Paul said his hope in writing to, and ultimately visiting his Roman co-sojourners was that he might impart to them some spiritual gift to strengthen them– that is, that they would be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. From faith to faith, we have been encouraged and strengthened by the letter he wrote and we have reflected on with one another.
Quite boldly, the challenge of holding together such different people as the church in Rome begins with a clarification of why God is angry with this world. Romans 1 shows a huge problem in the world. We push down the truth for doing wrong (suppress the truth in unrighteousness). That is a fundamental part of bad worship and bad living. We twist and pervert what is good and right because we cannot figure out how to receive it rightly and wisely.
Romans 2 helps to calm the rising pride of the religious people. They can get smug hearing about idolatry and immorality and show an undue superiority. The message in Romans 2: it is easier to say that suppressing the truth in unrighteousness is wrong than to actually live righteously under the truth.
Romans 3 sums it up nicely. Pagans, religious experts, drifters, ponderers… They have the same problem. They all suppress the truth. God is glorious and his way is life and right. We each and every one of us are less than we should be in wisdom and rightness. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. That is why God in man, the Lord Jesus Christ, came to save us from untruth and unrighteousness, and that by faith.
Romans 4 asks whether this is a new idea. How can we talk about faith (trust, confidence) in God and what he provides match up with the long history of God and his people? Abraham was the father of faith, and the point is well made. Before the law, blessing and the hope of all blessing was by faith.
Romans 5 draws the breadth of the circle of hope. If we were suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, and enemies of God (not even children of Abraham) is there any hope? A huge YES is given to show that even while we were against God, his very enemies regarding truth and rightness, God made it clear he loved us; he died for us. Our ancestor Adam shows how we fail in regard to truth and rightness, Jesus is offered as our new hope, the one who is Truth and Rightness, and who provides truth and rightness, and who makes it possible for us to live in truth and rightness.
So, if it is a gift, are we free to just party on without regard to truth and rightness? Romans 6 asks that question and resoundingly says Noooo. The gift is salvation from a failed life, not salvation from consequences so you can go on with a failed life. The pagans (gentiles) are urged not to go on with their old way plus Christ.
Romans 7 warns the carefully religious people (the Jews) not to make the same mistake. Adding Christ to a life of legalistic self justification doesn’t make any more sense than adding to Christ to one’s indulgent life.
Romans 8 shows the answer for Jews and gentiles, the careful and the carefree: keep in step with God’s Spirit. That is the new life. It is hard but it is the life that works. Creation is groaning for humanity to no longer fall short of God’s glory, we know we are (sickness, sadness, death and so on…). Even God’s Spirit groans with us for the day that we will no longer suppress what is really true and live the way that is really right. Christ is that hope and that way, and we are assured we cannot be separated from within that love.
Romans 9 makes a point of preparing us for living that way. We must realize that God’s mercy is totally without regard to any thing we offer. It is devastatingly humbling. In fact, it is almost depressing at first, like digging down in order to build a building up with a good foundation.
Romans 10 begins the building up by clarifying again that trust in the Lord is now and always has been the way of being saved from suppressing the truth in unrighteousness and having the hope of truth and rightness.
Romans 11 continues the foundation by showing how Israel has been foundational to the gentile hope and that God’s plan is on schedule. In fact, though Paul makes it clear that the how and when of God’s plan is not as clear as we would like, it is still marvelously and triumphantly better than anything we could dream up and worthy of our cheers and excitement.
Romans 12 now begins and emphasis on what to do: exchange humble submission to truth and rightness for the arrogance of insubordinate untruth and unrightness.
Romans 13 expands from personal challenges to social challenges and sums up with saying we are to be clothed in the light of the way of Christ; he is our light that shows us truth and rightness.
Romans 14 practically balances us as we are all trying to grow at the same time, though we have differences in where we are, what we understand, and how we are moving forward. Essentially, we have to find ways to look out for each others’ good.
Romans 15 shows how Paul lived out his path of using his gifts and calling, and goes on to mention others. As each does their part, more and more people have a chance to take part in the life of light and hope found in Christ.
Romans 16 lists people who have come out from the way of suppressing the truth in unrighteousness and are helping others to see truth and rightness. There is real love and affection and honor shown. Paul warns about letting cranky or controlling people ruin the community and encourages them to keep on the way the is right and true.
We are grateful to have taken these few months to be challenged to look at our tendencies to let our own desires dominate our wills such that we push down the truth (distort, rationalize, manipulate) so we can get what we want no matter what. It is not easy, especially the reflection on how humbly we must view ourselves. God did not have any cause to save us based on anything in us. His amazing love is in spite of us. When we get that, then humility and gratitude aren’t so hard. The challenge then is to continually humble ourselves under truth for the sake of hope, enduring with joy, because we know our hope will not disappoint us.