A Summary of Paul's Epistle to the Romans

The Gospel of God”

A Summary of the Book of Romans

By Rev. Martyn McGeown

Romans 1:1-3:20

“The Gospel of God”

A Summary of the Book of Romans  

By Rev. Martyn McGeown

Paul desired to visit the Roman Christians, but he was hindered (1:10-13; 15:22-24). Desiring to impart a spiritual gift to them, he writes to them this marvellous epistle, which takes the form of a lengthy theological treatise. The epistle can be divided very roughly into two main sections—1:1-11:36 is the doctrinal section, which is followed by 12:1-16:27, the applicatory section.

The main theme of the book is found in chapter 1: the gospel of God, or of Christ (1:1, 15-16). The gospel of God is the good news, the evangel, or the glad tidings of what God has done in Jesus Christ. God has separated Paul unto that gospel (1:1), and his calling is to proclaim that gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike. That gospel concerns Jesus (1:3) whom Paul sets forth in the introduction.

The section 1:18-3:20 explains the absolute necessity of the gospel of Christ and why it is such a power of which Paul is not at all ashamed (1:16). In 1:18-32 Paul sets forth the total depravity of man, especially from the viewpoint of the wickedness of the Gentiles. He shows how the wicked suppress the truth of God in their idolatry, with the result that God in His righteous judgment gives the world of the ungodly over to gross forms of moral perversion (“For this cause God gave them up” [1:26ff.]).

In 2:1-16 Paul addresses the objections of the moralist, the one who does not live in the open wickedness described in chapter 1 (Paul addresses him especially with the words, “O man” [2:1, 3]). Such moralists seek to become judges in order to escape judgment. They seek some loophole in the law that they can exploit for their self-justification. Moreover, they despise God’s goodness—they know about it, but they do not value it. They have not tasted and seen that God is good. Instead, they abuse God’s goodness as an excuse to commit sin. The “better pagans” will perish without law, and those who, while having the law, break the law shall perish by the law (2:12). Paul’s point here is to show that there is no salvation in the law, for there is no one of whom it can be said that he “continues patiently in well doing” (2:7) or that he “worketh good” (2:10) or that he is a “doer of the law” (2:13). Paul’s whole point in 1:18-3:20 is to show the absolute necessity of the gospel of Christ. For Paul to introduce the possibility of “works righteousness” here would be to undermine his own argument. Therefore, the references to justification by the works of the law in chapter 2 are hypotheticalif someone did keep the law perfectly, he would be justified. However, no such person exists. The law, therefore, only serves to condemn the sinner who seeks salvation in imperfectly keeping it: “Thou art inexcusable” (2:1); “Thinkest thou … that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (2:3); “Indignation, and wrath, tribulation, and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil” (2:8b-9); “For as many as have sinned … shall also perish; … as many as have sinned … shall be judged” (2:12).

In 2:17 Paul moves from the moralist in general to the Jewish moralist in particular: “Behold thou art called a Jew” (2:17). The Jew boasts in the law, that is, he boasts that he has the law, and that God has given him the law, which is a great privilege, but only if the Jew keeps it! The Jew is no better than the lawless Gentile (who walks in darkness without the law) if he does not obey the law. Paul accuses the Jew of breaking the law. (“Dost thou steal? … Dost thou commit adultery? [2:21-22]). From a consideration of the law in general, Paul moves to circumcision in particular: “Circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law” (2:25). For the Jew who does not keep the law, circumcision (in which he foolishly boasts) is worthless. In fact, one who is a circumcised Jew only outwardly (but not in the heart) is not a Jew at all! (2:28-29). Indeed, it would be better to be a believing Gentile, uncircumcised in the flesh but circumcised in the heart, than to be merely a fleshly Jew who boasts in the law that he does not and cannot keep (2:25-29).

In 3:1-20 Paul concludes his devastating indictment of total depravity upon mankind. First, in 3:1-8 he answers the objection: if the law does not justify, and if having the law/being circumcised does not save the Jew, is there no advantage to being a Jew? Paul insists that having the oracles of God is a great advantage (3:2). Moreover, the unfaithfulness of the Jews does not mean that God is unfaithful to His promises. “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (3:4) is an abiding principle. We are never justified in our unrighteousness/lies, and God remains the perfectly righteous Judge (3:3-8). In 3:9-20 Paul proves from several Old Testament passages that mankind is totally depraved (“There is none that doeth good, no, not one” [3:12]), with the result that “every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (3:19). This devastating verdict rules out all possibility of justification by the law, and prepares us for the good news of 3:21, “But now …”

