The Book of Romans - Introductory Message
The first truth of the text is the requirement of righteousness. The word "righteous" appears ninety-one times in the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. And thirty-five of the ninety-one occur in the book of Romans. Righteousness runs through the whole book, and four great divisions can be seen in the light of that idea: righteousness needed, righteousness supplied, righteousness unattained and righteousness applied in the life.
The second truth concerns the source of life. In the first chapter, after Paul finishes talking about the pagan world, he says, "They ... are worthy of death" (1:32). Later, "The wages of sin is death" (6:23); and finally, Paul talks about the reception of Israel, and he says, "What shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (11:15). He also speaks of "a living sacrifice" (12:1). The idea of life runs through the book. First, they do not have life and God supplies it; then Israel is to have life sometime; and last of all, the Christian is to be a living sacrifice.
The third idea is that righteousness and life are inseparably bound together, expressed by "the just shall live." "The gift of righteousness shall reign in life" (5:17). In verse 18 life and righteousness are again associated. The climax comes in verse 21: "that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign unto eternal life through righteousness by Jesus Christ our Lord." Grace cannot reign to eternal life unless it is through righteousness. When I remember that, it makes me tremble, knowing what I am! But, it was God's righteousness that provided a way that God's grace might reign with the outcome of eternal life? In the following chapter Paul again links life and righteousness (6:13). "The Spirit is life," he says, "because of righteousness" (8:10). And whose righteousness is it? Christ's!
Some people have said hard things about Paul. They have accused Paul of wrenching apart righteousness and life and saying a man could have life no matter how he lived. This criticism is not valid. Paul says that first a man must be given righteousness, and after he gets it he can live right. He is alive from the dead and able to present his members as instruments of righteousness.
We have had the three truths - first righteousness, then life, and then the two of them together. The final truth is the necessity of faith. "By faith," says the text. The words "faith" and "belief" occur fifty-five times in sixteen chapters. The first few verses of Romans start out with faith (1:5); the last chapter contains the same words, "obedience to the faith" (16:26). The Greek in both passages is exactly the same. The epistle begins and ends with faith.
Every blessing of Romans must be received by faith. There is no other way - certainly not by works. We are justified by faith (3:28). We have access to grace by faith (5:2). In reference to confusing choices, "whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). In fact, the idea of faith permeates every section of the epistle. Paul thus demonstrated that he was a good preacher; he stayed by his text. He took his little text of three Hebrew words and preached the mightiest epistle in the Word of God. Amazing treasures are hidden in the Scriptures. How many Christians are there who know what is in the book of Habakkuk? Some cannot even pronounce its name, yet the apostle Paul finds the basis of Romans in three words from that little book of the prophet Habakkuk.
Four Main Divisions
The four main divisions of the book of Romans are "condemnation, salvation, vindication, and exhortation. Each main division answers a great question.
The first division (1:18-3:20) answers the question, "Is the world lost?" We can't discuss salvation until we know whether the world needs it. All the world is divided on this subject. There are three positions: man is well, man is sick, and man is dead. The Bible says he is dead.
The other day a man came to convert me to New Thought. He gave me a book which he said would show me everything I needed, "Divine Science." Of course, it was familiar to me, though the author was not. I opened the book, looked into it, and found some exercises to go through each day. The first day one starts out reciting, "I am good. I am well. I am holy." And that is the first position. Christian Science, New Thought, and many of the cults take this position: the world is well.
The other answer is just as bad. "The world is only sick. All man needs is a physician, a little help. He has the means within himself for recovery."
The truth of the matter is that man is dead!
2. The second division (3:21- 8:39) answers the question, "How does God save sinners?" When we know that man is dead, then we are ready to learn how God saves him. There are a great many different ideas on that subject. Legalism commands, "Keep the law." Asceticism says, "Scourge the body." Gnosticism urges, "Find the key to superior and secret knowledge." There is Evolutionism: "Salvation consists in gradual development." Ritualism declares, "We are saved by the performance of ceremonies." Rationalism says, "All you need to do is to be good here and do good, and the next world will take care of itself.
It is necessary for us to find out how God saves sinners.
3. The third division (9:1-11:36) answers the question, "Why is Israel rejected?" It doesn't look as if this section belongs in the letter. It appears as if chapters 9-11 could drop out and never be missed. Did Paul get sidetracked from his subject?
On the contrary, before he can explain completely how God saves sinners, Paul has to explain the Jews. Paul said that Christ was the Messiah; thus the Jew had a right to go to Paul and ask, "If Christ is the Messiah, why is not Israel enjoying those promised Messianic blessings?" Logically, then, this section is a parenthesis inserted at this point for the Jewish reader. But it is of importance to the Christian, too; for unless the divine promises to the Jew are fulfilled, how can the Christian trust Christ to fulfill His promises to the believer?
4. The final section answers the question (12:1-15;33), "How shall a saved man walk?" Some say, "keep the Ten Commandments." Others say, "it doesn't matter how he lives, so long as he is saved." But it does matter, and Paul discusses the question as the concluding section of his epistle.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 3)