Introduction and Bird's Eye View of Romans
The letter to the Romans is written to saints - to born-again Christians. In it Paul does a lot of foundational teaching. He very clearly delineates between the natural man and the spiritual man. Through our union with Christ we are put into the spiritual man. This union makes us one with everything Christ is and did! This is the glad news - the gospel, the power of God! It gives us the righteousness of Christ, and we receive it by faith and live it by faith. This is the grace of God, for we cannot earn it and we do not deserve it, nor can we do anything to attain it!
Romans gives us the key to Christian behavior. It gives us a simple definition of sin, namely, anything that is not of faith! We don't need to struggle and try hard to be a Christian. The grace of God brings us into a delightful rest and peace with God, peace with ourselves, peace with our past and peace with everybody else! It takes away depression and despair! It releases us from all guilt!
In spite of Paul's teaching on this, most Christians still suffer from guilt because they do not realize that they have been freed from the dos and don'ts of the law. They are like a mesmerized chicken that does not realize when its restraints have been taken away. They struggle under the guilt of having broken some of the ten commandments, and to them, the obvious fact that they are not like Jesus. They don't believe that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ; that they can now run down the corridor of life, open all the doors, let the skeletons fall out, and know that God has declared them free from guilt because He has given them the righteousness of Christ.
This letter is thought to have been written from Corinth, where Paul had taken an offering for the saints who were living in poverty in Jerusalem. He had been staying at the house of a business man living in Cenchrea, a seaport of Corinth.
Paul was a man of vision, always looking to new territories to inundate with the gospel! He had made three lengthy and extensive journeys, proclaiming the Christian message throughout the eastern provinces and establishing churches. He had gone to every major city around the Mediterranean Aegean area. Those churches in turn had established many other churches. Paul was a pioneer, and did not want to build where others had built. He now felt free to turn his eyes west, to Spain. On the way he would fulfil his long-time ambition and visit the Christians in Rome. He did not know that 3 years would elapse between the letter and the visit, and that he would not go to Rome as a free man, but as a prisoner.
Erdman, in his handbook, writes that in Paul's time Rome was the capital of an empire which stretched from Britain to Arabia. It was the diplomatic and trade center of the then-known world, wealthy and cosmopolitan. The Roman peace made travel safe, and their roads made it relatively swift and easy.
Visitors from Rome were present in Jerusalem when Peter preached his first sermon on the day of Pentecost. They brought the good news to Rome, so it is not surprising that there was a large and flourishing Christian community there by the time Paul wrote. It was the usual mixture of Jews and Gentiles. Although there was no serious rift between the two sections, there was a tendency for each to criticize and look down on the other. I believe this is the reason for the emphasis that all have sinned, that all can only be saved by faith, and that not all Israel is the true Israel!
In chapter 16 we find a list of Paul's friends in Rome, to whom he sends greetings and instructions. Many people in the church did not really know Paul - they had only heard about him. Also, there were groups of men who hated Paul and his teaching to the extent that they travelled the empire just to tell lies about him. It was time to contact the church and bring them some foundational teaching.
Paul dictated this letter to his secretary in one of the guest rooms in the house of a business man named Gaius. It is thought that Phoebe, one of the deaconesses of the little church in Cenchrea, took this letter with her on a business trip to Rome. Whatever she was doing there, she went with the full blessing of the church. They even made arrangements for her to stay with the church in Rome. By doing this she would carry the letter of blessing to the church in Corinth and Cenchrea. As Phoebe travelled across the empire to Rome, little did she dream that she carried with her one of the most important documents of all time!
Paul always had a reason for writing to the churches. The Thessalonians were troubled with various questions so he brought enlightenment to them. The Galatians had slipped back into the law, so he criticized them severely - even calling them foolish for having left the faith! The church in Corinth also had a lot of problems! Since he had started these churches, he had a right to correct them.
