Audience: Christian believers in Rome
Subjects: Understanding why Jesus' sacrifice was necessary; the role of faith; the fact that salvation is available to all who believe; the role of Jews and Gentiles; understanding who the true Israelites are; how to respond to food that is offensive to some; etc.
It is important to understand that the letter of Romans written by Paul is just that: a letter (a long one). Originally, it had no chapter numbers or verse numbers; it was just one long letter. Just like a letter or email we might write, we intend for it to be read all at once (no matter how long), rather than in pieces. And in reality, the church of Rome would have gotten together and read it out loud, so everyone could hear, all at once.
However, because many read it in parts, it makes understanding Paul very difficult, since many of his arguments and explanations last several chapters, and in reality his whole thought-process lasts for the entire letter.
This causes many misunderstandings when Romans is approached by reading it in small parts, because it is hard to understand someone's explanation when you only listen to a small section of it. A lot of wrong theology and beliefs are supported by Paul's letters, even though the wrong beliefs might be contradicted in the same letter used to support it.
However, this summary of Romans will make it clear what Paul is saying throughout his letter to the Christian believers in Rome.
Paul begins by introducing himself and summarizing the gospel message of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done, as well as who it affects (the Gentiles). As seen throughout his letters (as well as Acts), Paul has been called to be a witness of Jesus Christ to the gentiles (those who are not Jews by birth).
Paul expresses his desire to meet with the Roman believers, in order to teach and counsel them. He then begins to teach his audience, getting into the main part of his message, which is his purpose for writing this letter.
Paul explains that God has given plenty of evidence in his creation for his existence. He says people gave up the knowledge of the immortal God for fake beings created by us, worshiping things created instead of the Creator.
He then explains the outcome of turning away from God, giving the example of the sin of homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27). However, he further lists many other sins in Romans 1:29-31, which is a list that encompasses basically all other sins that people might commit.
Paul continues by making his point: everyone is guilty of sin and when we judge others, we are judging ourselves when we also commit sin. His point is that if we continue to sin, then we are just as guilty as others who sin, “Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:3)
The focus of Paul's point then reveals itself, “Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) Paul's focus is not on the judging part (even though this is part of his point), but rather Paul's focus is on the fact that they are judging others while committing sin themselves.
This is an appeal to the Roman believers to stop sinning.
“For [God] will repay according to each one's deeds...for those who are self-seeking and who don't obey the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” (Romans 2:6,8)
Paul continues in Romans 2:25 by explaining that circumcision, which is supposed to be a physical representation that you are under the law and you are part of God's people (a Jew), is actually a physical representation of a spiritual thing.
He claims that "true circumcision" (truly being God's people) is spiritual and is based on whether someone obeys the law. If someone does not obey the law, then they are not truly circumcised in their heart even if they physically are.
To simplify this explanation, Paul is essentially saying that whether or not we are a Jew (meaning, we are God's people) is dependent on whether or not we obey the law.
He makes a strong claim here that God's people is determined by spiritual factors, not physical, meaning that being a Jew by birth does not make you a Jew spiritually.
Beginning in Romans 3, Paul continues his explanation in a pattern he regularly follows throughout his letters: while making an argument, he clarifies what he does not mean.
So to begin in Romans 3, he clarifies that he is not saying that physical circumcision has no value or that being a Jew by
birth has no value. On the contrary, those who are Jews by birth
should be proud that God entrusted them with his words and knowledge
of his will. However, he will continue to clarify later on that "circumcision" and being a "Jew" (God's people),
is truly spiritual (based on obedience to God's law), not
Paul quickly returns to explaining that every person is under sin, for all have sinned, giving evidence by quoting scriptures (Romans 3:10-20) from the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures). Under the law, everyone is accountable to God, and no one is righteous based on the law's standards (which is God's standards).
However, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is what allows us to be considered righteous when we obey the law because our past sins are forgiven (Romans 3:25). This is the gift of God, his son Jesus Christ to atone for our sins. Paul then clarifies again what he means, "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law." (Romans 3:31)
Paul continues his explanation of the law of faith by using Abraham as an example. While he first explains that faith, not works, is what was considered righteousness (Romans 4 and 5), he later clarifies what he is not saying: that we can continue sinning (Romans 6). "What then are we to say? Should we continue to sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?" (Romans 6:1-2)
Paul explains that this gift of righteousness by faith is given to all people, both the circumcised (Jews) and the uncircumcised (Gentiles). The physical circumcision was a representative sign of God's promise of righteousness through faith, meaning it was a physical representation of the spiritual event.
