“But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while”. (Rm 15:23-24)
The Summary of the Book of Romans
Romans is very important because in this book, Paul systematically organized what the gospel is. So, Romans is often called the essence of the gospel.
What’s interesting about Romans is that Paul had never visited Rome before he wrote this letter to the church there. This means that he was writing a letter to a church he didn’t build.
So, why did Paul write a letter to the church in Rome, and why did he systematically explain what the gospel is in this letter? These two questions are important in understanding the book of Romans.
The answer to the first question is that Paul wrote the letter to the church in Rome because he wanted them to assist him in going to Spain. At the end of the letter, Paul revealed his reason for writing it. He said,
“Now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while”. (Rm 15:23-24)
Because Paul had proclaimed the gospel and built many churches in Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia Minor, he now wanted to go to Spain to preach the gospel there. But, because Spain was too far from the Antioch church that had supported him, Paul needed a new mission base camp, and he thought that the church in Rome would be a good choice. That’s why Paul wrote this letter to Rome.
But, there was a serious problem in the church between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Jewish Christians, who were the minority in the church, insisted that just believing in Jesus was not enough to receive salvation. They said that in addition to faith in Jesus, all Christians had to follow Jewish laws.
This problem of observing laws caused such a great debate in the church that it was in danger of becoming divided. And, a divided church can’t effectively join in God’s mission. So, Paul wanted to resolve the issue and unite the church.
Therefore, Paul acts as a reconciler between the two groups in this letter. And, to reconcile them, Paul addresses what the gospel of Jesus Christ is. He likely thought that if they truly knew what the gospel of Jesus Christ is, they could be reunited in the truth.
The book of Romans can be divided into 4 parts, excluding the introduction and conclusion. In the introduction, Paul briefly summarizes the gospel as a name: Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 1:1-4).
I. God’s Wrath (1:18-3:20)
The first of the four parts is about sin and God’s wrath. After briefly describing what the gospel is and his passion for it, Paul started to talk about sin. He wanted to help them realize their sins so that they could overcome them. Just as only those who realize they are sick go to a doctor, only sinners who realize their sinfulness and its terrible consequences run to Jesus.
Paul first discusses the Gentiles’ sin. According to Paul, the charge of the Gentiles’ sin was that even though the Gentiles knew God through general revelations such as God’s creation and their consciences, they didn’t glorify Him or give thanks to Him. Instead, they exchanged His glory for the image of idols. Furthermore, they refused to retain the knowledge of God. As a result, God’s wrath against sin was revealed from heaven.
After that, Paul addresses the Jews’ sin. The Jews’ sin was that even though they had the privilege of having God’s law, they didn’t obey it. Rather than glorifying God by reflecting His goodness, they dishonored Him by breaking His law. Moreover, they not only disobeyed the law given to them, but also used it to judge others.
Therefore, in Romans chapter 3, Paul concluded,
“Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin… There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rm 3:9, 23).
II. God’s Righteousness (3:21-8:39)
But, the darker our despair due to sin is, the more God's grace is revealed. Romans 3:21 starts with the word “But.” It is called the greatest antonym in the Bible because an amazing reversal starts in Romans 3:21. After establishing that everyone is under the power of sin and death, Paul begins to explain God’s righteousness.
I think Romans 3:21-24 is the most important passage in this book. Let’s read it together.
“But now… the righteousness of God has been made known…This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rm 3:21-24)
Now, God’s righteousness is revealed through Jesus Christ. God’s righteousness can be defined as freely justifying unrighteous people. God’s righteousness is to call sinners “righteous.”
Even though it is against God’s righteous nature to call the wicked righteous without any cost, God can call sinners righteous because Jesus paid the price for our sins with His death on the cross.
And, the only way for us to receive this righteousness is by faith in Jesus, not by works of the law. Paul continued,
“God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood - to be received by faith… We maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” (Rom 3:25, 28).
These are essential truths about the gospel of Jesus Christ and our salvation. We’re saved only by faith in Jesus through God’s righteousness, not through our own righteousness.
In chapter 4, Paul uses Abraham as an example to support his case of justification by faith. Paul emphasized the fact that Abraham was credited as righteous by believing in God before he was circumcised or obeyed the law.
In chapter 5, Paul describes the 6 consequences, or blessings, that justification by faith brings us.
1) We have peace with God through Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1)
2) We’ve entered the grace of God and stand in it (Rom 5:2a)
3) We have the hope of the glory of God (Rom 5:2b)
4) We rejoice in suffering, (Rom 5:3)
5) We have assurance of our future salvation through God’s love.
