Thomas Draxe (17th century English Puritan) says of Romans that it’s “the perfection of saving doctrine.”
Godet, 19th cent Swiss scholar, calls it “the cathedral of the Christian faith.”
Martin Luther taught through this book more than any other, & in the preface of his commentary on Romans, he says, “This Epistle is the chief book of the New Testament, the purest gospel.”
History shows the Epistle of Romans as the force behind the Reformation and as Godet adds “the probability is that every great spiritual revival in the church will be connected as effect & cause with a deeper understanding of this book.” Of Romans Luther also says, “it deserves not only to be known word for word by every Christian, but to be the subject of his meditation day by day, the daily bread of his soul. It can never be too much or too well read or studied, and the more it is handled the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”
The 16th cent Bible translator, William Tyndale, wrote similarly of Romans: “No man verily can read it too oft, or study it too well, for the more it is studied, the easier it is; the more it is chewed, the pleasanter it is; and the more it is searched, more precious are the things found in it, so great treasure of spiritual things lies hid therein.”
John Calvin said, “when any one gains a knowledge of this Epistle, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture.”
He does not write the book to solve problems in the church of Rome like he does for instance, with Galatians. It was written to confront the heresy of the Judaizers mixing “faith in Christ crucified” with Jewish religious rites and thereby forming “another gospel.”
1 Corinthians was also written to answer questions & issues raised by the church itself (disunity, immorality, spiritual gifts, etc). But Paul has no such agenda in Romans. Romans is what we may call a doctrinal “treatise” or “tract.” He writes purely to logically lay out & scripturally support the doctrines of salvation & in particular, the doctrine of justification by faith. This is not to say that Paul’s other epistles are not doctrinal/logical. They are. But none go to such great length to logically develop the Theme.
There are many sub-themes in Romans:
But the overarching topic that is able to stand as th heading of Romans as a whole is simply “the Gospel.” With its prominence in the introduction (1:1,2,9,15) and in the conclusion (15:16,19), it forms the theological framework of the letter, the “bookends” if you will about which everything in the middle explains.
The GOSPEL is the theme of Romans.
Gospel = good news. What’s the good news?
“The message of the gospel is that God brings guilty sinners into relationship w/himself & destines them to eternal life [through faith] in his son, Jesus Christ.” [Doug Moo, Commentary on Romans, p 29]
2. Its key verses – Romans 1:16-17
This was the message that Paul preached. And this was Paul’s reason for wanting to visit them. Like the advance team of a celebrity or government official going to a city to prepare all the logistics of his/her arrival, so this epistle was to lay the groundwork for what Paul would emphasize & preach when he arrived. He wanted the Romans to be thinking about the Gospel, about its importance to salvation, about its importance to life & the future. He wanted them to understand it, love it, live it, put their hope in it & witness it to the world around them.
This, Jesus says in Mat 24, is to be our agenda in this age, that this gospel of the kingdom be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, & then the end will come.
The Gospel is what Christians are all about. It is the means by which God claims & transforms His people into the image of His Son, & so it is to the Gospel that every aspect of our lives should be related.
The Gospel should be the reason behind all we do as a Church. Our definition, our very reason for being, our purpose statement — is to be distinctly gospel-shaped! When the church began, they were devoted to the apostle’s teaching of Christ. When the church was forced by persecution to relocate, Christians went everywhere preaching the gospel. The church is a gospel-centered enterprise. This what we are all about!
When the church gathers, we give our monies in offering to God, not only as an act of homage, but in order to support the work of the gospel. The missionaries we support must emphasize the Gospel, not building projects & agricultural development. For the only thing that saves men’s souls is the Gospel! The songs we sing in worship should be that which glorifies the God of the gospel & gets our minds thinking on & rejoicing in the Gospel of Christ. Our corporate worship reaches its height, not in our singing to God, but in His speaking to us as His Word is opened and the gospel is expounded & applied to our hearts. The programs we have for any age group should have as its focus either the spread of the Gospel or our growth in it. The reason we pray is that the gospel would have its way in ours & every heart. We want to get beyond intercession for the sick & hurting & pray for the advance of the gospel – thy kingdom come by us & by Christians everywhere. We are to pray that the gospel will purify, edify, embolden us in our walk & witness for Christ & bring forth life in the lives of our friends & relatives. The primary reason for our fellowship is to bolster one another in gospel truth. Our conversations should center around the Gospel. Yes we talk about our likes & hobbies & families, etc, but we must not neglect to build one another up in the knowledge of the gospel of Christ. Share with each other the lessons God has taught you. Relate to one another how you’ve grown closer to him in your life. Talk of the joys of what you’ve gleaned fr your study of Scripture.
And the main message of pastors must be the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their main function is not administration (however important administration is & it’s important!). Their first responsibility is to bring the gospel to bear on the entire life of the church, individually & corporately. This is our first item of business, and that, in turn, is what shapes the various administrative decisions. It’s the gospel that saves men’s souls. It is the gospel that transforms our lives & that must be preached.
Christians should relate everything in their lives to the gospel. Why? Because it effectually works in the hearts & lives of people, which is seen again seen in the key verses – Romans 1:16-17.
I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. WHY? For IT (the gospel of Christ crucified, buried & risen, as he defines it in 1 Cor 15:3-4), IT alone is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.
This was the message that changed lives. This was the message that turned the world upside down. It was to this gospel that Paul was separated (Rom 1:1). When he says “separated” he means that all other interests that did not promote the gospel had been set aside & the gospel alone had captivated him.
