Saturday, July 23, 2016

Romans 1-4 Intro to God and Salvation Stuff

First, some external things to consider about Romans.  It is the one place that we know for certain, Paul had not visited yet at the time he wrote the letter(Colossians may also be an example.  We are not sure.).  This may be one of the reason for one of the defining characteristics of Romans.  Unlike the other letters, it does not really spend much time on specific issues going on within the church, but it is known instead to be a very thorough explanation of many of the foundational truths regarding our Christian faith.  Because of this, it also serves as a great introduction to the later material in the New Testament.

Paul seems to lay out well what he perceives to be his mission in verses 4,5, and 6 of chapter 1.

and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ

We will return to that at the end of these posts.  Romans 1 proceeds to point out the sad story of humanity and how it refuses to acknowledge God as the one true God.  There is, of course, the well known statements regarding homosexuality in chapter 1.  I'm not going to camp out here except to point out an interesting thing that I noticed.  In verse 24, notice the word therefore, and in verse 26 the phrase for this reason, and in verse 28 and since they did not.  These words and phrases tell us that it was because they refused to acknowledge God as God that these things came upon them.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

My point in pointing this out is not to single out these individual people, but it is rather to point out that it seems to me that when we uncouple from the most basic linchpin of reality, other extremely fundamental linchpins will inevitably follow such as who we are designed by God to be attracted to and, as is increasingly seen in our culture, the very idea of there being self evident identity attached to gender. It is as though a tether has snapped and we are adrift. Certainly, the ongoing reality that we are all too familiar with deserves a post of its own, but today is not that day.

In chapter 2, Paul goes on to zig when you thought he might zag.  Just as he points out the tragedy of unrepentant, fallen humanity, he points to self-righteous judges.  The key I believe in understanding this and many of Paul's switches back and forth is to anticipate what people are thinking as they read his letter.  For instance, you can hear religious leaders cheering him on as his reaches his crescendo in chapter 1 and then he silences them (and everyone) in chapter 2.  The crucial point here to me is that it is incredibly easy to be deluded into thinking that just because you have some profound insights into morality, spirituality, and God that you are officially in some "other" category from the masses.  Knowing and living it out are two very different things.  Paul makes it clear that we are ALL in the category of chapter 1. This is the first distinction Paul makes. Those who know compared with those who do, even in some cases when they have limited knowledge.  So what good is it to "know"?  Oh, says Paul, it makes a big difference, BUT, at the end of the day...

10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

 As Paul progresses in chapter 3, he makes it clear that even people who are genuinely trying to do good and right will never be good enough or right enough in and of themselves because we are all at our core fallen, corrupted, and rebels.  However, there is a way to be made right with God.........Paul just needs to take some time here, and it WILL get revisited again later, that the way is NOT BY WORKS OF THE LAW  (works of the law simply refers to earning salvation by being a good enough follower of the law).

Once again in chapter 4, Paul anticipates an objection of someone asking, "Well what about all that stuff with God interacting with Abraham and setting the stage for the whole covenant thing??  Are you just blowing that off?"

It is at this point that Paul masterfully USES the very accounts in scripture to point out that the Old Testament or Hebrew scriptures actually is the very thing that points to the righteousness that God provides.  He and other New Testament writers use this technique many times to make it clear that, not only are we not to "blow off" the Old Testament, but it is the very place we can often find the greatest clarity and be awe struck by the genius nature of the God of the universe's plan to save whosoever will.

More to come...


Patricia Delcamp said...

I am very excited about the book of Romans also since I plan to study this book in the fall with
Community Bible study. I know from my own experience, just when I think I am good,I am the worst.
I come back to the truth that there is none righteous and I must seek my forgiveness through the blood of Jesus.

Danny said...

I loved this post.