However, he had not started the church in Rome. According to the accounts that we know of, the church there was strong within nine months of the resurrection. On the day of Pentecost there were visitors present from Rome, and they took the gospel back. So the church in Rome was started by lay people. Although Paul had nothing to do with it, there were things in his heart that he wanted to communicate to them.
First of all, he needed to introduce himself and explain his calling. He also wanted their faith to have the right foundation. So he brought them the heart of the gospel, the answer to the basic cry of the human heart, namely, that sinful man can be made right with God! The gospel is the answer! This new relationship with God affects our behavior and our relationship to others! Paul wanted everyone to know that Jesus Christ's identification with humanity enables man, by faith, to come into unity with everything Jesus did!
Paul knew from his own experience that the fear of not being right with God produces tremendous self-effort and zealousness! So he could answer the questions he himself had encountered! If ever a man tried to be right with God by his own efforts, it was Paul - at that time Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee of Pharisees. Later on he wrote, "as touching the law, I was perfect." He struggled with everything within him to keep the law of God. And in so doing, he became the chief persecutor of Christians! This persecution is also occurring today.
On the Damascus road, on his way to persecute more Christians, he was confronted by the living Lord Jesus Christ. In that moment of revelation, Paul knew that something within him had to change. The man he thought they had killed, was alive! Now everything he had ever believed and trusted, collapsed! In that moment he was confronted by the absolute uselessness of his own righteousness, and he became a man without a religion, a man ready to hear what God was saying!
A readiness to hear the living God is a prerequisite to receiving revelation knowledge. If we only want our comfortable pew and our religious dogmas, we won't hear what the Spirit is saying. Paul became acutely aware of the necessity to hear God, and he received revelation knowledge deeper than any of the other apostles.
After Paul's eyes had been opened to see the uselessness of man trying to obtain righteousness through his own efforts, he wanted everyone to know the truth! He could now speak to the issue very clearly. He had experienced the power of the gospel, and he could hardly wait to shout it out, "I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (1:16) God had established a better covenant, a new covenant - one that gives us the righteousness of God! It does not leave us feeling guilty like the law covenant did. The peace of God now floods our hearts!
A bird's eye view of the letter shows us the high points and gives us the lay of the land. It's like standing on the peak of a mountain, and viewing everything from that height - seeing what Paul is getting at - where he is coming from and where he is going.
I believe the peak is found in chapter 5:12-21. Paul recognizes that there are really only two bodies of people - one body of people being in Adam, and the other body being in Christ! Everyone is either in Adam or in Christ! Through our natural birth we are all generated from Adam, and therefore one with him. When Adam sinned, the whole race went with him. No nation nor person is an exception. We were plunged into spiritual blindness, ignorance, deception, foolishness, arrogance, hostility toward God and Christ, and disobedience to God's will by believing the great lie! God's wrath is against all this unrighteousness!
Those who are in Adam dwell in this present evil age. (Gal. 1:4) In Christ we are delivered out of it. It is a passing age because it ends in Christ!
Then Paul sees a body of people generated from Christ, and it is called the regeneration. Through our new birth we are generated from Christ and therefore one with Him! His righteousness becomes our righteousness! Just as our natural birth brought us Adam's sinful nature, so our new birth brings us Christ's righteous nature! Those who dwell in Christ dwell in heaven, and have the rule of God in their heart. This is not a passing age, but an eternal abiding in Him!
The lie causes us to think that God is like we are, having changing emotions, sometimes angry and sometimes loving, rising and falling, angry today, cooled off tomorrow, pro democracy, against totalitarianism, etc. However, God reveals Himself to us as the unchanging God! He is love and He is truth; for this reason His wrath is against all ungodliness and unrighteousness! The whole world system, whether it is expressed in a monarchy, democracy or totalitarian government, is under the wrath of God.
This wrath is not an end-time wrath like a lake of fire or hell - it is always! It is God's attitude against sin. God is love, and His love for us is ever-present, never diminishing and never increasing! Similarly, His wrath against sin is ever-present, never diminishing and never increasing. His anger is not a passion; His anger stems from His love for righteousness. The natural man, the man of sin, is under the wrath of God because he is always against God.
