Summary: This message is an overview of the book of Romans and part of a 2-year study of the Bible.
Romans: A Life-Changing Letter
by, Tony Thomas
Sr. Minister, Woodland Heights Christian Church, Crawfordsville, IN
No. 45 in a series called, Route 66, a Road Trip Through the Bible
What’s the most important letter you’ve ever read? A baby announcement? A college acceptance letter? Maybe a Dear John letter? Or how about a friendly letter from the IRS requesting an audit? Perhaps some of you will remember receiving a draft notice?
If you like great endings, you might try reading Lost Letter, by Neil Mulligan. It’s the story of a woman who never knew her father, who cared for her mother just before she died, and a love-letter her father wrote before he died in WW2.
During WW2, Mary McDougal’s father fought at the Battle of the Bulge. He wrote a letter which the Army lost, and it wasn’t discovered until her mom was diagnosed with cancer sixty years later. The most important letter Mary McDougal ever read was her father’s letter to her mother.
One of the greatest letters that was ever written is Romans. It was written by Paul, the “chief of sinners.”
It was written to a church populated by Gentile sinners, urging them to welcome Jewish sinners.
That letter has literally changed thousands of lives, like Martin Luther who broke away from Catholicism. And John Wesley who launched the Methodist Revival. And Augustine who fled from a life of immorality. And Chuck Colson, the former special counsel to President Nixon.
I preached through Romans in 2012. I divided these sixteen chapters into 34 segments, and we covered this book, theme-by-theme. So let me reintroduce you to the book, the author, and the theme with five words that explain Paul’s message.
I. Introduction to Romans
1st, let’s start w/the background. The Twelve Caesars is a second century book that records early Roman history. The author is Suetonius, the Royal Secretary.
In 49 AD, Claudius, the Roman Emperor, expelled all the Jews from Rome. Why? Because the Christians protested Roman oppression. The persecution in Jerusalem scattered the Jews and some of them migrated to Rome and became violent. Like Barney Fife, Claudius decided to “nip it in the bud!”
During Paul’s second missionary journey, he met a Jewish couple who had who been expelled:
Acts 18:1 Aquila came to Corinth with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.
Because of Claudius, the church in Rome was Gentiles only, no diversity whatsoever! But in 54 AD, Claudius died and the edict was repealed. When the Christian Jews returned, there was tension!
The Gentile believers embraced God’s grace. But when the Jewish believers returned they insisted on all of their traditions. That tension produced an epic struggle!
Instead of recognizing their differences and appreciating their distinct heritages they questioned each other’s motives! They challenged each other’s convictions! They focused on their personal needs instead of finding common ground in Jesus Christ.
Eventually, the news of their conflict reached Paul’s ears and he decided to go to Rome. Ministry was no different in Paul’s day than ours. Paul intended to visit Rome, but there were daily interruptions and constant demands.
Three years later, he wrote a little letter. Romans is the most forceful, logical and articulate letter that God ever inspired! The Gospels tell the collective story of Jesus Christ, whereas Romans tells the message of Jesus Christ.
The first thing Paul does, is level the playing field:
1:14 I am obligated to Greeks and non-Greeks; to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
Paul also reminded his audience that Jews and Gentiles deserved God’s punishment and condemnation:
9 As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. 10 Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.
The next time you feel superior, think of Romans 3. Last Sunday we had lunch with our middle daughter and after lunch my grandson, Gabe, asked me to play baseball with him in the basement. Naturally, Gabe asked me to pitch to him. I lobbed the ball in because I wanted to see him hit it, but he got bored. He decided to pitch to me!
It’s been a long time since I played baseball in high school or college, and I worried that I might actually hit the ball! I whiffed a couple of pitches on purpose but Gabe could tell I was playing it safe. “Hit the ball!” he said (rather forcefully for an 8-year-old!). So, on the next pitch I swung and that ball jumped off my whiffle ball bat and literally missed his forehead by an inch! I went white! My eyes nearly popped out of my head. All I could think about was what might have happened.