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Opener: I could think of no greater testimony on Reformation Day 2018, than to summarize the entire book of Romans in one blog post. If you’re looking for a good opener for the book that inspired the Reformation, come check it out!
Happy Reformation Day! I could think of no better way to celebrate Reformation Day than to summarize the book of Romans. It is this pivotal book that convicted Martin Luther of the grievances of the church in his day. But, more than that, it is this book that captured his heart. Unfortunately, we don’t think of Romans that way any more, do we? Mostly we think of Romans as being a theologically dense book in the New Testament that has some really quotable verses, some really hard passages, and a lot of doctrine.
Our Sunday school class has been going through the book of Romans on Sunday mornings, and I had the privilege of teaching the introduction. In preparation, I read through the entire book. I have an MA degree in English Literature. I read a lot. As I read the book of Romans, I was struck by a theme that I never hear emphasized: Hope. There’s also a strong thread of unity that Paul weaves throughout the book.
Indeed, so pervasive were these themes that some of the more theologically dense material began to coalesce around them. Anytime you read a text, you have to remember that context is king. By reading the entire book of Romans, some of the more complex theological discourses become clear. Below is my summary of the book. It is numbered by chapter, but I find it easier for the flow of the argument to ignore those. Additionally, I have put main themes in bold. Hopefully it is helpful to you. Under “Additional Resources” below, there is a link to my blog, where you can hear me teach through the entire book of Romans in 30 minutes. This is not a substitute for actually reading the full book yourself, but it is a good starting point if you want to study the book that helped shape the Reformation.
Romans – a Summary
- I (Paul) want to come to you to preach the gospel (which is that righteousness comes through faith). If you have unrighteousness, watch out! The punishment/judgement of God may not be what you think it is.
- Indeed, when it comes to God’s judgement, having the law (Jews) and not having the law (Gentiles) is of no bearing. It’s about your heart!
- Those who have the law (Jews) have a great advantage, but perhaps not in the way you may be thinking. The advantage of the law is to point out sin (and God is therefore justified in judgement). The law shows that all are under sin—both those with the law and those without the law (both Jew and Greek)—justification, then, comes not through the law but through faith.
- This is shown through Abraham and David (our forefathers). Indeed, Abraham came to God through faith for the law had not yet been established. Thus we are Abraham’s children—children of faith, not children of law—through Jesus our Lord.
- Since our justification is through faith, we have hope through the Holy Spirit! This hope is rooted in Christ’s unfathomable work on the cross—He died for us (for no good reason)! Not only do we get forgiveness, we also receive reconciliation. Christ brings us into what Adam should have brought us into. He is the perfect Adam, and His work is better because:
1 sin = many deaths
1 gift = coverage of many sins
- To this, those under the law might scoff and say, “then why not sin more in order to multiply the effect of the gift?” But this misses the point, because what we’re actually getting here is a new nature! We are dead to sin! So live like it. Pursue righteousness. Why? Quite frankly, because the fruit of sin is death but the fruit of righteousness is eternal life!
- Additionally, you are dead to the law. Don’t misunderstand, the law is not bad, quite the opposite; but sin is bad and it uses the good law to create slavery. I knew the good (because of the law), but did not do it (because of sin). Thus I was enslaved to my passions. It is Jesus who frees me!
- Not only am I free, but there is no condemnation! I am under a new law. The Spirit of life! And this Spirit of life actually gives life to our mortal (sinful) bodies.
- Law —> Death (that which should bring righteousness, instead brings sin/death)
- Spirit of Life —> Life (that which should bring sin, instead brings righteousness/life)
For that reason, we owe so much. But that debt is cancelled, because we are no longer slaves but sons (through Christ Jesus—the firstborn among many brothers). But this is not yet complete. We long for it, and suffer/struggle until it comes. But the Spirit helps us, even in that! For this is the good towards which all things are working (glorification)! And this gives hope! It is because of the love of God in Christ Jesus that He will complete this work.
- Indeed, this is quite a blow to those whom God first revealed Himself (the Jews). This hope is so great! If they would just get it, I would give it up for them to have it. Even still, God has not failed. Far from it, as we have already seen, true Israel is the Israel of faith (to which the patriarchs were pointing). And the national Israelites are now cast off. They have become like Ishmael or Esau or Pharaoh—rejecting God. Indeed, but God’s plan is more perfect, and He has endured these vessels of wrath that He prepared for destruction in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy (“those who were not my people” as Hosea said, or the “remnant” as Isaiah called them). We all attain righteousness by faith, but this rejection is a much heavier blow to the nation of Israel, who was pursuing it by works!
- Oh how I wish they would be saved! But they did not recognize the fulfillment of the very thing they were looking to for salvation (the law). And who can blame them. They never shifted their gaze from Moses. But even Moses told them this would happen (and Isaiah too). We must all look to Christ who saves both Jew and Greek through His work on the cross. The offer is there, but they missed it.
- Has God fully rejected Israel then? NO! I am an Israelite. Just as in times of old, so too now—there is a remnant (but it is a remnant of grace). It is sad, but, again, predicted by Isaiah and David. Through Israel’s sin and rebellion, the Gentiles gain life (which should inspire Israel’s jealousy). So you Gentiles, do not regard lightly Israel’s condemnation, but, rather, take it to heart. If you become arrogant and abandon the way of God (corporately), you too will be removed. Indeed, there is still hope for Israel if they will turn to God in God’s way (through faith). There [may] still come a time that Israel (who is the first covenant) turns back to God. But this is ultimately God’s business.
- Therefore, since we are now taking Israel’s place (the chosen by God), make sure you walk in righteousness and pursue the will of God. Live in unity and operate as one body. Use your gifts to strengthen that body. Live in love as you strive to live as Christ. Collectively—both Jew and Gentile—practice these things, live in these ways with one another as you walk in the Spirit:
- Submit to authority
- Fulfill the law through love
- Love of God
- Love of neighbor
- Walk in light by avoiding:
- Quarrelling and jealousy
- Strive not to gratify the flesh
(remember chp. 8?)
- For the strong and weak brothers
- Don’t flaunt your grace and create a stumbling block
- Don’t pass judgment and thus put yourself on par with the Lord
- For the strong and weak brothers
- Let your harmony be from Christ. As our example He:
- Became a servant to the circumcised (those under the law)
- That Gentiles might come to God (as the prophets wrote)
This will bring a unifying joy and hope. Indeed, this is my mission. An apostle to the Gentiles to bring unity to Jews and Gentiles. And this is why I am coming. That I may continue this mission all the way to Spain (after I deliver a gift to Jerusalem). Please pray for me.
- I am excited to see you. Tell everyone I said hello. Also, watch out for those who cause divisions and doctrinal obstacles! This letter is dedicated to the only wise God through Jesus Christ (who revealed this secret concerning the bringing about of obedience of faith) to make known to all nations.
Isn’t it interesting and a little ironic that the book of Romans ends with an admonition towards unity and a warning against those who cause division and create doctrinal obstacles? Yet the concepts within this book are so often used to divide the people of God. This is a good reminder as you study Romans. Paul’s ultimate goal is to bring unity to the Roman church. He addresses the concerns of both Jew and Gentile while reminding them of their common belief and urging them to live as one body. May that be the truth that those who are in Christ embrace!
If you go to my blog, you can hear me teach through the entire book in 30 minutes.
For additional posts, check out my Life Letter Cafe author page.
If you enjoyed my thinking on the book of Romans, you may also enjoy my thinking on the family. Check out my book: