1. Romans is the Gospel According to Paul.
Granted, it doesn’t look like Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, in the way their Gospels told the story of Jesus’ earthly ministry and interspersed it with His teachings. Paul does it in his own way.
Why is that important to know? Ah, we have the answer to that!
Right now, there are people promoting their religion in your neighborhood who want to give a new interpretation to Holy Scripture. One such group tells of an angel appearing to their founder with golden tablets on which had been written an ancient story. The angel provided special glasses for the man to look through and decipher the writings. The result was their new book, their new doctrine, and their new twist on the biblical message of Christ.
Now, in Galatians chapter 1, we find this from the Apostle Paul: “Even though we OR AN ANGEL FROM HEAVEN preach any other gospel to you that what we preached, let him be accursed.”
And then, as though underscoring what he had just said, Paul repeated it. (Gal. 1:8-9)
The point of that is this: we hold in our hands the very message Paul preached up and down the Roman Empire. It’s called “The Epistle to the Romans.” And Paul says anyone preaching anything other than that is declaring a lie and headed for judgment. Slice it any way you please and it comes up that way!
That’s why it’s crucial we help our people to get a solid understanding of Romans.
Someone asked a bank teller, “How did you learn to recognize all the different kinds of counterfeit money people try to slip past you?” She answered, “There’s no way we could learn all the fakes. They just teach us to recognize the real thing. Once we know that, it’s a simple matter to catch the counterfeits.”
In teaching Romans, we are helping our people to know and recognize the real gospel of Jesus Christ. There could be no better preparation for dealing with the shams and fakes combing the streets of your neighborhood looking for the naive and unsuspecting.
2. Romans is deep.
Ah, but you knew that. You’ve started reading it, determining to enjoy it and learn from it, to grow deeper in Christ. Pretty soon, you’re deep all right–in over your head, and you’re not out of the first chapter! Welcome to the writings of Paul.
Romans is left-brain material. All logic and reason and well-thought out arguments based on revelations of God in the Old Testament as enlightened by the Holy Spirit. There’s not a single funny story in the entire epistle! No jokes, no illustrations to speak of, and not a single cartoon if you can believe that–nothing but solid reasoning. Pure truth. It’s vintage Paul all the way through.
You may remember what the Apostle Peter said about Paul’s writings. Assuming Peter to be the author of the Second Epistle that goes by his name–the scholars are not in agreement over that; although it is most definitely God’s Word to us–down toward the end of chapter three, we read:
“…just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (II Peter 3:15-16)
We notice three things in Peter’s one-sentence commentary on Paul’s writings.
(a) There are some things hard to understand. We knew that; we’re just glad someone admits it!
(b) People without adequate understanding misinterpret Paul’s writings and get in big trouble. If you question this, tune in any of the hundreds of radio or television preachers and stand amazed at what you hear.
(c) Paul’s writings are scripture. Granted, the word “scripture” simply means “writings,” but early on, the word was used by believers to refer to Holy Scripture. Biblical historians tell us the early church elevated these writings to Scripture status quickly.
Although “Romans” is deep, it’s not all over your head. Much of it is accessible to new believers and those without a biblical background. You don’t have to know Greek or have a seminary degree to appreciate chapter 8 of Romans, one of the most sublime chapters in any writings of any time. Scattered throughout the rest of the epistle are gems which the Holy Spirit distributed to encourage us to come on in, open your mind and heart, for what’s ahead is well worth the effort.
3. This Scripture has your name, knows your secrets, and takes no prisoners!
Not only are you a sinner, a dirty rotten scoundrel who is in big trouble, but you are the object of the Lord’s affection and the chosen by Him for salvation in Christ and eternal life. No exceptions. We’re all unworthy; we’re all beloved.
Read the first two chapters and decide that Paul (through the Holy Spirit) is talking only about the really, really bad guys among us and you will miss the point altogether. He’s talking about you. He’s talking about me. The best of us, the worst of us, all of us.
“Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations….professing to be wise, they became fools.” (1:21-22)
Sound like anyone you know?
“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” (1:25)
Don’t let yourself off too easily there by pretending you have never worshiped an idol. False gods come in an endless variety.
“Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents….” (1:29-30)
(Whoa! Disobedient to parents! What’s that doing in there in the middle of such a disgusting lineup of forbidden behavior? The answer is that this is the root of many of the other evils. Rebellion against one’s parents was so evil that in the Mosaic law it was punishable by stoning! I guarantee you they wouldn’t have to do that more than once a century to get the attention of the youngsters. It sounds unduly harsh to us–and of course it was–however, think of the millions who end up dying tragically because they rebelled against their parents and no one calls them on it.)
A common mistake of God’s people is to read that awful list and give ourselves a passing grade because we don’t do most of those things. But the fact that we do any at all is our condemnation.
Think for a moment of the time when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” (John 3:7) Who exactly was this man to whom Jesus was speaking?
Nicodemus was the choicest product of the Jewish faith. He was a good man by anyone’s standards except God. Religious, righteous, meticulous–he took his faith seriously.
It was to this man that Jesus said, “Except you be born again, you will not see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
The point being what? The point being: If this man needs to be saved, as good as he is, surely everyone else does, too.
Had Jesus spoken those words to a bum off the streets, we would have said, “Well, sure he does. Look at him. But I’m okay.”
The Lord closed that loophole before we got a chance to consider it.
But Jesus did not leave Nicodemus there, but told him that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….” (John 3:16)
Here in Romans, God’s Word is talking about the depraved condition of all of humanity, not just the worst among us, and the need of all of us for a Savior. If you miss that point, nothing else in this epistle will work.
My favorite commentary on Romans is the one by R. Kent Hughes, “ROMANS: Righteousness From Heaven.” His explanations are clear and his illustrations excellent.
Hughes quotes Russian poet and novelist Ivan Turgenev:
“I do not know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I know what the heart of a good man is like, and it is terrible.”
This particular word program on my computer does not have italics or bold print, but if it did, this would be enlarged and would stand out: “The gospel of Jesus Christ is for sinners. That’s why you ought to get down on your face before God and thank Him every day!”
Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)
To anyone teaching Romans, I offer this word of counsel: Make certain your hearers know you are talking about them, not just “others” or “those people who do depraved things.” As the old spiritual puts it, “It’s me, it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
I was a young minister and she was a 75-year-old retired school principal, a prayer warrior, and our local Baptist version of Mother Teresa. I said to Marguerite Briscoe, “You are the godliest person I know.” She answered, “Oh, honey, if you only knew.”
I’m now only a few years short of the age Marguerite was when she said that. Once in a while, some young person will email me with words similar to the ones I spoke to Marguerite. Usually, I ignore it or just thank them and let it go, but what I think is, “Oh, honey, if you just knew.”
4. Romans answers the question, “What about the Jews?”
That’s chapters 9, 10, and 11. Buckle your seat belt. Expect some turbulence.
In the early 1970s I served on the staff of a large church where the pastor was in his early 30s and brimming with confidence. Everything he did seemed to flourish. He began a Tuesday noon Bible study luncheon for men in the downtown area and soon it was running 150.
After going through the Gospel of John, the young pastor decided to tackle Romans at these noontime sessions. Everything went fine for a while. Then one evening he called my house. “Are you doing anything important tomorrow?” He wanted me to ride to New Orleans and back with him the next day. Only later did I find out why.
On the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, the pastor spent two hours picking the brains of everyone’s favorite New Testament professor, Ray Frank Robbins. The issue? Chapters 9, 10, and 11 of Romans. The pastor had plowed into this book, teaching a chapter each week, without advance studying or preparation, and suddenly found himself in over his head. He needed rescuing and needed it immediately.
Here is my quick–some would say “too quick”–take on the question of “What happens to the Jews?”
(a) Over and over in Romans, Paul says, “There is no partiality with God.” He says it in 2:11, and basically the same thing in 3:22 and 10:12.
(b) All are sinners, all are in need of salvation, Christ died for all. Period.
(c) So, is there advantage to being Jews? Certainly, plenty, Paul says.
An illustration from our family seems a lot like the answer Paul gave. My wife and I have two sons who were born to us. When they were 8 and 11, we adopted a Korean daughter who was 5 years old. We bent over backward to make up for the neglect she had known as an infant and to treat her the same as her brothers. And yet, they had advantages she did not. They had no language difficulty, and at least a five-year head start on her in regard to the relationship with us. She knew deprivation and loneliness and poor health care in Korea; our sons never knew a day without being loved and cared for. And yet, at the end of the day, the bottom line was always that as our children, all three were to obey us and do as we taught them.
