“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” (Rom 1:16,17).

These two verses summarise the key and vital message of the epistle of Paul to the Romans. The gospel message is about the righteousness of God and His salvation to all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile. Paul expounds his theme firstly in the principles outlined in chapters 1 to 11 and then in practical applications in chapters 12 to 15. The foundation of God’s righteousness is clearly and soundly expounded and becomes the basis for his exhortations in the latter chapters.

Background

Paul wrote from Corinth when he was considering a visit to Jerusalem, which would involve him in great peril as he states in 15:31. He continues in 15:32 to express his desire to visit his brethren and sisters in Rome and to be refreshed in their company.

The ecclesia in Rome was made up of both Jew and Gentile and the impact of the righteousness of God for both groups is the subject of the epistle. Both had need of God’s righteousness, and though affecting each group differently, it is sufficient for the needs of all mankind regardless of race.

Structure

This structure is based on Brother John Carter’s book Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Refer also to the article in The Lampstand Volume 12 page 207.

1:1–15 Introduction

1:16–17 Theme: Righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel for man’s salvation

1:18 – 11:36 Righteousness of God Revealed

1:18 – 3:20 Man’s failure to attain to righteousness

1:18–32 The failure of the Gentiles

2:1–16 The ground of God’s judgment

2:17–29 The failure of the Jews

3:1–8 Jewish objections met

3:9–20 The witness of Scripture

3:21–5:21 Righteousness of God revealed in Christ

3:21–31 God’s righteousness manifested

4:1–25 Abraham: justified by faith

5:1–11 The blessings of justification

5:12–21 Condemnation and righteousness through federal heads

6:1–8:39 Righteousness of God in a believer’s life of holiness

6:1 A question: Shall we continue in sin?

6:2–14 Answer 1: The meaning of baptism

6:15–23 Answer 2: The believer has changed Masters

7:1–6 Answer 3: A lesson from law

7:7–25 The position of law

8:1–4 Deliverance in Christ

8:5–11 Flesh and Spirit

8:12–17 Sons and heirs

8:18–25 An expectant creation

8:26–30 The Divine will

8:31–39 The assurance of victory

9:1 – 11:36 Righteousness of God in relation to Israel

9:1–5 Paul’s distress at Israel’s unbelief

9:6–13 God’s plan has not failed

9:14–18 No injustice in God’s method

9:19–21 Is man responsible?

9:22–24 God’s methods shewn

9:25–29 God’s purpose revealed in the Prophets

9:30–33 A conclusion drawn

10:1–4 Why Israel failed

10:5–10 Two modes of righteousness

10:11–13 Faith’s righteousness is for all

10:14–21 Israel rejected their opportunity

11:1–10 Israel’s rejection never total – a remnant saved

11:11–24 Israel’s rejection only temporary

11:25–36 God’s mercy embraces Jew and Gentile

12:1 – 15:33 Practical Exhortations

12:1–2 A living sacrifice

12:3–8 The right use of gifts

12:9–21 Rules for daily life

13:1–7 Obedience to rulers

13:8–10 Duty to all

13:11–14 The urgency of attention

14:1–12 Avoiding judging

14:13–23 Love is self-denying

15:1–13 Love helps the weak

15:14–21 Explanation for writing

15:22–33 Paul’s plans for the future

16:1–24 Paul’s personal greetings

16:25–27 Conclusion

The theme of Romans is developed through the following five sections:

1. The Righteousness of God and mankind’s failure to attain to it (1:18 – 3:20)

Paul begins with the Gentiles and shows that man has failed to seek God despite the evidence and beauty of creation. Rather men have become “vain in their imaginations” (1:21) and turned the glory of God to their own evil purposes. “God gave them up” to their own ways (1:24,26, 28). The Gentiles will not “escape the judgment of God” (2:3) which will come because of their wickedness.

The Jewish people fared no better, despite having the oracles of God. Though “instructed out of the law” (2:18) Israel were unable to keep its precepts. Paul concludes in respect to Israel that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (3:20).

Hence both Jew and Gentile have failed to attain to God’s standards – “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (3:23). We are, by the apostle’s reasoning, once again, in the mercy of God, dependent on the provision of His Son for what we are unable to accomplish, whether Jew or Gentile.

