An Overview of Romans

April 11, 2021 ()

Bible Text: Romans 1-16 |

Series:

An Overview of Romans | Romans 1-16
Brian Hedges | April 11, 2021

Well, let me invite you to turn in your Bibles this morning to the book of Romans. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that “Romans is the greatest masterpiece ever written; it is a colossal and incomparable statement of Christian truth.” Lloyd-Jones believed that so deeply that he preached close to 400 sermons working his way through the book of Romans. In case you’re nervous, no, I’m not going to do that! That’s not my intention.

We’ve actually already begun working through Romans, and we’ve been through several short series. We’ve gone through Romans 1-4 a number of years ago, then Romans 5-8; then we did another short series on just Romans 8. You may remember, more recently, Romans 9-11. We looked at God’s sovereign purpose in those very difficult chapters. That was just a little over a year ago. Today we’re picking up the last leg of the journey, Romans 12-16, calling this series “Christianity Applied.”

There are several reasons why I think we need this series, in addition to this just being the next stage of our exposition of Romans. I think there are three reasons why this series is especially needful for us as a church right now.

Number one, Romans 12-16 focuses on the mission of the church. The church is always in danger of drifting from its mission, from forgetting that we’re here for the glory of God, for the edification of saints, and to reach the lost with the gospel. That is on Paul’s heart as he writes the book of Romans. He’s writing to this church in Rome, he’s never been there before; he’s on his way to Jerusalem to take an offering to the suffering saints there, but his real ambition is to go to Spain, to go to where Christ has never been named, and he wants the church of Rome to help him financially and prayerfully, to support him as he goes to an unreached people.

It’s still the task of the church to take the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world. We need to be reminded of that, and Romans 12-16 will help us with that. The mission of the church.

Secondly, the witness of the church. I mean something slightly different here; I mean our witness here, not so much the global focus, which we need, but also, how do we live faithfully as Christians in our own context, in our own culture? How do we live as faithful witnesses of Christ? As all of you know, we live in a changing world. Our nation is increasingly becoming a secularized nation, where Christians are increasingly becoming a minority, so one of the things we have to wrestle with his, how do we live as faithful Christians in a very secular society? Romans will help us with that. Romans 12-13 talk about how we treat those who persecute us and how we relate to a secular state. The instruction here is very important for where we are.

Thirdly, not just the mission of the church and the witness of the church, but the unity of the church. There’s probably nothing that I as a pastor feel greater concern about than seeing our church unified and growing together in grace and not divided. As some of you probably know, there’s a lot of division in the church right now—not so much in our church, but in the church at large, in the evangelical church. There are all kinds of reasons for that, but the fault lines are there.

There’s always the risk of a church being divided over secondary issues, being divided over political issues, being divided over cultural issues, rather than being united in the gospel. Romans speaks very specifically to those kinds of things, especially in Romans 14-15, as Paul is dealing with matters of disputation, these kinds of issues that were dividing the church in Rome. Of course, there was a racial divide as well between the Gentiles and the Jews, so Paul is concerned with unity in the church; I’m concerned with unity in the church, and Romans, I believe, will help us with that.

The mission of the church, the witness of the church, the unity of the church; those are issues that we need to be focused on, and Romans will help us with that.

We’re going to spend a number of weeks (probably several months, actually) working through these chapters together, but today we’re just going to do an overview. Every time I come back to Romans I feel like, “Oh, there are 11 chapters here, and it’s been awhile since we’ve looked at it!” Some of you weren’t even here in some of the earlier installments of this series. The temptation, of course, is just to go start over at the beginning again. But I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to do in one sermon—let’s see if I can do this in 30 minutes!—the whole book of Romans. I’m going to try!

The theme of this letter is the gospel. This is a letter about the gospel. The theme (and all the scholars pretty much agree) is found in Romans 1:16-17, where Paul is giving us his theme for this whole letter. The rest of the letter is really an exposition of these two verses. Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it [that is, in the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

That’s what this letter is about: it is about the gospel that is the power of God for salvation, it’s about the righteousness of God, the saving, justifying righteousness of God revealed in the gospel, and it’s about how those who are made righteous through faith are to live. So we need to understand this letter. Martin Luther actually called it the purest gospel. He loved the book of Romans, and it was instrumental in his conversion. I think the book of Romans will be instrumental in our Christian lives as well.

