Friday, August 29, 2014

The Romans Run

You take it on the run, baby!

The words to an old REO Speedwagon song came to mind as I began to think about this message.  
You take it on the run baby
If that's the way you want it baby
Then I don't want you around
I don't believe it,
Not for a minute
You're under the gun so you take it on the run
Lyrics by Gary Richrath, REO Speedwagon, 1980

Paul's Letter to the Romans is a piece of work that is unlike any other message attributed to him. A mixture of history and theological understanding, Paul crafts a message together to those Hellenistic Jews living in Roman/Greek lands that need to understand their own historical, Jewish background in order to appreciate what their new found faith in Christ is truly all about. Paul, formerly known as Saul, was one who had persecuted the church by killing Christians. It was as if he, himself, did not fully understand his own history. Now, with Christ at the center of his life, the light comes on and all of it lines up and makes sense. Paul writes to other Jews and believers in Christ in his other places in the New Testament, but nothing compares to the thoughtfulness he puts into this letter. 
We are going to take Paul's letter to the Romans on the run today. That phrase will work itself into our message as we go along. This morning’s message is different in that we are going to cover almost an entire book of the bible in one sitting. Almost all of it. (I encourage you to take the time to read Romans and let God speak to you as I don't have the space or time to cover it all verse for verse.) Chapters 1-12 to be precise. Chapters 13-16 can be viewed as an explanation of Chap 12. There is some explanation of Christian living, Paul’s plans for the future, a few word to select parties and final salutations. The opening chapters provides much history from the Old Testament world, an explanation of the law and it’s purpose, a realization of sin and what it is. The “meat” of the letter is Chaps 5 – 8. This is where we will place much of our focus and there will be scripture on the PowerPoint. We’ll see some more history in chaps 9-10 and wrap it up with Paul’s strongest statement to the Christian life in Chap 12. 
Lets start off with a statement that many a Lutheran, if they were worshipping with us today, could stand up and salute...

Romans 1:16-17

New International Version (NIV)
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[a] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[b]

Paul realized that, in the midst of world gone wrong, faith was the ultimate prize to hang on to in this life. In this opening chapter Paul will state many things he sees going on in the culture around him in Rome. We could most likely draw some correlation between the world of Rome and the country we live in today. The old adage, “When in as the Romans do”, has been a part of our lexicon for some time now. In a culture that worshipped many gods, even placing it’s own emperor up in a godly sight for all the nations to see, it is no wonder that such lawlessness reigned. Which brings Paul about to the subject of the law as we enter chap 2.

Paul spends a paragraph speaking about God as the righteous judge. God and the law go together. It was God who gave the law to Moses and the people. Paul, right away, gets his Jewish audience in touch with their own history. History can be a great teacher if we are willing to listen and learn.

Romans 2:12-16

New International Version (NIV)
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

Sin is at the heart of what Paul presents in Romans. He starts off talking about how horrible things are in the culture of the Roman world. He goes into a short expose on God and the law to show that the law is simply here to point out sin to us. We do need the law. We need something to be a guide for us as to what righteous living should look like. Right in the middle of Chap 3 Paul brings it home for everybody, just in case there was anyone who thought they might be excluded from the subject...  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
  However, unless we think that sin is the bulk of the subject matter here, lets take a look at the larger context around v 23...

Romans 3:21-26

New International Version (NIV)

Righteousness Through Faith

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[a] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[b] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Paul balances his talk about sin throughout Romans with the matters of faith and righteousness. If all the law was made to do was to point out what sin is for us humans beings, then something else needs to point out the grace and righteousness of God. All through the scriptures of the Old Testament there are signs pointing to a work that God wants to do. The sign is the coming of a Messiah. The work is making his people live the way they should live. What would come would not be like the giving of the law. What was to come had to do with grace and faith. And, one Old Testament figure would be the example to follow as they would wait.

