I think I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I’ve been reading Romans a lot lately, and I’ve been taking some notes in the form of an imaginary dialogue to help me understand and remember it better. I thought I’d share my summary notes on chapters 1-4 with you (I’ve had more than a bit of help from the ESV Study Bible and the Proclamation Trust’s Teaching Romans series by Christopher Ash).
I find such things helpful for understanding and memory (and ultimately knowing God better) and I hope you do too.
Don’t hesitate to correct me if you think I’m talking nonsense!
But why would you write to me? I live in Rome, the centre of the world. The gospel looks pathetic compared to all this. Isn’t it a little bit embarrassing?
What do you mean? You’re faith is world renowned, and I miss you deeply- I’ve been meaning to come to you for a while, so we can encourage each other. Besides, this gospel is for everyone!
What’s to be ashamed of? The Gospel is the powerful means God uses to save everyone. Through it, God’s righteousness is revealed by faith. This is not new, the Old Testament prophets attest to it.
Ok, cool. But why do we need this?
Well, I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your attention that humanity is pretty messed up. This is because God is angry with us, because he’s made himself known to us throughout creation, yet all we’ve done is worship the things created and not the creator. So God gives us what we want. Our relationships amongst each other are twisted, even perverted on occasion.
Yes, Paul, I agree, the people who do this kind of stuff deserve all the judgement they get.
Let me finish- there’s all kinds of other stuff going on. People treat each other abominably, and no one is innocent. Therefore, your condemnation of anyone is a condemnation of yourself. While God’s judgement is not immediate, you’re still hoarding up wrath for yourself. Instead of judging and not repenting, let your what you do be evidence of your faith.
So that means if I follow the commandments I’ll be ok?
Well, it’s true that everyone is going to get judged if they don’t know them, but the same is true for anyone that knows them. But, yes, anyone who follows the law exactly is righteous. And those who don’t have the law might also be moved to follow it by their conscience. But you can’t rely on it, even if you think you can teach it to people. Everyone knows it’s impossible to keep the law, and those who don’t know it see the ones who do not obeying it and get the wrong idea about who God is. It’s like you don’t have it in the first place.
What’s the point in it then if it’s impossible?
You’ve received God’s revelation. That’s a pretty good deal. It’s a wonderful thing to know God’s word. But just knowing isn’t enough.
But he promised that he’d bless those who have his covenant. How can he say that and still be angry with those who have his commandments?
Don’t you remember that he said he’d curse those who didn’t keep his commandments? God is right to curse those who don’t keep up their side of the bargain. His punishment is just further evidence that God is righteous.
Ok, but surely if my sinning shows his righteousness, and that obviously glorifies him, how can he punish me for it?
You’re joking, right?
I see what you mean. So what advantage is there to knowing the law? Is there any way we don’t need grace?
Well hopefully I’ve convinced you that there is nobody who can be righteous off their own bat. We are all under sin, and lawkeeping doesn’t change the heart. The law exposes our sin, but it doesn’t do us any good on its own.
But how can God be righteous under this Gospel of grace you are preaching? Where is the punishment?
The Old Testament showed God’s righteousness and prophesied it. God doesn’t change. Yes, everyone deserves punishment, but his gift of grace was to redeem us through Jesus. He took the punishment, and this redemption is available through faith. Thus, God can overlook sins we’d previously committed and still be righteous.
So I can’t boast in my good works?
There’s no room for it. There is no law saying “do not boast”; rather your faith has justified you already (and don’t go thinking that faith is a work that has saved you either!), so any works you do won’t get you any closer to God. Besides, God is the God of those who don’t have the law too. It makes sense, then, that the same faith should justify both. This doesn’t abolish the law, rather it gives the law its true meaning: to lead people to faith.
Can anything be gained by being part of a particular group?
I know what you mean- let’s think about Abraham for a second. Or even other Old Testament heroes- many are saved not by what they do, but by their faith. Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness when he believed, not when he was circumcised. The promise given to him was not just for his heirs in the flesh, but to his heirs in the faith, that is, those who believe. He was 100 years old, husband to a barren woman, yet he believed God’s promise in therefore was righteous. Abraham is therefore the father of all believers, not just a select group, and so all are heirs to God’s promise of salvation.