The words “but now” (3:21) are critical, especially against the background of 1:18-3:20. In 1:17 Paul declared about the gospel that “therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.” 1:18-3:20 can be seen as an “interruption” to the thought expressed in 1:17, which is now picked up again in 3:21. As a concept, the “righteousness of God” could mean various things—it could mean God’s attribute of righteousness by which He punishes sin. (Luther’s misunderstanding of the concept drove him to despair). However, that cannot be the meaning because of the context. The “righteousness” of 3:21 (and of 1:17) is given to believers—notice that it is “unto all and upon all them that believe” (3:22); that it is “manifested” (indicating that until now it had been hidden or obscured); and that it was “witnessed by the law and the prophets (The Old Testament prophesied of this righteousness). The righteousness of God, therefore, is a perfect legal standing before God by which the believer is declared to be in full harmony with and in perfect conformity to the standard of God as it is revealed in God’s law. That righteousness is “of God”—it belongs to God, and, crucially, it comes from God. Thus, Luther was correct when he called it “an alien righteousness.” (It is not a righteousness worked by the sinner, nor is it a righteousness worked in the sinner, but it is a righteousness external to the sinner and given to the sinner, to the believing sinner).

This is the grand doctrine of justification, which is God’s legal declaration as judge by which He declares His people righteous. Paul explains it further—we are justified “freely by His grace” (3:24); justification is grounded in the cross of Christ (3:25); and in this way, God is both “just” and the “justifier” of believers (3:26). Paul conclusion is that “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (3:28). The importance of the doctrine is that (1) it excludes boasting (3:27) and (2) it is the way in which both Jews and Gentiles are saved (3:29-31).

Paul then proves that justification is not a novel doctrine by appealing to the testimony of two outstanding Old Testament saints, Abraham and David. Abraham’s justification was not by works. Otherwise, he could have boasted before God (4:1-2). To prove this, Paul appeals to Genesis 15:6, “And Abraham believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” The word “for” (Greek: eis) does not mean “instead of,” as if God accepted faith in the place of righteousness. Instead, the word means, “with a view to,” that is, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him with a view to the righteousness which was to come in the coming Messiah.” Abraham’s faith, therefore, was in the promise of God to send the Messiah, who would be his (Abraham’s) seed. David was justified in the same way, for God did not impute sin to David. God did not impute sin; instead, He imputed righteousness. The Psalmist describes this as “the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works” (4:6). God imputes righteousness without works through faith regardless of circumcision. Indeed, God imputed righteousness to Abraham before he was circumcised (4:9-10).

Very much as he does in Galatians 3, Paul argues that all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, are recipients of the same promise (4:12-16). In fact, Paul argues emphatically that the promise is not for, and was never meant for, the unbelieving Jews (4:14—“if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect”). God has made salvation “of faith” so that “the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law (i.e., to the unbelieving Jews); but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham (i.e., to the believing Jews and to the believing Gentiles); who is the father of us all” (4:16). Paul then illustrates the faith of Abraham from his life (4:17-22), ending with an encouragement to all believers (“to whom it [righteousness] shall be imputed, if we believe” [4:24]).

Chapter 5 does not introduce a new subject, for Paul is still expounding the doctrine of justification. In 5:1-11 Paul explains some of the benefits that flow from justification, chief among which is “peace with God” (5:1-5). He then explains the role of Christ’s work of atonement (5:6-11), which is a display of God’s love (5:8), our justification and deliverance from God’s wrath (5:9), and our reconciliation to God (5:10-11). 

In 5:12-21 Paul expounds the famous doctrine of original sin, and especially, original guilt. The connection to the preceding is this: God justifies us on the basis of what another, namely Christ, has done (5:9-11), but this must not strike us as unusual. God has always dealt with mankind this way—He condemned the human race on the basis of what Adam did.  In 5:12-21, therefore, Paul compares two heads or two legal representatives. The key words in 5:12-21 are “one,” “many” and “all.” One, Adam, represents the whole of mankind, while another one, Jesus Christ, represents the whole body of the elect. What Adam did affects all of mankind—death comes upon them (5:12); they are condemned (5:16); and they are made (or, constituted) sinners (5:19). What Jesus Christ did affects all of the elect—they receive the grace of God (5:15); they are justified (5:16, 18); they live (5:17); and they are made (or, constituted) righteous (5:19). There is, therefore, an important parallel between Adam, in whom mankind is condemned, and Christ, in whom the elect are justified.

Moreover, the grace of God in Jesus Christ exceeds that which was lost through the fall of Adam into sin. “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:20-21).

Contrary to popular belief, Romans 6 is not about water baptism or about the mode of water baptism. Chapter 6 is about union with Christ, and therefore about sanctification. In 5:20 Paul said, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Now Paul anticipates an objection: “shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1). The motive seems to be good (“that grace may abound”), but the conclusion is evil (“shall we continue in sin”). The response is sharp and decisive—“God forbid!” (6:2). To the idea that the Christian could continue in sin the apostle responds with abhorrence—“God forbid! May it never be!”