(d) Ultimately, while being a child of Abraham brought certain privileges and blessings, no one should assume too much from that bloodline. After all, Abraham had two sons, and only through Isaac was the blessing given. And two sons were born to Isaac, but only through Jacob was the lineage blessed.
(e) Perhaps the best clue to the answer is this line from Romans 2:28-29. “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly…but he is a Jew who is one inwardly….” Implying that what makes a person a “true Jew” is faith in the Lord’s promises and obedience to His will, only that then allows Paul to utter the truly audacious statement that “all Israel will be saved.” (11:26)
I have known Christians with Jewish family members who grasped those words (11:26) to their breasts in the assurance that their loved ones would ultimately come to Christ. But, to me, that is not what they are saying. In the context of the entire book, they’re simply pointing out that every “true Jew” will be saved, and anyone of Abraham’s line who does not believe in Christ is not part of “all Israel.”
(f) Paul uses Abraham as the ultimate illustration of one who was “justified by faith,” the line which was to spark the Reformation under Luther (Romans 1:17). It was not circumcision that saved or justified him, Paul points out, because Genesis 15:6 flatly states, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Since Abraham was declared righteous before he was circumcised and only by his faith, the implications are enormous.
(g) This line from I Corinthians 13 comes to mind: “We see through a glass darkly.” We strive to know God’s will and understand His ways, but we must always be willing to receive further instruction in matters such as this on which God’s faithful children often disagree.
I recall a telling comment from a scientist who was grappling with some puzzle of the universe. “When we find the solution,” he said, “it will be simple.” Unless I’m missing something crucial in Romans, that same analysis can be applied to the question of the ultimate destiny of the Jews as well as the Gentiles. “For whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
5. The 8th chapter of Romans may be the most glorious thing in the Bible outside of the Gospels.
Sometime in the early 1990s I preached a series of sermons through this chapter and encouraged our members to memorize all 39 verses. Some did, and occasionally someone will tell me they retain it to this day. Often in my early-morning walks on the levee by the Mississippi River, I recite this chapter and breathe in its incredible promises.
Let me share two possible ways of outlining Romans 8. (Bear in mind that Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote 3 volumes just on this chapter, so go easy on me here!)
(a) Think of the chapter as dividing at verse 31, and the “if” should be “since.” That way, it comes out: “What then shall we say to these things? Since God is for us, who can be against us?” (We often use “if” to mean “since.” “If you’re going to do that, then I’m going to tell mom.”)
Seen this way, it becomes obvious that the first 30 verses of Romans 8 are given to show that “God is for us.” You will have fun (literally) walking through those verses with your precious-metal detector (figuratively) finding all the places where God the Father is for us, where Christ the Son is for us, and where the Holy Spirit is for us.
Then, having established that “God is for us,” Paul asks “who can be against us?” Basically, he means, “What does it matter who is against us?” He implies that it does not matter.
Five questions are asked and answered from verses 31 through the end of the chapter.
–Who can be against us? “God is for us.”
–He gave us His Son; “how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?”
–Who will bring a charge against us? “It is God who justifies.”
–Who is the one who condemns? “It is Christ who died, rose, intercedes.”
–Who will separate us from the love of Christ? “Nobody, nothing.”
(b) Here’s the other outline of this incredible chapter. I first heard Charles Carter use this plan, then found it in Harper Shannon’s book on Romans. Whether it’s original with one of these friends of mine or they borrowed it, I cannot tell you. But I dearly love it and highly recommend it.
Everyone is aware that Romans 8 begins with ‘no condemnation’ and ends with ‘no separation,’ but there’s plenty more where that comes from. Consider this:
No Condemnation. Romans 8:1-8
No Alienation. Romans 8:9-17
No Disintegration. Romans 8:18-25
No Isolation. Romans 8:26-27
No Miscalculation. Romans 8:28-30
No Accusation. Romans 8:31-34
No Separation. Romans 8:35-39
Anyone knowing the origin of this incredible listing is invited to leave a comment at the end of this article and inform the rest of us.
6. If you like pure logic and solid reasoning, you’ll love Romans.
As we said above, it’s left-brain stuff. Romans is sound thinking and square shooting. No mushy sentimentality, no appealing to our emotions or feelings. You want the facts? Sit down and pay attention!
Apparently, this approach was characteristic of Paul from the beginning. He was orderly in his thinking and disciplined in his study. When you went up against him for verbal battle, you had better be prepared or you would soon have your head handed to you.
