I am going to go against everything that Julie Andrews believed in and start at the end rather than the beginning. Romans 6:23—“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord”—is one of the earliest verses that I memorized. It is part of a series of verses known as the Roman Road. Has anyone here heard of the Roman Road? Not the Appian Way that led to Rome but the parts of Paul’s letter that is supposed to lay out the road to salvation?
In my church we were taught the Roman Road early on. You start on the road with Romans 3:23, which is our problem as humans: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Then you come to the consequence of our problem in the first part of Romans 6:23, that our sin warrants death. But then the turn comes when you double back to Romans 5:8 which tells us that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Then the road ends at our response in Romans 10:9: “For if you confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That was the Roman Road: a quick and easy way to lay out the plan of salvation for little Baptist kids.
It may sound like I’m trying to knock that approach but that’s not my aim. As a teaching tool, the Roman Road was very effective. After all, it is still with me after all these years. And there are important lessons to remember along that path. We do all mess up and fall short of what God asks of us. God does love us so much that Christ came to earth to live with us, show us what love is, and die even though we mess up all the time. But it was presented as a quick and easy transaction; a way to go to heaven when you die. And I just think that the Christian faith is far more than a spiritual transaction that determines our afterlife. I need it to be more than that. As a result, I have been in an epic wrestling match with Romans 6:23 all week long and even late into last night.