Saturday, March 26, 2011

Romans 1-4: Stop. Working.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…” Romans 1:18.

When I first sat down and decided to read Romans, that’s about as far as I got before discouragement got the better of me. At which point I closed the book and turned on the TV to watch Shark Week…it seemed to be more of a spirit-lifter than what the word of God had just told me.

My point is, without understanding what the whole book is about, scriptures like this can lead new believers in the wrong direction – that is, believing that we somehow have to “undo” or “make up for” the godlessness in our lives at present or in our pasts. I read this verse and promptly missed the entire message of the book of Romans.

Maybe you’re like me, and you got it in your mind somehow that the Christian faith is all about how we can work our way to righteousness, earn God’s favor by what we do, and escape the wrath of God by being as awesome as we know how to be. Which would be great – but you know as well as I do that for as awesome as we try to be, we typically just end up…well, sucking. Even if we know Christ as Savior and Lord, at the end of the day we mess things up more often than we get it right. Over and over again. And if all we do us mess it up over and over again, how can we possibly live the lives that God wants us to? How can we possibly earn his favor? How will we ever make it to heaven? What will become of us? Whyyyyyyy?

Are you ready to put the book down and go watch Shark Week, too? I can relate to the feeling. But those questions, that doubt - that isn't what God is trying to drive home to you and me through the book of Romans. What He was trying to convey in the book of Romans s is actually quite simple: Faith alone in Christ alone is the ONLY work that will count when it comes to going to heaven.

If we’re ever going to understand (1) how to get to heaven and (2) how to live life without trying to earn grace that can’t be earned, (and consequently driving ourselves insane) we need to look at how humankind got into this predicament in the first place. Which is why Romans 1-4 are so important.

Romans was written by Paul to the Roman church in about A.D. 56 They were a group of people who were caught in this idea that they had to follow every letter of the law perfectly to earn God's favor. [1]. (Kind of sounds familiar, doesn't it?) 

Now, Paul’s writings can be kind of difficult to understand sometimes[2], so I’ve decided that there are certain verses that can best be summed up in a comic book strip.

Romans 1:18-19 - God reveals Himself through creation, so that mankind would not have an excuse to say "We didn't know you were there, God."

Romans 1:21-25 - People turn away from God anyways and turn to nasty, evil things instead...go figure...

Romans 1:26-32 - God, being the just God that He is, gives humankind over to their sinfulness, exacting His judgment through the consequences of our actions. And despite the suckiness of those consequences, humankind keeps ignoring God.

In case you were curious, that’s how mankind ended up being so awful to the very core. Humankind has a history of turning from God and refusing to see Him in the blatant evidence around us. And then we wonder why bad things happen and consequences are really harsh and we wreck our lives.Weird.

You might be sitting there thinking, “But, I don’t do any of those things. I don’t worship sticks. I don’t get drunk or high. I don’t have sex and pursue debauchery. I’m good, right?” Wrong. 

According to Romans 2 we are in NO position to judge each other, because we're guilty of the very deeds we tend to judge people on. Ponder, if you will, these song lyrics: “We’re all guilty of the same things – we think the thoughts whether or not we see them through.”[3]
 How are we feeling about ourselves now?

No, no wait! Turn Shark Week off! I swear, it’s about to get better!!

This is where God’s righteousness and faithfulness swoops in and basically saves us from getting what we deserve. Verse 3:21-24 is the major turning point:

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

What does that mean for us?

To put it simply: Stop working. The only way to achieve righteousness in God’s eyes is through faith ALONE in Christ ALONE. No works, no deeds, no bust-your-tail-to-lead-the-most-sinless-life-ever. The only way to be justified – declared right before God – is to put faith alone in Christ who died to cover our filthy unrighteousness. Paul then uses father Abraham as an example of what that faith looks like:

“What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” –Romans 4:3

This would have made radical sense to the original audience because Abraham was the guy God made the original covenant with. He was a big deal. But Paul clearly points out that he wasn't a big deal because of anything he did - he was a big deal because of his faith in what God could do. 

I don’t know about you, but life started to look a whole lot easier – a whole lot simpler – as soon as this idea of “works” was kicked out of my general salvation. If all I have to do is believe that Christ’s sacrifice covers my sins and His works are sufficient for me to be declared righteous, that means I have so much extra time and energy and emotion to spend on more important things, like serving in church with the right heart, like homework, like spending quality time with the people who matter to me. Or watching Shark Week.

How about you? What works do you think God is calling you to let go of? Where in your walk with Christ can you stand to exercise less faith in your own deeds and more faith alone in Christ alone?

[1] I am indebted to Professor John Correia and his stunningly awesome power-point for this information
[2] If you have a hard time understanding Paul’s writing, I highly recommend reading out of a more thought-for-thought translation, such as the New Living Translation or the New International Version. 
[3] Lyrics taken from “Forgiven” By Relient K


  1. ZOMG. Love it. Have you thought at all about maybe adding a bit about Romans 4:4-5 to differentiate between faith and works in Romans?

  2. now y did i not think of this ...great work !