Romans 4:1-3

New International Version (NIV)

Abraham Justified by Faith

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”[a]

The work belongs to God, not us. Paul has it out with his Jewish audience about how exactly we are justified. That is to say, how we are made right in our relationship with God. We are redeemed in the work that Jesus Christ did on our behalf. In order to enter into the redemption, to partake in it, we have to believe. God made a promise to Abraham all those centuries ago. Abraham believed in the message. Because Christ was not yet here, this faith was ‘credited’ to him as righteousness. Isn’t it nice to charge something and not have to pay on it till later? In this case, Abraham faith was credited to him. As if he returned something to the store and got a credit it on that item. He could spend it on his next trip to the store. When Christ gets here this believer can pull out the receipt and claim his righteousness. Abraham did this and hung on to his faith. And, so can we.

Ok, that’s a simple opening to Romans. God. Sin. Law. Faith. Redemption.
Now we turn the corner into the heart of the letter. Chapters 5 thru 8 is some very deep reading with much to be expounded upon. One could read through Romans’ first four chapters and come away with a sense of heaviness. Sin can be an overwhelming subject. Paul doesn’t mince words. Sin is lawlessness. The law is needed to point out our sin to us. But, it all feels as if we are on the run from something. Is sin this hopeless subject that we lost in forever. Many folks will say that they believe in Christ. They believe he is coming. But, what about the subject of sin? How are we to deal with sin in our everyday lives? Are we simply resigned to sitting here stuck in mud up to our hips, in a theological sense, until we die? As the old song goes, "I don't believe it, not for minute. You're under the gun, so you take it on the run." If we believe in Christ we can find redemption, but through Chap 4, the message is that Christ is off on the distance. Believing in Christ is used as credit for a future prize. If the book closed here, I would feel heavy. “OK, I guess we just wait it out...” That is, until we turn the page.

Romans 5

New International Version (NIV)

Peace and Hope

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Whenever I hear the word, I instantaneously think of the movie "The Shawshank Redemption". Filmed in my the area I grew up, the fictional movie showcases the story of a man who has had everything taken away from him. Sent to Shawshank prison in the summer of 1942, Andy Dufrane is told that hope is most dangerous thing inside the walls of prison system. There are two words that should stick with a person after viewing this film. Hope is our point for the moment. The other is what Morgan Freeman's character "Red" called a person on the inside. Institutionalized. I would correlate that point to our lives being lived in sin. We need redemption. Most of us realize that. What happens to many a good person in this world is a sense of feeling as if there is no way out. We are stuck in this system of sin in this world paying the price with a prison sentence that offers no parole. And, that's where hope comes in. There's has to be something better. There's has be a way out of the hopelessness this world inflicts upon it's people. There has to be an answer.

In the second half of this chapter Paul would go on to explain that sin came into the world through the actions of one man, the first Adam. This nature of sin was then transferred, spiritually, to all of Adam's offspring, i.e. the human race. Our hope, our redemption is then bought for us through the action of one who is just like the first Adam. Another one comes along who was made without sin, Jesus Christ. Through the giving of his life and his death and resurrection, we now have our hopes realized. There is redemption. There is salvation. It is not somehting off in the distance, but something to be experienced here and now. Many a scripture make sense to us now. He stands at the door. He knocks. He wants to enter. And, he can. Because our hopes have not been trod underfoot. They have been made real through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The next word from those opening chapters that needs to be brought front and center is righteousness. Paul would have explained back in Chapter 4 that we are made righteous through our faith. That maeans we now live in a right relationship with God. Sins have been forgiven. Believing in Jesus Christ makes this new life in God possible. Now we want to live in such as way that our new standing with God makes sense. We don't say that we believe in Jesus and then go do whatever we want to do, however we want to do it. Chap 6 opens the door to how we should now live our lives.

Romans 6:15-18

New International Version (NIV)

Slaves to Righteousness

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Paul would open this sixth chap saying that we are now dead to sin. It should not own us. It should not control us. Christ is died to sin, physically and spiritually. We can gather as we read the scriptures that Jesus lived his life without sin. We also understand in various places that Christ became sin for us. The very spectacle of his hanging on a cross shows the viciousness and severity of the punishments of sin. It should have been us. We should have to pay with our own lives. We should have to make up for our own wrongs. But, we can't. It is one of those situations where the debts is too high and the punishment to strong for us to handle. So, Jesus does it for us. He does it for us on the cross and by the example he set for us to live. As a patient teacher with her children, Jesus marks the way of righteousness with his actions and words. The Teacher wants us to follow his instructions. He wants us to follow his way of life. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul would say that he follows Christ example in this way. "I die daily". He dies to sin in that sense of ownership. The life he lives now he lives unto God in Jesus Christ.

