Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Book of Romans: Justification by Faith, Life in the Spirit, Weak & Strong Believers

Romans is a systematic presentation of what it means to be a Christian. Romans was written by Paul during his stay at Corinth, to the early church forming in Rome. It really outlines a deep dive into the overall theology of our faith. 

This is the beloved book of the Bible that helped transform Martin Luther’s life. Luther was obsessed with justification, how could he be right with God? He was a catholic priest, who struggled greatly to understand what salvation is. He spent time in the monastery as a monk, and he would go the priest to confess his sins multiple times a day, because he was so obsessively concerned that he might’ve done something to offend God. He would beat himself with whips, he would fast for days, he would repent all day long, and it was never quite enough. But later when he traveled to university, he at last began to study the new testament, and he found in the book of Romans, the incredible concept that we are justified by God not through our own works, but by grace given by God, through faith in Jesus Christ. Our sins, are forgiven, wiped out, and this is what grace means, to receive something we don’t deserve, we receive forgiveness, and are justified before God by putting our faith in Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther’s realization completely changed the religious landscape of the time in which he lived. A new movement broke away from the catholic church, and it became known as Protestantism. Because Luther protested against the doctrines of the catholic church.

Luther developed some base beliefs that challenged the prevailing views of the day, famously documented as the 5 solas:

Faith alone

Grace alone

Christ alone

Scripture alone

To the glory of God alone

But as much as I’d love to delve deeply into Martin Luther and the reformation, that is not our purpose today.

One of my favorite scriptures is from Romans chapter 5. It’s so incredibly beautiful. One of the hallmarks of my life as a Christian, was understanding salvation from this perspective, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” -Romans 5:1-5

One of the most important factors of the book of Romans is the way of salvation in Christ being explained so clearly. In fact “the Romans road” has long been a road map for explaining how to be receive Jesus as savior. Let’s take a look at some of those scriptures:

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord

Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Romans 10:10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

That is the Romans road of salvation, used in evangelism. But when I read that I wonder to myself, what’s missing there? There’s something missing. Well, several things are missing. First, repentance is missing, there’s no clear call to turn away from our sins and put our faith in Christ. Both of those aspects are important. Secondly, there’s no explanation of continuance in the faith. Is it just one and done? From that explanation, one might think, well, alright, I’m done here, I prayed a prayer, I confessed with my mouth, I’m done, I can go back to whatever I was doing before. But that’s not true. The Christian life is just beginning at this moment of salvation. So we have to be careful about oversimplifying the salvation equation.

But let’s dive into several concepts from Romans. First the concept of our identity:

Romans teaches that every individual's identity is with God, through Christ, if indeed they’ve been saved. Romans teaches that we are all sinners and deserve death (Romans 3:10). There is no way humanity can earn eternal life. Eternal life is a free gift from Jesus Christ, through our faith in him (Romans 3:22). Humanity could not fulfill the requirement of the law and all fall short of God's standard (Romans 3:23). All humans are sinners in identity but find true identity through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:21). Before I had my identity in Christ, I believed what the world said about me. The world constantly told me I wasn't attractive enough. It told me I needed more money, more stuff, and more power. Now I understand that I have great value through the eyes of my God. I am chosen, loved, and protected by the living God.

Second, the concept of fallen creation due to Adam’s sin

Romans 8:19-21 (NLT) says " For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay." All of creation awaits the return of Jesus Christ. It all draws from the sin of Adam, that lead to the curse of sin being placed on all mankind (Romans 5:12). This curse of sin is why there is so much suffering and disaster in the world. Civilization crumbles due to it's own sin.

And that brings us to Romans 8, the classic so often referenced chapter of Romans.

Romans 8 deals with salvation in Jesus Christ and living in the Spirit not by the desires of the flesh.

It says, Romans 8:1-2, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

And Romans 8:12-13 says, “12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. -Romans 8:12-13

Those two scriptures from Romans 8 really balance what Paul is talking about as what salvation is. We’ll get back to that in a second.

Several of the following chapters deal with holy living and Paul’s great desire to see the nation of Israel come to know Jesus. Romans 12 deals with holy living, unity in the body of Christ, and love as tangible actions. Romans 13 deals with submission to government authorities, love as fulfilling the law, and a challenge to live out our faith, because the hour is late for the return of Jesus

It says in Romans 13, “13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

There it is again, that dual focus of Paul’s letter. There is a constant referencing to this equation of salvation: Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore live your life in step with the Holy Spirit, and resist the desire to gratify your fleshly desires. Paul repeats it many times, and give instructions along these lines, explaining how both concepts work in daily practice. Remember that, grace through faith in Jesus, and living by the Spirit not the flesh.

Chapter 14 is very interesting it deals with basically what sin is, and the difference between “strong believers” and “weak believers.” This is not to say that they are physically weak or weak in faith, but it goes to a difference in appetites.

Paul draws a powerful distinction between those who are able to moderate their choices, and those who have what we might call today “an addictive personality.” You’ve probably noticed this in society and in yourself in various areas. Some people are very good at only having one serving of something, maybe ice cream, maybe one drink, maybe someone who has a strong self control in regard to most decisions they make. Paul would call this person strong.

Then there is the weak believer, this would be more characteristic of myself. These people struggle to moderate. If they have one drink, they feel a strong urge to take more and more and more drinks. If they have one cupcake, they tend to crave more and more. If they get into exercise, pretty soon they’re exercising too much and getting sick from it. So, this “weaker” believer simply abstains from many things. They abstain from sweets. They abstain from alcohol. They abstain from anything that threatens to take control of their appetites and become addictive, which is sin.

Paul writes in Romans 14, “2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?”

Me, I can’t eat anything, it becomes out of control for me. But someone who can moderate their eating shouldn’t judge me. And I shouldn’t judge them if I see them eating an ice cream Sunday or something. They have the ability to moderate in that area when I don’t.

Paul indicates this applies to other areas as well, some people think certain days of special, some Christians will practice certain Jewish holidays, others think of everyday as the same. Either way, don’t judge the other. A lot of this probably had to do with the fact that the body of Christ was at this time made up of Jews and gentiles. Jews must’ve felt much more prone to practice special days, and gentiles did not. Jews must’ve felt a desire to only eat certain foods, but gentiles ate anything, and it wasn’t a big deal for them. Or vice versa.

The last two chapters Romans 15 and 16 deal with unity in the church, serving one another out of love, and Paul’s closing remarks and greetings to the church in Rome.

In conclusion today, there is so much more we could’ve gone into in Romans. It’s so hard to go through a whole book in one sermon, so read it for yourself! Go through the book of Romans, read a chapter or half a chapter a night. It’s amazing to see the depth of theology in Romans. Truly inspiring.

My final point though is this, we shouldn’t over-emphasize the book of Romans, as if it’s more important than any other book in the new testament. That is sometimes a problem we face in protestant theology. We take everything from Romans as our way, but we don’t incorporate the gospels or the other letters or revelation into that theological perspective. That is a mistake, and it can even become idolatry, where we focus on Romans so much, we make an idol out of God, by excluding the things we don’t like from other books that don’t match our theology as drawn from Romans. Romans is no more or less important than any other book in the Bible. Always remember that. We want to understand God as he depicts himself in the entire Bible, not just the feel good verses or the books that we prefer. Amen? Amen.

Remember it’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but your response to that is to live the most holy life, realizing that if we live to indulge the sin of the flesh, we will not be saved in the end. The way of the flesh is death, but the way of the Spirit is life and peace. Amen.