The book of Romans is one of the most read books of the Bible. Romans is the most succinct, clear, and systematic presentation of Christian doctrine in all of scripture. For this reason, it is often one of the very first books that new believers read when they start to study the Bible.
But what is the book of Romans all about? When and why was it written? And how does it speak to those of us reading it today? We’ll take a look at these key questions throughout this article and examine what we can learn from the book of Romans.
Key Facts About Romans
The book of Romans was written by the apostle Paul in approximately 57-58 C.E. Romans was written as a letter, or epistle, to the church in Rome and was intended to provide direction, encouragement, and guidance to that community of believers. Paul and the other Apostles wrote many of these letters to various churches and faith communities; together, these letters make up the section of the New Testament known as the Epistles.
Paul had not yet visited the church in Rome by the time he wrote this letter; in fact, he wrote Romans while he was in Corinth, a church addressed in two other letters and books of the Bible, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians.
At the time Paul wrote to the Roman church, believers in Rome were experiencing a time of relative peace. This was prior to the period of Christian persecution spearheaded by Nero. Nevertheless, Paul recognized Rome as a church that he felt needed a strong dose of basic Gospel doctrine .
Overview of the Book of Romans
Throughout the letter to the Romans, Paul sets out to share foundational knowledge with the community of believers. He begins by remarking on human sinfulness, that is, on the tendency of all people to mess up or fall short of living the way God intends us to. It’s an experience that all human beings can relate to, both in Paul’s time and in our own. Paul explains that due to our rebellion against God--against what is right--all of humanity has been condemned. But, Paul goes on, God is merciful and gracious and offers us justification, or a way to be made right, through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son.
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. We are being continually refined and made righteous by the Holy Spirit through our lives as we follow Jesus. Our redemption, made possible by the grace of God, spurs us on to a life spent in pursuit of Jesus Christ.
Central Themes and Key Verses in Romans
Now that we have explored the context surrounding the book of Romans and summarized the contents of this letter, let’s take a look at some of the major themes and supporting verses.
- Our natural inclination to sin separates us from God. We cannot make ourselves right or earn salvation on our own.
In Romans 1:21 Paul writes, “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship Him as God or even give Him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.” In other words, we as people are lost in the dark. Without God, we would just be wandering.
- In His loving kindness, God provided a way to redeem us through His Son Jesus Christ, who paid our sin-debt through his sacrificial death.
Romans 3:22, “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” Jesus is our means out of the darkness and confusion of sinfulness.
- God’s grace in the Holy Spirit works in us to help us avoid sin and grow in holiness.
As Romans 8:9-10 tells us, “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God.”
- God's plan is for everyone! Any person who has faith in Christ Jesus can receive this redemption.
Paul writes in Romans 4:13, “So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe.” Jesus has saved all people.
- Since we are all united in our need for Jesus, we should work together with other members of the body of Christ, the church. When we build each other up and give honor and glory to God.
Out of the grace and love that God has shown us, we can come together in community. As Romans 15:5-6 says, “May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Overall, we can break the book of Romans into two key ideas that Paul seeks to emphasize. 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--Christ Jesus. 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.
The book of Romans provides us with a concise summary of the Gospel. In its initial chapters, Paul focuses on doctrine, that is, on the pillars of truth that we know about ourselves and about God. The last five chapters focus more on advice and encouragement for how to live out of this knowledge. Through the book of Romans, Paul invites us to ask whether our daily lives reflect our faith in Jesus. Are we following Him, uplifting and supporting others? Or are we still wandering around in the darkness of sin? In Romans 12:1-2, Paul urges, "And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."
No matter where we find ourselves, Paul assures us that thanks to God's righteousness there is reason for hope. He boldly declares in Romans 8:38, "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love."
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