How did I get here?
Ever had that moment when you're driving and you realize you've been on auto-pilot for the last 20 minutes? Kind of scary, isn't it? How did I get here? What did I miss? I could've had an accident! Well, when we study the Scriptures we can't afford to slip into auto-pilot and miss what's going on around us. We can easily end up in a place we don't recognize and come to conclusions that can get us, and the people who are following us, headed in the wrong direction.
In my discussions with people over the years about Romans 7 I’ve discovered that a lot of people get lost in this chapter. They don’t know how they got there and they misinterpret the signs around them and continue to make a succession of wrong turns. But as leaders, we can help ourselves and our churches, by simply pulling out a map. Knowing Paul’s purpose in writing Romans and the historical context of the church in Rome can transform this confounding chapter into a logical and liberating stop along the way to even greater vistas of grace.
Was there anything unique about the context of the church in Rome?
Unlike the church in Jerusalem that was mainly a community of Jewish believers or the churches in Asia Minor and Greece that were mainly Gentile gatherings, the church in Rome was comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. Bringing together their various cultures, religious histories and nationalistic biases would’ve been a serious challenge.
Why did Paul write the letter to the Romans?
Most reformed believers see Romans as Paul’s theological treatise; a triumphant exposition of the ‘glorious gospel of grace’. However, if we reduce it to merely a gospel presentation (dare I say) we can miss Paul’s purpose and get lost along the way. Without telling you exactly what I think, consider that Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles (1:5) on his way to Spain via a Jewish-Gentile church in Rome. What would he need to accomplish and receive in Rome while ‘passing through’ to Spain?
How will this help us better understand Romans 7?
Re-read Romans (cover to cover again) with some of these thoughts in your head. Notice how many times Jewish-Gentile relations are brought up. Notice how often the purpose and inadequacy of the Law is mentioned. Notice how some chapters seem to be exclusively directed to either Jews or Gentiles. Can you tell which ones are which? And don’t miss Paul’s purpose in writing laid out plainly at the end of chapter 15.
Sounds like a lot of work? Well, there’s a lot at stake. If your church is lost somewhere in Romans 7 you need to chart a course to freedom. You see, it’s a lot worse than just losing our way, we can actually forget who we are out there.