The reason why the Christian may not—indeed, cannot—continue in sin is that “we are dead to sin” (6:2). There are different “relationships” to sin—the unbeliever is “dead in sin” (Eph. 2:1), but the believer is “dead to sin” (Rom. 6:2). The adjective “dead” describes a state or condition of being—someone is dead because he/she died. The adjective (Greek: nekros) is used in verse 11, for example: “reckon ye also yourselves also to be dead indeed unto sin.” The verbal phrase “is dead” is better translated in many passages of the New Testament as “has died,” for it describes not a state of being, but an action in the past—“How shall we who died to sin live any longer therein?” (6:2); “he that died is freed from sin” (6:7); “now if we have died with Christ” (6:9). In other words, we died to sin (in the past) with the result that we are dead to sin (in the present).

To have died to sin, and thus to be dead to sin, means that we are no longer under the guilt of sin (sin cannot condemn us), and (more importantly in this context) we are no longer under the power or dominion of sin (sin cannot rule over us or in us). We see that in the exhortations that flow from this truth—“Let no sin therefore reign in your mortal body” (6:12); “sin shall not have dominion over you” (6:14). We see that also in the discussion of servanthood (slavery) in 6:16-23. The issue is slavery/bondage to sin vs. freedom/emancipation from sin.

Paul then explains how we died to sin. The answer is that we died to sin through union with Christ, which is the theme of the chapter—“into Jesus Christ” (6:3), “with him” (6:4), “together” (6:5), “with him” (6:6), “with Christ … with him” (6:8). This theme is developed in many other passages (Gal. 2:20; 3:27; Eph. 1:3-4, 6-7, 11, 13; 2:5-7, 10; Col. 2:10-13). The union we have with Christ is a legal union and a spiritual union. What happened to Christ happened to us: we died with Him; we were crucified with Him; we were buried with Him; and we are resurrected with Him.

This union, which brought about our death to sin in Him, occurred in baptism. However, the meaning is not water baptism. “[We] were baptized into his death” (6:3); “we are buried [have been buried] with him by baptism into death” (6:4); “we have been planted together in the likeness of his death” (6:5); “our old man is [has been] crucified with him “ (6:6). In other words, when Jesus died, we died, and our old sinful nature was put to death so that it can no longer dominate or enslave us. When Jesus rose again, we rose again, and we have the power and the obligation to “walk in newness of life” (6:4).

Why, then, does Paul refer to baptism? Is it to point to the mode—that is, is it proof that baptism should be by immersion? (As Jesus was buried, so we are buried under the water. As Jesus rose, so we emerge from the water). That is not the idea—the mode of baptism is immaterial to Paul’s argument. (How does immersion as a mode depict being “planted together,” [6:5] or “putting on Christ” [Gal. 3:27], for example?). The issue is not immersion; it is identification and union. The reason Paul refers to baptism is that water baptism should remind the Romans of this truth. Water baptism is a sign (a visible representation) and a seal (a confirmation and an assurance) of the reality. It is not itself the reality. Not all who are baptised with water (whether by sprinkling, pouring, dipping, or full immersion) are united to Christ. To argue about mode in Romans 6 is to miss the point.

Given all the benefits that accrue to us through our union with Christ in His death and resurrection (we are dead [have died] to sin; and our old man is crucified with Him), it is impossible for the believer to live any longer in sin. How could you “live in” something to which you have died, or to which you are now dead? To live in sin as a believer is to deny the truth of the Gospel.

Therefore, Paul applies the truth in 6:11-23. The implications are as follows: “reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin” (6:11) “let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body (6:12); “neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin” (6:13); “sin shall not have dominion over you” (6:14). Those exhortations are largely negative—do not do these things! But there are positive implications too: “reckon ye also yourselves to be…alive unto God” (6:11); “yield yourselves unto God” (6:13); “ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (6:17); “ye became the servants of righteousness” (6:18); “yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness” (6:19); “now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (6:22). We are free to serve God. What a great privilege is ours!

What a rich chapter of the Word of God!

Live in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! Unthinkable! Impossible!

Chapter 7 is a further illustration and explanation of the truths of chapter 6.

Death changes relationships. That is the truth explained in 7:1-4. Death brings marriage to an end, and death brings our relationship to the law to an end. In a sense, we were “married” to the law. It was an unhappy marriage in which our “husband” (the law) held us in slavery, threatened us, and cursed us. We died to the law so that we could marry another Husband, namely, our Lord Jesus Christ (7:1-4). That happened “by the body of Christ” (7:4), that is, by the offering of the body of Christ unto death on the cross. This is similar to the teaching of chapter 6—“buried with him by baptism” (6:4); “planted together in the likeness of his death” (6:5); “crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed” (6:6). The purpose of our “re-marriage (after our death to our first husband, the law) is the same as the purpose of our baptism into [Christ’s] death—“that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (7:4); “that we should serve in newness of spirit” (7:6).

This, then, leads to a question about the law—if our “marriage” to the law was so unhappy, does that mean that the law is “sin”? (7:7). Is the law, perhaps, to blame for our sinfulness? Paul repudiates that notion with “God forbid” (7:7). Two things are clear in the rest of the chapter: the law is good, and the sinner is guilty. Notice the many positive qualities of the law: “the commandment [was] ordained to life” (7:10); “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (7:12); “the law is spiritual” (7:14); “I delight in the law of God” (7:22); and “I myself serve the law of God” (7:25). Emphatically, Paul does not speak evil of the law.

