Friday, 11 January 2013

The Gospel in Romans

In the forth century, a man called Augustine was born in a small farm in what is now Algeria.  During his youth he was a slave of his sexual passions and the focus of his mother's prayers.  He was later to move to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric and literature.  There he came under the spell of the preaching of a bishop called Ambrose.  He was wrestling within himself.  At the age of thirty-two he took himself out into the garden of where he was lodging, seeking solitude.  He threw himself under a fig tree and wept freely.  But he heard the voice of a child in a nearby garden chanting, 'pick up and read, pick up and read ...'  He took this as a divine command and read his Bible at the first place he set his eyes.  "Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on The Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts" (Romans 13:13-14).  He read no further, his anxiety lifted and doubts were dispelled.  Augustine was converted and became one of the great Christians of history.

In 1515 a man called Martin Luther was struggling with the a morbid fear of God, death, judgement and hell.  He had thought that the best way to get into heaven to become a monk.  He prayed and fasted, sometimes days on end.  'I was a good monk', he wrote, 'if ever a monk got into heaven by his mockery, it was I.'  But he had no peace.  He could only think of God as a terrifying judge, and not as a merciful saviour.  A verse in Romans changed everything for him.  It spoke of 'the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel' (Romans 1:17).  He grasped that this righteousness is that whereby, 'through grace and sheer mercy, [God] justifies us by faith.'  'Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through the doors into paradise.  The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before "the righteousness of God" had filled me with hate, now it came to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love.  This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven.'

Two hundred years later a discouraged John Wesley was at a meeting where the preface to Martin Luther's commentary on Romans was being read.  Wesley was very religious, he had been overseas as a missionary.  But he lacked an assurance that he was really a Christian.  As he heard Luther's words he understood the gospel.  Later he wrote in his journal:

After a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Dumitru Cornilescu was studying at the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Romania.  He longed to experience a greater spiritual reality and depth.  He was introduced to some books that directed him to the Bible.  So he determined to translate the Scriptures into modern Romanian.  Through his study of Romans he came to believe truths which had previously been unfamiliar to him.  'There is no-one righteous, not even one' (3:23), 'the wages of sin is death' (6:23), that sinners are 'justified freely' through Christ (3:24), because God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood (3:25).  Dumitru realised that God through Christ had done everything necessary to rescue us from guilt and judgement.  'I took this forgiveness for myself, I accepted Christ as my Saviour.'  His translation of the Bible, published in 1923, became the standard Bible Society text.  But he himself was exiled by the head of the Orthodox text, and died some year later in Switzerland.

John Scott calls Paul's letter to the Romans 'a manifesto of freedom through Jesus Christ.'  'It is the fullest, plainest and grandest statement of the gospel in the New Testament.'  'For here is unfolded the good news of freedom, freedom from the holy wrath of God upon all ungodliness, freedom from alienation to reconciliation, freedom from the condemnation of God's law, freedom from what Malcolm Muggeridge used to call "the dark little dungeon of our own ego", freedom from the fear of death, freedom one day from the decay of the groaning creation into the glorious liberty of God's children, and meanwhile freedom from ethnic conflict in the family of God, and freedom to give ourselves to the loving service of God and others.'  Luther called Romans 'really the chief part of the New Testament, and ... truly the purest gospel.'

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