The Main Theme of Romans

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1 The Main Theme of Romans1. Two Foundational Statements

We will start our study of Romans by considering two well-known statements from the pages of the New Testament. Jesus Christ made the first one:

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39)

We can think of this statement as the “ideal”. It is repeated in Matthew and the other gospels (See Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24,17:33 and John 12:24) and can be viewed as the most important statement Jesus ever made regarding salvation.

Paul made the second statement:

I live no longer but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)

We can think of this statement as the “accomplishment” of the ideal above. It is repeated in various forms all over Paul’s letters (See 2 Corinthians 5:14, Romans 6: 4-6, Colossians 2:20) and is the most important statement Paul ever made about salvation.

Graphically we could portray these two statements as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.23.31 AM 2. From Ideal to Accomplishment

The obvious question that arises is this: How do I do it? How do I get from the “ideal” to the “accomplishment”?

This is where the book of Romans comes in. The way in which to best understand Romans is to see it as the line or bridge that connects the ideal with the accomplishment:

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.23.44 AM

Romans explains:

  • WHERE your life comes from
  • HOW to lose your life
  • HOW to find Christ’s life

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.41.03 AM

 3. The Difference between Life and Lifestyle

A question that comes to mind is this: How can we say that Jesus’ statement “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” is the most important one that he had ever made regarding salvation? What about the great commandments to love the Lord your God and your neighbor? What about all the other commandments and prohibitions contained in Jesus’ teachings?

To answer this we need to distinguish between “life” and “lifestyle”. The great commandments to love God and neighbor, together with all the other “do’s and don’ts” of the Bible, fall into the second category, namely lifestyle. They deal with deeds, actions, habits and a general pattern of behaviour. They do not deal with the source of the behaviour.

We could therefore say that the “life-style” of a person springs from a “life-source” within that person.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.24.13 AM

We oftentimes refer to this “life-source” as a person’s “nature”. The Bible regularly refers to it as the “heart”, such as in Proverbs 4:23:

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.

We can think of it as a force within that functions like a strong instinct, dictating and determining a person’s values, desires, thoughts and ultimately his/her behaviour.

Note that a person’s “lifestyle” reveals and describes the nature of the “heart” or “life” that is within him/her. This distinction is clear from many verses in the Bible, such as the following ones:

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Matthew 12:34

But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. Matthew 15:18-19

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Luke 6:45

Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Matthew 17:16-20

These verses make it clear that any effort to obey God’s commandments or “law”, without first having had a “life-exchange”, will end up being futile. It also means that instructions to “do good” presuppose that one must first “become good”.

We can therefore say that Romans also explains:

  • WHY your life produces the lifestyle that it does

4. Cultivating The New Life

As the bridge between “My life” and “Christ’s life”, the book of Romans also bridges “My lifestyle” to “Christ’s lifestyle”:

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.24.26 AM

You may wonder about this, as we have just made the point that one’s lifestyle “flows naturally” from its life-source. Would that not mean that the “life exchange” is sufficient to produce a naturally resulting “lifestyle exchange”?

The answer, in fact, is NO. Due to the history and ingrained habits of the old lifestyle, the new lifestyle requires careful cultivation to survive and flourish. One could liken it to an old farm that has fallen into disrepair and has been taken over by weeds and pests. It is not enough to simply change the nature of the sown seeds and to expect a bumper crop! No, a careful process of cultivation is essential. This may include removing weeds, watering, fertilization, trimming, pest control and so on.

We can therefore say that Romans also explains:

  • HOW to cultivate the new life of Christ

5. The Responsibility Of The New Life

This relationship between “life exchange” and “life cultivation” is evident all over the New Testament.

For instance, in Colossians 2:20 we read that we have died with Christ (the “losing your life” half of the “life exchange” stage). Yet a few verses on, in 3:5, we read: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” (the constant “weeding out” that goes with “life cultivation”).

Similarly, in Colossians 2:1 we are told that we have been raised with Christ (the “finding your life” half of the “life exchange” stage), but in verse 12 we are told to “put on” a number of things that accompany this lifestyle (the essential additives of “life cultivation”).

Once we add these “applications” to each of our four quadrants, our graphic looks as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.24.36 AM

6. Where Does Romans Draw The Line?

As two distinct phases of Christianity, “life exchange” and “life cultivation” are both dealt with in the book of Romans. The graphic above makes this abundantly clear.

This brings us to our final question for this part of our discussion: “Which parts of Romans deal with “life exchange” and which parts deal with “life cultivation”?”

The answer is simple:

Chapters 1 – 11 deal with “life exchange” and depict it as something that God alone can do. We will therefore refer to Romans’ first half as “God’s Work” or “The Finished Work of Jesus Christ”.

Chapters 12 – 16 deal with “life cultivation” and depict it as something that we must do. We will therefore refer to Romans’ second half as “Our Work” or “The Unfinished Work of the Believer”.

Our final graphic now looks as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.24.47 AM

To summarise then, Romans explains the following:

  • WHERE your life comes from
  • WHY your life produces the lifestyle that it does
  • HOW to lose your life
  • HOW to find Christ’s life
  • HOW to cultivate the new life of Christ

7. A Course Map For Romans

If you understand the above, you understand the basic structure and anatomy of Romans. Without understanding these underlying principles one can never grasp the depths and intelligence of this letter, nor its practical application.

Our course map, which is discussed in Chapter 2, is designed to reflect both “journeys” above. However, to emphasise the fact that our “life exchange” journey goes against the grain of our desires and natural inclinations, and also against the “course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2), we will depict it as flowing from right to left, that is, as a reversal:

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.24.59 AM

Also, as a result of the fact that this journey is foundational to the “lifestyle exchange” or “life application” journey, we will depict it as such, namely at the bottom of our graphic. The structure and flow of our course map will then follow this path:

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.37.46 AM

 

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Author: naturalchurch

Naturalchurch is the blog of Tobie van der Westhuizen.

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