God is a consuming fire! Fire is good and needed, but we must have a right relationship with it. If we have a wrong relationship toward that fire, it will destroy us. The fire doesn't change; it contains the same properties, but our relationship to it changes. Since God's wrath is on the natural man who is in darkness and death, His fire will consume every bit of it - all our darkness and rebellion. How thankful we should be that He is a consuming fire!
Paul's teaching is directed especially toward the Jews and all religious people - the people who know the rules but cannot keep them! Yet they are always ready to use the Bible as a club - to club and condemn those who either do not keep the rules or do not know them. Their motto is to sock it to them, for they deserve it. They think that those who do not make the right decisions deserve to burn in hell forever. The religious people think that having the law of God makes them an exception to the wrath of God - because they know the rules and do their best, God is on their side.
The people who have the rules and don't keep them, have the greater condemnation. Possessing the rules is no reason for pride, it only gives them greater responsibility. They are under sin just like the heathen and everyone else. Paul sums it up in one short statement, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." This includes those who know they have sinned and those who don't know it, those who are trying to be good and those who aren't.
Into this sorry mess God comes with the good news of His great salvation! He brings us His righteousness. The righteousness that has wrath against unrighteousness brings life! God has made a just way to make us righteous - one that does not violate the law! How did He do that? By sending us Jesus Christ! Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh and took upon Himself our body of sin - the sin which is under the wrath of God. When Jesus cried out in the darkness of that hour, "My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?", He was not speaking as a son, but as a human being, for He did not say, "My Father, My Father".
In order to do away with our sin He had to die as a sin-offering for us, for this was the requirement of the law! Thus He fulfilled the law! His death on the cross was the climax to man's intense hatred of God. The horrible agony and suffering inflicted upon Christ revealed the completeness of Christ's death to sin - His death to sin had also been evidenced in His daily life. Only the most cruel death could satisfy humanity's hatred of the exact representation of God in human flesh!
In Christ's identification with humanity and death, our body of sin was crucified together with Him. Jesus died, not only to forgive our sins, but to do away with sin! His resurrection brought us life! It brought us into freedom from our slavery to the carnal mind! The outpouring of His Spirit into our hearts gives us everything He is! This brings us into a new dimension - a spiritual dimension in Christ, in the heavenlies!
In Adam all die, and in Christ all are made alive! Christ's obedience is greater than Adam's disobedience! The death that is in Adam is still here, but it has received its death blow. Only life can overcome death, and the life in Christ overcomes all death! This is the power of the gospel of Christ Jesus!
God's kingdom is eternal, and our new birth transfers us into this kingdom. It's a kingdom of light, and His light brings us understanding. The day of the Lord is not a 24-hour day - it is always. It takes us out of the inky darkness of sin, despair and death! In Christ, the truth and the light, we have redemption and forgiveness! In Him we are made a new creation and all things have become new!
So we see that there is the natural man and the spiritual man. The natural man is in Adam, and the spiritual man is in Christ! The natural man lives in this world - in the darkness and deception of human thinking, in the lusting of the flesh and the pride of life. The spiritual man lives in the light, in the heavenlies, in a world of righteousness, in the mind of Christ! At present they live alongside of each other.
Our transfer from one kingdom to another has nothing to do with our good works. Humanity's pride does not want to believe this. Humanity wants to achieve and have something to be proud of, so it loves religion and is violently hostile to the grace of God. Religion will give man a list of rules - do this, do that, and you have it made. It gives him reason for boasting, for thinking that his good works will merit him a waterslide in the backyard of his mansion in heaven. This thinking comes from the carnal mind - from the deception that works in that mind!
God's righteousness can only come to us in Christ! It is the gift of God, and can only be received by faith! It is not of works, lest any man should boast. God puts us into Christ, into the new man, and His righteousness becomes ours! Our life in Christ takes us out of works; it comes to us by faith! Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness! "The just shall live by faith."
