Football has seen some terrific comebacks over the years. In the playoffs, the Chiefs have been involved in two of the five biggest comebacks in NFL history. The biggest playoff comeback was in 1993 when the Bills overcame a 32-point deficit with 9 minutes left in the 3rd quarter to win the game. In January 2014, the Chiefs led by 28 points with about 12 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and ended up losing. The fourth greatest comeback (tied) was by last year’s Chiefs who were down 24 points in the second quarter, but ended up winning 51-31 in one of the most tremendous offensive outbursts in pro football history.
But the third biggest comeback actually happened in the Super Bowl four years ago. Tom Brady and the Patriots were down by 25 points with about 20 minutes left in the game. They scored in the last couple of minutes of the game to tie it and then won in overtime. So, even the Super Bowl has seen a massive comeback, and with Brady and Mahomes leading to of the biggest comebacks in history, no lead will be safe tonight.
But this message is not about football. It is, however, about adjustments. And for a team to comeback after being behind by so many points requires some sort of adjustment. Most of the great comebacks happened after halftime which is when coaches have time to rework the game plan a bit. In fact, it is often said that the best coaches are the ones who make the best adjustments at halftime. But adjustments have to be made within the flow of the game as well. And that is what each of the teams that won these games did.
Well, in Romans, Paul made a significant adjustment after Romans 7, which is what we have covered thus far. Of course, seven chapters is not quite half of Romans (which has 16 chapters). Paul has been beating down on the law and sin and death for many chapters. He has countered those ideas with words like faith and grace and righteousness in the last few chapters, but overall, Romans 1-7 has been pretty depressing – particularly if you do not know what is coming.
But before we follow Paul’s adjustment into Romans 8, let’s take today to review the road we have travelled since the end of May. By reviewing where we have been (i.e. what Paul wrote in the first part of Romans), we will see more clearly the significance of where we are going (i.e. what we will be studying in the weeks and months ahead).
So, turn in your Bibles to Romans 1 as I rewind Romans for us and quickly bring us back up to Romans 8. Bear with me though because this is not just about a review. My aim is to move us from a feeling of being helpless from the picture Paul has painted in Romans 1-7 to being satisfied by the life that Paul says is possible for us when we give our lives to Christ, which is emphasized beginning in Romans 8.
Paul had not been to Rome, so he sends this letter to the Romans church as a way of introducing himself and sharing his central theme in an effort to help the church – consisting of both Jewish and Gentile believers – to work together for a common cause. After a brief introduction, Paul sets the stage for his theme with two great sentences we know as Romans 1.16-17. The idea is that if we embrace the good news God has given, then we should desire to become like God – living by faith in His promises and His provision.
Romans 1 closes with a look at what life is like for those who reject God, for those who worship the creature instead of the Creator (v. 23). Paul says these individuals claim to be wise, but are fools (v. 22) and their futile thinking (v. 21) leads them in a downward spiral where they become the exact opposite of what God intends. That is, they become unrighteous and therefore will experience the wrath of God rather than the peace of God.
The Jew feels that they are exempt from this, however. Thus, Paul begins a dialogue with a fictitious Jew that lasts for a few chapters. This Jew is judging others (the Gentiles), but sees the Jews as exempt because they are the holders of the Law. So, Paul begins to correct this line of thinking (particularly in Romans 2-4, but really all the way through Chapter 7).
A key statement early in Paul’s argument is found in Romans 2.11 where Paul wrote that God is not partial in His judgment. Paul’s evidence was that the Jew is liable because of the law and the Gentiles is judged, in part, by their conscious (vv. 12, 15), but everyone is judged according to the standards of Jesus (v. 16).
Paul continued this “dialogue” for the rest of Romans 2 and into Chapter 3. Paul noted that the Jew relies on their privilege of having the law and knowing God – neither of which the Gentile pagans can claim, but that has not changed the way many Jews live.
Let me pause here for a bit of application for us today.
It is not enough to know the Bible. It is not enough to claim God or to think that God claims you (as He did for the Jew – the chosen people). It is about a relationship. It is about honoring that relationship. And unlike our human relationships where we have some give and take, we must understand that God has already given us life through His Son. We may want to take (like the Jew), but we are to surrender. It is not an equal relationship. And that is why so many reject God. We want equality in our relationships, but we are not equal with God.
The tragedy is that like the Jew of yesteryear, so many people want God to save them. They may claim Jesus as savior, and that is good. But Jesus is more than Savior, He is Lord. And that means that we are to yield to Him. Jesus says that we are to follow Him, not that He will follow us.
The religion of the Jew in Paul’s day was one that said, we are ok because of our birth, but these first 2+ chapters are about Paul saying that all of mankind are equal – those who know God’s commands are not special – those who follow God are. What was true in the first century remains true today.
Jumping back to our review, in Romans 3, Paul shows the equality between the Jew and Gentile more explicitly. Verses 10-11 says that no one is righteous, no one understands, no one seeks for God. But thankfully, God seeks after us. And that is the message of Romans 3.21-26 – again, what some have called the greatest paragraph ever written.
Read Romans 3.21-26.
God knows we are sinners so He made a way for us. Remember, Romans 1.17 says that the righteous live by faith. In 3.21, Paul says the righteousness of God has been manifest apart from the Law. The Jews claimed God’s manifest presence was in the Law – and we see that in the Old Testament with the tabernacle, and the tablets, and the ark of the covenant, and later the temple. But now, that manifestation is in Jesus, who was given as a sacrifice to not only pay for the sins of man, but to satisfy the wrath of God once and for all, for everyone who believes.
