We all drift. We all, at times, get loose from our moorings. The law of entropy is inevitable. (gradual move from order to disorder).
· It happens when we determine to: exercise, diet, decrease a bad habit, or increase good habits…we drift and wonder how we got here…again!
This is especially true when it comes to our spiritual selves. That is our faith or trust in Christ. We drift. And it is clear that since the earliest days of Christianity this has been an issue…
Many of the authors of bible were concerned about spiritual drift: here is some evidence of their concern:
One wrote…I’m afraid “…your minds may somehow be led astray”.
Another said…I’m concerned that “…you have forsaken your first love”.
It’s clear that “…some of you have “turned away from the living God”.
Unfortunately …some have “wandered from the truth”.
Faith in God seems to have a shelf life. It’s not as sticky as we wish it to be.
Let me be honest with you. After following Jesus now 40 years I still wish my faith was made of sturdier stuff…but sometimes it isn’t. I still drift at times.
Look, I don’t care how robust you perceive your faith to be. I don’t care how long you have “walked with Jesus” …you will at some point wonder how your faith has faded…how you’ve drifted. Before you know it you will have wandered from your once good place in life and with God.
So, facing the inevitable…what do we do about it? How do we prevent it? And for those of you who are right now there…what do you need to do to return and re-attach to your moorings?
Perhaps those are the questions that Paul was trying to address when he wrote a monster letter to the church in Rome around 55 AD.
“It is by common consent Paul’s masterpiece. It dwarfs most of his other writings, an Alpine peak towering over hills and villages”. NT Wright
The book of Romans is the “Cathedral of the Christian faith”
“The Book of Romans is one of the most profound books in existence.”
Big words for something that started out as a simple letter…a piece of correspondence.
Let me share the occasion that I believe motivated the letter.
AD 33 – Just days after Jesus death, resurrection and ascension the Holy Spirit swept into Jerusalem like a mighty wind. There in the city were God’s people from all over the Roman Empire , including the city of Rome. We believe that when they returned to Rome they founded the church there. And typical of the revolutionary nature of the church it consisted of Jews and Gentiles, slave, free, rich, poor …it was a new kind of community.
AD 49 – Claudius, the Roman Emperor (for reasons that are debated) kicked all Jews out of Rome. The church suddenly was only Gentile and no doubt lost some of its most powerful leaders.
AD – 54 Claudius died and many of the Jews who had been dispersed began returning. Although this was a good thing it surfaced issues of discrimination and leadership confusion.
AD 55 (or thereabouts) – Paul was briefed on the situation and concerned, hired a scribe named Tertius – and wrote this massive letter.
· Paul had never been to Rome. But what he was told by people like Priscilla and Aquilla motivated him to provide them leadership from a distance.
· When he finished it he entrusted the scrolls to Phoebe a leader in the church in Corinth to hand deliver it.
As a side note…AD 64 – neither the church or Paul would have known what was coming …that a great persecution was about to break out under Nero … and many hearing the words of this letter would be dead.
So, this was a church that was young, had just experienced a massive disruption in their lives and had no idea that some of them within a few more years would face an even bigger challenge to their faith….persecution, torture, and death by some of the cruelest means in human history.
If people could drift from their once solid faith it would be these folks. It wouldn’t surprise us to know that some of them would slowly lose their passion for Christ.
So Paul wrote them under the inspiration of God to lasso them and re-attach them to the moorings of their faith
· at times it’s a pep talk, at times a theology class, at times a sermon, at times a scolding
· I would contend that though our situations are very different this powerful letter is just the thing we need from time to time to settle us…recapture our minds and hearts…bring us back from spiritual la la land…and re-moor us to the truth of the gospel.
Typical of Paul and all good communicators, in his letters, there usually is a nugget, a big idea that functions to summarize the entire letter.
Romans 1:14-17 page ___________
14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. 16 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. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Note first Paul is transparent about his motivation in writing:
· Vs. 14 I feel a sense of obligation to everyone – all of you.
o deep concern – I’ve heard what’s going on!
o deep sense of responsibility due to his calling
· I’m very eager …strong word of passion.
