Romans is the thinking mans book. It is a well-reasoned, unbelievably profound treatment of the message of the Bible. If you get a handle on Romans, you’ve got a great start on the rest. R.C. Sproul writes that, “in Romans, we have the nearest thing to a systematic theology to be found anywhere in the New Testament. Undoubtedly, Romans is the Apostle Paul’s most comprehensive study of doctrine.”
I realize that many books have been written on Romans by those more informed and much smarter than me. But I love this book. It’s one of my favorite of New Testament books. So here’s my overview of the book.
It’s a letter so we should read it as such. Paul spends the first 15 verses greeting his readers. Then he states the thesis of the whole letter in two sentences – 1:16-17 (“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed by faith from first to last; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” After his introduction and stated theme, justification by faith, Paul moves into the body of his content.
This section has something for every type of person; the mainstreamer, the moralist, the totally ignorant and the Sunday School teacher. They all find themselves in the same boat, and the news is not good. Paul silences everyone. He levels the playing field and faces them with the fact of their accountability before God. The point here in the first three chapters is to bring every person before the tribunal of God and show that every human being, if judged by works, would fall short of what God requires.
Then Paul drops the bombshell idea of the book. It is a radical, unbelievably good piece of news. Essentially he says you can be declared good without being good! This is 3:21-31 with key verses being 21-24 and v. 28.
But, Paul insists, this is not a new idea. He picks two heroes out of Jewish history, Abraham and David, and shows how these men based their relationship with God on this very idea.
Chapter 5 shows how and why the life and death of Christ is the essential element to the working out of this idea. Paul briefly spells out the great fruits of justification – we have peace with God, we have access to God and we have a hope of the glory of God, which makes it possible to endure tribulations and trials. Then, in referring to the free gift of Christ and his willingness to die for us while we were still sinners, Paul ties our need for a redeemer in the fall of Adam. He compares Adam and Christ, pointing out that death entered the world through Adam, but that life comes through Christ.
Chapters 6-8 are the core of the book. Every word is loaded with meaning and counts. We’ll take these three chapters in low gear, and when we come out of them, we’ll know what relating to God is all about. We’ll come out with a lot of insight into both God and ourselves. We’ll understand how things work for people who belong to God. We will understand why life can become so unbearably frustrating at times, and how to change that.
For example, in chapter 6 Paul moves from justification (being made just or made right before God) to sanctification (the process of being made holy or set apart for God). He addresses the accusation that justification by faith encourages sin. The truth is that sanctification calls believers to a new kind of living, for the old man is to be put to death and the new man is to be fed, nurtured and brought into conformity to Jesus Christ.
Chapter 7 outlines the continued struggle that a Christian has as he seeks to grow in grace. Justification produces sanctification and the sanctifying struggle itself is evidence that we have escaped condemnation.
Chapter 8 continues the discussion of the warfare that goes on in the Christian life between the old nature and the new nature that has been made alive through Christ. But Paul points out that the outcome of this battle is not in doubt in the life of a true Christian. In the latter part of Romans 8, Paul introduces the grand concept of the gracious election of God. No one can undo the election that God has brought to pass in the life of the believer. The Christian’s assurance of perseverance is based on the promise of the God who has made their salvation gracious from beginning to end. We can take comfort in that truth!
The next three chapters are another set that develops a single timeless question; if God knows ahead of time what people’s response will be – who he will give the ability to respond and who will not receive that ability – how can there be free will? And if a man isn’t free to choose, how can he be held responsible for his choices? Are we free or aren’t we?
The rest of the book moves on to practical applications of the Bid Idea. How are we to live life in light of this? How is it supposed to affect our relationships – with God, with one another, with our enemies, with the government and with our society? It tells us how we are to conduct ourselves among people who have different opinions than we do about what’s right and wrong.
Paul then signs off by describing the motivations that drive him to live the crazy life he lived, and he encourages the people in Rome to get on board with him. Finally, he sends greetings to a list of friends there in Rome.