When the holy law of God came into contact with a sinner, Paul, the result was death. That is, as Paul is at pains to point out, not the fault of the law, but is the fault of the sinner. Paul makes it very personal—from 7:7-7:25 he uses the personal pronoun, “I.” It was through the law that Paul knew sin (7:7), specifically, the Tenth Commandment revealed to Paul his lust (7:7). Sin, which acted like a power in Paul, “[took] occasion by the commandment [and] wrought in [Paul] all manner of concupiscence [lust]” (7:8). The law acted on Paul in such a way that it provoked him and stirred him up to greater expressions of sin. When the law said, “Thou shalt,” Paul did not. When the law said, “Thou shalt not,” Paul did. That was not the law’s fault—it was Paul’s fault. “Sin,” said Paul, “work[ed] death in me by that which is good (i.e., by the law), that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (7:13).

Paul then goes on to explain the struggle that he, a regenerate man, experiences in his own life. We know that Paul writes as a regenerate man because (1) he employs the present tense (“I am;” not, “I was”), and (2) he uses language that could only refer to a regenerate man: “I delight in the law of God after the inward man” (7:22); “with the mind I myself serve the law of God” (7:25). (Arminianism errs here, appealing to Romans 7 as proof that the natural man has good desires, and, therefore, “freewill.” Other passages, such as Romans 8:5-8, make such an interpretation impossible).

The struggle in Paul (and, therefore, in every believer) is between the inward man (7:22) and the flesh (7:25), or, as other passages explain it, between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:17), or the old man and the new man (Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:5-10).

Paul makes some very strong statements: he is “carnal, sold under sin” (7:14); “sin dwelleth” in him (7:17, 20); in him (that is, in his flesh) “dwelleth no good thing” (7:18); “evil is present” with him (7:21); another law in his members “[is] warring [waging war] against the law of [his] mind, and bringing [him] into captivity to the law of sin which is in [his] members” (7:23). In short, Paul is in “the body of this death,” from which he longs for deliverance” (7:24).

At the same time, Paul speaks as a regenerate man: he hates to do evil, and he desires to do good (7:15, 19), but he cannot find the power: “to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not” (7:18). “I would do good,” says Paul, “but evil is present with me” (7:21). Paul even “delights in the law of God after the inward man” (7:22) and with the mind [he serves] the law of God” (7:25). That is the real, spiritual struggle in the heart of every child of God, a struggle about which the unbeliever knows nothing.

Paul ends the chapter with an anguished cry, but not with a cry of despair, but with a cry of hope, and even of triumph: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24-25a).

Chapter 8 begins with the victory cry: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). No condemnation! Justified, redeemed, forgiven, all because we are “in Christ Jesus”! What do they who are “in Christ Jesus” look like? They “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (8:1b, 4).

Having set forth that beautiful truth in verse 1, Paul explains how this wonderful situation has come about. The law did not accomplish this, because the law “was weak through the flesh”—it is because of the weakness of our flesh (i.e., our sin) that the law (which is “holy, just, and good” [7:12]) is called “the law of sin and death” (8:2). The law can only curse and condemn the disobedient sinner. The gospel, on the other hand, is called “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (8:2), which has set the believer free. God accomplished in the gospel what the law was powerless to do. He did so by means of two great wonders, the Incarnation of His Son and the atonement of the cross. God sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (8:3). Notice the careful wording—Christ did not have the “likeness of flesh” (that would be to deny His true humanity); Christ did not have “sinful flesh” (that would be to deny His sinless perfection); but Christ came “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Paul expresses the atonement of the cross in these words: “[God] condemned sin in the flesh” (8:3), that is, God condemned sin in the flesh (the human nature) of His Son.

Paul then contrasts the flesh and the Spirit, and by “flesh” he means the weak, sinful, depraved nature of man. The carnal (fleshly) mind is “death” (8:6), “enmity against God” (8:7), and unable to please God (8:8). The spiritual mind is “life and peace” (8:6). He makes application to his readers: “but ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit” (8:9). There follow warnings against carnality (8:9, 12-13), and promises for the spiritual (8:13). The spiritual characteristics of God’s adopted children are set forth in 8:14-17, where the apostle’s aim and purpose is to assure God’s children of their adoption.

Because God’s children suffer affliction in this life, the rest of the chapter is designed to comfort believers, and to encourage them to be patient. Suffering for Christ precedes glory with Christ (8:17). The glory to come is incomparably great (8:18). Even the creation itself, which was made subject to vanity in the fall of man into sin, joins in eager anticipation of the glory that shall follow—if the creation groans in hope, how much more shall not we patiently wait for the promised glory (8:19-25)? Besides, the Spirit within us helps us to pray, and God answers those prayers according to His will, while we know that all things work together for our good, for us who are the called according to His purpose (8:26-28).