Then, in Romans 4, Paul provides an example from before the Law. He uses the life of Abraham and a verse from Genesis 15 that says that Abraham lived by faith. And it was the faith of Abraham that made him righteous (Genesis 15.6) which is exactly what Paul wrote in Romans 1.17 – the righteous will live by faith. Abraham was convinced that God would do what was promised (make him a father and the ancestor of a great people) even though at such an old age, he did not yet have a son). Likewise, we are to live by faith. As a new acquaintance of mine recently said, “we are to live by the promises of God, not explanations.”
Romans 5 begins to transition to what a life of faith means. As people of faith who live by promises, we can endure the challenges of life because God made the promises. In verses 3-11, we are told that our hope in God and His promises allows us to have hope which comes from the character we develop as we endure through suffering. And all of that is possible because God loved us despite our sin, despite our ungodliness. He died for us before we were good, before we could be good, in order to save us – and, in part, make us good – or righteous, as we learn to live by faith (again, see 1.17).
Paul then contrasts the first Adam with the second Adam. The first Adam was sinless but gave into temptation and therefore sinned which has caused all of mankind, except Jesus, to sin since then. The second Adam is Christ, who was uniquely created by the Holy Spirit conceiving Jesus within Mary so Jesus could be born free from the curse of sin. He was born free and then overcame all temptation which now provides a way for us to be free from sin through our belief in Him.
That freedom is the message of Romans 6. For those who are in Christ, that is, have died to themselves and been made alive in Christ, we are now free from the curse of sin which is ultimately death. Sin reigns in life and then passes us off into death. So the only way to escape that eternal death, and eternal separation from God is to die to ourselves now, and begin to live by faith in Jesus (again Romans 1.17). Jesus’ death and resurrection makes living possible. We do not have to be bound to sin any longer. We do not have to be slaves to sin. We can be free in Christ – who has made living truly possible.
Remember, Romans 6.23 – sin will pay us – death. Jesus has given a gift – life. The choice is ours.
But we must put aside our old life to claim the new one. We must die to our own pride, our own ambition and exchange it for what God has offered us through Christ. Left to our own devices, we will cling to what is known. We want the security of what is tangible. We want the Law. We want to know the rules. We may not want to keep them. In fact, we may be completely rebellious against them, but we must know them for that to be true.
But even if we want to keep the Law, it cannot save us. Paul made that clear in Romans 7. He knew the Law well. But it was not the Law who saved Him. I shared both sides of the debate previously – whether Paul wrote Romans 7.13-25 reflecting back on his life before His encounter with Jesus or whether he was writing of his current status, but either way, the commonality is that Paul knew the Law, but the Law was not enough to save him. Only Jesus can do that.
And that is why this series has been titled And Justice for All. Of course, that is a part of our national pledge of allegiance. The last few words of that pledge are “with liberty, and justice for all.” Or with freedom and justice for all.
But Romans has shown us that no nation or no set of laws can truly provide freedom. And history, let alone current events, reveals that justice is not equally administered. That was true during the Roman empire and it is true in America today.
But in the Kingdom of God, we do find equal justice. Again, Romans 2.11 says that God is not partial. Romans 3.23 says that we have all sinned. Romans 5.8 says that Christ died for everyone because of God’s great love for us. Romans 5.16 and 6.23 show that God has given us the gift of life if we will choose Him. And that gift brings true liberty. It is not a liberty to do what we want. It is a liberty to be free from the tyranny of an oppressive dictator called sin. It is a liberty to serve a gracious and loving King who died for us. It is freedom unlike anything we can know apart from Jesus.
As Romans 8.1 so boldly says, “There is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
And thus, the name of our series must change. Just as coaches make halftime adjustments to put their teams in a better position to win the game, we are making an adjustment on the name of our series because the emphasis on Paul’s writing is not what lies behind (the Law), but what lies ahead (life). The emphasis is no longer on the limitations of the Law, but upon the unlimited realities of God. And those realities were made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus and are now available through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the title for the remainder of this series is Life in the Spirit.
The truth is that justice for all is still true. That has not changed. It will not change. But for the one who lives by faith, who has claimed the gospel and is learning to live righteously (again 1.17), we are no longer condemned. We are no longer bound to face the wrath of God. Jesus has already taken the wrath of God upon Himself – as both the just and the justifier (Romans 3.25), so that by placing our faith in Him, the wrath that is due upon me, and the wrath that is due upon you, has already been paid. It is a personal decision. It is a decision that centers around what you will do with one name. And that name is JESUS.
Romans 6.3-11 say that when we die to ourselves we are made alive with Christ. The truth is that when we quit worrying about what bothers us, we begin to consider what He wants. When we give up our desires, we take on His.
To embrace the gospel (Romans 1.16) is to learn to walk by faith and embrace the righteousness of God (1.17). His righteousness has been made manifest for the world, but He wants it manifest in us. He may enter us in a moment, but we become more like Him over time. That is where Romans 8 begins. That is what we will see beginning next week. But for this week, my encouragement is to read Romans 8 – once each day – to begin to see the hope that Paul begins to express. Again, like a coach at halftime makes adjustments, Paul has left the law behind as he begins to describe a new, and better game plan of living life in the Spirit.