This is the spiritual circumcision that Paul has just
discussed in Romans 2:28-29. "Rather a person is a Jew who is
one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart - it is
spiritual and not literal." (Romans 2:29)
Paul continues to elaborate that obeying the law without faith in Jesus Christ cannot result in salvation, because the promise given to Abraham by God was given based on Abraham's faith, not on his obedience to the law by itself, since this occurred before the law was even given to Moses.
Abraham's obeying God as a result of his faith is what was
considered righteousness. Abraham trusted God that he would be the
father of many nations even when he had no child and was already very
Paul then arrives at his point about Abraham, explaining that our belief in Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for our past committed sins is what will be considered to us as righteousness. Our belief essentially allows for Jesus' sacrifice to take effect and cleanse us of our sins, so that we might be considered righteous when we obey the law.
Paul explains that because of God's gift of being made righteous through faith, it gives us peace from knowing that we will stand before God blamelessly and share in his glory.
He continues by addressing suffering, likely due to persecution of his audience by non-believers. Through the strength that is provided by God's Holy Spirit, we are able to endure suffering and persecution.
Continuing to reassure his audience, Paul
speaks of the love of God as seen in Christ dying for us, who are evil, while we were God's enemies.
Paul then moves into a small explanation of the history of sin, as well as explaining the reasoning for the sacrifice of Christ covering the sins of all who believe and return to obeying God. Just as sin and the result of sin (death) came into the world through one man, likewise forgiveness of sin and eternal life come to the world through one man's sacrifice (Jesus Christ). "For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:19)
While making this explanation, and speaking of the effects of the law, Paul quickly responds with how we should respond to what he's saying, beginning in Romans 6.
As Paul states, those who have been baptized into Jesus Christ have died to sin. Jesus Christ died to the sins of the world and was raised to eternal life. This means that if we have not died to sin and not "been buried with him by baptism into death (this is symbolism, a figure of speak, as seen by the water baptism done by Paul and others)," then we will not be raised by the Father to "walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4)
Paul continues to speak of the hope of being raised to eternal life with Jesus Christ, and he gives a small explanation of the nature of Jesus' resurrection and ours.
Paul says all this to lead to his point of, "Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies...No longer present [yourself] to sin as instruments of wickedness." (Romans 6:12-13) Essentially, Don't sin. Live righteously.
Continuing to emphasis his point, he says, "Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?" (Romans 6:16) Very clearly, Paul is saying, that believers must obey God (his law, his will, etc.) in order to be saved.
Another way of
putting it is that: believers do obey, whereas those who disobey do
not truly believe. They understand that Jesus died for their sins as
knowledge, but if they truly had faith and believed and had accepted Christ's sacrifice, then they would be
reconciled to God and return to obeying his will. Essentially, we show
what we truly believe by what we do – if we haven't repented of
sin, then by our actions we have rejected Christ's sacrifice.
Being a slave to God, obeying his will and his law, results in eternal life (Romans 6:22).
Still a part of one large argument,
Paul returns to teaching about the law and what it means to be under
the law without Jesus' sacrifice. He is essentially using another way
to explain what he has already said: we have died to sin and are now
free to be reconciled to God. He makes this comparison using the idea
that a woman is adulterous if she is with someone else while her
husband lives, whereas she is free to be with another man if her
husband has died.
We are no longer slaves to death (with no hope of escape) under the law without Jesus' sacrifice. Instead, we are now considered righteous when we obey the law, because of God's spirit that cleanses us of our sins from Jesus' sacrifice (Romans 7:6).
Again, Paul returns to clarify what he does not mean: the law is not sin. The law is the will of God (Do not steal, Do not murder, etc.) and it is holy. However, sin is what causes death, since the law requires no sin. Even one sin makes us a law-breaker and condemned under the law without Jesus' sacrifice.
Paul concludes this section with saying that his mind is a slave to God, whereas his body is a slave to sin. Meaning that his current body will still die due to sin, but he will be resurrected like Jesus because his mind/soul is a slave to God.
Paul explains that the law of faith sets us free from the law of sin. God's law could never save us by itself, because under the law all people are condemned.
However, through Jesus' sacrifice and the law of faith, we can be considered righteous by God's law. Paul says, "so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:4) This statement is conditional on purpose. Jesus dying for us, means we now have the possibility to fulfill the law, "that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us." But if we continue to sin, then we are not fulfilling the law, for this statement is made for those "who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."
