Romans: Amazing Grace!

Overview

The book of Romans is one of the most beloved of all books in the Bible. In Romans: Amazing Grace we learn what deliverance from sin really means and how God accomplished it. The transforming power of the book of Romans comes to life in this easy-to-understand Bible study book.

Guided Discovery of the Bible The Bible invites us to explore God?s word and reflect on how we might respond to it. To do this, we need guidance and the right tools for discovery. The Six Weeks with the ...

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Overview

The book of Romans is one of the most beloved of all books in the Bible. In Romans: Amazing Grace we learn what deliverance from sin really means and how God accomplished it. The transforming power of the book of Romans comes to life in this easy-to-understand Bible study book.

Guided Discovery of the Bible The Bible invites us to explore God’s word and reflect on how we might respond to it. To do this, we need guidance and the right tools for discovery. The Six Weeks with the Bible series of Bible discussion guides offers both in a concise six-week format. Whether focusing on a specific biblical book or exploring a theme that runs throughout the Bible, these practical guides in this series provide meaningful insights that explain Scripture while helping readers make connections to their own lives. Each guide

• is faithful to Church teaching and is guided by sound biblical scholarship
• presents the insights of Church fathers and saints
• includes questions for discussion and reflection
• delivers information in a reader-friendly format
• gives suggestions for prayer that help readers respond to God’s word
• appeals to beginners as well as to advanced students of the Bible
 
By reading Scripture, reflecting on its deeper meanings, and incorporating it into our daily life, we can grow not only in our understanding of God’s word, but also in our relationship with God.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780829421415
  • Publisher: Loyola Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2005
  • Series: Six Weeks with the Bible Series
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 1,490,918
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Perrotta is an award-winning Catholic journalist and a former editor of God’s Word Today. In addition to the Six Weeks with the Bible series, he is the author of Invitation to Scripture and Your One-Stop Guide to the Bible. Perrotta lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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Read an Excerpt

Romans

Amazing Grace!
By Kevin Perrotta

Loyola Press

Copyright © 2005 Kevin Perrotta
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780829421415