Here’s how we’re going to do it. I’m going to give you five key words; each key word corresponds to a part of this letter. This is basically my outline for the book of Romans. The five key words are condemnation, justification, emancipation, election, and transformation.

1. Condemnation: Our Need for the Gospel
2. Justification: The Heart of the Gospel
3. Emancipation: The Freedom of the Gospel
4. Election: Paul’s Defense of the Gospel
5. Transformation: The Application of the Gospel

Let’s take them one at a time.

1. Condemnation: Our Need for the Gospel

Why do we need the gospel? That’s what Paul starts with, after he gives the thesis (1:16-17). In verse 18 he says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

Why do we need the good news, the gospel, of the saving righteousness of God? Here’s the reason: because are not righteous; because we are unrighteous. Because the wrath of God rests on those who are ungodly, who are unrighteous, and who suppress the truth of God in their unrighteousness. Paul in Romans 1:18-3:20 is building a case against the entire human race.

He focuses first on the Gentiles in their idolatry, in their suppression of the truth of God revealed in creation, and shows that they are condemned, they are without excuse. They have traded on the glory of the creator God; they’ve worshipped idols instead.

In chapter 2 he turns to the religious people, people who have the law of God, they have the revelation of God, but though they have the law they don’t live in light of that law; in fact, they are hypocritical. They do the very things that they condemn. Paul says that they too are under the judgment of God.

He really draws the argument to a close in Romans 3:19-20. I’ll read these two verses. This is essentially his closing brief, as he has now built a case against the human race. He says, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

This is really important. One of the things that Paul is going to show in this letter again and again and again is the insufficiency of the law of God to bring salvation. The law of God—God’s law, his moral will revealed in the Old Testament, his old covenant with the Jewish people; and again and again Paul shows that the law can bring the knowledge of sin (in fact, he will go on to say that the law was sent to “increase the trespass,” that the sinful passions of the flesh are aroused by the law), but that the law, through the weakness of the flesh, could not bring salvation.

What then was the purpose of the law? You might think of it like this (just a simple illustration): the law is like an x-ray. Any of you ever had an x-ray, ever break a bone? You have to go the ER. What does the x-ray do? The x-ray can show the break, can show the fracture, but it can’t set the bone. Right? It’s a diagnostic tool. It’s a diagnostic tool, but it can’t heal.

In the same way, the law of God is diagnostic. It shows us what’s wrong with us. Through the law comes the knowledge of sin, but the law has no power to redeem, no power to save, now power to justify.

There’s a great illustration of this in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, my go-to place for sermon illustrations. When Christian goes to the Interpreter’s house and he’s going through these different rooms, all of these different object lessons in the Interpreter’s house, he comes to one room, a parlor, that’s filled with dust. A man comes into the room with a broom to sweep the room, but the more he sweeps the more it just stirs the dust up in the room. Finally a young woman comes in the room and she sprinkles the room with water, and only then is the room cleansed.

Christian asked, “What does this mean?”

The Interpreter says, “This room, the parlor, represents the human heart, and the dust is the original sin and corruption that is in the human heart. The man with the broom who came in is the law of God, who only stirs up that corruption. It’s only when the gospel comes that the heart can really be cleansed.”

That’s essentially what Paul is showing us here in the book of Romans. He’s showing us that the law condemns because of our sin, but it cannot save.

I think the first application for each one of us is just to reckon with this. Have you seen yourself as condemned, as a sinner, as someone who has broken God’s law, and that you cannot save yourself? Outside of Jesus Christ, you’re under the wrath of God. Outside of Jesus Christ, you are condemned. There is no hope for you unless there is hope to be found in the gospel. Condemnation shows our need for the gospel, but then justification shows us the heart of the gospel.

2. Justification: The Heart of the Gospel

That’s point number two; justification. This is Romans 3:21 through the end of chapter 5. The heart of the gospel.

I want to read especially chapter 3:21-26. This is a paragraph that gives us the very heart of the gospel. In fact, the preacher Donald Gray Barnhouse said that this was not only the heart of the New Testament and the heart of the whole Bible. According to one story I’ve read, when Barnhouse was a teenager studying his Bible he actually drew a heart around this paragraph in his Bible. It really is right at the heart of the gospel. It shows us what God’s solution is to the plight of human sin and condemnation. The solution is the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel.

