Theology of the Book of Romans

1 January 2017

In the first seven chapters of the book of Romans the apostle Paul writes a logical and clear presentation of the Gospel as he systematically explains the sinfulness of mankind and God’s answer, justification by faith. Romans chapter 8 is a powerful summary and conclusion to the arguments Paul presents. This essay will highlight Paul’s dominant points sequentially from chapter one, making reference to the correlating verses Paul presents in summary in chapter eight.

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In Romans chapter one verses 16-17 Paul declares, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith. ” These two verses are often referred to as the heart of the letter. They state the theological theme which Paul outworks in the first seven chapters. Martin Luther wrote in his Commentary on Romans: The Gospel is called the power of God in contradistinction to the power of man.

The latter is the (supposed) ability by which he, according to his carnal opinion, obtains salvation by his own strength, and performs the things which are of the flesh. But this ability God, by the cross of Christ, has utterly declared null and void, and now gives us His own power by which the spiritual – (the believer) – is empowered unto salvation. In Romans 1:18-3:20. Paul quickly begins to paint a picture of mankind’s position before God. It’s as if Paul leads the reader into God’s courtroom where all of mankind will be tried.

Until man knows he is a sinner he cannot appreciate the gracious salvation God offers in Jesus Christ. Drawing on three separate arguments Paul declares that all men are sinners, guilty before God and in need of redemption. The first of Paul’s three arguments in this first section is found in Romans 1:18-32. Here Paul argues that the whole Gentile world is guilty. Paul’s next argument is that the Jewish world is also guilty (Romans 2:1-3:8). The Jews thought that because they were God’s chosen people they were exempt from judgment.

They were given the Law, they had the physical sign of God’s covenant – circumcision, and they were led by God to the Promised Land where they saw victory after victory. God proved time and again that He was the one true God and He had promised never to abandon them. Surely they would escape His wrath. However, the Jews’ actions were contrary to the law. They were guilty along with everyone else. Paul finishes his argument in Romans 2 by drawing a distinction between outward and inward circumcision. The Jews had come to depend on this outward sign of circumcision instead of the spiritual significance it represented.

They had come to believe that only those who had been circumcised in the flesh were saved. Their faith was in this physical religious rite which they thought guaranteed a person’s entrance into God’s kingdom. First Paul argued that the Gentile world is guilty. Second he declared that Jewish world is also guilty. Romans 3:9-20 presents Paul’s third argument that in fact the whole world is guilty before God! Paul finishes this first section of the letter in Romans 3:20 declaring that “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin. Some commentators have called this verse the ‘therefore of condemnation’, a horrible position for all of mankind that we will see answered completely in Romans chapter eight verse one, the ‘therefore of no condemnation’. The Jews stand condemned by the law and the Gentiles by creation and conscience, the whole world is guilty, both Jews and Gentiles need a liberator. In Romans 3:21-22 God begins to reveal His answer to this guilt and condemnation. The two words, ‘But now’, opening chapter 3, verse 21 begin to introduce the solution to the terrible spiritual predicament facing mankind.

The law cannot make man right with God; all it can do is reveal his sins. What can be done? Paul shows us the answer in verse 22 – ‘the righteousness of God’. God gives mankind right standing before Himself through what we know as ‘the righteousness of God through faith’. This thought is summed up in Romans 8:3 “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh”. Leon Morris, in his commentary on Romans, says that passage from Romans 3:23-25 may be “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written”. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Rom 3:23-25). Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes verse 24 so well in his Romans – Exposition of Chapters 3:20-4:25, Atonement and Justification: This is undoubtedly one of the great verses of the Bible. It is a statement that can be compared with John 3:16.

It is a perfect synopsis of the Christian faith, and it is important, therefore, that we should understand it clearly. ‘Being justified freely by his grace’, there is a sense in which the reader must grasp the meaning of this verse or there is no purpose in proceeding any further. A revelation of this verse is paramount if we are to enjoy the liberty that is offered to us in the Gospel. Many people have struggled with this verse because of the consciousness of their own sin, however, ‘justification’ makes no actual physical change in a person as it is a legal declaration by God.

It is not something that results from what a person does, but rather something that is done for them. God declares the repentant sinner as righteous. Parallel this thought with Romans 8:4, “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”. The righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled if we walk in what God has provided for us and not in our works. Verse 25 continues “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed”.

Here the Apostle Paul now begins to explain the Gospel he has already described. Sinful, lost mankind is redeemed by the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ and this is the only way it could happen. This is one of the most important verses in the whole of scripture. God was ‘setting forth,’ making a public declaration of redemption and the way of salvation. All men are now justified free from human works, justified by His grace alone. James Denney in his classic book, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament, says: There can be no gospel unless there is such a thing as a righteousness of God for the ungodly.

But just as little can there be any gospel unless the integrity of God’s character be maintained. The problem of the sinful world, the problem of all religion, the problem of God in dealing with a sinful race, is how to unite these two things. The Christian answer to the problem is given by Paul in the words: “Jesus Christ, whom God se t forth a propitiation…. ” Righteousness is a gift received through faith and therefore there is no room for human boasting. This applies to both Jews and Gentiles.

A helpful way of understanding God’s gift of righteousness is to contrast it with the law. “For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. ” (John 1:17 ). Romans chapter four now expands on this contrast. Justification is by faith alone. In Romans chapter 4 Paul shows this by using the example of Abraham. Abraham was justified by faith not works, grace not law. Abraham was not circumcised when he was declared righteous, demonstrating that he can be the ‘father’ of all believers, both Jew and Christian.

