(Read the series so far.)
Rodents and pests are both creative and enduring creatures—but they are intruders. To be fair, in many cases, we may be the actual invaders, for we build houses in the middle of their habitat and then desperately try to keep them from living in our space. How do we do it? We fill every gap and close every opening so that we can keep them from getting in. What do they do in response? They find another way in! It can be a battle if they have found your stuff to their liking.
We may think of them as pests, but what they do is actually quite ingenious. A mouse can squeeze his body into a hole the size of a dime. He can pull his bones from joints to get himself from tight places. There is something admirable about that kind of tenacity. At the same time, such an ingenious behavior and tenacious approach doesn’t always work.
In this lesson, we want to think about the door to a relationship with God. We don’t want to neglect to point out that the letter from which we are taking our lessons, the Epistle to the Romans, has already made clear the door to God. The simple term we use for that door is “gospel”—a word used in our modern English to mean “the truth”—but in antiquity it meant “good news.”
No matter, to us it is both! The gospel is the message that Jesus of Nazareth was not just a good man, but the dispatched Eternal Son of God, who came into the world to make it possible for men and women to have an intimate, personal relationship with the God of Abraham now, and enjoy conscious life with Him after this physical life is ended. That message was based on several component truths that must be grasped:
First, all men are sinners. We weren’t made that way; we became what we are in a revolt against God that took place many generations ago in the Garden of Eden. We don’t become sinners when we start sinning as children—quite the opposite. We sin as children without any need to be told how—because we are born sinners.
Second, because we have fallen from a guiltless state, we are unable to have a direct access to God because of the “law of sin and of death” that mandates that when sin occurs, some part of our free flowing relationship with God withers, and someone or something must die as a result—in part to symbolize the “death” of the life flow from God to us. In the atonement laws of Moses, animals substituted in a temporary way for the sacrifice that satisfied God for a time.
Third, God didn’t leave man with atonement—animal blood to temporarily cover our sin. He sent His Son to become a “Lamb” that was slain once for all as a perfect sacrifice for man’s sin.
Fourth, like all sacrifices, the one seeking relationship with God must believe the offering cares for the need—or the sacrifice is in vain (as it applies to them). We have to see the sacrifice as our sacrifice, and desire personally the relationship with God.
That foundational instruction of the gospel was made plain in Romans 1-5. If you kept reading, you would then discover that the good news has implications for daily choices, life priorities and behavior, in Romans 6-8. There Paul made plain that we are not to serve lust (Romans 6) nor list (Romans 7), but rather be led by the Spirit of God.
As you continue studying the letter, you will quickly realize the next section of the letter (Romans 9-11) describes why the plan to transform lives is absolutely secure—because it rests on a faithful God who painstakingly works in lives for generations to tell His story.
As Paul watched his own countrymen defect from the faith in Jesus, he made plain that some began with the Christian movement, but did not remain with it—and that was no indication that the message was false. In fact, it was anticipated by God and prophesied by His holy ones of old.
By Romans 10, Paul was describing the simple truth that no other door existed to access God beside the gospel. He argued that intruding never works with God. God has made known in the biblical record exactly what He requires for a man or woman to have a relationship with Him. As Creator, He has the right to require what He chooses (Paul made that point in Romans 9). As he continued his writing, Paul made clear another related truth:
Key Principle: No one intrudes into a relationship with God. By His grace, there is a door, but that is the only way in.
Take a look at this as we study again from the letter of Romans in chapter 10. In that chapter, Paul was gripped in the heartbreak of watching his fellow countrymen walk away from God. He recognized the decline, and he felt he needed to explain it. The problem was that the gospel, the story of salvation through Jesus the Jewish Messiah, was taking hold in the Gentile world, but under severe attack in the Jewish world.
How could that be? The place where the story unfolded was largely rejecting the story—and people who were distant from the story were embracing it, as well as the salvation that Jesus offered. He felt he needed to explain why Jews were rejecting the message, and why that had no bearing on the truth of its claims.