Romans is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians who were living in the city of Rome, dispersed across a number of local churches in the city. I’m guessing there were geographical reasons for having multiple churches—that is, Rome was a big enough city that it made sense to have a place to worship that was closer to home—but there were also issues between Jewish and Gentile Christians, which Paul addresses a couple of times in this letter.
Paul covers a lot of territory in this short letter. It’s only sixteen chapters, but there is so much in it! After a short introduction with Paul’s greetings and his longing to visit the Romans, he covers:
- The fact that the Gospel is available to both Jewish and the Gentile believers
- The fact that God has wrath stored up for humanity because of our unrighteousness, and the fact that even His Law can’t save us from that wrath – that the Law actually makes things worse, if you can believe it! (This isn’t an isolated point he makes as an aside, it’s a core part that Paul spends some time on.) The point being that we are all unrighteous, whether Jewish or Gentile, male or female, “whatever” or “opposite of whatever.” (He points out that, yes, there are advantages to being Jewish, with thousands of years of history studying God and His ways, but that Jewish people are nevertheless under the same judgement as everyone else.)
- However, despite all of our unrighteousness, God Himself is Gracious, and we can actually attain righteousness and have peace with God through faith – just as Abraham did. Though one man (Adam) had introduced death into the world, another man (Christ) brought life, which, ironically, now makes us dead to sin and alive to God, releasing us from the Law and freeing us to be “slaves to righteousness.”
- God did all of this because He loves us.
- Despite all of this, not all Jewish people believed (to Paul’s anguish), but some did, because the message of salvation is for all; and the Gentiles (as we now well know) were “grafted onto” the branch that was originally created through the Jewish nation. This has consequences for both Jewish and Gentile Christians.
- Once we’re saved, God has different “gifts” for all of us, so we need to learn how to use our gifts in His service, and get along with people who have different gifts.
- Aside from what we think of as “gifts,” Paul inserts some commentary on how to truly be Christian, and that the truest fulfilment of the Law is to love one another as God loves us.
- A big part of this is learning how to interact with Christians who have different beliefs from ours, and managing not to cause someone else to sin as part of those interactions.
As I leave the book of Romans, that last part is the part that sticks with me the most: there is so much theology in Romans—enough so that I was trepidatious about blogging through it, because I knew I couldn’t do it justice (as if I do justice to any book I blog through)—but Paul wouldn’t want us to leave his letter eager to debate one another about these things, he’d want us to leave his letter ready to get along with one another and bear with one another.
We often tend to think of this letter as having a few sections, something like:
|theology / doctrine
|what Christianity is
|God’s relationship with His Jewish people
|The part we don’t like to think about
|how to live the Christian life
|how to apply the theology / doctrine
These characterizations are incorrect, in my opinion. There is no part of Romans where Paul mentions “theology” or “doctrine” without also discussing how we should live, nor is there any part where he talks about how we should live without also mentioning why that is – that is, the theology/doctrine behind his instructions.