2. The Righteousness of God revealed in Jesus Christ (3:21 – 5:21)

The Spirit in Paul, in wonderful words, shows that Jesus Christ is God’s righteousness for us. God provided His only Son, made in the likeness of Sin’s flesh that we, by having faith in what he has done, might receive the forgiveness of our sins “through the forbearance of God” (3:25). Jesus Christ, being Son of God and Son of man, has done what flesh was and is unable to do and through him, in God’s grace, we have redemption.

Paul in chapter 4 explains how faith is the basis for justification as seen in the lives of both Abraham and David. It should be noted that “justify”, “justification” and “righteousness” are cognate words in the original Greek language. The examples of Abraham, the revered father of the Jews, who pre-dated the Law of Moses, and David their greatest king are used as supreme examples of faith. It is faith that saved them both and these things are true for us too “if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:24).

In chapter 5 Paul expounds the marvellous position into which we have come through the grace of God – “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). Through his obedience our Lord opened the way for grace to abound so that “as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:21).

3. The Righteousness of God in a believer’s life of holiness (6:1 – 8:39)

Having established that in the grace of God we have been accounted righteous, Paul expounds the responsibility that this now brings in chapter 6. We cannot continue in sin and expect the grace of God, because our baptism into Jesus Christ has changed our allegiance. We have undertaken to become a new person, dead to sin and alive to the qualities of Jesus Christ. We have changed masters and become the servants of righteousness.

Furthermore, in chapter 7, Paul gives a lesson from the Law of Moses. A woman was free to remarry when her former husband died. When we are baptised we “become dead to the law” (7:4) and we are espoused to a new husband, even Jesus Christ, that “we should serve in newness of spirit” (7:6). He continues to explain the purpose of law, noting that although the commandment was “holy, and just, and good” (7:12) it could not deliver any from death or the impulse to sin. Only Jesus Christ our Lord can offer deliverance from this “body of death”.

Chapter 8 is an explanation of the deliverance that comes through Jesus Christ. Creation has been made “subject to vanity” (8:20) that we might learn to hope in God and to develop in His grace the spirit that was in Jesus Christ. He has shown the way and if the spirit of Christ be in us he will, in due course, glorify us even as he is now enthroned in glory. Paul ends this section with those encouraging words that there is nothing that can separate us from the “love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39).

4. The Righteousness of God in relation to Israel (9:1 – 11:36)

What then of the nation of Israel? Has God no future purpose with them? Are they now, as a nation, of no consequence in the purpose of God? Paul shows that “all Israel” were never able to be saved, and that only a remnant were ever faithful. God is just in His selection as a wise potter exercising “power over the clay”. Israel as a nation failed because they went about “to establish their own righteousness” and did not submit themselves unto the righteousness of God (10:3). Their own prophets had explained that “whosoever” called upon God could obtain salvation through faith which comes by hearing the Word of God (10:17).

Has God cast them off ? In chapter 11 Paul explains that Israel have temporarily been put to one side so that the Gentiles might be grafted into the hope of Israel. But in the wonderful mercy of God, Israel will be reconciled to their God when the deliverer “shall come out of Zion” (11:26). They are currently in their land, put there by God in unbelief, that when our Lord comes he may “turn away ungodliness from Jacob”. We shall then see the wonderful equity of the mercy of God when both Israel and the Gentiles are reconciled to God. As Paul exclaims, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (11:33).

5. Practical exhortations (12:1 – 15:33)

Paul has expounded in much detail the principles of God’s righteousness as seen in His dealings with all mankind. There are practical outcomes to these principles which are the subject matter of the remainder of his letter.

As we have been saved through the righteousness of Christ, our lives should become a “living sacrifice … transformed by the renewing of our mind” (12:1– 2). We will use the abilities that God has given us to the building up of the body of Christ to which we belong. Our daily lives will become a reflection of the same principles that are seen in Jesus Christ. In chapter 13 Paul explains our subjection to the authorities of this world, our helpfulness to all and our adoption of the ways of Jesus Christ. We should be careful in our relationships in the brotherhood, for all are brothers and sisters of Christ and we “shall give account … to God” (14:12).

Paul’s final words are appropriate to his theme of the righteousness of God – “To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever.”