How do you think the Jews felt about the Gentiles becoming God's children through faith? The Gentiles are Johnny-come-lately, accepted by God through faith, without the requirement of works! The Jews were God's chosen people - they had Abraham as their father, they had circumcision, they had Moses and their wonderful law! They had possessed the law for a long time - it was their heritage! Then Paul came and told them that they could scrap all that and be accepted by God through faith!
Now it was time for a course correction. Let's get the facts straight! What came first, the law or faith? Abraham was made right with God by faith. The law was given hundreds of years later, so faith was necessary from the very beginning! Without faith they could not receive the promises! Abraham received the promises by faith! How could he at almost 100, and Sarah at 90, produce a child? How could Abraham ever believe this could happen when they were already dead to procreation?
Abraham believed that God could raise the dead. He believed God would raise Sarah's womb to life as well as his procreative ability! He believed in a God of resurrection. He believed in resurrection when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac! God wants us all to know that without faith it is impossible to please Him! The natural descendants of Abraham are not Israel! The true descendants of Abraham are people of faith - Jew and Gentile alike!
We are born again by faith, not of works, lest any man should boast! We believe in the God of resurrection who raised Jesus from the dead! He also raises us out of the deadness of the natural man and puts us into the spiritual man, Christ Jesus! This takes us out of the man who sins, and puts us into the man who does not sin! This has been the theme of God throughout the ages!
Our new birth brings us into a new world. Jesus said to the disciples, "You are in the world, but you are not of it." We belong to another system altogether. Before we were born again our ancestry went straight back to Adam - spirit, soul and body. Now our ancestry goes back to Jesus Christ - spirit, soul and body. He is our life, our source, our being! We have a new citizenship; we belong to a new kingdom - the kingdom of God! The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are a people of faith - we are the true Israel! Christ is our nationality, our identity!
Although we live on this earth, we are not of it! We're alongside it, and we brush against the old nature all the time. It pressures us because it comes in the guise of comfort, enjoyment, ease, pleasure and self-preservation. But it is actually death dressed up to look like life. At funerals or viewings we sometimes hear the remark that the dead person looks very life-like. Similarly, the old nature looks so real and so desirable. But it does not know what life is, because the old nature is death. Therefore we need to live by faith in the truth that Christ is life!
Living in the kingdom of God in daily life can be compared, in some respects, to flying in a plane. The conditions outside the plane - temperature, air pressure, etc., do not support survival. But the conditions inside the plane - temperature, air pressure, etc., support life. It's like living in the midst of the old world of death, yet being safe in our new world of life, righteousness, peace and joy in the heavenlies.
The natural mind always gets things wrong. It philosophizes that if the magnitude of God's grace is shown by the greatness of His forgiveness, why not keep on sinning so God's grace is maximized? Paul said that was stupid. Those who think that, do not get the point. The fulness of God's grace is shown in His power to make us a people who have overcome the allurement to sin. Getting rid of sin is the goal - and that is much greater than forgiveness of sins!
Our transfer to the kingdom of God takes us out of the rulership of the old kingdom. We have exited the old through death - not the death of the physical body, but the death to sin that we died with Christ! We have been released from the lordship of the death and deception of the carnal mind. We have died to that death, and have been raised into life! We are no longer under the dominion of sin, but under the dominion and lordship of Jesus Christ!
Since sin no longer has dominion over us, let's live accordingly! Let's be who we are in Christ; then sin won't have its way in our body. These are strong words! Notice, it doesn't say, "Try to be free from sin." It says we are free from sin's dominion. Therefore let's accept this truth and enjoy our freedom from sin's dominion! Having been freed from sin's bondage, why should we return to it? Now that we are free from sin's dominion, we can live out of the life that is within us!
This lesson is hard for us to learn! In our exuberance and thankfulness for God's great gift of salvation, and in our natural thinking, we dedicate our lives to the Lord and tell Him we want to serve Him all the days of our life! We will try very hard to keep His commandments, join a church, keep all the rules, get up at five every morning to read the Bible and pray, and witness every day.
