No one really disputes that the Apostle Paul was the author of this letter. We know he dictated the letter to Tertius, the individual that actually put pen and ink to page (16:22). Scribes were paid to write letters for any number of reasons, up to and including illiteracy. I suspect that Paul dictated his letters for time management purposes, or perhaps because he had poor eyesight and penmanship.
The original recipients of the letter were in fact the church at Rome. That church was probably founded by some of the people that were there on the day of Pentecost when the church came into being, and about 3000 people were saved, and Paul had never at the point of writing the letter been to see them.
It is generally believed that Paul wrote this letter from Corinth. This is indicated in Romans 16 by several references – the first of these is to the port of Cenchrea (16:1), which was Corinth’s port. Also, the mention of the names of Phoebe (16:1), Gaius (16:23), and Erastus (16:23), all of whom were associated with Corinth. He likely wrote this letter around the end of his third missionary journey, most likely A.D. 56, according to at least one source (MacArthur, J., 2006; MacArthur Study Bible). In fact, Phoebe was given the responsibility of delivering this letter to the believers in Rome (16:1, 2).
No letter from Paul more clearly shows the idea that 16th century reformers called sola fide, or by faith alone. Chapter 4:16 mentions that salvation comes, “by faith…in accordance with grace,” a mention of sola gratia, and the letter is replete with references to how all this is found in Christ alone, or solus Christos.
Before we begin, I should explain that I find a book summary to be simply a larger version of our normal weekly chapter summary. There is more text involved, but as a summary of a book that we will be diving into week by week, I don’t feel the need to be as detailed, and it allows me to look at a some things that come out of the text that help paint a story of broad brush-strokes. [Refer to Illustration as an example.]
Mine is a little more varied than that, and I broke the letter into the following smaller sections:
Outline Key Passage: 8:38, 39 – Nothing can move the believer away from Christ
- 1:1-17 – The Righteous will live by [His] faith (alone)
- 1:18-3:31 – The Grave Consequences of Unbelief (or Unfaith)
- 4:1-5:21 – Old Testament Examples and some Key Definitions
- 6:1-8:39 – Implications in the Lives of Believers: New Life and Victory
- 9:1-11:36 – Israel Not Forgotten and a Look at True Israel
- 12:1-15:33 – Principles for Believers – Unity, Humility, Healing, and Leadership
- 16:1-27 – Greetings, Love from Fellow Believers, and Final Instructions
You can see that my breakdown is a little different than the great illustration from bibleproject.com, but it says more or less the same thing. I’m a bit more of a detailed person, so my titles reflect that. I can see the big picture, I just have trouble putting it all into words, so please, take that as a way you can pray for me.
From this, it becomes clear that we need to define a few things before we proceed. The first of these things is the word “faith.”
There are two forms of the word we must consider, and these are the noun and verb forms.
Noun: pistis (pistis) – faith; the firm opinion or persuasion held on a given subject matter.
Verb: pisteuo (pisteuo) – belief; actions taken because of opinions or persuasions held.
What this is telling us is that the English words “faith” and “belief” are THE SAME GREEK WORD in a different form. When John tells us in John 6:28-29 that when we believe on Him who He has sent (that is believe in Jesus as the anointed one of God), we are exercising faith, or our firm opinion or persuasion that Jesus is really Messiah, the Saviour of the world.
This has some implications. There is a related concept called OBEDIENCE. This results when the noun form of faith which is passive is dictated by that opinion held and moved into an action, that is we believe and obey. TRUE faith will always result in obedience. FALSE faith will always result in disobedience. This will always result in self-justifying behaviour of some kind as a result of the SIN in which you just partook. That disobedience coupled with that self-justification of your evil desire will almost always lead you into some form of FALSE DOCTRINE because of those two horrible words, “I want…”
This further brings up the demonstrated reality of the FALSE CONVERT. Paul actually talks about this when he discusses Israel in chapters 9-11 in his discussion of who is “true Israel.” The short version of the subject that we will examine in detail when we get there is that not all of the physical, visible nation of Israel makes it into the final and real “Israel of God.” Many Gentile believers make it in instead, which Paul says is against the natural law of things, in that these Gentile believers were GRAFTED into the olive tree he is using as an analogy. If we were to look at the physical, visible church today, we would see the same thing. There are many individuals that say they are Christians, but their lifestyle and choices indicate otherwise, don’t they. That isn’t really a question. An example from Paul’s day? How about Demas? We learn that he was associated with the church at Colossae in both Philemon and Colossians, and appeared to be an active and solid church member, a faithful brother. And yet Paul had to record in 2 Timothy 4:10 that he had departed the faith, having loved this present world, something we can ALL do. Modern-day equivalents might include men like Joel Osteen or Benny Hinn or Jesse DuPlantis, and there are many others I can think of.
