“Paid In Full!” A Study of Romans 1-5 (Part 1)

For thirty years they struggled in that little house on the corner. They raised five children in a house barely large enough for two. Its halls heard the daily squabbles of rambunctious children, the tussle of trying to get ready for school in one bathroom. It seemed for years there was constant fighting for counter space at the single little bathroom sink, just as there was incessant poking of one another and squealing as the lunch assembly line was launched in the tiny kitchen nearby every school day. Now the towel snapping “battle lines” had long ceased, and each child graduated, married and headed out into life. The old house held only the two of them now—just as the place had done where it all had started many years earlier.

It seems, that in the process of life, both that house, and the occupants of it had grown old. There were scars in the floor from the wooden rocking chair that pressed into the hard wood floor during the long nights of rocking sick children, and later worrying when they didn’t come home on time for curfew. There were little ascending pencil marks on the wall inside the closet that reflected the growth of each child. Those days were ended now…and the two of them sat in the place, laden with memories as they cut open the envelope that was delivered to their box. The words in the lower right corner gave them a rush of feeling—a long due recognition of struggles.

The words on the mortgage letter read: “Paid in full.”

If you have ever worked long and hard at anything, you know the relief they felt. If you have ever rallied through setbacks and painfully “soldiered on” during burdensome times—you know what that “coming to the end of the road” satisfaction is all about when the final bill has been paid. The story of Easter is that story. It is the final stamp on a bill log that read: “Paid in Full”!!

Key Principle: Jesus paid for sin at the Crucifixion, but the letter with the stamp “PaidInFull” was publicly verified on the morning of the resurrection.

This lesson is about Jesus, and it is about hope. This lesson is about the gospel, and the fact that we are all broken, sinful people who can’t fix ourselves. This lesson makes clear that the New Testament reveals that trying hard won’t do it…our only hope is to follow the Savior who already completed it. This is the story of the gospel, as the Apostles revealed it in the ancient story…and we find it clear and crisp in the letter we call the “Epistle to the Romans,” beginning at the first chapter of that letter.

When Paul wrote the letter to Rome, he wrote it with the intent to share two very important concepts—the description of the gospel (because people of every period need to know what the Biblical prescription is for the gap between them and God) and the definition of the gospel (so they won’t just know about the message, but be able to examine the claims of Jesus up close).

First, Let’s See If We Can Grasp a Clear Description of the Gospel

Paul opened the letter to Rome with a grand announcement, in the form that was used by an ancient orator to announce the birth of a prince to the household of Caesar. He claimed to be a mere slave of that prince (1:1), and he claimed to be one that was selected particularly for that task (1:1b). He claimed the story of Jesus fit what was promised long before (1:2-3), and that Jesus’ announcement wasn’t made because of His birth—but because He walked out of the tomb after His Crucifixion (1:4).

Paul made clear that the gospel is an announcement that is given based on the power of God shown in the resurrection—and that is why we are mentioning it on this Resurrection Sunday!

The Gospel is a Message That Some People Feel Uncomfortable With

Drop your eyes down a few verses and look at Paul’s boldness about the message the Jesus came, Jesus died, and Jesus rose…He wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel” (NIV, Rom. 1:16).

The gospel is a message that challenges people to believe something they have never seen. We have all been touched by death—but few if any of us have been touched by someone who WAS dead and is now alive. Like Joseph, trying to describe how Mary got pregnant without a man—the gospel rests on a fundamental belief that there is a God, and that the normal laws of nature do not bind Him—because He made those laws. Some people cannot accept what they cannot observe—especially in the time we live in, where science has been mixed up with the philosophy of origins—and people in lab coats have become priests of naturalism disguised as impartial scientists. The gospel can make a student feel embarrassed at school—arguing for purity in a world where freedom has come to mean the swift removal of moral restraints to gain what I want when I want it.

The Gospel Is a Message that Rescues Every Person Who Believes the Message

The gospel message can bring embarrassment if one plays with the message—but not if it really reaches your heart. Paul continued:

“because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Rom. 1:16b)

The gospel drives the power of God into my heart. It makes plain that God hasn’t abandoned us on the planet and left the fallen mess we see playing out in the news. God brings rescue to anyone who will believe what He has said—those with long and deep religious ties, and those who haven’t had any of that in their lives.

The Gospel Is a Message that Reveals that God Is Truly Righteous

The gospel is a message that isn’t centered on man’s abilities, but God’s righteousness. Paul wrote:

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Rom. 1:17)

This is the message about a God who is entitled to our allegiance, but Who has suffered from our mutiny. God made us to walk with Him, and we “voted Him off the island” of our heart. His absolute judicial right to be God is bound in His making of all things. He is the Creator, and we are the created.

How can I know Him? Paul made clear it is by “faith.” Don’t get lost in that word. Faith isn’t merely “leaping past evidence and just believing”; rather the very opposite. Faith is the response to the evidence that demands a verdict. Faith in the Bible is “God glasses”—seeing it the way He says it is in His Word, rather than the way my eyes would see it without His revealed truth. Faith is the reasonable response to what I see that is in harmony with what God said about it.

I believe there is a God by faith. That doesn’t mean that because I cannot know if there is, “I just believe.” It means that I have eyes, and I can see that there is a highly ordered universe that operates on precise and exacting mathematical properties. Everywhere I look in the world, such intricate design requires the hand of a designer. I am taking what I know of the world and applying it to the whole cosmos: design requires a Designer. Then I look into the Bible, and I see that it clearly claims a Creator, and that He made His qualities known by what He made. When I believe what He said about Himself, I am agreeing through the “glasses” of what God said…and that is faith.

Bible faith requires knowledge of Bible content. George Barna wrote “The State of the Church” a few years ago based on a carefully conducted survey of self-pronounced Christians. Here is what he discovered about their knowledge of the Bible.

  • 48% could not name the four Gospels.
  • 52% couldn’t identify more than two or three of Jesus’ disciples.
  • 60% of them couldn’t name even five of the “Ten Commandments.”
  • 61% of them agreed with the statement: “The Sermon on the Mount was an important sermon preached by Billy Graham.”
  • 71% thought the saying “God helps those who help themselves” can be found in a verse in the Bible.

Barna’s conclusion was this: “Americans revere the Bible, but by and large they don’t know what it says. And because they don’t know it, they have become a nation of Biblical illiterates.”

The Bible terminology for that group is a generation “weak in faith.” They don’t know what God promised, and they don’t see life through it. They may go to church. They may even think the Bible is important—but they cannot and will not make decisions based on its contents—because they don’t know them.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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... and they are actually very happy inside. They're just annoyed at having to pose for the painting.

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