Romans is the first book of Paul’s letters that we come to when reading the New Testament. Salvation through Christ and the gospel in its entirety is the theme of this great book. While it is not the first book he wrote, its order in the New Testament is incredibly important as it follows the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and the book of Acts, which recounts what happened after Jesus was taken into heaven and includes the testimonies of God’s disciples and apostles. The testimony of how God worked in the life of Paul can be seen in all of his writings. Maybe Romans is first in the New Testament because it expresses how God had impacted Paul’s life. Paul wrote this letter to the Romans while in Corinth even though he had never been to Rome. At the time, “Paul wrote to a church that was experiencing a time of relative peace, but a church that he felt needed a strong dose of basic gospel doctrine,” according to Charles Swindoll, an evangelical teacher and pastor (insight.org). Romans does just that; it provides a basic gospel doctrine through the description of the nature of man and need for the gospel, the salvation that God offers to every person, and the transformation that happens throughout the rest of the Christian life. In this synopsis of Romans, we will examine salvation, transformation, and the application for Christians today.
The first part of Romans (especially chapters 1-5) serves two purposes: to show man’s need for a Savior and how that salvation affects the believer throughout life. Romans 1 begins with the rebellion of man and the wrath of God. Man had exchanged the truth of God for a lie (verse 25), so God abandoned them to their foolish thinking (verse 28). This created a need for salvation. Chapter 3 further explains the need of a Savior because of the condition of man (verse 23) and how Christ made us right with God (verse 22) through the grace and freedom found in belief that Jesus died on the cross for our sins (verse 24-25). We then see an example of how salvation affected Abraham’s faith and how that faith brings about true joy (chapters 4-5). Paul describes the joy that can be produced through problems and trials. This was something he knew all too well. Even though Paul had experienced the transforming salvation of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, he was experiencing hardships in his life as he traveled and was persecuted for his faith. However, he knew that God’s joy was more than a happy feeling, but an eternal expression of the faith that lived and breathed inside of him as a result of God’s salvation. Salvation changes the believer from the moment of redemption and continues throughout the rest of his or her life.
Righteousness through transformation of the believer is the theme of the next part of Romans (chapters 6-11). Man’s life is transformed when the sinful nature is replaced by the spiritual nature. Chapter 6:6-7 states that “we know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.” We have no bondage to our old, sinful nature. Since He set us free, we do not have to go on sinning anymore (verse 15). The law (as described in the Old Testament) exposes our sin for what it is as described in chapter 7 (verses 7-13). Paul was very familiar with the law as he was a Pharisee before his conversion to Christ. Even though God had changed his life, he still struggled with his sin on a daily basis (verses 14-25). He describes his struggle with sin and sin nature in verse 19: “ I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” Chapter 8:1 offers the hope in the midst of our sin by stating, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” The world condemns man’s actions, but God offers hope and no condemnation when we choose Christ. In verse 9 Paul tells us that we are not controlled by our sin nature, but our spiritual nature if we belong to Christ. God confirmed His covenant and faithfulness to Israel and all Christians as explained in chapter 9-10. God has extended undeserving mercy to all mankind (chapter 11). He loves us so much that He sent His son to fulfill the law and die for our sins even though we were undeserving. As it says in verse 33, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” If we allow Him to, God will transform us to be more Christlike!
The last part of Romans (chapters 12-16) offers application for that time period and today. Chapter 12 describes the types of spiritual gifts that God has given to His people. Each believer has been given specific spiritual gifts to help the body of Christ work as a unified front. This chapter also includes advice for spiritual living in verses 9-21 such as: “Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” This advice is as relevant for today’s world as it was during that time period. Paul continues to give the Romans application for living by telling them to have respect for authority (13:1-7), live spiritual lives for all to see (13:8-14), live a life void of criticism and condemnation for others (14:1-23), live to please others (15:1-13). Finally, we find Paul’s purpose in verses 14-22: to preach the gospel in places where people have not heard the truth. Just as Paul’s purpose in life was to spread the message of salvation and please the Lord in everything he did, he wanted the Romans to live out the same purpose. This is our same purpose today: to know Christ and make Him known.
Paul’s desire for the Romans can be summarized in the first two verses of chapter 12. He says, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” The best way to apply the joy you have found in Christ and a relationship with Him is to live as a sacrifice everyday. The truths and themes found in Romans can be a way of life for Christians today. Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins and we can accept His salvation today. Just as He was raised to new life, we can find new life and transformation when we live as a sacrifice each day.
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