Along with the preceding formal outline of the book of Romans, I hope that you find this summary of the whole argument useful. One of my largest purposes for this book is the goal of helping people to grasp the overall picture of the book of Romans. From start to finish, can we grasp the basic argument that Paul is making? Can we see the basic picture he is painting?
My idea for this summary of the argument is that it will be a tool in reinforcing that grasp of the overall picture. Perhaps you have read the book in the past and seen the overall picture, and you would like to refresh yourself in my analysis of the book. Do you really want to read the whole book again? The following analysis will be helpful in getting that overall picture back in the mind again in a much shorter scope of work and time. It obviously will not make the argument with nearly the same level of depth and explanation, but you can always read the book again if you like. This is for a quick look at the whole of the picture again:
In the opening verses of the letter, Paul introduces the main themes of the book. We see how Paul talks about the gospel’s roots in the Old Testament revelation and the history of the Jews, but especially also how he focuses on the fact that the fulfillment of the gospel in Jesus Christ is much broader. It is for all the nations of the world. Paul has been called especially for the purpose of bringing this gospel message to all peoples. The Romans themselves are an important part of that worldwide scope of the gospel, and for this reason Paul desires to visit them and minister among them. In the meantime, Paul will write to them and seek to edify them through the written word.
Paul’s message is about the gospel. And that gospel is the message of salvation for the world. Both Jews and Gentiles find life through the gospel. It is a gospel for everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. It is a message about righteousness: How God righteously deals with sinful men and how men can attain to the righteousness of God. In these two verses, we see a summary of the major points that Paul is going to elaborate upon as the basic content of the gospel.
Paul is beginning his lengthy exposition of the true nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. From this point on to the end of chapter 3, Paul’s focus is to show how sin has had a devastating effect upon mankind and what God has done to begin to address the terrible plight that man now finds himself in. The key elements of this first stage of the argument are the wrath of God, the guilt and depravity of man, and the propitiation in Christ that God has provided as a way of making possible the beginning of the process of redemption.
This first part of that first stage of the gospel is a picture of the wickedness of the world. Mankind has rejected God’s ways, God has in turn rejected them, and all is now one terrible mess. In setting forth a gospel that focuses on the redemption of the whole world, Paul starts with a picture of the ruin of the whole world. He especially emphasizes the fact that God is very angry against man and his sin. Importantly, God is so angry that He has simply turned mankind over to the wickedness of his own heart. As a result, man is completely corrupted in his mind and heart and ways.
Paul has asserted that all men are under God’s wrath on account of their sin. However, he is well aware that not all men will accept this. In fact, many of those who agree with his general condemnation of the sin of mankind will be especially prone to point the finger at the world and exclude themselves from that same condemnation. In chapter 2 and the first large portion of chapter 3, Paul is going now to show that even those who recognize the sinfulness of the world are likewise guilty themselves. In doing so, he will especially focus upon the Jews as the most likely people to protest their inclusion as objects of the wrath of God.
In dealing with the Jew, he first desires to show that there is no real pretext for excluding the Jew from inclusion in the guilt of mankind. Though they have the law of God, merely hearing it and approving of it is not the same as keeping it. The Jews may not break the law of God in the same form as many of the Gentile world, but their breaking of the righteous laws of God is just as real and serious nonetheless. True righteousness, truly being a part of the people of God, consists in a true change of the heart within by the power of the Spirit of God. There is no partiality with God, who will judge all men the same, both Jew and Gentile, according to the actual fulfillment of righteousness in life, not mere talk about it and outward form of it.
Having shown that the Jews are not righteous simply because they received God’s word, Paul also desires to show that they did still have a great blessing in that word of God that they were given. He says it is of great value in every way to receive the oracles of God as they did. However, what did that blessing amount to for them? The sad reality is that they, even with such blessings, turned away from the path that was shown to them. They were entrusted with so much from God, but they were so utterly faithless to that trust!
So what is God going to do, then? Will He simply give up on His plan and His promises? Certainly not! Even if every man on earth proves unfaithful and false, God will remain true. Though mankind became corrupt, and now, even God’s special and chosen people, the Jews, have become equally corrupt, God still will fulfill His purposes. All mankind, the Jews included (and perhaps especially), have become corrupt, but God will still most certainly accomplish the fulfillment of His word. How is this to happen? How will God make it possible?
The answer to the question is now given. God is going to make possible the fulfillment of His purposes through the sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus Christ. The wrath of God can be satisfied and a man can be reconciled to God not through the futile attempt to be righteous by keeping the law, but rather through believing in Jesus Christ and what He has done through the pouring out of His blood on the cross. This is a marvelous mystery. It is the righteousness of God revealed to us. This was not the way of righteousness that mankind expected, but it was the perfect solution to the problem of man’s sin and God’s righteousness.
