Summary: Introduction to the letter to the Romans
I feel a bit like we’ve just climbed on board a jet going from Melbourne to London, or we’re just setting off to drive from Melbourne to Perth. There’s a long journey before us, but there’ll be lots of exciting things to see on the way; lots of varied scenery. And by the end of our journey I hope we’ll have discovered a little more about the nature of the salvation that God has won for us through Jesus Christ, a salvation that comes by God’s grace alone. I hope too that we’ll be a bit more confident of the sure and certain hope of eternal life for all who love Jesus Christ, and that we’ll be a little more confident about sharing our faith with others so they too can share in that salvation and hope.
I thought what we might do today is to quickly go through Romans, looking at the main points of interest. If you like, I’ll be your tour guide, getting you ready for the things you’ll experience as we travel through the book.
Martin Luther in his Preface to the Epistle to the Romans begins by saying that this letter "is in truth the chief part of the New Testament and the purest Gospel. It would be quite proper for a Christian, not only to know it by heart word for word, but also to study it daily, for it is the soul’s daily bread. … The more thoroughly it is treated, the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes." Well, how can I do anything but agree with that sentiment. After all, it was the reading of Romans that became the catalyst for the whole Reformation. We can only pray that our study of it this year might act as a catalyst for our own reformation.
As we read through this letter, one thing that becomes increasingly obvious is that this is a carefully structured and reasoned discourse. One of the distinctives of the logical nature of the letter is the way that every now and then a certain word pops up: the word "therefore". So as we read through it we need to stop whenever we see that word and think about what’s gone before and how it might impact on what he’s about to say. Well, let’s do that now as we think about 8:1-4. What has he said so far and what does he then go on to say?
Now Paul knows we all have a problem. He knows that the problem we all face in trying to obey God is that we’re fallible, we all have this weakness, this tendency to sin. What we need is a new being, a new identity. It’s what Jesus said to Nicodemus: "You must be born again." The Jews had God’s law to show them how to live, but it was no use. No law-based system will ever be able to overcome our basic human failing. Only if we’re new people, only if we’re made all over again, will we ever be able to relate to God adequately. And that can happen only if someone outside ourselves does it for us. Only if God in his grace makes it possible. Well, Paul says, that’s exactly what’s happened with the coming of Jesus. There’s a new humanity on the scene. With Jesus’ death and resurrection a whole new set of possibilities have opened up. As a result of Jesus death on the cross those who are in Jesus Christ are now dead to sin but alive to Christ. And of course if through faith in Christ we too have been brought alive again then we’ll no longer do the things that go with death, but rather we’ll do what God expects of us - the things of life.