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BIBLE BOOK: Romans – Justified by Faith

Unfolding “the gospel of God”…..

Paul’s epistle to the Romans is the first New Testament epistle and has the distinction of being the longest. Its theme is “the gospel of God” (1:1). This concerns “Jesus Christ our Lord” who descended from David, humanly speaking, but was “declared to be the Son of God with power … by the resurrection from the dead” (1:3,4). As a messenger Paul longed to visit Rome and preach the gospel to the inhabitants of that city because he was convinced that there was latent power within the message which could save lost souls (1:15,16).


The theme of the epistle is illustrated from the drama of the court-room. Although the court of Paul’s day was not exactly the same as we are familiar with today, we can still appreciate the significance of the illustration used. The opening chapters present the evidence that all – Jews and Gentiles – are “under sin” and “guilty before God” (3:9,19). The evidence against us is found in numerous Old Testament passages which reveal our guilt in word and deed before the Almighty. We have broken His commandments and are silenced in His presence with not a word that we can utter in self-defence (3:19). Having broken the Law of God we cannot endeavour to obtain God’s favour by keeping that Law (3:20). How, then, can we be justified (declared righteous) before Him? Is there some other way by which we can become righteous?


Having revealed the bad news to his readers, Paul then brought before them the good news that we can be “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24). The work has been done once at the cross. God’s own Son took our place and offered His perfect life as a sacrifice for guilty sinners. We can be “justified by faith” (3:28) simply by accepting what He has done for us. There is no ground for us to boast: justification is God’s work, not ours.

This conclusion does not mean that we reject the Old Testament. Far from it! The patriarch Abraham was not justified by works but by faith – just as we are. He “believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (4:3). Similarly, we must “believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:24).  Christ “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (4:25). Through His completed work “we have peace with God” and access into His holy presence (5:1,2). Whereas sin reigned in this world, grace now reigns “through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:21).

The fact that grace reigns, however, does not mean that we are free to live as we please. In answer to the question, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (6:1), the emphatic words “God forbid” (6:2) indicate the folly of such thinking. Believers are identified with Christ not only in His death but also in His resurrection. We should now “walk in newness of life” (6:4) – our lives being very different from what they were before conversion. Sin, of course, has not been eradicated from our lives, but its destructive power has been broken. Although we will struggle to overcome it in our own strength and often feel how “wretched” we are (7:24), the Holy Spirit has been given to indwell us and provide constant assistance. God is working all things for the ultimate good of His people, and although we may be beset with problems we are assured of being “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (8:37). Nothing is “able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39).


In chapters 9-11 Paul returns to consider Israel. Has the nation been permanently cast aside and been replaced with the Church? Paul explains that Gentiles have been brought into blessing through grace, but there is no room for presumption on their part. God is at liberty to bring His earthly people back into blessing again, if He pleases. In fact, He will do this in His own good time (11:25-29) because He cannot break His covenant with Israel. Unless we interpret “Israel” literally, these chapters will make no sense at all.


The last five chapters are practical in nature and explain how those who are justified ought to live in this world. A believer should be surrendered to the will of God (12:1,2). Instructions are given as to how we ought to view the human government which is over us, accepting it as divinely instituted and being subject to its decrees. We must live according to superior principles, being submissive and pleasing our Master in all things. (Of course, if human government requires us to do something contrary to the teaching of Scripture, we must obey God rather than men, as Acts 5:29 teaches.) We are accountable to God and shall one day stand before Him (14:12). It is therefore important to live responsibly, aware of that future time when we will stand before Him. In the meanwhile we must “awake out of sleep” (13:11) and live prayerful and God-glorifying lives. The final chapter contains personal greetings written by Paul to brothers and sisters in Rome whom he remembered with affection. These verses add a living dimension to the epistle.


Although the gospel is the principal theme of this epistle, it is explained not so much for unbelievers as for the benefit of believers who must grasp its unchanging truth. This is expounded in detail in the first eight chapters and comprises the first section of the book. The second section, considered above, explains God’s present dealings with the Gentiles against the background of His previous dealings with Israel (chapters 9-11). In the third section we are shown the conduct of believers that befits the gospel. The epistle closes with a brief doxology of praise “to God only wise” who has made known to us “the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began” (16:25-27). Paul’s epistle to the Romans is therefore not simply a dated letter for early Christian believers long ago. It is part of God’s living Word and contains vital revelations of truth for us to read, believe, and obey.