The Book of Romans
We are beginning our series on the book of Romans. Of all the letters that Paul wrote, this may be the most popular, most famous, and most influential. Romans is Paul's masterpiece - one of the most complex, beautiful, and comprehensive pieces of theology ever written. Understanding the book of Romans will help to give anyone a solid understanding of the meaning of the whole Biblical story.
The story of Romans begins with this important question: How does the truth of God get to the heart of an evil world?
In the first century, nothing was scarier than the Roman Empire. The people of Israel had been conquered many times, and had grown accustomed to the influence of the Greek and Roman cultures. And yet, they held onto the hope that one day Messiah would come to set them free.
But Jesus wanted to save not only his own people, the Jews, but also had compassion on the Romans who oppressed them. Jesus came to change the hearts of all people and bring them back into right relationship with God. Long ago, God had made a promise to Abraham - that through his descendants, the people of Israel, all people in the whole world would be blessed. (Genesis 22:18) Jesus came to fulfil that promise by perfectly obeying the Torah laws that Israel had received from God, and then taking away the sins of the world through his sacrifice on the cross.
Jesus' life, death, and resurrection were the climax of Israel's story, and an open door for all human beings to enter into a right relationship with God. The good news of Jesus is that all people can receive forgiveness for their sins, and become citizens of a new Kingdom, run by Jesus and not by Caesar or any other oppressive emperor.
God had kept his promise to bless the whole world through Israel’s Messiah, the descendant of Abraham. He chose Paul as a representative Jewish follower of Jesus to welcome the Gentiles into God’s family of love and forgiveness. Eventually, this gospel message came to the city of Rome, the heart of the Roman Empire. Even Roman people came to believe that the Messiah of Israel was their true Lord. The followers of Jesus were becoming a new extended family.
But old prejudices would be hard to let go. Some Jewish followers believed that the Gentiles could not be included in Christ without actually becoming part of the Old Covenant - that they needed to be circumcised and become Jews in order to be Christians. On the other hand, some Gentile believers figured that God was done with Israel and that they did not need the laws of the Old Testament at all anymore, since they had already been saved. Worse than that, some of these people in the church at Rome began to reject each other for various reasons related to their cultural identity.
So Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome. He wanted them to understand how all people are equally broken and sinful, and all need to be saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus. The book of Romans teaches us that we are made right with God through faith, and explains how the Old Testament story and the Law of Moses led us to this good news.
How does the truth of God get to the heart of an evil world? Through the good news of Jesus. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23], but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [Romans 5:8] For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 6:23] There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” [Romans 8:1] [and] “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” [Romans 10:9]
You are invited to join this family too. Will you accept God’s offer?
- Read Romans 1:1-7 and answer the following questions:
- From verse 2 to verse 4, what important facts does Paul give about Jesus?
- In verses 5 through 7, who does Paul say his message is for? Does this category include you?
- Paul had several reasons for writing his letter. Read Romans 1:8-17 and answer the following questions:
- What are some of the major reasons why Paul says he wants to write a letter to the Romans?
- What are the major reasons why Paul wants to visit the Romans?
- Who does Paul say the gospel is for? Note especially 1:16. Do you think this ethnic order is important? Why or why not?
- Compare Paul's reasons listed here in chapter 1 to Romans 15:14-24. What other reasons did Paul have for writing to the church at Rome?
- 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?