It helps to read the Letter to the Romans as a symphony in four parts, Romans 1-4, 5-8, 9-11, 12-16. When read in parts, we begin to see that Paul is telling the BIG Story of salvation for all people. To allow this writing to speak afresh into our lives, we invite you to look for themes, ask questions, wrestle with the text, pray, read it again. We encourage you to not only read Romans but listen online. How do we need the message of the Gospel today?
The Letter to the Romans — is a story of a God who is deeply and abidingly committed to keeping the Word God spoke long ago and that is echoed throughout creation — a God who keeps his promise that all people, all nations will have access to the good news that they are God's created ones, who matter. Embedded in the sometimes complicated style of Paul's writing, is the Big Story of how God reveals and fulfills this promise through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and provides a new way of being together through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In this story we have these two groups of people who have heard the gospel of Jesus, but are having a hard time living into the story they have embraced as true— because they are having a hard time embracing one another. They are both a part of the newly formed 1st century church but both groups are vying for first place in the heart of that God. As if they could compete for such a place…but the disciples were the same with Jesus!
The Jewish believers – are holding tight to a very long history with God. Okay, yes, Jesus is fine and good but, remember, they seem to be saying: we are people of the law…the law is our identity. The Gentiles, boast in their new status — They are the new kids on the block. They don't have the baggage of the past. Perhaps they are boasting in grace…. The more they sin, the more grace can abound. Their identity is that they don't need the law or tradition. They certainly don’t need circumcision or any of these food laws!
And, into their struggle, Paul tells them there is only One story and it is the story of the cross of Jesus. There is no other story, in fact. When they call upon the name of the Lord, their new identity is through the cross and to be joined as a new people. This is the way to righteousness.
As Romans 3 states so powerfully, both Jews and Greeks –are all under the power of sin – no one is righteous…not even one. Or as the Message translation says: Whether insiders or outsiders, we all start out in identical conditions — sinners. The playing field is level, Paul writes in Romans 5…'while we were still sinners …Christ died for us. Jew, Gentile, Insider, Outsider.
And, there at the cross, Paul states in Romans 8 "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." God has done a new work of taking people who were estranged from one another and makes them a New People…a new community…God's People.
For, Romans 10 states: There is no distinction (no matter what our back story) between any of us..For the same Lord is Lord of all and generous to all who call on his name.
The challenge Paul lays out to these first century believers is this, will you live in the BIG story of the grace of Jesus Christ? Will you receive the Second Chance that Jesus offers to live by His Spirit?
If so, then Romans 12 provides a way to respond.
Just as in any good story, there comes a point after the crisis has ended, when the question must be asked: What is next for our heroes? How will Dorothy live back in Kansas? How will the scarecrow lead now that he knows he has a brain? The tinman, now with a heart?
Romans 12, asks us the same question: The crisis is over. There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus our Lord. How then will you respond?
This passage has so many rich words and phrases that you could stop to meditate upon. Rather than analyzing each word, there is one overarching invitation that I would encourage you to focus upon and let the words of Romans 12 hang on this one invitation:
Love as you were created to love!
Then Romans 15 gives us imagination of how to live outwardly “welcoming one another as Christ has welcomed you.”
And, Paul will then invite them boldly -- will you join me in my assignment and bring witness that Jesus is the one who brings joyful hope and abiding peace?
Will you participate in a new humanity -- that is not based on ethnicity, heritage, gender, status or skin color?
And, Romans 16 concludes with greetings from a diverse community of faith that is living into this message of good news for all as they seek to form society anew -- and radical to the culture around.
The Letter to the Romans is about identity -- Who are we? Beloved saints, who are part of an new humanity formed through God by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit. We are people invited into a Big Story of God’s hope and transformation for the world, united by the reality that God’s Spirit is working in each of us. And, you are invited to be yourself in this Big Story, created, loved, valued by the one True God and free to live in response. You are God’s beloved saints.