Circumcision was a ‘symbol’ of, not the action that demonstrated faith. The ‘promise’ of justification by faith was not given to Abraham through the law, because the law was not yet established. In Romans 3:20 Paul presented the ‘therefore of condemnation’. Now in chapter 5:1 he argues the ‘therefore of justification’. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). Romans 8:2 declares “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death”.

This is the only reason why we have peace with God. Now that mankind is redeemed, has peace with God and the past is taken care of, God will no longer hold their sins against them. Every Christian now has access to God so that He can take care of their present needs. In Romans 5:2-5 Paul now explains that justification is not an escape from the tribulation or the problems of this world, however if Christ died for the sinner how much more shall God save the righteous from the wrath to come. This whole thought is the subject of the second part of Romans 8, verses 31-39.

Paul speaking from experience takes a very realistic view of the challenges; difficulties and persecutions believers will have to face in this life. In the second half of Romans 5 Paul now makes a contrast between Adam and Christ stating that the consequence of Christ’s obedience is far greater than Adam’s disobedience. Adam had dominion over all of creation but when he sinned he lost his kingdom. Because of this sin, all mankind is under death and condemnation. Jesus Christ is now the King over a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus’ obedience on the Cross has brought righteousness and justification.

He has not only undone all the effects of Adam’s sin, He has accomplished ‘much more’ by making all who receive Him, to become the very sons of God. In verses 17-21 the two ‘one acts’ of Adam and Christ are contrasted. Adam’s ‘one act’ of offence, resulted in condemnation, making all men sinners while Christ’s ‘one act’ of obedience resulted in justification of life, and the righteousness of many. Having been made righteous, how shall the Christian now live? The struggle for all Christians is that ‘the flesh’ still tries to control them, despite them having been justified by Christ.

Having clearly proved the sinfulness of both Jews and Gentiles and that both must be redeemed by Christ through faith and grace, in chapter six Paul now takes up the argument of the divine method of dealing with sin, and the secret of a victorious and holy life. The reader discovers from Romans chapters 6-8 that although mankind has been delivered from the penalty of the power of sin, they have not yet been delivered from the presence of sin. In chapter six, Paul gives instruction for attaining victory over sin, summed up in the three key words: know, reckon and present. . Romans 6:1-10 – Know. The disciple must know the Word of God and the facts pertaining to this redemption and his relationship with Christ. Romans 8:5-6 “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace”. The disciple must renew their mind to the facts of the Word of God (Rom 12:2). 2. Romans 6:11 – Reckon. “Reckon yourself to be dead indeed to sin”.

The disciple must reckon these facts to be absolutely true – personally, daily and continuously. Romans 8:10 declares “ … if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness”. As renowned New Testament scholar C. E. B. Cranfield says: No matter what we used to be like, God considers that old person dead and gone. However, because God sees our old way of life as ‘dead and gone’, so should we. The purpose of this ‘death’ is that ‘the sinful body (literally ‘body of sin’) might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin’.

By the ‘sinful body Paul means ‘the whole man as controlled by sin’ 3. Romans 6:12-16 – Present. The disciple must present himself to God with a willing heart. Rom 6:15 asks the question ‘Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? ’ This question is followed by the absolute denial ‘Certainly not! Do you not know…,’ which is a reference back to what ought to be ‘known’ in verses 1-10. Whatever someone ‘presents their members to’ or ‘yields themselves to’ makes them ‘slaves of that power’. Rom 8:12-13 “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. This all sound well and good in theory however what if the Christian still struggles with sin what legal right does ‘the law’ have to do with them? Paul’s conclusion in Romans seven, verses 1- 6 is that the law no longer exercises dominion over Christians because they have died, in the sense of dying with Christ, and this death involved a death ‘to the law’. The Christian’s old life is described as a life ‘in the flesh’ (v. ), which refers to an existence controlled and dominated by the fallen human nature. In this condition Paul confesses that “sin taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead” (Rom 7:8). This revealing statement is expounded in verses 7-13. Even though the law’s primary purpose was to bring the ‘knowledge of sin’ (Rom 3:20; 7:7), sin was aroused when confronted by the law (Rom7:8-11). Rom 8:8-12 says: “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.

Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. When Paul wrote that he failed to do the good that he wanted to do (Rom. 7:15–20), clearly he meant that he was missing his intended target of faithfully following God.

Cranfield says “The more seriously a Christian strives to live from grace and submit to the discipline of the gospel, the more sensitive he becomes to the fact that even his very best acts and activities are disfigured by the egotism which is still powerful within him – and no less evil because it is often more subtly disguised than formerly”. As stated in the introduction Romans chapter eight summarises and brings to conclusion the previous seven chapters. It powerfully describes Paul as a Christian, transitioning from trying to live under the ‘law’ to living in freedom and victory under ‘grace’.

In the preceding seven chapters he expounded that the law, the flesh and the new Christian nature on their own are totally inadequate to produce holy Christian living. The Christian who relies on his own strength and will power is fighting a losing battle. Only when he avails himself of the grace that is his ‘in Christ Jesus’, will he be ‘more than a conqueror’. Stanley Toussaint, writing in the Bibliotheca Sacra Journal says “Bible teachers accurately make a large point to the fact there is no reference to the Holy Spirit in Romans chapter seven. What is needed is the power of the Holy Spirit outworking in a Christians life. God’s amazing provision for this is the teaching of Romans chapter eight. As if presenting his case in a court of law, we have seen Paul continually summarising his evidence with the conjunction ‘therefore’. In Rom 3:20 he presents the ‘therefore of condemnation’ and in chapter 5:1 the ‘therefore of justification’. Now in Rom 8:1 Paul declares the culmination of these, the ‘therefore of no condemnation’. Continuing on Paul makes three supporting statements about the believer and the law, and together they add up to ‘no condemnation’.

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