Posts Tagged 'Justification'

Survey of Romans

Part One:  Introductory Matters

The great reformer Martin Luther said this about Romans:

This letter is the principle part of the New Testament and the purest gospel, which surely deserves the honor that a Christian man should not merely know it by heart word for word, but that he should be occupied with it daily as the daily bread of his soul.  For it can never be read too often or too well.  And the more it is used the more delicious it becomes  and the better it tastes.

We may debate Luther’s assertion that Romans is “the purest gospel,” but there is no debate about the importance of Paul’s epistle to the believers in Rome.  E.K. Harrison calls this letter the greatest of all Paul’s letters.  From the time it was written and delivered to the church in Rome, this letter been at the forefront of many spiritual revivals.

In August of 386 AD, Augustine, before he became one of the great thinkers of the church, was in his garden considering the state of his life.  He chanced to hear some children playing, and thought he heard the words, “Tolle lege!  Tolle lege!”  In English, these words mean “Take up and read!  Take up and read!”  Augustine believed this to be a divine communication; a voice from God speaking to his troubled heart.  He lifted up the Bible and read this:

Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.  Butt put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.   (Romans 13:13-14)

That was all Augustine needed.  He would later recount this incident:  “No further would I read, nor needed I; for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as ti were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”

On May 24, 1738, John Wesley wrote this in his journal:

This evening I went 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 and death.

At that moment, the great Evangelical awaken of the 18th century was born.

No historian can calculate the far-reaching consequences the book of Romans has had not only on the Church but on the world as a whole because what happened to Paul, Luther, Augustine, and Wesley turned the tide of Western civilization.

As Darby noted, the Epistle to the Romans is well placed at the head of all the epistles, because it is, in a sense, the foundation of all other New Testament writings beyond the Gospels.  It contains the most systematic and the most scientific statements of God’s plan for the redemption of mankind.

1.  Authorship

The letter begins like this:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.  (1:1)

It is no accident that the Holy Spirit chose a man like Paul to record the great doctrines of Heaven.   Paul was not a simple fisherman, nor was he a small town Galilean.  Paul was a man of education and sophistication, a Roman citizen, yet at the same time a Hebrew of the Hebrews.  He was a man familiar with the history, the culture, and the religions of both the Greek and Roman worlds.  He knew their philosophies, their poetries, their science and music.  But Paul was also schooled in and faithful to Judaism.  He knew the Law and the Prophets, not just as a system of teachings but also as a way of living out his faith.

Paul’s authorship of Romans, from the postapostolic church to present day, has never been seriously questioned.

2.  Place, Date, and Purpose of Writing

Thanks to 15:19-32, we know with some certainty the place and date of this letter’s composition.  Paul wrote it somewhere on his journey from Macedonia to Jerusalem, probably at Corinth.  It is always tricky to fix an exact date to any writing of this age, but it is possible he wrote Romans sometime in late 56 or early 57.

The title of Paul’s letters are not part of the text, so the superscription “The Letter of Paul to the Romans” was not written by Paul but added sometime later by the early Church.  This shows the understanding of the Church as a whole during the late first century and early second century.  There was no debate as to who the recipients of this letter were:  Christians in Rome.

For a very long time, Paul wanted to visit Rome (see Romans 1:8-15; 15:22), and now that visit seemed possible, as soon as he delivered to the Jewish Christians an offering from some Gentile churches.   We get a glimpse of Paul’s ministry from 15:28,

So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.

John Knox comments on this side of Paul’s work:

No statement of the apostle could more eloquently proclaim what he conceives his work to be.  He is an evangelist, not a pastor.  His calling, as he conceives it, is to plant, not to water.  He not only does not wish to build on other men’s foundations; he does not really enjoy building on his own.

Paul would deliver the offering (Acts 13:1-4) and then head westward with the gospel, to Rome, where he was known by some there but largely unknown.  The Holy Spirit had already told Paul that he would eventually get to Rome, but the time and circumstances were unknown to him.  Perhaps that is why he wrote this letter, an exposition of everything he believed, and sent it on ahead of him by way of a godly woman and deacon of the church in Corinth, Phoebe, who was traveling to Rome on business.

