Romans — Lesson 1 & Lesson 2
Introduction To Romans
I. General matters.
A. The book and the congregation to which it was written.
1. The book.
a) In his preface to Romans, Luther characterizes this letter as "rightly the chief part of the New Testament and the clearest gospel of all," adding that it would be well worth memorizing so that a Christian could recite it by rote, word for word.
b) Among Paul's letters Romans has a peculiar position inasmuch as it is the only one he wrote to a congregation that was strange to him.
2. The congregation.
a) It is natural to assume that the Roman congregation's origin was related to Rome's peculiar position at the crossroads of the world's traffic.
(1) In the account that Acts gives of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, mention is made of "visitors from Rome" among those who witnessed the Pentecostal sermon of Peter (Acts 2:10).
(2) Beyond that we know very little about the church in Rome.
(3) What we know is almost entirely limited to what we can learn from the letter itself.
b) It is tempting to say that we might know more about the letter if we knew more about the congregation.
(1) If we seek the key to the epistle in certain special conditions within the congregation at Rome, we are in danger of directing our attention away from that which is central.
(2) The peculiar thing about Romans is that it is not directed at circumstances within the congregation (or if so, only slightly so).
(3) Its purpose is not to correct maladjustments in the congregation, not does Paul, as in the Galatian letter, give battle to opponents who would alienate the congregation from him and from the gospel he preached.
B. The occasion for the writing of Romans.
1. Paul gives us some insight in the letter itself.
a) In the introduction he tells that he had long yearned to come to Rome and to establish closer acquaintance with the congregation there.
b) While he had labored under the principle not to preach where the name of Christ was already known (Acts 15:20), there was a different situation in Rome.
c) While a congregation had already arisen in Rome without Paul's participation, perhaps even before he began his missionary work, that was not a hindrance to him.
d) He had been called to be an apostle to the Gentiles, and where better to do that than the central point of the heathen world, where men of all people and tongues thronged together.
2. Another consideration is that when Paul writes to Rome from Corinth, he stands at the high point of his activity.
a) His third missionary journey lies behind him, and he considers his work in the east completed.
b) Now it is his plan to shift his work to Spain.
c) En route he will realize his intention to visit the Roman congregation, and he anticipates that by it he will "be equipped for the journey" to Spain (15:24).
d) Further, Rome would be the base for his new missionary effort as Antioch had been for his earlier work.
3. Before he could undertake the journey, only one thing remained -- to go to Jerusalem "with help for the saints," which was being gathered in Macedonia and Achaia (15:25ff).
4. To prepare the congregation at Rome for his coming he now sends this letter.
5. He has no premonition of what is to happen him in Jerusalem and that he will come to Rome in a manner quite different from what he expected -- as a prisoner.
II. The fundamental concept of the book -- Righteousness from (of ) God.
A. Paul's gospel has both its origin and its anchor in Jesus' proclamation about the kingdom of God.
1. Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was at hand. Mark. 9:1.
2. When Jesus talked of the kingdom, it was not of something distant that would come some time.
a) One age had reached its end and a new one stood at the door.
b) With Jesus, the Messianic Age had arrived.
c) When Jesus proclaimed the prophesied year of the Lord, he was able to say that "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing (Luke 4:21).
B. The kingdom of God comes, and therewith comes a new righteousness -- the righteousness of God.
1. Jesus disciples "hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt. 5:6); they do not think like the Pharisees, that they have the righteousness by virtue of which they can stand before God.
2. Jesus said of his disciples that they were blessed, "for they shall be filled."
a) The kingdom of God is approaching, and in it they will receive God's righteousness as a gift from Him.
b) Just as the kingdom of God can come only through God's mighty intervention, so God's righteousness can become man's possession only in that he receives it as a gift from God.
c) Jesus does not deny that the Pharisees also have a kind of righteousness; they were zealous for God's law and sought for the realization thereof in all of life's relationships.
d) But that is not the righteousness which belongs with the kingdom of God -- "Unless your righteousness exceed that of that of the scribes and Pharisees, you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20).
e) So inseparably do the new kingdom and the new righteousness belong together, Jesus directly couples the two in the heart of the Sermon on the Mount -- "seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. . . (Matt. 6:33).