All those definitions actually lead me to my point. By way of contrast, there is nothing that can move a real believer that has that true faith away from Christ. I will not say we do not struggle with sin, we all do; but the general trend and desire real Christians have is that we are moving towards holiness and purity gradually or faster. Paul even speaks of his own struggle in Chapter 7 – but speaks of the path toward renewal of the mind, as living sacrifices to our awesome God (Ch. 12).
For those that are NOT showing that increasing conformity to Christ, that should BOTHER you. If it isn’t convicting you and convincing you of your sin, then you (and everyone around you) has legitimate reason to question your conversion. 2 Peter 1:10 says that we should be this way: “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble…” The King James Version says to “make your calling and election sure.”
Okay, okay, I hear you there in the back row muttering something about Matthew 7:1, which says “Judge not…” Unfortunately for you, that isn’t all the verse is saying. The passage as a whole is telling believers to judge with proper judgement. Where can we find that? How about the Word of God? Instead of telling me to “Judge not,” I’M going to tell YOU to not be like Satan and twist the scriptures.
Others actually can have reason to doubt your salvation. They have a legitimate reason for doing so at times. Paul did this all the time, and he went so far as to name names! Remember Demas? Same idea. And that wasn’t the only one Paul ever singled out. Peter did it, John did it, Luke did it, Jude CERTAINLY did it, even Jesus did it. In that same chapter of Matthew 7, Jesus told us the principle of knowing false converts by their fruits. I won’t take the time to go through the whole chapter at this time, but I will say that if you have bad fruit, you must be a bad tree. If your tree is bad, your salvation is too.
Please note I am NOT talking about works-based salvation. Fruits are a result of your saved or unsaved state, and there is nothing you can do to move from one to the other without God doing this for you, regenerating you, making you born again, or literally from above. You will just simply act based on your justification or lack of same. Look at John 3 for a moment. Verse 8 says, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” I’ve always wondered what that means, and recently, the Lord used that great expositor John MacArthur to explain it to me. What Jesus said to Nicodemus is that He was aware that Nicodemus was aware that he had this problem. He also recognized that what was frustrating Nicodemus is that Nicodemus could not do anything to make it happen. “You can’t see the wind, but you can see it’s passing and effect – but you can do nothing to control it – when it starts, when it stops, the direction it moves – none of it. You know you need it, and you can do nothing to make it happen.” This is perhaps the least utilized verse in speaking to the doctrine of sovereign election in the entire Bible. You can only be who you are. Anything else is just an attempt at self-modification – and that is exactly what the Lord Jesus was criticizing the Pharisees and Scribes about – self-righteous attempts to come to God on any terms but God’s.
To summarize that for you, Fruits are the result of the behaviour that rises out of the state of your salvation. It is a result of your regeneration, the new birth. It is NOT a result of the tree, or your own will. Unless you are okay with your fruit being bad because you aren’t born from above in the first place. We all know at least one person like that. I’m not trying to be cruel or judgmental, I’m just calling what I see in Scripture.
I know, it seems like a strange introduction, but that was the definitions and concepts that we must keep in mind as we move into the book itself. Let’s look at that now.
1:1-17 – The Righteous will live by [His] faith (alone)
The first 17 verses of the book do one thing very well – they exalt the good news of Jesus Christ, that is His person and Work. There is another word we have to define here, and it is one that we use a lot around here.
Noun: Gospel – euaggelon (euaggelon): “good tidings,” that is good news; in the New Testament, it is always the good news of the kingdom of God and of salvation in Jesus Christ alone. THIS is the Gospel.
Paul’s primary goal stated here was to preach the Gospel in Rome on his way to Spain. According to 1:14, he considered this an obligation to all people to proclaim this good news of the Kingdom. In 1:1, he had previously explained that he had been set apart for just such a cause. He went on to explain (1:16, 17) that he was not ashamed or afraid of its message, because it was this very gospel that was in fact the power of God that would result in salvation for all those who would truly hear it. After all, the righteous [one] will live by [His] faith.
