A Letter of Hope
Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Lesson 01: Romans 1:17
We live in a world abundantly supplied with broken things. We deal with broken appliances, cars, dishes, toys, air-conditioners, computers, and about everything else except the things we hope would break so we would have a good excuse to get rid of them. Our world is also filled with broken promises, broken trust, broken relationships, broken systems of education and health-care, broken dreams, and broken hearts.
In its brokenness, the world has become immoral, self-centered, impatient, violent, and cruel. The things that should stir people to action are lost in a deep bog of apathy. In man’s desperate search for hope and solutions he only ends up breaking things more.
The reason why we can’t simply patch things up is much deeper. Man can’t repair society, or his relationships with people, or his broken attitude toward himself, until first his relationship with God is repaired.
Here’s the problem: if our relationship with God is broken as seriously as the Bible tells us it is, how can we know how to go about the repair process?
With his broken understanding of himself, and of God, and of the universe he lives in, man turns to all sorts of inventive ideas to make the problem seem better for the time. He invents religions and rituals. He holds rallies and gets stirred up into emotional frenzies. He makes strict rules, and creates support groups. Or he just indulges his own urges, and blends into the crumbling mess around him hiding his head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich. Sometimes — he tries all these contradictory things at once.
There is a better way. God in his written word has given us a reasonable and sound accounting of what is true and of what is right. However, the Bible is a complex set of 66 books which can be misunderstood when we approach them with our preconceived notions and with a severely broken comprehension.
Wouldn’t it seem reasonable that God in his infinite wisdom, in his marvelous grace, and in his astounding desire to make himself known would give us a comprehensive book to summarize the basics for us, and help us build a structure for understanding? Wouldn’t it seem reasonable that God would tell us clearly how our relationship with him can be repaired? how our relationship with others, and with the world as a whole, can be fixed?
God has done just that. He has given us the book of Romans.
The great reformer Martin Luther called Romans “the chief book of the New Testament.” The Genevan Scholar John Calvin wrote, “When anyone understands this epistle, he has a passage opened to him to the understanding of the whole of Scriptures.” A more recent writer, James I. Packer, said, “There is one book in the New Testament which links up with almost everything that the Bible contains: that is the Epistle to the Romans.”
The celebrated British scholar Robert Haldane wrote, “In the New Testament, the Epistle to the Romans is entitled to peculiar regard. It is the only part of Scripture which contains a detailed and systematic exhibition of the doctrines of Christianity.”
I consider Paul’s letter to the Romans to be the one book the mastery of which gives a solid framework for organizing God’s whole revelation. Romans comprehends and summarizes the basics of the Christian faith. Though Paul’s letter to the Romans has been studied many times, it is always helpful to sit at the feet of the Apostle Paul to study this epistle again. It is good to keep the basics fresh in our minds, and to review the answers to our common problems.
Make this studies in Romans a project for thought throughout the week after each study. Read the passage over several times. Think about the lesson it teaches. Pray that God will help you put its principles into practice in your own life every day.
This first lesson is an overview of the territory ahead. Before I go on a trip I like to sit down with a map and look over the route I’m going to take. I like to estimate how I’m going to divide the trip into sections so I can plan where to stop at night. I like to know what kinds of things we will be passing so I won’t miss things I wish I’d known about as I breezed by.
We know that the Apostle Paul traveled to many cities explaining to the Jews that the Messiah promised ages ago had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He explained to the gentiles what that promise of Messiah was so that they too could understand his important message.
Paul had not been able to get to Rome just yet. So he wrote this letter to tell them what he would have taught if he had come in person. This is a letter summarizing the Apostolic message by the Apostle Paul himself!
Its main theme is found in Romans 1:14-17
“I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ “
Paul took his text from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk. This ancient prophet wanted an explanation for why things we so confusing to him as he tried to live in his broken world ages ago. God’s answer then, as it was to Paul hundreds of years later, and as it is to us today, is that the person who is right with God will live his life trusting in what God has made known. It is more important to know what to do and to believe, than to understand philosophically why things are as they are.
The old expression “the just shall live by faith” is one of the old translations of this verse. God was drawing a contrast for Habakkuk. Those who are self-important, the proud, have a sick soul that is guilty and condemned before God. Those who are right with God, those justified, show their trust in God by living “faithfully.”
They live by trusting in what God has made known. They know that if God has not spoken it, then we can’t know about it with certainty. The children of God will content themselves with what God has said in his word.
Living by faith does not mean living blindly or believing something without evidence. It means trusting without reservation in all that God has made known, and specifically in trusting in God’s provision for sin that makes us into his children.
Paul develops his theme in two parts.
The first part of the book shows how our broken relationship with God is repaired. Jesus is presented as the Messiah that God promised to his fallen race from the beginning. We will see in the study of Romans how that promise comes to individuals, how it sets them free from bondage to sin and its guilt. We will see that there is power in the risen Savior that enables God’s people to overcome the depressions and frustrations of living as broken people in a broken world.
The second part of the book shows how our broken relationship with others is repaired, and how we should therefore live with our neighbors on this fallen planet. By the principles revealed in God’s word redeemed people can learn how to repair their lives, their homes, their churches, their workplaces, and their communities.
This is wonderful good news for us broken people in this broken world. Though we may not be able to explain everything, we can be victorious, and turn things around. No matter how bad things are now, no matter what has gone on in the past, there is hope and assurance in the truth of a Sovereign Lord whose promises can not fail.
The teachings of the Apostle in Romans show us ….
- how to personally overcome guilt and depression
- how to appreciate the world around us in a healthy way
- how to make real changes in our lives
- how to improve our friendships, and our community
- how to develop a God-based view of politics, work, evangelism and worship.
- how to find a balance between tolerance and compromise
God has provided, through Christ, the remedy the world needs. With all the confusion, superstition and doubt that collide in the forum of public debate today, the message of this book is urgently needed.
A century ago Robert Haldane wrote of this world saying, “The spirit of speculation and of novelty which is now abroad, loudly calls upon Christians to give earnest heed to the truths inculcated in the Epistle to the Romans.” (p.3)
There are speculators and innovators today, many of whom even quote the Bible, who have little understanding of the basic principles of Scripture. They dare to guide us as experts, teach our children, and run our governments. People continue to follow this advice that has caused tragic confusion and pain.
Ideas that contradict God’s truth are not just personal opinions that ought to be equally considered. They are closing in on our society to strangle out its last breath.
A person does not need an academic degree in all the disciplines of knowledge to recognize the error and the dangers in the foolish advice that surrounds us, and to learn a far better way. All one needs is a solid grounding in God’s principles as revealed in Scripture. Falsehood is stripped of its mask when it is laid against the basic principles God has given us.
There is no better way to organize our obedience than to know well the book of Romans. We are wise to covenant together to learn this book. To study it carefully, to trust in its certainty, and to conform to its teachings.
Here in this book is the most complete presentation of what we need to know to repair our relationships with God, with one another, with the world we live in, and with ourselves.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)