But what caused Paul to write such a detailed theological treatise to a church he had never been to and a church he had never stated?  And why was he so intent on going there in person?  There is much debate on these issue.  Paul had finished his mission work in the eastern part of the Roman Empire.  He had planted many churches, in both large cities and small towns.  From these urban centers of trade and commerce, places like Antioch, Philippi, Corinth, and Ephesus, the Gospel was spreading like wildfire.  We know that Paul alone, a preaching dynamo, took the salvation message from Jerusalem all the way to present-day Yugoslavia and Albania (Romans 15:19).  Although he had never been to Rome, he was well-known there by some and had many friends and acquaintances there.

Paul, being a passionate and warm person probably wanted to go visit his friends in Rome in order to be a blessing to them (Romans 1:10-11) and also to be blessed by them (15:32).  He wrote to them because he loved them.  But there have been a darker purpose behind his letter, for at times he writes strongly as if to correct some dangerous antinomian teaching.

So I would say that Paul wrote this letter for two reasons, one very personal, the other very practical.  Paul’s friendship and love for the people in Rome did not cause him to overlook their doctrinal errors.   The letter went on ahead, and at great personal risk, Paul would follow some time later.

3.  Theme

The theme of Romans is the Righteousness of God and the key verse is 1:17,

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

That quotation is taken from Habakkuk 2:4, a verse that is quoted no less than three times in the New Testament, in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews.

In Romans, the emphasis in on the first two words:  “The righteous will live by faith,”  in answer to a question asked in antiquity:

But how can a mortal be righteous before God?  (Job 9:2)

The reference in Galatians stresses the two central words:  “The righteous will live by faith.”  The false teaching that plagued the Galatians was that of a salvation that was a combination of faith plus works.  But Paul in his letter to them, Paul teaches that how we live demonstrates the faith we have and that we are perfected by faith.

Finally, Hebrews emphasis the last two words:  “The righteous will live by faith.”  Hebrews emphasizes the true nature of faith and the power of faith in the believer’s life.

4.  The church at Rome

If we were to rely solely on the Bible, our knowledge of the Christian community in Rome would be virtually non-existent.  However, there is very good reason to believe that the Gospel reached Rome very, very early in the history of the Church.  Consider what Luke wrote:

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism).  (Luke 2:5-11)

It seems logical to assume that at least some of those visitors from Rome responded to the Gospel of salvation, got saved, and then took the good news back home with them.  The church at Rome, then, was probably made up of both Jewish converts to Christianity and Gentile converts.

5.  Gist of the letter to the Romans

Any outline of Romans should take into consideration this verse:

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  (Romans 1:17)

If we take “righteousness” to be the dominating theme of Romans, then we discover that God has called believers to live lives of:

  • Deliverance, chapters 1-5.  Paul began his letter with a discussion of man’s most basic need:  the need to be delivered from the guilt of sin and to be made righteous.  Both Jew and Gentile stand guilty before God, but in Christ Jesus, a righteousness has been provided.  The death of Christ was a sacrifice of propitiation, on the basis of which God freely forgives sins past, present, and future.   The Holy God must punish sin, but the Loving God was willing to take that punishment upon Himself.
  • Victory, chapters 6-8.  How can God pronounce sinners “not guilty?”  Only because those sinners have trusted in Jesus, who died as their substitute, taking their punishment on Himself.   Believers are free from condemnation and guilt because they are actually united to Christ.  That union is real; we were in union with Him when He died, so our death was real, not merely imputed.  We were in union with Christ when He was raised, and so God’s Holy Spirit, the power that raised Jesus from the dead, is also available to us in our mortality.   He who gave life to Christ, gives new life to us, and because of this new life in us, we can actually and practically begin to live righteous lives today.
  • History reviewed, chapters 9-11.   These chapters answer a question asked by many Jews:  Was God fair in His treatment of His people?  Was God acting in a righteous manner when He judged Israel?  Paul shows that God is, in fact, the only judge of what is fair, and showed that Israel’s present rejection is both justified and temporary.  God has not, nor could He ever, abandon His covenant people.  His is incapable of breaking a promise.
  • Community, chapters 12-16.   In the first two sections of Romans, Paul showed that God has given individuals a righteous standing if they have put their trust in Jesus.  In this last section, Paul looks at at the righteous community, the church, which He Himself created out of all those who believe.  It is not only individual believers who are to live victorious and righteous lives, but we Christians are a family, called to live together in a righteous, loving, and caring community of faith.

Romans is truly an amazing book for Christians to study.  In it, we learn about our acceptance by God and how we are to accept those in the body of Christ with whom we may differ.  We learn how to live a Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered life so we can please God and live in harmony with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Those who study Romans will find their lives changed forever and they will change the church of which they are a part.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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