C. But what is the inner content of that righteousness of God that is so inseparably joined with the kingdom of God; that is Paul's problem and above all it is his problem in the letter to the Romans.
1. No one else was so qualified to solve the problem.
a) All of Jesus other disciples came from circles that at least to some degree stood in criticism of the Pharisees.
b) For Paul the situation was different -- he came directly from the ranks of the opposition, from the status of the Pharisees.
c) During his pre-Christian years, righteousness had been the great passion of his life.
d) It was in the service thereof, and to establish the righteousness of the law, that he persecuted the Christian community.
e) So when he received the Lord's revelation, it meant a total collapse of all that he had labored for up to that point.
f) If Jesus was the Messiah, then the kingdom had come, and with it a new righteousness; the righteousness that had made Paul a persecutor of the church was a false righteousness.
g) God himself had condemned it as sin and in its place He now proffered in the kingdom a new righteousness -- the righteousness of God.
h) Only one like Paul, himself on the contrary way of salvation, the way of righteousness by law, had a unique vantage point from which to make clear for Christianity the new way of salvation which God had opened through Christ, and of setting forth the righteousness of God in its absolute newness.
2. Paul knew both ways of salvation.
a) Paul was not a convert who, after conversion, could only paint the former life in dark colors.
b) He never forgets that then, too, he had a kind of righteousness -- such righteousness as came by law.
(1) In this connection, Phil. 3:4-9 is helpful.
(2) There is no resentment in this statement.
(3) The law, which had formerly been his pride, now appeared to him to be the enemy.
(4) A great burden was lifted from his shoulders when he realized that it was not by fulfillment of the law, but through faith (not faith only as he will demonstrate in Romans), that a man is justified before God.
c) There was a righteousness which could be achieved by virtue of the law, and in relation to that he had not failed, but was a man without reproach.
(1) The law was not something on which he had stumbled.
(2) Rather, for Paul it belonged to that which Paul considered as genuine achievement.
(3) Thus, the antithesis is so much the greater when, through Christ's revelation, he is constrained to give up that which is beloved and precious to him, that he may instead win Christ and be found in Him.
(4) When Paul says that he has suffered the loss of all things for the sake of Christ, he reveals how difficult it had been for him to forsake this hard-won righteousness.
d) No one else has seen as clearly as Paul the new in Christianity and its contrast to that which went before.
(1) It is to misunderstand Paul when we interpret his contrast between the righteousness of faith and the righteousness of works (the law) as if he meant to say that a human being cannot achieve righteousness before God by reason of his works, but that on the contrast he becomes righteous by his inner quality, by his faith.
(2) Paul sees a much more radical contrast.
(a) In the last analysis it is the antithesis between his own righteousness and the righteousness of God.
(b) He had sought to establish his own righteousness by the way of the law; but God had rejected that and established a new righteousness when He sent Christ.
(c) The new righteousness is not a righteousness that comes from us, but one that can only be characterized as a righteousness from God.
3. We must notice carefully the great religious reversal encompassed in "righteousness from God."
a) In practically all of what we call religion we are met by man's effort to establish his own righteousness that he may thereby establish himself before God and win His favor.
b) Christianity brings everything like that to an end when it speaks of the "righteousness from (of ) God."
c) Here a totally new kind of fellowship with God has appeared, a fellowship with God in which it is not man and his work that stands at the center.
d) We are not here dealing with a thought speculatively arrived at, but with a work of God, when He, quite contrary to man's effort to open a way to God, himself from His side, in Christ, laid down a way for mankind and opened a new way to fellowship with Him.
e) Paul stated this total reorientation with definitive clarity in Phil. 3:4-9 referred to above: "not by my own righteousness which comes by the law, but by the righteousness which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God."
4. In that expression, the righteousness from God, is found the very foundation thought of Romans.
a) That is affirmed by Paul in Rom. 1:16-17 where he states the theme for his letter.
b) As Romans proceeds from that point, it is nothing but a clarification of the contents of this statement, and the consequences for the Christian life of the new righteousness of God which was revealed through Christ, and which is shared by him who believes in Christ.
