Romans is one of Paul’s epistles or letters to the communities of the young Christian church. It comes first – after the Gospels and the book of Acts – and it is widely held to be the greatest of Paul’s writing. It is highly theological and it touches on many of the Christian Church’s core beliefs on God’s judgment on sin and God’s saving righteousness in Jesus Christ. It has 16 chapters and it is written to the Christian churches in Rome.
Romans was probably written for churches that included both Jewish and non-Jewish Christians. This explains some of Paul’s themes in Romans: Does obeying the Law make one right with God? Is Abraham the father of both Jewish and non-Jewish Christians? What is the relationship between sinfulness and the Law? If all may be saved, then is Israel still God’s people?
Paul may well have written Romans because of tensions that broke out between Jewish and non-Jewish Christians, so that they would be united in the gospel he preached, and would see how the gospel addressed the issues that were dividing them. He also wrote to the church in Rome – the westernmost Christian church at that time – because he wanted the gospel to extend further west, especially to Spain, and he wanted Rome to be a united church.
The major themes in Romans include: the righteousness of God; man’s unrighteousness and sin; God’s righteousness in the death of Jesus Christ; Christ’s triumph over Adam’s original sin; the triumph of grace over the power of both the Law and sin; Israel’s rejection of God’s saving promises; God’s plan for true believers; the need for complete dedication to God; the marks of the Christian community; various ways in which to treat each other, and the example of Jesus Christ.
Paul emphasises that obeying the Law does not bring righteousness, which leads on to the importance of ‘faith’. At the outset, he quotes the Scriptures, that ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’ Faith as mere belief, implying that good works are not involved in our salvation, is not Paul’s emphasis. The Law by itself does not save because it is only outward obedience, but true righteousness includes the follow-through from faith as it changes one’s life. The earlier Scripture above can be alternatively translated, ‘The one who by faith is righteous, shall live.’
‘Grace’ in later Christianity became seen as the whole activity of God – not of man – to endow a person with salvation, in place of the Law and in place of one’s effort not to sin. Paul does not go as far as that. He says that grace – abounding grace – is the gift of God to a person, but it is given to bring such a person into the realisation of his sinful condition and his need to turn to God and to live in and from God. It requires a personal change.
‘Jesus Christ’ is not the main focus in Romans – it comes more in other epistles – and Paul’s frequent use of the term ‘Son of God’ doesn’t come across in Romans as a separate person in the Godhead, but more as God being fully present in Christ. It is other epistles and even more later Christian theology which changed the idea of ‘Son of God’ from being God in human form to God the Father and God the separate Son.
Romans has many excellent verses. Here are two:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” (8.28)
“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing, you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (12.2)