Romans 1-4

The Plan

The Book of Romans was really a letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome. The church there was comprised of Jews who had become Christians and also Gentiles who had become Christians.

At the time of this writing this church was dealing with the issue of Gentiles becoming Christians. The Church was started by Jews and the first converts were Jews. But the gospel was spreading beyond Jerusalem, first to Judea and then to Samaria. However, Peter received a vision that led to the conversion of a gentile Centurion and Paul and Barnabas were also leading Gentiles to the Lord.   The Jewish believers started saying that the Gentile converts must be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem to find out what the Apostles were thinking about this issue. By the time they got to Jerusalem the Jewish believers were saying that the Gentiles needed to, not only be circumcised, but also follow the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Even though the council in Jerusalem disagreed and wrote a letter reflecting their decision, this did not end the argument. Careful reading of Romans will show that this was a problem in the church at Rome and Paul addresses this problem head on.

Back when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and the people were taken to Babylon, there was a group of priests who sought to preserve the Law and keep it before the people so they would not lose their heritage as the people of God.  From this group came the Pharisees years later. They not only preserved the Law but also added to it the Oral Law and the teachings of the Rabbis. Finally traditions formed and displaced some of the Law. At the time of Jesus the Law had been corrupted to the point they were teaching that one could only be saved by following the Law.

When we hear of a new “religion”, cult, or teaching that comes on the scene, one of the first questions we should ask is what happens to all the people who were born, lived, and died, before this new movement came to light? How are they saved or were they saved or just lost and discarded? This is the problem with salvation being tied to circumcision or following the Law. If salvation is based on circumcision then how were people saved before Abraham received the covenant of circumcision? Four hundred years later the Law was given to Israel. How were people saved before that? The answer is they are saved by faith in the revealed Word of God at the time. The evidence of faith was they were obedient and did what God had revealed but the action was in response to faith, not a means to faith. Paul makes this very clear in Chapters 3&4. In Chapter 4:3, Paul points out that even before the covenant of circumcision was given, that when Abraham believed what God had promised him earlier, his faith in what God promised was credited to Abraham as righteousness. In Chapter 1:17, Paul quotes the prophet Habakkuk who said, “The righteous man will live by his faith”  long after the Law was given. NASB

Salvation has always been by faith and will always be by faith. How we live our life though will show what or in whom we believe.

Paul taught that the Law had a specific purpose. It was to convict the world of sin, but there is more. The Law was not only the Ten Commandments and the civil law, but it was also the ceremonial law. The ceremonial law covered the tabernacle, priesthood, sacrifices, and holy days and special feasts. These deal with the conduct of the people and their relationship with God. When the people sin there is a remedy for the sin contained in the Law. If the people are blessed because they followed the Law there is also a provision in the Law where they can give thanks to God for His provision.

In Deuteronomy 4:1-8, we read that if the nation obeyed the Law God would bless them in the eyes of the nations around them. However, the chapter also goes on to say what that witness will look like to those nations if Israel is not obedient and does not follow the Law. So, the Law was a witness to the world as well. Of course, this was the reason God gave the nation the Law. When Israel and God made the covenant at Mt Sinai they said that God would be their God and they would be His people.  By making the covenant Israel was “chosen” to bring the Law to the world. The condition of the world before the Law was given was very much like the description given in Chapter 1:18-32.

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said, “Do not think I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but fulfill.”  NASB

The purpose of the Ten Commandments and the civil law remains the same. They are to convict us of sin. Paul makes it clear that we are all sinners in Chapter 3. Jesus fulfills the ceremonial law. He is the sacrifice for our sins and he is the Great High Priest. It is no accident that there has not been a temple where a sacrifice for sin could be offered since 70 AD. In Hebrews we read that Jesus is not only the Great High Priest but He is also the mediator of the New Covenant. Hebrews 7&8

In the New Covenant God writes the Law on the heart of man by the conviction of the Holy Spirit as we read in John 16:8-11.  Paul points out that was taking place in Romans 2:14-16.

In Chapter 3 Paul then asks, what is the advantage of being a Jew? Well, they are still the covenant people of God. They are to be the first to hope in Christ and declare the New Covenant had come. That is what Paul did in the first six verses of Chapter 1.  But the Jewish Christians were off course in the use and purpose of the Law and God’s plan for them. So, starting in Chapter 2:17, Paul specifically addresses this audience and will continue to do so on into Chapter 11:12. It is important that we realize who Paul is talking to if we are to understand what he is saying and not get off course ourselves.

So, to pull this altogether, it is clear the Jews are still the covenant people of God and God still has a plan for them. The world is still a mess because of sin and the Law was given to point out that all have sinned and are in need of a Savior. Salvation is, and always had been, by faith in the revealed Word of God. The Jewish Christians were trying to make the Gentile Christians live under the Old Covenant but God has made a New Covenant. In the New Covenant Jesus is the sacrifice for sin.  Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant and He has sent the Holy Spirit to testify of Jesus and convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, for salvation can only be found in Jesus. Paul is working with the Jewish Christians to understand God’s plan for them, the Church, and the world.

I know I have covered a lot of ground in this study and bounced back and forth to various verses so in light of what you have read here I want to encourage you to reread Romans 1-4 again with this study in mind.

Pastor Dave