Though the book of Romans is probably the most complete and systematic treatise of doctrine found in the new Testament, yet we ought not fall into the mistake of thinking that it is what we might look for in a systematic theology. Having just finished working through the book as a whole and tracing its message together, we ought to remember this and make a few final notes here just to remind us how the book of Romans should fit into the whole picture of our thought and understanding.
To begin with, if we were to think that the message of the book of Romans was to be taken alone as the final or only word about the gospel, we would make a great error. That error would probably be of at least two kinds. First, we would have an incomplete picture of truth. The message of this book is indeed great and glorious, but Paul did not set out to say all that there is to be said. There are many other important aspects of truth that are dealt with in the rest of the Scriptures. If we omit these, we will miss out on many things.
Secondly, though closely related, is the fact that we would probably have some misconceptions if we read only the book of Romans. Not only would we have some blank spots in the picture, but most likely there would be some wrong inferences that we would draw. Even if this be not inherently necessary, it is usually the companion of an incomplete picture. Often times during the writing of this book, I have wanted to add and elaborate on various points of doctrine in order to present an important other side of things that would prevent these wrong conclusions on the part of the reader. Here and there I have done so a little bit, but not nearly as much as I had inclination to do throughout the process. However, I decided that my purpose was not to give a systematic presentation of the whole of truth, but rather to lay out as plainly as I could what Paul was saying here in the book of Romans itself.
Was it wise to refrain from giving those further explanations that might have prevented some wrong understandings at points? Well, we have to come to grips with the fact that Paul himself did not give those cautions at all points and give the further explanation that might have prevented wrong understandings. Nor did Jesus at all times. Nor did any other writer of Scripture. The reality is that we cannot give a full presentation every time that we explain a part of the truth of the Bible. We have to choose what is essential to add and elaborate upon, and what is not; what will be of benefit overall and what will detract from the power of the message and point that is being made. It is a balance to determine that, and no doubt I have not always chosen best, but I gave most weight to the goal of laying forth the message of Romans itself and so refrained from large amounts of systematic elaboration.
This is in part a defense of myself at this point, but more especially it is a concern to give this final word of caution to the reader not to take the truths found here and treat them irresponsibly, forgetting that there are many other words of help in the Bible to bring us to the whole picture of the truth of life.
Of course, none of this should be thought to diminish the value or power or truthfulness of the message that we do see and hear in the book of Romans by itself, but only should help to remind us that Romans will be best appreciated and valued only when we complement it with the rest of God’s word.
The other final note of large importance to me concerning the nature of this book is the matter of theoretical truth in relation to the practice of it in life. This book deals almost exclusively with the theoretical truths of the gospel. It does not do a tremendous amount of putting those truths into the form of practice that we should find today in our time, age, and setting. This is a thing that concerns me, on the one hand, for various reasons: I do not think that theory and practice should ever be separated; also, many times, the theory is well enough understood, but the practice is never consistently thought about in light of the theory; or, similarly, the practice, when thought about, seems to make leaps and bounds of logical jumps away from the theory and end up almost entirely estranged from the theoretical truths.
On the other hand, though, to attempt a fuller treatment of the practice that ought to flow from this theory would also have changed the nature of the book I was writing quite a bit. My intention to begin with was and remains that of helping understand the theory within Romans better. That is the first and most basic step in coming to the right position in practice. In the case of the book of Romans, it seems to me that there is much need today simply for this theoretical understanding to be examined and corrected. I have chosen to allow the focus and scope of this book to remain primarily concerned with that theory.
However, because of this, I feel the need to urge my readers to recognize the fact that the task is not yet done. There is great value in learning the theory of truth, but it needs to then be followed by a deep and careful examination of the practice in life that ought to flow from it. This is absolutely essential, and we have not yet done that. It must be done.
When, and how? Well, ultimately each individual Christian is responsible to look at his own life in light of the teaching of God’s word. He must take responsibility for his own life. The truth is, nobody can tell you all the things about your life that ought to change in order to be conformed to the word of God. Yes, we can deal with some important basics that are universal for all believers, but you are an individual with a very unique life, and your unique life requires personal examination that cannot be offered in the scope of a book by an author who does not even know you. I might have chosen to look at some particular issues that are important in a wide-spread manner for our day and age, and these might indeed have found much relevance for your individual life, but I cannot even begin to talk to you about all the details of your daily life that should be submitted to the word of God for the sake of obedience to it. That is your work.
And yet you have help. As I already said, books can indeed be of service in a general or broad way, and often are very useful along those lines. More still, though, is the help of a faithful local church and fellowship if it is practiced in the right way. Faithful preaching and teaching from pastors and leaders who live among the people to whom they minister is a great aid. Such ministers are going to be in a far better position to address the lives of their members specifically. I wish that we had more of that specific address in our day.
Then, still closer to your life would be the close Christian friends that you have, perhaps yet closer still even your own family, whether it be parents, brothers, or most especially your husband or wife. The closer one is to you, the more he should know you, and the more he may be able to help you examine your own life to become more acceptable to God. In truth, a true Christian fellowship ought to include much of that in your relationships, and I hope that you already have close relationships as Christians where this will take place together, or, if not, that you will be seeking those out immediately. We need to help one another learn how to live life in a way more pleasing to God.
And ultimately, the Spirit of God within you is your greatest guide and counselor in this endeavor. There simply is no replacing the inner leading of the Spirit to those who truly seek out God’s ways. And also, there is no excuse for not hearing that voice. If you truly listen, you will find God speaking to you within. This is His promise to us.
Well, with those important disclaimers and final admonitions, I close this book and hope that it has been a help and a blessing to you. It has been a blessing to me to write, for, as always, the study of God’s word to help others always becomes of greatest benefit to the teacher himself. I hope that I will not have been the only one benefited. May we all take these truths, bless God for them, and pray for His further help and guidance as we seek to be more pleasing to Him in life and more like unto the image of His blessed Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.