III. The Two Eons.
A. The principal content of Romans is justification by faith.
1. There is an unbroken unity in this letter, the equal of which is to be found neither in other Christian literature nor in the whole compass of literature; it would be impossible to mention another document so utterly unitary and so filled to its limits with crucial thoughts.
2. It is because Paul has one tremendous fact to proclaim that his presentation shows such unbreakable unity.
B. Two things should be noted in particular.
1. It is a mistake to conclude that Paul is here presenting a particular -- though central -- point in the Christian faith.
a) Justification is not, in Paul's mind, merely an article in Christian doctrine.
b) It is the basic reality on which the whole of Christian life rests.
c) Justification means that through Christ I have become possessed of the new righteousness that comes from God, and that I am incorporated as a member of the kingdom of God.
2. Justification is not, as it is sometimes viewed, a subjective, psychological experience.
a) It is thought of as a change within the soul of man.
b) Such and understanding is utterly alien to Paul's meaning.
c) For him, justification is not something that occurs within the soul; he sees it in a great universal perspective.
C. Perhaps the greatest hindrance to understanding Romans is to attribute to Paul's vocabulary thought forms that are common to us but strange to Paul, with the result that we attribute meanings to Paul that are foreign to his mind.
1. If we approach the book with modern thought patterns, we are apt to miss Paul's concept of justification, i.e., we will find the concept with which we began.
a) Most of the "religious" terms (e.g., faith, righteousness, life, peace with God) are apt to wind up with a meaning other than Paul's.
(1) Faith is generally thought of as an inner quality, present in man or required of man, a subjective condition necessary for justification.
(2) Righteousness is viewed as a state of ethical well-being.
(3) Life is thought to be a new spiritual activity.
(4) Peace with God is held to be a psychological state of tranquility, etc.
b) What is overlooked is the characteristic Pauline meaning pervading all those terms.
c) A look at Romans 5:12-21 will help us avoid that mistake.
D. A preliminary look at Romans 5:12-21.
1. In these verses Paul sets Adam and Christ in juxtaposition.
a) Some consider this passage set in abruptly without relation to what has preceded it.
b) Some call it an epilog to what has preceded; others call it a prolog to what follows.
c) In fact, this passage is one of the high lights of the book in light of which the rest of the book must be understood.
2. Paul thinks in terms of eons.
a) Two realms stand over against each other -- the dominion of death over all that is human, the age of Adam, and the dominion of life, the age of Christ.
b) What is it that has come about because Christ has been given to us?
c) His answer is clear: the new eon (age), the eon of life, has come upon us.
d) Thereby have they who stand with Christ, in faith on Him, been taken out of the dominion of death which overshadows Adam's race. Col. 1:13.
e) This is the universal significance of Christ.
(1) It is precisely this universal and cosmic aspect of Christ and His work that Paul is seeking to declare by the comparison with Adam.
(2) When Adam departed from God, it was not something that concerned only him as an individual; in his act sin and death were made supreme in the whole universe.
(3) Now, through Christ, Paul says, in the same all-inclusive way, even much more, has life become supreme in the human order.
3. If we are rightly to understand the contrast between death and life, between the eon of death and the eon of life, between the two ages, we must realize that Paul here sees in death a meaning much deeper and much more pervasive than we ordinarily understand by that term.
a) He does not mean merely the termination of this life, though he pronounces a judgment that rests on this life, too.
b) He is not saying merely that we have life for a time, after which life ends in death; nor is he aiming to explain the fact of such death.
c) What Paul had to say to the effect that sin came into the world through Adam, and death through sin, has often been looked at as an explanation that man must die after he has lived a longer or shorter period upon the earth.
d) Paul is saying that all that we call life, with all that it encompasses, lies under the dominion of death.
e) He finds that all of humanity's life, from Adam until now, is lived under the mark and condition of death.
f) Death rules supreme in this world -- and it is to miss the point to ask whether this means physical, spiritual, or eternal death.
g) Death is the status of all who belong to this world, the children of Adam.