God’s purpose, according to which He called us, comprises the whole golden chain of salvation with the ultimate goal of conforming His people to the image of His Son. That chain begins with eternal foreknowledge (8:29). God does not merely foreknow the activity of men—their faith, repentance, and perseverance, which is the view of the Arminians—but God foreknows persons with the intimate knowledge of love. The chain begins with eternal predestination (8:30), followed by the steps of calling, justification, and glorification (8:30). Paul draws out the implications in a list of rhetorical questions—“What shall we then say to these things?” (8:31); “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” (8:33); “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:35). The chapter crescendos with a triumphant confession of faith that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (8:35-39).

Chapters 9-11 begin a new section of the epistle in which Paul focuses on God’s sovereign purposes with the Jews and Gentiles.

In 9:1-3 Paul expresses his sorrow at the perishing of so many of his countrymen who are his “kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:3). He lists their many advantages (adoption, glory, covenants, law, service, promises, etc.), chief among which is that Christ was born of them, who is God blessed, forever (9:5).

This leads to a possible objection: if God promised salvation to the Jews, has his promise failed? Is it “of none effect”? Paul answers in the negative—“Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect” (9:6). Paul explains this by means of a very important principle: not all physical descendants of Abraham are true Jews; not all who are outwardly “of Israel” are truly “Israel.” The apostle demonstrates this point by appealing, first, to Isaac and Ishmael, and, second, to Jacob and Esau. The difference, says Paul, is in God’s sovereign election. Not only did God elect the nation of Israel, but he also elected within the nation certain individuals.

Paul answers an objection in 9:14: “Is there unrighteousness with God?” After vehemently rejecting the inference with “God forbid” Paul proves the sovereignty of God in showing mercy to some (9:15) and in hardening others (9:18), illustrating his doctrine with an appeal to Moses and to Pharaoh. A second objection arises in 9:19: “Thou wilt say then unto me, why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” Paul cuts off the objector by reminding him of his place before God as a creature before the Creator (9:20). Paul illustrates the absolute sovereignty of God by means of the potter and his clay. The potter owns the clay and has power (authority) over the clay. Out of “one lump” (humanity) the potter makes some vessels (vessels of mercy) unto honour, while he makes other vessels (vessels of wrath) unto dishonour. Some vessels are prepared for glory, while others are fitted to destruction. The potter (God) does this because he “is willing to show his wrath and to make his power known” (9:22) and so that he “might make known the riches of his glory” (9:23). To accomplish this twofold purpose of magnifying his wrath and mercy, God endures the reprobate in longsuffering toward the elect (9:22-23).

This is not abstract, because Paul immediately applies it to the reader: “even us, whom he hath called” (9:24), appealing to Hosea 1:10 and 2:23 as proof that the calling of the Gentiles was prophesied in the Old Testament (9:25-26). Peter cites the same passage for the same purpose in I Peter 2:10. After quoting some texts from Isaiah as proof that God saves a remnant, Paul concludes that Israel has not attained to righteousness because she sought it “as it were by the works of the law” (9:32). The Gentiles, who did not seek righteousness, have obtained righteousness, “the righteousness which is of faith” (9:30). This was Israel’s fatal stumbling, as they tripped over Christ and perished, as God purposed and as the Scriptures foretold (9:32-33; see also I Peter 2:6-8).

Paul began chapter 9 expressing his heartfelt sorrow over Israel’s perishing. He begins chapter 10 in a similar fashion, by expressing his desire for Israel’s salvation (10:1). However, Paul does not excuse Israel for her sin of stumbling at Christ. She has not submitted to God’s righteousness and by seeking salvation in works has missed the goal of the law, which is Christ (10:3-4). This is all the more inexcusable because Moses made it clear that righteousness was not found in the law (10:5). To seek righteousness in the law is, says Paul, to deny the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ, for “it is to bring up Christ again from the dead” or “to bring Christ down from above” (10:6-7). Righteousness, then, is found only in Christ, and it is through belief in Christ and confession of His name that believers are saved (10:9-10). Paul then explains the necessity of preaching.

If salvation is found only in calling upon the name of the Lord (10:13; Joel 2:32), then a series of questions must be asked. How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? How shall they believe in him of whom (or, whom) they have not heard? How shall they hear without a preacher? How shall they preach, except they are sent? (10:14-15). Thus, Paul sets forth the necessity of preaching for the salvation of the elect. The rest of chapter 10 deals with the unbelieving response of Israel to the preaching: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel? Have they not heard? Did not Israel know?” (10:16-19). Israel did hear and know, but Israel refused (“a disobedient and gainsaying [contradictory] people” (10:21) and God even prophesied His turning to the Gentiles: “I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you” (10:19). This is just judgment upon Israel and it is good news for the Gentiles.