Paul realizes that what he has now is because of God's grace to him. God has freely extended mercy, compassion, forgiveness and freedom to him. Now that he has all of this, should he go on living a life that is layered in slavery and sinfulness? Nope.
17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. That phrase "obey from your heart" suggest that believing is central to seeing this happen in your life. Where do we say we believe? In our hearts. Where do we invite Jesus into? Our hearts. Jesus takes over the control center to lead us and guide us along life's journey. We die to ourselves. We step away from the controls. Instead of being a slave to sin through our own actions we allow someone else to show us the way. Jesus Christ. The commander of the ship now has to ability to show us how to live. But, there is much more that still needs to be realized.

As we enter Chap 7 we see to subjects being addressed. Ownership and Reality. Paul starts off by illustrating his point further about sin's ownership over our lives. The first part of this chapter shows us the picture what marriage looks like. While two people are married to each other, they belong to one another. Nobody else can have them. If one party dies and the other is now alone, that person is then free to marry another. It works the same way in speaking of the subject of sin in our lives. Christ's death on the cross not only provides forgiveness for our sin, but wipes the subject of sin out. It's not here any more. My grandfather did this for my mom. My biological father is a story I could write a whole book about. He was bad news and needed to go from our lives My grandfather basically made him get out. He saved us from that way of life. I can only imagine, and maybe I don't want to, about how life would have been if we had grown up in that picture. God does the same for us in Jesus Christ. In this picture, sin is dead. It has been put to death through what Jesus does for us. Like disease we have been looking for a cure from. Like an antidote to a poison. The cure is here. All we need to do is realize it, believe it.
Realizing what God has done for us it is the issue. The latter part of Chap 7 is a darker part of the Christian experience. It is a place where many a good meaning church folks and even well thought of theologians get hung up. 

Romans 7:14-20

New International Version (NIV)
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Paul pulls back the veil and shows us, for a moment, the ugly details of his own life. The Mighty Apostle has had a hard time working out the understanding of freedom from sin in his own life. For all the explanation he gives us up to this point he shows us that he also has had a problem living in the reality that we are free from sin. God is spiritual. All of this is spiritual. Using the subject of slavery craftily here, Paul says that we can be thought of as slaves. We were sold to sin. We were born into this slavery and we don't know anything else. Now, we are haring about this freedom that we have and it all sounds good. We sure would like to live that way. But, as we begin to walk away from all of this we find that there are shackles still around our hands and feet. We would like to live free but we find that something is still holding us down. We have this desire in our hearts to do what is right, but sin is close by to twist and turn that desire around. 

It would be real easy to get lost in this line of thought. It would be real easy to simply close the book right here at this place and say that this is just how it is.  There are entire theological lines of thought built around this very idea. The idea is that we cannot be free from sin. At the end of this chapter Paul cries out, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" Thanks be to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ." And to many people act as if they have closed the book right there, lay it down, and carry on like that's the end of the story. Only it's not. Paul is still writing.

Romans 8

New International Version (NIV)

Life Through the Spirit

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death.

The song I have been eluding to during this message is about two people who are in love. The stories the singer of the song is hearing about the one he loves are disturbing. The story he is hearing is that the one he loves is caught in shame and guilt over something they have done. But, it is as if her can't believe his ears and refuses to believe what he is being told. If the story is true then his love needs to go and not be in the house. But, his words of confidence are clear. "I don't believe it. Not for a minute. You're under the gun so you take it on the run." We have a tendency to run, in our spiritual lives, like we're under the gun. We think that other people are looking down on us. We think we are worthless. We think we can't be free. It feels like we are running. Constantly. Paul has a word for that in this 8th chapter. It's called fear. "You have not been given a spirit of fear that you should fall back into slavery." I think this is what keeps people trapped in the "Chapter 7 of their lives". Fear. It's so easy to be fearful. It's a trap that sneaks up on you and takes away your hope. "You have been given a spirit of sonship by which we cry, "Abba, Father". We have hope! We have freedom! 
Do you know what it's like to live without condemnation? Do you actually know what it is?
a statement or expression of very strong and definite criticism or disapproval