4. Against this backdrop the meaning of the gospel is seen most clearly.
a) To us who are in bondage to the dominion of the age of death comes the gospel with its message that the new age, the age of life, has burst upon us.
(1) As death became the loss of all through one man, Adam, so God now bestows life upon us through one man, Christ.
(2) Just as Adam stands at the head of the old age, so Christ stands by reason of his resurrection as the author and perfecter of the new age.
b) As long as men had to look forward toward Him who was to come, the new age could only be called a coming age.
c) But now, after He has come, it is no longer merely something that is to be, it has become actual fact in our world; in Christ we belong to the new eon.
d) Paul expresses it well in 1 Cor. 5:17.
5. In summary, we can say that Adam and Christ signify for Paul these to eons, the old age and the new.
a) In Adam, death rules with unlimited power over all the children of Adam.
b) In Christ, life has come to dominion still more mightily.
E. What does this mean about Paul's understanding of the gospel?
1. Christianity is not just a doctrine about the nature of God, a high ethical standard, or the way to an enriched and refined spiritual life, or the like.
2. The gospel is the proclamation of the work wrought by God when He sent Jesus Christ into the world.
3. It is the message about the dynamic activity that God thereby introduced into our existence.
4. The gospel is the declaration that God brought something wholly new into this age, that through Christ he brought the new age among us -- an age begun in our midst, but to be fulfilled in glory.
IV. The Line of Thought in the Epistle to the Romans.
A. The best place to begin is in chapter 5, discussed above.
1. We remember that this passage is fundamental to Paul's letter to the Romans.
2. When we stand at its summit, it helps us view both what comes before and after in the letter.
3. It makes it easier to see how part fits into part, helping the puzzle to become a picture.
B. It is immediately clear to us what Paul means when he gives his motto and theme for the whole epistle in 1:16,17.
1. The context makes clear that the righteousness mentioned is that already referred to as the righteousness of God.
2. As to him who has that righteousness, he shall live; he is removed from the dominion of death and received into the relationship of the new life, which is revealed and realized through Christ.
3. The declaration that Paul makes the theme of his letter is taken from Habakkuk; already in the Old Testament Paul finds reference to that which he will here set forth and explain: He who through faith is righteous shall live.
4. It is only to such that entrance into the eon of life is promised; that is possible only through a wholly different righteousness; Christ is the righteousness of God.
C. The whole letter is devoted to the development of that theme, and falls into four great divisions.
1. Paul's first endeavor is to characterize him who through faith is righteous. 1:18 - 4:24.
a) He confronts us immediately with the antithesis of the two eons.
(1) As background for his teaching about righteousness through faith, he describes the condition of the old age, before the righteousness of God was revealed -- man under the wrath of God, under the dominion of death.
(2) It is true of the heathen (1:18-32), who forsook God and refused to honor or worship him.
(3) It is also true of the Jews (2:1-3:20), who boasted that they had God's law and believed that by it they could attain unto life.
(4) Therefore, Paul must charge both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin (3:9).
(5) Nor can the law effect any rescue from this state.
(6) It was given that every mouth might be stopped and the whole world might be held accountable to God because no flesh will be justified in His sight by the works of the law (3:19f).
b) But then comes the great change when the righteousness of God was revealed through Christ (3:21).
(1) That change has not occurred by any accomplishment of ours (3:22f).
(2) The change has been effected by an approach from God's side.
c) The righteousness of God is a righteousness to which the Old Testament bears witness.
(1) The law and the prophets do not stand against faith in Christ, but bear witness of Him.
(2) How this happened is discussed in chapter 4 where Abraham, though he lived before Christ, is presented as a type and example of those who through faith are righteous (4:17).
(3) By such faith he honored God (4:20).
(4) Therefore Abraham could be set forth as the father of each and everyone who trust him who justifies the ungodly (4:5).
2. In the second division, which includes the next four chapters (5-8), the other half of the theme is developed -- he shall live.
a) What this means is made clear at once with the affirmation with which chapter 5 begins.
(1) The new life is diametrically opposed to the old.
(a) In the old the wrath of God was revealed from heaven against ungodliness and wickedness of men; in the new there are access to the grace of God and peace with God.
