“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.” (Romans 1:16 NIV).
Step By Step Walking the Roman Road
We have come to the finish of our study on the Book of Romans. There were many parts that we did not touch but our goal was to give new life to the use of the Roman Road of Salvation in terms of Kingdom Evangelism. Here is an outline with a paragraph giving you the gist of what was talked about in each blog. My prayer is that you find it useful and will refer to it often as you learn how to talk about the gospel with the modern unbeliever.
- All Roads Lead to Rome – Ash Wednesday (story) (Romans 1:16) Maybe all roads do lead to Rome. At least they used to. But it certainly isn’t true that all religions lead to the same God. In fact, that is one of the main points of the Letter to the Romans written by the Apostle Paul. There is only one gospel and it is the power of God for salvation and he is not ashamed of that exclusivity. He would die for that exclusivity, for the priority of Christ, for the difference that he makes in the lives of his people.
- Let me Introduce myself…. (Romans 1:1-7) Here at the beginning of the Book of Romans, Paul finds it necessary to introduce himself. After all, he has never met these people. This letter was probably written around 57 AD from (or around) Corinth just before Paul went to Jerusalem with the offerings he had collected for the church there which was in dire straits (Acts 9). Little did Paul know that his trip to Jerusalem would result in his arrest and, since he was a Roman citizen, he would be forcibly sent to Rome to face the emperor.
- ….and my Ministry (Romans 1:8-10) This is where Paul gets personal in his letter to the Romans. He demonstrates his close relationship with God whenever he opens up his life to others. He isn’t merely thankful, he is thankful to God. He doesn’t just want to visit them, he prays “constantly” and “at all times” for their spiritual well-being and for his desire to travel to Rome and do ministry with and among them. Prayer is always at the heart of Paul’s spiritual conversation and that, more than his doctrine and intelligence, is the mark of his walk with God. And it isn’t religious praying, either. Paul serves his God “with his whole heart.” That is a mark of a true disciple.
- The Fight with Peter (story) (Galatians 2:11-14,21) Admittedly, this story is a piece of fiction but it gives some life and imagination to what might have happened. The story in Galatians 2 is enticing and I always wondered what actually happened after Paul confronted Peter in front of everyone. One thing I know for sure, Paul believed that this was an issue of immense importance and that it was a denial of the gospel itself. I wonder if we are so fervent about the gospel or whether we even understand the gospel enough to recognize it when it is being denied. A good question.
- Getting our Hearts in the Right Place (Romans 1:16) Yes, I know. I am using the same theme verse for the Book of Romans again. I will do the same thing tomorrow. I’m not ready to move on just yet. I need to get my head on straight before I venture into the deep waters of the gospel as Paul explains it in the next few chapters. And the best way to get my head on straight is to get my heart in the right place. Once we accomplish those two things – head and heart – we will be ready to hear what God has to say to us through Paul.
- Getting our Heads on Straight (Romans 1:16) Let us continue to discuss the Introduction to the Commentary of Martin Luther on the Book of Romans. Now that we have our heart in the right place, all the rest of these BIG words will fall into place. Let’s take them one at a time, starting with a quick review of the concept of law. Law, Sin, Grace and Gift, Faith, Righteousness, Flesh and Spirit.
- ….and the Demons tremble. (James 2:19; Hebrews 11:1,6) James says “You believe that there is one God. Good!” Which is to say, your believe in a monotheistic God is not the issue. It’s great that you believe in God. “Even the demons believe that – and shudder!” (James 2:19 NIV). Some translations say “and they tremble.” In other words it isn’t enough to simply believe in the existence of God. That is a given. The question is one of your relationship with God who is there.
- The 5 Pillars of Evangelism (I Peter 3:15,16) When you’re single, you just don’t get what it’s like to be in love. Your single friends give you a hard time about your wife and call her the “ball and chain” and seem to think that being married is some sort of hardship. But they just don’t get it. I want to be at home with my wife. I love her. Being with the guys once in a while is great but I don’t think of my relationship with my wife as a slavery or a hardship. I want to please her. I want to do things with her. I’m not interested in other women or flirting with the barmaid on a Saturday night. I want to be at home. (cf. The five pillars of Evangelism – Evidence, Testimony, Relationship, Judgment, Substitution.)
