Understanding the Book of Romans

One of the most studied books of the New Testament, the book of Romans offers a clear and concise explanation of the Gospel. It has been referred to by some scholars as the most succinct and systematic presentation of Christian doctrine in all of scripture.  It is for this reason that Romans is often the book new believers start with when they begin studying the Bible. 

Let’s explore this important book together, diving into Paul’s central themes and purposes, and reflecting upon how we can best apply the wisdom of Romans within our own lives.

Introduction to Romans

Paul wrote the book of Romans as a letter to the church in Rome, a community of believers that had already been in existence for a number of years. The community was made up of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians alike, coming together to worship God and share the Gospel of Jesus. The letter is instructional in nature and intended to provide direction, encouragement, and guidance to a community of believers during a period of relative peace for Christians in the Roman Empire.

Book of Roman

Though directed to the church in Rome, Paul had not yet visited the city at the time he wrote his letter to the Romans. Rather, Paul wrote from Corinth, another major stop during his third missionary journey. While Corinth was a successful missional location, the city was also characterized by much immorality and idolatry. Paul's insistent warning against such things in the book of Romans may well reflect his experience of just how destructive such practices could be.

What's the Big Idea?

Throughout the letter to the Romans, Paul sets out to share foundational knowledge of the Christian faith. He begins by remarking on human sinfulness and the effects that sinfulness has on all people. Paul explains that due to our rebellion against God and what He has declared right, all of humanity has been condemned. But, Paul goes on, God shows us grace and mercy by offering us justification, or a way to be made right, through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son.

apostle Paul

By Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we have been redeemed and saved. Christ’s blood covers our sin. But Paul also insists that salvation is not the endpoint of our lives of faith; it is the starting point. The Holy Spirit is constantly at work in our lives, shaping and growing us as we follow Jesus. We have been justified--redeemed or made right--by the grace of God, and this gift ought to inspire us to live a life spent in pursuit of Christ Jesus.

Broadly speaking, we can break the book of Romans into two key ideas laid out by Paul. The first is the righteousness of God. This is demonstrated both in contrast to our sinfulness and also in the just and gracious way that the Lord has provided for humanity's redemption--Jesus Christ. The second key idea is that of justification by faith. Justification by faith is a complex theological concept that essentially refers to the truth that we are not brought closer to God by our own actions or deeds. Rather, Jesus comes to us, and it is by placing our faith in Him that we are saved.

How do I apply this?

Praying to god

Romans' structure provides a hint into the importance of the book in our everyday lives. The book has eleven chapters of doctrine and five chapters of practical instruction. This marriage of both doctrine and daily life illustrates the absolute importance of both what we believe and how we live out those beliefs. As Paul writes, he emphasizes that it is vital that we know what we believe; but equally vital is the way these beliefs move us and alter our behaviors. Are we living out the Gospel we believe in our day-to-day lives? Our pursuit of God doesn't stop with salvation; it continues as each of us is sanctified as we persist in following Him. The Holy Spirit is constantly at work within us, helping us to grow--to live into the new life Christ has offered us. In other words, Paul's letter to the Roman Church assures us that God's love for us is unshakeable and boundless; let us reflect that love to the world through the way we live our lives.

Through the grace of God and the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have been freed from sin and offered eternal life anew. The book of Romans invites us to embrace that new life here and now by allowing the Spirit to transform us.

Final Thoughts

God's Word is filled with valuable wisdom and insight on what it means to live rightly. One of the best examples of this kind of wisdom in the Bible, let alone the New Testament, is Paul's epistle to the church of Rome. The book of Romans was called by theologian Martin Luther the "very purest Gospel" articulation in all of scripture. With its clearly explained theology and doctrine and its call to faithful living, Romans is a foundational text in the life of a Christian. It is a reminder that it is purely by the grace of God that we are saved; let us share this remarkable good news with the world!

Want to read more from the letter to the Romans and the rest of the Old Testament and New Testament of scripture? Consider the beautiful Bibles included in Alabaster's Complete Collection.