Romans

Romans Overview

The apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is his longest letter and the clearest explanation of the good news of Jesus Christ in all of Scripture.  He wrote the letter toward the end of his third missionary journey, prior to ever having visited Rome (1:11-14; 15:23-26).  For this reason, some have assumed that Paul had little knowledge of specific issues in the church and simply took advantage of the opportunity to lay out a treatise of the gospel prior to visiting Rome (15:23-24).  However, the letter reveals that Paul knew a great deal about the church in Rome (1:8).  He was well-acquainted with a number of believers in the church (16:3-16) and regularly circles back to one crucial issue in the church: unity between Jewish and Gentile christians (e.g. 1:14-16; 2:12-3:31; 4:1-17; 9:1-9; 10:1-4; 11:13-15; 14:13-15; 15:7-9; 16:17).  Take some time to skim this sampling of passages so that you can see this recurring theme for yourself.  As you do, it may be helpful to know this rough outline of the letter.

1:1-17 Introduction

1:18-3:20 Sin - a its universal scope
3:21-5:21 Salvation through union with Christ by faith
6:1-8:39 Sanctification or transformation of the believer through union with Christ
9:1-11:36 Sovereignty of God in saving both Jews and Gentiles
12:1-15:22 Service and love in response to God’s mercy

15:23-16 Mission Plans, Greetings, and Closing Words

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • For Paul, the gospel always transforms our relationship with others as well as our relationship with God.  How do you need to pray for yourself and the believers in your life, church, and city need to experience this reality?  

 

Romans 1:1-17

The "righteousness of God," made known and accomplished in Jesus, is the theme of Paul’s letter (1:17).  Through Jesus, God is bringing people into a right relationship with himself, for through faith in Jesus we are included in his righteousness and are therefore made fit for fellowship with God.  This has been God's plan, from the beginning, for Jews and Gentiles.  Jesus is the long-awaited (righteous) king of Israel, a descendant of King David “as to his human nature" (1:2-3; Psalm 89:3-4), but as the resurrected Son of God, Jesus includes all peoples in the scope of his saving work (1:4-6).  Gentiles, too, are called to a life-giving “obedience" that flows from faith in Christ and that is always dependent upon faith in Christ (1:5; cf. 6:22). 

This gospel, which unites Paul to God, also unites him to fellow believers in Christ and even to, in a different sense, those who do not yet know Christ.  His words and prayers make it clear that his own experience of God’s love in Christ has moved him to a deep affection for the believers in Rome (1:8-12).  He longs to see a “harvest” among them (1:13), a harvest which would include their own growth in Christ as well as new Christians added to their community through his preaching.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How is your experience of the gospel affecting your heart toward others, both believers and unbelievers?
     
  • Paul’s brief description of salvation as the “obedience of faith” or “the obedience that comes through faith in Christ” is a different choice of words than most of us would use today.  Is the idea of obedience to God sweet to you?  Are you asking Jesus to help you obey, knowing that it is only in his righteousness that we are made right with God?  

 

Romans 1:18-32

The "righteousness of God” is not all that is being “revealed” (1:17).  Since humanity’s fall into sin, God’s “wrath”— his righteous hatred of all that is corrupt and destructive -- is also being “revealed” (1:18).  How does God reveal his wrath?  The repeated phrase “gave them over” (1:24,26,28) tells us that God’s wrath is primarily revealed by giving us over to ourselves for self-destruction.

The root of our downfall is a disastrous “exchange” (1:23,25,26).  Instead of glorifying and enjoying the God whose glory may be “clearly seen . . . from what has been made,” we exchange “the glory of the immortal God” for created things of lesser glory, which are not worthy of our worship.  We willingly choose to worship and abuse the gifts, most notably gifts of sexuality (1:24-27), instead of the Giver.  God lets us run with our exchange.   The consequence is an emptiness of soul and confusion of mind that results in all kinds destructive attempts get ahead of others and to find significance apart from God (1:28-32).  Whenever we try to get more out of God's gifts than they were intended to give, we must distort and twist them in order to try to squeeze as much life out of them as we can.  

Our terrible “exchange” moved Jesus to make another terrible yet wonderful “exchange.”  He gave up his life for us, taking the guilt of our sin and God’s wrath toward our sin on the cross, that we would find our life and righteousness in him.  When we understand today's passage and the depth of God’s hatred of evil, the wonder of this exchange and of God’s mercy toward evildoers is all the more amazing.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • In what areas you tempted in your life to make the terrible “exchange”?  How are the gifts that you are tempted to abuse deceptive?  In what ways are they an empty substitute for the love, security, purpose, acceptance, significance, hope etc. of God?  Take time to confess, to wonder over the “exchange” Jesus made for us, and to ask God to help you cling to him and find your life in him.

