Romans Wrap-Up: An Overview and Review of Paul’s Letter to the Church at Rome
by Tom Schmidt
Our church, Cross of Christ Fellowship, recently just completed a sermon series in the book of Romans.
First sermon: 2/7/21 on Romans 1:1 (Midst of Covid; meeting at MMA Gym)
Last sermon: 11/20/22 on Romans 16:25-27 (Post Covid; Back at original location)
Total number of sermons: 63 [Audio can be found here]
It was a special privilege (and responsibility!) to preach the entire book of Romans to our congregation. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity I have had to spend hundreds of hours studying, praying, and thinking over Romans. And, I can testify to God’s grace to me through it: Sunday after Sunday, I’ve seen God minister to my soul as I have preached through different passages. I am also amazed at how relevant the different sections and verses have been to myself and the life of our church.
Each week, in my preparation, I tried to rehearse the argument of the book—pausing over different verses to mediate and pray. This practice has been helpful in orienting each sermon text within the context of the book, and it has provided fresh opportunities to hear the gospel, be refreshed, and delight in God. I also came away with a very deep appreciation for Romans 8, which is probably now my favorite chapter in the whole Bible!
Here’s my understanding of the book of Romans.
Theme: the theme of Romans is the gospel (Moo, and others, argue the same in their commentaries). The gospel is the good news from God to the world about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It is good news because it is the message of God’s love and grace which brings salvation of sinners, a salvation that comes to us as a free gift and is received by faith. The theme is stated in 1:16-17 where Paul explains that he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believers, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed, starting and ending in faith (“righteousness of God” here refers to the right standing God grants to believers).
Context: Paul wrote the letter to the Romans most likely on his 3rd missionary journey from Corinth. He had never visited the Roman church, but had heard much about them through his ministry acquaintances. Paul’s intention was to go to the Roman church and preach the gospel there, experiencing a mutual encouragement (1:8-15), and then be sent off by them to Spain, where he would continue to preach and see more churches planted (15:24, 28). First, Paul planned to bring a gift from the Gentile churches to the poor Christians in Jerusalem (15:22-29); then, he wanted to travel to Rome and then off to Spain (See Acts 21-28 for how Paul eventually ended up in Rome [we don’t know for sure if he made it to Spain, though extrabiblical accounts seem to indicate he did).
Outline of the book:
I. INTRODUCTION (1:1-15)
II. THEME ANNOUNCED: THE GOSPEL (1:16-17)
III. THE GOSPEL STATED, EXPLAINED, AND CLARIFIED (1:18-11:36)
III. GOSPEL LIVED OUT (12:1-15:13)
IV. CLOSING WORDS (15:14-16:27)
I. INTRODUCTION: 1:1-15
1:1-15: Opening Greeting and Introductory Words. Paul is an apostle of Christ Jesus, set apart for the gospel (1:1). This gospel was foretold in the OT and is about Jesus, the Son of God (1:2-6). Paul hopes to come to Rome and preach the gospel to the Roman Christians, and also experience a time of mutual encouragement (1:8-15).
II. THEME OF ROMANS ANNOUNCED (1:16-17)
The Gospel: 1:16-17
1:16-17: Theme of the Book Stated. The theme of Romans is the gospel. It is the good news of salvation for all who believe, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed (a way of obtaining a right standing before God). It is the righteousness of God that comes about through faith.
III. THE GOSPEL STATED, EXPLAINED AND CLARIFIED (1:18-11:36)
GOSPEL STATED: FIRST, THE BAD NEWS: 1:18-3:20
1:18-3:20: The Bad News. All of us are sinners (Jews & Gentiles) and under the wrath of God (1:18). We cannot make ourselves right with God by our own merit or good works. Our situation, because of our sin, is GRIM; we under God’s just condemnation. No good works or personal religious obedience or heritage can make us right with God. We NEED salvation.
GOSPEL STATED: JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH IN JESUS 3:21-36
3:21-26: The Gospel Stated. There is a way to be saved from our sins and made right with God again! We can be right with God (and have the ‘righteousness of God’) through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus brings about redemption. Justification comes by faith in Jesus and is a gift of God’s grace. This salvation is secured through the pleasing sacrifice of Christ, who takes God’s wrath (“propitiation”) for us. God is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH IS NOT A NEW IDEA 3:27-4:25
3:27-4:25: Justification by Faith Is NOT a New Doctrine. To be made right with God through faith in God’s merciful salvation is not a new doctrine, but is rooted in the OT. Abraham, David, and other saints experienced salvation this way as well.
THE GOSPEL IS BETTER THAN WE THOUGHT (5)
5:1-11: The results of the gospel are truly wonderful and diverse. We have peace with God (1), access to grace (2), hope through trials (3-5a), God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (5b), proof that God loves us (6-8), and assurance that the Christ who saved us in the past is the one who will save us on the day of Judgment (9-11).
5:12-21: Jesus is the better Adam. The first Adam brought sin and death into the world, but he was a type of one to come (12-14). Jesus is the better Adam and he brings the gifts of eternal life and grace. But where “sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:20b-21). This last statement is provocative, and leads to what one of my former professors calls a ‘two-chapter nuance.’