In chapter 11 Paul addresses an objection—if the nation of Israel has been rejected with the result that God also saves the Gentiles in one church, has God cast away His people? Chapter 11 is pivotal to understanding God’s purposes with the Jews in the New Testament age. Both Premillennial Dispensationalism and Postmillennialism appeal to this chapter in defence of their doctrine of a future, national conversion of Israel. Although the chapter does not teach that, it does teach that God has promised to save ethnic Israelites in every age of New Testament history until the return of Christ. That promise is quite remarkable because it pertains to no other nation: God does not save Irishmen, Germans, Filipinos or Americans in every age. While many of the proud nations of the Old Testament (the Philistines, Moabites, Edomites, etc.) have ceased to exist and (very likely) New Testament nations will cease to exist, God has preserved a remnant of ethnic Jews in the world. This does not mean that God will save all or even all ethnic Israelites, but He will save a remnant in every age, a remnant “according to the election of grace” (11:5) until the fullness of Israel is brought in, so that “all Israel shall be saved” (11:25).

Paul answers the initial objection (“Hath God cast away his people?”) with a firm “God forbid” (11:1), illustrating the faithfulness of God’s promises to His foreknown people in his own (Paul’s) case (“I am also am an Israelite”) and in the case of the remnant preserved in Elijah’s day (11:4; I Kings 19), concluding that “at this present time also there is a remnant [of ethnic Israelites] according to the election of grace” (11:5). Gracious election and righteous reprobation operate in Israel as well as in other nations. Thus even within Israel, “the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (or hardened) (11:7). Paul proves that God hardens some (even the majority of) Israelites from Psalm 69, which Psalm even teaches the fearful truth that God hardens the reprobate by means of their earthly prosperity (“Let their table be made a snare,” etc.).

This leads to another objection concerning God’s hardening of the reprobate: “Have they stumbled that they should fall?” (11:11). Paul’s answer is “God forbid,” for God’s purpose in reprobation is much greater than merely the damnation of the wicked. In inscrutable wisdom and awesome power, God ordains the hardening of the [reprobate] Jews for the salvation of the [elect] Gentiles. “Through their fall (literally, “their transgression”) salvation is come unto the Gentiles” (11:11). The “transgression” here is Israel’s great sin in rejecting and crucifying the Messiah—only a hardened Israel could have committed such a gross transgression, which transgression was necessary for our salvation. The result of this transgression is (1) “the fall of them” (11:12); (2) “the diminishing of them” (11:12); (3) “the casting away of them” (11:15); and (4) their “blindness in part” (11:25). This is God’s awful, but just, judgment on the nation of Israel and on most Israelites. Nevertheless, the judgment of the Jews brings salvation to elect, believing Gentiles (and to elect, believing Jews, too), namely, (1) “the riches of the world” (11:12); (2) “the riches of the Gentiles” (11:12); and (3) “the reconciling of the world” (11:15), which Paul calls the “fullness of the Gentiles” (11:25). In addition, God purposes by the casting away of the Jewish people to provoke some of the unbelieving Jews to jealousy so that they believe in Jesus Christ: “to provoke them to jealousy” (11:11); “if by any means I may provoke to emulation (or, jealousy) them which are my flesh, and might save some of them” (11:14). In this way, the reprobation and hardening of Israel serves the salvation of elect Jews and Gentiles in the New Testament age!

Paul further illustrates this with the olive tree in Romans 11:16-24. He begins with a general principle in verse 16: “for if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” When studying this illustration, we must take the “organic approach,” for Paul views Israel as one living whole, not individualistically, but corporately; not in terms of individuals, but from the viewpoint of generations. The root of the olive tree is Christ (Is. 11:10; Rom. 15:12; Rev. 5:5, 22:16).

Among the branches are, first, natural branches, which are the Jews in their generations; and, second, wild branches, which are the Gentiles in their generations. Some of the branches, whether natural branches or wild branches, are “in” the olive tree, so that they are saved in their generations, enjoying salvation and partaking of “the root and fatness of the olive tree” (11:17). Other branches are “cut off” from the olive tree, so that they perish in their generations through unbelief.

The “cutting off” of branches occurs in this way: perhaps a man is a faithful believer, but his son, although saved, is lukewarm. His children (the original man’s grandchildren) are even more lukewarm, and, seeing the example of their lukewarm father, they drift further from the truth. The next generation (the original man’s great grandchildren) then apostatise completely, being lost to the false church or the ungodly world. In this way, over time, branches are cut off from the olive tree: “because of unbelief they were broken off” (11:20). It is important to note that Paul is not teaching the falling away or cutting off of individuals, but of generations. A true child of God cannot perish, but an unfaithful child of God can be, and often is, judged by the apostasy of his children. Take, for example, the Christian who is not a faithful church member: he attends irregularly and without much commitment; he does not diligently teach his children (he is lax in requiring them to learn their catechism, for example); he allows his children to skip church, fails to correct them, and even encourages them in worldliness by teaching them that the things of this world are more important than the worship of God. Such a man must not be surprised when God cuts off his children and grandchildren, when they show even less interest in the truth than he did. The Bible contains fearful examples of this (Eli’s sons, several of David’s sons, etc.). Therefore, the earnest prayer of godly parents must be: “Lord, cut us not off in our generations!”