 

Romans 2:1-16

What about those who were born and bred Jews, those to whom God revealed himself and gave his law through prophets and priests?  They go to synagogue regularly and try to obey God’s laws as best they can.  They are appalled by the blatant sins of the surrounding culture and look upon them with disdain.  Would God’s wrath against sin be revealed against them as well (1:18)?  Well, not if they truly kept the law, always doing good and always seeking God’s glory and honor (2:7,10).  But Paul’s point is that such a person does not exist (2:3,5).  (This point becomes extremely clear in the following chapter.)  Rather, the one who looks down on others without recognizing one’s own sin shows “contempt for God’s kindness, tolerance and patience” (2:4), which are intended to lead us "toward repentance” rather than a naïve self-righteousness.  

In this chapter, Paul levels the playing field between Jew and Gentile, both of whom were part of the church in Rome.  For it is not Jews who simply hear the law who are declared righteous in God’s sight, but those who fully obey and keep the law who are declared righteous (2:13).  In fact, even the Gentiles have some understanding of God’s laws by virtue of being created in God’s image (2:14-15).  They “hear” the law ringing in their hearts, to some extent.  But, like the Jews, their hearts go astray and they break God’s law.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • As you search your heart, how are you responding to God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience toward you?  Is it driving you toward the cross and repentance, or are you quicker to see the sin in others than in yourself?  Are there certain people in your life whom you are more likely to judge from a position of self-righteousness?  

 

Romans 2:17-3:20

In no uncertain terms, Paul brings his argument concerning the universal rebellion of humanity to a close.  “No one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (3:20).  Every self-justifying mouth is silenced before a holy God (3:19), for the seed of sin in rebellious humanity (3:10-18) is in every one of us.  

Nevertheless, just as churchgoing Christians today are tempted to rely on religious heritage and/or moral performance as the basis for their relationship with God, so were Jews.  They were prone to “rely on [God’s] law and brag about [their special covenant] relationship to God” (2:17).  This covenant relationship was an immense privilege, for God had revealed his holiness and grace to them in the covenant laws, promises and signs (3:1-2).  But many missed the grace of God in the promises and signs, such as circumcision,* and were therefore unable to see their need for a dying Savior.  Instead of seeing circumcision as a sign of God’s grace toward them and of their need for circumcised or cleansed hearts (Deuteronomy 30:6), many pridefully clung to it as a religious identity marker, sufficient on its own to give them a right standing in God’s family.  Paul is essentially saying, “If you want to rely on your possession of God’s law and circumcision as your righteousness, then you better obey the entire law” (2:25-27).**  This is the opposite of the gospel.  In the gospel, circumcision was the outward sign of a heart pierced and renewed by the Spirit of God, who applies the cleansing blood of Christ to the humbled heart (2:29).  

See devotionals explaining circumcision on Genesis 17 and Exodus 4:18-31.

** Some theologians believe that 2:26-27 refer to true believers who obey the law, not perfectly, but faithfully through a heart purified by Christ.  While this is possible, it is unlikely given that the context is concerned with the basis of our righteousness before God, and Paul is arguing that our obedience to the law can never be the basis of that righteousness (3:20).   Rather, 2:26-27 continue in the logic of 2:25, showing that true obedience to the law, by Jew or Gentile, is more important than the outward sign of circumcision.  Of course, only Christ is able to obey and fulfill God’s covenant laws on our behalf.  Yes, those united to Christ do desire and begin to live according to God’s laws, but not as the basis of righteousness before God.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Have you seen yourself rely on your religious background, a religious sign (e.g. baptism), your connection to a certain church or ministry or culture as the basis for your standing before God?  Are there any ways that these things may be causing you to miss the fullness of the grace of God in Christ?

 

Romans 3:21-31

After several depressing doses of reality as Paul explored the depths of sin, the words of God's grace in Christ wash over us with eternal refreshment.  Though we are helpless to make ourselves right with God through obedience to God's law (3:20), we have a righteousness from God through our union with Christ, “apart from [our obedience to] the law” (3:21-22).  It’s not that God’s “Plan A” failed, for the law was never able to save, due to human sin.  Rather, “the Law and the Prophets” (i.e. the entire Old Testament) point to our need for a Savior (3:21).

God’s grace toward us in Christ has always been God’s “Plan A,” and nowhere is this more evident than in Romans 3:25-26.  For thousands of years, true believers in God held out hope in God’s promises of forgiveness and restoration, but their sin was never finally punished and put to death in their lifetime.  In God’s patience, “he left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (3:25). Yes, there were animal sacrifices that pointed to a transfer of guilt and punishment, but an animal is not an adequate substitute for a human created in God’s image and likeness (10:4).  Therefore, Jesus became "like [us] in every way” (Hebrews 2:17), "yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), so that He could bear God’s just punishment of our sin.  Today's passage, especially verses 25-26, makes it abundantly clear that Jesus took God’s righteous (or “just”) punishment not only for our sins, but also for the sins of Old Testament believers who looked forward to the coming Messiah.  On the cross, God demonstrated his justice by punishing the sin of believers across the ages, and in this same act, He washed away our sin to justify us in his sight (3:26).  On the cross, justice and justifying grace kiss each other (cf. Psalm 85:10).  

