“Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkeness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13: 10b, 11-12 NIV).
The Holy Hiatus
I suppose that you, my readers, are starting to get a bit frustrated with me as well. You might wonder if we are ever going to get into the meat of the gospel as Paul presents it in the Book of Romans. We’re getting there.
But there is a method to my madness, I assure you.
First of all, we needed a historical context to Paul’s letter to the Romans and we talked about the controversies in Rome between the traditional Jews and the Christian Jews and how the Emperor, Claudius, threw them all out of the capital. That left the Gentiles in charge of the church until Claudius died and Nero took over (about three years before Paul probably wrote the letter to the Romans).
Second, we talked about the division within the church between the Judaizers (the Jews who called themselves Christians but wanted the Gentiles to become Jewish and circumcised before they could call themselves believers) and the Gentile Christians. This was such an important issue that Paul considered it heresy and even got into a public fight with Peter about it (Galatians 2:11-21).
Obviously, Peter came around at some point judging from his comments in the letters that he wrote to the churches. He says, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15,16 NIV).
Peter speaks so highly of Paul that he places his letters on an equal footing with the other Scriptures. High praise indeed.
But then, thirdly, there was also a question of getting our heads right about some of Paul’s terminology and the only way to do that was to get our hearts right with God. In other words, it’s all about a relationship with God from the heart. Our tendency is to make the law about rules and regulations when it was always impossible to do without a heart-felt relationship with God in the first place. God never expected his people to be perfect law keepers. That’s why he included the sacrificial system. There was a clear need for sins to be covered, to be expiated, to be expunged from the lives of his people. In fact, the law was always a question of the inward heart not just the outward actions (like marriage or parenting). It was always so and the Pharisees had corrupted it with their senseless religiosity and 613 rules and regulations that a righteous man could fulfill if he were diligent enough. As if that even mattered.
Finally, we said that the whole question of the existence of God was not really on the table. Paul just assumes it. The Bible, for the most part, just assumes it. But that makes sense when you realize that the letter to the Romans was meant for Christians, not unbelievers.
And that, right there, is the problem. What about the Roman Road? Didn’t we say that we were Walking the Roman Road? Do you remember the five steps to the Roman Road?
The Roman Road of Salvation
1. Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
2. Romans 6:23a “for the wages of sin is death.”
3. Romans 6:23b “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (also Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”)
4. Romans 10:9 “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (also Romans 10:13 “for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.””)
5. Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (also Romans 8:1 and 8:38-39 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…..for I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”)
Paul starts with sin and the wrath of God and the wages of sin, therefore many people do the same thing in talking with unbelievers.
That might have worked a generation ago when lots of people in their 30´s and 40´s could remember their Sunday School lessons and experience of church growing up. But it is no longer true today for the most part. And using the Roman Road of Salvation as an Evangelistic tool has also fallen into disuse. It needs to be thought through again in a new light and that is what I want to do. Not that there is anything wrong with the Roman Road of Salvation, just that there are a few previous steps that it would be wise to go through first.
Remember that Paul was writing to believers, not unbelievers. They already went throught some preliminary steps before they got to Paul’s teaching. We need to let unbelievers also go through some previous steps.
Do you remember when I talked about the Five Pillars of Evangelism? Here they are again, to help us remember them.
The Five Pillars of Evangelism
- Start with some evidence for the existence of God, the truth of the Bible, or the resurrection of Christ from the dead just to get the discussion rolling.
- Give your testimony of the process you took to become a Christian to verify that they are following the proper path by asking questions and getting answers.
- Remind them that all the evidence in the world won’t convince them entirely of the truth of Scripture because the real issue is relational. We don’t trust God with out lives. We don’t want Him to be our Master in any way.
- Let them know about the Judgment to come after death and that the only way to survive it is to replace our fear of God with love but we need to do that while we are alive. You can’t learn to love God when you are overwhelmed with fear in His presence.
- Tell them that Jesus was our substitute on the cross to deal with the problem of sin and fear but the trade-off is that we get a new relationship with God where He is in charge. We need to accept that willingly and wholeheartedly like a man getting married to the woman of his dreams.
Evidence. Testimony. Judgment. Relationship. Substitution.
And of course, since the ministry of reconciliation is true spiritual warfare, prayer and fasting needs to infuse all parts of the process.
