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Paul’s relationship to the Romans
At the time Paul wrote the letter to the Romans he had never been to Rome. Yet, he knew a lot of people in the church there. How did he know these people? There is one key that may help put some flesh on the context: Aquila and Priscilla. In Acts 18:1-5, we find that Paul made friends with Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth. This couple had recently been displaced from Rome when Claudius had driven out the Jews. Being tentmakers, as Paul was, we can imagine the three of them, sharing so much in common, spending hours each day in Corinth, making tents, talking about Jesus, talking about spreading the gospel, and talking about the church in Rome. Paul must have felt a connection to the Roman Christians through the shared friendship with Aquila and Priscilla.
A Synagogue lecture
As you read Acts, you quickly notice that Paul had a regular pattern when he entered into a new city. First he would go to the synagogue, like any good Jewish rabbi would, and discuss the scriptures. Eventually he would try to persuade the Jews in the synagogue that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies and that the Messiah had indeed come to establish His Kingdom. More often than not he would be expelled from the synagogue on the basis of heresy and would be hunted by a militant group of Jews (much like he was before the Damascus road experience). After being thrown out and rejected by the Jewish citizens of the town, he would turn his attention toward trying to explain the truth of Jesus to a pagan, non-Jewish audience.
Although it is speculation, a strong case could be made that the book of Romans reads much like the words and arguments that Paul must have used when he reasoned from the scriptures with the Jews in the synagogue. In other words, it is possible that Paul, in order to make a connection with the Christians in Rome, sent them a written version of his “opening arguments” that he used on all of his first contacts with new cities. You can almost hear the conversation in the synagogue as you read the letter. Paul makes a bold statement like, “a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.” (Romans 2:29) Had he said that in a synagogue can’t you imagine the awkward squirming that you would hear in the pews, and the muffled gasps of astonishment and offense? Some brave person would pipe up, “If this is true, then what value is there in being a Jew? How do you deal with that one, Paul? Tell me, how?” Having had this dialogue hundreds of times in person, it’s as if Paul is writing the manuscript of the bold statement, defensive question, and rebuttal process for the benefit of the Roman church.
Praise God that Paul wrote Romans in this way. Because he was anticipating the rebuttals he would receive, and because he was trying to build his case to an audience with which he did not have an already established relational grid, we get to hear some of the conversation on the other end of the phone. Given the more thorough and presentational nature of this letter, as opposed to the other more heavily occasional letters, Romans has been considered by many to be the “systematic theology” of Paul. Thus, it is the letter from which we can draw the most direct theological insight and application to our own context.
Overview of the Chart
In the chart we see the basic structure of this important letter.
Part 1: The Good News of Jesus’ Kingdom
The Good News about Jesus is simple. Follow the boxes and arrows and you will see how Paul presents the message. Peppered throughout the clear message are the objections and questions that the Jewish listener would have in response to the universal nature of Jesus’ Kingdom. So, the top of the chart shows the distilled, simple message. Underneath it is the Jewish argument, explaining how the Law of Moses and the history of Israel fits into the plan.
The simple message
Everyone is condemned, because all sin
Everyone is welcome to place faith in Jesus Christ and be saved
The results of faith in Jesus
- Peace with God
- No Condemnation
- Present life in the Spirit
- Future hope in Glory
How does the Law fit?
- The real battle is with sin, not the Law.
- Adam introduced sin into the world, Jesus stamps it out.
- The Law was given to intensify the effects of sin; like a magnifying glass, it reveals all the detail of the virus present in the sinful heart. Apart from the Law the diagnosis was fuzzy; with the Law the diagnosis is clear. In both cases, the problem is sin.
- Grace does not give license for sin; grace kills sin and sets us free to live in Jesus’ Kingdom
The process of transformation
- We begin as slaves to sin.
- Jesus conquers sin.
- We step over the faith barrier and place our trust in Jesus as the victor over sin.
- We transfer our slavery from sin to righteousness and submit ourselves to the authority of a new master.
- The master trains us and raises us up to the status of adopted child.
- As a child we realize that we are heirs to the glory of God and have nothing to do with the kingdom of sin, which has been destroyed.
- We live in the strength and joy that comes from the hope of Glory that will someday be ours.
Part 2: How Israel fits into Jesus’ Kingdom
- God hardened Israel’s heart in order to let the Gentiles in.
- Don’t question God, He’s the potter.
- The Old Testament predicted this would happen.
- God has not forsaken His covenant, the remnant will be saved.
Part 3: How to live in Jesus’ Kingdom
- Be living sacrifices
- Be humble parts of the larger body
- Be loving in every way
- Be submissive
- Be clothed with Christ, hoping for glory
- Be accepting of each others (Jews and Gentiles getting along)
- Be united to bring glory to God
- Be overflowing with hope!
Part 4: Personal notes from Paul
- Say “hi” to everyone
- I’m planning to visit you after I drop the money off at Jerusalem. Then I’ll go to Spain.