Does this mean that Christians have a low view of God’s law (3:31)?  Not at all.  If we were to think that imperfect, selective, or external obedience to the law could save, that would entail a low view of the law, diminishing the perfect standard and reflection of God’s perfect character that it is.  But to believe that Jesus perfectly fulfilled God's laws on our behalf is to “uphold" the perfection and goodness of the law.  For this reason, believers DO seek to live according to the goodness of God’s laws through the power of Christ in us, not in a futile attempt to justify ourselves before God, but simply because the law is good and glorifying to God.   

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Have you entrusted your life to Christ and so been united to him by faith?  If so, you are united to him in his death for your sin.  He has taken the justice of God for your sin so that there is no more punishment for sin left.  You are also united to him in his righteousness, so that you stand justified before God.  You can add nothing to his perfect righteousness or to your standing before God.  What you can do is to respond in a life of gratitude and love.  

 

Romans 4

One family, saved by grace in Christ.  Abraham, the father of believing Jews (aka "the circumcised”), is also our father in the faith (4:11-12,16-17).  King David is our brother in the faith (4:6-8).  Perhaps more clearly than any other chapter in Scripture, Paul helps us to understand the unified story of Scripture (and of the world), as he proves that Abraham and David were justified through faith in the promise of Christ.  Specifically, he proves that Abraham was not saved by the sign of circumcision, for his faith in God’s promise of salvation (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6) was already “credited to him as righteousness” prior to receiving the sign (4:9-11; Genesis 17).  The sign was given to confirm or “seal” God's promise of blessing for the nations through Abraham’s offspring.  Just as Abraham believed, “against all hope," that God could provide offspring from his wife’s “dead” womb, so we believe that God raised Jesus from the grave and that He raises people like us who were dead in sin.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Abraham struggled mightily to believe that God could actually provide offspring from his dying body and Sarah’s “dead” womb, but he continued to believe.  Where are you struggling to believe that God can or will bring life out of death?  Physical or mental struggles?  Broken relationships?  Addictive patterns?  Injustices?  Hard hearts as you seek to share the love of Christ?  Our ultimate hope is that every part of our lives will be made new at the resurrection, but we believe in a God who is already about the work of making all things new.  

 

Romans 5

A slight change in focus occurs in this passage.  Previous passages (3:21-4:25) focused on how God’s people are initially made right with him.  As 5:1 says, “we have been justified through faith.”  Now Paul begins to focus on what it looks like to live as those who have been made right with God through Christ.  We have peace with God, we live in grace, we rejoice in the hope of glory (5:1-2), and we even rejoice in suffering because it produces a deeper, more confident hope in the end (5:3-5).  Surely God will complete our salvation and bring us into glory, considering that He has already done the more difficult work of reconciling us to himself when we were enemies (5:8-11)!    

While there is a shift in focus, Paul continues to provide rich scriptural explanations for the basis of this blessed position that we have in Christ (5:6-8,12-21).  The previous chapter explained our relationship to Abraham and David.  In this chapter, Paul goes all the way back to Adam!  While we share in the faith of Adam and Eve (Genesis 4:1,25) just as we share in the faith of Abraham and David, this passage emphasizes the negative, disastrous effects produced by Adam’s rebellion.  There are several views on the details of 5:12-21.  At a minimum, we can say that Adam brought sin and death into the world, and that we are all united with him in sin and death.  But there is a “second Adam” or “better Adam” or “last Adam” (cf. I Corinthians 15:45-49) who overturns death and brings life for “all who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and the gift of righteousness” (5:17).  Just as we were united with Adam in his death by virtue of our natural connection, we may be united with Christ in his life through faith.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Take time to reflect on the present realities of our life in Christ (5:1-11).  How are you experiencing these realities?  Where are you missing them?  Where do you need to take hold of what is true of you in Christ?  

 

 

Romans 6

Why did Christ die?  Why has God chosen to pour out his abundant grace?  So that He can hand out tickets for the heaven bus?  Is it because He just likes to forgive?  By no means, says Paul!  He gives us complete forgiveness and grace that we “may live a new life” (6:4), be “freed from sin” (6:7), be made holy, and enjoy eternal life with God (6:22-23).