(b) In the old, men fall short of the glory of God; in the new we rejoice in the glory of God, though as yet it is only in hope.
(2) What do these four chapters say about the life that belongs to the righteous?
(3) To live in Christ means to be:
(a) Free from the wrath of God (chap. 5);
(b) Free from sin (chap. 6);
(c) Free from the law (chap. 7); and
(d) Free from death (chap. 8).
b) A brief comment on each of those chapters:
(1) Chapter 5.
(a) The new life stated in essential terms: grace peace, and the hope of the glory of God.
(b) The wonder of God's love Paul sees revealed supremely in the cross.
(c) The wrath of God is removed from those who are in Christ.
(d) The sovereign power of death is defeated by Christ who brings life and makes it supreme.
(2) Chapter 6.
(a) Chapter 5 ends with a question about whether we should continue in sin to magnify God's grace.
(b) Chapter 6 answers that question.
i) By no means, says Paul, pointing out that in baptism we are incorporated into Christ, becoming one with him, and arising to walk in newness of life.
ii) So, he says, you are dead unto sin and alive to God in Christ (6:10f).
iii) Here we have the familiar juxtaposition between death and life, applied directly to sin.
a. Sin belongs to the old age from which we have escaped through Christ.
b. The law sought to prevent sin, but it could not because it belonged to the old eon.
c. Christ has set us free from sin and made us ministers of righteousness.
iv) Paul affirms in the final verse (6:23) the absolute opposition between sin and life in Christ.
(3) Chapter 7.
(a) Having made clear the opposition between the Christian life and sin, Paul can freely and without fear of misunderstanding discuss the Christian's freedom from the law.
(b) Whoever is referred to (we will discuss that more fully in chapter 7), it is sufficient here to say that it is a clear description of the tension between the two eons.
(c) He concludes the chapter by affirming that freedom (deliverance from the body of death) is through Jesus Christ.
(4) Chapter 8.
(a) Having announced that deliverance is through Christ, Paul begins chapter 8 with the affirmation that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ.
i) The law condemns, but the law does not deliver.
ii) The law condemns, but it does not justify.
iii) It is Christ condemns sin in the flesh (8:3).
(b) Even though in this present world we are still subject to death, the sufferings of the present world at not to be compared with the glory that shall be hereafter.
(c) We still long for our deliverance from this body of death and in Christ we shall gain a great victory, we are more than conquerors.
3. In the third division (chapters 9-11), Paul proclaims that God's promise to Israel has been fulfilled in Christ.
a) The righteousness that is by faith is not contrary to God's promise; the word of God has not failed (9:6).
(1) When understood, it is in agreement with the promises.
(2) Paul presents three arguments to support his thesis.
(a) It is false to appeal to the promises against God who gave them; God's sovereignty is seen in the very promises.
i) In His sovereignty God decreed when He gave the promises that they should be fulfilled to those who believe in Christ.
ii) They alone are the children of promise.
(b) But if, when God has decreed that righteousness is to come by the way of faith, Israel seeks after righteousness by the way of the law, the fault is Israel's if she is rejected and fails of the fulfillment.
(c) Israel's rejection is not final, but points forward to eventual acceptance of all Israelites who will become believers in Christ.
4. In the fourth division, having made quite clear that the righteousness of works will not suffice, that only those who have the righteousness of God will live, Paul is in position to discuss his admonitions and exhortations to the church in Rome.
a) Paul states the basis of his ethics in 12:1,2.
b) All that follows thereafter is only the fuller development of this basic mandate that the Christian not be conformed to this eon, but that he be transformed into the new.
(1) A Christian is nothing by himself; he is something in Christ where he is part of His body.
(2) The Christian must live in harmony with the new life in Christ -- he must live in love to his neighbor.
c) Having shown by his admonitions what the Christian's renewal means in actual life, Paul returns to the point where he started.
(1) 13:11f - cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
(2) 13:13 -- conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day.
(3) 13:14 -- Therefore, Paul commands, put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
d) Paul concludes by giving specific applications of the principles he has laid down (chapter 14-16).
God's Plan of Salvation
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)