- Truth in Flip Flops (story) (Job 19:25-27) Imagine for a moment that you are in a huge hall with a very large oval table in the center of it with plush chairs all around. You might think that this is a meeting of the G7 or a symposium on some weighty matter facing mankind. You would not be far wrong.
- A Conversation with Jesus (story) (Genesis 3:20-24) Would you rather manage and survive without me – even with my help – or live with me, conscious of me, living under my authority, as my children, my friends? He wouldn’t look at me. His face was turned away. Did the answer matter so much? I was silent. I could answer for myself easily enough but I knew that many others would answer differently. That’s always the question, isn’t it? What do you want? Do you want a relationship with your Creator God? That’s a question for lovers, even friends, a question every heart asks of another, a foundation for community, for fellowship, for a life lived together.
- Jesus was an Alien (story) (Romans 16:25-27) Jesus was an alien. It just came out. Even I was surprised. I didn’t know what to say. Silence reigned for the time it took my words to register, and then a loud guffaw came from the Secular Humanist, Richard, as his hand slapped the table hard. I knew it. He looked around at the other delegates. Jesus was an alien. I knew it was something like that. All this talk about God and the supernatural and it was aliens all along.
- Don’t kill the Messenger (dialogue) (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:14,15) Don’t worry about it. I was like that for three months when I was first studying all this stuff in Bible College. It was like there was this battle raging inside me. On the one hand, I was fascinated with all the answers I was getting and they were actually good answers that made sense. But on the other hand, I didn’t want to give up my independence and start to make changes in my life. I wanted it but I didn’t want it, you know?
- The Holy Hiatus (Romans 13:10b, 11, 12) 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. Questions like the existence of God, science and faith, Bible and truth, the value of other religions, all have to be answered before the modern unbeliever will understand the gospel. (cf. Distinctive Apologetics).
- The Dilemma of Love (Romans 1:18-23) And that, right there, was God’s dilemma. He could no more deny his justice than to deny himself. God knows, even if we don’t get it, that His justice was also a true expression of His love. The problem was his children. There were people involved. Justice might be appropriate but it would destroy the very objects of his love. God’s dilemma was resolved in Jesus Christ, in his self-sacrifice on the cross as our substitute, thereby satisfying God’s justice and saving us from our sin. Ingenious. Love was able to do what the almighty power of God could not do. Save us from our own wickedness and sin.
- The Enigma of Evil (Romans 1:18-23) I also remember thinking at the time that the world, in general, had a very inadequate concept of evil. Evil is a bad word these days. We might call Hitler “evil” or some pedofile that molests children, but generally it is a word that is reserved for the worst of the worst. A little bit like the word “saint.” Most people reserve that word for someone like Mother Teresa not just for anybody. It’s almost as if the majority of us live in “the middle” neither very good nor very evil. Just mudane and normal. That is not how God looks at it. Not at all.
- Dr. House. Brilliant. Idiot. (story) (Romans 1:18,20,22) Dr. House is an idiot. A brilliant idiot, no doubt, but still an idiot. For some reason we like him. He is fascinating and utterly dedicated to both rationality and reality. No time for games. Except his own. Of course he isn’t real. That’s not the point. He is all of us and none of us. He is the epitome of human scientific achievement and, at the same time, a personal, relational disaster. He is a train wreck that we can’t take our eyes from. He is the doctor we want when disease threatens but don’t want as a friend, a lover, or even a next door neighbor. He’s too unpredictable, even dangerous. We love him and we hate him. His mind is sharp, his sarcasm cutting. Mostly he’s right. He reminds us of ourselves at our best and at our worst. (cf. the Humpty Dumpty Principle)
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (dialogue) (Ecclesiastes 12:1,2,6,7,13,14) Well, it seemed like everything went to hell in a handbasket awful quick. One minute everything was fine. Then we had another fight. I said some things I shouldn’t have. She tells me she’s pregnant and before the night is over she is considering an abortion and is sitting in some dingy clinic somewhere. John was exasperated but he couldn’t stop talking. I mean. How is that possible? How can things be more or less fine and then go so bad so quick. What’s wrong with us? What’s wrong with me?
