We are off and running in our study of Romans. Last week we looked at the theological thread that runs through Romans which presents a clear picture of our need for the gospel and God’s provision mediated through Christ and applied by the Spirit (Romans 1:16,17; 3:23, 5:8; 6:23; 8:1; 12:1,2). As was mentioned, the book of Romans has been influential in the lives of many of the folks God has used mightily to promote the gospel. In August of 1513, a monk named Martin Luther was vexed over the concept of the righteousness of God. Luther was convinced the righteousness of God would keep him from fellowship with God. But as he meditated on Romans 1:17, which says, "...the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith'", he had an epiphany. In his words, "I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Therefore I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise...This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven.” It was his understanding that sparked what we now know as the Reformation.
Not surprisingly, Luther wrote a commentary on Romans. Interestingly, in May of 1738, a failed minister and missionary named John Wesley, reluctantly attended a small Bible study where someone read aloud from Luther's commentary. He too went on to be transformed through the message of Romans. He says, “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 in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken my sins away, even mine.” And thus was sparked the Great Awakening.
Romans clearly lays forth the gospel. A true grasping of the gospel through the work of the Spirit is world-changing. It is said that personal renewal precedes corporate change. The lives of Luther and Wesley give testimony to that truth.
The community of people assembled in the Roman church also bears testimony to this idea of personal renewal leading to corporate change. We will encounter these lovely folks this Sunday as we look at the context for this tremendous letter through the lens of chapter 16. It would be hard to overstate just how radical this community actually was, and is. The theological truths Paul expounds has gathered: Jew and Gentile, men and women, aristocracy and slave; and has united them into one. While it may be true that personal renewal precedes corporate change, it must also be emphasized that true personal renewal will challenge our status quo and demand that we walk in uncomfortable places, but, as always, equipped by the Spirit.