This monumental Epistle, written from Corinth towards the end of Paul’s stay there, forms a significant part of our daily New Testament readings for July and August. Surely no other single book in Scripture contains so much on such vital and basic principles as this Epistle to the Romans. The righteousness of God: the Atonement: sin: forgiveness: the position of the law: justification by faith: the judgment: fear or love: conscience—all these and more are dealt with by the Apostle.

Background

Paul wrote the Epistle from Corinth at a time when he was contemplating a visit to Jerusalem which he knew was fraught with peril to himself (Rom15:31). If, however, he escaped this danger and his life was preserved, it was his cherished hope to visit Rome. This letter was partly intended to prepare the Ecclesia for such a visit from the Apostle.

Although the Ecclesia in Rome comprised both Jews and Gentiles (Jews 2:17–29; 3:1,29; 4:1; 11:12–14: Gentiles 11:13,20,21), the Epistle does not appear to have been written to combat any specific problem in Rome, but rather to prepare the way for Paul’s arrival by outlining the great issues the Truth had faced in the Roman world and that it was also likely to face in course of time in the city of Rome itself.

The general structure of the book of Romans is as follows:

1:1–17                Introduction

1:18 to 11:36    The Righteousness of God considered from four aspects

  • The Righteousness of God and mankind’s failure to attain to it 1:18–3:20
  • The Righteousness of God revealed in Christ 3:21 to 5:21
  • The Righteousness of God in relation to the believer’s life of holiness 6:1 to 8:39
  • The Righteousness of God in relation to Israel 9:1–11:36

12:1 to 15:33    Practical exhortations

16:1–27             Personal greetings and conclusion

Key Verse

The vital message of Romans is summarised in 1:16,17: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith”.

The righteousness of God, in this context, has relation to God’s plan of justifying man through faith in the Gospel, that he might experience the power of God unto salvation. Paul demonstrates this proposition in four successive arguments in the section from 1:18 to 11:36.

1. The Righteousness of God and Mankind’s Failure to Attain to It Ch 1:18 to 3:20

(a) The Gentiles rejected the way of righteousness so God “gave them up…” to their own desires and lusts, and they reaped the consequences of their sin in their own bodies (verses 24,26,28).

In verse 18 Paul expresses the fact that God’s wrath is manifested against man’s unrighteousness. Following this, verses 19 and 20 are in brackets (parentheses), explaining verse 18; then verses 21 to 31 constitute a further parenthetical statement, describing the terrible declension that followed the rejection of God. Finally, verse 32 returns and completes the thought commenced in verse 18.

(b) The Jews considered themselves better than the Gentiles, but were not. God’s judgments are according to truth (2:2); that is, according to the real nature of a man’s conduct.

In 2:12–16 Paul makes another parenthetical statement (something he frequently uses throughout the epistle) to outline the grounds of responsibility of the Jew.

In verses 17 to 29 he directly addresses his Jewish readers, illustrating their unwarranted self-satisfaction and boastful complacency. The fact that God had given them a law was regarded by them as a mark of Divine favour; but the receiving of a law is not in itself ground for satisfaction; it actually brings greater responsibilities.

In 3:1–8 Paul refutes Jewish objections to his arguments in a series of four questions and answers. Then in verses 9 to 20, he takes a series of quotations from Psalms and Isaiah to prove there is none righteous—no, not one (verse 10).

Therefore, because of the failure of all mankind, there was urgent need for…

2. The Righteousness of God Revealed in Jesus Christ Ch 3:21 to 5:21

The matter contained in 3:21–31 and 5:12–21 are some of the most important words in Scripture, dealing with the doctrine of the Atonement. Consider the power and import of the words contained in 3:22–26. “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness; that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”

Here is the Scriptural “definition” of “sin”—anything which comes short of the glory of God.

In chapter 4, Paul advances the cases of Abraham and David as examples of “justification by faith”. Abraham, “our father” and the father of all the faithful, was justified because he “believed God, and it was counted [imputed, reckoned] to him for righteousness”.