After Paul came to know the Lord, he spent time in the Arabian desert re-thinking all that he had learned from the Old Testament scriptures. Then, when he re-entered society and began to interact with his old friends in synagogues and marketplaces, they were stunned at the transformation of his character and the power of his speech. Luke tells us, “Saul (Paul) kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 9:22)
Paul was so strong in his impact and so persuasive in his reasoning that his opponents soon decided to shut him up any way they could. “And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews, but they were attempting to put him to death.” (9:29)
The disciples in Jerusalem decided the only way to save Paul’s life was to sneak him out of town. Thereafter, Luke writes, the church enjoyed peace.
What followed for Paul was an uncertain period in his hometown of Tarsus as he practiced his tentmaking trade. We may assume that the Holy Spirit was mellowing him and tempering his abrasive edges and that Paul was continuing to reflect on what the Lord was teaching him. Later, in Acts 11, when Paul is brought to the church at Antioch of Syria, he seems to have become a softer, gentler person.
Still, he retained the steel-trap mind and never lost it. We see that in Romans as clearly as anywhere in the Word.
Take the matter of salvation and the question whether one has to be a practicing Jew in order to be saved. That is not an issue we deal with today, but apparently it was a major thing in the church at Rome, perhaps causing internal division and prompting Paul to write this letter. (I say ‘perhaps,’ because we have no information other than the contents of this epistle. Some scholars believe there was no division in the church at Rome to have occasioned this letter.)
Remember our outline for Romans–
Chapter 1 = “The Gospel”
Chapter 1:18-3:20 = “Our Sin”
Chapter 3:21 – 8:39 = “Our Salvation”
Chapters 9-11 = “The Jews”
Chapters 12-16 = “The Church”
(This is the simplest outline we could ask for, but it works and seems to agree with most commentaries I’ve checked.)
Under the third point, “Our Salvation,” Paul has these main points to make:
1. Our salvation was achieved by Jesus’ death on the cross.
2. We access this salvation simply by faith.
3. Thereafter, we live by a higher standard.
4. Our struggle with the old sinful nature continues, however, for the rest of our lives.
5. However, through salvation God has done some amazing things in us.
And under the second point–“we access this salvation simply by faith”–Paul has several solid points to make. Who is he making them to? To anyone who believes they have to become a Jew in order to be saved.
So, to reinforce the fact that salvation is by faith, Paul takes the patriarch of Judaism, father Abraham himself, everyone’s “patron saint,” so to speak:
Abraham is the father of the Jews, but he was saved by faith. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 three times in chapter 4 to get this point across.
–He was not saved by works. His faith saved him.
–He was not saved by circumcision. When God declared him righteous, he had not been circumcised.
–He was not saved by the Law. The Law was not given until Moses, hundreds of years later.
Solid reasoning, right? It’s all fact, not opinion and not argumentation.
Later on, in chapter 9, when he again picks up the question of the Jews, Paul employs unanswerable logic in responding to those who thought being a child of Abraham somehow guaranteed them solid standing before God. Notice how he does it.
a) Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. So, you could be a son of Ishmael (which is what the Muslims actually claim) and be a child of Abraham, but not be in the chosen line.
b) If one says, “Okay, I’m a descendant of Isaac,” then the question becomes, “Of which son?” Isaac had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Only Jacob’s sons became leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel.
c) Then, Paul’s point becomes, “We see then that God chooses whom He pleases,” and gives several instances. God is free to show mercy on whomever He will, and who are we to criticize Him?
7. It’s not all doctrine. Romans climaxes in the “how-to’s” of Christian behavior.
I ran into an old friend at a restaurant in Birmingham. We had known each other 30 years earlier when we were both beginning preachers. He had always been bi-vocational, whereas I had gone on to seminary and served full-time churches. I asked if he was presently pastoring a church.
“I have a little group that meets in a home,” he said. Then he laughed. “You’ll never guess its name.”
He was right. I never would have.
“I let them name themselves,” he said. “And they chose Doctrinal Studies Baptist Church.”
Apparently, they loved to study doctrine so much, that was their very identity.
Paul was strong on doctrine, clearly, but doctrine was not an end in itself. The purpose of right teaching was true worship and righteous living.
Now, if the Jewish believers were arguing that one had to be circumcised and keep the law to be saved, the Gentile believers at Rome were evidently insisting the opposite. They were holding that we are “law-free” to the extreme of becoming what today we call “lawless.”