Furthermore, this way of righteousness once again brings us to understand how the gospel is a message that is universal for all mankind. The Jew and Gentile are all equally under God’s wrath and must all pursue righteousness by faith in Christ in the same way. The Jew, particularly, has no boast. He might at first think that He is in a better condition than the Gentile, but the way of righteousness through faith in Christ humbles all men to the same position. Any man who is to become righteous with God can only become so through simple faith in the propitiation that Christ has made. So then, this message of righteousness through faith in Christ is an essential part of bringing all mankind to the same place before God.
And it is not a message that is contrary to the word of God that has been given to the Jews. Rather, this very message is supported and witnessed by those Scriptures themselves, as Paul will next show.
The Jewish Scriptures support the teaching that righteousness is by faith. Both Abraham and David confirm this fact, by their life and words, respectively. Paul’s main focus is upon the life of Abraham, which is a testimony to this fact of righteousness by faith. Abraham attained faith, the Scriptures assert, by believing in God’s promises to him.
A key purpose for Paul in considering the life of Abraham is that he was declared righteous by faith before circumcision was given. Thus, circumcision was not the basis for the promise and declaration of righteousness with God. If it was not so for Abraham, how could it possibly be so for the children of Abraham? It is not. The basis of righteousness for Abraham was faith, and so it is for all who share in the promises to Abraham as his children.
And this in fact means that it is not only the Jews who are children of Abraham. Not only those who share in circumcision are participants in the promises given to Abraham. Rather, all those who share in the faith of Abraham are children of Abraham, whether they be Jews or Gentiles. The gospel message, then, of righteousness through faith is entirely consistent with the teachings of the oracles of God that were given to the Jews. Salvation is for all men on the same basis: Faith.
Paul is now ready to extend his argument to a second major phase. He has laid before us the nature of justification by faith for all mankind. Now, though, he is ready to tell us that there are great promises that follow after justification. Namely, now that we have peace with God, we have the hope of the glory of God to come in our lives. We now have peace with God. We have been reconciled to Him by faith in the blood of Christ. And now that God is on our side, we can dare to dream and hope that He will accomplish the unthinkable, which He most certainly will: He will restore to us the lost glory of God that He intended for us to have from the beginning of creation.
And how will this take place? Paul will explain more to us ahead, but he begins already to give us clues. First, he tells us that the Spirit of God fills our hearts with love. This is a key that will be developed at great length. Secondly, he also introduces another key concept, the resurrection life of Christ. The teaching of justification by faith centered upon the death of Christ as a propitiation for our sins. But what took place after that death? Christ arose to new life. Paul confidently tells us that this resurrection life of Christ assures us that we, too, will have new life given to us in Christ. We will arise with Him and be saved by sharing in that new life of Christ. He will tell us more about this below.
How are we to be brought to partake of the newness of life found in the resurrection of Christ? That is the answer Paul wishes to explain now. As he does so, though, his answer will be found within the context of demonstrating to the Jew that all men must pursue this new life according to the same path: Sharing in the new life of Christ. Paul is deeply concerned to show that the Jew is in equal need of new spiritual life and also that the law does not provide the means for that. These thoughts will be at the heart of the argument for the next few chapters.
The second half of chapter 5 begins this process. Paul’s starting point is to draw attention to the obvious truth that all men labor under the bondage of death. There is no man alive who is not going to die. This has been the fate of all men throughout history. Why is this? It is because death entered in at the very beginning point of human history when Adam sinned. This sin lead to death not only for Adam, but for all those who descended from him. Whom does this include? Not only the Gentiles, but also equally the Jews. All men must realize that their death is the result of what took place in Adam’s sin. We all share in the terrible consequences of that day.
But the good news is that Christ is also to provide a reversal of that fate. If any man is to share in the death found in Adam (and all men are, of course), they can also overcome that death by sharing in the life that was provided as a free gift by Jesus Christ. Death passed to all men through Adam. Life passes to all men through Christ. As many as are descended from Adam (all men) receive death from him. As many as are born anew in Christ receive life from Him. All men stand in need of this life that is found in Christ.
All men share in the death that belongs to us as a result of Adam’s sin. We need to be released from that death. The law, however, Paul has just told us, was not designed to accomplish that purpose. How are we to be freed from the death that reigns over us? The answer is that we are to share in the death and resurrection of Christ. By dying with Christ, the life of sin that has been ours is ended. We need this death because it is the only way to be set free from the power of sin. After this death, then we are raised with Christ to a new life, a life that is given over in service to God. We are no longer slaves of sin and death as we were before. We are free to serve God with our whole lives! This is the nature of the superabounding grace that Paul tells us the gospel contains for us.
Whereas Christ provides a way for our sinful flesh to be put to death so that we might be free from it to serve God, attempting to find that same result through the law is doomed to failure. The law of God is good, teaching us about the nature of sin, but the practical result of the law’s work in our lives is that sin uses it to produce in us all manner of temptation and evil.
The basic problem is not with the law, but with us. We are full of corruption within. The truth is, that even once the law has taught us about what is good and right and we have come to desire that good, we still are so full of sin that we cannot accomplish the good that we have learned to desire! We are entirely slaves of sin. The law can teach us about what is good, but it is not capable of changing our nature within. We are in a miserable condition. Who will deliver us? Our only hope for salvation is to turn to Jesus Christ.
