The Focus Is on Your Faith—In Romans
WHAT is necessary for you to please God?
You might offer various answers: Live a good life. Do not harm others. Make certain sacrifices for God. Obey his laws. Perform good works. Accept Christ and be sincere in your worship.
These replies have merit, for they touch on things that you need to do in order to receive God’s approval. But something else is so vital that all the above would have no effect without it. That is FAITH.
Perhaps you feel, ‘I have faith and know that faith is important.’ Yet, we all do well to reflect on an idea that repeatedly reaches out to us from the book of Romans. You will find this connected theme in Romans 1:16, 17. The apostle Paul there tells us that ‘the good news is God’s power for salvation’ and that ‘the righteous one will live by means of faith.’ Is salvation thus available to everyone with faith? Does faith make Christian works unnecessary? Paul’s letter to the Romans answers.
Have you personally read Romans? Or, have you repeatedly read it? The latter is a better question, for it has been said that in Romans we find Paul’s most comprehensive presentation of the good news. So Romans merits repeated readings; the more you “chew” it, the more “nutritious” it is.
Salvation by Faith for All
There was an issue of concern to first-century Christians: Could both Jews and Gentiles find God’s approval and be declared righteous by him? God inspired Paul to write on this vital matter in Romans. What he wrote can be highly important to our lives as we exercise faith and seek salvation. It also contains a valuable lesson for us if we are in any way inclined to think of one people or nationality as better than another.
So that we can better appreciate the arguments Paul developed, let us summarize much of the book. As you read Romans with this summary at hand you will have a clear overview that will enable you to see the lines of reasoning developed. Thus you will not miss the broader picture, which can happen from simply a verse-after-verse reading.
After his introduction and warm statement of his desire to visit the congregation in Rome, Paul comes right to this central theme: God is impartial and holds out the possibility of salvation to “everyone having faith”—whether Jew or Gentile. Even though the issue of how God might view Jew or Gentile is not as burning today as it was back then, Paul’s comments emphasize our faith. Why is that necessary for everyone?—Romans 1:1-17.
Actually, all men are sinners who merit God’s wrath. That might be easy to see in the case of non-Jews who inexcusably ignore the evidence of the true God. These often worship created things and (because of their wrong views of God) give in to degraded practices. (Romans 1:18-32) But actually it is so even of persons like the Jews, who might judge or criticize the sinning Gentiles. Both are in a position to be judged. Why? The Jews have the law of God and profess to teach it. The Gentiles have conscience that prods them to do what is right, hence making them accountable. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision of the flesh is, thus, the prime thing.—Romans 2:1-29.
If you were a Jewish Christian back then, you likely would have appreciated Paul’s acknowledgment that the Jews had been entrusted with God’s Word. Yet there would be no escaping the truth, borne out in the Scriptures, that sinfulness is all-embracing. So there is a desperate need for some way that humans might become righteous. God has answered that need with a new means of attaining righteousness—faith in Jesus. Would you like proof that faith is superior to works of law? Consider the example of Abraham, whom God counted as righteous on the basis of faith even before that man was circumcised or before the law was given to Israel. And we cannot ignore the fact that the resulting promise to Abraham meant blessing for all, regardless of their racial origin.—Romans 3:1–4:25.
Do you see, then, how important faith is for Christians? In the case of those destined for life in heaven, faith precedes their being declared righteous and receiving their anointing with holy spirit. Yet how thankful all of us can be for the possibility of gaining God’s approval through our faith! Humans living before the law was given were sinners and died as a result. After Moses received the law, sin became more evident. What could counteract the effect of Adam’s sin that passed imperfection on to us? Jesus’ faithful course and the atoning power of his sacrificial death. With faith in that we can have “everlasting life in view.”—Romans 5:1-21.
Living in Accord With Faith
As you continue reading in Romans you will see that Paul deals with a wrong conclusion that some might draw from his expressions. How so? Well, someone might reason that since God can respond to sin by showing undeserved kindness, a person could just go ahead and sin. What a mistake that would be! Paul explains that Christians whose sins have been forgiven should henceforth not let sin rule over them. It is as if sin formerly was our slave owner, whom we obeyed; but now it is as if that former master died and his orders can be ignored. We have a new master—God. With faith we should be “slaves to righteousness,” having “fruit in the way of holiness, and the end everlasting life.”—Romans 6:1-23.
It requires effort to live as a Christian in accord with faith. That effort is not just in the way of trying to keep a law code, for those who formerly were under the law could not keep it perfectly and now have been released from it just as a wife is released from the law of her husband when he dies. But we can draw encouragement from Paul’s candid admission: He admitted that he was not able to avoid sin, as he so wanted to do. Yet he felt rescued by Jesus. We can experience a similar rescue.—Romans 7:1-25.
Those whom God has adopted as spiritual sons will reign together in heaven with Jesus Christ. That gives them hope, and it should assure all faithful Christians that God will help those who depend on him. In fact, if we are faithful to him, nothing can separate us from his love that is through Jesus. (Romans 8:1-39) We need not doubt God’s outworking of good. He has both the right and the ability to determine matters the way he wants, as he displayed in his choosing of Jacob and in his dealing with Pharaoh. Since most of the Jews were stumbled and did not accept the Messiah, God determined that anyone who exercised faith could be saved. That certainly is good news! Still, it brings on us the responsibility of exercising faith by declaring the good news so that persons of all nations may hear and gain faith.—Romans 9:1–10:15.
We should see the lesson in how this worked out. Though being in a favorable position with God and first in line for heavenly life as the “Israel of God,” the natural Jews did not hold their place. Like natural branches in a cultivated olive tree they were lopped off, allowing place for Gentiles (likened to wild olive branches) who accepted Christ. Without question, all who have received of God’s mercy in that or any other way should appreciatively continue exercising faith so as to gain salvation.—Galatians 6:16; Romans 10:16–11:36.
In what ways can you manifest your faith, beyond making public declaration for salvation and thus helping others to know the good news? You will find some answers in Romans 12:1–13:14. As a Christian you can avoid being patterned after this wicked system; you can cultivate modesty, display hospitality and conquer the evil by doing good. Of course, as you read that passage you will find other excellent recommendations, including ones involving your relative subjection to the governmental “superior authorities.”
Another Christian duty is to be considerate of persons with weak consciences, being willing to forgo permissible things so as not to stumble these others. When we thus bear the weaknesses of those not strong instead of pleasing ourselves, we copy the pattern Christ set. We also promote peace and unity.—Romans 14:1–15:16.
As you read the concluding Ro 15, 16 two chapters of Romans you will see that Paul certainly lived in accord with his faith. He had a ministry particularly to persons in the Gentile nations, and he was intensely occupied with fulfilling that ministry. In addition to visiting the congregation in Rome, Paul hoped to travel even to Spain. That was a main western outpost of the Roman Empire and was untouched territory from Paul’s standpoint. Paul’s numerous personal greetings to Christians in Rome are another evidence of his living, active faith.
Clearly, the book of Romans helps us to appreciate the superiority of faith over works of the law. It makes absolutely clear that in his impartiality God is willing to accept all who exercise faith, giving them the prospect of becoming righteous and gaining endless life. Let us, then, be ever conscious of our need to have strong faith and to live in accord with it.