Wow. That we would be thought of in terms of "disapproval" or criticized to the point of censure. Do you know what it means to be condemned? Like a building that people say cannot be restored, so it gets torn down. Put the word "-nation" on the end and what does it make you think. A whole nation of people just condemned you.  Sin has a way of not just legally condemning us in God's sight, but makes us feel as if we are worthless and unable to approach the throne because of guilt and shame. But, paul does not quit writing at the end Chap 7. He goes on... There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Have you asked Him to come into your life? Can you say that Jesus is your Lord and Savior? Then you have no reason to fear. No reason to hide your face. No reason to shrink back and not approach God. Freedom is yours.

It should be noted here, as I have heard some suggest, that none of this is written in some future tense. Everything here is written in the present tense. Paul does not shift tone when the chapters change. He does not go into some future tense to suggest that someday we will be free. No, right now we are free. All that Jesus Christ did for us is able to be experienced in the here and now. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. Imagine if you will that I approach you and we lock hands, left hand to left hand. Lets imagine for a moment, as we speak of sin ensnaring us, that this is what it looks like. Sin has a hold of you and won't let go. Now, we lock right hand to right hand. Death also has a hold on us. We should die in our sins. We are dead spiritually. We have no fellowship with God. Go ahead and try to pull away. Kind of hard with your arms crossed and your hands and wrists locked up. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death." I let you go. The strangle hold has been severed. We are set free from the condemnation that sin places on us because we are free from sin's control over us. 

Paul makes some grand statements in Chap 8. Here is where there is a hint of future tense in what he says. Our present sufferings are worth comparing with our future glory. We press on. We are not afraid to ask for help. And, we know what the future holds for us. There one other motivator. God's love for us. And, nothing can separate us from it. We should/could tie this back to Chap 6 for a moment. What's the only thing missing from this list of stuff that cannot separate us from the love of God? There is no mention of the subject of sin here. The very nature of sin is to divide. It separates us from our relationship with God. It drives a wedge. That's what sin does. Paul has gone to great lengths to explain to us that sin is no longer a part of our lives. It should be here. That's how he can exclude it from the list. A life that make no excuse for sin does have to worry about sin dividing or excluding. Just because God loves us, does that mean I can just do what ever I can do whatever I want to do, however I want to do it? Just because God loves me? What did Paul ask back in Chap 6? "Should I keep on sinning so that grace may abound?" That doesn't make sense. We walk away from it. Fear no longer controls us. Sin no longer owns us. We are free. Live that way. 

Chaps 9, 10 & 11 are a history lesson. Much in the same manner as Paul opened with history on Israel and Abraham, so he pulls from the history of his ancestors to show how they did not follow God, they did not listen to God's words, and they paid harshly for it. He wants his people to know that they can do this differently. They don't need to walk down the same path as their ancestors did. They don't need to repeat the same mistakes and fall into the same snares and traps. he is pleading with his audience to find some body who will go and preach this message to his people, Israel, now dispersed throughout the regions of Asia and into Romans territories.

Romans 10:14-15

New International Version (NIV)
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Please! Somebody join me in the work of sharing this message with those who need to hear it. And, what a work it is. How many do you know who need to hear the message of forgiveness and peace offered in Christ Jesus? 
Which brings this message to it's final part.
After all that Paul has shared he asks his audience one last request.

Romans 12

New International Version (NIV)

A Living Sacrifice

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Knowing what you know now, hearing what you have heard today, what kind of response would you give to God? We need our minds renewed, so we don't live in fear. We are not here to conform to the pattern of this world. We are not here to live as the world lives. We have new life in Jesus Christ. We give ourselves to Christ, to God, and we let him do whatever he wants to do with us. A living sacrifice. No thought of living any other way. This is how we worship. We come here each week because Jesus is the number one thing in our lives. Christ is what is most important. Do you want to know what God wants for your life? Do you want to know what God's will is for you? Turn your life over to God and find out. Or, keep doing it your way and find fear and doubt and struggle.

God has extended all of this in his mercy, in his grace. It's free. All you're asked to do is believe.

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