- No Wonder God is Upset (Romans 1:18-23) The very act of taking this power to decide on our own what is good or evil for us was a selfish betrayal of the one who loves us the most. What hope is there that we would ever get it right? Only God is capable of knowing and acting upon what is good and what is evil. But that is the heart of “godlessness and wickedness.” Because we have cut God out of our lives (or we try to at least), we find ourselves living wicked (unloving) lives towards God and towards others. No wonder God is upset.
- Suppressing the Truth (Romans 1:18-23) The first element that Paul talks about is the realization that people “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (vs. 18b). What an interesting line. Do you think it is true? Let’s explore it a bit further. After all, the concept of “suppressing” things isn’t too foreign to us, is it? People suppress their emotions. People suppress their memories, especially if there is trauma involved. And we all know that people suppress things without realizing that they are doing so.
- A Law Unto Themselves (Romans 1:18-23) In the very act of wickedness, we are suppressing the moral authority that the existence of God demands of us, according to Paul. We may not be aware of it always, but it is still true. At least in terms of our relationship with God. That is a horrible thought, isn’t it? That we are so dulled in our thinking that we aren’t even aware of the effect of our actions on ourselves or our future? It reminds me of addiction behavior. People are so addicted to certain behavior and find it so enticing that they give no thought to the future.
- Intelligent Design for Stupid Fools (Romans 1:18-23) No. I am not trying to be rude. I’m trying to reflect what the passage above says about humans from God’s perspective. Twice we are called fools and, at least once, it is the opposite of being wise. Therefore, we are considered to be “stupid fools” especially in light of the ongoing revelation of God in creation whom we replace with “images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (vs. 23).
- Evil is it’s Own Punishment (Romans 1:18, 24-26, 28, 29a, 30b, 32) And one thing we know, since the world continues on with its evil, is that He has a plan. And we know that plan includes all of us (not just me) and that none of us are innocent (including me) and that God’s plan is to save as many as possible through the work of Christ on the cross. All evil, all wickedness, all problems and hurt and suffering is subject to that great design of God. And if we truly understood the eternal life and death nature of the battle we face, we would agree with God that it is worth it.
- The Revelation of Wrath (Romans 1:18, 24-26, 28,29a,30b,32) I want to go back to verse 18 that tells us that the wrath of God “is being revealed against” the godlessness and wickedness of men. That particular verb is very interesting. Obviously, it gives us the idea of a continuous reavealing over time so we can assume that whenever we see the godlessness and wickedness of men, we can reset assured that the very fact that they are getting away with it and it is going unchecked, is a sure sign of the wrath of God against them.
- But for the Grace of God (Romans 1:18,24-26, 28,29a,30b,32) Evil is relational, progressive and has eternal consequences. We don’t take sin seriously enough (even in the church). We justify ourselves when we have no excuse. We rationalize our mistakes (and call them mistakes instead of sin). We acknowledge that the world has problems but believe the fantasy that science and technology (our modern gods) can solve the problem because we refuse to recognize that the problem is within.
- I’m a Good Guy (dialogue) (Romans 1:16) If you ignore your wife and treat her badly for a long time, would you be surprised that there are consequences? Maybe she leaves you or you get a divorce or something? Well, with God it is the same thing. But if you came to me in the middle of the process and asked me for help, could I potentially get you and your wife back together? It depends if she wanted to get back together. In this case, God is saying that He wants to get back together with you but it has to be done in the right way and for the right reasons and your heart has to be in it.
