This passage contains several verses that played a pivotal role in my own salvation, and probably the salvation of most if not all Christians. These verses give us the great news that through the work of Christ we now have peace with God. This is the essence of God’s grace: Christ died to justify us, to make us righteous before God so that we may be saved from His perfect justice and so escape His wrath against sin. We do not deserve His grace because we were His enemies, alienated from and hostile to Him. Even so, God sent His Son Jesus to die for us. There was nothing worthy or desirable in us, except that we were creatures He created and chose to love. And because He loved us so much, He showered His grace on us and reconciled us to Himself.
And though we know we are justified by God’s action in and through Christ we have difficulty appropriating, understanding or believing it. We must always bear in mind that salvation comes all by God’s grace and His work, lest we become conceited and think we have earned or merited it because we are such good and righteous people. And in addition, we have an obligation to share God’s grace and pour it out upon others as the Lord has poured it out on us. This is so that others may know the truth and repent and rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ who has bought us reconciliation with His own blood. For if the Lord did this great thing for us while we hated Him, so ought we to give our lives in love to those who hate us as well as Him.
Paul continues to expound on the free gift of salvation that does not come by our works. He points out to the Jewish Christians that Abraham was deemed to be righteous before the Lord by faith. This the Lord did before He ratified the covenant by circumcision and before the Law of Moses was in effect. All Abraham had done was believe in God’s promises that He would make him a great nation and would give him many descendants through whom the Lord would bless all the peoples of the earth. This faith is what God accredited to him as righteousness. Therefore all Christians trace their spiritual heritage through Abraham because salvation comes by faith to all who believe. Those who keep the Law, or try to, and those who are circumcised cannot boast in their legacy or claim that they are in any way superior to others in the Kingdom of God.
Paul wants us to know that we cannot establish our own righteousness. To even attempt it is an act of pride and conceit because it is impossible. Moreover it is unthinkable for, if we could keep the Law, if we could become sinless on our own, Christ would not have had to die for our sins. But the truth is no one can keep the law of God, moral or Mosaic to the perfection God demands. When God calls us He gives us the faith that is credited to us as righteousness by applying to us the righteousness of Jesus. This is a free gift apart from any works of obedience or charity. He pardons and covers over our sins by deeming them as having been paid in full by the sacrifice of Christ.
A free gift sounds wonderful but it is still quite difficult for many to accept. Most do not want to hear that their good deeds, their noble charity really earns no merit with God. Why else would one want to do good deeds if not to earn one’s way to eternal life? Of course many do good deeds to exalt the self, assuage guilt or to receive praise and adulation form others, even from God. But the free gift of eternal life allows us to do good deeds out of love for God, not to make Him or anyone else love us.
Paul maintains that the Jewish Christian has no advantage over the Gentile He asks and answers several rhetorical questions that may have been raised by the believers at Rome. Basically these questions may imply that there since there is no advantage in keeping the law or living a moral life, we can sin as much as possible. Paul dismisses such a notion because God, by nature, is holy and hates sin. And then he cites several scriptures to stress the point that every human being is by nature a sinner in need of God’s help and grace, including those Jews who claim they follow the Law. Even they fall short of perfection. Not only do they fail to obey every detail, they obey for the wrong reasons. Most who obey do so to earn favor with God or as a means of saving themselves. Either way they are in rebellion against the Lord.
In order to rectify this situation and make us right with Him, the Lord justifies us, that is, declares and makes us righteous, enables us to live lives of goodness and charity. He does not excuse or ignore sin, nor does He merely forgive it. He atones for it because it is a serious matter to Him: it provokes Him to anger. So great is His anger that nothing we can do will assuage it. So in love, He has taken the necessary steps to make us right with Him by offering up His Son Jesus as our propitiation, our sin offering. In these verses Paul makes it abundantly clear that the work of salvation is all God’s work, and we human beings add nothing to this, not even the faith to accept it. Even that comes from God as He enables us to see our sinful depravity and our hopeless state. Then as we stand on the edge of the abyss of despair, he reaches out to us with His offer of mercy in the cross, alone.
So now think of when you came to faith in Christ. I remember it will. I realized how sinful, weak and helpless I was before God. You also should have realized the same about yourself. If not, then maybe you should think about it. If you think you can make your way to heaven or earn favor in God’s eyes by doing good deeds, then you may still be under God’s wrath.
Paul chastises the Christians at Rome for their hypocrisy. Many of them were boasting of their own righteousness and their acceptance by God. This was especially true of the Jewish Christians who felt that their heritage and their keeping of the Law of Moses made them better than other Christians and guaranteed them a place in God’s Kingdom. Such cocky self-assurance led them into presumption and sin. Their hearts were not right with God for though they kept the Law outwardly they felt they had the right to judge the behaviors of others while excusing themselves for actions, attitudes and behaviors which were just as sinful. Paul tells them that the Lord knows the heart. He will judge the deeds of all based on their underlying attitudes. He knows who does outwardly good deeds for His glory apart from those who do them for self-glorification.
The fact is we Christians often engage in judging and condemning those both inside and outside the church for deeds and lifestyles which violate our moral code. Yet we overlook or excuse our own behavior either by thinking we are not guilty of any serious sin or otherwise by doing whatever we please assuming that we are not bound by the same standards. Thus we live secure in our own little Church kingdom sniping and complaining about those in the world and bullying our own brethren. The Christian’s duty is to preach the gospel in word and in deed in order to lead the pagans to see the danger they are in from the wrath of God. This is accomplished by the preaching of the gospel and works of righteousness. We are not to waste our time fighting among ourselves. Neither are we to be gloating over our salvation or scornfully judging the wickedness of our neighbors. Rather we are to be witnesses testifying to these neighbors of the mercy and love of God in Christ Jesus.
