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Summary of the Book of Romans
Paul begins his letter to the Romans with some opening statements about who he is, why he is writing and whom he is writing to. He tells the Romans that he is a “bond servant of Christ (verse 1), that he is writing concerning Jesus (verse 3), and that he is writing to “all who are beloved of God in Rome” (verse 7). After Paul gets past the formalities, he starts into (what I find to be) one of the most interesting descriptions of the human condition in the entire Bible. Paul lays out for us the downward spiral followed by men who ignore God. They begin with ignoring God and exalting their own decisions (professing to be wise, 1:3). Instead of trying to compete with this, God allows man to practice his free will and gives him over to the terrible consequences forth coming. He then goes on to describe exactly what happens here in America today. People serving their own bodies (1:25), homosexuality (1:26-27), and a whole host of other sins, all of which our culture is drowning in.
Paul then slaps everyone who read that passage going “yeah that’s right” (me) right in the face: “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgments, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” (2:2) Paul says that we shouldn’t think God is not going to judge us if we continue to do the same things and judge others: “the kindness of God leads to repentance” (2:4). If one continues in unrepentance they are heaping God’s anger upon themselves, however, “those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life” (2:7). Paul continues to drive home this point that righteousness is important in the next verse telling us that there will be pain for everyone who does evil (2:9), but “glory and honor and peace” for those who do good. This seems to beg the question: how good is good? Paul answers it within the next few versus. “All who have sinned… will also perish” (2:12) Paul furthers this answer a little later when he quotes from the Old Testament saying: “There is none righteous, not even one” (3:10) and “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (3:20).
Therefore, if no one is righteous, who has hope? Come on Paul! Why would God make an entire race of people just to destroy them? Well Paul does not leave us hanging for long. Apparently, there is another way! Apparently, God has given us righteousness through the sacrifice of His son Jesus Christ! It is God’s free gift to us! This righteousness can be made present in us through faith in Jesus Christ (3:21-31)! What exactly is this faith thing? Paul addresses that next. Apparently, “justification by faith” is something that God has been doing all along. Paul gives us the Old Testament example of Abraham and David. He shows us how Old Testament scriptures themselves speak of righteousness through faith and that this idea is not a new concept.
This raises a question for us. If as David says God does not count our sin, doesn’t that now mean we can do whatever we want? Apparently not, Paul of course anticipates this question and has an answer at the ready. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (6:3) No Paul, I didn’t know that. What does this mean? “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”(6:11) Go on… “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts” (6:12) Ok Paul, but I still don’t get it, if I am under Grace and not the Law why can’t I do whatever I want? “Do you not know that when you present yourselves as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” Ohhhh, now I get it. So Paul, you are saying that if I go on obeying my sin nature I am going to die? “For the wages of sin is death” But if I instead obey Christ… “the free gift of God is eternal life” (6:23)
Ok Paul, so I get that we are supposed to obey Christ, but isn’t that pretty hard? I mean come on; I am just a sinful man! “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good… I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (7:21-24) Let me guess…. “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin” (8:2) I figured that guy might have something to do with it.
Paul continues to answer this question by telling us to set our mind on the things of the Spirit instead of the flesh. He says that rather than living according to the flesh we should live according to the spirit. What does that mean? “but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” So Paul says that we need to put to death our sinful deeds. Paul wants us to understand that this will not happen all at once, but rather it is a process. Not only this, but if we are being led by the Spirit of God, we are sons of God! Pretty awesome! As adopted sons, we are promised some pretty great things! Namely, that nothing can separate us from God’s love for us. Nothing at all! Amazing to think about, no matter what we are going through, God still loves us, and God still has a plan to bless us. Incredible!
Who gets this amazing gift? Whomever God wants to have it: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion…. It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (9:15-16) This is a tough concept to grapple with. How is this fair? Why does God Judge those who sin, because is it not his will that they stay in sin? “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (9:20) This is something that we must trust God on.
With all this going on, it is easy to forget about Israel. Are they done? Are they still God’s chosen? According to Paul their hearts are “partially hardened” until the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in”. What does this mean? “…and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written…”
The rest of Paul’s letter to the Roman’s is filled with more practical advice on how then we should live. Including calling us to service, telling us to be subject to the Government, telling us to sacrifice for others, and a list of other things we now ought to do. Paul concludes his letter to the Romans by sending hello’s to all of his friends in Rome and his final sentence is one of praise and glory to God.