David also had righteousness imputed unto him, and he describes the blessedness of the man in such a position in Psalm 32. We can readily understand how righteousness was imputed to Abraham, the man of faith: but on what basis and at what time was righteousness accounted to David? Psalm 32, which Paul here quotes, was written as a Psalm of instruction based on David’s experiences as recorded in Psalm 51—his sin in the matter of Bath-Sheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Note the expression of his intention in Psalm 51:13—“Then will I teach transgressors thy ways…”: this he does in the maschil Psalm 32. The verses Paul quotes in Romans 4 (Psa 32:1,2) show David’s joy and thankfulness at the forgiveness of his transgression and the covering for his sin because he knows that Yahweh will NOT impute iniquity unto him, which is the same as saying that Yahweh WILL impute righteousness unto him. How then was this blessed state attained?

Note David’s words in Psalm 32:5—“I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I WILL CONFESS my transgressions unto Yahweh; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” In Psalm 51, David’s confession is recorded in verses 3 and 4—“For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified [declared to be righteous] when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest.” David’s confession of his sin was a declaration of the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD, and upon that basis Yahweh was prepared to impute righteousness unto David. How truly “blessed” for all those who “fall short of the Glory of God” is the principle outlined by Paul here.

In 3:21–26 Paul stated that Jesus Christ had declared God’s righteousness as a basis upon which God forgives sins when men approach Him in faith. He now shows in 5:12–21 HOW God can accept what Christ has done as a means of putting away sins and accepting the sinner to favour. He draws the conclusion in verses 20 and 21. “Moreover the law entered that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”

3. The Righteousness of God in Relation to the Believer’s Life of Holiness Ch 6:1 to 8:39

In the concluding verses of chapter 5, Paul had spoken about the reigning principle of grace, that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” (nasb). This now prompts the question, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1). Paul’s answer to this is found in verses 2 to 14—“dead” men cannot sin (v2) and Sin, as a consequence of our baptism, is now a dethroned monarch (v12).

Baptism also means a change of masters: therefore we do not reserve even one little sin or act of selfishness (6:15–23). The idea expressed is that, even if “Paul’s doctrine of grace” did not allow continuous habitual sin (cp 1 John 3:4—sin of lawlessness), did it permit an individual act of sin? The answer is—No! There should not be in the believer a frame of mind that desires to practise sin in any form—neither habitual or individual acts—for this would mean that such a person is reserving part of himself to use in service to the old master “Sin” and has not given himself completely to the new master “Righteousness”.

In 7:1–6 Baptism is likened to a re-marriage: he sets out the illustration as follows:

The Wife Represents the Individual’s Consciousness

The First Husband The Old Man (The Carnal Mind—its habits and practices bringing forth fruit unto death).

The Law of the Husband The Mosaic Law—had the effect of rousing the innate tendency to sin and so bound the individual to the “old man”. The individual was wedded to this “old man” by law, because law magnified sin and this bound the two together.

Death of the first husband Death of the “old man” in baptism.

Marriage to the new husband The new life in Christ, producing fruit unto holiness.

Paul now considers the position and purpose of the Law in 7:7–25, and in the latter part of this section (verses 14 to 25) he speaks of the continuing warfare he has within himself.

Nevertheless, chapter 8 commences with wonderful words of encouragement—“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…” In Christ there are only benefits to be derived, whereas in Adam, the condemnation of mortality rests upon his posterity.

In 8:5–13 Paul describes the enmity between flesh and spirit and in verses 18–25, the approaching glory of the sons of God. In verses 26–30, he speaks of the present assurance of sonship, and in verses 31–39 he breaks forth in joyous assurance of victory: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Only the individual himself, by his own stubborn and proud determination, can separate himself from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (verses 38,39).

4. The Righteousness of God in Relation to Israel Ch 9:1 to 11:36

Chapters 9 to 11 answer the question: “Seeing Gentiles are being justified equally with Jews (Romans 3:1,2), does that annul the purpose of God with Israel, as proclaimed in the Old Testament?”. Paul had clearly taught that salvation for Jew and Gentile alike was on a common principle, and hence both assumed equal status in the sight of God. But were not the Jews God’s people and the Gentiles not His people? If there was one method of salvation for all, what of the Jew’s privileges, and what was the position of Israel in view of their rejection of the Messiah and their refusal to accept the Apostle’s teaching?

In Chapter 9, Paul outlines the doctrine of God’s election—how and why He chooses or rejects individuals or nations as the instruments of His purpose.

