I say, “join Paul” because throughout Romans Paul uses the rhetorical device called diatribe to help convince his readers that his position is true. Diatribe employs questions and answers in an imaginary conversation to raise up expected objections or false conclusions to which Paul then strongly responds (“Much in every way!” “By no means!”, 3:2; 6:2). He has this conversational debate with both Jews and Gentiles, concluding with how both groups should treat each other in this new community that lives out the good news of God’s Kingdom in the world. You can turn to 3:1-8 for just one example, but I am sure you will pick out many others along the way.
This entire letter fascinates me. Every time I read it I find new things to ponder. Let me point out a couple of details for some of the things we will see in the first 8 chapters.
Make sure you stop and consider the summary statement in 1:16-17. Martin Luther stopped here once and it changed the course of church and world history. As you wander through 1:18-32, pause long enough to ponder how these ancient words connect to our modern world. Instead of being appalled by what they saw, the people began to applaud. What did that applause and encouragement lead to? How did God respond? What insight does this reveal for our own day?
Chapter 2 offers an interesting comparison between God’s kindness, tolerance and patience even in the presence of our stubborn, unrepentant hearts. (Does this sound familiar? Check out Exodus 34:6-7 for a reminder.) Chapter 3 balances the depth of our sin with the extent of God’s salvation in Jesus. As you read, think about how one thing must become dirty in order to make another clean. The paper towel comes clean off the roll but if you use it to wash the window, the window transfers its filth to the towel. Every illustration falls short so to more fully understand what Jesus did for you, take a moment to research “sacrifice of atonement” from 3:25. He did so much more than just take away our filth!
Chapter 4 takes us back to Abraham’s faith and reveals how “the words ‘it was credited to [Abraham] as righteousness’ were written not for him alone but also for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” There is SO MUCH HERE!
Abraham believed in a God who could raise the dead and called things that are not as though they were. Abraham knew that, when it came to producing a baby, his body and Sarah’s womb were as good as dead. Yet he believed God’s promise; he believed God could raise the dead. He also knew that his name (which meant father of many nations) was a joke to those who witnessed this aged, childless man. Even so, God gave him that name and he believed in a God who called things that are not as though they were. Do you have the faith of Abraham so that your faith is credited to you as righteousness?
I’ve never seen a resurrection, but I believe in a God who raised the dead in Jesus and will raise me in Christ. I know myself to be a sinner who daily breaks God’s law, but I believe in a God who declares me holy in Christ, calling that which is not as though it were. What is the faith of Abraham that makes us his children (4:16) and in what way did Abraham see Jesus’ day and rejoice (John 8:56)? You can see there is a lot here so as you read, remember, don’t just get through the word; let the word get through to you.
What a marvelous conversation we could have about chapters 5, 6 and 7 and the struggle we face to live into our true union with Christ! It is a struggle to know the truth, consider what it means for my life in my context and then to yield myself to that truth so that it plays out in every aspect of each of my days (6:3, 11, 13, 17). Finally we come to chapter 8, which has been my favorite for many years.
Last Sunday David spoke about two ways people understand the Christian life. Some see our faith as the hotel room, where you arrive and remain. Others understand it to be The Way, where you enter, explore and continue to go further in. From its declaration in 8:1, to its statements of abiding and complete redemption to its closing affirmation of God’s unstoppable love, the eighth chapter offers a summary outline of God’s good news.
Unlike a box of Cheerios, this is the most exciting and important ingredients list you will ever read. There is some thrilling ground to cover in the week ahead. So take your time, enjoy the journey and give yourself enough space to let the Spirit testify with your spirit that the content of this gospel is true and active in your life.
Speak to us, Holy Spirit, and lead us along this important path. Amen!