A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
The Rapture of the Church is getting closer by the day. There aren’t any events that must precede it, and the Church’s days on Earth are clearly numbered. Whether we’re taken up this year or not it’s certainly not too soon to prepare.
Our preparation is Spiritual, not physical, and that means getting ourselves in a proper spiritual condition to endure the time that’s left to us. We need to be clear on what we believe and why so we can speak persuasively about it when called upon to do so. We need to be strong in our faith, both to make our final appeals to those around us who aren’t with us yet, and to remain steadfast in the face of ever more serious attempts, even (especially) by those within the church, to erode the foundations of our beliefs.
With that in mind, we’ll begin a study of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the Gospel according to Paul. Our focus will be on re-visiting the basics of our faith. Think of this as the spiritual equivalent of an athlete going into training to prepare for a big event.
Paul’s Letter To the Romans
Paul wrote his letter to the Romans from Corinth in the spring of 57 AD. He hadn’t been there yet, but was looking forward to ministering to the Church in Rome. This letter was intended to lay the groundwork for his visit, to prepare the largely gentile congregation there for his arrival.
After a review of the state of the world, the first eight chapters of Romans deal with doctrine, the building blocks of our faith. Chapters 9 thru 11 are prophecy, our hope. And chapters 12-16 focus on application, by which we express our love. And so the letter can be outlined in accordance with 1st Corinthians 13, faith, hope and love.
The overriding message, woven throughout, is that the Gospel is not a set of laws to be obeyed, nor is it a creed to be accepted. It’s not advice to be taken, a religion to be believed, or a social order to be lived. It’s a message about a person, a love story written in blood on a cross of wood. It’s about God who became a man and died for us so that we could live with Him. Let’s begin.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-6)
Right up front, Paul declared who Jesus is; the biological descendant of King David through his mother Mary, herself a descendant of David’s, and the Son of the Living God. Paul would call Him the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and the writer of Hebrews (Paul?) would say that He is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of His being. (Hebr. 1:3) But the real proof of His deity came in His Resurrection, the Author of life achieving victory over death.
To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:7)
This is Paul’s signature greeting, combining the Gentile “grace” from Greek culture with the Jewish “peace” from the Hebrew.
Paul’s Longing to Visit Rome
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. (Romans 1:8-15)
Paul had not yet visited Rome and neither had any other Apostle. He had been planning to come, to make sure that their grounding in the Faith was certain. But he felt obligated to personally deliver the offering he had been collecting for the impoverished church in Jerusalem. His letter would help prepare them while he finished up his other obligations.
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 1:16-17)
This is a major point that Paul drove home repeatedly. Our righteousness is imputed to us by faith, from beginning to end. It’s how we are saved and it’s how we live. It’s not by works, lest any should boast. (Ephes. 2:8-9) Nor is it something we acquire over time, by living a certain way. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:17, 21) Our good works are an expression of gratitude for our salvation, not the basis for it.
Some have suggested that Paul wrote three letters based on this quote from Habakkuk 2:4. The righteous (Romans) shall live (Galatians) by faith (Hebrews). Of course this presumes that you believe, as I do, that Paul was the likely writer of Hebrews.
God’s Wrath Against Mankind
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)
No one can legitimately deny the existence of God, or even question it. The creation makes it clear. The fool says in his Heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1) The heart is the seat of emotion. Fools make this statement emotionally, because even they can’t make it logically. God’s existence is too obvious.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23)
Ancient man gave images he carved himself the credit due to God.
He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god.” (Isaiah 44:14-17)
We laugh at such silliness. But we’ve gone one better. We give the credit due to God to … nothing. Random chance is responsible for the universe, and for mankind. It all just happened.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:24-27)
We took the Lord’s crowning creative achievement, human life, and called it an accident, the product of chance. It had no origin, it has no destiny, and therefore is of no value, we said. And so God said, “Fine. You say life has no value so I’ll make sure you treat it with contempt and suffer the consequences.”
The sacred act of procreation has devolved into casual sex. It’s not a freedom, it’s a curse that brings huge increases in abandoned children, teen suicides, and broken homes. In parts of Africa there’s a whole generation missing due to AIDS, with babies being raised by grandparents. For others, the gift of life has become a harbinger of death. Abortion is not just a choice, it’s a consequence that not only ends a child’s life but puts the mother’s at risk as well.
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)
Things are hardly better on the religious front. We have a church without Jesus, the exploration of other paths to salvation, and the elevation of Mary in some Charismatic circles. Surveys show that 54% of pastors have purposely viewed pornography in the past year and it’s estimated that three pulpits every week are made vacant due to sexual sin of some form.
Paul wrote this letter in 57 AD, and after nearly 2000 years nothing has changed. If anything, it’s worse. His message is as real to us as it was to them. The lesson for us is found in looking for the remains of 1st Century society. There are none. The mighty Greek and Roman cultures are gone, crushed under the weight of their own depravity. How can we expect anything less?
As it was in the days of Noah, every inclination of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil all the time. (Gen. 6:5) But just as He did then, God is doing now. He’s sent another Ark, the Ark of our Salvation. And while the judgment is coming soon, the Ark is ready to receive us now. The door is open, and it’s time to get on board. There’s no limit, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13) Tell your friends while there’s time. 01-06-07