Look at Romans 3:21. It says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…” This is not a law righteousness, this is righteousness of a different kind. It’s been manifested apart from the law, “although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.” Okay, so the Old Testament bore witness to this, but this is a new revelation of God. It is (verse 22) “...the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (all meaning Jews and Gentiles), “and are justified [note this] by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood…” That means an atoning sacrifice by which Jesus satisfied the justice and wrath of God. God put forward Jesus “as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

It’s the heart of the gospel. One of the interesting things about this passage is that Paul’s primary concern here is so different than what people in our culture, their primary concern—most people today, if you start talking to them about God and wrath and judgment, their objection is, “How could a God of love ever condemn anybody to hell?” That is not the question that Paul’s wrestling. Paul’s question is, “How can a God of justice ever forgive guilty sinners?” The answer to that question is the cross. It is through the cross that the justice of God is revealed, the righteousness of God is revealed, so that God can be just, the just judge of the universe, and at the same time he can justify those who believe in Christ. That means that he can declare them as righteous in his sight, receive them into his favor, pardoning their sins.

Essentially, we could say that the message of Paul in Romans 3:21-5:21 is that we are justified by grace alone (3:24, we are “justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”); through faith alone—that’s the argument of chapter 4, with the great Old Testament example of Abraham, the father of faith, justified not by his works, not by circumcision, not by the law, but through faith. We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Paul comes back to the work of Christ in chapter 5, showing that just as through Adam, the first man, sin came into the world, and death by sin, and condemnation for all, so through Jesus Christ, who is a second Adam, through his obedience and through his righteousness there is justification for all who receive this gift of God. We are justified by faith alone, in Christ alone, all because of God’s grace.

There’s a wonderful story that comes from the Puritan era in England. This was when Oliver Cromwell was the Lord Protector over England. There was a woman whose husband was sentenced to be shot, and the execution was to take place at the toll of the bell, the evening curfew. Of course, she loved her husband, she wanted to do anything she could to spare his life, so she climbed up into the belfry, this church tower, and she climbed up into the bell and wrapped herself around the clapper of the bell, so that when the bell would toll, her body would mute the sound of the bell, and it wouldn’t be heard.

Well, of course she was found out and taken to Cromwell. But she showed him her bleeding and bruised arms and hands and told him what she had done, and Cromwell was so touched by this that he said, “Curfew shall not ring tonight; your lover shall live because of your sacrifice.”

The gospel tells us that because of what Jesus Christ has done, the bell that tolls our judgment will never ring, because he suffered for us. He’s taken the judgment that we deserve. Now, he did this by God’s own design, because God loved us; he sent his Son to die for us. But that’s what the cross does. The cross shows us God the Son, who takes our judgment so that we can be justified.

There’s a song that we used to sing a number of years ago called “The Gospel Song,” just four short phrases, but it so aptly describes and defines the gospel. It went like this:

“Holy God in love became
Perfect man to bear my blame.
On the cross he took my sin;
By his death I live again.”

That’s the gospel. That’s the heart of the gospel. The question for each one of us today is this: having recognized yourself as a sinner, having seen that you’re under the just condemnation of a holy God, have you trusted in Christ rather than yourself? Are you looking to him and his work for your justification, for your salvation? Are you a believer in Jesus Christ?

3. Emancipation: The Freedom of the Gospel

Condemnation, justification; and then the third key word is emancipation. You know what this word means; don’t you remember American history in high school, the Emancipation Proclamation? That was the executive order that Abraham Lincoln signed in 1862, during the Civil War, that legally liberated all of the slaves. It set them free legally. An emancipation proclamation.

The gospel is an emancipation proclamation for all who believe in Christ. It declares that we are free, and that’s really the focus of Romans 6-8. Romans 6-8 shows us that we are freed from sin (that’s chapter 6), that we are freed from the law (that’s chapter 7), and that we are freed from condemnation, from what Paul calls the law of sin and death (that’s chapter 8). Let me just show you a few verses quickly.

