The God of grace

Ten years ago, I worked here in the church office as a secretary, which was truly a joyous job, because I frequently saw glimpses of God at work in the body of Christ.

One day, a ragged couple came into the office. She was large and loud, gap-toothed with stringy hair. Her husband was small and quiet, large eyes peering out underneath a dirty hat.

Since Calvary Chapel Truckee is a representative of the Salvation Army, oftentimes, authorities might send someone over who was in need, or people hear about us from others who have been helped.

This couple was homeless living in their car with a couple of cats, and they were out of gas. They were wretched and miserable and poor and spiritually blind and naked. When they came in asking for money, Pastor Lee did what he always did with Salvation Army requests. He would bring them to his office to find out their needs – and to share the gospel with them. He never just gave someone money for bills or gas; he always asked them why they were in this situation and then told them about Jesus.

So with this homeless couple, he opened the word and began to go through what is known as the Romans’ Road, explaining what each verse means:

Romans 3:10 – There is none righteous, not even one.

Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Romans 5:8 – But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 10:9-10 – If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

Romans 10:13 – For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

At the end of that meeting, both of them accepted Jesus as their savior, and God’s transformative power was now unleashed in their lives. I still know them and they are still walking with the Lord, all cleaned up and beautiful to behold.

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The Romans Road, which lays out the plan of salvation, is a key evangelistic tool for believers to share. I wonder how many thousands, maybe millions, have come to faith in Jesus through these verses. SIN – God loves us and gave Jesus to die for us – to take the punishment of sin – which is death but Jesus’ death and resurrection gives us that free gift of eternal life. We just have to believe God raised Jesus from the death and confess him as Lord – And this gift is for anyone who calls upon the Lord.

It is so fitting that these evangelistic verses are found in the book of Romans because it was written by the apostle Paul – the great evangelist and missionary, who spread the gospel to the Jews and Gentiles across the Roman Empire.

A theme verse for this book could be Romans 1:16-17 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

Pastor Chuck Smith said “Romans stands out among all the books of the New Testament as being the most theological and systematic. It is a detailed teaching, outlining the essentials of the faith, and serves as a profound explanation of the gospel.”

Martin Luther – who came to saving knowledge of Jesus through meditation on Romans 1:17 praised the Book of Romans: “It is the chief part of the New Testament and the perfect gospel … the absolute epitome of the gospel.”

Pastor and Bible Commentator Ray Stedman said, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans is undoubtedly the most powerful human document that has ever been written. It is pure gold from beginning to end.”

It was the book of Romans that birthed the Calvary Chapel movement. Pastor Chuck Smith, leaving his topical sermons, started verse by verse through Romans in the small congregation of 25 people. As he went through the life-changing verses, Pastor Chuck himself dropped his religiosity, his efforts to find God’s approval through works, and the foundation of the Calvary Chapel movement – GRACE – was born.

Within this letter, you can see Paul’s background, his heart and how God used his past to serve him in the future. We too should remember that nothing is wasted in the Lord – God can use anything in your past, bringing beauty from ashes, to glorify Himself.

Unlike the other apostles, Paul was not a disciple of Jesus before our Lord’s death and resurrection. Paul was a Pharisee, strictly following every single Jewish law – all 613 of them. He grew up in Tarsus, as a Roman citizen, familiar with Greek ways and life, but as a Jew was trained in the Scriptures in Jerusalem under a famous rabbi, Gamaliel. As an adult, he sincerely believed that this new sect called the Way – followers of Jesus – was dangerous to Judaism. He held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, the early church’s first martyr. He persecuted Christians and threw them in jail for their faith. He was on his way to Damascus to round up more Christians when Jesus appeared to him in a bright light and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

From that day on, Paul was a fervent follower of Christ, and right from the beginning he was an evangelist. God kept him in Arabia for 3 years, and another 10 in Tarsus before Barnabus came and found him and took him to Antioch to minister. It was there that the Holy Spirit said, “Separate to me Barnabus and Saul for the work I have called them.”

He changed his name during his first missionary journey – Saul means requested, or in demand, but Paul means little. Saul was a Jewish name, Paul was a Roman name – fitting for someone whose ministry would primarily be to the Gentiles.

Typically, Paul would come to a town, find the Jewish synagogue and share the grace that Jesus freely gives to all. Typically, when the Jews heard that God’s grace is for Gentiles as well, they would run Paul out, forcing him to take the message to the Gentiles.

During his travels, Paul wrote 14 books of the Bible. These epistles were letters he sent to churches he had visited, such as Galatians, Thessalonians, Corinthians, or to people, in the case of Philemon, Timothy and Titus. The letter to the Romans, however, was sent to a church he had never visited. The church is mostly likely to have been founded by Jews who were in Jerusalem and got saved on the Day of Pentacost. Paul longed to visit Rome, and wrote this letter to the believers in Rome in 58 AD while he was ministering in Corinth on his third missionary journey. He didn’t know the believers there, so he didn’t talk about their problems, or the heresys that came into their churches. He just step by step laid out the gospel of grace.