  The attitude of the child of God in light of this truth is “fear” (not terror, but a holy trembling) (11:20). Paul warns the Gentiles not to boast: “boast not against the branches” (11:18); “be not high-minded, but fear” (11:20). Paul also warns the Gentiles that, just as the Jews were cut off in their generations through unbelief, the same thing could happen to them: “thou standest by faith” (11:20); “if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he spare not thee” (11:21); “behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off” (11:22). Nevertheless, adds Paul, God can graft the Jews back into the olive tree. In fact, it is easier, if we may speak thus, for God to graft the natural [Jewish] branches into their own olive tree than it is for God, contrary to nature, to graft wild [Gentile] branches into the olive tree (11:24)!

Here, then, is God’s way of salvation throughout the New Testament. Many of the Jews are cut off in their generations, so that the Gentiles can be grafted into Christ. God uses the salvation of the Gentiles to provoke the [elect] Jews to jealousy, so that they are again grafted into the olive tree in their generations. When Jews or Gentiles are unfaithful, God cuts them off in their generations, fulfilling His decree of reprobation. This process continues until the fullness of the Gentiles (11:25) and the fullness of the Jews (11:12) are saved, that is, until the end of history. “And so,” concludes Paul, “ all Israel shall be saved.” The words, “and so,” do not mean, “and then,” as if Paul were teaching a future national conversion of Israel. Rather, the words mean, “in this way.” As God gathers elect Jews and Gentiles throughout the New Testament age, the fullness of the Jews and Gentiles (the sum of the elect within those groups) are brought in, with the result that “all Israel” is saved. 

We should understand the meaning of the word “fullness” in Romans 11:12 and 25. It does not mean “all the Jews” or “all the Gentiles.” It does not even mean “the majority of the Jews” or “the majority of the Gentiles.” The fullness of something is simply “that which fills up something” or “the full measure of something.” The fullness of a glass of water is reached when the last drop of water fills the glass. The fullness of time was reached when the last second of time dropped into God’s hourglass (Gal. 4:4). The fullness of the Jews is reached when the last elect Jew is saved; the fullness of the Gentiles is reached when the last elect Gentile is saved. However, notice that the fullness is reached not through an extraordinary mass conversion of either Jew or Gentile toward the end of history (the dream of many Postmillennialists), but through the ordinary means of God gathering His church one individual at a time from the Jews and the Gentiles. Therefore, the fullness of the Jews and the Gentiles will be reached at around the same time. Paul does not teach in Romans 11 that the fullness of the Gentiles will be reached in a certain year and then the fullness of the Gentiles will be reached seven years, or a thousand years, or any other number of years later. When the last elect Gentile and Jew are saved, the end of the world shall come with the Coming of Jesus Christ.

Paul proves that the salvation of Israel is a spiritual, not a political salvation: it does not consist in the restoration of their nation or the construction of a new temple, but in the forgiveness of sins (see Isaiah 59:20-21 and Jeremiah 31:31-34, which Paul quotes in Romans 11:26-27). In conclusion, Paul reminds the reader of God’s twofold purpose in the hardening of some for the sake of the salvation of others, ending with a stunning doxology in 11:33-36.

Chapters 12:1 to 16:27 constitute the second main section of the epistle. If the first section (1:1-11:36) is mainly doctrinal, this second section is mainly practical. Paul applies the doctrines to the conduct of Christians: he begins 12:1 with “I beseech you therefore, brethren.” The first admonition is general: “present your bodies a living sacrifice” and “be not conformed to the world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (12:1-2). From a general admonition, Paul makes more specific applications to membership in the church (12:4), service in the congregation, mutual edification through the proper use of gifts, and even the calling to live in peace with one’s enemies, leaving vengeance to God (12:19-20). In chapter 13, Paul addresses the Christian’s relationship to civil government, where the general calling is submission and obedience. The Christian recognises the civil government as “the powers that be” (the powers that exist). Paul is not writing a political or theological treatise on the hypothetical powers of the ideal government, but he is addressing Roman Christians’ calling to submit to the monstrously wicked and even persecuting emperors of Rome: submit, obey, and pay your taxes; do not resist or rebel; and recognise God’s hand. Similarly, God calls us (who live in modern democracies utterly unlike the tyrannical governments known to Paul) to submit to, and even to honour, our duly elected officials. They may be odious from a moral point of view, but we recognise and honour their office (13:7; see I Peter 2:13-18). From a treatment of the Christian’s calling with respect to civil government, Paul transitions to God’s law of love (13:9-10), concentrating on the Second Table of the Law. He ends the chapter with an exhortation to resist ungodliness and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ (13:12-14).

