When I started my downline dgroups last year, I decided to do a book study of Romans. Because my dgroup members have been Christians for some time already, I figured an exposition of the gospel would deepen their understanding. And hopefully through the preaching of Romans, they will be more Christ-like in character. The irony is I think I am the one who profited from it the most.
I planned to share a couple of verses per week, just like how my dgroup leader is doing it in our upline dgroup. (We do a book study of John.) I knew then that I would need some help from good commentaries. I was surprised that there are many. Among such are from R. C. Sproul, Timothy Keller, Charles Stanley, Charles Swindoll and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I’m guessing among the books of the Bible, Romans has the most number of commentaries, especially from among contemporary authors. Later on, I even discovered exegetical commentaries from modern scholars. Moreover, Romans has key influence in the turning point of the biggest names in the Protestant faith such as Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Wesley. So this begs the question: what is it about Romans that captured the hearts and minds of these great men in the faith?
Consider the Scriptures that we use for evangelism. Memorize Romans 3.23, 6.23 and 10.9-10, and you have the gospel message. Someone even said that even if we lose the whole Bible but retain Romans, we would still receive the whole gospel message.
A Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ
It is so rich that even with the first verse, a lot can be discussed already.
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,”
If you have been reading the New Testament, you’ll notice that almost every epistle is started with a greeting. We do this also today though the conventions are different. We first mention whom we are addressing, write the body of the letter, and then we have our signature at the end. They did it a bit differently. They first introduce themselves, then they address who the receiver is. They then proceed with the content and end with last remarks.
I remember the times that I would email billing companies and banks. I have to confess that when they cost me inconvenience, I assert my position by stating my professional title and job at the signature. By this, I am hoping that they would take me seriously. Notice what the apostle Paul used primarily as his title: “servant of Christ Jesus”, which can also be translated as slave1 of Christ Jesus. For all the credentials of Paul, what was the one he primarily identified with in this letter? We know that Paul wasn’t just an average believer. In fact, in order to drive a point, he listed his credentials in Philippians 3.4-8. But when he chose a title for himself in writing to the church of Rome, he introduced himself as a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was not unique of the apostle Paul, for James, Peter and Jude used the same title in their epistles.
I would have wanted to continue the exposition of the first verse, but since I am trying to convince you to study the book of Romans, I have to move on to another theme.
None is Righteous
I mentioned earlier one of the most quoted verses in evangelism:
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
This comes at the peak of an intricate series of arguments on human depravity. I urge you to pay attention to these arguments especially Romans 1.18-2.16. It gives a biblical worldview of who we are apart from Christ. This then climaxes to:
“as it is written:
‘None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.’
‘Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.’
‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’
‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’
‘Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.’
‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’“
Let us slowly unpack this passage. “None is righteous, no, not one.” If we randomly ask strangers if they think they are good, I would wager that majority would say yes. This is because we have the tendency to compare ourselves with each other. The problem is we are not the standard. The Lord has given His standard, which is primarily the Ten Commandments. Have you ever lied? You are guilty. Have you ever stolen? You are guilty. Have you used the name of the Lord in vain? You are guilty. And those were just three of the Ten Commandments. Therefore, even if we claim that we did better than the worst person in the world, we still cannot pass the standard. Imagine a student celebrating on getting a final grade of 20/100 because another got a 5/100. How absurd it is for him to be happy if both of them are still going to fail the course. That is our condition in God. We cannot compare our ‘goodness’ with a bad person because that bad person is not the standard. The law of God is.
“No one seeks for God.” In our sinful state, we do not seek God. This is what the Scripture says. How then do we explain the people who seem to be seeking, people who seem to be exploring Christianity? Well, if it is true that no one seeks for God, then assuming that this person is not yet in Christ, the only explanation I can think of is they are seeking the benefits of being in Christ. Maybe they are looking for the fellowship that the church freely gives, or possibly the peace that Christians experience when they are in the midst of trouble. But they are not seeking God Himself. I think this is best explained by Paul Washer when he said, everybody wants to go to heaven, they just don’t want to find God there.
“The venom of asps is under their lips.” Asp is a venomous snake. Imagine having a sac of venom under your chin. When triggered, we easily release poison on others. How many times have we said hurtful things that we have regretted later on?
Have you ever lied? You are guilty. Have you ever stolen? You are guilty. Have you used the name of the Lord in vain? You are guilty. And those were just three of the Ten Commandments.
Justified by Faith in Christ
If the Apostle Paul stopped at describing human depravity, then we are all doomed. Fortunately, the light comes by the words “But now” in Romans 3.21 and then he proceeds with declaring that in Christ we are “justified by his grace as a gift”5. What does it mean to be justified? In daily conversations, we use it in the sense of deeming something right or reasonable. Likewise, being justified means that we are declared just or righteous. This righteousness is not our own, but is Christ’s and is counted to us by virtue of faith in Him. Paul further illustrates, by bringing Abraham and David, that even in the Old Testament, faith has always been necessary for justification and consequently, righteousness.
Thanks be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that while we were still sinners, He died for us6 and bore the wrath that should have been poured out on us, in order that we might be reconciled to God,7 to the point that the apostle declares, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.8
The Golden Chain
In the eighth chapter, the apostle labors to lay down the assurance that we have in the midst of sufferings in the present time. He argues that the glory that is to be revealed does not compare to the hardship today.9 He then proceeds to one of the most beautiful passages in the Scriptures:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Why do I call it beautiful? Because it lays down the Christian walk from first to last. Evidently, it also shows that we are created for God’s glory: foreknown, predestined, called, justified and glorified.
Some would argue that foreknowledge here means God knowing from eternity past what our future actions would be. Surely, God in His omniscience, already knows our actions from eternity. From the context though, I am convinced that foreknowledge here means God knowing us beforehand in a personal level, as opposed to just knowing about us. His promise is that His foreknown people will be justified. We will also be glorified for we will share with the glory of the Lord in the end of time.
This righteousness is not our own, but is Christ’s and is counted to us by virtue of faith in Him.
Not Ashamed of the Gospel
In my intention to be concise, I have left many themes in the book. But I urge you to study justification in chapters 3-5, sanctification in chapters 6-8, and God’s sovereignty in election in chapter 9.
At this point, I want to bring you back to the thesis of this epistle:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written. ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’“
The message of the gospel is powerful. It brings the dead to life, those who believe. And sometimes we forget this. We think of how we can package or market the gospel, as if adding to its effectiveness. Foolishly we think we are the ones who have the responsibility to change a person’s heart and turn him to God. But clearly from these verses, salvation is only by the power of God. Our work is to preach the gospel, to plant the seed and to water it. But it is God who makes the seed grow.10
Also, it is not said that the righteous will live by faith and works, but only by faith alone that is from first to last.11 This separates the Christian from other religions for we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone based on Scriptures alone for the glory of God alone.
Unless otherwise specified, all Scriptures are quoted from ESV.
This article was previously published by the author of this site as a Facebook note. Revised May 31, 2020.
The use of the word ‘slave’ might shock the modern readers, but the Old & New Testament have a different notion of a slave. Theirs is a social construct in which dignity is remained. Nevertheless, some elements are the same such as the master buying their slaves and their slaves having no right aside from what the master has given them. I invite the reader to translate this context to Paul identifying as a slave (doulos) of the Lord. ↩
Romans 3.19 ↩
Romans 6.23 ↩
Romans 1.18 ↩
Romans 3.24 ↩
Romans 5.8 ↩
Romans 5.9-10 ↩
Romans 8.1 ↩
Romans 8.18 ↩
1 Corinthians 3.6-7 ↩
Romans 1.17 NIV ↩