This sounds very religious - and that is exactly what it is. We get right back into self-endeavor and the law. If we think we have to dedicate our lives to the Lord, we don't realize that our life already belongs to Him! His life is not ours in separation from Him; it is not ours to live as we please. His life is ours in union with Him! He is our Lord - we live in Him and do as He directs! A soldier would not remain in the army very long, if, in response to a command, he would say, "I'll think about it. If I think it is a good command, I'll do it, but if not, I won't." A soldier is under lordship, and he is expected to obey it! Life that is separated from God is death!
Again we have to learn that self-effort does not achieve the righteousness of God! To our horror we discover that all our trying to please God is worthless. We only make matters worse. It's like a six year-old, wanting to make pancakes for his parents. The flour spills, the milk spills, the egg carton accidently falls off the counter, and he slips because of the broken eggs, and he falls into the mess. Yet he only wanted to please his parents! In the same way, everything we do to try to please God, ends in failure. We always seem to do the opposite!
At last, at the end of Romans 7, Paul screamed out "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?" And we ask, "Paul, what are you saying in our language? What has gone wrong? What have we missed?" We forgot that we were freed from the law! The law belongs to the old covenant! It was given to point out our sin - not to make us righteous. It has done its work in us and left us helpless and flat on our face. We can now wave good-bye to the law - to trying to please God through our own efforts - because that belongs to the old covenant.
The kingdom of God does not function like the kingdoms of this world; it functions in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts, and He achieves everything the law desired without bothering with the law. He achieves it through love - the love He is within us! After all, love is the fulfillment of the law - love God and love your neighbor even as Christ loved us. Once we realize that God doesn't want us to struggle to please Him, we can enter His rest and know that the Holy Spirit within us is reproducing the very life of Jesus in us. This is love, and love fulfills the law. Oh, the wonder of God's great salvation!
Chapter 8 begins with the wonderful declaration that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ! We have been delivered from the law of sin and death! We have the Holy Spirit, so we have life! This is not a repair or renovation job on the old man; instead, we are put into the new man, into Christ! Christ has become our life! We have died to sin; the law no longer has dominion over us! Sin, the law and death, have all been dealt with in Jesus Christ. Every prophecy in the Old Testament comes into fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ. Who can then separate us from the love of Christ? Exultantly comes the great declaration - nothing, absolutely nothing!
The Old Testament promises include both Jews and Gentiles. The Jews did not understand the concept of faith and the greatness of God's plan of salvation. The Gentiles received it, but the Jews, with a few exceptions, are still missing it. However, God did not change His mind about the promises. The Jews missed it because they tried to achieve righteousness by their own good works, and in so doing they refused the righteousness that God was offering! In their struggle to achieve righteousness, they lost it. However, the Gentiles, who knew they were bad, were ready to receive a free gift.
Paul keeps reminding them that the true Israel is the Israel of faith, not the Israel of natural descent! Not all Israel is Israel. But God has had His true Israel, His people of faith, called the remnant, all the time. It is called the remnant, because most of Abraham's descendants departed from faith. But in every age God has had His remnant - the true Israel!
Paul wants the Gentiles to know that even though they have been grafted into the true olive tree of faith, and have become partakers of the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they have no reason to gloat over the Jews nor to despise them! They have every reason to be thankful to them because they were the custodians of the promises. They need to remember that the unbelieving Jews were broken off of God's tree. If God does that to the natural branches, He will do it to unbelieving grafted-in Gentile branches too. The good news is that God can bring the unbelieving Jews back in! And He will! They will be saved by looking at the Messiah Christ who came according to the prophecy.
In Christ, Jew and Gentile become one people! The dividing wall has been taken away because both groups are put into the new man - into Christ! This new company lives by faith and feeds on truth! Christ is the truth, and by receiving truth we are feeding on Christ. This brings about a transformation of the mind, for the old mind fed on lies and deception.