Paul insists that this eternal life begins now, not later, and this life is union with Jesus.  How many different ways can Paul say this?  Many!  If we are in Christ through faith, the reigning power of sin in our lives has been put to death on the cross (6:2-8,10).  If we are in Christ, we live in his resurrection — his victory over sin and death (6:4-5,8-10).  Yes, our mortal bodies still struggle with weakness and the pervading sin of the world (6:12), but "the old self," which was powerless against sin, has been crucified with Christ (6:6).  Therefore, we are called to embrace Christ and live in the reality of our union with him right now (6:11-14,16-21).  Just as we once pursued idols and selfish gain with slavish obedience, we are now to offer ourselves to God in absolute obedience (6:19).  For we are no longer slaves to fear and sin, which leads to death, but slaves to the God who gives true freedom and life!

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How does this passage connect the certainty of the past (Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection) and the certainty of the future (our resurrected bodies and eternal life - 6:5,23) to our present?  In your life, are the past, present, and future connected?
     
  • Just as embracing a spouse and living in the reality of the union of marriage would involve daily care, practice, and initiative, embracing Christ and living in the reality of our union with Jesus involves the same.  How does understanding our new life as 'union with Jesus' affect our approach to overcoming sin and honoring God?

 

Romans 7

Paul takes us a on little detour in Romans 7.  He has made some statements, even at the beginning of this chapter, that may be misconstrued as disdain for God's law (e.g. 6:14; 7:1-6).  He uses his detour (7:7-25), however, to assure us that the law is “spiritual,” “holy, righteous and good” (7:12,14).  Any negative impact of the law on humanity may not be blamed on the law; rather, it is the indwelling power of sin (aka “the flesh” or “sinful nature”), which rejects and disobeys the law, that renders the law helpless in giving life and instead brings condemnation and harm.*  Sinful humanity does not need God’s written law to rebel and march toward death (2:12-15; 5:14), but the “flesh” rebels all the more when it encounters God’s law (7:8-11).  Yet even this reality has a silver lining -- God’s written law exposes sin in all of its ugliness (7:13) that we might turn to Christ for life (Galatians 3:24).  

The great unknown of Romans 7 is this:  Who exactly is Paul talking about in 7:7-25?  Is it autobiographical, so that the first-person subject “I” is literal?  If so, is Paul describing his life prior to Christ, his experience as a believer, or his conversion experience?  Is it Adam, the first to receive a command (5:12-21), which would mean that the “I” is rhetorical?**  Is it Israel (also using a rhetorical “I”), the first recipients of God's law?  Or is Paul perhaps expressing his pre-Christian experience in solidarity with Adam's and/or Israel’s historical experience?

Given the reality of believers' ongoing struggle with sin, often an intense fight, many have understood 7:14-25 as describing Paul’s ongoing struggle as a Christian.  This may be possible, but how could a phrase like “slave to sin” (7:14,23,25) apply to Christians in light of what Paul has already said about our freedom in Christ (6:6-7,11,14,18,20,22)?  On the other hand, how could Paul say things like, “I delight in God’s law” (7:22), if he is speaking of unbelievers?  It is very possible that Paul is referring to devout Jews, who were zealous for God’s law, but unable to find freedom from sin through the law (Romans 10:1-4).  This, of course, was Paul’s personal experience as well (Philippians 3:5-7).  If Paul is in fact describing his own pre-Christian experience in solidarity with Israel, he distinguishes between a part of him that could see the goodness of God’s laws and the indwelling power of sin that rendered him incapable of finding life in God’s law (7:15-23).*  He cries out on behalf of Israel (and his pre-Christian self), “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” and briefly interjects doxology into his argument, "Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (7:25).  

Regardless of who we understand to be the subject of Paul’s detour, we learn some huge lessons from this passage.  First, God’s laws are good!  If obeyed, they bring life!  Second, we share some common ground with unbelievers, who are made like us in God’s image, as they are still able to see the goodness of God’s laws to some degree.  Third, the law is utterly unable to give life to sinful humanity.  Only Jesus overcomes our struggle with sin and gives us life. Finally, even if Paul is not exactly describing his Christian experience here, we still do battle against the indwelling power of sin.  Precisely because our sin has ultimately been defeated by Christ and no longer masters us, we continue to look to Jesus for power over it (6:11-14)!

We cannot blame sin on the “sinful nature” or the “flesh” as a kind of outside force for which we are not responsible.  This is not what Paul is saying in 7:17.  The indwelling power of sin is part and parcel of fallen humanity.  As Paul says, “it is sin living in me.”  Note that if Paul is speaking of his pre-Christian experience in 7:17, the “no longer” contrast is “logical, not temporal; it states what must ’now,’ in light of the argument of 15-16, ’no longer’ be considered true (Douglas J. Moo, NICNT The Epistle to the Romans, 457). 

** Those who see a reflection on Adam’s experience in this passage point especially to 7:8-9, where Paul says, “Once I was alive apart from the law.”  If “alive” is entirely literal, then it must point to Adam’s pre-fall experience.  However, given Paul’s understanding of the intensified rebellion produced by the law, it may be that “alive” is used as a relative contrast to this intensified rebellion.  In this case, “That sin was ‘dead’ does not mean that it did not exist but that it was not as ‘active’ or ‘powerful’ before the law as after” (Moo, 437).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Can you cry out with Paul today, “Who [has] rescued me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
     
  • What is your view of God’s law?  Do you his commands as “good”?  Are there ways that you are trying to find your life in God’s law apart from the grace of Christ?
     
