In 1552, Martin Luther wrote in the preface to his Commentary on Romans:
“The Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”
In reading Luther, there is no doubt he felt that Paul’s encouragement to the Roman believers – a group comprised of both Gentiles and Jews – captured the essence of what the Gospel of Jesus was intended to convey to a growing Christian, individually and corporately.
Rome was roughly 2,500 miles from Jerusalem, so receiving a letter from the Apostle Paul and the promise of a personal visit must have been a joy unspeakable for these young Christians. For us today, it is just as important to receive encouragement and guidance in our daily walk.
What Paul wrote in the First Century is just as true now as then. The German theologian Karl Barth wrote:
“Paul, as a child of his age, addressed his contemporaries. It is however, far more important that, as Prophet and Apostle of the Kingdom of God, he veritably speaks to all men of every age.” The Preface to The First Edition, The Epistle to The Romans, August 1918.
The community of believers is connected. No community can exist by itself and thrive.
This is why Paul wrote so many letters and visited myriad places. The Gentile Christian was a special individual separated from the rich heritage of their Jewish brothers and sisters.
To them the Gospel was like waking from a long night of restless sleep. It gave them a dawn to embrace and a hope which they had not known.
In addition, they were told that they were loved by God. If you take a moment to ponder that concept, it is overwhelming that the Creator of the Cosmos would choose to love you as an individual.
The gods of Rome, which were borrowed from the Greeks, were not all that loving to men and women. They were capricious and isolated on their Olympian hideout.
But to hear that the only true God loved you was amazing. As Paul goes on in his opening remarks, he calls the Roman Christians “saints.”
The lesson quarterly states the following:
“Saints” is the translation of the Greek hagioi, which literally means “holy ones.” Holy means “dedicated.” A saint is one who has been “set apart” by God. He or she still may have a long way to go in sanctification, but the fact that this person has chosen Christ as the Lord is what designates him or her as a saint, in the Bible’s meaning of the term.
Unfortunately, when you Google “saints” the first items popping up are the New Orleans Saints football team. In 2017, for many people, sports are like a religion which competes with the Gospel based on the amount of time, means, and mental exercises of memorizing statistics.
After football, the search for “saints” gives you a definition which only applies to specific individuals in history. The original Greek meaning has been warped into the elite hierarchy as defined by religious leaders.
The great news of Paul’s statement is that all believers are called to be saints, not just a selected few. The group of saints is defined by God – not by religious leaders.
The believer is loved by God and called by God to a specific purpose on this planet. This statement adds an element of universal purpose.
Men and women were not created just to be born, face the vicissitudes of life, and die without a future. The Gospel gives the reason that you are born and a calling to embrace a purpose for this life.
Death is not the end. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, the believer is promised assurance for the life to come.
Salvation does not need to be purchased. It was purchased already by God’s unselfish act in sending His Son to die for us, and it is offered freely to everyone.
A community of believers is tied together by the common faith they share. The spiritual heritage given to Abraham and passed from generation to generation belongs to all believers—which includes the Gentile Christian.
The Gentile Christian was as much a part of Abraham’s family as his actual descendants. This was a difficult concept to comprehend by the Jewish Christians who felt they were the special people of God, excluding everyone else.
Tension existed in the first century religious communities. Unfortunately, tensions exist today in the communities of believers.
If one allows the Holy Spirit to guide and reconcile, the tension between believers can be alleviated. Perhaps the real reason for tension is that we cherish our own opinions as paramount, because we bring our own heritage and upbringing to the discussion. One of the purposes of the Holy Spirit is to guide men and women to the truth, and the truth will set us free of our own inclinations and prejudices.
Going back to Luther, it was Romans which gave him his dawn after restless years of believing he could never present himself to God as he was. He realized that hope and assurance of salvation were offered to him freely.
With that embrace of the solemn truth of the Gospel, he began a revolution of thought about God and salvation. The Protestant Reformation was not born with Martin Luther, but he was the impetus to challenge the spiritual darkness of his day.
Today, the world lies in spiritual darkness even inside Christian communities just as it did back in the 1500s. The Bible as sola scriptura is no longer accepted in many circles.
The ultimate offer of salvation is like an unopened gift tucked away in the corner of an overfilled closet. This quarter may Romans give new life to the community of believers as that forgotten gift is opened.
George Knight in his companion book, Romans: Salvation for “ALL”, concluded chapter one with this:
As a result, hope in Romans is not some wishful thinking about the future—but rather a certainty based upon what God has already done for believers in Christ. Thus hope provides the basis for confident daily Christian living and the knowledge that at the end of time God will make all things right (verses 18–25).
Closely tied to hope is Romans’ teaching on assurance. The Holy Spirit bears witness ‘with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God’ who will ‘be glorified with’ Christ (verses 16, 17). The letter’s teaching on hope and assurance climaxes in verses 31–39, in which Paul repeatedly promises Christians that nothing can separate them from the love of that God who is ‘for’ them. With that thought in mind, perhaps we should see Romans’ teaching on hope and assurance as the apex of the letter’s discussion of salvation (Page 18).
G.D. Williams is recently retired after working in Adventist higher education for 30+ years. His pursuits include photography, genealogy, collecting antique books, and working on his old farmhouse.
Image Credit: Photo by Kate Remmer on Unsplash
If you respond to this article, please:
Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.