This letter to the church in Rome is one of the most theologically rich books in all of the Bible. Before we dive into this book, it is important that we take a moment to understand who wrote it, to whom it was written, and how it relates to us today. Paul, who wrote this letter to the Church at Rome, was the rare Jewish Roman citizen, but had yet to visit the city since his conversion. The consensus among historians is that Paul wrote this letter on his third missionary journey while he was staying in Corinth. Paul eventually would arrive in Rome as a prisoner under house arrest awaiting trial based on his “appeal to Caesar” as a Roman citizen (Acts 21-28).
At the time of this letter, Gentiles formed most of the church of Rome. Early on, Rome enjoyed a large population of both Jew and Gentile Christians, but Emperor Claudius banished Jews from Rome, leaving mainly Gentiles to carry the church. Emperor Nero began persecuting Christians soon after his ascension to power, and it is in this political climate the church at Rome receives Paul’s letter.
The city of Rome was one of the largest and most diverse Mediterranean cities of the day. It served as the hub for politics, trade, and society, dispersing its influence throughout the massive Roman Empire. Think of Washington, D.C, New York, and Los Angeles rolled into one. This power and wealth combined with cultures and beliefs from around the Mediterranean world led to a list of vices the history of humanity attests to well: a thirst for violence, sexual immorality, abuse of the poor, degradation of the weak, political discord, and a lack of true spiritual faith. This is the world in which the Roman Gentile Christians lived and to whom Paul writes.
There is so much in Romans that we can learn from today. These 16 chapters, while dense with theology, are also loaded with practical applications for us. As we read this book over the next couple of weeks, pay attention to every word on the page–you don’t want to miss anything. Thanks for journeying along with us!
Read Romans 1
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s Longing to Visit Rome
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Paul opens this letter to the church at Rome by doing what he does all throughout this book: pointing to the Gospel. His life was radically transformed by the Gospel and he had been set apart as an apostle—one who had been given authority on behalf of Christ to carry this message forward. Paul makes it clear that he wants to get to Rome so he can preach this message in person, but in the meantime he is going to unpack this message via letter.
The 16 chapters in Romans are a theological discourse all centered around the Gospel message. This idea that humanity is sinful, but God sent His son to Jesus to live a sinless life, die, and rise again for the purpose of redeeming those who believe in Him is all throughout this book. In Romans 1, Paul briefly sets up that the Gospel is for everyone: Jews and Gentiles, wise and foolish. Everyone can be saved. But the thing about salvation is that you have to be saved from something. If we fool ourselves into thinking we can be pro-Jesus but not acknowledge our need for salvation we have missed the mark entirely.
The back half of this chapter is Paul’s best effort to display just how depraved humanity actually is. It starts with a refusal to acknowledge who God is from the point of creation. We fall into idolatry and create little gods all around us. We like to look to anything other than the One true God to meet our needs and fulfill our empty desires. We fall into perversion, and we chase all kinds of sexual desires as if that is the thing that is going to fulfill us. We slander, we deceive, we murder, and verse 31 even says we “invent ways of doing evil”. We creatively run from things of God and to things of this world.
Two thousand years later, the problems of this world are not all that different. We still craft little gods and run towards sexual immorality. We still gossip and boast. We still live as if this life is all there is. But the good news for us is the same good news Paul preached in Romans 1:16: “It is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes”. Even in the midst of our failures, there is hope for everyone who believes in the Gospel. That is the theme of this book and Paul will continue to unpack that idea for the next fifteen chapters.
- What did God save you from? Why is it important to remember your own depravity?
- Do you find yourself living in a way that fails to acknowledge God? Why is that?
- How does the Gospel give you hope? What are 2-3 truths that you can set your mind upon today?
Did You Know?
The origins of Christianity’s foundation in Rome is unknown. The church at Rome was composed of small groups gathering in homes rather than an organized assembly. Early tradition claims Peter and Paul both visited the city of Rome and established the first churches there, but scholars believe Roman Jews were present during the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem and returned to the capital with stories of Jesus and the apostles.
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