1:18-3:31 – The Grave Consequences of Unbelief (or Unfaith)
After this, Paul immediately turns to an explanation of WHY one needs to live by that faith in Christ, and the immense issues that one would have by NOT truly believing this good news.
He does this by introducing a topic that many then, and far more today simply refuse to believe is even possible – the Wrath of God. That wrath, revealed form heaven – that’s right, I said from heaven – is ready to punish all unrighteousness and ungodliness.
Ask what most “pastors” today about the attributes of God – those things that apply to God alone that make Him God – and you will get a list of attributes. Omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience are the typical three that will start that list, and those are all good. But there are other attributes. Love is one of those, as John tells us that God is Love (1 John 4:8b). The list may vary a bit in length, because there may be some debate about them from some, and it is not my subject to discuss that here. However, what almost all of them will not mention publicly is this one – God is a God of Wrath. That Wrath is to punish all unrighteousness and ungodliness. I suspect this is because our more “modern” [there is nothing so modern about it] gospel wants God to be a big fluffy cloud that acts like a blank check for an unlimited bank account.
In fact, one large but worldwide cult group that I will not name here feels that such wrath is a sin. A Deadly sin. One of Seven in fact. If you haven’t figured out the identity of that cult yet, ask me afterwards. Yet God is a God of wrath. I know, it seems like a contradiction, because we are ruled by our emotions and feelings, but God is not. The difference is that God is also Just. God’s wrath is against all unrighteousness, and will always work to satisfy His Justice, another of His attributes, by the way. It is not so with humans.
And beloved, these attributes have been known since the beginning of the world (1:20). Humans knew them, and because they wanted what they wanted, suppressed those truths in themselves and tried to do so in others (just like today in several areas like so-called race baiters and those who dabble in identity group politics), and thus dismissed this God – because they wanted to run the show themselves. And so they made things that are NOT God to be gods against God. This has the consequence of having every human being (except one notable exception) that has ever lived to believe THE lie – the consequences of which have done nothing for humans except to make it more obvious that we are ALL unrighteous (3:23) and deserving of that wrath that God will bring against all those who are unjust and ungodly. Worse, there isn’t a thing anyone can do to stop it.
This might be a good point to introduce the characteristics of the church at Rome. There were primarily two groups in the church there, as there were almost everywhere else, Jews and Gentiles. Around that time, Jews were coming back from an expulsion under Caesar Claudius, and some of these were believing Jews, brothers and sisters in Christ to those Roman, non-Jewish (Gentile) believers that Christ had also set free from sin. You can almost hear the conversation that would take place. The attitude of the Romans must have been something like “Oh. You’re back.” The Jews would immediately respond with something like, “You need to be circumcised.” “Um, WHAT?” “You need to keep the SABBATH.” “No, brothers, we are free in Christ.” “And you need to eat KOSHER!” “[Expletive deleted.]” “BLASPHEMY!!!” Not a pleasant thing.
Much of Romans 3 is about how everyone is under the penalty of sin without exception, and whether they were under Jewish Law or not, only Christ could save through His substitutionary death on the cross.
4:1-5:21 – Old Testament Examples and some Key Definitions
The primary example of righteousness coming by faith in the Old Testament is now brought out to make a few points to everyone. Guess who that is, anyone? Right, Abraham. What verse 3 says is this: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.'”s that mean? It turns out we have to define a few terms.
The first of these definitions is JUSTIFICATION. In 4:2, the verb form is used, which in Greek is dikaiow (dikaoō), which has an accusative tone. That seems ironic, I know, but it’s a linguistic term that means something is being accused of having a property or trait. The thing of which the subject is being accused? “You are in the right.” As accusations go, that’s nice. Abraham here is accused of being “in the right before God” by Paul, who goes on to say that this justification is gained (4:3) by his belief in God. What is that? That Greek verb pisteuw (pisteuō), faith. He BELIEVED God. His faith became action, and he believed God. THAT, says 4:3, was CREDITED to him as righteousness.
