The book of Romans is the first epistle, or letter, in the New Testament.
The letter was written by the apostle Paul, one of the earliest missionaries who preached the Gospel to Gentiles (non-Jewish people). It was written to Christians living in Rome, around 57 A.D.
Much of the New Testament is comprised of epistles written by early Christian leaders and preachers, such as Paul, Peter and John, to local churches, individuals or to all believers. These letters talked about how to apply Jesus’ teachings to life circumstances, called out sin and corruption in churches and encouraged people to remember the hope of the Gospel, no matter their circumstances.
Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome because it was divided. The church was made up of both Jewish and Gentile Christians, but under the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius, Jews were exiled from Rome. After about five years, they were allowed to return, but the Jewish Christians found that many of the practices and culture in the church had become very “non-Jewish.” There was tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians over church practices, belief systems and how to properly worship God.
Paul wrote his letter to help the church become unified by the one thing the people had in common: their belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Romans consists of four major parts, which explain the Gospel in detail.
In chapters 1-4, Paul lays the foundational theology of his letter.
He explains that no person is righteous, or in right-standing with God. All people are separated from God by their sin and need rescue. He writes that people are incapable of saving themselves, and explains that it is only by believing in Jesus that people can be saved from their sin and justified, or counted as righteous, before God.
Paul goes on to explain that God did this to fulfill His covenant promise to Abraham in the Old Testament, and to create a multi-ethnic family of believers who will inherit God’s promises.
The remainder of Romans expands on the concepts Paul writes about in the first four chapters.
Chapters 5-8 explain that the salvation and justification people receive from believing in Christ should change every part of their lives because they have new life in Christ. Paul asserts that following Jesus liberates believers to leave old, sinful lives behind.
Chapters 9-11 explain that the Gospel of Jesus fulfills all of God’s promises to the people of Israel in the Old Testament, but faith in Christ is the only way to be adopted into God’s family, and that adoption is available to anyone who believes, not just Jews.
In chapters 12-16, Paul shows that unity and reconciliation in the church are both possible and expected. He argues that because the Gospel is for everyone, and because believers have new life in Christ, the Roman church (and all churches) can set aside cultural differences and use their unique, God-given gifts to love and serve one another as Christ loves and serves them.
Paul closes his letter by urging the church to watch out for people who seek to cause division and then gives all the glory to God.
Justification by faith: Throughout Romans, Paul makes it clear that salvation from sin and restoration with God is only made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The letter opens and closes with a reminder of this truth, and Paul spends several chapters explaining the significance of our faith in Christ in how we live and love God and others.
Unity in Christ: The purpose for Paul’s letter is to unify a culturally divided church. Paul exposes the myth of spiritual hierarchies in the church and calls God’s people to set aside their preferences and cling to what truly matters: believing and proclaiming the Gospel.
Romans 1:16-17 • Romans 3:22-26
Romans 5 • Romans 8 • Romans 12
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
Romans, like the other epistles, is applicable to all who read it, not just the Romans who first read it nearly 2,000 years ago.
Romans makes clear the universal nature of sin, the life-giving, sin-defeating gift of Jesus and our responsibility to follow Him with our whole hearts.
Still today, there are divisions in churches. May Christians read the book of Romans and have their prejudices, presuppositions and hearts changed.