Summary: What is the destination of Romans? Rome?
The Destination of Romans
You might think it strange that I am looking for the destination of Romans in the eighth chapter of Romans. Usually when we talk about destination in the epistles, we are discussing to whom the letter was sent. From there we analyze the text for clues as to why this letter was written to them. So if we were looking at Romans in this way, we would find the destination in 1:7 where is mentions Rome. We might even note that there are some manuscripts which omit Rome which causes us to speculate another destination(s).
Whereas, study of this sort can be helpful. We are overlooking a far more important destination of the letter. Theologically speaking, where is Paul going? We know the importance of the Gospel to Paul, but what is this good news from God? This also becomes a matter of some debate as we try to find the center of Romans. Is the center of the gospel “justification by faith?” Being that this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, this theme is getting additional scrutiny. If we look at this from the view of Luther, a view that we all come from, then finding justification for our sins in the presence of God who is judge is very important. Making sure we get to heaven is important.
I hope you will not dismiss me from being a Reformed theologian by suggesting that even though justification by faith is existentially important to us and to God, it is not the end of the gospel but the beginning of it. A newborn child is certainly needs-centered and selfish. That comes with the territory. It isn’t wrong. So when we look at it from the perspective of the new birth, what use is anything else we can learn from the gospel if we aren’t on that good old gospel ship?
Instead, I intend to propose that it is this passage from Romans 8 which is the center of Romans. It is the proper destination of the gospel. Justification, sanctification, the Jewish-Gentile issues, spiritual gifts are then means to this end. These items are pre-destination. They are steps along the way. It is important when going on a journey to have the destination in mind. Although I have been known to take mystery trips with my wife in the car without any particular destination in mind, this is not the best approach to take with God’s Word. When we get good and lost, my wife will ask me where we are, My answer like the stereotypical male who does not want to admit that he is lost is: “We are here.” She relies to that: “Do you know where here is?” We will get confused in our study and perhaps get things wrong unless we have the destination in mind.
The other point we need to understand when using a map is where we are. In the case of the Gospel, what is the beginning? Many think that it begins with Jesus in the New Testament. But Jesus points out that it actually begins with the promises of God in the Old Testament. It starts with God who created a perfect universe from nothing. The earth was part of this universe. There was a fall in heaven caused by Lucifer in which a third of the angels rebelled against the authority of the Creator. There was also a fall on earth as Adam and Eve disobeyed the commandment of God. Paul goes here in the 5th chapter of Romans when he compares the disobedience of Adam with the obedience of Christ. Then in Genesis 3:15, we get a promise of restoration. Through the seed of a woman, a child would be born who would bruise the serpent’s head. This promise is further refined throughout the Old Testament and was fulfilled by the incarnation, life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.
So in one way, all that was necessary for our salvation was provided in the historical Jesus. This is indeed good news. But this is not the end of the story. The end of the good news is a restored creation. This is a full restoration to the perfect obedience and harmony at Creation. When we get to Romans 4, we will see that the final state of creation will actually be more glorious for us than it was in the Garden of Eden. This is where the gospel road is taking us. Parts of the gospel explain the necessity of being on that road, how to get on it, how to know we are on that road, and what we are to do while we are on it.
The gospel, in particular, is centered around the greatest of the Father’s creations, humankind. It addresses God’s plans for his people whom he has chosen for Himself. In the end, it reveals our being forever united in Christ in a harmonious universe under which there is no more curse. We have to keep this in mind. The Gospel includes us by God’s grace, but it is not just about us and our need. It is about this grand and glorious plan of God who instead of trashing His creation and starting over, chose to redeem all of creation.