Introduction to Romans
Recently, I decided to hike along a nature trail in the mountains of western North Carolina to spend some quiet time with God. The trail looked long, difficult, and strenuous, and I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy hike. At the entrance to the trail, there was information about what I might encounter along the way; wetlands, a dry riverbed, different species of trees, flowers and plants, as well as possible sightings of wildlife. The information interested me; it whet my appetite and motivated me to continue on the trail. It also provided an informed vigilance that trained my eye to look for certain things along the way.
We are going to take a walk together through the book of Romans. Romans is a deep book filled with theology and a lot of big words. You may be thinking just what I was thinking at the beginning of that trail. This is not going to be an easy stroll. Let me give you a little information about what you will encounter along this path. I believe this will interest you, whet your appetite, and motivate you to join me on my walk through Romans.
There are several words found in the book of Romans that appear more often than in any other book of the Bible. These words become clues to the message of Romans. In fact, we can connect all of these words together to summarize the message that Paul was communicating when he wrote this letter to the church at Rome around 60 AD.
One of the words we will encounter frequently in this book is the word righteousness. The Greek word δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosuna) literally means “one who is as he ought to be, one who is right, not simply in what he does but in who he is.” In reference to our relationship with God, righteousness is the condition of being accepted by God, completely. It is experiencing the life God always intended for us. I believe we all have a desire for life built into us by God and a drive to experience that life. Living in a righteous relationship with God is life. Another form of the same Greek word is translated “justification” throughout Romans. This word means to make someone righteous or to declare or deem them righteous. I don’t know about you, but this interests me, actually excites me. I have often had thoughts like “something isn’t quite right or there has to be more to life than this.” I have often felt rejected and unaccepted because of some weakness or flaw in my character. Hearing that there is a way to be as I ought to be or to be who I was created to be is exciting. So as we stroll through this book, be on the lookout for righteousness.
Another word used more often in Romans is grace. The Greek word χάρις (charis) means “favor or merciful kindness”. It is goodwill that flows out of the character of the One who gives that is not motivated by anything in the one who receives. Scripture says that “God is love” (I John 4:8). It is His nature to love. Grace flows out of His love and makes it possible for God to initiate relationship with sinful man. There is nothing good in man that prompts God’s grace; it flows 100% out of God’s love (and Paul will go to great lengths to make this point throughout Romans). Grace is God’s operating system and is the evidence of His love for us. Because of our sin, God can only relate to us through His grace. Often we struggle with the feeling that God is upset with us because of my behavior. This feeling hinders our ability to approach Him or practice His presence in our daily life. Encountering grace is like a breath of fresh air because it releases us from striving and performing. We will be able to breathe it in more than 20 times through this book.
The next word used often in Romans is the word faith. The Greek word πίστις (pistis) means the “conviction of the truth of something.” The words “believe” or “belief” are often used to translate this word as well. When you hear about the wonderful concepts of grace and righteousness, your humanity immediately wants to know what you can do to experience these things. The truth is that you can’t DO anything; you must simply believe, or have faith. There is no striving, trying to do better, or working hard for God’s grace and righteousness. Life as it was always meant to be is a gift from Him and is simply received as we believe (faith). All of a sudden this hike through Romans is starting to feel a little easier because it is by grace through faith!
The final word I want us to be on the lookout for as we stroll through Paul’s letter to the Romans is the word Gospel. The Greek word is εὐαγγέλιον (euangellion). This is a compound word. The prefix eu means “good”or “well.” The word angellion means “message” and is related to the word for angel which means “messenger.” The Gospel is the good message of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to pay the price for our sins. It is the central focus of Paul’s message. So as we walk along through this book, expect to hear some really good news, something that will encourage us!
How do these four words relate to each other? What message is Paul communicating to us through the repeated use of these words? If we put these words all together in a single thought, it might look like this:
The Gospel or good news of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection for us is given to us by God’s grace. We receive the Gospel by faith or by believing it and the result is that we are made righteous or justified, becoming fully connected to and accepted by God and able to experience the life God always intended.
I become completely acceptable to God (righteous) by believing (faith) in the sacrifice of Christ for my sin (Gospel) and it is absolutely free (grace).
Enjoy your walk!