The second word we have to define here is CREDIT. This is the Greek word logizmai (logizmai), which means to count, or reckon, which in the original use of the word is an accounting term. It means to write to an account, simply. What is this saying? It is saying that this believing is reckoned, or written as a credit, a deposit, a positive balance, to the account of one Abraham. And who did that crediting? Why, God did! Paul goes on to talk about how that promise, of being declared righteous through faith alone, is dependent not on Abraham’s faith, but on His own character and His own mercy to give us His grace.
In Chapter 5, Paul goes on to describe how this faith in God has always been the means of justification before God, and declares in v.1 that under this new and perfect covenant that God Himself has inaugurated, that peace with God comes through our Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 2 further states that through Christ [alone] (v.1), we have obtained our introduction by faith [alone] into this grace [alone] wherein we stand. He even goes on to introduce suffering under trials and difficulties as a means of being made holy, or SANCTIFICATION.
The last definition is the word RECONCILIATION (vv.10, 11). The Greek here is the word katallagh (kattalagē), and it is another accounting term. It literally means “exchange.” Figuratively it means an adjustment to one’s account, that is, a restoration to divine favour; atonement, reconciliation. It seems that by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone, we are reconciled to God, and thus saved from His wrath of which we spoke earlier.
6:1-8:39 – Implications in the Lives of Believers: New Life and Victory
This section touches a sensitive topic for many, and I referred to it earlier when I was talking about false conversion. If you are to examine the visible church today, you will see a lot of people that claim to be Christians, and many of them probably aren’t. I know that sounds unkind, but we’re going to see a historic example in Israel in the next section. Here, the very first thing that Paul says is that we should no longer continue sinning so that grace may further abound to us. Because we have believed God and trusted in Christ’s sacrifice to save us, how shall we then continue in sin? Jesus lived a life of perfect submission to the Father, and He wants us to stand with Him in the new life He has provided, which is symbolized by baptism. He lived in perfect submission, therefore so must we. It says so here. F. B. Meyer says it like this: “The work of Christ for us must lead to His work in us and deliverance from the power of sin.” Jesus must not only be your Saviour, He must also be your Lord. Doctor John MacArthur calls this the doctrine of Lordship Salvation, and he is very much in favour of it, as was Dr. R. C. Sproul, and many other expositors of Scripture. I state it this way: If Jesus is not your Lord, He is not your Saviour either.
Paul even recognizes the need for a process of struggle in decisions, actions, words, thoughts, and all other things in us that have been tainted by sin. The latter half of Chapter 6 talk about the struggle in which we “derive our benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (6:22)
Chapter 7 in its entirety speaks of Paul’s own personal struggle with his own sinful nature, and how it frustrates him. He speaks of how the Law made the concept of sin and how we willfully displease God all the time. He even says one of the most oxymoronic things of all time, and interestingly, one of the most axiomatic in 7:19 – “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” That reads a lot funnier in the King James, too: “The good that I would I do not, but that which I would not, that I do!” (That’s an Oxford rendering, not the accepted 1789 Cambridge, just for those that pay attention to those things.) He culminates all this with the frustrated cry of v.24: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” And then he starts to explain why the real Christian need not fear this process or even the frustration of our wretched old natures.
Chapter 8 begins with a verse that is very familiar (an very comforting) to those that have truly put their faith in Christ: “Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (8:1) He then begins to speak on how we must not live by our old nature, which is always our choice, but instead we must yield ourselves to our new nature in Christ. THIS, in my opinion as a Theologian, is that great “exchange” or the reconciling of our account with God. That horrid mess we call our lives in exchange for His one, pure, perfect life and character. Paul talks about a great deal more in this chapter than we will take time for here this evening, but we WILL study it when we get there.
9:1-11:36 – Israel Not Forgotten and a Look at True Israel
Here is that real-world historical example of which I spoke earlier. What actually happened to the people that Paul, or Saul (his Hebrew name), came from?
Are they eternally cast off to be replaced by the church? So some would preach, and this position has been referred to as replacement theology. It is from what I understand a majority position in Christianity today. Paul spends the next three chapters explaining that the situation is not what we think it may be.
Without getting into detail, I’ll try to briefly summarize the way Paul told it. Jews had the only right religion on the planet. It was given by God, and although the intelligentsia within Israel turned Judaism into a dead system of traditions as opposed to living and willing obedience to the Law of Yahweh (not the Law of Moses, though we are referring to the same set of laws), it was still given by God to Moses and communicated to Israel. Some believed and obeyed that Law, and some did not. Those who obeyed were a part of something that Paul speaks of in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 6:16), naming them “The Israel of God.” (You would be correct in assuming that those who did not obey were not a part of that version of Israel, no matter how loudly they could shout, “Let the Hebrews hear,” for example. See 1 Samuel and that books report on the life of King Saul if you need further explanation about that.)
