I preached an overview of Romans chapters 1 to 11 (yes, 11 chapters) yesterday and used these two photos to introduce the talk:
Why these two photos? I wanted a contemporary image to help us to grasp as church just how radical justification by faith alone is. Paul’s letter was addressed to Jewish Christian believers; steeped in centuries of Jewish custom, culture and law, and to Roman believers; freshly converted out of a culture of shrines, idols, gods and godesses, incense, prostitution, girly bars, predatory sex. Rome was a sort of cross between Bangkok and Brighton, but more perverse, perhaps.
(I don’t know who the guys the the second photo are, and do not mean to imply that they are personally sexually deviant. The two slides merely contrast Jewish orthodoxy with contemporary western pop culture. The radical thing about the gospel is that, assuming they all have saving faith, these guys should accept and love each other as brothers!)
Paul was writing to the church in Rome, one community of believers. Justification by faith alone is radical because it means churches, as in Rome, should be made up all sorts of people who accept and love each other in spite of their cultural and moral differences. Paul’s letter instructs these two groups of Christian believers to accept each other as God had accepted them, to stick together for the praise of God (15:7). A fear of God’s wrath, living trust in the death of Christ for sin and a penitent spirit is all we need to be saved and therefore all we need to accept each other. This is the glorious doctrine of justification without works.
My outline of chapters 1-11 went like this:
Introduction it’s all about faith, from faith to faith, the righteous are justified by faith (1:8, 1:16-17)
1. We have a problem, God’s wrath (1:18)
2. Human solutions don’t work: hedonistic Romans, self-justifiers and legalistic Jews are all in the same boat on stormy seas and they will be overwhelmed and sunk by God’s wrath (1:19-3:20)
3. Righteousness (getting right with God) is the gift of God received by faith in Christ’s work of propitiation on the cross (3:21-4:25), there is no distinction (between Jew and Greek) because all have sinned and are under wrath.
4. Faith gives all believers peace with God (5:1-21)
5. And freedom from slavery to sin (6:1-23)
6. The 3-fold function of the law is to teach, convict and drive us back to Christ (7:1-25)
7. This sort of saving faith leads to adoption by God as his children (8:1-17)
8. It is as simple as: 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. (Romans 10:9) For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile— the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
9. If we are adopted and loved by God then we must accept and love each other, regardless of external appearances, cultural differences and even moral behaviour (15:7)
Paul’s concern is for Jew and Gentile to accept each other on the basis of justification by faith alone and not to conform to the patterns of this world (12:1-2). What does the world do? It forms groups of people who are like each other, and Christ’s church is to be the exception.