"You shall know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free"
Publisher / Editor:
Paul Hayden

Roaming the Roman Road

May 16, 2022

Throughout history, clarity has been a rarity. Joseph Pulitzer once said the following about writing to readers. “Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.” 

When I read Pulitzer’s quote, it’s as if Paul, the writer of the Book of Romans, had mentored Pulitzer about writing. Why do I think this? Because this is how Paul wrote the Book of Romans for his Roman audience. They appreciated and admired the form in which Paul wrote it. It was a more Roman (western) way of writing. The reason why people today have trouble reading the Book of Romans is we aren't living in the Roman context and times.

In his introduction to Romans in The Message Bible, author Eugene Peterson enlightens us about Paul's letter to the Romans. I quote him below. It's a perfect example of what Pulitzer says about writing to an audience.

“The event that split history into ‘before and after’ and changed the world took place about thirty years before Paul wrote this letter. The event – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – took place in a remote corner of the extensive Roman Empire: the province of Judea in Palestine. Hardly, anyone noticed, certainly no one in busy and powerful Rome.

And when this letter arrived in Rome, hardly anyone read it, certainly no one of influence. There was so much to read in Rome – imperial decrees, exquisite poetry, finely crafted moral philosophy – all of which were world-class. And yet, in no time, as such things go, this letter left all those other writings in the dust. Paul's letter to the Romans has had a far larger impact on its readers than the volumes of all those Roman writers put together.

The quick rise of this letter to a peak of influence is extraordinary, written as it was by an obscure Roman citizen without connections. But when we read it for ourselves, we begin to realize that it is the letter itself that is truly extraordinary and that no obscurity in writer or readers could have kept it obscure for long.

The letter to the Romans is a piece of exuberant and passionate thinking. This is the glorious life of the mind enlisted in the service of God. Paul takes the well-witnessed and devoutly believed fact of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and thinks through its implications. How does it happen that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, world history took a new direction, and at the same moment, the life of every man, woman, and child on the planet was eternally affected? What is God up to? What does it mean that Jesus ‘saves’? What’s behind all this, and where is it going?

These are questions that drive Paul’s thinking. Paul’s mind is supple and capacious. He takes logic and argument, poetry and imagination, Scripture and prayer, creation and history and experience, and weaves them into this letter that has become the premier document of Christian theology.”

Excellent writing, huh? I hope Peterson's short introduction motivates you to read the book of Romans. It’s as relevant now as it was then. If you are new to the Bible, read Romans in The Message version of the Bible. The Message is a contemporary rendering of the Bible from the original languages, crafted to present its tone, rhythm, events, and ideas in everyday speech.

There are 16 chapters in Romans. Every chapter has a unique focus relevant then and relevant now. Today, let’s walk through the first eight chapters of the Roman road in short snippet form.  

Chapter 1 was written to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people), in this case, the Romans. Paul reveals what happens when Gentiles ignore God. It leads to a downward spiral in national and individual power and status. Romans was a prophetic alert to Rome not to become shipwrecked like other civilizations in past times who ignored God. 

Chapter 2 was written for the Jewish people. God reveals to the Jewish people that just because they are religious, they are not better than other people. Paul says God is kind, but God is not soft. Religion can’t make you right with God. Christ does.

Chapter 3 - Paul summarizes that the Jews and the Gentiles are both in the same sinking boat because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Chapter 4 declares that the way to escape sin's wages and access God’s grace and eternal life is through faith in Jesus. At birth, everyone is given the power to believe; therefore, all people have access to God. 

Chapter 5 implores us to enter what God wants for us, that is, for us to be right with him. We don’t change ourselves; God changes us from the inside out by grace (unearned favor from God) through faith in Jesus. 

Chapter 6 elevates us from our worldly condition to our heavenly position in Jesus and self-sufficiency to God's sufficiency. We are under new management. 

Chapter 7 declares that all believers will be torn between our old ways and our new God ways for a while. Christ-likeness is a process. It will require perseverance. 

Chapter 8 answers the question of Christian living. The solution is living life on God's terms, not ours. We don't have to live life under a black, low-lying cloud. God is for us, not against us. 

How was that for a road trip? I hope you will invest time in reading the book of Romans. All God is saying is give Me and My peace a chance. 

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Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
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