Obligatory Foolishness: Romans 1
We finished Acts in our Through the Whole Bible Series. Obviously, much more could be said about every inch of that book, but the goal is not to exhaustively plumb the depths of each nuance of Scripture. The goal is to take a look through and find high points or overlooked subtleties along the way. At some point, hopefully soon, I’ll do a separate post with some recommended resources to dig deeper on the passages that have been covered in this series.
I will admit, though, that I reminded you of that background for a reason. Starting with today, I am going to cover Romans in the same manner. Romans is a beautiful book. In all honesty, just about every theological concept necessary to the Christian faith is expressed in Romans—we need the whole Bible for the whole picture, but Romans makes for a really nice framework to fill in for that puzzle.
And Romans 1 is dense. There is enough to wrestle with in the opening word of the letter to keep us busy for a week: Paul. His story and personality alone could fill a blog series for months. Then there is how he identifies himself: Slave Paul, belonging to Christ Jesus. He counts his apostle status as something he is “called” but his servanthood to Jesus is who he is. Wrap that around your head for a day or two.
That’s just the first phrase. The first chapter of Romans has been involved in the conversion of Martin Luther and the faith of John Wesley. The answers to several questions regarding theology and the nature of judgment are found in Romans 1. Modern history could be expressed in this chapter. There is much here, and you should read and re-read it. Study and understand what it is that “the just shall live by faith.”
Yet I want to shine a little light onto Romans 1:14 & Romans 1:22. Taking the latter first, Paul is summarizing the response of the heathen nations to the general revelation of God. In theological terms, general revelation is the manner in which the created universe reveals God. It is visible to all. Romans 1:22 states that, though the general revelation of Creation was there for all to see, most people turned their back on God and instead worshiped idols.
Why would we do such a thing? Simply put, we became too smart for our own good. Our own wisdom leads us, at times, to think we are capable of figuring out and understanding everything all on our own. Then, as we claim this depth of knowledge, we actually become fools. Fools who do not recognize their own foolishness.
Where do we turn? Romans 1:14 gives us that guideline: Paul tells the Romans that he is under obligation to fools and to the wise, to proclaim the Gospel. What does that mean?
1. No matter how smart we are, we need the ever-stabilizing truth that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Whatever level of wisdom we have, that is standard.
2. No matter how foolish we become, we are not foolish beyond being saved by the righteousness of God, revealed by faith as it is written. No amount of blindness due to our cultures, our sins, or our own intelligence is so strong that God cannot overcome it to bring salvation.
3. Whatever claim we make in churches that we are trying to reach “group A” or “group B,” the reality is that we are under obligation to all groups to proclaim the Gospel. If your church does not welcome all who have sinned and fall short of the glory of God to hear the Gospel, that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, then you are failing in the obligation. Yes, hip church, this means your anti-necktie stance that alienates suit wearers is sinful. Yes, stuffy high church, this means your anti-open-collar stance that alienates normal people is sinful. All the more, if your church is only worship-friendly to people that check the same “ethnic” box as you, that must change. And you, hyper-techie church that does all your meeting digitally? All those folks who just use their phones to make calls need the Gospel, too, you know…
And yes, this includes the church I pastor and how we must adapt. Our obligation is not just to the people we like. It is not just to the people we approve of.
It is for wise people and foolish people.
If that means we are counted fools by the world for rejecting its wisdom, then we are obligated to foolishness. Proclaim the Gospel, and let God do his work.
Today’s Nerd Note: I would commend, again, to you the history of how God has used Romans 1, especially vv. 16-17. Look it up in a good commentary or Study Bible.
Further, consider the lists of sinful behaviors in Romans 1:29-31. These all come back to the same root issue. What is that issue?
Notice also that these run the gamut, from murder to being disobedient children. There are heart-sins and action-sins. It all matters.