From guilt to glory
This week we're moving on to Romans in the church reading plan. Romans was written by the Apostle Paul around 56 AD during his visit to Corinth, which realtes to Acts 20 before he makes his final trip to Jerusalem. In his opening words Paul seems confident in his calling to the Gentiles (Romans 1:13) and assured that God has saving works to do among those who are not of Israel. He has come to understand that in the gospel is the power of God to save all who believe (1:16).
Paul knows that only God can save the world yet knows he lives in a world which easily forgets. He explains what has ocurred in the society of his day as the effect of idolatry and so the principle issue for Paul is not addressing the moral list which can be seen in Romans 1 but bringing his readers to a knowledge of the transforming love and power of God.
The problem is not that people commit sins, it is that they do not know who God is.
In Romans this is not merely a Gentile problem but also a Jewish one. The fact of the present age being so corrupt is because the people of God have not known God and therefore have not fulfilled their calling to be a light to the world and the Gentiles have not obeyed the basic promptings of their consciences. The lack of knowledge of God is universal and so Paul expounds the Gospel in this letter in such a way as to demonstrate how all people can come to know the love of God.
In this endeavor Paul goes to great lengths to explain that performance according to conscience for the Gentile, or to the Law for the Jew is not the same thing as reconciliation with God and therefore will not save.
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3)
Paul holds up Abraham as an example to both the Jew and Gentile as the one whose relationship with God was founded upon his trust in God's promise. One of the central concerns of Paul's writing in this letter is to explain how the Jews exist as a unique people yet this does not suggest that the Gentiles are outside the possibility of such a saving trust in God. In the subsequent discussions around law, circumcision, and Jewish customs Paul desires to set all of these things as secondary to Abraham's saving relationship to God by faith. If the problem in Paul's mind is the lack of knowledge of God as opposed to the moral failure of humans, then the solution is the restoration of a true knowlege and saving faith in God as opposed to the works of the law. For Paul the law does not exist in order to fix the world or to make people perfect but rather to testify to God.
Because Abraham's righteousness, his relationship with God, is founded on faith and not on being Jewish (circumcision) then it is possible that Jesus can be for all and not only for the Jews. If Jesus can be approached by all, through faith like Abraham's, then all can be part of the new humanity begun with Jesus' resurrection. This is why Paul makes refers to Adam, to point out that the God of Abraham and the Jewish people is also the God of all people everywhere.
The fact of our relationship with God being founded on faith and not on the law does not, for Paul, excuse us from living in obedience to God. After the reader has understood how they are justified by faith (brought into the loving embrage of God not be earning but by trusting) then they might think about living as a member of God's household, so to speak. Paul knows the hardship of this and shares the memory of his frustration as an encouragement, to know one is never alone in their struggle (Romans 7:13-25).
Paul teaches his reader that despite setbacks in obedience or in holiness God is with his people by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is insistent that the Christian's belonging to God is grounded in God's love and work on our behalf, not on what the church can achieve or on the individual's attempt at holiness. Because God is with his people, Paul encourages his reader to trust that there is always more glory to be revealed and more wonderful things to come.
Romans 1-8 transports the reader from the misery and pain of the present age to set their mind the wonders which are to come and are being revealed now through God's power at work in the world and through the church. God is more comitted to his people than his people are to him and therefore there is nothing which can separate them from the love of God in Christ.