A sermon on Romans 1 to 10 by Richard Keith on Sunday 8 January 2023.
The ancient Romans are famous for a lot of things, including their monuments, their soldiers, and their roads. Their roads were built to such high engineering standards that they can still be seen today criss-crossing Europe.
Today, however, we are looking at a different kind of Roman road. It’s a journey, step by step through Paul’s letter to the Romans that takes us to a destination. It’s a road to faith. A journey to salvation for you and for me.
It begins with the first step, the most important step without which the journey never begins. Without which the road lies empty and unused. God is the creator of the world. Romans chapter 1 verse 20 says,
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.
There is a God. He is not your genie in a bottle. He is not your imaginary friend. He is not a lie you tell yourself to help you cope with reality. He is the maker of heaven and earth, and his wisdom and power are clearly seen in the things that he has made. In the order and wonder of the universe. In the balance of the cycles of nature. He made everything and he made us. We have not made him in our image. Rather, he has made us in his image.
Unfortunately, we have a problem. The Bible calls it sin and at its heart sin is ungrateful ignorance. Or is it ignorant ingratitude? One of the two. Romans chapter 1 verse 21 says,
Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.
We were made to know God, to love him and to serve him. But in our different ways we ignore him or reject him. We do not honour him as our maker and Lord and we do not thank him for his many generous gifts. We give our hearts to lesser things and we spoil what he made good.
Unfortunately, sin is a widespread problem. We want to blame those in power for all our problems. Or we target a minority whom we fear and distrust. We call them bad in order to feel good. But the situation is worse than that. Romans chapter 3 verse 10 says,
There is no one righteous, not even one.
The same chapter verse 23 says,
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Not some have sinned. Not many have sinned. But all. I have sinned and so have you. God made us to enjoy his glory, his life, his love, his wonder. But if we kept going the way we were headed, we would never reach it. It would remain out of our grasp for we would have fallen short. We complain about the injustice of the world. We say that it isn’t fair. But we contribute to that injustice when we turn a blind eye to it, or don’t care enough to get involved or when we are actively involved in it, lashing out at others because of our own hurt feelings.
This leads to terrible consequences. Because our actions provoke a response from God. Romans chapter 1 verse 18 says,
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
I understand why some people feel uncomfortable about this. Some of us have been conditioned from birth to suppress our anger. To be polite. To be nice. To not make a fuss. That’s the worst thing we could do – make a fuss. Some of us, sadly, have experienced uncontrolled rage from parents or teachers, and any display of raw negative emotion frightens us. But only a heartless wretch could watch the television news and not get angry at what people do to each other and to the world. How much more the God of love and life who made us to reflect his nature, when all we do is hate and kill or blame the victim or just look the other way?
God’s wrath is the burning of his holy love at what human beings do to each other. There is no room in his eternal kingdom of peace and joy for hate or death. And there is no room for those whose hearts are filled with rage or fear. In other words, as Romans chapter 6 verse 23 says,
The wages of sin is death.
God is our source of life. Life without him is a living death.
If this road through Romans stopped here, it would stop short of its destination. But having outlined the problem with the world, our problem, it also shows the path towards the solution. As Romans chapter 3 verse 23 says, The wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Life, true life as God intended, that no darkness can overshadow and no power can take away, is a gift from God. And it can be ours in and only through Jesus. Jesus was born for us. He lived for us. And at the right time he gave his life for us. Romans chapter 5 verse 10 says,
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Not when we were good. Not when we were trying our best. But before we were good, Jesus did what our best cannot achieve. He brought us life and love and salvation, rescuing us from the consequences of our actions and choices. Fulfilling in us God’s purposes for us.
Jesus did this, not in a way that God turns a blind eye to injustice like we do every day, but in a way that shows and establishes God’s justice. Romans chapter 3 verses 25 and 26 say,
God presented him [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice … so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
God justifies us. We were in the wrong with him, but he puts us right, not holding our sin against us, and he makes our wrongs right, putting his Spirit of life and love in our hearts to change us from the inside out. He did this because his Son Jesus died on the cross for us. Our creator, taking responsibility for our choices, suffering himself the consequences of our actions. Not so that we can be let off the hook to keep doing the same old things, but so that we can be set on a journey to do new and wonderful things.
Of course, that journey starts with forgiveness. Romans chapter 4 verse 7 says,
Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Blotted out from the record of history like they never happened and can’t ever be used against us. Of course, it starts there. But it doesn’t stop there. Because wait, there’s more.
Romans chapter 5 verse 1 says,
Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The fruit of forgiveness is peace with God. Real peace. Not God pretending and secretly resenting us. But accepting all our fear and hate and apathy, accepting us, warts and all, into the embrace of his love. Giving us true, lasting, eternal, victorious peace. So that, according to Romans chapter 8 verses 1 and 2,
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
We have been set free from sin’s penalty, set free from its power, and one day set free from its presence forever. Like Jesus we have been raised from the death of an unworthy life and reborn for a new and very different kind of life. As Romans chapter 6 verse 18 says,
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Which is a string of words that sound very foreign to our modern ears, but you only have to tweak them a little bit, not to change their meaning, but to help them make sense in today’s language.
You have been set free from sin and have become willing servants for justice.
Because God does not enslave us against our will so that we have to do what we don’t want to. But rather, he calls us to service, to serve justice, to live for what is good and right and true, something which we would never want to do without him.
This is God’s solution to all that is wrong in the world, to all that is wrong in us. He achieves it himself through his own son Jesus and by his Spirit. Through Jesus’ life and death and new life. God offers it to us as a gift, not of our deserving, but despite our deserving.
But he does not do this against our will. We can choose to resist his will for us. We can choose to not trust his offer of life. Or we can choose to believe it and to accept it so that it becomes ours. Romans chapter 10 verse 10 says,
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
It talks about an inward action and an outward action. On the inside we choose to believe in our heart that God raised his son Jesus from the dead. It means believing that there is a God, that the problem in the world is real and we are part of it, but that God provided the solution in Jesus so that God’s life and grace triumph over our hate and greed to give us hope and faith and love. It means believing that Jesus has been raised by the Spirit to new life so that by the same Spirit we can turn our back on our old way of life and begin again.
It’s an inward act, that belief, that faith, because no one can see it or hear it. It’s either there or it isn’t and no one can tell. But that inward act is paired with an outward act. Which is to confess without our mouth that Jesus is Lord. The king of kings, sitting at the right hand of God. The Lord of all people, the Lord of all time. The Lord of me, who holds my future in his hands. The Lord of you.
This confession is the beginning of everything, because you can’t say that and mean it and not act on it. You can’t say it and mean it and act like his life isn’t the best, most truly human life. You can’t say, Jesus is Lord, and then ignore everything he said like, Love one another as I have loved you. To say, Jesus is Lord, out loud so that everyone can hear you is to hear him say, “Take up your cross and follow me,” and to choose to do it. In front of all the world so that everyone can see. It is to choose to live for him because life without him isn’t worth choosing.
This inward and outward act go together because the outward act is the sign that the inward act is real. To call Jesus Lord is to believe that God raised him from the dead, because if God raised him from the dead then there is no other Lord but Jesus. With this faith and by this confession, you receive God’s gift of salvation. As Romans chapter 10 verse 10 says,
you will be saved.
Not might be. Not probably. But will be. Because as it says 3 verses later,
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
And the name of the Lord is Jesus.
It’s a kind of Roman road. It was laid down long ago, but it still leads straight to its destination. It begins with God and it ends with our salvation. And I invite you to take this journey with me.