· Note a few verses before…
For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established Romans 1:11
· established = set, fixed, stand still…return from drifting
Keep this in mind as you read what can be dense and theological.
Note also the two word summary of the entire letter Vs. 15 “the gospel”. That’s what I want to impart to you.
· Wait…why did they need to hear the gospel again? Weren’t they saved?
o Key – understanding the nature of the gospel. The gospel is not limited to the proposition that Jesus died for you and you need to surrender to him.
o The gospel is the gospel of the kingdom …gospel is the good news that God, In Jesus, came and ushered in to the world the reign and rule of God which was beginning to find its way through the earth beginning healing to the broken places of the world.
§ The world is a mess but God reigns!
§ we are not sitting around as the world worsens just waiting to be rescued…we are on the tip of the spear that is piercing this world and bringing light in dark places, and healing to broken places, and hope to desperate places.
§ Your trust has legs - your faith is not based on myth – it is based in white hot truth.
§ Jesus has come, the grave has no victory, death has lost its sting.
§ You serve a living savior and he’s in the world today.
This dense letter…this theological treatise…is a sledge hammer of truth…it is an avalanche of hope…it is a tsunami of certainty:
Paul is reminding the hearers of this letter to sit down and take in again all the truths of our faith…Jesus, righteousness, the indwelling Holy Spirit, the power of the church, the providence of God, the wonder of the kingdom.
And as you reacquaint yourself with the truth of the gospel you will come back. You will return. Your faith will get sticky again. And you will re-tether yourself to Jesus Christ.
That’s, in a nutshell, the purpose behind this great letter. But in the next few verse 16 and 17 he gets more specific in his reminders to these dear people.
With your faith comes great power.
Vs. 16 - I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…
Several other times in the letter Paul references this power:
God has power to do what he has promised. Romans 4:21
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
This word power is not a reference to authority but to inherent or transferred ability or capacity or strength.
· God has power and he has vaccinated you with it. He has shot you up with an otherworldly capacity.
What that means as we face uncertainty and struggle that might cause us to drift is:
· God will do what he promised. He will be with you and he will fight for you.
· Despite evidence to the contrary there is hope, joy and peace available to you as the power of the Holy Spirit works in you.
In one of his other letters, to the church in Ephesus, Paul goes into more detail about this power…
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know… his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, Ephesians 1:18-20
· What does that mean practically?
o pray! ask for it!
o start to live as if you have it…live with more confidence…step out in faith…stop wringing your hands.
o see in your issues that have brought about your depression, anxiety, pain or loss, the possibility of transformation…God can make beautiful things out of dust.
§ he can raise you from the dead as he did Jesus.
So come back here, stop drifting, embrace the power and reject the cynicism and fear.
Your standing with God is never related to your works.
Vs. 17 - For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last
· Righteousness – a status, position, standing with God – your OKness with God.
Funny thing about human beings – eventually we all succumb to the urge to try to make God like us better. And we can devolve into worry that somehow I’ve done something to tick God off and make this mess of our lives. This is another form of drifting.
Paul whacks hard on this one throughout the book. Here is Vs. 17 he reminds us that righteousness is from faith first to last or lit. “faith to faith”…
· Our lives with God begin with faith and end with faith and every day in between are to be lived with faith.
· Enough with the mindset that you have to perform to get God to respond to you.
o Stop thinking you have to get yourself cleaned up go to God.
o Stop measuring your good works with your bad works.
o It’s all about surrender and trust…just as you are. Come back to him and unclench your fists and lay flat your palms
o Cry out in humility and believe…then wait for the power of God to be released.
Faith is a daily thing.
Vs. 17 The righteous will live by faith.
· Notice the tense of the verb live…will…
o Indicative – fact
· Here’s a fact – standing with God and living with his power in this world is a daily thing…a constant commitment.
· You can’t skate when it comes to faith. It must be nourished. Developed. Cultivated.
You’ve got to get up tomorrow and once again pursue God. You’ve got to rehearse, yet again, the truths on which we stand.
My dear friends, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Philippians 2:12
· Communion with God