Today we begin a series that over time will work through the book of Romans. It is a dangerous book to read and as the Spirit has applied this book to people’s lives this world we live in has been completely transformed. Here are just three examples.
In the summer of AD 386 Aurelius Augustinus, native of Tagaste in North Africa, and the professor of Rhetoric at Milan, sat weeping in the garden of his friend Alypius. He had almost been persuaded to begin a new life following Jesus, yet he lacked the final resolution to break with the old. As he sat, he heard a child singing in a neighbour’s house a song which had the words “take up and read”. He picked up the scroll next to him and began to read. His eyes rested on the words: “not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:13b-14).
These words transformed his life and both the church and the world has been transformed by the theological work of Augustine.
In August 1513, Martin Luther, Augustinian monk and Professor of Biblical theology in the University of Wittenberg began to deliver a course of lectures on Psalms. His mind was at this time preoccupied with the agonising endeavour to ‘find a gracious God’. The prayer in Psalm 31:1 struck him, “in thy righteousness deliver me”. But how could God’s righteousness deliver him? Didn’t ‘God’s righteousness’ condemn the sinner and not save him? As he pondered this question, his attention was more and more attracted to Paul’s statement in Romans 1:17, that in the gospel ‘the righteousness of God is revealed through faith and for faith; as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith”’ (Hab 2:4b).
The outcome of his studies is best told in his own words: “I had greatly longed to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the righteousness of God”, because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and acts righteously in punishing the unrighteous.” Scripture took on a whole new meaning when he finally understood that God justifies us by faith because of his grace and mercy not because of our endeavours to appease him. That moment was described by Luther as being reborn and entering paradise. In the past “the righteousness of God” had filled him with hate, now he understood the sweet love of God.
On 24th May 1738, John Wesley went unwillingly to hear the reading of Luther’s preface to the epistle to the Romans. After listening to the change that God brings about in the heart of the believer who has ‘put his faith in Christ’, he records the strange warming he felt. He trusted God alone for his salvation, he had assurance, his sin was taken away, and he was saved from law and death. This critical moment in John Wesley’s life provided the spark that started the blaze of the 18th C evangelical revival.
A question to leave you with … How will the book of Romans transform your life?