How to Use This Guide
You might compare the Bible to a national park. The park is so large that you could spend months, even years, getting to know it. But a brief visit, if carefully planned, can be enjoyable and worthwhile. In a few hours you can drive through the park and pull over at a handful of sites. At each stop you can get out of the car, take a short trail through the woods, listen to the wind blowing through the trees, get a feel for the place.
    In this booklet, we will read excerpts from Paul’s letter to the Christians of Rome. Because the excerpts are short, we will be able to take a leisurely walk through them, thinking carefully about what we are reading and what it means for our lives today.
    This guide provides everything you need to explore Romans in six discussions—or to do a six-part exploration on your own. The introduction on page 6 will prepare you to get the most out of your reading. The weekly sections provide explanations that will help illuminate the meanings of the readings for your life. Equally important, each section supplies questions that will launch your group into fruitful discussion, helping you to both investigate Paul’s letter for yourself and learn from one another. If you’re using the booklet by yourself, the questions will spur your personal reflection.
    Each discussion is meant to be a guided discovery.
    Guided. None of us is equipped to read the Bible without help. We read the Bible for ourselves but not by ourselves. Scripture was written to be understood and applied in the community of faith. So each week “A Guide to the Reading,” drawing on the work of both modern biblical scholars and Christian writers of the past, supplies background and explanations. The guide will help you grasp the meanings of the letter to the Romans. Think of it as a friendly park ranger who points out noteworthy details and explains what you’re looking at so you can appreciate things for yourself.
    Discovery. The purpose is for you to interact with Romans. “Questions for Careful Reading” is a tool to help you dig into the text and examine it carefully. “Questions for Application” will help you consider what these words mean for your life here and now. Each week concludes with an “Approach to Prayer” section that helps you respond to God’s word. Supplementary “Living Tradition” and “Saints in the Making” sections offer the thoughts and experiences of Christians past and present. By showing what the letter has meant to others, these sections will help you consider what it means for you.
    How long are the discussion sessions? We’ve assumed you will have about an hour and a half when you get together. If you have less time, you’ll find that most of the elements can be shortened somewhat.
    Is homework necessary? You will get the most out of your discussions if you read the weekly material and prepare your answers to the questions in advance of each meeting. If participants are not able to prepare, have someone read the “Guide to the Reading” sections aloud to the group at the points where they appear.
    What about leadership? If you happen to have a world-class biblical scholar in your group, by all means ask him or her to lead the discussions. In the absence of any professional Scripture scholars, or even accomplished amateur biblical scholars, you can still have a first-class Bible discussion. Choose two or three people to take turns as facilitators, and have everyone read “Suggestions for Bible Discussion Groups” (page 90) before beginning.
    Does everyone need a guide? a Bible? Everyone in the group will need his or her own copy of this booklet. It contains all the excerpts from Romans discussed in the weekly sessions, so a Bible is not absolutely necessary—but each participant will find it useful to have one. You should have at least one Bible on hand for your discussions (see page 92 for recommendations.)
    How do we get started? Before you begin, take a look at the suggestions for Bible discussion groups (page 92) or individuals (page 95).
Plans of a Loving God
Sitting in the sun-drenched courtyard of a friend’s villa in the Greek city of Corinth around the year 56, the apostle Paul dictated a letter to some Christians he had never met, in the imperial capital, Rome. The believers were a small group living in a huge city awash in pagan religions and ruled by a corrupt elite. Paul sent them encouragement. “I’m proud of the gospel of Jesus Christ!” he declared. “I’m confident in God’s power working through Jesus. You can be confident in it, too!”
    Paul’s letter was a communication between martyrs-to-be. As he wrote, Paul was about to set out on a trip to Jerusalem. There he would be attacked by a mob and jailed as a troublemaker. After a few years of imprisonment, perhaps in the year 61, he would be transported to stand trial in Rome—giving him the opportunity to meet the recipients of his letter. In Rome, he would eventually be executed, possibly in the year 67. In the meantime, in the year 64, the emperor Nero launched a vicious persecution of Christians in the city, sweeping some of Paul’s readers to a gruesome death.
    But Paul’s letter was not swept away. Survivors of the persecution copied it and distributed it to Christians in other places. Recognizing the letter as an inspired statement of faith in Jesus, the early Christians eventually incorporated it into the New Testament.
    The enduring value of Paul’s letter stems from the fact that he put more into it than a few words of encouragement. The letter to the Romans is the longest of Paul’s letters. The length has something to do with Paul’s having some additional travel plans in mind. He was hoping, after his trip to Jerusalem, to visit the Christians in Rome and get their help for a missionary journey to Spain. To smooth the way for his visit, he composed a letter that would help them get to know him.