3. Its Foundation – Christology
The key verse says, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” And again as He begins Romans in the first four verses, the gospel to which he is separated (v1) is according to Rom 1:3-4 concerning “God’s Son.”
And then as you read all the topics in the letter you find that they are grounded in Christ. For instance in chapters 5-8 you’ll see the continually repeated phrase “through Jesus Christ our Lord” as it is applied to peace with God, justification, saved from wrath, reconciliation to God, eternal life, righteousness, rescue, freedom from sin & death, eternal security. These all come to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ is the starting point of all Paul’s thinking & theology. He is the underlying truth. Paul presents Christ as “the climax of history,” and therefore all history can be divided into two eras: each with its own founder (Adam or Christ) & each with its own emphases: Sin vs Righteousness, the law vs grace, the flesh vs the Spirit & death vs life.
All people start out in the old era by virtue of their participation in the act by which it was founded – that is the sin of Adam (Rom 5). But we can be transferred into the new era by becoming joined to Christ & thereby participate with Him in the acts that began that era, that is, joined to Him in His death, burial and resurrection (Rom 6). To be in the old era means to be enslaved to sin, doomed to eternal death. To be in new era means by faith in Christ we’ve passed fr death to life.
In other words, the bulk of Romans focuses on how God has acted in Christ brought the individual to a new relationship with Him thru Christ (chs1-4) provided that individual with eternal life in glory with Christ (chs 5-8) sovereignly called the individual unto salvation in Christ (chs 9-11) and transformed that individual’s life on earth for Christ (chs 12-15).
The Gospel begins with the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord being born a man, living, dying & being raised from the dead that we might receive the grace of God. And it is this gospel, so succinctly stated in vv 16-17 as the power of God unto salvation, that is unfolded in the rest of the epistle.
But this powerful Gospel is meaningless apart from a knowledge of sin, condemnation, misery and death. This is why Paul proceeds in chapter 1 to demonstrate that the whole world is guilty before God and lies under His wrath and curse. Modern man would’ve liked for Paul to have concealed the depths of human iniquity & degradation depicted in Romans 1:18-32. There are some terrible moral, religious & ethical monstrosities listed there. But Paul instead of closing the curtain on these things, pulls it aside and opens it so we may view the degeneracy of human reprobation.
We ask, why? Answer: It is upon that degradation that the righteousness of God works in power. The glory of the gospel is that it satisfies all the necessary penalties our sins require, even to the lowest depths of human iniquity & misery. And were it not for the gospel of Christ taking care of such human depravity, we would be on the receiving end (v18) of the wrath of God which is revealed fr heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold back the truth in unrighteousness.
To be subjected to the wrath of God is the epitome of human misery. To question the reality of that wrath is to misunderstand God’s holiness which reacts against all that contradicts Himself. But God’s righteousness, revealed in the gospel, provides all the grace necessary to satisfy His wrath. And nothing shows the glory and efficacy of the gospel more than this. Only a God-righteousness can measure up to the desperateness of our need & make the gospel the power of God unto salvation.
And in Romans 3:21-26 Paul emphasizes that this righteousness comes through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus and propitiation in his blood. In other words, Justification with God (being declared righteous by God) is that which Christ’s righteousness secures & which His blood satisfies of the justice of God so that God may be just & the justifier of the ungodly.
This Justification brings us eternal life as a free gift in Romans 5:15-21 that we receive by faith in the righteous obedience of X. Paul lays sustained emphasis upon FAITH. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes (Rom 1:16-17; 3:22; 5:1). For example (ch 4) it was faith, not works that accounted righteousness to Abraham. It is not therefore a righteousness that brings salvation unto all unconditionally and indiscriminately, but only where there is faith. We must not overlook the harmony that exists here. If it is a God-righteousness, it is also a faith-righteousness. These are mutually interdependent.
It is faith that places us in the proper relation to this righteousness because faith is receiving and resting in Christ—it is self-renouncing, it looks away from itself and finds its all in Christ who died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6-11).
In conclusion let me end with a few words about how powerful the gospel presented in Romans has worked through history.
In September, AD 386, a native of North Africa who had been a professor for several years in Milan, Italy, sat weeping in the garden of his friend, contemplating the wickedness of his life. While sitting there, he heard children singing a Latin song which translated means “Take up and read, Take up and read.” An open scroll of the book of Romans lay beside him & he picked it up. The first passage that caught his eye was Rom 13:14 which says, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. The man later wrote of that occasion & said, “No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended, by a light, as it were, or security infused into my heart, all the gloom of doubt vanished away.” The man was Aurelius Augustine who upon reading that short passage from Romans, was saved & went on to become one of the church’s outstanding theologians.
Just over 1000 years later, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk was teaching Romans to students at University of Wittenberg, Germany. As he studied the text, he became more & more convicted by Paul’s emphasis on justification by faith alone. He wrote: I greatly longed to under-stand Paul’s epistle to the Romans, & nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the righteousness of God,” because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous & deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous. Night & day I pondered until…I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace & sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn & to have gone thru open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on new meaning, and whereas before “the righteousness of God” had filled me w/hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven.
Several centuries later, an ordained minister in the Church of England by the name of John Wesley was similarly confused about the meaning of the gospel and was searching for genuine salvation. For the Wednesday evening of May 24, 1738, he wrote in his journal, “I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin & death.”
The reason I relate these stories to you about the influence that the Book of Romans had on these men, is because this is my hope for you as we study this book together. I hope that if you are searching for genuine salvation, that you will believe in Christ alone, receive the righteousness of God & be saved by the glorious Gospel of Christ.
Paul was not ashamed of it, and neither am I for it is the power of God unto salvation, and I hope it will save you!