I got carried away in Romans today. This book is the core teaching of the gospel in the New Testament. In the introduction/greeting, Paul talks about his desire to preach the gospel in Rome, and then he launches into it: the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel Paul preaches. He talks about sin and judgement, and he addresses the Jews, who were always his first audience, the most educated in spiritual truth.
When I was a teenager and new to the gospel, I remember intentionally studying Romans. Paul's writing is not always easy to understand, and I worked to make sense of what he was saying and why. His reasoning was not a pattern that I was used to. He asks all these questions, that are obvious rhetorical tools, not the structure I had been taught: thesis statements followed by support followed by conclusions. Why does he say this now? How does it relate to what came before?
I learned arguments without knowing why I needed to know them. No one is totally ignorant of God's truth because of creation (Romans 1:20). Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (Romans 4:12). Someone who dies is no longer under the law (duh? Romans 7:1). In classical education, children memorize information before they understand it. Little ones learn the Pythagorean theorem, formulas for area and perimeter, while very small. No one teaches them what they mean; we simply put the information in their brain, so that in middle school, when they encounter the math problems, the basis for understanding is already with them. Likewise, wouldn't it be lovely if Christians learned the Bible, just for the sake of knowing it? Then, when the Spirit needs to reveal something to us, the basis of understanding is already in our brains.
Earlier this year, I joined Melaleuca, which is an online company that carries vitamins, cleaning products, personal care products, and some food products. When I told my friend that I was interested in the company, I was required to listen to a 30-minute explanation of how it works (you have to pay a membership fee, there is a minimum monthly purchase, etc.). I decided I wanted to try it, knowing I could get out (and what the cost to me would be for exiting--everyone wants to know how to get out of something we sign up for, right?). As I ordered and used products, I came to understand them better, and my life switched to include this new company. Old things fell away and were replaced by new.
Coming to Jesus is much the same way. Is this the path I want? What does it require of me? Can I get out if I don't like it? You do not understand it all before you "join," but if you do not work to understand something, how can you ever choose? Listening to sermons and reading the Bible are ways to learn what this gospel is.
This is the second thing that struck me in Romans this morning: Paul did not conclude his gospel with an invitation to follow Jesus. He went straight from explaining what the gospel is to encouraging his listeners to live this way. It is not only evangelical in nature; it is also How Should We Then Live. It is the whole gospel: choose Christ, and keep on choosing Him.
In the gospel truth, there is information on what it is like to follow Jesus, if that is something you are considering. And in the same gospel, there is information about how to live out what you have already chosen. Renew your mind (8:6). Be obedient (1:5). Have faith (3:28). Die to yourself (7:4). These truths are already buried in me, but as I work it out, they make more and more sense.
I am amazed sometimes at how an odd piece of information will keep my thinking on track in my walk with God. My daughter often asks after (or during) a sermon: how does the preacher know this? what is his textual support? where does the Bible teach this? If you read this long and diverse book, layer after layer builds up in your thinking so that you recognize error when it pops up. Your mind becomes bathed in it, so that you can explain to people who are questioning.
I like teaching math. Many people think I'm nuts, because this wasn't their favorite subject, or (if they are my student) they find the work challenging and demanding and tedious. But the order of mathematics is beautiful. The existence of pi simply amazes me. Mathematics is our way of quantifying the brilliant order of creation, a small reflection of the mind of our Creator. I see the same beauty in the word of God.
Paul, also in the beginning of his letter, repeatedly refers to the power of the gospel. It struck me that many who call themselves by the name of Jesus are not experiencing that power in their lives. If we do not study what we are, how will we ever be who we can be?