    In other cities Paul had visited, his version of the gospel—the good news about Jesus—had met with criticism by some Christians (see his letter to the Galatians). The criticisms would have reached the ears of the believers in Rome. If Paul expected them to welcome him, he needed to clear up misunderstandings beforehand. So he devoted much of his letter to laying out the gospel as he preached it. He focused on issues where the Roman Christians might have questions about his thinking.
    Sitting in his friend’s house in Corinth, Paul poured into the letter his deepest reflections on who Jesus is and what he means for men and women. The result was the most carefully composed statement of faith by Paul or any other leader of the Church in the age of the apostles. The letter flashes with the enthusiasm and hope of a man who has spent years pondering the gospel, sharing it with other people, and observing its effects in their lives—a man who was headed toward martyrdom for his preaching about Jesus.
    Paul focuses on the points he thinks are most important for the Romans to understand, without explaining the whole background of his thinking. He leaves many assumptions unstated. Much of what he assumed may have been obvious to his readers in Rome. But some of his assumptions are not entirely familiar to us, so we may have some difficulty following his presentation. Before we begin to read, then, it will be useful to look at some of what Paul says in Romans and some things he does not say in the letter, in order to grasp his view of the condition of the world and of where the human race stands in relation to God.
    As a Jew, Paul believes that one God created all that is. God made the human race in his own image, with the desire that we would reflect his goodness and love—his “glory” as Paul would say. Indeed, God formed us as the apex of creation: we are the part of creation capable of knowing and loving him. In us, creation becomes able to recognize God’s goodness, to thank and praise him, to freely serve him. The rest of creation is to be the material with which we carry out this mission.
    Given this arrangement, human disobedience to God would be a cosmic disaster. If humans were to refuse to live out their role of praise and obedience toward God, we and the rest of creation would be thrown into disorder. Were we to turn away from the life-giving God, we would set ourselves on a course toward darkness and death. We would disfigure ourselves, losing our likeness to God. The rest of creation would be reduced to futility, blocked from playing its role as the instrument by which we enter into communion with God.
    It goes without saying that this is precisely the disaster into which humans plunged themselves. The first human beings sinned. Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God wrecked the order within and between them: they experienced guilt and shame; they became jealous, fearful, irresponsible, and domineering. They shattered the harmony between themselves and the rest of creation. Indeed, the rest of creation was damaged by their turning away from God. As you probably know, all this can be found in the first three chapters of the Bible.
    Paul views the first human couple not only as our ancestors but as our representatives. Thus, their decision to disobey God had consequences for those who came after them. By abandoning God, they not only damaged themselves; they passed on human nature in a damaged condition to all of us.
    In addition, our first parents’ rebellion against God left them vulnerable to the power of evil spiritual forces that are in rebellion against him. Adam and Eve’s sin gave these evil spiritual powers a bridgehead in human society. From it, they seek to extend their deceptive and destructive influence over all of us.
    Given the kind of world we are born into, and the kind of people we are from birth, it is no surprise that each of us adds our own sins to the ongoing disaster in which we find ourselves.
    But God loved human beings no less after we sinned than before. As soon as our first parents turned away from him, he began to unfold a plan to lead us back to himself. This plan worked through a particular Near Eastern people—the people of Israel—whom God gathered, brought into a covenant with himself, and instructed in his way of life. This instruction is known as the law of Moses, since Moses was the man through whom God gave the instruction. Paul refers to it simply as “the law.”
    Jews view this covenant and law as God’s definitive action toward the human race. For much of his life, Paul shared this conviction. By the time he writes to the Romans, however, he has come to regard the Mosaic law as a stopgap measure undertaken by God in preparation for his truly definitive action—the coming of his Son.
    On the basis of God’s promises in the Scriptures, many Jews in Paul’s day expected that God was eventually going to bring the present age of history to an end and replace it with a better situation. They expected God to show his righteousness, that is, to save the oppressed, vindicate those who obeyed him, and bring judgment on those who disobeyed him. God’s intervention, many Jews thought, would be preceded by severe disturbances in the world, tribulations of various kinds. Some Jews expected a divinely appointed agent—“Messiah” in Hebrew, “Christos” in Greek—to lead God’s forces to victory over sin and evil. The dead would be raised up. Justice and peace would be permanently established. In short, God would bring his kingdom.
