Thoughts from Romans

Thoughts from Romans is a developing series of thoughts from Paul's letter to the Romans. For more extensive studies on Romans go here.

THOUGHTS FROM ROMANS

THE GOSPEL OF GOD

Paul introduces himself 'an apostle ... set apart for the gospel of God'.

Paul teaches us that the gospel originates in God. It comes from God. It is God's idea.

This immediately prohibits any tension or division between the God of the Old Testament and the Father of Jesus. They are one and the same. It also prohibits any tension or division God the Father and God the Son. In preaching a Gospel centred on Jesus Christ Paul did not for a moment consider that in doing so he was turning his back on God. Rather the gospel is God's gospel, God's good news. Paul repeatedly draws attention to this divine origin of the gospel:

The gospel is the power of God that brings salvation - Romans 1:16.

In the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed - Romans 1:16.

The gospel involves God presenting Christ as a sacrifice of atonement - Romans 3:25.

Through the gospel God justifies those who have faith in Jesus - Romans 3:26.

It is God who justifies the wicked, and credits their faith as righteousness - Romans 4:5.

God demonstrated his love for us in the death of Christ - Romans 5:8.

It was God who sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering - Romans 8:3.

It is God who called, justified and glorified those who believe in his Son  - Romans 8:28-30.

It is God who is for us, who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - Romans 8:32.

In a doxology of praise for the gospel Paul says 'Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!' - Romans 11:33.

And then sums up all that he has said about the gospel with two words: 'God's mercy' - Romans 12:1.

To further enforce this point that the gospel is the gospel of God, Paul teaches us that the gospel was always God's intention.

Paul teaches:

The gospel was promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures - Romans 1:2.

The Law and the Prophets testify to the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel - Romans 3:21.

That the promises given to Abraham apply to all who believe in Jesus Christ - Romans 4.

 As far as Paul is concerned, the gospel that God established through the death of his Son, is not something altogether new. It is not an innovative attempt to redeem fallen humanity. It is not a last ditch effort brought in because everything else has failed. From the first embryonic prophecy of the crushing of the serpent's head (Gen 3:15), to the fully-fledged description of the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), the whole of Scripture points forward to the coming and sin-bearing death of Jesus Christ. This gospel of salvation through the death of Christ has always been God's plan. Rather than contradict and nullify the Old Testament, the Gospel fulfils, validates and establishes the deepest significance of the Old Testament.

As the rest of the New Testament affirms:

Many Old Testament prophets and kings longed to get a glimpse of the gospel - Luke 10:23,24.

The good news about Jesus Christ is found in all the scripture: Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms - Luke 24:25-27, 44-48.

Moses wrote about Jesus Christ - John 5:39-47.

Christ is the mystery contained in the word of God - Colossians 1:24-2:3.

Christ is the reality symbolised in the Old Testament rituals - Colossians 2:16,17.

Jesus was chosen to be our Saviour before the creation of the world - 1Peter 1:20.

Jesus is the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world - Revelation 13:8.

So Paul, right of the beginning of his letter to the Romans, defines the gospel as the gospel of God - a gospel that originated in God before we sinned, a gospel planned by God before we were created. A provision of amazing grace, prepared for us in eternity: given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2Timothy 1:9).

© Rosemary Bardsley 2019

THOUGHTS FROM ROMANS

THE GOSPEL ABOUT GOD'S SON

As we saw previously the gospel has a specific origin: it is God's gospel, God's good news. It comes from God. It is designed by God. It is implemented by God. Just as the gospel has a specific origin, it also has a specific content: it is about God's Son, or, as Paul puts it in Romans 1:2, it is 'regarding his Son'. Here the whole content of God's good news is encapsulated in these two words: 'his Son'.

God's good news is about 'his Son', not primarily about the cross and what happened there, not primarily about the salvation of sinners, but primarily, over and above all else, the Gospel is about God's Son. This is stated again in 1:9 where Paul refers to 'the gospel of his Son', again identifying the person of Christ as the centre of the Gospel. If in our supposed telling of the Gospel we have failed to tell people about the divine identity of Jesus Christ, we have in fact not told them the true Gospel at all.

Paul puts before us four important truths about who Jesus is.

The first truth, the truth that was immediately obvious to Jesus' contemporaries, is that Jesus was a human being. His ancestory can be traced in the recorded genealogies right back through David, through Abraham, to Adam (see Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-37). People who met him knew who he was ... the carpenter from down the road. Paul's comment is: 'who as to his human nature was a descendant of David' (verse 3). By this comment he affirms the real humanity of Jesus.

