I want to do three things today. I want us to begin by understanding the context of when Romans was written. Secondly, let’s understand why Paul wrote Romans and the major parts of the letter. Last, let’s talk about what this letter means to us today.
I want to tell you a story and it begins a couple days after Jesus left earth. There are a couple of things going on. First, the disciples watch the leader, Jesus, leave. They go back to a small room in Jerusalem, they don’t really know what to do but stay there and pray.
At the same time, in the city of Jerusalem, thousands of Jewish people where gathering to celebrate Pentecost. This was one of their big three celebrations. It was big deal. It celebrated their deliverance from slavery and how God provided for the nation of Israel.
Then out of nowhere the Holy Spirit drops on the disciples and everyone in town is impacted by it. Thousands of Jewish people celebrating Pentecost hear Peter talk about Jesus who was raised from the dead and they believe. Thousands of people become the first generation Christians.
When the Pentecost celebration is over, everyone leaves Jerusalem to go home. The Jews who were visiting from Rome, now go back to Rome. They are excited and start a new church based on what they just heard from Peter. There are a couple of things that are happening in Rome.
First, chances are, they started with several small house churches. They didn’t have a big building with a band. They would have had several house churches.
Secondly, the Jewish Christian leaders are a group of people who were raised in church and they know all the rules. They believe in Jesus but they also believe they are special because they are good rule following Jews. To them, that means, as a man, you had to be circumcised to be legit. So they believed in Jesus but they also believed in following the rules to be legit, to be saved.
Third, this is kinda everywhere but, they would have hung out with people like themselves. That means if they were rich, they would hang out with other rich folk. If they were poor, they would hang out with other poor folk. Why this is important is, they don’t see eye to eye. They become critical of each other over the gray areas of how to live out the rules. One group would eat meat, the other would only eat vegetables and they would be critical of each other. One group would follow the Sabbath, another group wouldn’t be strict about it and they would be critical of each other.
Does this sound familiar? Doesn’t it sound your local town? Thanks goodness we aren’t them! We do it right!
So Paul writes them a letter, it’s called Romans. He writes them for a couple of reasons. He wants them to fully understand God’s grace and what it means to follow the law. He challenges them to be unified and to stop yammering, gossiping and being critical. He also wants to visit them and work with them as a base to support him as he visits Spain.
The problem is, Paul didn’t start this church in Rome. They don’t know him. What they have heard about Paul is wrong. They heard that Paul preaches about grace. To them, that meant, ‘Paul is okay to sin.’ And to make matters worse, the Jewish Romans thought the church was about the Jews, the insiders. They thought they were privileged and better than everyone else. They believed in Jesus and in the law. They were circumcised! Paul writes and says, no, the church is about allowing the Gentiles in. It’s about grace not the law.
I shared all of this, the back story, to understand the book or Romans. It’s the letter from Paul to the Roman Christians. It literally changed everything. It is the book, the letter, that we today use to understand grace and the law.
So in Paul’s letter, he begins in Romans 1 talking about the culture in the city of Rome. They failed to acknowledge God and they began to spin out of control. Because they ignored God, the people were confused and felt like their lives had no direction. This lead to them exchanging the presence of God for whatever made them happy. Over time they forgot how to be human and men where with men and women with women. As they ignored God, God began to ignore them. The culture became a cruel and cold blooded.
In Romans 2, Paul tells all the rule keeping, “I am better than you,” church people, before you point the finger at your culture, you need to know that you come up short too. Your pride is awful. Just because you are an insider, a Jew, circumcised, that doesn’t mean you are right with God. So before you are critical of your culture, you should be pointing to yourself. When you refuse to be obedient to God, your rule following won’t save you.
In Romans 3 on, Paul talks about the law and why God created it and grace and why grace defeats the law.
From Romans 12 on, Paul then addresses the gray areas of living out Christianity and how to deal with people who don’t believe like you believe.
So what does Romans mean to us?
23 Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, 24 God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. MSG Romans 3:23-24
Point 1 of Romans: It’s too big of a job for you so God did it for you.
Did you see that part, God did it for us. That’s the point of Romans. It’s actually the point of Christianity. We are so jacked up, we are so completely unable to meet any holy standard that God has. God did it for us. If you were born into the church thing, you followed all the rules, you never did anything really naughty, Paul said, “You proved that you are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God has for us.” If you were not born into this church thing, Paul said, “You have proved that you are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God has for us.” So guess what, all of us have compiled a long and sorry record as sinners, we are all in the same situation, so, God did it for us.
If you don’t get that, you will royally mess up your Christian life. Every day, you should have this complete awareness, “Being holy or perfect is too big of a job for me, so God did it for me.” That’s freedom. We call that grace.
The way Church people mess up this message of grace is what we call religion. We are supposed to experience God’s grace but we twist our God experience into a weird religious task to bang out. The worst possible thing happens, we struggle to live out rules and all along, it wasn’t about the rules, it was about experiencing grace and freedom.
Through the almost 15 years of teaching about God’s grace, I have been amazed how Church people mess this up. They strive and struggle to make things happen. They point the finger at others being critical. They lose focus on the mission of Christ. All along, the point of Christianity, is God’s grace.
14 Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God. 15 So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? 16 Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. MSG Romans 6:14-16
Point 2 of Romans: Grace leads to spiritual freedom. What you do with it, will give you more freedom or it will ruin you.
God’s grace gives you freedom from sin and all the junk that comes with it. If you take that freedom and continue to sin, you go right back into spiritual bondage and pain. We are supposed to take God’s grace and use it to continue to live in freedom to love others.
5 May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other – each with the attitude of Christ Jesus toward the other. 6 Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 So accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified. NLT Romans 15:5-7
Point 3 of Romans: Grace leads to spiritual freedom, spiritual freedom will lead you to loving and encouraging others.
In dealing with other people, remember the way Jesus accepted and loved you. Now treat others with the same grace Jesus treated you. Stop being critical. Stop being a jerk. That will create unity in all your relationships.
My challenge to you as we walk through this letter, read it slowly and read each section in different versions. Write down what you think it means to you.
It should lead you to understand and experience God’s grace. Please hear me, you should be asking yourself, is this God stuff about me experiencing God’s grace or have I twisted it all up to make it about following rules leaving me feel like I have to strive and struggle to make things happen?
That grace, if you are experiencing it, will directly lead you to spiritual freedom. It doesn’t lead you to sin again. If you do that, you are ruining everything Jesus died to give to you. Ask yourself, I am walking in spiritual freedom or do I continue to stumble around in spiritual darkness?
That grace, if you are experiencing it, will directly lead you to spiritual freedom. When that takes place, it will lead you to love and encourage others. If you can’t see the best in people, if you can’t love and encourage them, it’s a sign you are not experiencing God’s grace.