The book of Romans is the Magna Carta of the human soul. The book of Romans contains as thorough a statement of genuine liberty as can be found anywhere in all of human literature. The book of Romans is a book of life, a tree of life. The book of Romans is a three-foot-thick vein of gold in a mountain range of glorious Scripture. The book of Romans is a book filled with inexpressible joy, anchored forever in the decrees of the everlasting Father. What should we think about the book of Romans?
“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” (Rom. 1:16–17).
The letter is likely written from Corinth around 57 A.D. Compare 1 Cor. 16:1-7 with Romans 15:25-26. The book of Romans is a fund-raising letter, showing a marked difference between Paul’s way of doing that kind of thing and ours (Rom. 15:17-29). He emphasizes what he has been doing, and what he teaches, with a glance at the need. Unfortunately, we tend to reverse this. And what is the result? Apart from whether it helped on his mission to Spain, Paul wrote a fund-raising letter that is arguably the most influential book in Christian history. We should meditate on that for a moment.
Summary of the Text
Paul begins here by declaring that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ (v. 16). The gospel therefore is something we should not be ashamed of, but it is something that provokes the world into trying to make us ashamed of it. If you found a cure for cancer, you would not say “I am not ashamed.” If you invented a perpetual motion machine, you would not say “I am not ashamed.” If you wrote an epic poem that won the Nobel Prize for literature, you would not say “I am not ashamed.” But if you found a cure for sin, given the nature of sin, you would have to make this your constant refrain—“I am not ashamed.” This is because sin always pushes back. Whenever sin is attacked, there is always blowback, and one of sin’s central technique is the ever-popular coolshame.
But we are not ashamed because the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, whether Jew or Greek. By this powerful means, the righteousness of God is made manifest, from beginning to the end. And why? How? It is manifested through how the just live their lives, which is by faith (v. 17).
Overview of the Book
The first three chapters outline man’s dilemma for us. Man is trapped in sin, trapped in himself, trapped by his idols. Chapter 1 shows us that the Gentiles are under sin, despite God’s revelation of Himself in nature. Chapter 2 shows us that the Jews are under sin, despite God’s revelation of Himself in the Torah. Chapter 3 shows us that the Jews and Gentiles are together under sin, trapped in the same way. Sin has them both by the throat.
In the next two chapters, we have two different cases made for the gospel. The first is an exegetical case in Chapter 4, showing us how Abraham was justified by faith. In Chapter 5, we have a theological case outlining the gospel. We are shown that Christ is the last man, delivering us from the death brought down upon us by the first man.
The gospel always generates objections, and so then Paul begins anticipating and answering them. The form of the book of Romans is what was called a diatribe in ancient times—where you are dealing with an imaginary opponent throughout (see Rom. 2:1-5; 17-24; 8:2; 9:19-21; 11:17-24;14:4, 10).
In Chapter 6, he shows us how liberation from sin does not liberate us to sin. In Chapter 7, he shows what the law is for then, now that we have learned that it is not for our justification. In Chapter 8, Paul describes what life in the Spirit looks like, now that we are freed from the law.
At the end of Chapter 8, Paul exults that nothing can separate God’s elect from His love for them in Christ Jesus. But wasn’t the old Israel elect? What about that? In Chapter 9, Paul shows how God’s sovereignty extends through both kinds of election, both covenantal and individual. Is there no place then for ethnic Israel? In Chapters 10 and 11, Paul shows how God’s gifting and calling are irrevocable.
In Chapter 12, Paul turns to the practical ramification of living how this glorious gospel. In this chapter he addresses issues of spiritual gifts and government.
In Chapter 13, he talks about our relationship to the civil authorities. In Chapter 14, he turns to keeping the peace within the church over “debatable matters.”
In Chapter 15, we have an outline of gospel mission, and in Chapter 16, he wraps up and then extends his greetings to the saints.
Not an ‘Improve Your Golf Swing’ Gospel
As you reflect on how the gospel is presented in this great book of liberation, notice how death features in the goodness of this powerful gospel. Our problem was Adamic death, and Jesus Christ came to this earth in order to die in such a way that this shared death of ours could finally die, and be raised to life again. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3). In Adam, we live in a living death, and in Christ we are finally able to crucify that way of living death. And because it is finally crucified, it can be brought to life again. That is what the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus does.
So this is not a message that pats the back of your hand and encourages you to start living your best life now. If a man wants to follow Jesus, at least according to Jesus, he has to take up his cross daily and follow Christ. Whatever could that mean? Well, guess. The only way out of the hellhole of self is to have that wretched selfish ego hanged on a gibbet until dead. That is final freedom.
Why? Because in our poverty, Christ brings His riches. In our darkness, He is the only pure light. In our swamp of misery, He brings the solid ground of joy. In the midst of our cursing, He brings His blessing. In our uncertain vagaries, He brings His everlasting and predestinated love—the only kind of love that could do us any good. When our blind eyes were staring at the outer darkness, He opened our eyes, turned us from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. When our fists were clenched against Him, His hands were opened wide toward us, and with a nail hole in each one.