As the title indicates, this was written to the Gentile (and some Jewish) believers in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) who lived in Rome. It was written by Shaul (Paul) in 57 CE and meant to be a letter of introduction for him before he arrived there. This letter is one of the longest and most confusing of all the other letters he wrote, so I will break this down into two parts.
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In this letter Shaul talks about the Torah, and over time this letter has been used as a polemic against following the laws in the Torah, while the truth is that it is actually an apologetic to explain that even after accepting Yeshua as the Messiah, it is still important to follow the Torah, but that faith is the over-riding necessity for salvation.
Christianity has, over the centuries, misused this letter to justify ignoring the Torah, but Shaul wrote it to identify the difference between obeying the Torah in order to earn salvation (in other words, just to be “correct’) and obeying the Torah as the result of faithful obedience to God’s instructions, which tell us how he wants us to worship him and how he wants us to treat each other.
I put emphasis on the word “he”, meaning (of course) God, because religion tells us how the religion wants us to worship and treat each other, which (more often than not) is not what God has said.
The beginning of this letter has Shaul explaining that he is not ashamed of the gospel (which is translated as “truth”, i.e., truth of God’s salvation) and desires to preach it to both Greeks and non-Greeks (different races of Gentiles, as well as Jews), the wise (believers in God) and the foolish (in those days, a “fool” was one who refused to believe in or accept God). He states that he does this because the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; this truth is to be brought to the Jew first, then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16).
This is not only the order in which he will present the Good News, but a confirmation of what Yeshua said in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 15:24), when he told the woman from Shomron that he came only for the lost sheep of Israel. We read about the first time the salvation of God was made available to the Gentiles, coming from the Jews (through Kefa, also called Peter) to the Gentiles in Acts 10.
As we go deeper into this letter, Shaul relates how God’s punishment against the sinful is not only justified, but a righteous judgment. He states that God is evidenced throughout the world, and those who refuse to accept his existence and his laws are deserving of the punishment they will receive.
Near the end of Chapter Two, he begins to talk about when Jews who brag about following the law break it, they actually blaspheme God’s name among the Gentiles. What he means is this: when those who profess to worship God do not obey him, they are setting a bad example to non-believers, and essentially making it harder, if not impossible, for them to want to accept God and his Messiah. This theme of hypocrisy will be evident in many of the letters he writes with regard to the interpersonal relationship issues within the leadership of various congregations throughout Asia.
One thing that is misunderstood is Romans 2:28-29, which many people have been taught means circumcision is wrong for Gentiles. What Shaul says is that being physically circumcised doesn’t make one a Jew, but when our heart is circumcised by the Spirit (in Hebrew, Ruach haKodesh– Holy Spirit) then we are a Jew, inwardly. He is not saying circumcision is wrong (as we will also see in Galatians), but that physical circumcision is not enough- we must also be circumcised by the Spirit in our hearts to be a “total” Jew.
What he is saying, if you ask me, if that when we are circumcised in both the flesh and the heart, that is when we can say we are a total Jew.
The issue of circumcision to be accepted as a member of the family of God is a constant problem which he runs into throughout the congregations where Jews are together with believing Gentiles.
This passage also has been misinterpreted to indicate no one accepting Yeshua has to do any of that “Jewish” stuff; but Shaul denies that, saying being a Jew is very important because they have been entrusted with the very words of God (that would be the Torah- there is no other place, anywhere in the entire Bible, where God, himself, tells us what to do). He then starts his Jewish logic argument about how people may say if we are unrighteous, and God’s judgment on us is righteous, then doesn’t our unrighteousness bring out more of God’s righteousness, implying it is good to sin.
His reply is, of course, it is never good to sin. He reminds us (quoting from the Psalms) that no one is ever going to be righteous by trying to obey the Torah perfectly: it is only through faith in Yeshua being the Messiah God sent that will we be able to overcome our sinfulness.
Understand this: no one can overcome their sinfulness because no one, as we are told throughout the Bible, is able to live a sinless life. The way we overcome sinfulness through Yeshua is that his death as a universal sacrifice for sin, replacing the need to bring an animal to the temple in Jerusalem, makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins. Especially since the temple was destroyed and that left no place to bring a sacrifice. Our sins can be forgiven through Yeshua, but not automatically, and not without repentance, and not without asking for it.
Shaul makes the argument that because Abraham was not circumcised when he was credited as righteous by his faith, then faith comes before obedience to the law. But he also points out that does not mean the law is done away with.
Later on, after going through a somewhat confusing diatribe about grace, faith, and the law, in Romans 6:15, having told us that grace can always be greater than sin, he asks if we can then go ahead and continue to sin because we are not under the law but under Grace? His answer?
By no means!
He explains that we were slaves to sin, but with Messiah we are slaves to righteousness, and that a slave must obey his master (remember how Yeshua said no one can serve two masters? Matthew 6:24). So, now that we are slaves to righteousness, and sons of God, he says we must be obedient to what is righteous.
His point is that as believers in Messiah, even though we are sons of God through faith more than circumcision, as slaves to righteousness we must do that which is righteous.
(So, nu? Let me ask you: where you find the things to do that are righteous?
You got it- in the Torah!)
In Chapter 10, Shaul begins to make an argument for legalism verse faith. My way of stating the difference between legalistic obedience and faithful obedience is that the former is a performance-based salvation, while the latter is a faith-based salvation, but not faith alone- it is faith demonstrated through obedience! (James 2:17)
When discussing Israel’s rejection of Yeshua, he shows that God will not forever abandon his people because of it (Deut. 33:21; Isaiah 65:1-2), and how the prophets have indicated that those who were once not God’s people (i.e., the ones rejecting Yeshua) will be called sons of God. In other words, Shaul is talking about the remnant of Israel (Jews) who have, and in the future will, accept Yeshua.
Next lesson we will start with Chapter 11, which is one of the most ignored chapters, if you ask me, by traditional Christian teachings.
Until then, l’hitraot and Baruch haShem!