Romans Road & Rhetorical Questions
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Remember the Titans” you will recall the scene where Coach Boone, played by Denzel Washington, woke the team up in the early hours of the morning for a hike through the forest. He led them to the field where the Battle of Gettysburg took place. He brought them to an important place for an urgent message.
In the same way, Paul leads us down the Romans Road to the precipice, if you will, of the Great Canyon of the vastness of the grace and grandeur of God. First, he shows us in Romans one that God has so designed the universe that humanity is without excuse. His invisible attributes are clearly seen in what has been made, namely his eternal power and his divine nature.
But history demonstrates that humanity has an incorrigible inclination for suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness and responding in rebellion in one of two categorical ways. The first rebellious response is seen in the first chapter of Romans where men and women exchange the glory of God and worship the creation instead of the Creator. This can rightly be labeled hedonism.
The other side of the coin is humanism, perhaps the darker side of our depravity, which is seen in Romans two where mankind seeks to establish a man-centered righteousness apart from Christ. Romans three illustrates that both hedonism and humanism fall short of God’s glory and end in despair. We didn’t just kind of fall short. We completely miss the mark.
Paul uses the fourth chapter of this rich letter to tell the story of Abraham who was justified, not by works, but by faith. This Old Testament example is forward looking, as we see in chapter five, in that God’s saving method is still faith. Those who place their faith in Jesus, who died at just the right time, the godly for the ungodly, are justified, not by works, but by faith in the risen Son of God. Through Adam we all died but through Christ we can live: for the just shall live by faith.
The natural response to this grace is not license to sin, but an increasing devotion, because, as Paul says in Romans 6, may God forbid that we go on sinning in order that grace may abound. Even though we still struggle with indwelling sin (Romans 7) we are to constantly cast off the sin that so easily entangles us and fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, knowing that God will give us the victory through Jesus Christ.
This confidence is based on the reality celebrated in Romans 8 where we learn that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We see that all of history is moving to the cadence of his providence and for the purpose of his maximum glory as God saves a people for himself from every tribe and tongue (Romans 9).
That’s why we see in Romans 10 that God’s method for propagating this message is preaching. “Faith comes by hearing,” Paul says, “and hearing by the word of God.” We are to take this message of the Kingdom to the four corners of the earth knowing that grace was never just intended for Abraham and his offspring. He was blessed that the whole world might be blessed through him.
Room has been made for us (can I get an amen from my Gentile brothers and sisters?) in the life giving vine of Christ’s atonement. Though we were a “wild olive shoot”, Paul tells us in Romans 11, we now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree.
After walking us down eleven miles of the Romans Road, Paul takes us to this great panoramic of God’s vastness and pauses to let us know we can’t go any further until we stop long enough to reflect on three simple questions:
1.) Who has known the mind of the Lord?
2.) Who has been his counselor?
3.) To whom is God indebted?
The obvious answers to these three questions are clearly “No one.” Indeed, God does not need us. He does not need our words. He does not need our songs. He does not need our blogs. He does not need our lectures. He does not need our books. He does not need our schools. He does not need our degrees. He does not need our ideas. He does not need our advice. He does not need a loan. He needs no man.
Paul gives the application to these questions in Romans 12:1-3 where he tells us to submit ourselves to God as living sacrifices, coupled with the warning not to think too highly of ourselves. In this way, our holiness and our humility are the barometers for measuring how well we understand the rhetorical questions that frame our worship.
I wrote this post this morning as a way of mentally working through my sermon for the chapel service at Southern Seminary. It was truly an undeserved honor to stand behind that influential pulpit where so many great mean have stood. I closed my sermon with a poem I penned some time ago in response to the doxology of the eleventh chapter of Romans.
Where would you be O Little Man,
If not for the love of God?
Alone? Without hope? Imprisoned to death?
Where would you be O Son of Adam,
If not for the calling of God?
Empty? Separated? Destined for despair?
Where would you be O Image Bearer,
If not for the purposes of God?
Searching? Grasping? Clinging to nothing?
But O Man, O Son of Adam, O Image Bearer:
God has loved you with an endless love.
God has called you with an effectual calling.
God has purposed you with an unfailing purpose.
And who can stand against Him?
And who can stand without Him?
And where would you be O Little Man,
If not for the love of God?