Key Notes: Dividing the text. Righteousness and karma. Walking through the book.
Let us think through how Romans is organized. It is divided into two large sections.
First, theology, the doctrine of salvation, is taken up in chapters 1–11.
Second, practice, the Christian in action, is in chapters 12–16.
Now let us divide the first section of the doctrine of salvation into two sections.
First, the plan of salvation for generic mankind, chapters 1–8.
Second, the plan of salvation for Israel as a nation, a special problem, spelled out in chapters 9–11.
Now we divide the generic plan of salvation in two.
First, the indictment, chapters 1–3:20.
Second, the solution provided in chapters 3:21–8.
Let us now divide chapters 1–3:20 in two.
First, the indictment of heathendom, chapter 1.
Second the indictment of the moral Gentile and Jew, chapters 2–3:20.
Dividing chapters 3:21–8:39 in two, we find faith-union in chapters 3:21–5:21, and the victory over sin in chapters 6–8.
As the units become smaller, the overlap makes further division difficult and hard to memorize. For example, union with Christ spills over from chapter 5 to chapter 6.
The overarching theme of the book is the righteousness of God.
The Greek word for righteousness (dikaiousyne) comes from the root word dike. Righteous, just, justify, and justification all come from this root. The words we translate as righteousness or justice are the same word in Greek. The Hebrew word is "tsadek", meaning just or righteous. (We speak often of righteousness. Justice is a concept that we need to give more attention to.)
Dike—prounounced "dickay"—was the name of the Greek goddess of justice. Her other name is Nemesis. (A nemesis is an avenger of wrong-doing. Nazi-hunters are an example.)
Dike sat next to Zeus, king of the gods; she was “a pitiless avenging goddess of penal justice.” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. G. Kittell, p. 181)
As the Greeks became disenchanted with the gods (Zeus could not be accused of righteousness), the concept of inevitable judgment disappeared. A righteous man was one who followed legal rules of the city and fulfilled his ethical duties. God was no longer in the frame of reference. The Greeks had gone from one extreme to another.
A second view of justice comes from the Hindu doctrine of Karma.
“…it is simply the law that a man reaps whatever he sows; or to put the fact in terms of another metaphor, his deeds shape not only his character, but his soul, so that in his next incarnation, his soul, as having a definite shape ‘can find re-embodiment only in a form into which that shape can squeeze’ (such as a mouse or snake). In any case, the law operates like a law of nature. The process is quite impersonal. ‘There is no judge and no judgment, no punishment, no repentance or amends, no remission of sins by divine clemency…just the inexorable causal nexus of the eternal universe itself.’” (Man’s Religions; J. B. Noss; Macmillan,’63; p. 146)
Such a doctrine would lead the conscientious person to despair.
“Oh, would that I could be delivered from the power of my karma over me! Would that I could find my way into a state of being where misery would be at an end and only joy remain!” (Ibid. p. 150)
The bumper sticker "My karma ran over my dogma." sounds funny but is very sad.
The third view is the OT teaching that God makes laws which humans must obey. Since they inevitably fail and disobey, God provides a system of sacrifice to atone for sin, so that the sinner may be forgiven (Lev. 4). The important sacrifices were of domestic animals, such as sheep, goats or oxen. To be a Jew, a member of the Chosen People, was to be ethically secure in any case. The merits of Abraham availed to all the circumcised.
1:17–32 Romans speaks to all four perspectives on judgment. It addresses the overtly wicked, the ethically nonchalant, the conscientiously guilty and the ethically secure. Its theme is the Righteousness of God (1:17). It asks the question: How can God be the Righteous Judge and acquit wicked people? He was already committed not to acquit the wicked. (Nahum 1:3). A hint is in the same verse “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” (Rom. 1:17)
However, the wrath of God is the first point to be made (1:18–32). God’s wrath comes because humans of all races know who God is but refuse to honor Him. They do not thank Him for His goodness (1:21); they fabricate images which are insulting to Him (1:23); they worship these artifacts instead of the Creator. Failing to glorify God, they also fail to glorify themselves. They ruin their bodies and spoil each other in the process. They revel in evil like pigs wallow in mud.
No wonder God is angry with His creatures.
2–3:20 Surely some good people must be able to escape God’s wrath. However, His judgment is based on performance. Also, justice may not be meted out in this life. This leads some to think there will be no judgment at all. However, it does not matter whether a person knows the Law of God or not. The Law Written on the Heart is an internal standard. The indictment is universal. Being a Jew and having the special status of circumcision is not of lasting advantage.
This universal condemnation of humans seems unacceptable. But God has put everyone in the same situation. Geniuses and morons, musicians and cement-finishers are in the same box. Obeying the Law does not work for salvation. The Law does not change us; it only makes us aware of guilt and incompetence.
3:21–31 God’s righteousness operates apart from OT Law, although the sacrifice system gives us important hints. The wages of sin is death (6:23), but God has chosen to justify those who receive His grace as a gift. God’s gift is the Life-blood of His Own Son shed to pay for our redemption. It is His death in place of our death. This substitutionary sacrifice fills in for the temporary animal sacrifices in the past and totally replaces them. That is how God can be just and also be the justifier. The supreme penalty has been paid. The prisoner can go free. We can accept the gift of salvation by faith.