 The subject of chapter 14 is Christian liberty, which is often a divisive issue in the church. To understand Christian liberty, we need to distinguish three kinds of activities: (1) things that are forbidden, such as murder or adultery; (2) things that are commanded, such as prayer or love for the neighbour; and (3) things that are neither forbidden nor commanded, which are so-called “indifferent things” or “adiaphora.” This third category is the subject of Christian liberty. Examples of indifferent things are the eating or certain foods (14:3) and the observance of certain days (14:5).

There are also two kinds of people concerned in Christian liberty: those who are “weak in the faith” (14:1), and those who are strong in the faith (15:1). The weak Christian has an overly sensitive conscience; he considers sinful things that the Bible does not condemn as sinful. For example, he is afraid to eat certain foods because he does not fully appreciate his freedom in Christ. In addition, he considers certain activities as binding on his conscience, although Scripture does not bind him. For example, he feels that he must observe certain days unto the Lord, although the Lord does not require such observance. (Therefore, in the context of Romans 14, the Christian who is “weak” is most likely a Jewish convert—he still keeps some of the Old Testament food laws, and he still observes some of the Old Testament feast days, for example). The strong Christian understands and enjoys his liberty in Christ—he feels no compulsion to avoid certain foods, and he sees no need to observe the days that his weak brother observes.

Both Christians—the weak and the strong—are true saints, and both Christians serve God. One eats unto the Lord, while the other abstains from eating in devotion to the Lord (14:6). Paul urges the various kinds of Christians, whether weak or strong, to receive one another: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye” (14:1); “God hath received him” (14:3). In addition, Paul warns against two sins: (1) the sin of judging; and (2) the sin of despising. In 14:3 the one who eats (i.e., the strong believer) is tempted to despise the one who does not eat (i.e., the weak believer). The one who does not eat (i.e., the weak believer) is tempted to judge the one who eats (i.e., the strong believer). The weak saint judges the strong saint because he judges him according to his own standards—he thinks the strong saint who eats is committing a sin against God. The strong saint despises the weak saint because he thinks that his brother is foolish in not understanding his freedom in Christ. Paul sharply rebukes the would-be judge: first, the one you presume to judge is “another man’s servant” (14:4)—he is Christ’s servant; and Christ is the judge: “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (14:10).

Having set forth those principles, Paul emphasizes the importance of charity or love. The strong Christian must seek the welfare of his weak brother. Therefore, he puts no stumbling block or occasion to fall in his brother’s way. The strong Christian will not flaunt his liberty in front of his more scrupulous brother. (He will not eat meat in front of him, for example). The strong Christian will forego the exercise of his liberty for the edification of his brother, for if the weak brother sees the strong brother eating meat, he may be emboldened (without the necessary knowledge by which his conscience is informed) to sin against his conscience. Paul states the issue very starkly: “Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died” (14:15); “For meat destroy not the work of God” (14:20); “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak” (14:20). Exercise your liberty, says Paul, but not to the detriment of your weaker brother: “Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God” (14:22).

Remember, however, that the things over which saints tend to quarrel with respect to Christian liberty are not the essence of Christianity: “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (14:17).

Chapter 15 begins with a continuation of the teaching of chapter 14. If the main admonition to the strong in chapter 14 was to receive and love the weak (14:1, 15), the main admonition in 15:1-2 is to “bear with” the weak and not to live in self-indulgence or self-pleasing: “and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification” (15:1b-2). Paul then appeals to the example of Jesus who, says Paul, “pleased not himself” (15:3). If Christ denied himself and even died for our salvation, shall we insist on our liberty if it does not edify, but harms our brother? The rest of the chapter concerns God’s calling of the Gentiles, which is the very purpose of Paul’s ministry: Paul quotes a number of Old Testament passages to prove God’s purpose to have a church consisting of Jews and Gentiles (15:9-12, 16). Paul then sets forth his plans: first, he has “from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum [he has] fully preached the gospel of Christ” (15:19). Paul has great ambitions to preach Christ where he is not yet named; therefore, his preference is to break new ground in missions rather than to “build upon another man’s foundation” (15:20). Paul’s missionary work has hindered him in coming to Rome, but now his has “no more place” in those parts (15:23)—clearly, the opportunities to do missions among the unreached are coming to an end. Therefore, Paul desires to see the Romans, but before he sees them he plans to travel to Jerusalem with a gift that he has received for the Jewish saints from the Gentiles (15:25-27). Having delivered this gift, he plans to travel to Spain and visit the Romans on the way (15:24, 28). However, it appears from the book of Acts that events did not turn out as Paul had planned. Paul did indeed come to Rome, but he came after over two years in Roman custody in Caesarea and he came as a prisoner (having been shipwrecked en route).

The final chapter consists of a number of greetings to various members of the Roman church. Notably absent is Peter—which destroys the credibility of Roman Catholicism that Peter was the bishop of Rome. Not only was the letter not addressed to him, he is also not even mentioned!