This letter is about the necessity of the saving power of Jesus for all, and hence the need for the message to be declared to all. It was written to help the church in Rome, but its author, the apostle Paul, is powerfully motivated by his hope that the church in Rome will help him get to Spain to preach the gospel there.
The power of the gospel is so much greater than the power of shame that dogs so many of us. When we respond to the gospel we get included in God’s purpose and plan, regardless of our status in society. The gospel itself looks shameful in the eyes of the world, but it is the way of true honour and power!
We need to know this gospel power because the natural human condition is rebellion against God; a rebellion which has placed us under the wrath of God. As we stand in this position of alienation from God further rebellion against him is our natural attitude. This means there is an on-going spiral of sin, and there is nothing we can do to make ourselves right with God. Men and women set themselves all kinds of moral standards, which we imagine put us in the right, but whatever standard we set, it falls short of God’s standard.
This failure to live up to God’s standard applies to everyone. It applies to the very religious as well as to the irreligious. But because the human heart is so deceitful we think our standards are the right ones and can easily regard ourselves as being superior to others. Let’s be clear: Jews are no better than Romans and Romans no better than Jews – so don’t be a hypocrite! Everyone is in big trouble because no one lives in a way that is pleasing to God! Yes, God chose the people of Israel as his special inheritance, but the real Israel are those who are spiritually God’s people rather than those who are genetically descended from Abraham.
It doesn’t matter who you are, who you are related to, or where you come from – the normal human condition is alienation from God, and this is a disaster!
Into this depressing picture Jesus Christ suddenly breaks in. By God’s grace Jesus covers over our sin and has himself absorbed God’s righteous anger against human sin. This changes everything – and the way we receive the good of this is by faith.
Abraham is the great example of faith for us. Abraham-like faith means living by faith, enduring by faith, and inheriting the world by faith. It means knowing the joy of God’s love by the Holy Spirit. By faith we are set free from the old Adam-ish way, which meant death, and are made alive in Christ.
This means that sin isn’t the boss anymore. Without Christ sin is always the boss. Sin is so sneaky it even uses good things (like the law God gave to Moses) to accomplish its ends. But now Jesus deals with sin!
Those who come in faith to Christ and are set free from sin’s power are then empowered by the Holy Spirit, and led by the Spirit, with the certain hope of future resurrection. God’s people know that they are children of God, and more than conquerors!
God keeps his promises. God is sovereign and will get all that he wants. This means that ‘all Israel’ will be saved – God is gathering a great family of people to himself, both Jew and Gentile: God wins!
Surely, then, in the light of all this, we will want to give ourselves to Jesus – body and soul! We’ll want to discover and use the gifts that God has given us, for the strengthening of the church. And we’ll burn with the kind of spiritual passion that makes a practical difference to the lives of our Christian brothers and sisters.
More than that, our experience of God’s mercies will cause us to go the extra mile in loving our enemies; and the radical freedom we have found in Christ will lead us not into rebellion against earthly rulers, but equip us as model citizens.
Our lives together will be determined by the kind of love we have come to inhabit in Christ. This love is perfect and alert and pure, causing us to live in a God-rooted way, blessing our neighbour and building community.
This kind of community building love means that the strong humble themselves to serve the weak, but don’t feel belittled in doing so – after all, this is what Christ has done for us! We’re obliged to live this way – it’s our joy-filled Christian duty! We’re not to let the petty tyrannies of now cause divisions among us. If Jesus is lord of life and death he’s certainly also lord of our diaries and stomachs!
So let’s do all we can to build each other up, being full of hope as we see how the promises of scripture are being worked out in us. God has welcomed us into his kingdom, where there is righteousness, peace and joy! We need to be full of these things, by the Holy Spirit’s power.
The aim of this is that the good news of Jesus Christ might travel to all corners of the earth – that by the enabling of the Spirit the word might be preached everywhere. This is a very practical exercise though, that takes hard work and financial generosity. So don’t hold back: you’ve been blessed by receiving this message, don’t be stingy when it comes to blessing others!
We’re in this together – men and women, Jews and Gentiles, masters and servants, in Corinth and Rome and to the ends of the earth. Everyone in the church counts – those we all know and those who are in the background but work hard and faithfully for Jesus and his church: though we need to keep alert to those who pretend to be part of us but actually intend to harm us. Satan’s head is being crushed by the church, so let’s not get caught out by his schemes.
God is true to his word, revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He will strengthen you as he gathers all his people to perfect obedience in him. So worship God in Christ forever!