I suspect you’d agree with me that a life of ease is what most of us want. If given a choice, I’d take a life of abundance: good health, adequate finances, trouble-free relationships, and cars that never rust! But despite our wants, the reality is that life has a fair amount of trials and difficulties that often result in great emotional pain and even physical pain. In the process, we begin to live guarded lives. We shut down in one or more areas. We certainly don’t automatically experience the rich and full life that we so desire.
This pain in our lives that we’ve been examining in our recent series on emotional health not an accidental blip on the radar screens of our lives. It’s not an inexplicable interruption in an otherwise smooth and productive life. Struggle is actually a very normal part of this thing we call life.
We live in a fallen and broken world that our sinfulness has created (read Genesis, chapter 3). And ever since the fall of man we have experienced this struggle in our human existence. If you’re tempted to think it’s an isolated thing, listen carefully to the people around you this coming week. Listen to their stories. You’ll hear a common tread running through them. Life is beautiful…but it’s also hard. This struggle that is so much a part of our human existence is necessary and purposeful.
Our inability to do the very thing that we so desperately desire; to live happily and successfully on our own, free of all outside intrusion (emphasis: our inability to do this) is the very thing that ultimately makes us attentive to God, and to His offer of relationship. When life no longer works for us, when the pain or struggle or loneliness is too great; when questions are too many and answers, too few --- we look up in search of God.
And all of this seeming tension is by God’s design! He created us, and our existence, with the full knowledge that we would struggle and that the pain would often be hard to bear. He knew that when we could no longer make sense of our lives we would begin to search for Him.
The Book of Romans presents the most complete explanation of the Christian faith found anywhere in the Bible. Romans supplies the “who, what, where and why” of Christianity. Romans explains things like:
• Who is God?
• What does He think about me?
• What does God require of all of us?
• Why is Jesus Christ so important?
• What does the Holy Spirit do?
• What happens to people after they die?
• What does it mean to be saved?
• How can I know for sure that I am saved?
• Does God care about how I live my life?
In the coming weeks we will deal extensively with the the primary them of Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome: the idea of RIGHTEOUSNESS. To begin, it would be helpful to define the term.
Righteousness is not the following: atrocious, awful, bad, base, black, blamable, censurable, corrupt, criminal, crooked, culpable, debased, debauched, decadent, degenerate, degraded, demoralized, depraved, disgraceful, dishonest, dishonorable, disreputable, dissipated, dissolute, errant, erring, evil, evil minded, execrable, fallen, ignoble, immoral, improper, incorrect, indecent, indecorous, infamous, inferior, iniquitous, knavish, libertine, loose, low, low grade, mean, mediocre, middling, naughty, nefarious, objectionable, offensive, pathetic, perverse, perverted, poor, profligate, rascally, reprehensible, reprobate, roguish, rotten, scoundrely, second class, shameful, sinful, substandard, terrible, unbecoming, unethical, unfair, unholy, unjust, unprincipled, unscrupulous, unseemly, unworthy, venal, vicious, vile, villainous, wicked, wretched, or wrong.
RIGHTEOUSNESS, or right standing with God, is not having ANY of that stuff. I’ve already noted our inability to DO RIGHT (to be righteous) on our own, and about the value of the “struggle” as that process that shows us we need an answer outside ourselves. So, now we come to Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter one. Paul begins a step-by-step explanation of how we who are sinful can become righteous.
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scripture 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord… I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:1-4;16)
So God desires relationship with us, but because He is Holy and we are sinful, it is impossible without something occurring outside of us; something beyond our control, and certainly beyond our capability. That “outside thing” is the gospel. The most compact and clear explanation of the gospel message occurs in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that (A) Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that (B) he was buried, that (C) he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that (D) he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…"
God could have chosen any method He wanted to provide our salvation. He could have chosen to package it in a pill that we swallow. But He didn't. He chose to bring about salvation through the gospel message. It is the power of God that does the saving, and the message of the gospel is simply the method that God chooses to make it happen.
NOTE: The idea expressed by Paul throughout the book of Romans regarding salvation is one of a journey that begins when we first put our faith in Christ but continues, day-by-day in faith, as well. The phrase,” The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17) is found several times in the New Testament, but it begins in the Old Testament. Almost three thousand years ago the prophet Habakkuk wrote, “Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked; but the righteous will live by their faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4) The righteous (those who put their faith in God) will live --- (be productive and sustained) by their faith (demonstrating a faithful trust in God and His promises)