THE LETTER OF PAUL TO THE ROMANS
INTRODUCTION AND THEME
Today whenever I read political websites, these websites try to grab your attention with the following lead-in: SHOCK CLAIM! followed by the claim itself. Well, I would like to introduce this lesson with the following: SHOCK CLAIM: Even Catholicism teaches we are saved by grace through faith! Now that might surprise you; however, I didn't come up with this claim. Marshall Taylor makes just this same claim in Catholic Perspectives on Paul. Yes, we believe that grace flows through the sacraments; however, it is received by faith. Faith is so important to Catholicism that the latest catechism begins with the emphasis on faith. Faith is so integral to Catholicism that whenever Henry VIII of England intially defended Catholicism against Luther's attacks, the Pope rewarded him with the title: "Defender of the Faith", not Defender of Works!
How can this be? We shall see as we come to Romans 1:17: "The righteous man shall live by faith!"
At the very end of verse 16 Paul introduces a major theme in the Letter to the Romans—”the Jew first and also to the Greek” (with the word “Greek” representing all people who are not Jews). This gospel must also be for all the Gentiles; otherwise, Jesus is just some kind of local deity and not the Lord of the universe. On the other hand, if Jesus was really sent by the God of the OT, then He must also be first of all the Messiah of the Jews. Otherwise, the God of the OT has broken His promises to the fathers of the Jewish nation (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) to send to the Jews the Messiah. If Christ is Lord over all, if God is God over all, then He must save everyone the same way. Since only the Jews had the Law, then God would not save people by means of the works of the Law; otherwise, He would be God of Jews only. Since all people can exercise faith, God has chosen faith as the means of salvation.
Now when he claims that this gospel is for the Jew first, Paul does not mean that Jewish Christians are first-class Christians while Gentile Christians are second class. Although the Jews felt that God chose them to be the sole beneficiaries of His promises to Abraham, God chose them so that they would be the vessels He would use to save the rest of mankind. Jesus focused on the Jews in order to prepare them to be the great missionaries of the gospel. Unfortunately on a massive scale the Jews rejected God’s purpose for them, Even in the Jewish OT, God asserted this, Jonah being an excellent example of the Jewish rejection of their being chosen by God to reach the Gentiles; some like Paul though accepted it (see Rom. 11:1).
Paul states another major theme of this letter and of his gospel in general—”the righteousness of God.” An understanding of God’s righteousness is pivotal if you are going to understand what Paul is saying in Romans. The root of the word “righteousness” is made up of 3 Greek letters: DIK or dik (delta, iota, kappa) meaning “right”. The word “righteous” in Greek is dikaios (DIK-ai-os); the word “to make right” or “to justify” is dikaioo (di-kai-AH-oh). When the Bible says that God is righteous, it means that He is right with Himself and right with others. God is always right. When we speak about God’s righteousness, we’re talking about the kind of life God Himself lives and which only He can produce. (See Rom. 12:1-15:13 for a description of that righteousness.)
Normally when we think of righteousness, we think of something that a person possesses, like goodness or honesty. We use it to describe God’s character, that is, He is righteous or that He possesses righteousness.
Paul, on the other hand, in discussing God's righteousness, stresses in Galatians and Romans that God is not only right but is also shown as righteous in that He acts righteously, or to be more precise, makes people right with Himself, with others, and with themselves. It refers in a major way to God's righteous-making activity. This righteousness then produces the righteous life in the believer
It is also sad that Luther attacked the entire Catholic Church based upon the practices of Tetzel and the pope (Leo X, a de Medici) who was corrupt at that time. The truth is that the all-time greatest theologian of the Catholic Church distinguished between "operative" grace and "cooperative" grace. If Luther had understood or admitted this difference, he would not have led out in a Reformation of the Church.
As Catholics, we value the claim that righteousness is God's doing, not ours: the baby receives the gift of the Spirit at baptism without having to do anything to merit that gift; weekly we receive the gift of the body and blood of the resurrected Christ which through our faith produces in us the life of Christ. Faith may appropriate the gift, but this grace is nevertheless a gift and not a work. The way this works will be seen in Romans 8.
