it by the free gift of His abounding grace.
Through baptism, we are symbolically buried and resurrected with Christ, but we also spiritually experience death and new life through Jesus. Our sin is dead! And our physical deaths hold no threat because the debt of our sin that we owed to God through the Law has been satisfied already by Jesus. Therefore, we must live our lives acutely aware of the fact that we have been freed from the grip of sin; we must strive towards righteousness as evidence of our justification (by His grace, through our faith). Devote yourselves wholeheartedly to righteousness and sanctification, and rejoice in God’s free gift of eternal life in Christ.
Is it not obvious that all laws are binding only for the living? Even marriage vows expire after one spouse dies. Consider yourselves, by the death of Christ, no longer wedded to sin and the Law that defines it, but rather bonded instead to Jesus Christ, who has saved you. That said, we cannot completely ignore the Law, as it is through the Law that we are able to identify, acknowledge and repent from our sins. The role of the Law for us now is to contrast what is ungodly and sinful with that which is holy, righteous and good. We use that information to align ourselves with Christ through the mastery of our sinful desires and fleshly inclinations. Therefore, delight in the Law of God, constantly battling to serve the LORD instead of sin.
So although we behaviourally attend to the Law, we are neither bound to it nor condemned by it because the substitutionary death of Christ has set us free. We live now as though already resurrected, having the same powerful Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave at work within our lives. We must set our minds on Him; we must abandon our pursuit of the flesh. We are not simply allied with Christ, we have been adopted by him as siblings! And adopted by the Father as His children! When we suffer, we suffer with Christ as children of God; when we are lost in pain and grief, we are known by the Spirit of God who works all things for our good, on our behalf. The LORD knew us and chose us from the beginning; He has justified our souls through His Son, and He loves us as He loves His Son. If God is for us, who can be against us? If Christ has claimed us, what could possibly sabotage his love? Nothing -- not life or death, not angels or kings, nothing now, nothing to come -- nothing has the power to pry us from the loving embrace of our Saviour.
My heart aches for Jews who do not yet know that saving embrace. God’s promise, His Law, the covenants, this adoption we now experience -- all of this belongs to them, all of this has prepared them for Jesus, and yet they refuse the promise, Law, covenant and adoption fulfilled! They cannot accept that their blood ties to Abraham and Isaac are insufficient. They are significant (God has historically favoured the nation of Israel and through them has revealed His heart of mercy and compassion to the world), but insufficient, because even among the patriarchs He did not extend His grace based on lineage alone. As it is written, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.” Ultimately it is God’s decision to grant or withhold the gift of His mercy, and He has the divine right to impose restrictions and conditions upon it however He may choose. We know from the prophets that His compassion is far-reaching, but not indiscriminate. He has set the ransom at “perfect righteousness under the Law.” Perfection is unreachable by the efforts of man, but was attained by Jesus and is granted to us through faith in the Son. The Law has condemned everyone but Christ.
I pray to God for their souls. They are trying so hard to be righteous, desperate to earn their salvation by obedience to the Law. O Israel! Give up this vain pursuit and trust in Jesus! Wait no longer for your Messiah, search no further for your Christ! Confess with your mouth that Jesus is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved. Confess and believe -- that’s it. Everyone who does this will be saved, regardless of their ancestry and heritage. The biggest hurdle now is that people must hear this good news in order to believe it. We must send missionaries who will preach the message of Christ until everyone is given a chance to listen, respond and believe. The LORD offered Himself directly to the People of Israel for centuries; now He has gifted the whole world access to Himself through Jesus Christ, His Son.
Hope is not lost for the Jews, but their hope in works will fail them. As in the days of Elijah when God preserved for Himself a remnant of loyal worshippers from the ruins of their executed and exiled nation, so now will He graciously save the portion of Israel that is willing to submit to His Word. You Gentiles have benefitted from the blindness of my kinsmen, but I hope your acceptance of God’s extended grace will inspire jealousy among the Jews that leads to faith in Christ. When you interact with the Jews, don’t be smug; instead, consider them as the natural limbs of a tree, and yourselves as grafted limbs. You thrive only because of their healthy roots. Remember that all branches can be pruned, if unhealthy or unfruitful. They resist Truth now as you so recently did, and God can save even dead branches by His glorious and mysterious power and will.
But how can we discern the will of God, that we might align our thoughts and actions with His perfect goodness? By sacrificially offering our lives to Jesus Christ, and by submitting our minds to the transformation and renewal of the Spirit. God has uniquely equipped every believer with spiritual gifts (of prophecy, teaching, exhortation, generosity, etc), and we must work together to serve people and glorify Him, just as different parts of the human body work together to accomplish a common goal. In the face of persecution, train yourselves to react with blessings and prayer. Practice empathy and humility; pursue justice but not vengeance; aim always towards peace. This is the path to God-honouring righteousness.
As one step towards peace, submit yourselves to the governing authorities that God has put in place for you. People in positions of power serve under the sovereign reign of the LORD and have been appointed as ministers of God on earth. Their job is justice and order on your behalf; therefore, you must pay the taxes and pay heed to the laws. Give respect and honour where it is due, incurring no debts of any kind. Do everything with integrity and in love, and you will naturally keep the commandments. Eternity is not some distant thing -- life is fleeting and we don’t have time for sin. Shun the temptations of darkness and walk instead in Light.
Do not get distracted by petty arguments that don’t matter in light of eternity. The details of exactly how a person worships God can vary, as long as we all belong to Jesus, by faith. Do not pass judgement on each other, and do not maliciously goad each other into sins of the conscience. Each of us is accountable to God for our beliefs and actions, not to the court of our peers. Being self-righteous about matters of preference is spiritual sabotage of the Church body, and does not lead to God-honouring righteousness.
Is your faith objectively stronger than that of others? Help them. But when you offer help and encouragement, do so out of love and with a heart of humble service, not with an attitude of stooping superiority, or motivated by the praise and accolades of others. Welcome others and live in harmony, united in your desire to glorify the LORD. Our Scriptures foretold the worship of Gentiles among the Jews, and this has now been accomplished by Christ, who extended His hope to everyone by through the ultimate act of humble service. I remind you of these things not as a chastisement, but as an encouragement. For the most part, you’re healthy and doing very well. Your faith is a testament to the work that Christ has accomplished, and I am proud of the role that He has permitted me to play in your salvation and growth. God has kept me busy with other similar ventures, introducing the Gentile nations to Jesus Christ, but now I look forward to a respite from that work through a visit to you, on my way to Spain. My current mission is one of encouragement and support, not evangelism. Please pray for me as I travel -- that I will serve God and His people well, and that I may soon come to you for a time of joyful rest.
I ask that you greet your congregations on my behalf and on behalf of all the churches of Christ, which I represent. Please give Phoebe a warm welcome, and offer special greetings to Prisca and Aquila, who have given so much. Greetings also to the many other believers who have faithfully served us and served with us from your community. I implore all of you to hold fast to the doctrines you have been taught. Beware those who would divide and distract you, if given the chance. Be wise in what is good and innocent of what is evil, and God will use you to crush Satan underfoot. Greetings from Timothy and our fellow workers here. To the LORD, who has revealed the long-dormant mysteries of the gospel through the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, we say Amen!