Study Romans

September, 1998

f your church is like most, the preacher will read a few verses from the Bible, and then expound on those few verses with a half hour or more of his own words. You're not likely to even hear the entire Bible taught from the pulpit, even if you attend faithfully all your life! Personal study is the way to go if you want to understand scripture. Romans is the one book in the Bible to study, if you want to understand the whole Bible. In Romans, the apostle Paul gives a lesson in introductory Christianity. It is as if you were in college and taking your first course in your new major, Christianity, and Romans is the textbook. The book can be summarized in three words, which are "Righteousness from God". The book can easily be segmented into these parts:

Introduction chap 1 through verse 17
No One is Righteous chap 1:18-3:10
Justification by Faith chap 3:11-5
The First Anticipated Question chap 6-8
The Second Anticipated Question chap 9-11
Encouragements and Instructions chap 12-15


The last section, "encouragements and instructions" is typical of Paul's letters as he first gives a lesson and follows it with "now then, how are we going to respond and live?". The last section is not otherwise logically connected to the preceding lesson. Here, only the lesson of Romans is considered, chapters 1-11.


The introduction contains mostly comments not germane to the lesson in this book until the end at verses 16 and 17 where a "righteousness from God" is mentioned, and there is a quote from the Old Testament - "The righteous will live by faith" (Habakkuk 2:4). To feel the significance of these phrases we need to know the book of Romans, so let's get right to it.

No one is righteous

Often we have a difficult time to learn something new, because an old erroneous thought gets in the way. That's what this section is about: getting the erroneous thought out of the way. And the old erroneous thought is: If I'm good, God will let me into heaven. To convince you that you actually don't deserve to be in heaven with Christ, Paul approaches the problem gradually by getting you to admit that there are indeed scoundrels in the world who indeed deserve to be condemned. (1:18-32) Then he brings to our attention some people that are not quite as bad as the worst scoundrels, but they are deserving of condemnation as well. Eventually we see, by the same logic, everyone deserves condemnation. This section culminates in the verse 3:10 which says "there is no one who is righteous". You are supposed to get the message: You are not righteous, either. This is an important point which also appears twice in the Old Testament (Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 53:1-3). See also 1John 1:8&9. No one gets right with God without admitting that he/she is a sinner.

Paul points out that the law then, is not to show us how to earn righteousness, but to show us we need righteousness. Chapter 3 verses 19 and 20 are very important: "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Now we know the purpose of the law. No where else in scripture is this said more clearly.

Justification by faith

This is the center of the Bible. The most important part is chapter 3 verse 21 and 22:

"But now the Righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe."

The phrase "witnessed by the Law and the Prophets" is included so that you know that this is not a new idea, but was always taught in scripture, though never so clearly as in the book of Romans. To phrase it another way: Here is a righteousness revealed; which is from God, which is not related to the law, and is given to you who have faith in Christ. Verses 23 through 26 clarify with more details: This applies to everyone since everyone is a sinner, it is by God's grace, it is paid for by the blood of Jesus. Verse 27: there is no boasting of course, because I did not earn, but I received a gift. Verse 28 and 29: It is the same for everyone. Verse 31: "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law." In my words: My previous erroneous thought was that I earned merit through the law. Now that I have grace through faith, I'm not throwing away the law, but rather my erroneous idea about it. Now I know what the law is for. SPEND SOME TIME WITH THESE VERSES! THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE WHOLE BIBLE!

Chapter 4: Paul demonstrates with the examples of Abraham and David that this is not a new idea, but one that was taught in the Old Testament.

Chapter 5: More elaborating!

The first anticipated question

Since my works don't earn my righteousness, should I just go ahead and sin? After all, I avoided sin because I thought I would go to hell as a result!

In chapter 6 Paul gives a non-exhaustive list of reasons why not to sin.

Chapter 7: Here is a picture of a person who is struggling to win merit under the law and has not yet received Christ.