In chapter 12 and following, Paul drives home the ethical obligations which this new salvation imposes on believers. It is clearly not enough to be saved; one must then live a new life with one another and before the world.
Some of the commands Paul uttered to those believers stand out.
“Do not be conformed to this world,” he commands in 12:2. “Be transformed.”
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” (12:9)
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” (12:17)
“Be subject to the government. For there is no authority except from God.” (13:1) “Pay your taxes.” (13:7)
“It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” (14:21)
“We who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not just please ourselves.” (15:1)
Bible students will recall Paul making a similar point in Ephesians 2:8-10. Verses 8 and 9 establish that salvation is by “grace through faith, not of works lest any should perish.” So where do works come in? Verse 10 provides the answer.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus that we should bring forth good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.”
You don’t become a member of the military by donning the uniform and saluting officers. You join a branch of service by going through the application process, then taking the oath of allegiance. Then and only then do you wear the uniform and salute officers. You do so not in order to join up but because you have.
One last note on this point. Pastors are frequently looking for texts to help their congregations understand what it means to be a healthy church. The pre-eminent text for that is Romans chapter 12. That is as beautiful and complete a photo of a healthy congregation as we will ever need. It starts with complete commitment in verses 1-2, goes on to the gifts of the Holy Spirit in verses 3-8, and then describes the kind of behavior that kind of redeemed, committed, Spirit-filled believers should engage in.
8. Even if you don’t know the Greek language, there are treasures to be found and enjoyed in the study of certain Greek words in Romans.
Here are my two favorites, both from chapter 8. (At the end of this article, we invite readers who have a favorite Greek-into-English word or passage in Romans to share it with us. We’re blessed to have pastors and professors among our readers.)
“In the same way, the Spirit also helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” That’s 8:26.
Take the little word “helps” in that verse. It’s only five letters in the English, but the Greek term Paul used is a compound word, meaning that it is several words or prefixes or suffixes, all scrunched up together to make a newer, fuller, and longer word. The word translated “helps” in the Greek is “synantilambanomai.” Seventeen letters!
Here is how that word breaks down. The prefix “syn” means “together, or with.” The prefix “anti” means “in front of, or opposite to.” Then, “lambanomai” is a form of the verb “to lift.” Put it all together and what we have is this: “The Holy Spirit gets on the other side of your load, and together with you, lifts it up.”
Watch a man trying to operate a cross-cut saw all by himself. It’s practically impossible. He needs someone on the other end.
Think of a child on a see-saw. He’s stuck there unless someone sits on the other side, facing him, and works with him.
Think of the last time you made up a bed. If you did it alone, you ran from side to side. But if someone stood on the other side, neither of you had to take even one step and the job was accomplished in one-third the time.
This verse–and the word translated “helps”–may be the closest thing in the Bible to the concept we sometimes hear erroneously attributed to Scripture, that the Lord helps those who help themselves. In this case, Paul says–and always remember that this is the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul–that while the Lord does not do your work for you, He will get on the other end and work with you to accomplish the task.
And the other word in Romans 8….
“But in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37.
The Greek term for “more than conquerors” is “hypernikomen.” It’s another compound word, this time composed of only two parts: “hyper” meaning “super, or above” and “nike” meaning “victory.”
In Greek mythology Nike was the god of victory. (Or goddess, I’m not sure.) The “swoosh” on sports clothing all across the world indicates that the modern-day Nike Company is on the job, spreading the word. And what word is that? I suppose it’s “Wear our stuff and you’ll win the victory!”
Even today, we speak of someone being “hyper.” We usually mean they are running on adrenalin or way above normal.
We use the term “to hype something,” meaning to promote it excessively.
So, we know both the prefix and the suffix of this word which we translate into “more than conquerors.”
Through Jesus Christ, we don’t just win. We don’t just conquer. We are hyper winners, super conquerors. And it’s not us. “We are hyper-nikes through Him who loved us.”
It’s all about Jesus.
9. The message of Romans has been used of God to reach some who became history’s greatest spiritual heroes.
Augustine was a mess. He would pray, “Lord, make me chaste–but not yet.” He wanted God, yet he wanted his own ways and those ways were not even close to what pleased the Lord. He was torn right down the middle. One day in his misery, he was weeping under a fig tree, under deep distress of the soul caused by the realization of his own sinfulness. Suddenly, he heard a child singing, “Take up and read….Take up and read.”