Jesus himself made it clear about the law, "Do not
think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not
come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17 NIV) Jesus
fulfilled the law, in such a complete manner, that his fulfillment
reaches beyond himself to those who would believe and repent of sin,
being reconciled to God, so they might too fulfill God's law when
According to Paul, those who have a mind hostile to God are those who sin (who live according to the flesh). Such people who sin cannot please God (even if they say they "believe" in Jesus, there actions prove them wrong). Paul continues to give reasons for us to live in obedience to God. Telling his audience essentially, Don't sin. Live righteously.
He tells his Gentile audience that they have been adopted into God's family through their faith and obedience "living according to the spirit, not the flesh."
Moving on to their present suffering (persecution by non-believers),
Paul encourages them that just as they share is Christ's suffering,
they will share in his glory. All of creation waits to be renewed
with the believers of Christ, the children of God.
It is the Spirit of God that helps us when we feel weak (in context, referring to feeling discouraged from persecution and suffering).
"Who will bring any charge against God's elect?" (Romans 8:33) Or rather, how can anyone bring a real charge against someone who obeys God's law? Because if we are God's elect, then by definition we are ones who has been reconciled to God, repented of our sins, and returned to obeying God.
If we do not steal, do not murder, etc. then what real charge could anyone bring against us?
Paul concludes this part of his explanation by saying that nothing can separate us from the effects of Jesus' sacrifice for all who believe, repent, and obey. Essentially, he is telling his audience to not fear or be discouraged by persecution, because nothing that happens to them (death or otherwise), will separate them from God's promise of eternal life. In context, Romans 8:35-39 is in reference to being encouraged through persecution.
Paul returns to speak of those who are Jews by birth, wishing that he could do something so that “my kindred according to the flesh” might be saved. They are the one's who God gave his law and everything that came with it; however, as Paul says, “For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham's children are his true descendants.” (Romans 9:6-7)
Again, Paul is referring to the fact that a Jew is a Jew by spiritual means, not physical (Romans 2:29).
Giving examples from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), he explains that God's true Israel is based solely on “the promise,” which goes back to his entire explanation in Romans 4. This decision to have salvation based on God's promise is His will, His mercy, His grace, His decision; which Paul says to oppose the idea that those who are Jews by birth should have the right to be saved simply because of their position as physical descendants of Abraham.
In Romans 9:18, Paul makes a very powerful statement about God, having just spoken about the Pharaoh of Egypt who opposed God and Moses, “So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.”
This statement of such absolute power and sovereignty is hard for many to accept, but it's implications are sobering.
As stated, this statement about God is sobering, which is why Paul immediately elaborates on the all-powerful sovereignty of God, stating, “But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God?...Has the potter no right over the clay...?” (Romans 9:20-21)
Paul continues to quote from the Old Testament to support his argument, quoting Isaiah, who makes a powerful statement about salvation in regards to the Jews by birth, “Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved.” (Romans 9:27)
According to Paul, those of the Jews who thought they could obtain salvation by obedience to the law by itself are unable to accept that salvation comes through one who has fulfilled the law (Jesus Christ), so that Gentiles might fulfill the law by obedience with faith that cleanses our past transgressions.
Continuing, Paul says he wishes those who are Jews by birth (but who are not believers) would be saved, but that since they believe they can be righteous through their own efforts, they reject righteousness through God's efforts.
As stated earlier in his letter, the issue is that many Jews by birth misunderstand that all are made unrighteous by the law, because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and only one sin makes us a law-breaker. “But if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” (Romans 2:25)
Paul is essentially returning to his argument in Romans 2:17-29.
Therefore, in Romans 10, Paul makes his point that salvation is for everyone, saying that everyone can be saved through faith (and again, what we truly believe is shown by our actions).
Paul then moves on to explain to his audience the importance of witnessing to others, saying that people cannot respond to the good news of salvation through faith, unless someone tells them, giving more scripture references from the Old Testament.
Paul immediately returns to explaining his mini-argument he began in Romans 9: has God rejected the majority of the Jews by birth? He explains no, that those who were truly Jews in-spirit did obtain God's promise, but that God may yet soften the hearts of more Jews who are Jews by birth.
Paul uses the metaphor of wild branches grafted onto the root of an olive tree. But he warns again about the significance of obedience, saying “Note...God's kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” (Romans 11:22) Remember, Paul has said, “Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) And, "Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?" (Romans 6:16)
However, Paul moves on to explain that in reality all of Israel will be saved, because by definition an Israelite is one who is one spiritually no matter if they are Gentile or Jew by birth. The Gentile believers must come into God's family “so all Israel will be saved,” (Romans 11:26) because part of the true people of God are people who were born Gentiles but are Israelites spiritually.