First of all, in Romans 6:1-4 Paul raises an objection, and the objection is essentially this: If we’re really justified by faith alone, if “where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” if God saves us by his grace, then why not just keep on sinning? Paul asks the question in verse 1: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” he answers. “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Then he argues from our baptism and what our baptism symbolizes. It symbolizes our burial with Christ in his death. Verse 3, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

The argument here is that if you trust in Christ you are united to Christ, and if you are united to Christ you are united with him, not only in his death, but in his resurrection. There’s a very real sense in which the old you is dead and you have now been raised to walk in newness of life.

Then, in verse 7, he says, “For the one who has died has been set free from sin.” If you’re dead, you’re dead to sin, and if you’re dead to sin you’re free from sin, and therefore you don’t have to sin anymore. That’s what Paul’s saying.

In fact, in his application in this chapter he actually commands us to “not let sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies.” Don’t yield yourself to sin, yield yourself to God! Why? Because sin shall have no dominion over you. For you are not under the law, but under grace. You have a new master. Sin was your old slave master; now God is your master. You used to yield yourself to sin, as its slave, as its servant; now God is your master. Yield yourself to him and live a life of righteousness. That’s real freedom; freedom from sin.

Wesley said it right: “He breaks the power of cancelled sin /He sets the prisoner free.” Have you experienced that freedom? Do you know what it is to be freed from the dominion, from the rule, the reign of sin in your life?

We are freed from sin, and then we are also freed from the law (chapter 7). I don’t have time to develop the argument at all, but look at just one verse, 7:6. Paul says, “Now we are released from the law…” There’s freedom again. “We are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, not in the old way of the written code.”

Throughout chapter 7, Paul is concerned to show the impotence of the law. The law is unable to save, the law is unable to justify, the law is unable to sanctify. The law is not what we need! We’re not under this old covenant anymore; we have a new covenant, we have new power, and it’s the power of the Holy Spirit.

That leads us to chapter 8, where he says that we are freed from condemnation, from the law of sin and death. Look at Romans 8:1-2. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why? “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

Once again, Wesley had it right:

“No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in him is mine;
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine.
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown through Christ my own.”

Freedom! Freedom from sin, freedom from the law, freedom from death, freedom from condemnation.

Listen, that freedom has a future aspect as well, because down in verse 21 Paul says that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and it will obtain the freedom of the glory of the sons of God, the children of God. We’re waiting for the day when this whole created order will be liberated once and for all, an emancipation for the whole world, and we will have a part in that, as our very bodies are set free from sin and death, from condemnation, from decay. We will be resurrected, glorified, raised together with Jesus Christ. As Paul says at the end of Romans 8, even death itself cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Emancipation; that’s the freedom of the gospel, and it’s the fruit of what Christ has done in his cross and resurrection.

4. Election: Paul’s Defense of the Gospel

Then we come to chapters 9-11. These are the hardest chapters in the book of Romans, and we did a whole series on this. I think it was about eight weeks at the end of 2019. You know, some people look at the book of Romans as eight chapters of gospel at the beginning, four chapters of application at the end, and three chapters of a puzzle that doesn’t seem to fit in the middle. It’s easy to think that when you’re reading it through, but that’s to miss what’s going on, because Paul in this letter is concerned with Jews and Gentiles, he’s concerned with the promises of God to Israel and how they have been fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ, and he’s, again, answering an objection.

The objection is essentially this: With so many non-believing Jewish people, so many Israelites who have not received Christ as the Messiah, does that mean that the word of God has failed? The problem he’s wrestling with here is the problem of Israelite unbelieve, Jewish unbelief. His answer to that problem is election, the doctrine of election. That’s how he defends the gospel.

You see this in Romans 9:6-7 and then verses 10-13. “But it is not as though the word of God has failed”; that is, even though there are unbelieving Jews, it does not mean the word of God has failed. Why? “...for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’”

The basic argument is this, that salvation and inclusion in the covenant promises of God has never depended on mere physical descent from Abraham. Isaac was in, Ishmael was out. Then he shows the same thing; Jacob was a recipient of the promise, but Esau wasn’t. Look at verses 10 and following. “Not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls, she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved but Esau I hated.’”

