For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen
I think it is safe to say that without this letter to the Church in Rome, we would not be here. The two most influential men in our branch of Church history (outside of Jesus and the Holy Spirit themselves!) were very heavily influenced by this book. We would likely still be Christ-followers, but we would probably be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox instead of Protestant or part of the Wesleyan holiness churches called “Nazarene”. Because this book was instrumental in the Reformation, in the understanding Martin Luther had about how people are saved: spoiler alert, it’s not for sale and it’s not based on works – and then because John Wesley, who was struggling in his faith, wrestling with big doubts, trying to figure out what it meant to be saved, how it changed him, one night heard Martin Luther’s writings on Romans and realized that what he knew to be true was from the Holy Spirit. He said his ‘heart felt strangely warmed’ and from there, he started the Methodist movement in England and we were spawned, as the Church of the Nazarene, from that place a couple hundred years later.
What is it about Romans that captures the hearts of the reader to the extent that it changed the entire course of church history?
More than I can unpack in one sermon, I promise.
These 16 chapters give us an understanding of the Gospel, an understanding of how the Gospel ties to the Old Testament, and an understanding of what the life of a believer looks like. It tells us that our righteousness can never be enough, that the faith we have comes from God, and that everything we know about sins being forgiven and repentance stems from God’s grace.
Many of the verses in this book are used and misused for many things.
For example, we read today that All things work together for good…and lots of people use that to say that God’s plan always means that things work out perfectly for the believer. But the context matters here: Paul says that the suffering and heartache and weakness that are part of the waiting for the redemption, the recreation of the whole earth – and when that happens, we will know the goodness that stems from all of the wrongness of sin. God will turn everything upside down and make all things new – and that will be the final wonder of God making all things good. It’s an echo of the Genesis birth story: God declares all things good there, and it is in the redemption of all of us and all of creation that will ultimately be that all things will be good again.
This is an echo of what Joseph says in Genesis 50, when Joseph tells his brothers that the little thing they did that was bad and horrible and meant suffering for Joseph meant good for the whole family, because God changed the ending.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is a reminder too, that God’s mercy and grace are an extension of God’s love for us. God is on our side, because God loves us. God has given us the power of the Holy Spirit to build in us the ability to live like Christ – to love like God loves. That is no small thing: because how does God love? God loves us enough to make us conquerors of sin and death by the death of Jesus. This connection to the rest of scripture reminds us that the whole book – from Genesis to Revelation – is a reminder, over and over, that God loves us and not only that – but God’s love doesn’t ever send us away. God’s love isn’t something we can shake free of – God never stops telling us about that love, never stops pursuing us so we can enjoy the freedom of that love, God promises us that it is the very core of who God is and not only that, but that we can rest in that love, we can trust it for every good and perfect gift, we can live that promise to everyone around us.
We are more than conquerors, not because we fight battles with the people around us but because we overcome sin and death through Jesus, by loving people who are most unlovable. By giving ourselves away. Listen to how Paul puts it later in this letter: Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…for by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought…honor one another above yourselves…do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good
We have so much mercy that has been given to us. It is our responsibility, in turn to offer mercy to those around us. We cannot triumph with the same weapons that are used against us: hate, deceit, violence. Instead, we stand peacefully where there is violence. We offer generosity and kindness where there is hate. We speak the Truth of the Gospel where there is deceit and we wait, along with the whole of creation for the resurrection that will make all things new, that will complete the transformation not only of us individually, but of the entire creation that holds its breath longing for the good that God has promised will be re-born. It starts with each of us who surrender to Christ and begin the work of redemption as God transforms us and then through us the small spaces of the world where we live and move and breathe and work.
Paul’s words in this letter tie together all of scripture. In Romans 13:8-10, he reminds us that all of scripture is a love letter, all of scripture is a reminder to love our neighbor, all of scripture is the Gospel, the good news, if we remember the deepest meaning of the law:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
This is why we are here. This is why we live our lives for others. Not because by doing so we can earn our way to Jesus, but because Jesus has shown us the way and given us the love we need to do it. We cannot live this without Jesus. We cannot live this without the power of the Holy Spirit, but if we are not living this we can be changed so that it becomes the very core of who we are.
Paul says it this way in Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
We can do this. Not in our own power. But through the love of God that has been given to us. If you don’t know God’s love for yourself or if you are not sure if you have claimed the Holy Spirit’s power in your life to let you love your neighbor then I ask you to claim or reclaim that today as we celebrate around the table today. Because God’s love is for you. God’s love is for everyone and nothing can ever separate us from that love if we choose to let it fill us and empower us and work in us.
As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.