- The Sin of Jonah (Romans 2: 1-5) That is the sin of Jonah. A hard-hearted, judgmental attitude toward others who were not like you while, at the same time, thinking you had some sort of special dispensation from God that allowed you to act with arrogance towards everybody else. Between the Judaizers on the one hand (Jewish Christians who insisted every Gentile had to become a Jew first to become a Christian) and non-believing Jews who wanted to eradicate this new sect, things were not easy for the Gentile Christians in Rome. Paul wasn’t just trying to make peace. He was setting the record straight and calling sin what it was and the Sin of Jonah was a big problem in the early church (and to some degree in every church).
- Reality is the Ultimate Judge (Romans 2:1-5) So, don’t come around trying to say that God isn’t fair. God will not be mocked. He deals in facts, in realities, in truth. There will be no question of whether or not you are guilty. In fact, you will agree. Your knee will bow and you will confess that He is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11 NIV). Not out of coercion but out of the acknowledgment of simple truth and reality.
- Obedience is the Ultimate Goal (Romans 2:6-13) In other words, those who demand that they be judged according to their deeds, as if by so doing, they think they will be absolved, are sadly mistaken. It is not the degree of our morality (obedience) that is at stake but the nature of our godlessness (relationship) which is what matters. Yes, obedience is the ultimate goal but it is an obedience of love not of rules, an obedience in the context of forgiveness (even in the OT) not an obedience that claims righteousness for itself. After all, morality does not produce a relationship, a relationship with God produces morality. In the same way that godlessness produces wickedness, so does a new relationship with God produce righteous living. But the path is always through the cross.
- The Heart is the Ultimate Standard (Romans 2:14,15) Here Paul is showing that God is being more than fair with everyone in the world, whether they have heard of Christ and the Bible or not. And well he should. God doesn’t want anyone to perish. That’s the whole point. So Paul says that God will bend over backward to give us every advantage in the judgment on our deeds (the moral judgment). Whether it is condemning adultery, taking care of the elderly or the poor and the needy, or putting murderers in prison, pagan society has some things in common with the Jewish law.
- Blasphemer or True Heart (Romans 2:23,24,28,29; Romans 3: 1,2,20) Paul claims that a man is not a Jew just because of his ancestry or because he was circumcised but that it was a question of the heart. Is that true? Of course the Jews who haven’t converted to Christianity would be totally against the idea. They would scoff at Paul’s interpretation of the Old Testament or of God’s opinion on the matter even though they repeat the Shema almost every day. We have Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes in every church but Jesus calls us to be disciples with true hearts wanting to follow Christ.
- Sin Addiction (dialogue) (Romans 3:10-18) So, it’s like we already are vampires and werewolves, hungry for power or filled with uncontrollable desires not concerned about who we hurt or how we get what we want? It may sound a bit extreme, although some people do fit that profile. But we are all like that to one extent or another. The question is why? I suppose because we are godless and therefore no longer really human.
- Friendship with God (story) (Romans 3:21-26; Romans 5:6-8) Abraham was called the “friend of God” (Genesis 18:1-18; 2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23) and Jesus tells us that he wants to become friends with us as well (John 14:21,23). This is the great change that God is making in the world, transforming hearts, one at a time, from enemies into friends. Nothing less.
- Breaking the Alliance (story and dialogue) (Romans 5:1-11) Our first parents created an unholy alliance with the Evil One. They traded faith and trust in God for doubt and unbelief. It was safer to decide things for themselves than to trust in the love of a Father who, according to the serpent, was holding back good things from them. Although they had not intended to choose the serpent over their Father, they chose the same path as the Evil One and so created the unholy alliance with him that would be their downfall.
- Religious Virtues (Romans 5:1-11) The religious virtues are faith, hope and love. They are called that because they just show up when you become a Christian. You didn’t really do anything to create them. They are a package deal. You have faith. It was a gift. You have hope which is the certainty that God will keep his promises to you and save you from the consequences of your godlessness and wickedness. You have love. Not just for yourself but for others, even strangers, maybe even enemies. There are other virtues of course but I want to point out that the three religious virtues of faith, hope and love produce in you other fruit of the Spirit such as peace, gentleness and kindness. But they also produce joy, which is what we have been talking about here.
