People from Rome are present on the Day of Pentecost when the Church is born. From the very beginning, God demonstrates His plan of salvation is global (Acts 2:10). Paul, as a Jewish Roman citizen and a Pharisee, is uniquely qualified to write a profound and powerful treatise regarding its universality.
Paul stays three months at Corinth during his third Missionary Journey. There he writes to God’s people in Rome around 57 A.D. (Acts 20:3). By this time, he has already been ministering for twenty years. He would have viewed Rome as the ideal starting point for evangelizing the entire Roman Empire.
While Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John present Jesus as King, Servant, Son of Man, and Son of God respectively, the book of Acts gives us our first Church history lesson. But it is imperative a clear theological gateway be opened before attempting to navigate the rest of the New Testament. Of all the books in the New Testament, it is Romans that explains foundational doctrines succinctly. This epistle provides the most severe condemnation of sin in the entire Bible – especially those sexual in nature (Rom. 1).
The “meat of the sandwich” in Romans is the Jew and Gentile section (Ch. 9-11). God’s plan begins with Israel….but does not end there. The Christians in Rome are mostly Gentiles. Many among them may have been Jewish proselytes for it is evident they are familiar with the Old Testament. This letter is also designed to be of interest to Jews, for Paul uses numerous characters as illustrations, including David, Abraham, Adam, Sarah, Moses, Issaic, Rebecca, Pharaoh, Jacob, Esau, and Elijah.
The book proves no Jew or Gentile can be justified by good works. All human beings are equally guilty of sin before God. Justification is based on God’s grace: not by blind allegiance to a set of rules and regulations. Over the years, the Pharisees had twisted God’s laws into hundreds of “dos and donts”. Great faith cannot make one righteous, for Christ’s sacrifice alone can do this. Blessed with great leaders, patriarchs, and prophets, the nation of Israel still takes God’s mercy for granted. Paul writes to assure them that although they rejected their Messiah nationally they can still be saved individually. Romans verifies that God’s covenant promises are not reserved for Jews only – but for all who obey Him.
The contents of this epistle are phenomenal. It is not left to our imagination to discover why Paul wrote Romans, for his theme is clearly stated in 1:15-16. He is determined to spell out the concept of righteousness through faith. Paul pictures God as the One whose righteous character must be vindicated if sinners are to be in right standing with Him. If a person rejects Christ’s vicarious sacrifice for sin, he or she will suffer the consequences. Romans answers the eternal question: “How can a person be justified before God?” (Job. 9:2). Paul deals with the problem of human rebellion from God’s perspective.
In Romans, Paul sets forth three great themes: man’s unrighteousness, God’s righteousness, and Christ’s redemption.
This epistle is the most formal – yet the most systematic – of all Pauline literature. One of his primary purposes is to denounce all possibility of self-merit regarding God’s plan of salvation. His reasoning is powerful and conclusive. The style is condensed – yet energetic. Due to its logical arrangement, it has intense depth, crystal clarity, and contemporary relevance.
The theological concepts in the book are numerous:
CONDEMNATION (Ch. 1)
PROPITIATION (Ch. 3)
SALVATION (Ch 4)
IMPUTATION (Ch. 4)
JUSTIFICATION (Ch. 5)
LIBERATION (Ch. 6 & 7)
SANCTIFICATION (Ch. 6-7)
GLORIFICATION (Ch. 8)
SUPPLICATION (Ch. 4)
PRESERVATION (Ch. 8)
RESTORATION (Ch. 9-11)
TRANSFORMATION (Ch. 12)
APPLICATION (Ch. 12-16)
Some dynamics of this book should be noted:
~ God created the plan of salvation – and He alone initiates it.
~ I activate righteousness by accepting it, but though I appropriate it, I am not the author of it.
~ Without His righteousness, I have no access to a holy God.
~ Because my nature has changed, my status with God has changed.
~ When I am born-again, I do not become righteous: I am treated as if I were righteous.
~ Salvation does not “adjust” my relationship with God: it completely reverses it.
It is evident that the church in Rome is well established before Paul ever visits there. (14:14 & 15:23). However, who founded it remains a mystery. It is apparent from the last chapter of Romans that many believers in Rome are already acquainted with Paul. He sends personal greetings to more than thirty Christians. The Apostle opens his letter by showing how bad sin is – and concludes it by depicting the incredible love that exists among Believers. Our godly relationships validate the practical application of God’s righteousness through His Son – and our reliance on the living presence of His Holy Spirit.