Sunday School Notes: Romans 1-9 Review
We started a new session of Sunday School this past Sunday. After introductions and “housekeeping” notes, we did a summary review of where we’ve been so far in Paul’s letter. I felt this was important since we had a couple of newcomers to the group; and for those who had been before, I thought this would be a good “refresher.” This is a letter, after all, and when it was originally read to the church in Rome, it would have been read at one time, so his readers would be able to follow Paul’s line of thought. Hopefully, through this review we’ll see the thread of Paul’s argument, which will help us understand chapters ten onwards.
I realize with this summary I’m skipping a lot of great and beneficial discussion points. Many of these were covered in previous notes, so please make use of the “Sunday School Notes” tab at the top to see what was said about a particular passage.
Romans was written by Paul, probably from Corinth. His travel plans in Romans 15:25-28 seem to correspond with Acts 20-26, his last missionary journey, where he spent three months in Greece. As frequently as he was in Corinth (2 Corinthians 13:1), it’s possible he used Corinth as a base. There appears to be conflict in the Roman church between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Not only can this be inferred from the letter, but the history of the period seems to support this. Claudius issued an edict in AD 49 expelling the Jews from Rome. This would have left the Roman church in the hands of the Gentile believers until the issue died with the Emperor in AD 54. The Jewish Christians would have returned to Rome to find it now Gentile. Some might have accepted this and worked with their brethren, but it’s clear some were stirring up dissension. This gives a good reason why Paul would spend a lot of time in the letter demonstrating why salvation is by grace through faith alone, that neither Jew nor Gentile is saved by works or anything other than faith in Christ, and that while Gentile Christians have the same standing as Jewish Christians in Christ, all that happened with Abraham and Old Testament Israel was not a waste of time, and the Jews fulfilled an important role in redemption history.
No-one is guiltless before God. While Paul’s comments are inclusive of Jew and Gentile (1:16, 18), he seems to lean the argument a little more against the Gentiles (note the mention of Greek and barbarians, wise and foolish in 1:14, and the condemnation of homosexuality–a practice far more prevalent among Gentiles than Jews).
God’s judgment against both Jew and Gentile is coming according to their works. The Jews have the Law, and they will be held accountable to it; the Gentiles have the Moral Law written on their hearts, and they are responsible for doing what they know instinctively to be right.
Is being a Jew of no value? They received the “oracles of God” so their place in God’s plan was important–He didn’t make a mistake with them. But they, as much as the Gentiles, are in bondage to sin. None are righteous, and there are none that seek God. All have sinned and fall short of His glory. However, justification has come through Christ. Salvation is by faith in Christ alone, not by any work of the Law, so neither Jew nor Gentile can boast.
In fact, justification has never been by works. Even Abraham was considered righteous by God on account of his faith. Indeed, the promise came to Abraham (i.e., that he will be the heir of the world) before he was circumcised. So this promise to him and his descendants is by faith, not by works.
And because our justification is by faith in Christ, we have peace with God (present tense, present promise–not a future hope based on conditions). Through the death of Christ we have been saved from the wrath of God that would otherwise burn against our sin. And this while we were yet sinners, so works can’t count toward our justification. Through Christ we have been reconciled to God. As death came through one man (Adam), life and righteousness have come to us through one man, Christ.
God’s grace is so abundant to us on account of how great our sin is. Shouldn’t we therefore sin more so we might see more of God’s grace in our lives? Certainly not! We are now dead to sin, so why should we continue to live in it? We used to be slaves to sin, but that bondage has been broken in Christ (6:6-7). Sin no longer has dominion over us. It no longer rules us. Christ is now our Lord. Why would we live as if we are still under sin’s domain? You are no longer a slave to sin–so don’t act as if you are!
Paul draws an example from the Law: the legislation that binds a woman to her husband is only in force while her husband lives. If he should die, she is free from that law and able to remarry. Likewise, the “law” that binds us to sin is only in place while we are alive to sin. In Christ, we died to sin, so we are now free from that law and able to be “married” to Christ. Is the Law sin? No–the Law names our sin. Before the Law we sinned in ignorance of our offenses. Now we can put a name to them (e.g., covetousness), and we know they are not just “wrong,” but that they are offenses against a holy God. The Law is good, but we are sold in slavery to sin. Christ sets us free from the law of sin.
Because of this, there is no condemnation for those in Christ. He did what the Law couldn’t do. The Law could only name our sin; Christ set us free from it’s bondage. And now we have the Spirit of God dwelling within us, who enables us to live for God, and through whom we are sons of God. We are now children of God, adopted by Him, and co-heirs with Christ. Our adoption is not as second-class children, or “red-headed step-children”–but as those who share the Father’s love for the Son, and the rights and privileges that are accorded Christ. And this inheritance makes all the present circumstances (church in-fighting, and persecution from outside the church) pale into insignificance. All of these things are part of God’s preordained will for the good of His people, whom he has predestined, called, justified, and glorified. In light of all this, how could anyone doubt the love that God has for us in Christ? And nothing can separate us from that love.
[Note: This is where the argument we're picking up in Chapter Ten really begins, I think.] So, if it’s all by faith, and the Jews are as good as the Gentiles what about the Jews? Has God’s promise to them failed? Paul is deeply grieved by their rejection of Christ–so much that, if it were possible, he would be accursed (i.e., he would gladly burn in Hell) if it would mean their salvation. [Interesting discussion point: did Paul feel this way because he knew how hard it was to reach people who already thought themselves saved on account of their national identity and works?] But God’s promise hasn’t failed, because not all Israel are truly Israel. Remember, Abraham’s offspring are those that are children of the promise. Being a physical descendant of Abraham isn’t a guarantee you are a child of Abraham. Isaac was chosen over his step-brother, Ishmael. But Paul pushes the argument further: look at Jacob and Esau–twins, both of the physical lineage of Abraham, both growing in the same womb, and neither with a moral advantage over the other. And yet God “loved” Jacob and “hated” Esau. God is at liberty to make these kinds of choices. Whether it’s to raise someone up to show his glory, or to harden someone to show his wrath and justice. And God will do this regardless of whether the person is Jew or Gentile. After all, the Gentile Christians attained righteousness by faith, and yet there are Jews who thought they were attaining righteousness, but failed to because they were relying on their obedience to the Law, and not putting their faith in Christ.
Chapter Ten continues the discussion of the place of Israel in God’s plan. I was hoping to get started on Chapter Ten, but we ran out of time. So next week, we’ll start at 10:1, and get as far as we get!