A transformed mind is not conformed to this world! How can we continue to live like the world after we have received Christ's righteousness, light and love? J.B.Philips translates the word conformed as, "don't be squeezed into the mold of this world." Our old mind exists alongside the new. When our new mind rules over the old, our mind has been transformed. As we gather together and fellowship in the Lord, our new mind rules over the old. But when we get back into the nitty-gritty of this life, we feel the pressure to conform to the world's standard. Our natural senses pressure us to depend on our ability to solve our problems according to the world's way of dealing with them. The natural mind says to do it the world's way; the transformed mind says, "God is in control; do it His way!"
God has taken us out of the old self and has put us into Christ! Let's not be pressured back into the old rut! We came out of it because it wasn't any good, so why embrace it again just to be like others? Let's live according to who we are - according to the new mind that we have!
Let the miracle that is within us be expressed in every area of our life! It needs to be expressed in our home life, our business life, our social life and our church life. The old life wants rules and regulations, competitions, honor, and power over people; it wants a ministry and the recognition of that ministry. It's every man for himself - envy, bickering, snarling, snapping, backbiting, gossiping. The new life is different; it operates out of love and as members of the same body.
Paul then begins to enumerate what it means to minister to one another without lording it over others. The chapter ends with the exhortation, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Next, he addresses our relationship to the governing authorities. That is a problem because they belong to the old world, don't they? We are living in a new kingdom, so why do we need to obey the laws of our land? Because we are citizens of the kingdom of God and under the lordship of Jesus Christ, we are to be the best citizens! We are to obey the government unless it tells us to do something that God says we must not do. God is always our highest authority! We must obey God rather than men! We live as citizens of this world in the knowledge that we are citizens of God's kingdom.
Chapter 14 discusses some of the differences that existed among the Christians concerning Christian behavior. Should you eat meat? Is it right to drink wine? Which day should be kept as the Lord's day? Paul refuses to lay down rules. Rules are nothing but religious tyrants. He was not concerned about what they ate and drank, but he was deeply interested in their spiritual welfare. The answer to the nitty-gritty questions in life is to live from within, from the light and life within us!
Rules and regulations produce law, and slavery to the law. The carnal religious mind embraces law because it cannot comprehend spiritual realities. Christ mercifully takes us out of the law for righteousness, and brings us into the freedom and fullness of truth. This necessitates change from who we used to be. The leading of the Spirit brings us into truth, and changes our attitudes and ways of doing things, thus freeing us from wrong habits, etc. The Holy Spirit does not lord it over us, but gently leads us in love! What a glorious conclusion!
After Paul explained the object of his ministry, he told them that he hoped to see them on his way to Spain - after he had taken a contribution for the poor to Jerusalem. This did happen, but not in the way he had planned. When he got to Jerusalem with the offering, he was arrested and jailed. He did get to Rome, not as a free man, but as a prisoner. He also got to Spain. There is good reason to believe that he went to the uttermost part of the Roman empire, carrying this gospel that he put forth in Romans.
How is Paul's teaching to impact us? What have we learned? Paul wanted the vastness and glory of Christ's work to dawn on us! From the corruption and depravity of the natural man, we are being changed into the image of Christ! We have been put into Christ, the new man; our new self-image is Christ! On the basis of what Christ has done, and who He is in us, this is who we really are! His righteousness has become our righteousness, so we are free from the wrath or anger of God. By putting us into Christ we are made righteous legally. Since Christ never sinned, the new creation that we are in Christ has never sinned! O the glory of Christ's work and the mystery of it!
It's wonderful to be freed from the tyranny of sin! Sin does not have to rule in this mortal body. We no longer have to try to please God, for Christ, the Holy Spirit now lives His life within us. This is the life that pleases God and gives Him pleasure. His death to sin has become our death to sin; His resurrection and life have become our resurrection and life! We are always in His presence; He never leaves us, therefore we do not have to wait for His presence to come to us! However, we need to become conscious of His constant presence in us! We have become one - not just laminated together, but one in His life! We are living in His kingdom even while we are living on earth!