On the Eve of Romans
Written by Pastor Jim Law
In the fourth century, Augustine (A.D. 354-430) heard a child singing the words tole lege, tole lege (“take up and read”). The song was unfamiliar to Augustine, but he received the message as coming from God and promptly retrieved a copy of Scripture which he opened randomly in haste. What some might call “the lucky dip,” Augustine read the passage which appeared before him. The text was Romans 13:13-14, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
The application for Augustine was unmistakable as he was given over to a life described in these verses. It was a word from God that led to his repentance and conversion. Augustine referenced this experience in his class work, Confessions, “Instantly, as the sentence ended—-by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart—all the gloom of doubt was vanished away.”Augustine was converted to Christ.
Eleven hundred years after Augustine, Martin Luther (1483-1546) discovered from his study of Romans that the “righteous shall live by faith” (1:17). In God’s providence, Luther would recover the gospel which had been eclipsed through neglect of the Scripture in the life of the church. Ignorance, superstition, and religious bondage were widespread as a result. This renewed commitment to Scripture brought forth the light of the gospel and would launch the Protestant Reformation.
Two hundred years after Luther, John Wesley (1703-1791) would hear the reading of Martin Luther’s preface to the book of Romans, Der Romerbrief, while attending a little chapel meeting in Aldersgate Street in London. Wesley later shared what happened: “About a quarter before nine, 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 away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” Wesley had just returned to England from America where he experienced an exhausting attempt at ministry apart from the new birth in Jesus Christ.
Add to these accounts of Augustine, Luther, and Wesley, the multitudes whose lives have been transformed by the Gospel presented in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Many have been brought to Christ by “The Roman Road,” a common tool used to share the good news of Christ with others:
*Our sin has separated us from God- “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
*The payment of sin is death, spiritual separation from God- “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
*God has demonstrated his love in a magnanimous way and accomplished what we could never do- “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
And what should our response be to these truths?
*We are called to repent of our sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15), who was crucified and risen, that we might receive forgiveness and eternal life through Him alone. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
This glorious news I pray will receive a fresh hearing in our generation. Over the next several months, I will be posting weekly articles based primarily from Romans 12 under the theme, “Life on the Altar: The Life We Are Called to Live.” Romans 12 is an important transition as Paul moves from a systematic presentation of the Gospel in Romans 1-11, to specific instruction on how to live as those transformed by God’s grace.
Because of God’s mercies found in Christ, Paul admonishes believers to present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice (12:1). To present ourselves to God in this way takes us to the temple scene where sacrifices were offered on the altar. However, since the finished work of Christ, there are no altars in Christian worship, only him. Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on the cross is the abiding sacrifice and altar for the new covenant inaugurated through his blood.
So, why would I refer to life on the altar? Well, as the priest brought sacrifices and placed them on the altar, I believe Paul’s aim in Romans 12:1-2 is to call believers to present their bodies, their lives in an expression of regular surrender, in which they say, “I am yours, O Lord. All I am, and hope to be, I surrender to you.”
This is the altar of the Christian life, and it is where we are called to live this day, and every day. I hope you will join me on this journey through Romans 12.