IntroductionIn a very real sense, and by virtue of the Apostle Paul’s instructing the Romans through letters, the Book of Romans serves as something of an introduction to the faith itself. In particular, Chapters One through Eight are direct expressions of the meaning of the Gospel, which are necessary to instill in Rome the being and will of God. Beyond anything else, moreover, and likely given the nature of Paul’s audience, Romans emphasizes how salvation is apart from all worldly interests, and only obedience to God’s will and belief in God’s righteousness brings both faith and everlasting life. As the following explores, then, the natural world, human relationships, human identity, and culture are encompassed within this remarkable Book, as it also impacts on my personal worldview.
In Romans One through Eight, Paul does not directly discuss the natural world as it is commonly perceived. He makes no statements regarding God’s bounty or His creation of the land, the seas, the heavens, and all within the world that nourish mankind. Instead, he presents a different idea of the natural world in which the natural order, in terms of man’s complete obedience to God, is paramount. Again and again, he insists that attention to anything of this world, save faith and compassion to others, is meaningless. This includes all realities of humanity, because wrong actions are as meaningless as adhering to worldly, social norms: “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death” (Romans 6:21). In this “natural world” faith is all that may save mankind, and because faith renders death, and the miseries of the world as it is known by humanity, meaningless as well: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (8:18). His focus on God’s will as predominant, Paul teaches the Romans a new concept of what is most natural and right in the world.
As to human relationships, here, as elsewhere in Romans, Paul reiterates and emphasizes the teachings of Christ, to bring the Romans to an understanding of the vast import of God’s sacrificing His son, and how this relates to mortal interactions and correct behavior. He essentially paraphrases Christ’s “dare,” in that only the sinless man may cast a stone at another:
“Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?” (2:22). This is a lesson demanding reinforcement because all mortals must accept that sin is mankind’s state of being, and only faith will save. This being the case, Romans relates, if indirectly, that men and women must treat each other with compassion because all are one in sin, just as all are one in coming to God. This in turn connects to Paul’s messages regarding human identity itself, or is in fact based upon them. Human identity is universal in Romans, and in the ways just described: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (3:23). This is as true of the Gentile as it is of the Jew, and each person must fully come to see how their identity is shared with Christ Himself: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (6:11).
Ultimately, human identity must be known only through accepting these divine/mortal realities.
Turning to human culture, and as with the natural world, this is not directly addressed by Paul. Nonetheless, there is a deeply fundamental instruction from him important to how men and women exist together within a society. Essentially, when all understand that faith alone is the primary concern of mortals, all cultures will be elevated in ways no mortal ambitions could achieve: “We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (5:11). When this is ignored, the state of sin, again, dictates human life and culture, and culture itself is empty without God’s guidance and love. In a sense, for human culture to be worthy, it must follow the path led by Abraham, father of many nations, and ultimately father to all (4:16). All of this then underscores Paul’s core purpose in writing to the Romans, in that any idea they have of culture is worthless unless it centers on the imperative to honor God.
Lastly, my personal worldview is, I admit, challenged by Romans to an extent. I believe this is due to the sheer force of Paul’s convictions; he has the effect of the most powerful Christian leader upon me, and through the absolute conviction of the truths he expresses. In other Books of the Bible, there is some moderation of impact and the love of Jesus is more emphasized. With Romans, the truth of God is uncompromising, as a failure of faith condemns the sinner to be denied salvation. Personally, I accept this as a reality of being Christian, yet it remains difficult to fully comprehend. At the same time, however, and ironically, there is a part of me that views Romans as elementary and natural for the Christian. Faith itself is not a hardship to give because, given, it opens up the world to the faithful. If it is a kind of bargain exacted by God, it is one offering a great deal to the mortal. Romans also impresses me with Paul’s noted reiteration of Christ’s message of compassion as necessary in a world of sinners. This is as important a message as his insistence on faith because it translates to expressing faith through understanding the innate nature of all of us. Like many Christians, I sometimes have doubts regarding my own obedience to God. However, I now feel that, turning to Romans, I will have a better grasp of how we all struggle to be what God’s want us to be, and how crucial that struggle always is.
- Book of Romans. King James Bible. 2016. Web. 9 April 2016.