SOME CLARIFICATIONS ABOUT THE GOSPEL AND CHRISTIAN LIVING (6-7)
6:1-23: Clarification #1–Should we sin because we saved by grace? (NO!). How could we, as Christians, consciously choose the path of sin, since we have been united with Jesus? Instead, we actively “consider” ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11).
7:1-25: Clarification #2–Is the Law of God Sinful? (NO!). We’ve been freed from the Law and bound to Jesus, to serve in the new way of the Spirit (7:6). Nevertheless, the law is not sinful, we are. The law is holy. There is a conflict within the heart of every believer—“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate” (7:15). If we looked to at ourselves, we would despair (‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death!’ [7:24]). But we look to Jesus and take hope ‘Thanks be to God…’(7:25).
MORE UNPACKING OF THE GOSPEL (8)
8:1-17: Paul continues to explain the wonderful and diverse results of the gospel. No condemnation (8:1); freedom from the power and penalty of sin (8:2-4); new life in the Holy Spirit (8:5-11); adoption into the family of God and a future inheritance (8:12-17).
8:18-30: Waiting and Groaning. As Christians we wait and groan as we await the return of Jesus. We groan with Creation, but we wait in hope (8:25). One day God will make all things right. Yet, God is with His people in this life of waiting: the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness (8:26-27); God providentially works all things together for our good (8:28); and salvation from beginning to end is accomplished by God (8:29-30) [‘Golden Chain of Salvation’].
8:31-39: Triumphant Hope. After reflecting on the gospel Paul gives four questions to show that the results of the gospel should lead us to a triumphant hope. We also are powerfully reminded about the generous nature of God, who did not even spare His own Son (8:32).
WRESTLING WITH THE PROBLEM OF ETHNIC ISRAEL (9-11)
9:1-5: Paul is heartbroken of the unbelief of fellow ethnic Jews. He would rather be cut off from God and go to hell himself than see his Jewish brethren—who have rejected Jesus as Messiah—be eternally condemned. Here, in ch 9-11, Paul is wrestling with the question and problem of unbelieving Israel. If the gospel was foretold in the OT (Rom 1:2), then why have not the vast majority of ethnic Israel experienced it? Paul responds in 3 movements.
9:6-29: 1. God’s Purposes in Election Stand. God’s Word has not failed (9:6), but his purpose in election prevails. God chooses a people made up Jews and Gentiles and they will be saved. Double predestination is presented and God’s justice upheld.
9:30-10:21: 2. Ethnic Israel Sought to Be Right with God Through Good Works instead of Faith. Israel sought to be right with God through good works instead of the “righteousness that is by faith” (9:30), and that is why they are not saved (10:1). If they place their faith in Jesus they will be saved (10:9-10).
11:1-32: God is not done with Ethnic Israel. God is not finished with Israel, but He continues to save Jewish people who believe in Him and He will save more until the return of Christ. Paul has a hope that there will a large ingathering of Jews at the end of history (11:25-32).
11:33-36: Doxology. Paul marvels at the supreme wisdom and greatness of God.
IV. THE GOSPEL LIVED OUT (12:1-15:13)
12:1-2: Living Sacrifice. Christians now live as living sacrifices, refusing to be conformed to this world, striving to be transformed by the renewal of their minds. All of life is worship.
12:3-8: Humility or Absurdity. All that we have is by grace, and it is by God’s grace that different spiritual gifts are given in the church. Thus, we as Christians ought to be humble for the grace we have received, and it is absurd to do otherwise.
12:9-13: Let Love Be Genuine. Christians are called to show a genuine love, a brotherly love, and to show love in action.
12:14-16: Gospel Transformed Relationships. The gospel transforms how we relate to each other.
12:17-21: Responding to those who Do Us Wrong. The gospel leads us to not respond with evil for evil, but to overcome evil with good.
13:1-7: Gospel and Government. As Christians, we seek to honor Christ by respecting and submitting to governing authorities. Government officials are “ministers of God” (13:4a, 13:4b, 13:6).
13:8-14: Love and Holiness. As Christians, we seek to live lives of love and holiness, casting off the works of darkness and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.
14:1-15:13: Unity in the Church. Paul calls Christians to be pursue unity in the church. Believers who are strong in faith (here, mainly Gentiles who more fully realize the freedom they have in Christ) are not to despise the believers who are weak in faith (here, mainly Jewish Christians whose conscience does not allow them to partake of particular things), and the weak in faith are not to be judgmental to the strong. Jesus is the ultimate example a servant heart (15:1); he makes a people made up of Jews and Gentiles (15:8-13); final and ultimate unity is possible because of Jesus.
V. CLOSING WORDS (15:14-16:27)
15:14-33: Paul’s Plan and Priorities. We learn of Paul’s gospel ministry and plans to come to Rome. Paul hopes to come after he delivers a gift to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Paul’s priorities (discipling/teaching gospel doctrine, evangelism, mercy ministry, and prayer) challenge our own priorities.
16:1-23: Personal Greetings and Final Instructions. Paul sends greetings and passes along greetings, revealing the deeply relational nature of biblical Christianity (40 different individuals and groups are mentioned in this passage). He also warns against false teachers who bring about division.
16:25-27: Closing Doxology. After everything has been said, Paul worships God and assigns God all the glory forever.
ROMANS ROAD: (a collection of verses to memorize, especially helpful in sharing the gospel)
3:23; 6:23; 5:8; 10:9-10; 8:1; 12:1-2.