STUDIES IN ROMANS
Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002
Over the centuries Paul's letter to the Romans has inspired countless sermons and equally countless books. It has stimulated discussion and debate. It has provoked many arguments. Reading through just a handful of books written on Romans can lead to greater confusion than one had to begin with, so much so that many Christians, including some responsible for preaching and teaching, shy away from this letter. It seems safer to 'let sleeping dogs lie' than to wrestle with this obviously important, yet apparently complex, part of Scripture.
The question readily arises: why is there so much disagreement? Why does one learned writer say one thing, and another equally learned writer say the opposite? What is the problem with this letter? Was Paul deliberately ambiguous when he wrote? Was it his intention to leave himself open to such diverse interpretations? Or is the problem with us and our perceptions, our expectations, our presuppositions?
I would suggest that the problem is in us.
Paul's intentions were always to present the gospel in the clearest way possible. He fought for the preservation of the original gospel. He vigorously defended the gospel against all misinterpretations, additions and subtractions. He spelled the truth out definitely and precisely, leaving no room for erroneous understanding. We can see this in all of his letters.
So why here in Romans, in which he gives us his longest, most comprehensive statement of the truth, are there so many conflicting and confusing interpretations of his meaning?
I would suggest that we, his readers, have approached this letter, assuming that it is written into a vacuum. We have assumed that there was no particular issue that Paul was seeking to address, and that he was simply writing to the Roman Christians and reminding them of some basic facts about salvation and sanctification.
I would suggest that this is not the case at all, and that Paul was in this letter addressing a specific issue, and that the entire letter focuses on that issue.
I would suggest that this issue is the same as the issue addressed in the letters to the Colossians, the Philippians, and, specifically, the Galatians. It is this: that in Jesus Christ a person no longer relates to God on the basis of his/her own righteousness, but on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. To put it another way, the letter to the Romans, from start to finish, seeks to answer the question: what is the relationship of the believer to the law? To put it yet another way: given that some Christians are Jews and some Christians are Gentiles, and given that the Jews have the Law and Gentiles don't, on what basis should they relate to each other?
The letter to the Romans addresses this interface of Jew and Gentile in Jesus Christ. This is the master key that holds the whole letter together in a cohesive, understandable unit: it is all about the law. Here stands a Jewish Christian for whom the law has held absolute significance in his relationship with God. Beside him stands a Gentile Christian, for whom the law has had no significance at all. They both stand equally accepted in the presence of God by virtue of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. What is their relationship to each other to be? And how are they each to understand the relationship of the other to God? Where does our performance of the law fit in? What is its significance? What is its role? The answers to these questions constitute the over-riding theme of the letter to the Romans.
What now follows is a series of studies on Romans in which this theme, or master key, is shown to flow right through the letter, facilitating our understanding, and unifying the whole. As we read through Romans let us keep in mind that in Rome there were large numbers of both Jewish and Gentile Christians to whom Paul addressed this letter with this very specific purpose. He is not writing to unbelievers who need to know the truth, but to believers who know the truth, and need help in working out the implications of that truth for their daily relationship with God and their daily relationships with each other.
As we progress through the letter we will discover that what Paul is urging upon his readers is a paradigm shift of massive proportions that renders all other paradigm shifts insignificant. Here our thinking is challenged and lifted to a plane above and beyond all human paradigms. As Paul taught in 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, when one embraces this paradigm shift one enters a whole new world. The old has gone. The new has come. To live in and with this new mindset is the challenge of the letter to the Romans.