That was strange, he thought. He could not find the person speaking those words and did not know of a child’s game or song like that.
Deciding the Lord was speaking to him, Augustine found a copy of Paul’s epistles nearby and opened it at random. His eyes fell on this: “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and wantonness, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lod Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” That’s Romans 13:13-14.
Augustine knew God had just sent him a message special delivery and he received it as such. He believed and obey, and became the great spiritual force for which the Lord had created him.
In the 16th century, the Catholic priest and scholar Martin Luther was in his own soul struggle. He had tried every way he knew to gain peace in his heart from knowing he was truly forgiven and accepted by God. As he studied Romans for classes he was teaching, Luther began to grasp for the first time the meaning of Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith,” where Paul quotes from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk.
Luther said, “Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” Afterward, Luther challenged the church of his day to make needed reforms, and when the leadership refused, he led what we now call the Protestant Reformation.
Fast forward to May 24, 1738. John Wesley is likewise engaged in a struggle for salvation’s assurance and the peace which accompanies it. He had even traveled across the Atlantic to the colony of Georgia in the New World to bring the message of Christ to the Indians, but he was discouraged. How could he give to others what he did not possess himself? That evening, Wesley went to a meeting where Martin Luther’s introduction to Romans was being read. Later, he wrote in his journal how his heart was “strangely warmed.” He said, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
You will recognize that last phrase “the law of sin and death” as coming straight out of Romans 8:2.
Thereafter, Wesley preached this message for forty years and was God’s spark for revival fires breaking out all over England and America.
Each of these men changed history, and became forces for righteousness. The seed of the new birth in their lives was God’s message in Romans.
This may be a good time to make an observation about soul struggles. I recommend them. To be sure, they’re no fun, but the fact is they serve a useful purpose.
Think of the time we wrestle and struggle with questions about God, faith, and the Bible as the Lord digging downward into the soil of our lives where he will one day lay a foundation for a massive structure to be erected. That structure, of course, is the new person we become on the other side of our struggle. This assumes, however, that we persevere through the struggle to the victory. Not everyone does, unfortunately.
Here’s a personal story to illustrate. I have several, as you probably do also, but will share only this one.
As a college student, I encountered several books and sat under more than one professor who challenged my faith. How did I know the Bible was what we claim it to be? Was Jesus Christ even a real person? What about the miracles in the Bible?
It was upsetting, but I shared my struggle with no one. Doubt is so egotistical, it feels there are no answers to the questions it raises. One of the biggest questions concerned whether Jesus bodily rose from the grave.
Now, bear in mind that as a senior in college, I responded to the Lord’s call into the ministry, and for nearly two years after graduating, I pastored a small church before heading to seminary. All the time, in the back of my mind I struggled with this issue: did Jesus rise from the dead? How could one know for sure? Is it historical fact or something we take by blind faith?
I went forward by faith, but must admit that it was pretty much blind faith. As far as I knew, there were no answers to this question. Not that I tried to find any. Doubt–which is all about what we do not know–seems to know a great deal about what is unknowable. Such is the dilemma of the young searcher.
The year was 1965 and I was in my first year of seminary. Christianity Today magazine had sent flyers to our campus in New Orleans offering subscriptions to seminarians at rock-bottom rates. I subscribed, and just in time.
One of the first issues to arrive contained a lengthy article from a London law professor with the name of J. N. D. Anderson on the evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Anderson went step by step over what we learn about Jesus’ return from the tomb in the New Testament and analyzed whether it could be so, and how we could know one way or the other. It was the first time the thought had ever occurred to me that historical evidence was available which would allow a citizen in the mid-20th century to make a rational decision on the subject. I felt empowered.
I still have that article. It was so liberating. Later, when Anderson turned the article into a book, I bought it and then purchased others on the same subject and devoured them. Likewise, when a Jewish author named Schonfield wrote a book attacking the resurrection, I bought that too and read it. I wanted the truth, and did not want to believe something just because it was convenient.
In time, Jesus’ resurrection as historical fact became a towering element in my spiritual makeup and in my witnessing and preaching. I was no longer lamely passing along something I had heard, but boldly declaring what I was confident I knew.