One thing needs to be noted here: the injection of faith into this discussion of the sacraments helps prevent the sacraments from becoming mere magic. Unfortunately, there are 2 errors concerning the sacraments: (1) they are just mere symbols (the error of some conservative evangelicals) and (2) they are magic (the error of at least some Catholics). According to Catholic teaching the Lord's Supper is not merely symbolical as many Protestant evangelicals would claim, but neither are they were magic which save us no matter what our response is. God's Spirit works in the sacraments regardless of our response; however, our response determines whether these sacraments work positively for us or negatively against us. For a simple illustration of this, see Paul's discussion of the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor. 11. What was happening to some Christians in Corinth when they took the Lord's Supper because they were not exercising faith in their relationship with Christ (1 Cor. 11:27-30, especially v. 30)?
Paul backs up his claim by appealing to what OT verse? (Look in the margin of your Bible; that should tell you where this OT verse is found.)
According to Habakkuk how does the righteous man obtain life?
Now don't pull out James on me. When you do that, you are still caught in the 16th century with its false controversy. You are pitting James against Paul as if the two are opposed to each other. They are BOTH apostles. Why choose one over the other? On what basis would you do that? Moreover, if they are opposed, then I will go with Paul since his way is easier and since he wrote 13 letters instead of just one. Don't go there.
HERE IS THE KICKER: NT faith though always and inevitably leads to faithfulness; otherwise, it is NOT New Testament faith. Faith ALWAYS produces works; otherwise, it is not saving faith. As C.S. Lewis wrote, once you trust somebody, you take their advice:
If you trust someone, then you are doing to do what they say. Notice that in The Nicene Creed, we don't say, "I believe THAT God is the Father Almighty" or "THAT the Lord Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son of God" or "THAT the Holy Spirit is the Lord, the Giver of Life." We say, "I believe IN God the Father ... IN the Lord Jesus Christ ... IN the Holy Spirit." If we believe in the Lord Jesus, then we are going to do what He says because He is our Lord. THAT necessarily leads to good works because we are obeying Him. To call Him, "Lord" and not obey Him is to commit the sin of the demonic.
Works must always spring from faith; otherwise, it is not saving faith. Not just works, but works which spring from faith. To put it bluntly: performing works which do not spring from faith is the sin of the Pharisees. Believing God and not producing works is the sin of the demonic world (James 2:19).
You may respond, "Well, I go to mass. That's faith." Yes, it is, but it doesn't stop there. Notice in Hebrews 10 the emphasis on worship/sacrament. Immediately following these chapters, though, the author of Hebrews describes people who lived by faith. In fact Hebrews 11 has been called The Great Hall of Faith. Sacraments/worship should ALWAYS lead to the life of faith, a life full of works produced by faith; otherwise, true worship has not occurred.
Many well-meaning Protestants rush to Eph. 2:8, 9 when they want to discuss salvation. They forget about Eph. 2:10. According to verses 8 and 9, we are saved by grace through faith. Great? According to verse 10, what should this grace through faith lead to in the believer?
And this from Paul, the promoter of FAITH.
One final word here about works and their relationship to salvation. Catholics and Protestants are 2 peoples divided by a common language. We use the same words but in vastly different ways. When Protestants claim that Catholics believe you are saved by works, they see Catholics as having a check list of good works they should do in order to go to heaven (this is Luther's misunderstanding). The Catholic perspective is that the works which spring from faith actually help mold us into the image of Jesus, the true goal of salvation.
That might seem strange, but psychology has confirmed that this works. The process is called behavioral modification. We instruct our children to go in certain paths. They obey us and many times turn out the way we instructed them. (One psychologist told me that children normally adopt at least 80% of their parents values.) Works are not a check list for the Catholic. Rather, springing from faith, these works can help mold us into the image of Jesus, the ultimate goal of salvation. When I performs acts of mercy because Christ commanded me, then these acts of mercy just might transform me into a merciful person. When I perform acts of love, these acts may help transform me into a loving person like Jesus.
Why is becoming like Jesus the ultimate goal of salvation? Because it prepares us to see the face of God. Only the pure in heart shall see God (Matt. 5:8) So PLEASE, let's move beyond the false controversy of the last 500 years between Protestants and Catholics.
So much of the rest of Romans focuses on three elements: God's righteousness, His faithfulness, and our response of faith which produces a life of faithfulness. As God of the entire world of mankind, this God who seeks to make all people right with Him through His Son Jesus by our response of faith has done so by being faithful to His chosen people, the Jews.
Theme: The Faithfulness and Righteousness of God (1:16-17)
I. The Need for God's Righteousness (1:18-3:20)
II. God’s Gracious Provision of Righteousness (3:21-8:39)
IV. Practical Applications of God’s Righteousness in Life (12:1-15:13)
 Acts 13:5; 13:46; especially 18:6-7.
 Acts 13:5; 13:46; especially 18:6-7.