“And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”
Teacher pleasers, eggheads, nerds: You know the people I’m talking about. They always had the right answer in class, always did their homework, and always seemed to set (or break) the curve. They were the poopers at the party. I expect the Apostle Paul was exactly this student. When we first meet Paul (Saul), he is the star student of Gamaliel, a lion of academia from a long line of respected teachers. Paul is so determined to prove that he is a good Pharisee—and the best student—that he leads the charge in hunting down the heretics who would claim that an uneducated, itinerant carpenter from Galilee, who had been put to death recently, was actually the Son of God. He wanted to punish them for breaking the law, but I think secretly he wanted to give them the comeuppance he felt they deserved for presuming to know the mind of God without having done any of the grueling study. How dare they!
We know how that turned out—God was far less interested in the disciples’ GPAs than He was in their applied learning. Jesus scolded Paul for having missed the Messiah while spending all those all-nighters deep in study of the scriptures. Paul was humbled on the road to Damascus most fittingly. The scholar was blinded and left unable to read.
Of course, God had a greater plan for Paul than just being an honor student. God was molding him to live the Great Commission and, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them…”
Like any teacher’s pet, though, Paul needed to be humbled before he could be the person he needed to be. Speaking on behalf of boorish know-it-alls everywhere, let me tell you, discovering that you can ace the exam but have no clue how to actually do the task is painful.
In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul shows us what it looks like to be exactly the person God made us to be. The letter is one of the great pieces of argumentation ever put to paper. The academic lays out the case, piece by piece, leading the reader to the only logical conclusion. The sinner, saved by grace, infuses the dry argument with the joy of a true believer who wants to share their good news (which is THE Good News). If Romans is missing either of these elements, it isn’t the letter we needed (and still need).