I came to love Paul’s statement to the Roman governor Festus and the puppet King Agrippa found in Acts 26:26. Paul pointed out that the king knew about the Christian movement and particularly the death-burial-resurrection of Jesus, because “this thing was not done in a corner.” I love that.
For something to have been done in a corner means it would have been unseen and therefore unexamined. Thus, it would have been unverifiable and completely undependable.
However, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the opposite. It was seen, examined, verified, and is therefore dependable.
The thing about the struggle of the believer is this: the greater our struggle with these great questions of the faith and the more prolonged it is, the greater the joy and assurance when the answer finally arrives.
If you struggle in the morning and the answer arrives by mid-afternoon, you hardly remember the event the next day.
If you struggle for years and lie awake at night tormented by the problem, if you read and question and agonize and shed tears, when the solution comes and the answer arrives with force, the impact will leave you forever changed.
That’s why God let Augustine and Luther and Wesley–and perhaps you too–struggle with the question of salvation. He had such good news, he wanted them to appreciate the answer when it arrived.
10. If you are teaching Romans, take care to help your people to love this book, not dread it.
There are so many delightful treasures in Romans, but also some heavy passages most people will find it difficult to negotiate.
John MacArthur identifies five problem areas in Romans, key teaching passages on which good and sincere people disagree. If I were teaching Romans–as I will be in mid-January at Oak Park Baptist Church in New Orleans and then Rocky Creek Baptist Church in Mississippi–I would try not to get bogged down in these areas. If you are teaching a class for preachers or a doctoral class at the seminary, go for broke.
Otherwise, go easy on your people and try not to scare them too much. The difficult areas MacArthur mentioned are these:
1) “Adam” in Romans 5:12-21.
The nature of mankind’s union with Adam and how his sin was transferred to the human race is a problem scholars still wrestle with.
2) Paul’s testimony in Romans 7:7-25.
Is Paul having this trouble as a believer or describing his pre-Christian life? Or maybe this is a literary device not meant to be personal at all. Good people disagree.
3) The close relation of God’s election (Romans 8:28-30) and God’s sovereignty (Romans 9:6-29) are difficult for many.
4) Whether Romans 9-10-11 teach that God still has plans for the nation of Israel still divides Bible scholars.
5) Obedience to civil government. (Romans 13:1-7) Some ignore this passage in the cause of Christian activism while others quote Paul to justify not resisting the most despotic of political regimes.
I’ve asked the pastors where I’ll be teaching to encourage their people to read through Romans at least twice before we begin the sessions. One said, “I’m saying three times!” Good.
One more thing. A good understanding of the Old Testament is helpful in studying Romans. Consider the way Paul draws lessons from characters in Israel’s history.
1. In chapter 4, he speaks of Abraham’s faith and later of his sons and grandsons.
2. In 4:6-8, he speaks of David’s spiritual insights.
3. In 5:12-21, he draws analogies and contrasts from Adam.
4. In 4:19 and 9:9, he speaks of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, giving birth in her old age.
5. In 9:10, Paul speaks of Rebekah, the wife of Isaac, receiving the promises of God.
6. In 9:10-13, he speaks of Jacob and Esau, of God choosing one and not the other.
7. In 9:17, he speaks of Pharaoh being used of God.
8. And in chapters 9-10-11, he drews numerous lessons from Israel’s Old Testament history.
9. In 11:2-4, he speaks of Elijah’s learning that God had more than he knew who were still faithful.
Finally, my brethren….
In teaching this wonderful epistle, be sure to go through and select some of the greatest passages, the treasures, the real keepers, and make sure you spend time on those with your people. In addition to the entire 8th chapter, for my money, that would also include the following.
Romans 1:16 “I am not ashamed of the gospel….”
Romans 3:22-24 “…for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 4:3 “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.'”
Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 6:1-2 “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin in order that grace may increase? God forbid. How shall we who are dead to sin live any longer therein?”
Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 7:24-25 “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Romans 8 — All 39 verses of this blessed chapter!
Romans 10:9-13. I expect you have this memorized and have used it in presenting the gospel to others. Verse 13 says, “For whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Romans 10:14-15 A great missionary passage.
Romans 10:17 “So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.”
Romans 11:33-36 An incredible benediction and blessing.
Romans 12:1-2 “I beseech you therefore brethren by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice….”
Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 13:10 “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Romans 14:10-12 “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, ‘As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So then, each one of us shall give an account of himself to God.”
Romans 16:25-27 “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.”