God And All Of Us
If you have access to television or social media, you will doubtlessly have seen the kinds of things our world is constantly debating: Racial tension, sexism, social philosophies, violence, guns, class, economics, politics, culture, nationalism, identity, and more. These topics cause great divisions between people, and often we find that people on opposing sides are not willing to listen to each other.
To make it even more frustrating, so many people on opposing ideological sides claim that God is the reason for their beliefs and that God is clearly on their side of the debate. Whose God is God anyway? Who do you have to be to have God on the side of your cause?
This question is as old as humanity itself. People groups all over the world throughout history have believed that powerful supernatural beings protected and blessed their own nation, city, or family. Even in more modern times, Christians of various flavors claim that the One God above all sides with them and their concerns.
The early Christian church had a related but slightly different problem. The first followers of Jesus were almost all ethnically Jewish, and they saw Jesus' movement as a new chapter in the story of Israel as a nation. To their surprise, the Spirit of God was moving in a different way - inviting Gentiles (non-Jewish people) into the new family of faith. New church communities were popping up all over the ancient world - some Jewish, some Gentile, and some mixed. Jesus was claiming his rulership over all people, not just Israel.
The Church in Rome was one example of a mixed community. The majority of the Christians in Rome were Gentiles, but there were many Jewish expatriates living in Rome as well. Paul, a Jewish man, had been chosen by God as a representative to extend the invitation of the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles. Paul would put it this way:
“God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord. Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name. And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people. (Romans 1:2-7 NLT)
When we see Paul addressing a church of mostly Gentile Christians in a city where there were also Jewish Christians, we have to ask some serious questions: did these Gentiles believe that God was finished with Israel? We will eventually find out in Romans 9-11 that some of them may have believed exactly this - that God had rejected the Jewish people and moved on to the rest of the world. We have here an example of an ethnic conflict in the early church. "God is for us and not for them."
The stage is set for Paul to address everyone's baggage in the book of Romans. In chapter 1, Paul will highlight the flaws common in Gentile culture, and go on in chapter 2 to address the parallel flaws and failures in the culture of his fellow Jews. All of it serves one purpose: to highlight the equality of people who all sin, who all need to be saved, and who all have been given a chance through the gospel of Jesus.
“God has been faithful to his promises even though all humans are unfaithful.”
The challenge of Romans is a dangerous and beautiful one: how should you live among other people knowing that you are just as much of a sinner as them? How will you treat the people in your community knowing that none of you are inherently better or worse than the other? How will we live as people whose only hope is receiving forgiveness we don't deserve?
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV)
By faith, we can begin again. By faith, we can believe that there is hope for broken people. By faith, we can see that life is not ultimately about which people God chooses to side with, but about which people choose to side with God. And when we see this gospel of a God who chose to give up his life to save humanity, of a God who is for everyone, we can only choose, by faith, to believe in the redemption that Jesus believed he could give to any and all people.
Romans is a book about a community of Christians that is struggling to get along. Paul explains how the gospel puts them all on the same level, and how they can live as a unified church before God and the world because of their shared status as sinners who have been justified. Humanity keeps messing things up and bringing wrath upon itself, but God's gospel demonstrates that he is doing the right thing for humanity in spite of ourselves.
God is on no one's particular side. God is on everyone's side. Will you stand with him?
In Joshua 5:13-15, there is a strange encounter with the Angel of the Lord. When Joshua asks him if he's on the side of Israel, or Israel's enemies, the angel says neither, that God and the armies of heaven are on their own side. Read this passage. Does this mean that God doesn't care about human problems, or that what really matters is whether people choose to be on his side?
Romans 1:14 says that Paul is "obligated to both Greeks and non-Greeks." Who are people in your currently world who you feel are not your responsibility? Who do you not particularly care to help? Think about your life: has God given you a sign that he wants you to care more about these people?
Paul introduces his book with an important connection to another character - David. Read Romans 1:1-5. Why does Paul mention David here? Compare this scripture with 2 Samuel 7:1-16. What promise did God make to David about his descendants? How long would David's kingly dynasty last?
What does Jesus' identity as the descendant of David mean for Israel?
Read Genesis 22:15-18. What does God promise to Abraham? Does this apply only to Israel or to other nations? How does promise about "descendants" apply to Jesus, the promise God made to David, and Romans 1?
In Romans 1:18-32, Paul talks in detail about a certain type of sin and God's anger. Read the passage and answer the following questions:
According to verses 18, 24, 26, and 28, what is one way that God expresses his "wrath" or "anger" against sin? Would you describe this is "active" or "passive" on God's part? Is this more like active punishment or natural consequence?
Revisit Romans 1:16. Paul distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles receiving the gospel message. Do you think that the section from 1:8-32 is talking about problems among Jewish people who had the laws of the Torah, or about Gentile people who did not know the Old Testament or the God of Israel?
Are the sins described in 1:8-32 the worst sins possible, or are they just one example of how some people have sinned?