    Years before he wrote to the Romans, Paul received a vision while traveling on the road between Jerusalem and Damascus. (If you get the impression that Paul was constantly traveling, you are correct. He was one of the great travelers of the first century.) The vision convinced him that God had begun to fulfill the expectations of the Jewish people through Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is the Messiah. His crucifixion was the beginning of the final turmoil and suffering that were to afflict the world when God’s kingdom began to arrive. Jesus’ rising from the tomb was the beginning of the resurrection from the dead. The revelation of God’s righteousness in the world had now begun: God was bringing sin under judgment, overthrowing the evil spiritual powers at work in human society, setting his creation to rights. Through Jesus, God offered men and women forgiveness of sins and a share in his life through the Holy Spirit. The new order was already entering our disordered world. Ultimately, God would complete the coming of his kingdom by recreating all things through his Son. Those who believed in him would rise to life with God forever.
    Jewish people in Paul’s time expected that God’s end-time action would affect not only themselves but the other peoples of the world, also. Paul saw the fulfillment of this expectation also in Jesus. Jesus is the path that God has provided to himself, not only for Jews but also for non-Jews—“gentiles.” Thus the Mosaic law, Paul concluded, which lies at the heart of God’s special relationship with the Jewish people, is no longer the best framework for people’s relationship with God. Instead, God offers everyone a direct relationship with himself through faith in Jesus and the gift of his Holy Spirit.
    Where does this leave the people of Israel? What place, if any, does the Mosaic law continue to have in people’s relationship with God? These were urgent questions for both Jews and gentiles in Paul’s day. Answering them was one of his main goals in the letter to the Romans.
    While Paul wrote especially for Roman Christians in the mid-first century, his letter contains so much insight into the mystery of Christ that it has crackled with excitement for every later generation of believers. Paul speaks about the frustrations of struggling against sin, about our need for God’s grace, about God’s merciful, fatherly love, about the splendor of life with Christ. His words have not lost any of their freshness in the twenty centuries since Paul’s first readers in first-century Rome gathered in their homes to listen to them.
    Nevertheless, Paul is not an easy writer to understand. From his own day until ours, readers have had to work to grasp his meaning (2 Peter 3:15–16). Apparently, people did not always find Paul easy to understand even when he spoke to them face to face (this seems to be implied in 2 Thessalonians 2:5). Even in his letter to the Romans, where Paul is working to clear up misunderstandings, his presentation is sometimes difficult to follow. We cannot entirely blame Paul for this, since his subject matter is deep and complex. In any case, it is up to us to make our best effort to discover his meaning. The Guides to the Reading will aid your understanding. But let me give you a heads-up here about one source of difficulty.
    Some of the terms that Paul employs have a wealth of biblical precedent behind them. If we want to grasp what he is saying, we have to do some homework in the Old Testament. The leading example of this is the package of terms that are usually translated into English as righteousness, righteous, justice, just, justify, justified, and justification (all these English words translate words in Paul’s letter that come from a single root word in the Greek language). We tend to think of justice as something having to do with a courtroom. And we tend to think of justice as distinct from, even contrary to, mercy. But Paul is working with a concept shaped by the Old Testament, where righteousness, or justice, has a somewhat different range of meanings.
    In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word often translated “righteousness” or “justice” concerns doing what is right toward other people, relating to them with loyalty, not just in court but in ordinary life. God shows his righteousness by relating to his people with loyalty and saving people from enemies and oppressors. A good example—worth careful reading before one begins to explore Romans—is Isaiah 51:1–8. There the same Hebrew word is translated (in the NRSV) both “righteousness” (Isaiah 51:1, 7) and “deliverance” (Isaiah 51:5, 6, 8).
    In the Bible, righteousness is not opposed to mercy but includes it. A righteous person is kind and willing to forgive; a person who lacks compassion is not truly righteous. This connection of righteousness with mercy is reflected in Jesus’ parable in which a man who refuses to show mercy is called “wicked” (Matthew 18:32). This connection explains why people in the Old Testament appeal to God’s righteousness when they ask him for forgiveness. Obviously, his righteousness includes mercy, since it is mercy and kindness, not “strict justice,” that would incline him to forgive. A good example of the connection of justice and mercy, also worth careful reading if you wish to understand Romans, is Psalm 143. Notice how (in the NRSV) “righteousness” (Psalm 143:11) is virtually a synonym for “steadfast love” (Psalm 143:12).
    As you will see, a further challenge in understanding Paul is that he uses some words with shifting meanings. As the Guides to the Reading will point out, key terms such as flesh, body, law, and sin have different meanings at different stages in Paul’s presentation. So stay alert!