  • How could you find common ground with unbelievers around you, related to God’s laws?  How could you express humility and your own need for Christ regarding your inability to keep the law?  
     
  • In what ways do you need to ask Jesus, today, to continue to stamp out the remnants of indwelling sin in your life?


Romans 8:1-17

It doesn’t get any better than this!  Romans 8 is the climax of Paul’s gospel, bringing together many themes from previous chapters.  It is also one of the most comprehensive summaries of the gospel in all of Scripture. 

Here, Paul describes two realms or spheres.  One realm is dominated by the “law of sin and death,” a deliberate play on the word “law” to describe the ruling power of sin (8:2).  This realm is characterized by condemnation, hostility, rebellion, fear and death (8:1,6-8,15.)  The other realm is controlled by the “law of the Spirit of life” (8:2), which of course is also a play on “law” to describe the ruling presence of the Holy Spirit.  This realm is characterized by freedom from the dominating power of sin and the ongoing extinguishing of sin (8:2,9-11,13), “life and peace” (8:6), the assurance and comfort that comes with being children of God (8:14-16), the hope of a glorious inheritance, and, for a time, suffering (8:17).  

Only through Christ Jesus, who took the condemnation that our sin deserves (8:3) and "fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law” on our behalf (8:4), may we be delivered from the realm of sin and death to the realm of “the Spirit of life.”  The passage makes it clear that the sole basis of our deliverance is this work of Christ on our behalf and that it is through no work of our own.  At the same time, the passage also makes it clear that there is no such thing as a believer who has been delivered from the condemnation of sin without also being delivered from the dominating power of sin (8:4b,8:9-11,13).  This is fantastic news!  The same Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead, to conquer death for us, also lives in every believer to put sin to death in us and give life.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Today, do I realize that the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead also lives in me?  Do I realize what power dwells in me through the Spirit?  In what areas of my life do I struggle to believe that God could conquer sin?  What areas of sin might be hidden from my view that need to be put to death?
     
  • What difference is the reality that I am a child of God making in my life?

 

Romans 8:18-39

Our present experience as those indwelt by the Spirit of God does not compare to “the glory that will be revealed” (8:18).  For hundreds of millions of Christians, who not only experience the “frustration" of mortal bodies, fragile and broken relationships, loneliness, worry, vocational discouragement and frustration and uncertainty, etc., but who also face daily fears produced by persecution, ostracism, poverty, and disease, “the glory that will be revealed” cannot come soon enough.  The “frustration” of the world is the judgment of God for human sin (8:20), but Paul reminds us that even the “frustration” came with the hope of victory over evil (see devotional on Genesis 3:14-24).  Ever since the fall and frustration of the world (Genesis 3:16-17), the hope of glory has been with God’s children (Genesis 3:15).

How do we to live in this time in which we taste the goodness of God through the Spirit of God at work in us, but continue to see and experience so much brokenness?  First, we are honest about our longings for renewal and the completion of our adoption as children.  God has signed and sealed the adoption papers with Christ’s blood and we are already growing in relationship with our heavenly Father, but we are not yet home (8:14-17,23).  We groan with all of creation, waiting with great yet patient hope for the end of “frustration” and renewal “of creation itself" (8:21,23-25).  Second, we rely on the Spirit’s help, who helps us in our groaning, who helps us know how to pray in our confusion, and who even mysteriously prays for us when we do not know how (8:25-27).  Third, we rest in the assurance of God’s forgiveness (8:33-34) and love for us in Christ (8:31-39).  If God did not spare his Son, but gave him up for us (8:32), why would He not complete the work of conforming us to the Son’s likeness (8:29), bring home every last one of Christ’s adopted brothers (8:29), and graciously share with us every spiritual and material blessing of the new creation (8:32)?  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Is it possible to truly have hope without groaning?  Am I longing for the hope of glory and groaning alongside all creation?  In what ways am I hiding from or “medicating” the longing for complete renewal?
     
  • Paul wants us to be conscious of and comforted by the Spirit’s work even in the intimacy of our prayers.  It’s clear that the Spirit intercedes for us in ways that do not ask for and that we will never see, and yet increased awareness and reliance on the Spirit deepens our relationship with God.  Am I humbly and daily relying on the Spirit for help as I pray and wait in hope?
     
  • Reflect and pray on question at the end of the second paragraph above!