- Spiritual Warfare (story) (Romans 1:16; Ephesians 6:12) I grabbed my phone and called Hank. Told him what I needed and hung up. Prayer cover was on its way. I sank to my knees and started to call out to God earnestly. Forget about a shower. Forget about eating. There was work to be done. The ministry of reconciliation was spiritual warfare and I was damned if I was going into battle unprepared. Not this time. Not ever again.
- The Path (story) (Romans 10:8-10) That’s the story of the cross. He became the sinner and we became the saints. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. But it is necessary. It reminds me of the story of Peter getting his feet washed by Jesus the night before Jesus was crucified on the cross… But once you get there, at the foot of the cross, and accept that you have no claim on God, no excuse to get you out of the punishment and wrath of God, no justification for getting you off the hook, then you are ready for salvation and not before. Then you are ready to accept that Jesus HAD to do this work for you. He HAD to take your place. There was no other way. Otherwise you would have been lost.
- The Holy Guarantee (Romans 8:9b-11; Ephesians 1:13,14) There is something that happens to us the moment we are sincerely repentant of our sins and truly desireous of a new relationship with God. Remember that it has always been about the heart. God is not stupid. He isn’t about rules and regulations. He is about love. And if we are also about the heart and not just about religion, and God can tell, of course, then something happens to us. Something physical. Something mysterious. Something transformational. We are given the Holy Spirit. We become a new creation.
- Charlie Benton. Neighbour (story) (Romans 14:15a; Romans 10:17) Just remember that the things that matter most require the most sacrifice. Don’t be afraid to embrace the desert. Pain, difficulty, and problems are generally how I get my best work done. If you’re going to help me, you need to follow me deeper into the desert. Besides you always have my promise. I will be with you, no matter what happens.
- The Sacred Moment (dialogue) (Romans 5:6-8) Well, just look at what Paul is saying here. Look at how different Jesus is from the rest of us. He doesn’t just love us, he loves us to death. He died for us. Most people wouldn’t do that for their best friend, much less for a good guy, or a righteous guy, as Paul says here. No, it’s even worse. Jesus is so crazy that he was even willing to die for his enemies, people who were still not interested in what he had to say, people who still didn’t want to follow him. His enemies for Pete’s sake. If that doesn’t prove that he is either crazy or divine, I don’t know what does.
- The Nature of our Struggle – Palm Sunday (Romans 7:14-25a; Romans 8:1) The nature of our struggle is to suffer as Christ suffered for us. It is the same but it is not the same. We struggle with and suffer temptation just like Jesus did. For him it was rooted in his holiness. For us it is rooted in our godlessness and rebellion. We struggle with and suffer the consequences of the sins of others, forgiving and reconciling on the basis of the cross. And we struggle and suffer as Jesus did, as an innocent who volunteers to suffer for the sake of others to bring them to salvation. That is our purpose. That is our glory. To be like Christ in his suffering.
- The Quality of our Struggle (Romans 7:14-25a; Romans 8:1) Let’s start at the beginning and take a closer look at this famous passage where Paul talks about our struggle as Christians. Romans 7 and 8 go together of course. The question is how to understand the relationship between the two parts. On the one hand, we struggle with sin as Christians but on the other hand, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. What’s that all about?
- Walking in the Spirit (Romans 8:12,17; Galatians 5:6,18,25; Ephesians 4:30) There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Nobody’s chasing you. You are free to go (like in all relationships) but love compells you to stay. You belong here. You belong with us. Are we still in the mindset of needing to earn our way into heaven? We know that it doesn’t work that way but somehow we think that sanctification is a question of works, good deeds, spiritual discipline, and effort. And it is, but it isn’t. It depends on something deeper, something that comes first (cf. the story of Hosea).
- More than Conquerors (Romans 8:28; Romans 8: 38,39; Romans 8: 37.39) To struggle with life is not the same thing as to struggle with our sinful natures. In fact, how we struggle with our sinful natures will greatly improve (or not) how we struggle with life. The inward battle always takes precedent over the outward battle. In fact, God often allows the outward battles of life in order to teach us how to walk in the Spirit in the midst of real life. We know that. Still, most people struggle with life but not with their sinful nature. They are powerless in life because they refuse to learn the ways of the Spirit and access that relational power for dealing with life.