The thing to remember is that Paul jumps in with the gospel right at step 3 which I am calling Judgment. That is where the discussion about sin and the wages of sin and the wrath of God fit.
Now it is true that this isn’t a perfect process. It is a bit of discernment based on my own experience and it never goes according to plan. There is a certain amount of jumping around and also going around in circles and revisiting issues more than once. Granted. But there is also some truth that the process is at least somewhat linear. Some things seem to come before other things. For example, the problem (Judgment, Relationship) needs to come before the solution (Substitution) but, at the same time, Evidence and Testimony would probably come in at different times in the process and more than once.
My point is to say that in the modern world there are a number of prior questions that need to be addressed before you can really get into the gospel per se.
I would consider these questions pre-gospel issues and they fall into the arena of apologetics. It’s a good way for me to think about it. The gospel is about problem-solution but before you can talk about the problem you need some context. And for the modern person who lives in a secular humanist, materialistic world, these questions are essential.
The Existence of God
For example, the question of the existence of God. You can add the whole topic of evolution and intelligent design into the mix as well and you start to see what I mean. The Bible assumes the existence of God because it is addressed to believers but even Paul, in his speech in Athens on Mars Hill, had to start by talking about the “unknown god” (Acts 17:16-34). We need to do the same today.
Science and Faith
Another question is the whole relationship between science and faith. Are they compatible? Doesn’t science exclude faith? Is faith a reasonable idea or is it only for the ignorant and weak? Is God the great Scientist? (see The Desert Warrior Series)
Bible and Truth
Then there is the issue of the Bible and of truth itself. Is there such a thing as truth or is it all relative to our own beliefs? Even if we accept that truth corresponds to reality, can we truly accept that the Bible gives us an accuarate description of what actually happened in hisotry? How do we know that the miracles happened, that Jesus rose from the dead, that God is real? Why take the Bible at face value? Isn’t it all just subjective? (see The Desert Warrior Series)
The value of other Religions
Finally, there is the question of other religions. Why do we believe that Christianity is true and all other religions are false? This is related to the concept of truth but goes beyond it into the issue of the value of what other religions can bring to the table, if anything. Aren’t all religions basically the same? Don’t they all promote morality? Doesn’t morality bring us to God? Is there really any difference between Christianity and other religions?
Note: The question of Evil and God’s role in dealing with it is not a pre-gospel issue but rather directly affects the gospel message. We will deal with that issue in more depth later.
These four questions (and you could probably add a few more) are the stuff of apologetics. Apologetics just means giving an answer to questions that the world is asking. It is about pre-gospel questions and they deserve to be answered.
My own approach to apologetics is called Distinctive Apologetics. I am not trying to convince anyone. I am, merely, making distinctions between one thing and another. I am simply saying this is Christianity and that is not. You can believe it or not but, at least, let us get things straight so you know what you are rejecting if that is what you decide to do.
There are two advantages (maybe more) in taking this approach. Once people know that you are not trying to convince them and that you are only clarifying things for them, they tend to listen to you more. Secondly, a big part of the problem in evangelism is simply that people are rejecting something very often that is not Christianity. Many people have such a screwed up idea of who God is that I would reject that god as well. Sometimes they describe God and I would have sworn they were talking about the devil. Getting things right is a big part of the process and stories and examples and testimony and evidence can all help in the process.
But don’t forget that evidence will never convince anyone to become a Christian. It isn’t a question of evidence but a question of faith. It isn’t about propositional truth but rather about a relationship of trust and an understanding of the gospel.
So, although we dealt with the existence of God at length and we are now acknowledging that these other pre-gospel issues are also important (and will come up later again in the letter to the Romans), for now we will get on with the gospel as Paul describes it starting with the wrath of God against sin in Romans 1:18.
Put on your seatbelts because you’re in for a bumpy ride.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, thank you for making me a part of your rescue team, Lord. It brings great joy and meaning to my life to be involved in something so important. I am sometimes overwhelmed, myself, with all the questions that I have. Thank you for that. I know it is far more dangerous to have no questions and treat everything as if it isn’t that important, but it is. It is the most important thing in existence. There are two things in this world that are eternal. Humans and the Word of God and you have given me the opportunity to work with both of them. Thank you. In your name I pray. Amen.