Romans 9

After giving us a view of the heights of renewed creation from the valley of suffering, Paul wrestles intensely with the reality that not all will embrace God’s salvation, including many from his own people.  This is not at all an intellectual exercise in which Paul sits in judgment on the morality or goodness of God.  It is Paul’s expression of the deep pain and loss he experiences (9:1-3), knowing that many of the “natural children” of Israel have rejected Christ as the fulfillment of God’s promises (9:4-9,30-33).  At the same time, he understands that the true children of Israel, the true people of God, have always been those who have embraced God’s promises of salvation through Abraham’s offspring, namely Christ (see also 2:28-29 and chapter 4).  When Gentiles embrace these promises by faith, they show that they are true children of Abraham and Israel as well (9:24-33)!

A few clarifying points may be helpful.  First, Paul quotes the prophet Malachi:  “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (9:13; Malachi 1:2-3).  This statement refers to God’s judgment on the nation of Edom, made up of Esau’s descendants, as well as on Esau, who despised the promises of God.  There is a very real sense in which Esau experiences God’s hatred and wrath toward sin, but we also know that God was good to Esau (see parenthetical note in Genesis 33 devotional), in spite of the fact that Esau rejected the Abrahamic promises of God.  God shows love even to his enemies (cf. Matthew 5:44-45).  

Second, the passage refers to God's hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (9:17-18).  We must remember that God never hardens a heart that is not already hard toward him.  We read about this same thing in Romans 1 -- God’s primary judgment for our sin is to “give us over” to the hardness of our own hearts (1:24,26,28).  Pharaoh still did what Pharaoh wanted to do, and God did not choose to show mercy on him and soften his heart, nor was God obligated in any way to do so.  

Related to the second point, God does not move people to do things against their will.  He must, in mercy, renew our wills and soften our hearts through his Spirit if we are to move toward God (8:5-8), but God does not do violence to our wills and override them.  How all of this works together is a mystery, and we would do well to humbly acknowledge the mystery as Paul did.  See how he ends this section of the letter in 11:33-36!

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Can you relate to Paul’s anguish over those who do not know the love of Christ?  
     
  • Does Paul’s struggle with the questions raised in this chapter “freeze” him or lead him to faith-filled action?  

 

Romans 10

It seems ironic that Paul uses passages from Deuteronomy 30, concerning God's law (10:6-8; Deut. 30:12-14), to establish “the righteousness that is by faith” (10:6).  The word that is “near you” in Deut. 30 is the law of God (Deut. 30:10).  However, Paul is drawing a parallel between the nearness of God’s word in the Old Testament, which focused on the law, and the nearness of God’s word in the New Testament, which focused on Christ.  God’s nearness in both cases reveals his grace toward his people (Moo, 653).  Also note that the opening words in the Deuteronomy reference, “Do not say in your heart” (10:6), come from Deuteronomy 9:4.  In Deut. 9:4-6, Moses warns the people of Israel that they did not receive God’s favor because of their “own righteousness,” which of course fits Paul’s argument seamlessly (Moo 650-651).  Jesus is “the end,” the fulfillment, the consummation of God’s law (10:4).  He is the “righteousness” that the Israelites could not establish on their own.   

In the rest of the chapter, Paul establishes from the three major sections of the Old Testament (Law-Moses, Writings-Psalms, Prophets-Isaiah) that Israel has no excuse for missing Jesus.  He quotes Psalm 19:4 (10:18), concerning the general revelation of God’s creative power throughout the world, as a vivid picture of the way the gospel has gone out to Jew and Gentile (at least) throughout the Roman empire (Moo, 667).  He then quotes Deuteronomy (10:19) and Isaiah (10:21) to show that the inclusion of the Gentiles is no reason for disbelief.  Like the Gentiles, Israel has heard the good news of Jesus, but many have not believed (10:16).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Many in Israel were bothered by the inclusion of the Gentiles in the kingdom, but clearly they should not have been bothered by this.  Am I bothered by anyone’s inclusion in the kingdom?  
     
  • Am I building or relying on a “righteousness of my own” in any way or am I fully rejoicing that Christ is the fulfillment of the law today?

 

Romans 11

Up to this point in the letter, Paul has been tougher on Jewish Christians in Rome, who may have been tempted to trust in their religious heritage or to question why their fellow Israelites are now outside of the church.  In today’s passage, Paul turns to Gentile Christians in Rome who were tempted to have their own form of religious pride over and against the Jewish Christians (11:13-14).  Apparently, some of them saw themselves as a replacement of the Jews as opposed to a part of spiritual Israel.  