The second truth is that Jesus is the Son of God (Romans 1:2,4). God's gospel is, Paul says 'regarding his Son ... who through the Spirit of holiness was declared to be the Son of God ...' This truth was not immediately obvious to Jesus' contemporaries. They looked at him and saw a human being. And that is all most of them saw. When Jesus began saying things that only God has a right to say, and doing things that only God can do, some  of his followers began to suspect that he was more than just a human. They asked questions like 'What is this? He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.' (Mark 1:27) and 'Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!' (Mark 4:41). And, for a smaller group, in response to Jesus' actions and teaching, a powerful, at times frightened, awareness developed that they were in the presence of God: 'Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man' (Luke 5:8), and 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God' (Matthew 16:16). Only those whose eyes had been opened by the Holy Spirit saw past Jesus' real humanity, and recognized his real deity. For the rest... well, we know the story. They heard what he said about his equality with God, and arranged to have him executed for such blasphemy: they said 'you, a mere man, claim to be God' (John 10:33; see also 5:18).

For anyone who has doubts about whether the man Jesus is also, at the same time, truly God, Paul states that through the Holy Spirit, Jesus was 'declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead' (Romans 1:4). And here is an obvious fact: if Jesus had stayed dead, all of his statements about his equality with God are nothing but lies. Death, in biblical terms, is the penalty for sin. If Jesus stayed dead then he was nothing more than the rest of us: he was a human sinner. The resurrection proves that all of his claims about his divine identity are actually true, and not the blasphemy asserted by his enemies: when, for instance, he called God his Father, when he said 'I and the Father are one' (John 10:30); when he said that seeing him was seeing the Father (John 14:9); when he said 'before Abraham was born, I AM' (John 8:58); when he claimed that he was 'the bread of life' (John 6:35), the light of the world (John 8:12), the good shepherd (John 10:10), the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), the truth (John 14:6), these statements were all true. His resurrection validates the truth of these claims to deity. His resurrection proves that he is who he claimed to be.

The third truth about who Jesus is is that he is Jesus Christ (Romans 1:4). The English 'Christ' translates the word 'Christos' which is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew 'Messiah'. Again Paul identifies Jesus as the subject of Old Testament prophecies, this time the prophecies concerning the Messiah - the Anointed One, who would come in power and victory to save and lead God's people. This is also affirmed by Paul's reference to Jesus as 'a descendant of David', for God had promised David that out of his descendants would come a king who would be king forever.

The fourth truth Paul mentions about who Jesus is is that he is 'our Lord' (verse 4). The word 'Lord' is so common in both the Old and New Testaments that we stand in danger of overlooking it. In biblical terms, to be 'Lord' is to be God. It is one of the most common Old Testament names or titles of God. God is the Lord. The Lord is God. To say that Jesus is 'our Lord' is to say that Jesus is our God.

If we were for some reason, asked to identify the one most important truth contained in the New Testament, it would have to be this truth: that the real man Jesus is also, at the same time, fully and truly God.

Jesus himself stated: 'If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins' (John 8:24).

Paul affirmed it: 'if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God rasied him from the dead, you will be saved' (Romans 10:9).

John stressed it repeatedly:

'Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ ... No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also' (1John 2:22,23).

'This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ ...' (1John 3:23).

'If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God' (1John 4:15).

'Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God' (1John 5:1).

This is what the gospel calls us to and what the gospel commands us: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. This is the faith that saves: the faith that confesses 'Jesus Christ is Lord'. It is only to those who believe in him that the promises of salvation are given (John 1:12; 3:16-19).

© Rosemary Bardsley 2019

 

THOUGHTS FROM ROMANS

THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD - 1

The gospel, which Paul teaches is 'the power of God', has a specific purpose: it is the power of God for salvation. This salvation proclaimed in the gospel is not universally applied - it is effective only for 'everyone who believes,' but it does have universal availability -  'first to the Jew, then to the Gentile' (Romans 1:16).

This salvation does not depend on racial or national identity. It does not depend on political allegiance. It does not depend on religious heritage. It does not depend on personal goodness. From God's perspective, none of these count. Paul makes very clear that both Jew and non-Jew do not have what it takes to be acquitted by God. Rather, the whole world is accountable to God and stands guilty before him (Romans 1:18 to 3:20). No one, not even one, is innocent in God's sight: no one is 'righteous', no one is 'good'.

We are not 'righteous', that is, we are not legally innocent before God, the Judge of all the earth. This is the simple but devastating truth that makes the gospel absolutely necessary. Our personal sin and guilt make it essential for some means of salvation that does not, in any way, depend on us. Left to ourselves, we are powerless to save ourselves. Left to ourselves, we are  forever guilty, forever condemned, forever banned from God's presence.

Into this universal situation of human disqualification and inescapable guilt comes the gospel, the good news, the power of God for salvation. It overcomes our personal disqualification and makes salvation available regardless of who I am and what I have done:

'For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed' (Romans 1:17).