- Living Sacrifices (Romans 12:1,2; Romans 8:38,39) One of the greatest periods of spiritual power in the history of the church was in the early church, in the first 400 years especially, when the church went from a persecuted minority to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. This was accomplished really because of one thing and one thing only. Many ordinary Christians took this verse in Romans 12:1,2 seriously. They were willing to become living sacrifices and pay the ultimate price for following their Lord and Saviour.
- Love Must be Sincere (dialogue) – Good Friday (Romans 12:9-21)
If love is sincere, then it has to be willing to pay the price. Unfortunately in this life, the price for love is high. Maybe that’s a good thing. Because if the price for love is high, it will make us get serious about things. All the best things in life are free but they cost you everything. If love comes from the heart, it will take relationships seriously, life seriously, decisions seriously. If love is sincere, then people matter.
- The Secret (Hebrews 12:1,2; Romans 12:1,2) The secret is not the Law of Attraction. Once you understand what the secret is you will see it everywhere in the gospels as the background to all of the apostolic writings, the disciples efforts, the encouragements, the admonitions, the rebukes. Once you see it, you will recognize it as the heart of the gospel, the focus of the cross, the one experience of the new testament church that makes sense of everything they went through.
- Resurrection Maturity – Resurrection Sunday (Romans 7:21-25a; Ephesians 6:12) Resurrection is about life and death but it is important to remember that the context is war. Jesus was crucified, mocked, spit upon, reviled. The Devil was having his moment. Death seemed to be winning. Then the veil in the Temple tore from top to bottom. There was an earthquake. Darkness covered the earth but the demons were busy with their evil work and paid little attention to the signs that God was at work. Then there was silence in heaven and upon the earth. Three days later, God spoke, the tombs were opened and resurrection power gave birth to life. Resurrection Maturity means that we understand that resurrection only comes AFTER suffering and death. Even for us. Because we are a world at war.
- Kingdom Evangelism (Romans 1:16; 2 Peter 3:9,10) The focus of the Kingdom of God is on Evangelism. Not moral living. Not feeding the poor. Not works of service. They are all fine but they are not the focus. Kingdom Evangelism is the focus. That’s why we have been studying the book of Romans in the context of the Roman Road of Salvation. We aren’t interested in doctrine for doctrine’s sake. We want to know how to talk to modern people about things that affect all of us. Sin, Wrath, Justification, Peace with God, Sanctification, Suffering, Glory. The trick is to try and understand it well enough that we can find the right words to use when we are talking to people on the street, in the coffeeshops, online.
- Seeking Jerusalem (Revelations 21: 1-4, 9-11a, 22,23,25) Resurrection Power comes from spiritual unity and the anointing of God. There are eight things churches need to be aware of in order to have resurrection power. 1. Wheat and Tares 2. Leadership Positions 3. The Spirituality of the Pastor 4. The Spirituality of the Board 5. Spiritual Conversations 6. Preaching the Cross 7. The Priority of Prayer 8. The Religious Spirit.
- Walking with Purpose (I Corinthians 6: 19,20; I Timothy 4:8) There is a natural correlation between physical training and spiritual training in godliness. I have a three step approach. Get educated. Get organized. Get going. Without condemnation. Without guilt. Without perfectionism. But also with discipline. With self-denial. With putting to death the old man, the sinful nature through confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. It needs to be intentional. You must learn to walk with purpose.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, it seems that we have come to the end of this journey together. We thank you for whatever truths you have revealed to us through your Word and by means of your Spirit. Our hearts are “strangely warmed” as we hear this good news and we know in our hearts that it is true. There can be no other answer to this strange world we live in. Your perspective on human nature has the ring of truth to it and we dedicate ourselves to learning how to talk about your good news to the modern world. We need your help in every step we take. In your name I pray. Amen.