How does Paul speak into this form of pride?  First, he draws on examples throughout the Old Testament to show that God has not changed his mind or plan in regard to the Jews.  During the times of Elijah (11:2-4; I Kings 19:18), Moses, Isaiah (11:8; Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10), and David (11:9;Psalm 69:22-23), there were many Jews whose hearts were hard toward God, but by God’s grace there has always been a faithful “remnant” of Jews.  Paul argues that the same is true in this age (11:5-6).  Second, Paul argues in multiple ways that the family of God will only be complete when all of the true Jews, as well as believing Gentiles, are included (11:11-32).  In five different ways, he shows the pattern of Israel’s rejection of the gospel leading to the the Gentiles’ acceptance, which in turn will lead to Israel’s acceptance (1. 11:11-12; 2. 11:15; 3. 11:17-23; 4. 11:25-26; 5. 11:30-31; Moo 684).  God used Israel’s widespread rejection of the gospel to push Paul and others to go to the Gentiles, but Paul believes that the Gentiles’ widespread acceptance of the gospel will at some point lead to widespread acceptance among the Jews.  If “wild olive shoots” (i.e. Gentiles) were grafted into the cultivated olive tree (i.e. God’s family or spiritual Israel) by faith, how much more easily will the natural branches (i.e. Jews), which were “broken off" because of unbelief, be grafted back in by faith (11:24).  

It’s important to understand that chapter 11 speaks of Israelites and Gentiles in broad terms.  For instance, it is clear that Paul does not believe that every Gentile has received salvation, even though Paul refers to “the Gentiles" as one body (11:11-12; cf. 11:25).   In the same kind of broad terminology, “all men” in 11:32 means Israelites and Gentiles, not every single Israelite and Gentile.  So how do we interpret 11:26, where Paul specifically says that “all Israel will be saved”?  Given the build up in 11:25, which refers to the inclusion of both Israelites and Gentiles in the family of God, “all Israel” most likely refers to the full number of believing Israelites and Gentiles, with an emphasis on Paul’s certainty that this number will, in the end, include a large number of ethnic Israelites.  This view also fits the argument of the entire chapter — the family of God will only be complete when all of the true Jews, as well as believing Gentiles, are included!  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How is my heart toward ethnic Jews?  Do I share Paul’s hope that many will come to faith in Christ?  More broadly, in what ways does my heart take pride in my cultural or (even) theological expression of Christianity over and against other believers?

 

Romans 12

Romans 12 portrays the reversal of the downward spiral into sin described in chapter 1:18-32.  The only fitting response to the mercy of God in Christ, who offered up his life to redeem us from sin and death, is to offer our lives up to God in worship (12:1).  We have no true life apart from our life in Christ, so we continually die to any selfish, prideful agenda of our own and to anything that is not of him (6:12-13; 8:12-13).  Romans 12 provides us a beautiful picture of what this life as “living sacrifice” looks like and calls us to actively enter into this life.    

First, Romans 12:2-3 calls us into the ongoing reversal of the mind “darkened” by selfish pride (1:21-23,28).  Then, Romans 12:4-9 calls us to reverse the worldly pattern of using one another for fulfillment (1:24-27) by using our gifts for the good of one another in sincere love.  Finally, Romans 12:10-21 calls us to the reversal of the many destructive sins that flow from our selfish agendas.  In a broken and divided world, this reversal will require entering into the pain of others and even absorbing their destructive sins, a reality that shines through in every single one of the last ten verses of the chapter.  While this principle is true universally, it is likely that Paul also has the local tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians in mind.  

We must remember that this life of worship can only flow from God’s mercy in Christ (12:1).  Our imperfect worship can never be the reason or basis of God’s love for us (11:6).  And just as God’s mercy is the basis of our life, his indwelling presence in our lives is the power of our ongoing transformation (8:9-14).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How is my life a response to the mercy of God in Christ?  In what ways am I trying to hold onto a life of my own making, not dying to self?  Where do I see my mind figuring out how to use people for my good rather than figuring out how to serve and build up others?  Where can I enter into the pain of others, even where I may risk rejection, ridicule and persecution?   

 

Romans 13

The emphasis on love in the second half of Romans 13 flows out of the previous chapter, but Paul’s words on submission to governing authorities seem to come out of nowhere.  Some believe that Paul must have something specific in mind, such anti-Roman Jewish zealotry, refusal to pay taxes, or lingering hostility toward Rome for Claudius’s expulsion of Jews and Jewish Christians in 49 A.D., all of which have some degree of historical basis.  However, it is very possible that 13:1-7 simply extends from 12:19, where Paul exhorts the Roman Christians not to take revenge, “but to leave room for God’s wrath.”  In 13:1-7, Paul explains that God’s punishment of evil, in part, comes through governing authorities (Moo, 792-793).  Just as Jesus taught, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” we are called to submit to these governing authorities unless specific commands entail disobedience to God (e.g. Acts 5:28-29).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Every one of God’s commands is an expression of love (13:8-10).  They actively promote  the good of others or protect from harm.  All deeds of the “dark” are the opposite of love.  They are self-serving and harmful (13:12-13).  For this reason, and because we are always moving closer to Christ’s return (13:11), we are called root out any excuse for sin, bargain with sin, and thought or plan of sin.  Instead, we are to put on the likeness of Christ through the Spirit (13:14).  Where am I holding out hope for finding life through sin instead of through love?
     