Week 1
There’s Good News and Bad News
Questions to Begin
15 minutes
Use a question or two to get warmed up for the reading.
    1    Who would you most like to visit, if you could?
    2    Who would you most like to pay you a visit?
Opening the Bible
5 minutes
Read the passage aloud. Let individuals take turns reading sections.
The Reading: Romans 1
From: Paul. To: Roman Christians. Re: Jesus Christ.
1:1?Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2?which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3?the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4?and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5?through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6?including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
    7?To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:
    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It Would Be Great to Visit
8?First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. 9?For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, 10?asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 11?For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12?or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13?I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. 14?I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish 15?—hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
The Message in a Nutshell
16?For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17?For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
It’s a Jungle Out There
18?For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.
    19?For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20?Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21?for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22?Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23?and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
    24?Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25?because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
    26?For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27?and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
    28?And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29?They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30?slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31?foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
    32?They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
Questions for Careful Reading
10 minutes
Choose questions according to your interest and time.
    1    What indications does Paul give in 1:1–7 (unless noted, all biblical citations in this book refer to Romans) that God laid plans long ago for what is now happening in the lives of Paul and the Christians in Rome?
    2    What might Paul mean by the term “obedience of faith” (1:5)?
    3    Paul seems to correct himself in 1:11–12. Why?
    4    In 1:8–15, what signs does Paul give indicating he perceives that God is in control of his life?
    5    From statements Paul makes in 1:18–32, what does he mean by acknowledging God (see 1:28)? What does it mean to acknowledge God?
    6    Speaking about people who turned away from God, Paul says, “God gave them up” (1:24, 26, 28). What did God give them up to?
A Guide to the Reading
If participants have not read this section already, read it aloud. Otherwise go on to “Questions for Application.”
1:1–7. Verses 1–7 form one long, dense sentence—not an easy start for the reader! This opening sentence alerts us to the fact that Paul’s writing will require slow and patient reading.
    1:8–17. Paul discusses his intentions to visit the Roman Christians (1:8–15). But it quickly becomes clear that he is not writing a chatty letter about personal affairs. This letter is going to be serious theological business. Verses 16 and 17 contain Paul’s message in a nutshell. Here, every word counts.
?    “Salvation.” Paul means getting successfully through the challenges of earthly life in a way that pleases God, receiving a favorable evaluation of one’s life by God at the final judgment, and entering into the permanent joy of God’s kingdom.
?    “The power of God for salvation.” Paul is not speaking mainly about who God is but about what he has done. The gospel—literally “good news”—is the announcement that God has acted powerfully through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The message comes with an invitation to experience God’s action—an invitation that God drives home powerfully in our minds and hearts. To accept the invitation is to open ourselves up to God’s power.
?    “The righteousness of God is revealed.” It might sound as though Paul is saying that a curtain in heaven has been pulled aside, allowing us to look up and see that God is just. But Paul means that God is showing his righteousness by operating down here in our human world. God has begun to set things right, to save all who need to be saved, to put an end to evil in every form.
?    “Through faith for faith.” From beginning to end, faith in God is the key to the lifelong process of receiving and cooperating with his powerful action.
    1:18–32. Whoa! What happened to the good news? From verse 18 on, the news is pretty grim. Sometimes my wife tells me to put down the newspaper because it is making me depressed. She would probably prefer that I skip over this part of Romans.
    Here, Paul begins a lengthy explanation, which continues in the following chapters. The beginning will make more sense when we get the full picture. Paul’s purpose is not to paint the world in the darkest possible colors—and certainly not to make us depressed—but to set the stage for his presentation of the gospel. By reminding us of our sins, he helps us see where we need to experience God’s power.
    It may seem strange that Paul follows his statement about God revealing his power to save with the declaration that “the wrath of God is revealed” (1:18). But God’s saving action inevitably has a negative dimension. Setting the world right means confronting everything that is taking the world in the wrong direction. In order to save his creation from the human ingratitude, selfishness, and injustice that mar it, God must bring the forces of evil—and those who perpetrate it—under judgment. Destruction and loss are inevitable. Emancipating slaves, for example, involves despoiling slave owners. This destruction and loss are the downside of God’s action, and they are on full display in verses 18–32.
    Paul sees a pattern of human pride and divine judgment. To make the pattern obvious, he describes it three times (1:21–24, 25–27, and 28–31; the pattern is obscured by the punctuation in the translation). It is a three-step pattern: (1) When people turn away from God (1:21–23, 25, and 28), (2) God hands them over to their own desires (1:24, 26, and 28), and (3) people then degrade themselves in various sins (1:24, 26–27, and 28–31).
