Just Words

Vocabulary from Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Beginning in the summer of 1515, Martin Luther lectured on Romans. The words and concepts in this letter became foundational for Luther, a source for the monumental movement called the Reformation. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation we return to Romans.

Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome (written around 55 AD) is a like a theological dictionary. He employs words that became Christian classics – grace, faith, justification, righteousness. Unfortunately, words can become cliché, empty religious talk, or “just words.” But we believe that these are just words, powerful in their ability to justify sinful people.  We believe God’s Word actively does something to us. As we devote ourselves to Romans, what will these words do to you?

Paul’s letter to the Romans is arguably the most profound theological treatise in the church’s library. It is the longest and most systematically reasoned of Paul’s letters. In it, Paul describes the Gospel as the “righteousness of God” (1:16,17). Another way to say this is “God setting things right in Jesus.”  He then employs a vast vocabulary of words to lay out this “gospel”. While incredibly deep (and sometimes complex), Paul’s intent is very practical. His context is missional. He desires to take the gospel into lands it had not yet reached. As the most prominent city in the world, Rome was to be his base for further westward missions, especially Spain.

Our celebration of the Reformation is centered on the Word of God, for this was central to Luther. He writes, “note well, that the power of Scripture is this: it will not be altered by the one who studies it; instead it transforms the one who loves it. It draws the individual in – into itself – and into its own powers.”

Language is incredibly formative. Words not only say things; they do things. We believe that God’s word is performative. It does what it says. But often we misuse it:

– We assume that people know what we’re talking about when they don’t.

– Biblical language becomes cliché and we give little thought to its meaning or power.

– Biblical language becomes code word – unintelligible to ”outsiders” and thrown around carelessly by “insiders.”

In preaching on these words from Romans, we will answer two simple questions for our people:

1. What does it mean? Provide a clear definition.

2. What does it mean for me? Apply the word clearly to the lives of the hearers.

9.10  Righteousness 1:16-17; 3:21-26; 9:30-10:1-4

9.17  Justification 3:23,28; 5:1; 8:30; 10:10

9.24   Law and Gospel 1:1-6,9,16-17; 5:1-11; 10:15; 15:14-21

10.1  Grace 5:6-21; 11:5,6; 10:6-25; 11:17-32

10.8  Love 8:37-39; 12:9-13; 13:8-10; 15:1-7

10.15  Faith 1:8, 12, 16-17; ch. 4; 5:1; 10:4-21

10.22  Life (Sanctification) 6; 8:1-11

10.29  Jew/Gentile 1:13-17; 11:32; 9:1-5; 15:8-21 (9-11)