Today is a cold Saturday. So, I am staying inside and thinking ahead to next September. Why so far ahead? Because this fall, I will be teaching Romans. I’ve read this book countless times. I’ve preached on it. I’ve lead Bible Studies on it. But I have never taught it here at IWU. So I thought Romans and I should be intimately acquainted. I decided to read Romans in one sitting; and I failed miserably. I never got past Paul’s greeting.
[a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name's sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ]
to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 1:1-7 NAS)
Yes, I know this is simply the Greeting, and I should not get overly excited until I get to the real heart of the matter (at least 1:16 and following). But this opening helps me grasp Romans in a way I never have before. Here is what I saw for the first time and it was always right in front of me. Take note of the extended description Paul gives about himself which I bracketed off above. It begins with “a bond-servant” in verse 1 and goes all the way thru “among whom you also are called of Jesus Christ” in 1:6. All that Paul has said is one long descriptor not really about Jesus…but it describes who Paul himself is! (Technically, if you are interested, all the phrases of this one long Greek sentence are set in apposition to the name “Paul.”) Paul = all that follows in 1:1-6.
So, you might ask, what is the big deal? Try this; Paul cannot separate his story from Christ’s story. His story and God’s story are so dove-tailed that they become one-in-the-same story.
Let me try to explain what grabbed me that I never saw before. Romans, from the first verse to the last, is not to be read as a theological treatise (sorry Martin Luther). It’s the most practical, almost earthy story about how God’s meta-narrative marvelously intersects with Paul’s own life story (and ours as well) Thus, wherever I preach, teach or live the Book of Romans, my story should and must come out. Yes, it’s all about Jesus. But it’s also about me and how Jesus has affected who I am, and who I am becoming.
This should resonate with many of you today. For you might think that Paul is far too deep a thinker that you can never fully comprehend his theology. Well, no problem, because Paul is simply introducing himself by telling a story. Yes, it is a re-orienting story, a paradigm-shifting story. But a story nonetheless.
If Paul is right (and he is!) our story intersecting with God’s story creates THE STORY. Paul calls it “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16). Thus, maybe storytelling is the most biblical style of evangelism. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann agrees when he says, “evangelism means inviting people into these stories as the defining story of our life, and thereby authorizing people to give up, abandon, and renounce other stories that have shaped their lives in false or distorting ways” (Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism).
So, if you want to be a subversive Christian, a biblical evangelist, following in Paul’s footsteps, simply tell your story. But the transformative power of your story is when you invite others to switch allegiances from their old story to a new life-story found in Christ. So, go and tell!
Help us all to be grace-filled storytellers.
May we welcome others to the eternal narrative which God’s is continually writing.
May His It’s-to-good-to-be-true story become the reality of our lives.
Jesus, may your children live happily ever after.
Now, Go with God.