September 14

September 14
by Pastor Jim B.



For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live."

Romans 1:16-17 

For followers of Jesus, no book of the Bible has had more impact than Paul's letter to the Romans.  So, let me invite you to join me for the next five days as we enjoy a mere "taster" of this most marvelous letter. Perhaps these "five bites" may encourage you to read the whole thing — as every follower of Jesus should do more than once.

What I want to do is touch down at five key places in Paul's letter — five places which certainly won't cover everything Paul has to say but which will give you a broad sense of it.  In addition, I will bring the stories of five lives deeply touched by this letter — one of which will be Paul himself, though today we'll begin with Martin Luther.

We begin with the verses at the top: verses which many would call the key to Romans.  Far from being ashamed of the Gospel, Paul was most eager to share it — because of what is found in verse 17.  We are made right with God not by laboriously — and fearfully — striving to keep the laws of the Old Testament but rather because God himself makes us right; and this is a gift received through faith alone.

Yet these verses, and the verses which followed, at first terrified Martin Luther.  Indeed, the very next verse, verse 18, declares

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.

And it only goes on from there and it gets worse.

You see, the thing Luther didn't understand — the thing which completely changed his life when suddenly he did understand — was that this "righteousness of God" of which Paul writes is not a righteousness revealed in contrast to our own unrighteousness (though that stark contrast is certainly there).  Rather, the gospel (= "good news"!) reveals that God's righteousness in Christ is that which covers our unrighteousness.

When this suddenly dawned upon Luther — who was flogging himself, among other things, in an attempt to earn God's favor — an oppressive weight of fear was suddenly removed from him.  He was being covered with the righteousness of Christ!  When the Father looked at him, he saw, as it were, not Luther and his sin but a white robe of Christ's righteousness.  And that's true for you and me, as well.  Luther would come to describe this as a "divine exchange" in which our sin is laid upon Jesus on the cross while his righteousness covers us like a robe.

At this point, the Reformation was born.  Rather than fearing what he found in Romans, Luther began teaching it and eventually wrote a game-changing commentary on the book.

And what about you?  The gospel is so countercultural — especially in a "no-such-thing-as-a-free-lunch" culture such as ours.  We often need to hear this glad message again and again, as Annabelle Catherine Hankey wrote in 1866 in the last verse of her well-known hymn, "I Love to Tell the Story":

I love to tell the story, 
for those who know it best
seem hungering and thirsting 
to hear it like the rest.

Heavenly Father, we can only give you thanks and praise that our relationship with you has been restored through you, and neither depends upon nor is threatened by our own failed performance.  Help us now, in spite of limited strength and even motivation, to be a part of your work to draw others to you and to bring healing into their lives.  For we pray in Jesus' Name.  Amen.

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