Romans, written by Paul to the church at Rome, is the first of the New Testament epistles (letters). The main theme is that the righteousness of God has been offered to all in the gospel: while all have sinned and deserve to bear God’s wrath, all may be justified freely by faith in Jesus. The doctrinal portion (chapters 1-11) is followed by its practical application (chapters 12-16).
In Martin Luther’s Preface to the Book of Romans, he wrote:
This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian’s while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.
Romans has several passages that are difficult to understand, which is to be expected in such a comprehensive theological work. Read carefully and engage with the text (e.g. highlight key verses, underline key words). Put a question mark beside passages that require further study.
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READ: ROMANS 1-3
Paul greets the Romans and expresses his desire to visit them. He declares his unashamed confidence in the gospel which offers salvation to all who are under God’s wrath and deserve death (1:18-31).
God’s judgment against sinners is just and impartial; his law reveals that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). God has offered his righteousness to us apart from the law through faith in his Son, that we may be “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24).
Key concept — Propitiation: Romans 3:25 states that redemption is through Christ, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.” The word propitate means to appease or satisfy. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross satisfied (propitiated) God’s wrath that was against us, so that having “been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Ro. 5:9).
READ: ROMANS 4-6
We are justified by faith apart from works, as illustrated by Abraham who believed God (faith) and was declared righteous before he was circumcised (works). We too are counted as righteous when we “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Ro. 4:24-25), which brings peace with God (Ro. 5:1).
Sin and death entered the world through Adam (Ro. 5:12), but life and righteousness have been made available through Christ (Ro. 5:19), who died in our place to spare us from the wrath of God.
Grace should not produce indifference towards sin; we are charged, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Ro. 6:12). When we are saved, we are united to Christ who was crucified; likewise, “our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Ro. 6:6).
READ: ROMANS 7-8
Christians are no longer in bondage to the letter the law. Wesley explains that we are “dead to that whereby we were held — To our old husband, the law. That we might serve in newness of spirit — In a new, spiritual manner. And not in the oldness of the letter — Not in a bare literal, external way, as we did before.”
Much controversy surrounds Romans 7:14-24. Wesley holds that Paul, “in order to show in the most lively manner the weakness and inefficacy of the law, changes the person and speaks as of himself, concerning the misery of one under the law. This St. Paul frequently does, when he is not speaking of his own person, but only assuming another character (Ro. 3:5, 1 Cor. 10:30, 1 Cor. 4:6). The character here assumed is that of a man, first ignorant of the law, then under it and sincerely, but ineffectually, striving to serve God. To have spoken this of himself, or any true believer, would have been foreign to the whole scope of his discourse; nay, utterly contrary thereto, as well as to what is expressly asserted in Romans 8:2.” Wesleys comments on verse 24: “Wretched man that I am — The struggle is now come to the height; and the man, finding there is no help in himself, begins almost unawares to pray, ‘Who shall deliver me?’ He then seeks and looks for deliverance, till God in Christ appears to answer his question.”
The law reveals sin, the cause of spiritual death, but in Christ we are free from its condemnation (Ro. 8:1). By walking according to the Spirit who dwells within us (Ro. 8:9), we experience life, peace, and assurance that we are children of God (Ro. 8:16). Even in suffering, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Ro. 8:28), and that “[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro. 8:38-39).
Recommended video: “Does Romans 7 Teach that Christians Will Continue Sinning? (Ben Witherington)” by Seedbed.
READ: ROMANS 9-11
Although God’s Old Testament people, Israel, rejected Jesus their Messiah, they may still be saved by believing the gospel. God’s plan is for Israel to be jealous of the Gentiles to whom he has extended salvation, and one day turn from their unbelief. Paul ends this section with a doxology, praising God’s wisdom in his plan to redeem all peoples (Ro. 11:33-36).
Recommended video: “Ben Witherington: The Meaning of Romans 9-11” by Seedbed.
READ: ROMANS 12-16
The reasonable demand of the gospel is that we present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice (Ro. 12:1), serve God with our spiritual gifts, behave in a sincere and respectful manner, submit to earthly authorities, and love our neighbors. In other words, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Ro. 13:14).
We should accept our brothers and sisters whose consciense is more sensitive than ours (14:1), and avoid exercising our Christian freedom in a way that would cause others to violate thier convictions (14:13). Christians should focus on bearing one another’s burdens and glorifying God together.
Paul shares concluding remarks, greetings, and a benediction (15:14-16:27; you may skim this section).
When exercises require a written response, record your answers in a journal or email them to a pastor or class leader who will provide you with feedback.
- Do you lack confidence to share the gospel with others? What was the source of Paul’s unashamed confidence (Romans 1:16-17)? Why is it necessary for us to share the gospel with others (Ro. 10:14-15)?
- How is Romans 1:18-32 similar to the culture in which you live?
- It is often said that people are “basically good.” How does this compare to the picture of mankind in Romans 3:9-18?
- Central to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is that it propitiated the wrath of God. Search for the word “wrath” in Romans chapters 1-9. What does Romans teach us about God’s wrath towards sin and sinners?
- Memorize Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23, then practice using them to share the gospel with someone in your family. For example, “The Bible says that ‘all have sinned,’ and that ‘the wages of sin is death.’ We’ve all broken God’s commandments, and God has a right to be angry with us. Have you ever thought about this? (…) The Bible also says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross so that we do not have to bear God’s wrath; ‘the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.'”
- We are commanded to “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Ro. 6:13) and to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Ro. 12:1). Have you presented yourself to God in this way? By a decisive act of your will, in humble dependence upon God, have you truly submitted everything in your life to him? If not, pray and tell God that he has total control over your life. Keep praying until you have peace in your heart that God has full control.
- What confidence does Romans 8:18-39 offer us for enduring suffering in this life?
- Romans 12:2 warns that we should “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” After spending the last 15 weeks reading and studying the Bible, what areas of your thinking have you recognized to be heavily influenced by the world instead of the Word? As you go deeper in the Word, what do you expect to happen?
- Romans 13:1-7 is often ignored. What does it clearly command? What exception is given by Peter in Acts 5:29?
- What is God’s standard for every Christian (Ro. 13:8)?