Paul’s epistle to the Romans is indeed a theological masterpiece that has been used for centuries to define what correct church doctrine is. By using debating skills (he puts forward a question that his opponents ask and then answers from a strictly scriptural position) he destroys false foundations regarding salvation. The book of Romans is the most complete description of New Testament Christianity and expression of fundamental Christian truths in the Bible. The key words of Romans are “The Righteousness of God”.
Paul’s main thesis is Justification by Faith as the only means of acceptance by God. It is by God’s righteousness as opposed to our self-righteousness that God offers us His grace (unmerited favour), “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: for as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17). This righteousness comes to us according to faith in Jesus Christ alone, “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference” (Romans 3:22). The means of the free gift of righteousness is the blood of Christ, “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood…” (Romans 3:24-25). Without personal faith in Christ’s sacrifice for our sins Paul does not see the possibility of salvation.
In explaining the realities of Biblical Christianity Paul pulls no punches. He declares that every person (regardless of race, status, or religion, “For there is no respect of persons” (Romans 2:11)) is a sinner doomed to eternal punishment. He leaves the unsaved man without the slightest thread of hope as he announces “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God … for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23, 6:23). In God’s eyes every man, woman and child is “guilty” before Him (Romans 3:19). From Adam until Jesus Christ all men are bound by sin. Man cannot pay for his sins by good deeds or through religious observance. He explains in chapter two that law keeping usually degenerates into hypocrisy anyway. Even the Jews, who have a unique place in the plans and purposes of God as His chosen people, stand condemned for their rejection of Jesus Christ. Paul makes clear that, if we leave Christ out of our lives and theology then we are under God’s wrath. No one can claim that God acts unrighteously, unjustly, or unfairly regarding salvation. Regardless of who the person is he cannot come to Him and receive God’s righteousness except by coming through Christ. No one can boast in his goodness or religious upbringing. Righteousness can only be reckoned to us through personal faith in God’s Son. “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3).
God gives the one declared righteous Peace with God, Forgiveness, Hope, His love, Reconciliation, and the knowledge that he is no longer under the wrath of God. This righteousness is meant to transform our lives. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are empowered to live out this righteousness in our daily lives, (Romans 8). It changes our attitude, conduct, and outlook. Paul speaks of submitting our lives to God in Romans 12 not to laws, regulations and religious observances.
In Romans we find a perfect explanation fundamental Christianity, the work of God is a believer’s life, and how he is expected to live now that he is saved. In this work, Paul informs is that we are accepted by God by His righteousness alone, we live by His righteousness alone, and we will stand before Him in Heaven by His righteousness alone. What we are called to do is believe the Gospel of Christ instead of relying on religion or good works. With Paul we must individually stand and declare, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16).
Our salvation comes as a gift from God as we respond to the Gospel by faith. Paul reveals to us the doctrine of saving faith.
a) Saving faith means that we must firmly believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ (is atoning death and resurrection) as our Saviour; “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).
b) It means that we must yield ourselves to God (our will, affections, lives) in full commitment. This is what Paul calls “believing from the heart” (Romans 6:17).
c) Saving faith is activated in our lives by God when we repent of our sins; “The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
d) Saving faith includes a life of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith without obedience to His will is not real faith, “The obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26). It is therefore impossible to have Saving Faith without obedience, “By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for His name” (Romans 1:5).
e) This faith must be in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
f) Saving Faith is not static, it grows and matures. As the believer grows in Christ, so too his faith gets stronger. Speaking of Abraham, but is applicable to all believers, Paul said, “He staggered not at the promises of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Romans 4:20).
g) This faith looks beyond the present problems. It is not controlled by feelings or circumstances, “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). This speaks to us of loyalty and devotion to our Saviour.
h) True Christian faith gives us the confidence to know that we are saved and free from condemnation and God’s wrath, “For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” but “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 1:18, 8:1).
i) By Saving Faith we become dead to sin “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:6).
j) The proof of faith is the presence of the Holy Spirit / Spirit of Christ in our lives directing us in our Christian lives, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14).
The word “justify” means to be made “just or righteous” before God. God has declared us righteous through the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, “By the obedience of one shall all be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). God alone can forgive the repentant sinner, who stands condemned before Him and deserving eternal punishment. Paul reveals various aspects of how God accomplishes justification in our lives.
a) God offers it to us as a free gift, “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Therefore only available through the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ.
b) No one can make himself right with God through good deeds or keeping the law, “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:2-5).
c) We are justified by God as we place personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe” (Romans 3:23).
d) Justification means that our sins have been forgiven, “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they who iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Romans 4:6-8).
The apostle Paul uses the word “adoption” several times in the letter to the Romans. The word expresses the idea of being “placed in God’s family as one of His sons.”
Paul uses the word in three different ways:-
(1) That which the Holy Spirit produces in the life of a believer, “For ye hath not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (8:15). The Spirit of God makes us aware that we are in reality the children of God and can cry out to Him personally. We have the courage to call Him “my Father”. As His children we have a direct relationship with God.
(2) There is a backward look at adoption. “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (9:4) God had adopted the nation of Israel as His own special people. He blessed them in every possible way and poured out His glory upon them. He would make all His promises come to pass if they continued to live as His children. Adoption for Israel meant inheriting all the promises and benefits of the Lord. In this sense we also are blessed abundantly in Christ. Because God adopted the Jews He will not forsake them, but will bring them (a remnant) back in the last days. Our adoption means that God will not forsake us as we continue to live in Christ.
(3) There is a forward look at adoption. We await the redemption of the body so that we will be fit to physically stand in the presence of the Father, “And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (8:23). But this Spirit of adoption cannot rest until we are in the actual presence of the one we call “Abba”. Because we are God’s own children we desire to mature unto perfection. This future aspect of adoption looks forward to the day when will inherit the eternal glories of God in Heaven, “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (8:17).