Here Acts 19:21 records, “Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”

Collecting money during his journeys to bring to the famine stricken Jews, Paul arrived in Jerusalem and discovered a plot by the Jews to kill him. He was taken in by the Roman garrison to save his life.

After the murder plot was revealed, the Lord reminded Paul in Acts 23:11, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”

From that time on, Paul was mostly in jail – save for a couple of years later on in Rome. He was held in Israel on false charges for two years. Finally, he invoked his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar and he was sent to Rome via a shipwreck on Malta. This was more than 2 years after his letter was taken to the believers in Rome. Paul was martyred in 66 AD. The culture of the time is not so different than our own. Reading Romans chapter 1 we see those who worshiped animals as gods (how often do people put their dogs or endangered species above people, look at the idols of our world); sexual perversion was prevalent (gay marriage) and sin in general was rampant.

Throughout the book of Romans, we can see how God used all this in Paul’s life to write this important doctrinal book: Paul’s knowledge of Jewish law, his familiarity with the Greek culture, his thankfulness and awe for the grace that was extended to him – “chief of all sinners, persecutor of believers,” his heart for his fellow, but unbelieving Jews, his faith in the grace and freedom that Christ brings and his example of what this looks like as believers serving in the church, society and the world.

Remember this too, God will use ALL of your life for His glory – even the ugly parts if you just present it to him and say use me as you will Lord.

Romans has a reputation for being difficult to plough through and understand. Even Peter in his first letter, said “ even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all [his] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood”

In my first Bible after I got saved, there are question marks all over the first couple of chapters of Romans. At six months old in the Lord, I was trying to do a Bible study with a girl two months old in the Lord. We didn’t understand most of what we read and finally gave up. Which is too bad because if I had understood the powerful truths in this book of the Bible, I believe I could have saved myself years of backsliding.

We will go slowly through Romans, taking each chapter apart and learning what it means, and if we trust what God is saying in these passages, we can be set free of wrong thinking about sin, the law, righteousness, and faith.

There are so many transformational verses in the book of Romans that will break any chains of untruths that Satan may kept us in bondage with. This book will replace lies with the truth and thereby free captives.

Bible Commentator David Guzik says Romans is about God. The word “God” occurs 153 times in the book; an average of once every 46 words – this is more frequently than in any other New Testament book. In comparison, note the frequency of other words used in Romans: law(72),Christ (65), sin (48), Lord (43), and faith(40). Romans deals with many different themes, but as much as a book can be, it is a book about God.

In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul argues that all have sinned, all are condemned because of their sin – first the unbelievers and Gentiles living a perverse life, secondly those who might think they are better than others, and then the Jews who are trying but failing to keep God’s law. In chapters 3-5, righteousness is the theme, using Abraham as the example that works and the law do not make a man righteous before God – only faith. Right standing before God only comes through faith, never in works. And what is the result of that in your life? Peace.

Romans 5:1 – Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

What glorious words for those who are caught up in trying to please God through works!

In chapters 6-7, Paul tackles a believer’s sanctification- process of becoming like Jesus – and the problem with sin. Do we continue to sin? Why do we continue to sin? What can we do about this? “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death! Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Gone is guilt. Gone is the pressure to succeed. We set our minds on the Spirit and do not do the desires of the flesh. We love Jesus and our love keeps us from sin.

We are freed from the chains of sin in Romans 8:1 – “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

In chapter 8, there are so many transformational verses – our right to intimacy with our heavenly Father crying out Abba Father! to that very famous verse that we cling to when we don’t understand why bad things are happening to us: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to [His] purpose.”

It is transformational when you finally connect Romans 8:29 to Romans 8:28 and understand that a good God is using trials to conform us into the image of His Son. God chose us before the foundation of the world, He has plan for us in this life, He is excited to bring us into His glory for eternity. He loves us! If God is for us, who can be against us?

We can withstand the trials and suffering because in Romans 8:37 we understand “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”

We are conquerors in Christ – despite the cancer diagnosis, the divorce, the job loss, the wayward children, the nightmares of a miserable past. And how do we know that?

“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any created things, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Hallelujah!

In Chapters 9-11, Paul shares God’s heart about Israel, and the Jews rejecting Jesus as their messiah, looking into Israel’s past, present and future.

Finally in chapters 12-14, we will take a look at our own walks with the Lord, dwelling on that encouraging verses in Romans 12:1-2

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, [which is] your reasonable service.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what [is] that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

And in 15&16, Paul says goodbye and greets believers in the Roman house churches.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is joy and peace in believing. It is faith and trust in God’s word that gives us hope. I literally have to fight doubt and worry and unbelief in my fight against cancer, but I find my hope in God and His love and the power of the Holy Spirit. His word transforms me. And I pray this year, his word will be life changing as you are transformed by God’s word in Romans.

Your requirement for the next few months as we become transformed by the renewing of our minds in the book of Romans is to unite the word you hear with faith.

As Paul would say, “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

 

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