Paul’s answer to the objection is the doctrine of election, that God’s choice, not human descent, is determinative of salvation. Now, there’s a lot that has to be said here that there’s not time to say today. I would refer you back to the sermons. If you’re scratching your head, you’re wondering about this doctrine of election, and you’re wondering about, “Okay, what does this mean for evangelism? What does this mean for the future of Israel?” go listen to the sermons. Paul deals with evangelism in Romans 10; he deals with the future of Israel in chapter 11. Indeed, even in chapter 11 he returns to election, where he says that there is at the present time a remnant chosen by grace. The whole argument is that God in his sovereign grace, his choice is determinative of our salvation, and it’s a defense of the righteousness of God in the plan of the gospel.

Paul ends this section with a doxology, and I would just say that here’s the real test in our understanding of the doctrine of election. If your understanding of the doctrine of election doesn’t move you to this kind of worship, then there’s something wrong with your understanding. Listen to what Paul says. This is the climax of his argument up to this point, Romans 11:33-36.

Having looked at God’s sovereignty, election, this mystery—all of this together—he says, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For ‘who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Who has given a gift to him, that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things; to him be glory forever. Amen!”

That’s where our hearts should go as well. When we consider these doctrines of the gospel, especially the doctrine of God’s sovereign grace, it should lead us to worship.

So, condemnation, our need for the gospel; justification, the heart of the gospel; emancipation, the freedom of the gospel; election, Paul’s defense of the gospel.

5. Transformation: The Application of the Gospel

That brings us to chapter 12: transformation, the application of the gospel. All I’m going to do is read Romans 12:1-2 and make a couple of comments about the chapters that will follow, and then end with three applications. We’re going to come back to Romans 12 and start with these two verses, verses 1-2, next week. But here’s what Paul says.

“I appeal to you therefore [in light of everything he’s already said], brothers, by the mercies of God [11 chapters of exposition of what those mercies are], to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The only right, reasonable response to the mercies of God given to us in the gospel is to devote ourselves to God wholeheartedly, body and soul. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, worship God, and be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can know and do the will of God.

Then, from chapters 12-15, and then his greetings in 16, Paul is focused on showing us what this will of God is. What does transformed Christian living look like? What does it mean to apply the gospel to our lives? Paul’s going to show us that in great detail.

John Stott in his commentary makes two general observations about these chapters, and I want you to see these. I think both are important and will help us as we dig into these chapters in the weeks to come.

Here’s the first, and I’ll just quote him. Stott says that Paul "integrates creed and conduct, insisting both on the practical implications of his theology and on the theological foundations of his ethics. In spite of our newness in Christ, dead to sin but alive to God, holiness is neither automatic nor inevitable. On the contrary, pleas for good conduct need to be issued, and reasons need to be given.” That’s what Paul’s doing; he’s making pleas and he’s giving reasons. “Thus, in chapter 12 we are told to offer our bodies to God because of his mercy, to serve one another because we are one body in Christ, and not to take revenge, because vengeance belongs to God. Similarly, according to chapter 13 we are to submit to the state because its officials are God’s ministers, wielding God’s authority; and to love our neighbor and so fulfil the law, because the day of Christ’s return is approaching. In chapter 14 we are urged not to harm our sisters and brothers in any way, because Christ died to be their Savior, rose to be their Lord, and is coming to be our judge. It is marvelous to see the great doctrines of the cross, the resurrection and second coming, being pressed into the service of practical, day-to-day Christian behavior.”

This is the pattern: doctrine, practice; theology, ethics; teaching, application; gospel, life. Right? That’s the pattern, and that’s the pattern that we have to embrace and we have to live out that pattern in our own Christian lives. The book of Romans will help us with that.

The second thing that Stott points out in Paul’s teaching in Romans 12-15 is the number of times that he directly or indirectly refers to the teachings of Jesus. This is interesting, and you can see this in a chart. I’m not going to read through it, but you can see the parallels, where Paul in Romans 12-15 (and this isn’t nearly all the references, but it’s some of them) will say something that directly either quotes or echoes the teaching of Jesus Christ.

For example, 12:14 says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” That directly echoes what Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you” (Luke 6:28). We could just go down the list and see, and there are many of these.

We’ll point these out as we work through these chapters together, but here’s the point I want you to get: What Paul is doing here is essentially just teaching us the way of Jesus. He’s teaching us the ethics of Jesus. He’s teaching us what Jesus taught his disciples about how to live, but he’s grounding it all in the work of Jesus and what Jesus Christ has done in his death and resurrection and through his Holy Spirit in our lives. In other words, he’s giving us Christian living in light of the Christian gospel. He’s just teaching us what Jesus himself teaches.