Paul likens the nation of Israel, the people of God, to an olive tree. The branches that bore fruit should be seen as those who really believed and obeyed. These were pruned that they might bear more great olives, the fruit of this particular tree. What of those that did not bear any fruit? Well, they were cut off and burned up. However, in order to increase the production of this desired fruit, the horticulturalist grafts in branches from a wild olive tree. He tells us that is where Gentile believers fit in. As they begin to bear fruit, that pruning process begins with them. Not all of these branches will bear fruit either, and these will be cut off and burned also. And the horticulturalist is God in this analogy, and He is good enough to reverse the whole thing, so no one should be proud of themselves. (You are saved by grace through faith, and not of your own works so that no one can brag about how good they are. See Eph. 2:8, 9) These two groups of fruit-bearing olive branches are what we would call Believers, and Paul called “The Israel of God,” which is True Israel.
This is NOT a replacement theology, it is a covenantal look at All believers through all time, represented in the Old Covenant as believers from within Israel, and under the New Covenant by the Church. Paul further states in Romans 9-11 that this is a partial blinding of Israel. A veil remains over their understanding – until God removes that veil and those whom God has chosen for it will understand and become believers also. I know, it’s a lot to take in, but I’m doing my best here.
12:1-15:33 – Principles for Believers – Unity, Humility, Healing, and Leadership
After that explanation of things of how the Jews and Gentiles now should form one united body, he goes over some of the basic principles of how their church and their relationships within it should function.
Again, without getting into a lot of detail (we’ll have plenty when we get here in our study), The first thing that Paul hits on is UNITY. This would be a big one, especially for Jewish believers. Up until Christ, the way you became one of the people of God was to bring yourself under the Law and become a proselyte Jew. This meant you had to change your diet, you had to be (if you were male) circumcised, you had to observe the Jewish Sabbath, you had to learn and then obey the 613 different things in the Law of Moses. If you didn’t do these things, you were just a foreigner that the Jews would have insultingly identified as goyim, or Gentiles. UNITY meant that they saw eye to eye about things of first importance. Can you imagine that? I mean around here, many of us don’t see eye to eye about anything at all. And none of us were former Jews! Unity means literally, “to say the same thing.” At least on the important fundamentals of the faith.
That just isn’t always possible. That’s why I believe that HUMILITY is the second operating principle. Humility is the act of placing the welfare or the concerns of others before your own, as long as sin is not involved. If sin is involved, Humility is still the need, because ALL of us are capable of succumbing to the very same sin, never mind our own bag of hammers.
Healing here speaks of our own souls and of our broken relationships. People spend more time in prayer about aunt Martha’s toenail fungus than they do about the weightier matters of how poorly we treat each other at times, or our own very real sins that we are so unaware of. Physical healing is possible, but not physical healers today. Got can do whatever He wants – but WE CANNOT. God must be recognized first of all when this happens, because, well, Soli Deo Gloria. To the Glory of God Alone.
Leadership principles in Scripture are very easy to explain, but impossible to do in the natural man. We will say more about that when we get to the appropriate section of Romans. Suffice it to say that the most important characteristic of spiritual leadership isn’t their speaking ability or their ability to entertain large crowds like we see in megachurches today. No, beloved, it is one thing only – HIGH MORAL CHARACTER. This includes humility, the ability to walk with others in unity, to mortify their own sin (nod to John Owen’s work), to counsel and encourage others in their walks (that is to shepherd them), and to heal broken relationships. Sure, who can’t handle that, right? [chuckle] Moving on.
16:1-27 – Greetings, Love from Fellow Believers, and Final Instructions
At this point, Paul begins to close the letter with various greetings and instructions, saying hi to people, and closing with his usual kind of doxology. He takes time to send love from brothers that are with him, to brothers that he ahs not ever met but loves already. If you’ve ever experienced that, you’ll know what I mean, because I don’t think I can adequately explain it.
Folks, that’s what we have to look forward to in the book of Romans. You can click here for the Livestream Replay.