In chapter 10 he demonstrates why the Jews DESERVED their rejection, since they themselves had, in effect, rejected God. To this a Jew might naturally reply: “Is it to be believed that God would cast off His people whom He had once chosen; to whom pertained the adoption and the promises, and the covenant, and numerous blessings conferred upon a favoured people and admitted by Paul”.?The objection, as will be seen by the answer given by Paul, is based on the supposition that God had rejected ALL His people, or cast them off entirely. This objection Paul answers by showing

  • that God had saved HIM—a Jew, and therefore that he could not mean that God had cast off ALL Jews (v1)
  • that now, as in former times of great declension, God had reserved a remnant (v2–5)
  • that it was in accordance with Scripture that some should be hardened (v6–10)
  • that the rejection was NOT final, but was to admit the Gentiles to the privileges of the Gospel (v 11–24)
  • that the Jews would yet be returned to favour with God, so that it could not be objected that God had FINALLY and TOTALLY cast off His people or that He had violated His promises (v25–32).

At the same time, however, the doctrine which Paul maintained was true: God had taken away their EXCLUSIVE and PECULIAR privileges, and saved but a remnant according to His infinite wisdom and foreknowledge.

Practical Exhortations Ch 12:1 to 15:33

On the basis of what has gone before, Paul calls upon his readers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, which he describes as a “service of reason”. In 12:3–21 he discusses the right use of gifts and in chapter 13, the true principle of neighbourly love.

In Chapter 14, Paul settles some delicate questions in relation to the “weak brother” and the “strong brother” and the eating of meats and observance of days within the ecclesia. Such questions doubtless arose out of the fact that the Ecclesia in Rome was composed of Jews and Gentile converts. Obviously the Jews would find it difficult to adopt the liberal conscience of the Gentiles relating to such observances, even as the Gentile would resist Jewish pressure in the matter. The Apostle’s intention here is to put a stop to all contention on NON-FUNDAMENTAL issues, on the basis of peace, kindness and love. This he does by the following considerations:

  • that we have no right to judge a brother in this case, for he is “another man’s servant”, even the servant of God (v3,4)
  • that whatever course is taken by a brother in these matters, it is done conscientiously, and with a desire to glorify God (v6)
  • that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account there, and that we, therefore, should not usurp the office of judging now (v10–13)
  • that there is really nothing unclean of itself (v14)
  • that the Truth consists of more important matters than such questions as “meat and drink” (v17,18)
  • that we should follow after the things of peace (v19–23).

The principles of this chapter are applicable to all similar questions of difference of opinion on NON-FUNDAMENTAL or trivial matters, and if properly applied they would settle much unnecessary controversy between brethren and sisters. Paul deals with two broad divisions in the Ecclesia:

(1) the brother who is “weak in faith”—the brother with a sensitive or negative conscience on certain non-fundamental matters, giving him a tendency to “judge” or “condemn” those who do not have the same attitude as him; and

(2) the “strong brother”—the brother who feels he has liberty in the same matters: this brother must take care not to “despise” the conscience of the “weak” brother or put a “stumbling block” in his way.

Paul exhorts his readers to demonstrate a loving attitude towards each other in these matters, not creating “stumbling blocks” or causing offence (v15–17). Hence his words in 15:1—“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves…” Paul places himself amongst those whom he terms “strong”, and identifies these as the brethren who bear the greater responsibility in the issue.

The remainder of the Epistle is taken up largely with personal matters and greetings. He explains once more his relationship to them as the Apostle to the Gentiles (15:14–21). He tells them of his plan to visit them on the way to Spain, after he has taken the contribution of the Greek Ecclesias to Jerusalem (verses 23–29). He seeks earnestly for their prayers for his safety, as though he knew even then the dangers that were likely to befall him, and for the success of the mission (verses 30–33). Before he closes, he adds a short but earnest warning against false teachers, whose appearance among them there was reason to dread (16:17–20).

The Epistle concludes almost as it began—”Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: to GOD only wise be GLORY THROUGH JESUS CHRIST for ever. Amen” (16:25–27). Brother Carter writes: “He (Paul) calls it ‘my gospel’ in accordance with which God was able to establish them… It is all of God. The scriptures are of Him. Christ, who is the supreme subject of them, is of God. Paul, preaching peace and the fellowship of the mystery, is the ambassador of God to the nations. Paul’s gospel, outlined in this wonderful letter, is the gospel of God.”