003. The Romans Road

The Romans Road

Texts that Transform

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:23)

It has long been recognized that the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the most systematic presentation of the gospel found in the Bible. Following his introduction (1:1-17), the Apostle takes up his subject logically from the human problem: the universality of sin (1:18-3:20); to the solution: Christ, the cross, and justification by faith (3:21-5:21). From there he deals with new life in union with Christ (ch 6); the continuing struggle with the remnants of sin (ch 7); the indwelling Spirit of adoption (ch 8); election (chs 9-11), and practical aspects of the Christian life (chs 12-16).

This systematic presentation of Christ and His work lends itself to easy adaptation. Those looking for a logical, biblical, convenient tool for sharing the core of the gospel with unbelievers need look no further. Hence some unnamed person devised “The Romans Road,” a series of 4-6 key verses (depending on if one were utilizing the extended or contracted version). The Romans Road was important to me in my mid to late teens, as it helped me both with personal assurance and with witness to others. Should we not be ambassadors of Christ, representing Him to the world, telling others of salvation through His cross (2 Cor 5:20)? This may help us to be more effective as Christian witnesses.

The problem

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom 3:23)

What is the human condition?

“All have sinned,” says the Apostle. Sin is universal. No one is free from its stain. No one is free from its corruption. All have sinned, that is, have violated God’s laws (1 Jn 3:4). “All… fall short of the glory of God.” Sin is both inherited and personal. We are guilty in Adam, as his guilty status is passed down to his descendants. “One trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Rom 5:18). Also passed down was Adam’s corrupt nature: “By the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Rom 5:19). “Original sin” consists in both original guilt and original corruption. We are born under both the penalty and power of sin, and consequently are both hopelessly and helplessly lost (biblical words: Eph 2:12; Rom 5:6). We are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1).

All that is wrong in the world may be traced to this source. All the hate, all the crime, all the oppression, all the neglect of the needy, all the conflict, all the war are a direct result of humanity’s guilt and corruption. My personal evils, my anger, my hatred, my pride, my covetousness, my extraordinary selfishness and self-centeredness are all a direct result of humanity’s fall. More or less this is what was explained to me in my late teens. “Jesus died for us” was an empty phrase without this preliminary explanation of the context of His death. “Jesus saves,” but from what? “Jesus is the answer,” but what is the question? Why did He die? Romans 3:23 provides the first step in our answer: “All have sinned.”

The consequence

“The wages of sin is death.” (Rom 6:23)

Our inherited guilt plus the accumulated guilt of our own “actual transgressions” (in the language of the Westminster Confession of Faith) means death. This was the warning to our first parents in the garden: “The day that you eat of it you will die” (Gen 2:17). So they did. They ate and died, immediately spiritually, then later physically. Death entered the world through sin and “death spread to all men” (Rom 5:13). Death and all the lesser deaths of sickness, injuries, disabilities, suffering, and sorrow are all the consequence of the sin and guilt from which we cannot rescue ourselves. Physical death awaits us, and beyond it, eternal death in hell, “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mk 9:48). This is what I needed to know as a young man. I needed to know my problem and the consequence. I needed a correct diagnosis. I needed to know where I stood with God. I needed to know of the disapproval of a holy God, of His wrath against sin, of the judgment to come, and my certain everlasting doom.

The solution

God is love (1 Jn 4:8). God demonstrated that He is love by sending His blessed and eternal Son to die “for us,” that is, as our substitute in our place, in our stead, on our behalf, dying our death, paying our debt (Rom 5:8). His was a blood sacrifice, a substitutionary atonement, a propitiatory sacrifice, one which satisfied the requirements of divine justice and so put away wrath (Rom 3:25; 1 Jn 2:2). He is “the lamb of God,” the sacrificial lamb, the Passover lamb “who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). He gave His life as a “ransom” for us (Mk 10:45). His death achieves “redemption,” the price paid to liberate slaves from bondage (Rom 3:24; 1 Cor 1:30; Eph 1:7; Col 1:4; Heb 9:15). His death was final and complete, “one sacrifice for sins for all time” (Heb 10:12, NASB; cf Heb 7:27). Or as Jesus affirmed the finality and sufficiency of His sacrifice with eloquent simplicity, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).

