When I was a young Christian in my mid-twenties (ahhh those were the days), I remember complaining to my friend about the fact that my church didn’t connect with me.
“I’m not being fed here,” I told him.
He responded, “Are you a baby?”
At first, I thought he was kidding. But when I saw he didn’t crack a smile, I asked, “Why?”
“Because you have to feed babies,” he answered. “Adults learn to feed themselves. If you’re hungry, grab a fork and eat.”
Once I got over my initial frustration with this exchange, I realized he was giving me incredibly valuable guidance: if I don’t own my spiritual growth, I simply won’t grow. Make no mistake, God does the planting, the watering, the pruning… but according to Jesus, I am responsible for the soil.
Paul’s Letter to the Romans as a Relationship Journey
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be using Paul’s letter as an on-ramp to what it means to have a relationship with God. In order to get the most out of Romans, it’s helpful to know the lenses through which Paul interpreted Jesus:
Lens #1 Jewish Apocalyptic
Walking into Barnes & Noble reminds us that there are many different genres of writing: fiction, non-fiction, historical, business, etc. Well, Jewish Apocalyptic is a genre reflected throughout the Bible. We see it in places like Daniel and Revelation.
The use of imagery, symbolism, winged beasts, and lakes of fire are all tools in this genre’s toolkit. The point is for the reader to know that despite all the Evil in the world… despite all the suffering and pain… despite the fact that it seems God has left the building… God is in control and one day will defeat Evil forever.
Lens #2 Forensic
Just like it sounds, this lens is about spiritual Law & Order (dun-dun). Paul sees salvation as a heavenly courtroom where God the Father sits as Judge, and we stand accused because of our sin. Paul uses legal language to describe how Jesus voluntarily takes our death sentence so that we may live and be acquitted.
Lens #3 Pharisaic Interpretation of the Law and Prophets
Paul is reacting to the prevailing Jewish religious thought of his time. There were 613 commandments in the Old Testament that had to be followed in order to be righteous before God. Moreover, there were the rabbinical interpretations of the Law, known as the Midrash, that also had to be followed.
Pharisees believed the only way to righteousness was perfect obedience. And, in their view, the “letter” of the Law was everything, not relationship with God or others (they thought abiding by the Law was the relationship). That’s why they were all over Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. That was considered a violation of the Law (work). Jesus was like, “Seriously?” Or something like that.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
#1 Sin is Much Worse Than You Thought
The big takeaway is that sin has corrupted everything. Like a drop of ink in a pitcher of water, it ruins the whole pitcher. Sin is not simply a behavioral problem that can be fixed by Law obedience. Rather, it’s a heart problem. It’s the condition of the human heart that ruins the whole pitcher.
#2 Grace is More Amazing Than You Imagined
Jesus’ work on the cross overcomes the impossible breach. God’s grace replaces the corrupted water with the Living Water of Jesus Christ. It is undeserved and unearned and utterly mind-blowing that Jesus would take our death sentence so we might walk.
#3 Love is About the Heart
According to Paul, the purpose of the Law is to reveal our sin. But obedience to the Law is not going to lead our hearts to love God. Why? Because love is born from a relationship. If my wife asked me if I loved her, it wouldn’t go very well if I responded: “Well, I legally married you didn’t I?”
No, I love my wife, therefore I continue to stay married to her legally. Similarly, we obey God’s commands because we love him, not the other way around.
Marker #1 on the Roman Road: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
What does this mean for your relationship with God?
There is nothing you can do to make God love you more… or less. It’s not about perfect attendance or memorization of scripture. It’s about your heart.
How does that free you live in a relationship of love? How does that free you from feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy as a follower of Christ?
For more, listen to the Tower Hill Church Podcast “The Road: Part 1” here:
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