  • Roman emperors left much to be desired in terms of godly leadership, and that is an understatement.  Yet Jesus and Paul called for obedience to the authorities when it did not require disobedience to God.  Are there any ways in which I am refusing to submit to the governing authorities or to pay what is due to them?

 

Romans 14:1-15:13

Paul now addresses the tension troubling the church in Rome head-on.  The “weak” were most likely Jewish Christians who abstained from meat for fear of eating food that was “unclean” according to Old Testament food laws (14:14) and/or from wine “out of concern that it had been tainted by the pagan practice of offering the wine as a libation to the gods" (14:21; Moo, 831).  Some also considered it necessary to observe Old Testament feast days (14:5).  The “strong” were most likely Gentile Christians and Jews, like Paul, who had a greater grasp on Christ’s fulfillment of external Old Testament signs and symbols (14:14,20;15:1).  The terms “strong” and “weak” may have already been in use by believers in Rome to distinguish between these different perspectives.  

Regardless of the precise issues at hand, we know that Paul is calling the church members to humility, patience and love toward one another (14:19,15:1-9).  Whichever side they are on, they are not to adopt a judgmental attitude toward one another (14:3-4,7-13).  In addition, the “strong” are not to wave their freedom in the face of the “weak” (14:13,15-16,20-21) and the “weak” are not to eat unclean foods until their their consciences have been freed (14:23).   

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • It is all-too-common for “enlightened” groups within the church to look down on those they deem to have a lesser understanding of “true” Christianity.  Are there any ways in which I participate in this sort of thing?  Are there ways in which I feel like I am being judged by an “enlightened” group and reciprocate with judgment rather than respond with grace?
     
  • The “strong" may have a greater intellectual understanding of the gospel than the “weak,” but their understanding is worthless if they are not led and empowered by the Holy Spirit (14:17-18; 15:13).  Am I relying on my intellect over the Holy Spirit?  Ask God to enable to live out Paul’s exhortations in this chapter through his Spirit.

 

Romans 15:14-33

“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known ...” (15:20).  With these words, Paul reveals the missionary heart of God and of his church.  Let the words burn in your heart.  They reflect God’s words through the prophet Isaiah (15:21).  Paul’s desire for those who have not yet heard the gospel is not that they would “make a decision for the Lord” or “pray a prayer of salvation,” but that their lives would become “an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (15:16).  His desire is for transformed lives, lived to the glory of God.  His desire takes us back to the beginning of this section of the letter, which Paul began by exhorting the Roman Christians to “offer [their] bodies as living sacrifices” in worship (12:1).

After having “boldly” (15:15) admonished the believers in Rome to show deference and understanding toward one another, Paul explains that his words did not come from a lack of trust in the their spiritual maturity (15:14), but rather from his call as a minister, especially as a minister to the Gentiles (15:15-16).  This call has been attested by “signs and miracles,” it is now sending him in service to the poor in Jerusalem (15:25-26), and Paul believes that it will send him to Rome and further on to the western end of the Roman empire, Spain (15:24,28).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • When Paul refers to places “where Christ was not known,” he seems to be referring to places where there is no access to the gospel.  The frontiers of world missions, places where there is little-to-no Christian influence, ought to be part of our prayer lives, and perhaps part of our giving and service.  In America, there are an increasing number of people who, while they may be within geographic proximity to the gospel, have little-to-no Christian influence in their lives.  Am I praying for the people all around who fit this description?  Do I have friends and neighbors who have little-to-no Christian influence in their lives?  How might God be calling me to love and serve them, and speak the gospel to them?

 

Romans 16

Paul knows a number of members of the church(es) in Rome and there is depth to their friendships.  He uses the following phrases to describe his friends:  “she has been a great help to many people, including me;” “They risked their lives for me;” “worked very hard for you;” “have been in prison with me;” “our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend;” “tested and approved in Christ;” “those women who work hard in the Lord;” “another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord;” and “who has been a mother to me, too” (16:1-16).  When we consider all of these descriptions together, we are struck by the believers’ sacrificial commitment and service to the Lord as well as their sacrificial commitment and service to each other.  Clearly, the body of Christ was actually functioning as one body.  They are finding their lives in God and in his family.  

This is why Paul warns against those who would divide the body (16:17-19).  They have much to lose!  Yet Paul is confident that God will continue to protect and build his people.  Jesus will finish the job of crushing Satan and evil, a victory guaranteed through the cross and resurrection (16:20; and see Genesis 3:14-24 devotional).  This work of Jesus is the “mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known …” (16:25-26).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How does the depth of the relationships among the Roman believers speak into my life?
     
  • How does the sure hope that Jesus will finish the job of crushing Satan affect my heart, my prayers, and my work today?