One of the gifts of grace God has given to the church is the gift of theologians. Theologians are individuals of prodigious intellect who are devoted to the study of the truth of Scripture. They are passionate for the things of Christ. The most excellent of all the theologians is the apostle Paul. Paul stands preeminent above Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards. No one would dispute this. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul sets forth in Scripture the whole counsel of God regarding sin, salvation, sanctification, and glorification.
Despite his brilliance, Paul was also a missionary, with the heart of a pastor. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus form the pastoral letters of the apostle. There are times when the passion of Paul as a pastor shines forth. He was concerned that the people of God not only be well taught, but that they should live well in Christ.
The Epistle to the Romans brings together the pastoral nature of Paul, as it also displays the depth of his knowledge of Bible doctrine. Paul never wrote a systematic theology as Thomas Aquinas did in his Sum Theologica, or John Calvin in his Institute of Christian Religion. The closest Paul came to writing a concise system of theology was his magnus opus, Romans. What a work it is. The book of Romans has changed the world because it has had a profound impact on individuals, such as Augustine.
By his own admission, Augustine was a brilliant, but profane unbeliever. Then, one day, in the providence of God he picked up a copy of Romans, and read words that changed his life forever. Augustine then influenced Christian theology. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. 13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. 14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:12-14).
John Wesley gave testimony to his powerful conversion experience. It was while he was listening to the commentary introduction, written by Martin Luther to the book of Romans, that Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed.
The book of Romans affected the life of a desperate Augustinian monk in Germany, who sought desperately to have the peace and assurance of salvation. One day, while studying Romans 1:17, God the Holy Spirit illuminated the mind of Martin Luther, and he understood. The just shall live by faith. “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). When Luther came to a new understanding of Romans, he said the doors of paradise swung open, and he walked through. It was the book of Romans that awakened Luther to the Doctrine of Justification by Faith alone, and persuaded him that this was the article upon which the church stands or fall.
In the sixteenth century the book of Romans became the central focal point of dispute between the Protestants and the Church of Rome. It was the battleground of the Reformation. In the book of Romans, Paul gives the most careful exposition of the gospel.
Paul begins with his own conviction of being a debtor to the Jews and to the Barbarians. He had a mission to tell the world about God’s electing, redeeming grace, for the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and reveals His righteousness. Men have no righteousness in themselves. The righteousness that comes to us is the gift of God. And the just shall live by faith. That is the motif of Romans.
Paul continues in Romans by telling why the gospel is such good news, and why it is important to embrace the gospel. The foundation is laid by establishing the universality of guilt. Before a person can rejoice about the good news, they must first hear the bad news. The bad news is that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Every person is guilty before God. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The only possible way an unjust person can possibly survive the judgment of God is by grace through faith.
The universality of guilt is manifested in several ways. It is seen in creation so that no person can ever stand before God and say, “I could not know you.” “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). God has revealed Himself manifestly, and clearly, so that every person is without excuse.
But the universal response to the clear glory of God is to suppress that knowledge in order to avoid accountability. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:21-23).
Men stifled the gospel, corrupted it, and then changed it into a form of idolatry in order to worship the creature more than the Creator. When this was done, God abandoned man to his own foolish imaginations. He gave them up to uncleanness. “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet” (Rom. 1:24-27).
In addition to an external knowledge of God in creation, Paul speaks of an internal knowledge of God in the conscience, which is violated to the point that God gives individuals over to a reprobate mind. A reprobate mind is a mind that is unapproved, i.e., rejected; by implication, worthless (literally or morally). A reprobate mind is a mind filled with all unrighteousness. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Rom. 1:28-32).
The God who created the external universal has visited His creation by planting internally in every soul a conscience so that people in every society know what they “ought” to do, and what they “ought not” to do. People know right and wrong. Universally, people know it is wrong to lie, steal, cheat, murder, rape, and rob others. The Moral Law of God is written on the heart, which is why the most harden criminals conceal their transgressions.
The case of condemnation against the Jewish community is even more serious. In addition to the testimony of creation, and the conscience, the Jews also had the written Law of God, written on stone, and then on parchment. However, even gospel privileges did not, and does not stop individuals from sinning. As a result, everyone has fallen short of the glory of God. The Jew, the Gentile, the Barbarian, and the Greek, all have sinned.
The depth of despair becomes greater when it is revealed, that by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). There is nothing mortal sinful man can do to be just in the sight of the Holy God.
But then, there is the apostolic “however.” But, Paul says, there is a righteousness of God which is revealed apart from the Law. It is that righteousness, which is by faith in all who believe or put their faith and trust in Christ. These receive the righteousness of Christ as God declares it to their account. The supreme example of this concept is the patriarch Abraham. Before the Law was given, Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3) Abraham was declared to be just, even though he had nothing in himself that righteousness could boast of.
What the gospel manifests is the grace of God which He gives to His people. When a person is justified before God, there is peace with God. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).The believer has access into the presence of God. The believer also begins a pilgrimage of sanctification, which is needed, for the Christian is at the same time, just, and sinner.
The good news is that God does not wait until we are completely sanctified before we are acceptable to Him. God receiveth sinful men, even me with all my sin. We are made acceptable to the Father by virtue of our relationship in Christ, by faith. The faith that saves is not alone. It is accompanied by a living faith, manifested in good works which God has also ordained. A saved person is a changed person, and brought into conformity to Christ, despite an inner great warfare which Paul speaks of in Romans 6 – 7. There is a Christian battle to put to death, the works of the flesh.
In Romans 8, Paul declares the victory will be won in Christ. God’s providential care assures sanctification of the soul. All things work together to good for those who love the Lord.
In Romans 9, 10, and 11, Paul introduces the grand theme of God’s sovereignty, and the doctrine of election, illustrated by Jacob and Esau. Paul quotes Moses to remind his readers that God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. Salvation is of the Lord. It is the Lord’s doing. The appropriate response to God’s sovereignty is to break forth in praise. “And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:23).
In Romans 10, Paul explains that God has chosen to use messengers in order to convey the gospel. “And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:15).
In Romans 11, the question about Israel is addressed. There is hope for Israel in as far as they embrace Christ as Savior.
Finally, in chapter 12, Paul makes practical application of the great doctrines he has set forth. Christians are to be transformed. They are to pray without ceasing. They are to use their spiritual gifts in the body of Christ. They are to manifest charity. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:1-12).
Moving into chapter 13, Paul speaks of the relationship of the Christian to government.
Finally, the apostle comes to the end of his epistle in chapters 14 – 16 and concludes with a pastoral touch by remembering those whom he loves.
I commend to you the reading, and careful study, of the book of Romans.