Paul's overall main point here is that the hardening of someone's heart is not necessarily permanent, and that he hopes for the salvation of the Jews by birth, as he stated in Romans 9:3 (Romans 9 through 11 is all part of one mini-explanation).
Paul again returns to telling his audience to repent of sin and to live righteously. What he has essentially been saying this whole time to his “believer” audience, is that: if you say you believe, but you do not actually repent of sin, then you are not saved.
As he said in Romans 2:3 “Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?” And in Romans 2:4, “Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” And in Romans 2:6, “For he will repay according to each one's deeds...”
Again, this is a letter, so Paul is not going to remake his entire point when he's already made it. Instead, he is beginning to end the letter, so he begins emphasizing what they need to do: “Do not be conformed to this world...” (Romans 12:2), “[Don't] think of yourself more highly than you ought to think...” (Romans 12:3), “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil...love one another...” (Romans 12:9-10), “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:12), “Bless those who persecute you...Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:14-15).
As mentioned in Romans 8, persecution was a real issue that the church in Rome would have had to deal with.
So in Romans 12, Paul is telling his audience to “be patient in suffering,” “bless those who persecute you,” “weep with those who weep,” etc. He also says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” (Romans 12:17), “Never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God...” (Romans 12:19), “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink...overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21)
Paul says all of this to tell his audience how to respond to persecution (to people hurting and even killing them because of their faith in Jesus Christ).
Paul then moves to discuss how his audience should respond to authorities, which in this case would be the Roman empire. He explains that the authorities are put in place by God to establish order and prevent evil. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” (Romans 13:3) So when it comes to taxes or respect, we are to pay what is due.
Essentially, Paul is saying to obey the authorities, not because it would be a sin to disobey, but because obeying allows us to be a good witness to others.
Paul then discusses love in Romans 13:8-10, explaining (as Jesus did) that loving others summarizes God's law. “The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery...murder...steal...covet;' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Romans 13:9)
Paul then again urges his readers to “wake from sleep,” which is a metaphor often used in the New Testament by Jesus and others to stop sinning (sin compared to sleeping) and be awake (compared to living righteously in obedience to God's law).
Jesus says, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24:42-44)
"See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, not going about naked and exposed to shame." (Revelation 16:15)
Being naked versus being clothed is another contrast used to compare sinning versus living righteously. So we are to be awake and clothed (living righteously in obedience to God) being ready for Jesus' return, as opposed to being asleep or naked (living sinfully).
These are metaphors, figures of speech, used to illustrate the point. There's nothing wrong with actually sleeping or actually being naked (there are certainly appropriate times for both).
Jesus also says in a parable, “That servant who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating.” (Luke 12:47) So there's plenty of clear evidence from Jesus to support what Paul is saying in Romans to Stop sinning. Live Righteously.
As Paul continues to end his letter, he also continues to give instructions on how to behave, telling them to not judge each other on things that are not sinful. He gives the example of what people choose to eat, saying that it is between them and God.
Continuing in Romans 14:13-23, Paul tells us to not judge other believers on issues that are not right or wrong, otherwise it might cause unnecessary stumbling.
Paul continues to give more instructions on how to behave, referring to particular situations that his audience was familiar. The issue with food has to do with the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols.
Paul covers this issue in other letters as well. Believers who realized that an idol is just a piece of wood or stone, have no problem eating meat that was “sacrificed” to them. However, there were other believers who felt it was wrong to eat meat sacrificed to something not godly.
Paul explains it is not right or wrong, but just depends on the person's choice. He covers this subject in greater detail in 1 Corinthians 8.
Romans 15 basically just summarizes some major points that Paul has already made, and it also includes his intention and desire to visit the church in Rome.
Romans 16 continues to end the letter, with greetings and some final instructions. Many people who Paul knew are mentioned here, including Timothy, who is the recipient of the letters 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy.
Paul discusses many subjects in Romans, probably because of the statement he makes about wanting to be able to visit them, but not being able to. He wishes he could discuss these issues in person, but because he has not been able to, he wants to make sure he covers all these explanations in writing.
The main point of Paul writing this letter to the believers in Rome is to essentially tell them, Don't sin. Live righteously. and to instruct them on how to actually live righteously.
He spends a lot of words on explaining why we are to live righteously, explaining how Jesus' sacrifice effects us who believe. Paul also explains issues that would have been common among believers during this time, including: understanding why Jesus' sacrifice was necessary, the role of faith, the fact that salvation is available to all who believe, the role of Jews and Gentiles, understanding who the true Israelites are, how to respond to food that is offensive to some, along with many other subjects.
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