These words explain why gospel salvation is for everyone who believes, both Jew and Gentile: It is because the basis of this salvation is not a righteousness that we have to provide for and by ourselves, but a righteousness which is from God. Gospel salvation does not require us to stand in the law court of God dependant on our own religious merit for acquittal and acceptance: rather the gospel reveals a declaration of legal acquittal and acceptance that comes not from our own merit but from God.

This gospel salvation stands in stark contrast to all the religious and spiritual ideas and aspirations of mankind, including the bulk of nominal Christianity.

Our human minds and hearts, our human ideas and philosophies, our human religious and cults all expect or teach that acceptance has to be in some way earned, merited, deserved. If you are 'good' you are rewarded, if you are 'bad' you are punished. That is what our human traditions and values have taught us. And that is what a superficial or incomplete reading of the Bible teaches us.

But Gospel 'righteousness' does not come from human merit: it comes from God.

Here in the gospel is a declaration of legal acquittal, a 'not guilty' verdict, which does not come because of our lack of guilt or from our possession of actual legal rightness. It is not a righteousness of man. It is not ours. It comes 'from God', it is 'of God'.

It is something that God provides: it is always his, never intrinsically ours.

It is not based on our own performance.

It is, as Martin Luther phrased it when he discovered its liberating meaning, an alien righteousness. Alien to us. Undeserved, unmerited, unearned, by us.

We have nothing to do with it. It is from God. It is his righteousness.

This is a massive truth, but, as we will see as we meditate further on Paul's letter to the Romans, there is an even grander dimension to it than what is immediately obvious in this verse.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2019

THOUGHTS FROM ROMANS

THE POWER OF GOD

In Romans 1:16 & 17 Paul gives us a summary statement of the Gospel:

'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. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."'

 In these words Paul explains why he is not ashamed of the gospel - It is the power of God.

The Greek word for 'power' is dunamis, from which we get the English word 'dynamite'. Explosive power. Awesome power. Incredible power. God's good news, God's good message, is God's power.

Paul is not here just using enthusiastic language to describe the gospel; rather, he is affirming the intrinsic and necessary character of the gospel. A weak or wishy-washy 'gospel' could not save us. Only a gospel in-built with the dynamic power of God has the ability to save sinful humans from the just judgment of God. Paul knows that we are utterly incapable of saving ourselves. Salvation is not within our own power; we simply do not have what it takes to save ourselves. It takes God's power, that is, the gospel, to save us. We do not and can not rescue ourselves from sin, death and judgment. Nor can we rescue ourselves from the darkness of our ignorance of God.

The Scripture affirms this human ignorance and inability:

'No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him' - Matthew 11:27.

'This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him' - John 6:65.

'... when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly' - Romans 5:6.

'God ... made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions ' - Ephesians 2:4,5.

The Scripture also affirms the in-built power of the Word of God:

'You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free' - John 8:32.

'You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you' - John 15:3.

'...we preach Christ crucified ... Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God' - 1Corinthians 1:23, 24.

'the holy Scriptures ... are able to make you wise for salvation' 2Timothy 3:15.

'... sustaining all things by his powerful word' - Hebrews 1:3.

'For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword ...' - Hebrews 4:12.

Into our ignorance and inability, the Gospel, the power of God, has come. That same power that raised Jesus Christ from death to life is the power of God that breaks through our ignorance and our inability and achieves our salvation. God's great power has been at work in those who believe. God raises us up, God seats us with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 1:15 - 2:6). God's power shields us (1Peter 1:3-5). God's  power has given us everything we need for our spiritual life (2Peter 1:3).

This dynamic power which is the gospel has a specific purpose, an end result into which it is directed and towards which all of its great energy is committed: salvation. Concerning this word 'salvation' we must throw aside our minimal perceptions, and be prepared to embrace a far more comprehensive understanding of its significance. Paul's letter to the Romans makes it clear that salvation is not merely an escape ticket from hell. Nor is it something that is purely initial, relevant only at the point of our conversion. Rather, the salvation wrought by the power of God is something that impacts the whole of our life, invading and changing our expectations and perceptions in multiple directions and dimensions, impacting our present relationship with God, with others, and with our own innermost being.

But Paul's summary of the gospel warns us that salvation is not universal, it does not automatically apply to everyone: it is for 'everyone who believes'. It is not until ater in his letter that Paul mentions the specific object or focus of saving faith:

'If you confess with your mouth "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved' - 10:9.

The faith that results from this powerful, saving work of God is never faith in faith. It is faith that is focused on Jesus Christ. The faith that acknowledges that the human Jesus is the eternal God.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2019