4:1–25 Faith that makes salvation real is illustrated in the life of Abraham. Abraham’s case is very special since he believed that God would give him a child through whom all the world would be blessed. That set his gaze toward the Christ who would come 2000 years later. So it was not faith in an abstract promise, but a specific promise of redemption to come that is the content of Abraham’s faith.
“Abraham rejoiced to see My (Jesus') Day; he saw it and was glad.” ( John 8:56)
His faith was independent of circumcision and the Law, both of which were given after his faith was established. Abraham’s faith is a model for us, because he had to wait 25 years before the promise was fulfilled. Through faith, righteousness is put over on our accounts (imputed). Faith is not the worthy act that saves us. God’s atonement for our sin is the worthy act that saves us, with our assent.
5:1–11 Faith-justification gives us access to grace and hope of sharing the glory of God. We were weak—even enemies—when Christ died for us and gave us our reconciliation.
5:12–21 We are united with Christ as we are with Adam. The theological debate over the sin of Adam carrying over to all of mankind obscures the more important truth that our union with Christ carries His righteousness over to us. The first Adam was our representative head. He failed and disobeyed. Christ is our second representative, the Second Adam. He fulfilled God’s mandate. He obeyed fully. When we receive His free gift of righteousness, we are positioned to reign in eternal life.
6:1–14 How could the righteousness of God operate in human beings? Some accused Paul of disregarding morals. “Why not do evil that good may come?” (3:8) And, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Scandalous suggestions. Paul says we are united with Christ in His crucifixion, death, and resurrection life and cannot go back to the sinful life.
6:14–7:6 There are two analogies. We must think of giving our bodies as servants of God, servants of righteousness, rather than servants of sin. Also, we have died to the Law so that we can live in the new life of the Spirit.
7:7–25 However, Paul knows that the Law continues to provoke us to sin by its very existence. And we are two minds—the mind of the flesh is in conflict with the inmost self. The mind of the flesh is provoked by the Law. We want to do right, but cannot.
8:1–11 The first four verses of Romans 8 are the climax of the book. The Holy Spirit makes the righteousness of God available to us in practice: "... the just requirement of the Law may be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit"[ of God]. The Holy Spirit indwells every Believer.
8:12–27 The Holy Spirit reveals our inheritance to us and enables us to cry “Abba! Father!” It is also revealed to us who have the first fruits of the Spirit that the whole creation awaits our final adoption, our redemption. The creation was burdened with futility under God’s direction. The Holy Spirit also intercedes for us and our poor prayers.
8:28–39 God works in all things for the good.
1. He predestined us through many processes to glory.
2. He has justified us through Christ who died.
3. He has made us ultimate conquerors through Christ.
4. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.
9:1–29 Then how could Israel be separated from the love of God? God distinguishes between genetic Israel and spiritual Israel as we can see in the lineage of Abraham. God plainly chooses one person over another. He may allow evil people to stand as a monument to His power.
He chooses to call Gentiles as well as Jews to come into His Kingdom.
9:30–10:4 Israel as a nation missed the righteousness of God by pursuing righteousness based on law rather than faith. They tried to establish their own righteousness. And they stumbled over Christ.
10:5–21 The way of God’s righteousness was revealed to Israel by Moses. Confession of faith is simple and available to anyone. The message must be broadcast, but indeed it has been heard everywhere. Israel simply refused it.
11:1–16 God has not finally rejected Israel. There has always been a remnant saved by grace. In the economy of God, their rejection enabled the rest of the world to be reconciled to God.
11:17–24 But as we wild olive branches have been grafted into the domestic tree (contrary to nature), so God is able to graft back the native branches. Their rejection is our warning. Finally, Israel as a nation will be saved.
God’s wisdom and judgments are unfathomable. He is beyond human understanding. Everything is made for His glory.
12:1–2 Our rational response to all that God has done for us is to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices, our act of worship. And we are not to be in fashion with the world but to be changed inwardly so that we can test the will of God and demonstrate its perfection.
12:3–21 We are to respect our assignment in the Body of Christ. Love and energy should characterize our work. We are to avoid backbiting, and vengeance is forbidden.
13:1–14 We fulfill the normal duty of citizens to our governments. We will fulfill the Law by loving one another. We cannot go back to the old corrupt ways.
14:1–15:6 Scrupulous believers must be accepted without criticism. We cannot allow our conduct to cause a weak believer to stumble. We must work to build the other person up. Christ did not try to gratify Himself either.
15:7–32 Paul explains his mission to the Gentiles. He has covered Asia Minor and Greece but hopes to reach Rome and Spain. He is on his way to Jerusalem with a gift from the Gentile churches. He asks the Romans to strive in prayer with him so that he will be spared persecution in Jerusalem.
16:1–26 He concludes with greetings to 24 Christians whom he knows in Rome, and greetings from 8 men who are with him in Corinth. So the righteousness of God ends with a demonstration of the lives of 30 or more brave, hard-working and spiritually victorious men and women.
The final word is a prayer for strength.