Introductory Message on the Epistle to the Romans
At least three significant questions should be asked at the very outset: first, why is there an epistle to the Romans? Second, why does this epistle stand first in the order of all the epistles? and third, why does it head the list of the Pauline epistles?
It is my conviction that even the arrangement of the books of the Bible as set forth in the King James Version was ordered of God. The facts of Christianity as centered in Christ are presented in the four gospels, while the force of those facts are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. These five books are followed by the Pauline epistles, then the general epistles, and the New Testament is concluded with the Revelation.
The facts of the Christian faith without inspired interpretation can be misinterpreted and misused. The importance of the book of Romans is that it is an inspired interpretation of the Christian faith. It presents the most comprehensive and outstanding interpretation of the facts of the gospels and Acts.
Herein may lie the answers to why this book exists, stands at the head of all the epistles. The reader of the New Testament, after completing the record of the facts of Christianity, is confronted immediately with this inspired, comprehensive treatment of the facts.
To safeguard the believers against the clever attacks of the evil one, the Holy Spirit buttressed the New Testament record with this bulwark of inspired interpretation. The Spirit knew that men claiming to represent Christ would appear within the professing church and would seek to undermine Pauline theology by taking men back to the gospels where they would have freedom to interpret loosely the facts without definite limitations.
Great Bible scholars have paid tribute to Romans across the centuries of the Christian era. Such men as Augustine, Luther, and Calvin were profoundly influenced by this book. Many Bible scholars have remarked on never seeing a man tangled up in the false theories of cult religions who knew accurately the book of Romans.
This book carries with it the blessings of salvation, security, and spiritual strength, which attend a right and thorough knowledge of the grace which God has manifested to us in Jesus Christ His Son. This information is comprehended in a message called "the gospel of Christ" (Romans 1:16). Men believed this message of good news to the saving of their souls. The Book of Romans was written that men might understand what they believed.
The gospel is spoken about using three different expressions in the book of Romans: 1. The apostle speaks in the first verse of being "separated unto the gospel of God"; 2. In verse 16 of the first chapter, he says that he "is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ"; 3. Then in verse 16 of the second chapter, he says that God in the day of judgment, "shall judge men ... according to my gospel."
The gospel of God; the gospel of Christ; and "my" gospel. What do they mean? Simply this: the gospel is of God because God gave it; the gospel is of Christ because it is about Christ; and it is the gospel of Paul because Paul preached it.
Formal Statement of the Theme
The formal statement of the theme (which is the gospel of Christ) is found inverses 16 and 17 of the first chapter, and those are the key verses of the whole book. Mark them in your Bible and memorize them: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."
Those two verses sum up the whole book of Romans. I was pulling down commentaries looking up these verses, and was astounded that not one commentary dealt with the entire passage. Some covered the statement, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ" and then stopped. Others dwelled on the words, "For it is the power of God unto salvation," and still others moved to another portion.
Furthermore, one thing is the heart of the whole discussion: "for therein is the righteousness of God revealed." Take out that statement and you have nothing. The very reason the gospel is the power of God unto salvation is that the righteousness of God is revealed. The righteousness from God is a reality, whereas man is totally without righteousness.
Paul's Text for His Epistle
Now to the text? "The just shall live by his faith" (Hab. 2:4). Paul takes a text. In this respect he is a good preacher. First the theme, then the text. "As it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.' " The whole book of Romans is based on this text from the Old Testament. It is not a very large text: six words in the English; six in the Greek; three words in the Hebrew.
First of all, "the just". What does the word "just" mean? It means righteous and is so translated in the ASV. Is that not the problem of the ages - righteousness? Job, in the utter depths of his grief and sorrow, expressed the question of the human heart. He cried out, "How should a man be "just" with God?" (Job 9:2).
Then second, "shall live." Expressed in one word, it is "life!" What will a man not give for life, and how terrible not to have life! Job talked about that, too. "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14). The four words put together say, "the just shall live." Righteousness and life are inseparable. God is holy; He lives forever. An unrighteous man cannot live, "for the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23); "The soul that sinneth, it shall die' (Eze. 18:4); "Sin ... bringeth forth death" (Ja. 1:15). No man is righteous, but if there is a man in all the world that is righteous, he cannot die. When the lawyer came to Jesus and asked what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus in turn asked him what the law had to say. "And he, answering, said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself" (Luke 10:27). If a man did that he was certainly righteous. Then Christ turned to him and said, "Thou has answered right: this do and thou shalt live' (Luke 10:28). The man who could do these thing would have life!
Righteousness and life go together, but the problem is how we can get them. Note the phrase "by faith". The righteous shall live by faith; that is the way to righteousness and life. The book of Romans, from beginning to end, is simply an expansion of that little text. These six words contain four of the mightiest truths in the world.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 2)
[The late Dr. Alva J. McClain was a master teacher, whether in the pulpit or in the classroom. In the closing year of a five-year ministry at the First Brethren Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he delivered a series of expository messages on the epistle to the Romans. For more than forty years he delivered this same series of messages to his students. In the providence of God they are now being put into print. Dr. McClain was the founder of Grace Theological Seminary. He died in 1968, taught at the Philadelphia School of the Bible, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and Ashland Theological Seminary where he also served as Dean. He was a member of the Scofield Reference Bible Revision Committee.]