Where was I to look for salvation? Was I to trust in the universal benevolence of God, as were so many of my contemporaries? (“It is His job to forgive,” they said. “A loving God would never condemn us to hell,” they were sure.) Was I to look to my own virtues, or good conduct (“I’m a good person”), or religious practices (“I never miss church” or the more recent version, “I’m a spiritual person”)? The emphatic answer of the faithful travelers of the Romans Road was to look only to Christ and His cross. Trust in no one (not even yourself) and nothing but Christ and His once-for-all sacrifice for sin.

Response

9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Rom 10:9, 10)

If Jesus by His death “paid it all,” as we sing in the old gospel song, how do I receive the benefit of His death? What Jesus did on the cross took place long ago and far away. How do His accomplishments span all that space and time to arrive in the present where I can benefit from them? The answer is, by faith. When we “believe in (our) hearts;” this is our private conviction that “God raised Jesus from the dead,” and “confess with (our) mouth(s);” this is our public declaration of belief that “Jesus is Lord,” then “(we) will be saved.” What hoops must I jump through? What good works must I perform? None whatever. If one believes from the heart, one is “justified.” The judicial verdict of condemnation is reversed. A new verdict is declared whereby guilt is removed and righteousness is credited, or “imputed,” as the theologians would say. Because “Jesus paid it all,” we contribute nothing but empty, believing hands to receive God’s “free gift” of “eternal life” (Rom 6:23).

What about our good works? What about our careful obedience? Our love for others or religious devotion? They contribute not “one single straw,” as John Calvin said. Listen again to the Apostle:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8, 9)

Salvation is by “grace,” not merit; “faith,” not works; a “gift of God,” not earned. Because it is a gift and not an accomplishment for which one can take credit, it excludes boasting (see 1 Cor 1:29-31; Rom 4:2-5). Christ is the Savior only for those who are not seeking to save themselves (Gal 1:6-9; 5:2-4). I needed to hear this as a young man with tendencies toward self-righteousness and pride. I am glad that the Romans Road makes clear to all the graciousness of salvation. Wherever I may lie on the spectrum from degraded sinner, in bondage to the darkest, the most corrupt and perverted of sins, or self-righteous, moral, proud pharisaic sinner, salvation is for me a free gift of Christ. This is the gospel’s good news.

Continuing story

14bHow are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom 10: 14b-15, 17)

What do I do now that I am a Christian? How do I go on in the Christian life? The above verses are about the church. Preachers don’t commission and send themselves. The Apostle doesn’t say, “How are they to preach unless they go?” The church is the sending agency by which preachers “are sent.” It is under its ministry that the word is heard and faith is engendered and confession made. If one is to grow as a Christian, to mature into spiritual adulthood, one must unite with a faithful church and sit under the ministry of the word. Some of us will be among those called to go, and to exercise this ministry, will be sent. Others of us will participate in their going by membership in the church by which they are sent. Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified by the truth. What truth? “Thy word is truth” (Jn 17:17).

This too, I needed to hear. I was surrounded by believers who had minimized the role of the church to the point of total irrelevancy. Yet Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Mt 16:18). It is the only entity on earth that He promises to build. The church that He builds is an institution, as is clear from Matthew 18:15ff. A church is an entity to which problems can be told and whose voice can be heard. It is an entity with a form of government, a system of discipline, standards of belief and conduct, with officers, and with a mission or purpose. It is not an ad hoc, informal, casual, self-selecting group of believers who decide to gather in a coffee shop when convenient. The church is a covenantal community where promises are made and where we are responsible for each other, accountable to each other, and will be there for each other. This is the environment that God has designed and in which we are to thrive until God takes us home.

Have you walked the Romans Road? Has your self-awareness traveled from the problem (sin) to the salvation (Christ) to the response (faith) to the church (public profession of Christ and participation in its ministry)?

Those of you who have walked this Road, are you ready to lead others down it, from verse to verse to Christ and His church? Are you ready and willing at least, to say with Philip, “Come and see” (Jn 1:46), come to my church where you will hear the way of salvation in Jesus the Messiah, and begin to contribute with us in His great mission?

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