6) We boast in God alone (Rom 5:11).
In chapter 6, Paul talks about how Christians are changed through baptism. We’re to be united with Jesus’ death and resurrection, which means that we should die to sin and live for God. Paul also explains that we become slaves of the one we obey. And, he urges us to be slaves of God by obeying Him which leads to eternal life, rather than being slaves to sin which leads us to death.
In chapters 7-8, Paul discusses sin, the law, and the Holy Spirit. He clearly states that the law itself is not sinful. The real problem is not the law, but our sinful nature that keeps us from obeying the law. So, even though we know what is right according to the law, we don’t do what’s right because of the sin living in us.
But, the good news is that “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:1-2)
Now, through Jesus’ forgiveness and help from the Holy Spirit, we can truly uphold the law. It’s important to keep in mind that even though we’re not saved by works of the law, we should still uphold the law through the power of the Holy Spirit.
III. God’s Plan (9-11)
After the second part of Romans, Paul talked about God’s plan for the Israelites in chapters 9-11. According to Paul, the reason the Israelites failed to believe in Jesus was because they relied more on their works than on faith and tried to establish their own self-righteousness through observance of the law.
Nevertheless, God never gave up on them. Even though many turned their backs on Him, God reserved the remnant, His sincere people. Not only that, but God also worked to turn the Jews back to Him by opening the door to salvation to the Gentiles.
And, by doing so, one day, the Jews and the Gentiles will be saved together. As Paul said,
“Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.” (Rm 11:25-26)
When we read these chapters, we might think that this part of the book is unnecessary because it seems that it has nothing to do with the gospel. But, if we remember the reason Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome—to reconcile the Jews and the Gentiles—we know that he has described the gospel for this part. So, this part is not unnecessary, but essential.
IV. God’s Will (12:1-15:13)
The last subject Paul talks about is God’s will for Christians. Paul emphasized the fact that all are justified by faith in Jesus alone apart from the works of the law. But, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to keep the law anymore. Rather, we should uphold the law of love all the more through the Holy Spirit.
So, in Romans chapters 12-15, Paul talks about God’s will for His people—how they should live in the world as Christians. Paul focuses on 7 relationships.
1) Our Relationship with God
First, regarding our relationship with God, Paul urges us to give true and proper worship to God by renewing our minds, following His good, pleasing, and perfect will, and offering our bodies as a living sacrifice.
2) Our Relationship with Church Community
We should make every effort to uphold unity in church communities and build up the body of Jesus Christ by being devoted to one another in love and living in harmony with one another.
3) Our Relationship with Enemies
We are even called to love our enemies by not repaying anyone evil for evil, but blessing those who persecute us, trying to live peacefully with everyone, and caring for our enemies.
4) Our Relationship with the Governing Authorities
In our relationship with the governing authorities, we should obey them on the condition that what they do is in line with God’s will because their authority comes from God and they are God’s servants whom He uses to establish His righteousness and justice on earth.
5) Our Relationship with the Law
In regard to our relationship with the law, as I said before, even though our salvation isn’t dependent on our obedience to the law, Christians who are already saved by faith in Jesus should try to meet the righteous requirement of the law through the power of the Holy Spirit. Here, the law refers to the law of love, not ritualistic laws such as food laws and observing certain days.
6) Our Relationship with Time
Regarding our relationship with time, Paul urges us to make the best use of our time, Chronos, looking forward to the day when our time meets God’s moment, Kairos. We’re called to live for eternity, not for temporary, earthly things.
7) Our Relationship with Those Whose Faith is Weak
The last relationship Paul talks about is our relationship with those whose faith is weak. If it’s not about absolute truths such as the gospel and the way to receive salvation, Paul urges us to accept each other without judgment or fighting over disputable matters, namely, relative truths.
That’s because what’s really important is to be united in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ so that we can glorify God with one voice and lead others to Jesus.
So, rather than using our freedom to please ourselves, we’re to try to please others and seek their good because that’s how Jesus treated us.
It’s very beneficial to study this book because it tells us what the gospel of Jesus Christ truly is, how we can receive God’s righteousness, how we can live out our faith, and what God’s ultimate purpose is that He wants to fulfill through us.
What’s really important is not to know these truths in our heads but to actually live them out through our lives. And, I’m convinced that the more we try to apply them to our lives, the closer we get to Jesus and become more like Him, reflecting His goodness to those around us.
So, I want to encourage everyone here, including me, to check our faith, go back to the gospel of Jesus, and decide to believe in Him and live according to God’s will again, fixing our eyes on Jesus.
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