We Christian must make sure that our lifestyle matches our profession of faith in Christ. Our good deeds must be performed in humility not with a desire for self-glorification. Even the best of deeds performed with the wrong heart attitude are sinful. They do not cover our sins or outweigh them. The deeds we do are for the glory of God and no other. Only then do they serve as evidence of a heart surrendered to Christ Jesus.
The subject of the sovereignty of God is one of the major themes in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. The issues of the letter indicate that some of the members of that church were having difficulty getting along with one another. The Church was a cultural mix: Christians from pagan backgrounds were fellowshipping with others with Jewish roots. The latter tended to take pride in their religious heritage of the Law and so some treated all Gentiles, both Christian and pagan alike with feelings of disdainful superiority. To address this problem Paul introduced the theme of the Christian’s justification through faith alone irrespective of status, ethnic origin, culture or works. The righteous are righteous by grace through faith, not works. Righteousness is granted by God so no Christian may claim exalted status or superior rank.
Paul was not hesitant to speak his mind for he knew what was at stake here: the salvation of souls. As we are reminded from the Old Testament, particularly Psalms and Job, the whole of creation testifies to the glory of the Lord. Yet that testimony, though quite revealing is insufficient to enable anyone to live a life of perfect righteousness or to avoid sin. To be sure, throughout history, all peoples and cultures have a moral code or law which they set up for the purpose of orderly government and proper justice, yet no one ever followed those rules to perfection, not event those established by Christians.
As Paul states and we can attest to from observation, all people give themselves up to all sorts of perverse behavior, notably homosexuality which here is soundly and forcefully condemned as sin. In fact, the sin itself is its own punishment for it keeps the sinner trapped as a slave unable to do or think otherwise. Thus all pagans, all wicked people, all sinners are under the wrath of God, without hope apart from Jesus. Therefore we Christians must unite under the banner of the Holy Spirit and cease our political infighting so that we may reach out to those who do not know Christ so they, like us, may receive the same gift of eternal life which we have.
As we consider all the events that took place in the last few chapters, Paul imprisonment and trials at Caesarea, the terrible storm, the shipwreck and the bite from the deadly snake, we might think that Satan was really trying hard to disrupt the work of the Lord by assaulting him with all these adversities. Yet the Lord Himself was using all these events to accomplish his will. God had promised Paul that he would go to Rome and bear witness for the gospel and nothing would prevent that from occurring. The Lord’s purpose was to plant the gospel in the center of the Empire from which it would go out to all corners of the earth. To accomplish this, the Lord engineered all these events. In the process the gospel was preached to the people on the ship, to the inhabitants of Malta and then to all those living in the city of Rome. There Paul, though under house arrest, was able to preach to Gentiles and Jews alike, including the Roman soldiers who were guarding him. These guards, paradoxically, were a captive audience.
As Luke draws his account to a close he relates Paul’s final confrontation with the hard-hearted Jews. Paul judges them rather severely with a prophetic word from Isaiah. Although he had always preached first to Jews wherever he went and then Gentiles, from now on he would preach only to the latter. It seems that Luke is telling us that this was the course the church would take. The Jews as a whole had rejected the gospel and continue to do so to the present day, of course with some exceptions. Perhaps Luke is telling us that God finally abandoned the people who clung fast to the Old Covenant. From now on the Gentiles would eagerly embrace faith in Christ and flood into the church as people of the New Covenant sealed in the blood of Christ. New wine is best poured into new wineskins.
It is quite amazing how the Lord works to accomplish His will! Those circumstances of adversity, pain, persecution and rejection which we assume are the devil’s doing are all engineered by the Lord to work out His plan in our lives. We are not mere pawns in the cosmic battle, but we are engaged in the battle and will reap the reward of eternal joy and happiness. So whatever we endure, no matter how painful, we can rejoice that the Lord is working in our lives. Those who endure no adversity are the ones who have rejected the Lord. They need our help and prayer because though they think they are happy and prosperous now, they will reap the pains of eternal punishment unless they repent.
Luke describes to us the dangerous and terrifying voyage to Rome in just a few verses that are filled with vivid and gripping details. Apparently he accompanied Paul along with Aristarchus on this voyage which is why he could relate all the drama and terror those aboard the ship experienced during those few weeks which must have felt like years. Paul was an experienced traveler and so was right to try to urge the pilot and ship owner not to resume the voyage because of the treat of winter storms. This later elevated his stature in the eyes of both crew and passengers so that they listened to him when the situation became hopeless. No doubt his calm and serene attitude in such circumstances also helped them.
Paul trusted in God and never doubted that he would survive the trip. After all, the Lord had promised he would have opportunity to preach the gospel in Rome. The appearance of the Lord in the midst of the storm reinforced that assurance but served also to help how to encourage the others. The Lord would, on account of him, deliver them all.
God does really neat things like this for us when we are engaged in Kingdom business. We endure storms of life such as sickness, pain, economic depression many as dangerous and life-threatening as Paul and his companions suffered. The Lord God promises to carry us through them all. The hope we manifest in such dire and dreadful circumstances serves as a testimony to the unsaved who see our trust and faith. They see in us the all-sovereign power of God on behalf of those He loves. No doubt a few if not many of those 276 on board believed as a result of their deliverance.