    It is important to avoid a misunderstanding concerning the term “wrath” here. This “wrath” is the fatal effect of rejecting God, the doom to which sin leads, the justified punishment that sin incurs. Think of sin as poison and “wrath” as its fatal effect. It is God’s wrath in the sense that God, being utterly opposed to the abuse of his good creation by sin, is determined that those who sin will suffer its consequences. This wrath is not personal anger. Paul is not saying that God is angry at people. If God can be said to be angry at all, he is angry at sin; but, as Paul will explain, God is almost incredibly compassionate toward sinners. Out of his infinite love, God has rescued us from the dreadful consequences of our sins. Indeed, God hopes that our experience of wrath will spur us to return to him.
    Verses 18–32 are sometimes cited as a warning about the judgment that will befall a society where sin prevails. But notice that Paul does not say that sin leads to punishment; he says that refusal to acknowledge God leads to sin. When we refuse to acknowledge God, our minds become darkened; God then reveals his “wrath” by letting us wander off into the evils we choose. “If it’s sin you want,” God says, “sin you may have.”
    Paul believes that at the Last Judgment God will bring a punishment on sin. But he indicates that in the present world a punishment already follows sin. God’s judgment on our abandonment of him is to give us the freedom to do what we want. This may seem an odd form of punishment, since we generally think of punishment as the imposition of something that we do not want, something that goes against our will. But Paul assumes that sin is inherently harmful; it inevitably has painful consequences. Even if the external ill effects of our sins are, for a while, hard to detect, being dominated by our own desires—controlled by lust (1:24), “consumed with passion” (1:27)—is a miserable, “degrading” state to be in (1:24, 26). It involves a loss of our true humanity, a twisting and crippling of our personalities. Sin makes us “foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (1:31). What could be worse than that?
    When did this pattern of rejecting God and being delivered into sin occur? Is Paul thinking of an event (a) at the beginning of human existence, with Adam and Eve? (b) that goes on repeatedly in societies through history? (c) that happens in each of our lives? Possibly (d) all of the above.
    Paul states that God reveals himself to all people through the universe he has created (1:19–20). But pagan religions that regard nature as semidivine (1:22–23) fail to accurately perceive God. Elsewhere, Paul indicates that pagan religions have positive features (Acts 14:16; 17:22–31). Here, however, his treatment is entirely negative because he wishes to underline the point that there is an element of pride in humans’ refusal to recognize and honor God (1:21), a tendency to think that we are wiser than we are (1:22). Obviously, this can be a problem for Christians as well as others.
    In addition, Paul says, people have an innate knowledge of right and wrong; “they know God’s decree,” without special revelation (1:32). Paul mentions this moral knowledge after he has listed various vices that people fall into, so apparently he believes that we still know something about right and wrong even when our minds become darkened by pride and sin (see 2:14–15). Sin does not result in total ignorance of good but produces a state of bad conscience: we fail to live the truth that we at least dimly recognize.
    Paul characterizes human beings as both knowing and being confused about God and morality—an accurate picture, most of us would say. Is he criticizing human reason (1:22)? Not at all. He thinks that our reason is good but that our thinking goes off in wrong directions as soon as we begin to ignore God. Does Paul have a low view of the human body? On the contrary, sin is bad because it dishonors the body (1:24).
    Paul makes rather a big deal of homosexual activity (1:26–27). One scholar, Brendan Byrne, S.J., explains that Paul focuses on it not because it was a pressing pastoral problem among Christians of his day (it wasn’t) but because Jews of his day considered pagans’ easy acceptance of homosexual practice as a particularly clear example of the kind of moral confusion that paganism can lead to. Paul does not offer an explanation of the origins of homosexuality, any more than he charts the genesis of the other problems he mentions here.
    Paul has written this section (1:18–32) as though he is having a conversation with a fellow Jew. Paul and his friend look around at the gentile world and remark on all the idolatry and sin out there. “Yup, that’s the gentile world for you,” Paul’s friend may be thinking at the end of the reading. But if the observation of others’ sins makes the friend feel morally complacent—well, just wait for next week’s reading.
Questions for Application
40 minutes
Choose questions according to your interest and time.
    1    In 1:1–7 Paul speaks of himself and the Roman Christians being called by God. How have you experienced God’s call? Who has God called you to serve? How is your way of relating with the people in your life shaped
by your sense of being called
by God?
    2    Reread 1:7. Are you called to be a saint? What are you doing about it?
    3    How have you experienced the power of God’s word? Are you willing to open yourself to God’s power? How could you express your openness to God?
    4    Paul speaks of a connection between resisting God and failing to understand life (1:18–32). When have you experienced this connection?
    5    Where in your life do you find it difficult to acknowledge God? What would help?
    6    Give an example of how acknowledging God might require a person to act contrary to social expectations. Where might God be calling you to do this?
    7    How is society affected when people acknowledge God? when people fail to acknowledge God? Identify an area of society where there seems to be a lack of acknowledgment of God: what consequences does this have for people’s lives?
    8    Paul speaks of sin as an obstacle to our becoming the persons God created us to be. How has obedience to God contributed to your becoming a person you and God can be happy with?
    9    For personal reflection: How have your sins prevented you from becoming the person God intends you to be? What negative consequences have you seen from your sins? Where would repentance in your life now open the way for constructive change? What step do you need to take?
You must bring your personal needs to the reading. Whether you hunger for growth, self-understanding, peace, refreshment, or challenge, the Bible exists to meet personal hungers.
H. A. Nielsen, The Bible—As If for the First Time
Approach to Prayer
15 minutes
Use this approach—or create your own!
    ♦    Pray Psalm 143 together. Let individuals take turns reading the verses from whichever translations they may have. Pause for silent reflection. End together with an Our Father.
Saints in the Making
Finding Faith in an Unexpected Place
This section is a supplement for individual reading.
I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith (Romans 1:11–12).