Chapter 8: Here is a picture of a person having received Christ. Verse 1: " There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." The phrase "who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" is descriptive of you, not prescriptive. You just learned that works do not earn you merit, remember? So if you are thinking "All I have to do is walk according to the Spirit so that I won't deserve condemnation" then go back to No one is righteous and start over. Note verse 2: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death." The "law of sin and death" is the Mosaic law which cannot earn you merit, and "the law of the Spirit of life" is this new principle of receiving grace through faith in Christ.

The second anticipated question

But wait: Aren't the Jews God's chosen people? Paul's answer to this is that God is sovereign - He always gets His way. In answer to the question "Why does he still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" (9:19) Paul does not reply to the question directly. If he had perhaps we wouldn't have the endless free will vs. predestination debates. I think the two are not mutually exclusive, but don't ask me about it. "How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (11:33).

Apply what you learned to other scripture

Now that you understand the lesson of the book of Romans, let us see how it makes clear other passages of scripture, such as the account in Matthew 19 of the rich young ruler.

Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." He said to Him, "Which ones?" Jesus said, " 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness', 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. "And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Then Peter answered and said to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?" So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit everlasting life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Matthew 19:16-30)

We should look at this passage not as a lesson for us as Christians, as Romans is meant as a lesson, but rather as an eyewitness account of an historical event. In this passage Christ is not asked: "How do I obtain eternal life?" Rather, He is asked "What good thing do I do so that I might have eternal life?" or, in other words, "How do I earn eternal life?". Since we are good students of the book of Romans, we know the answer: "You can't earn eternal life. No matter how many good works you do, you are still a sinner in the sight of God. Eternal life is given by God as a free gift to those who have faith in Christ". Look at how Jesus answers this question: "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God." What does that remind you of? Romans 3:10, of course! "There is none righteous, no, not one" If Christ tells the man no one is good but God, then logically the man is not good! Then Jesus says this: "If you want to enter life, keep the commandments". Wait a minute! That's the wrong answer! Why did Jesus say this? Let's look at the possibilities:

1) It is the right answer and Romans is wrong.

2) Jesus doesn't know the right answer.

3) Jesus is lying.

4) Somehow they are the same answer and I don't understand how.

Let us recall this lesson we learned from Romans: "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin". Now it makes sense why Jesus would say this. This man needs to learn that he is a sinner - only then will he seek a Savior. Jesus says "keep the commandments" in order to make the point that the man has not kept the commandments. The man however, thinks he has kept all the commandments and has earned by his good works a place in heaven. But Christ says he has to be perfect! This is what the law requires (Matthew 5:28).

Jesus uses this encounter to teach his disciples: "It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." Camels are much larger than needles, so Christ is saying that it is impossible for a rich man to go to heaven (by his own merit). The disciples are surprised. They think that rich people are more likely to enter the kingdom of heaven. The disciples ask "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." It is impossible for me, a sinner, to earn entrance to the kingdom of heaven, but I can leave it up to God to save me.

Remember in Romans, that old erroneous idea that was in the way? Apparently the disciples have this problem. Peter says, in essence: "Aren't we going to get anything back for giving up our lives to follow you?" Jesus assures them that they will inherit eternal life. Because the disciples need a lesson to help them abandon this idea of getting back what they've earned with their works, Jesus then tells them the parable of the workers in the vineyard. "Many who are first will be last, and the last first (chapter 20 1-16).

See how Romans helped us to understand this passage!

Let's do it again - a parable

"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 'for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 'I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 'When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 'Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 'for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 'I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:31-46)

Here it appears that works are the basis of salvation, and I have a problem - for one thing I have a tendency to ignore strangers. I'm convicted. But Romans taught me that I am saved by grace, not by works. The purpose of this parable is to convict - that is, make people aware of their sin, so that they will turn to Christ and be saved.

Let's do it again - a famous passage

Now read the Sermon on the Mount and perhaps you will agree with me that indeed Christ is addressing the unsaved. (See Just Who Are the Poor in Spirit?)