Let’s end with three application points, three things to take away today and this week.

(1) Number one, be sure that you understand and respond to the gospel. Really, this morning has been a gospel message. Condemnation, justification, emancipation, transformation—that’s the gospel. You need the gospel because of your sins, because of God’s wrath. The gospel shows us the gift of God’s righteousness for all who believe through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel then sets you free from sin and from the law and from death; it liberates you to live a new kind of life, so that you can be transformed by the renewing of your mind and live in worship of God and in love of neighbor. That’s the gospel; that’s the Christian message in a nutshell.

Do you understand that? Have you responded to that? Have you believed it? Have you trusted in Christ, given your life to him because of what he has done for you? Understand and respond to the gospel; that’s first.

(2) Number two, let’s recognize how Christian living flows out of the gospel. We’ve seen the pattern—doctrine and practice, theology and ethics—but we have to keep this in mind, and Paul will help us with this. We never move beyond the gospel. We never move beyond faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, we learn to live out of the gospel. We learn to live from our faith in Jesus Christ, so that the outflow of our lives, the obedience of faith, is all grounded in what God has already done and in this basic faith commitment to Jesus Christ.

But we never divorce the two. You really can’t have one without the other. If there is no practice, then you have to question whether there’s really faith. Faith leads to obedience. So let’s recognize this, how Christian living flows out of the gospel.

(3) Finally, number three, let’s apply the gospel as individuals and as a church. In this series, in particular, I’m asking us as a congregation to bring our minds and our hearts into alignment with the word of God that tells us how to live together. Really, it tells us how to relate to God first (as living sacrifices), then how to relate to one another in the church, then how to relate to persecution in the culture, how to relate to the state, and then how to think about differences with other believers (chapter 14) and then how to live with the unreached peoples of the world and how to think about that. It takes us through every category, every dimension of our Christian lives.

My plea is that we prepare ourselves and that as a church we do this together, that we learn to live in sync with the gospel, applying it in all of these dimensions of our lives and our relationships. Would you prayerfully do that with me as we work through this series together?

I want to end with these wonderful words from Luther. This is the very last paragraph of Luther’s preface to the book of Romans. This is, by the way, what was read in Aldersgate Street when John Wesley had his heart "strangely warmed" and he found himself to be born again. This was one of the decisive turning points in Wesley’s life, when he heard this read, and I think this is a great summary of what we’ve seen.

Luther says, “We find in this letter of Romans the richest possible teaching about what a Christian should know: the meaning of law, gospel, sin, punishment, grace, faith, justice, Christ, God, good works, love, hope, and the cross. We learn how we are to act towards everyone; toward the virtuous and sinful, toward the strong and the weak, friend and foe, and toward ourselves. Paul bases everything firmly on Scripture and proves his points with examples from his own experience and from the prophets, so that nothing more could be desired. Therefore it seems that St. Paul, in writing this letter, wanted to compose a summary of the whole of Christian and evangelical teaching, which would also be an introduction to the whole Old Testament. Without doubt, whoever takes this letter to heart possesses the light and power of the Old Testament. Therefore each and every Christian should make this letter the habitual and constant object of his study. God grant us his grace to do so. Amen.”

That’s my prayer as well. May God grant us the grace to make this letter the habitual, constant object of our study, and may our lives be changed as a result. Let’s pray together.

Our gracious, merciful God, we thank you for your word, we thank you for this wonderful letter, this masterpiece of inspired Scripture given to us by the apostle Paul, the letter to the Romans. We thank you for the many treasures that it holds and for the instruction that it gives us, and we pray, Lord, that you would make our hearts submissive to your word, that you would transform us and renew our minds, that you would help us to know and to do your will in all these different practical relationships of our lives.

Lord, today may we hear the gospel, respond to it from our hearts, and may our response be one of faith, and then devoting ourselves to your service and worship and to one another in love.

Father, I pray that as we come to the Lord’s table today we would come viewing the Lord’s table as a symbol of the gospel pointing us to what Jesus Christ has done, and also as a symbol of our unity with one another as we share in this common table. Lord, may we come with faith in our hearts, faith towards Jesus Christ, and with love in our hearts towards one another. May you be glorified in our worship here. We pray this in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.