By Al O’Brien

It’s easy to lose hope on death row. Prisoners are in their cells twenty-three and a half hours a day. The average stay on death row is ten years. During the time Donald Aldrich was on death row, he went through a period of deep despair. He gave away anything with a Christian connection. When I first visited him, I told him not to feel stressed out about that. Most of the great saints have been through a period of desolation. By the time the date of his execution arrived, he had made a full recovery in his faith.
    I spent the last hour with Don before his death. I read John 17 to him—the prayer that Christ prayed before he was executed. We prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet together. We talked and shared and cried a little bit. He received Our Lord in the Eucharist, and I blessed him. Don had confidence and hope in the face of what he knew was going to happen to him in an hour. When the time came, he asked forgiveness of those he had hurt and told the warden he was ready. After he died, his body was removed to a local funeral home where I gave him a final blessing. His body was still warm to my touch.
    Don left behind a poem that began: “We pray to thee, Lord Jesus, / Convict our hearts and seize us, / On knee our sins we will confess, / Our lives we ask You now to bless.”
    I have witnessed six executions. It always takes me a long time to process what I’ve been involved with—the intentional taking of a life. But I have seen what grace can do in preparing a person for death and the serenity it can produce. Truly, I believe what Christ said to St. Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
    Deacon Al O’Brien directs the criminal justice ministry in the diocese of Beaumont, Texas. Donald L. Aldrich was executed in Beaumont on October 12, 2004. The Catholic Church condemns capital punishment under circumstances in which society can be protected by other means; see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 2267.



Continues...

Excerpted from Romans by Kevin Perrotta Copyright © 2005 by Kevin Perrotta. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents
    4    How to Use This Guide

    6    Plans of a Loving God

    12    Week 1
            There’s Good News and Bad News

             Romans 1
    24    Week 2
              Humanity in a Dead End

             Romans 1:18–31; 2:1–29; 3:9–26
    38    Week 3
             Righteousness Has Always Been a Gift

             Romans 3:27–4:25
    50    Week 4
             On Boasting and Baptism

             Romans 5:1–11; 6:1–18, 20–23; 7:4–6
    62    Our Fractured Selves
    64    Week 5  
             The Spirit Is Life

             Romans 8:1–30
    76    Week 6
            Grounds for Hope—and Love

            Romans 8:31–39; 12; 13:8–10

    88    Truly Amazing Grace

    92    Suggestions for Bible Discussion Groups

    95    Suggestions for Individuals

    96    Resources

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