Overview of the Book of Romans (Part one)

Minkir Dawaki

Overview of the Book of Romans (Part one)
Photo by @kellysikkema on Unsplash.

As a community, we spent about 5 months in 2022, meeting four times a week to go through the book of Romans. Our eyes have been enlightened about the truth of the gospel and we’ve seen practical ways through which this book has transformed our lives. This overview doesn’t cover a fraction of what we learnt through this period but it can serve as a guide to understanding and experiencing the truth of God as revealed in the book of Romans.

The book of Romans is the most in-depth writing on Christian doctrine. Written by the Apostle Paul, this book of the Bible offers insight into God’s salvation plan for man through the gospel and how the gospel changes our interactions with God, ourselves, other believers, unbelievers, the government, time and our communities. The end goal of the book of Romans is to see how the purposes and plans of God lead to His glory and how our lives should be lived ultimately for the glory of God.

Paul starts the first chapter with his usual salutations and there’s a lot to unpack from those verses but this is an overview of the book. The Apostle writes about who called him and sent him according to the gospel as he lays out the reason for writing his letter. Paul wanted to visit the church in Rome but he was unable to over the years. On his inability to visit, a friend tweeted this: “In God’s providence, Paul’s inability to visit Rome gave the world this inspired masterpiece of gospel doctrine - The book of Romans.” We see how God in His divine mercy orchestrates setbacks like this for the good of generations to come. The writer speaks about being a debtor of the gospel to everyone (vs. 14 & 15) and that is the reason for wanting to visit. Since he couldn’t visit, he wrote this letter preaching the gospel.

The gospel that Paul speaks of is the good news of Jesus Christ, who came to save sinners. This gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (1:16). We see that the gospel is the power of God because it can save us from sin. It’s also good news because it’s the message of Jesus Christ. It’s good news because He is the source of our salvation and we don’t have to work to receive this gift of salvation. This is what Paul carefully lays out for the believers in Rome in this letter.

One of the questions I asked myself while reading this book was; “these people are already believers, so why the need to still lay out the gospel to them?” Reading further down the book of Romans and looking at other New Testament books, I see a couple of reasons why:

  • Walking in the light of the gospel is the key ingredient in overcoming the power of sin (Chapters 5-8)
  • Understanding the gospel is key to living wholesome Christian lives (Chapters 12 -15)
  • The same gospel by which we are saved is the same gospel that will keep us (1 Corinthians 15: 1-2)
  • Sometimes believers are fervent without an accurate understanding of the things they believe. Zeal should be backed by the right doctrine (Acts 18: 24-28)

John Piper in a sermon said:

Verse 16 says that “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” … I argued that what this means is not that the gospel is God’s power to convert people to faith (although that is indeed true!), but that it means the gospel is God’s power to bring those who keep on believing to everlasting safety and joy in the presence of God

Verse 17 reveals how this salvation comes to believers through the gospel. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith. - Romans 1:17

The righteousness of God that is revealed is the gift of righteousness imputed to believers on salvation. What a joy that God puts on His righteousness on us. Our righteousness is like filthy rags and further down this book, we see that the self-righteous, the religious, the legalist, the moralist and every human category are all under the wrath of God. Only the righteousness of Jesus can save and deliver us from the wrath of God.

The sum of our lives as believers should hang on every thread of the Gospel. Our identity should be built upon the righteousness of God that has been revealed to us through the Gospel. In our fight against sin, the victory we have through the gospel should be our first defence. Our relationship with God, other believers, unbelievers, the government, time and every aspect of life should be shaped by the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For a cure or a solution to be presented, the proper diagnosis must be carried out to ascertain the extent of the disease and to provide a meaningful solution to the condition and that is what Paul lays out from verse 18 of chapter 1 to verse 20 of chapter 3.

Because of sin, the wrath of God is upon all men, both Jews and Gentiles. Those with the law and those without the law are without excuses. For those without the law (the Gentiles), the apostle Paul clearly explains that all that should be known of God has been revealed in creation but men chose to create their false gods choosing to serve the creature rather than the creator. The wrath of God comes upon this group of people by God leaving them to their vices. Because they chose not to retain God in their consciousness, they’re left to live a life that is below what God has prescribed for man.

Chapter 2 reveals to us how God deals with all men and we see that it is according to the truth. Therefore, every man will get what he deserves. Verse 4 reveals to us that God is rich in goodness, forbearance and longsuffering - the goodness of God should lead man to repentance, but man usually chooses unrighteousness because of the hardness of man’s heart. We see that God’s wrath is just because even Gentiles who do not have the law had been seen to respond to God (Rahab and Ruth are examples) because of the law that’s been written on every man’s conscience (vs. 15).

The entire chapter 3 is a warning against self-righteousness. "There is none righteous, no not one; There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; No one does good, not even one." (vs. 10-12) Paul continues his explanation from chapter 2 where he shows that the religious are also doomed with the gentiles. The Jews had the law and because of the law, they boasted of their position or rank before God and Paul highlighted that this is wrong. He states that no one will be justified in the sight of God by their works or by the law because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (vs. 23). We see that the only way to God is through the standard He has set which is His righteousness. No man can attain this standard based on works so verse 24 shows us that it’s a gift given freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

One important thing to note from chapter 3 is Paul doesn’t play down the value of the law. He rather explains the law's importance and usefulness. He says that it is good and holy, but it cannot save us. The law can only lead us to Christ, who gives us eternal life (3:21-22). We are not under the law but rather under grace through faith alone in Christ alone.

Chapter 3 shows us God’s standard of righteousness and chapter 4 shows us examples of God’s standard in action. Paul appeals to Abraham and David as examples of justification. Abraham couldn’t boast about anything because scripture revealed that Abraham’s belief is what was accounted to him as righteousness (vs. 1-4). David corroborates this fact by saying “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (vs. 8). These examples show us clearly that it’s not by works that any man is justified but by the gift of God’s righteousness which is imputed.

Paul provides conclusive proof of this as he explains how Isaac the son of promise came about. Abraham did not consider the deadness of his body and that of Sarah. Verses 21 and 22 clearly show us that he was fully convinced that God will perform as He has promised and it was accounted to him for righteousness. The same standard of righteousness that applied to Abraham is what applies to us now, all we have to do is “believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offences, and was raised because of our justification.” (vs. 24-25)

There’s a common misconception that Christ’s death saved us from the wrath of the devil, but the truth is we were saved from the wrath of God by the death of Jesus. Verse 1 of Chapter 5 makes it clear that through Jesus Christ we now have peace with God because we have been declared righteous by faith. Essentially, the first 11 verses of this chapter show us how God’s standard benefits us. We now have access to God’s grace through faith and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God because of the love of God that has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We have now been reconciled to God and therefore are no longer objects of the wrath of God.

Paul concludes chapter 5 by showing us how God’s standard of righteousness applies to us. Because of what we have received from God we can now live above the power of sin and the effect of sin.

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. vs 17 (NLT)

Where there is an abundance of sin, there is a multiplication of grace by God to live beyond sin, and even when we fall, the grace of God is sufficient to get us back on our feet and keep us going.