The natural man is controlled by a law of sin and death within his members. He is a slave of that law of sin. Now, however, God is providing the means for a new law to take control, a new principle that will reign in life and righteousness. This new law is the law of the Spirit of God Himself. We need to be entirely changed within, and that will be accomplished by the indwelling of God’s very own Spirit Himself.
So then, the life of the believer in Christ is a life that is controlled by the Spirit of God. This is the sign and mark that demonstrates that a man is a son of God. The Spirit brings life to him, and the Spirit fills his heart with love for God and His ways, empowering him to fulfill the righteousness that God commands.
God’s plan for us is unthinkably grand. We have experienced so much grace already. We have been set free from bondage to sin and been given the Spirit of God within us to renew our hearts. And yet, the fact is still that we have many temptations and trials. We wrestle often with the flesh and sin. Things are still not just exactly as we would like.
But God’s plan is not yet complete. His plan is, and has been since the beginning of time, to bring His children not only to justification, not only to regeneration, but even to full glorification. The hope of glory that Paul began to think about back in chapter 5 is now coming to center stage. Paul is promising us that God’s plan is to bring full glory to His people.
In fact, this glory is the hope of the whole creation. God is going to redeem the whole of the world that He made. All creation, man included, is longing for the time when God produces the final product of redemption and salvation.
And we have great assurances that He will do so. If we have any doubts, let us simply think of the love that God has already shown us in Christ Jesus. He gave the very life of His Son to accomplish our redemption. There is nothing more costly. Realizing this, we can be sure that God is fully committed to our glorification. There is nothing that could make Him change His mind and turn away His love from us.
Paul is beginning to look at another major step in the argument, the final step in his laying out of the gospel. He is turning his attention to the question of how God has worked historically among the Jews and Gentiles to bring about the salvation of all mankind. What is and has been (and will be) the relationship between God’s salvation and the Jewish people? How has this message of salvation related to the Gentile peoples? What is the role of each group in the eternal plan of God?
The first five verses of chapter 9 serve as the transition to this subject. The manner of transition focuses upon the fact that the Jews had been given great and tremendous blessings and promises by God: Sonship, glory, the covenants, to name a few. The greatest blessing of all that was theirs was the fact that the Messiah Himself was to come from their nation.
With all of these blessings, how can it be that so many of them should fail to obtain salvation? And how can it be that God would turn away from the Jews and they should cease to be His chosen people? How can this be possible in light of all the promises and blessings given to them by God? Is this a failure of God’s purposes? Is it a failure of His word and His promises? What does all of this have to say to the Christian? Can he rest assured in the grace of God after all?
The Jews felt that Paul’s message would result in the necessary failure of God’s promises to them. God had promised so many blessings to the Jews; they were sure of their salvation based on those promises. Now Paul is saying that salvation belongs instead only to those who believe upon Jesus Christ. This would be a contradiction of God’s promises to the Jews!
Paul answers those thoughts in the remainder of the chapter. There are two key elements of his answer. First, he explains that there is a difference between “Israel” and “Israel.” That is, there is such a thing as a descendent of Abraham according to natural descent, but there is also such a thing as a true spiritual seed of Abraham, one who shares in the faith of Abraham, as we have heard from Paul before. Therefore, the promise of salvation was for all Israel, but only in the latter sense of those who share in the spirit of faith which Abraham had.
Secondly, Paul also explains to the natural Jew the actual nature of the promises that were given to them as a nation. While it is very important indeed to recognize the spiritual nature of a true son of Abraham who would ultimately receive the promises of the covenant, yet still it remains true that there were promises and blessings given to the whole of the nation. Paul recognizes that.
But what were those promises? God had been merciful to Israel for many generations, giving them a privileged position in many ways. However, those blessings were not given because Israel somehow deserved them more than other nations. Such was far from the case. Rather, God had shown them temporal blessings for the purposes of bringing glory to His name and salvation to those who were faithful to Him.
Now, however, Israel was being set aside; those temporal blessings were coming to an end. The Messiah had come. God’s major purpose for Israel had been fulfilled. The fact that God showed mercy to a rebellious people for many generations was no promise or guarantee that He would do so forever. Now the time had come that Israel was to receive the punishment that had so long been due to them. God was turning away from this rebellious people and turning towards the Gentiles, those who would receive His word.
And this was to be expected. The Old Testament Scriptures had long foretold the rejection of the majority of Israel. But that did not mean that no Israelites were to be saved. Rather, a remnant was to be saved. Some Jews did believe and were faithful. God’s great and wise plan provided the way for all Jews and Gentiles to be saved who believed the message. Through the gospel of faith, God would accomplish His wise purposes both for Israel and all nations.
The key to this fulfillment of God’s wise purpose is found in the very gospel of grace and faith itself. How is it that only a remnant of Jews is to be saved? And how is it that the Gentiles are to be brought also into salvation with them? It is through the message of faith in Jesus Christ. Those Jews who were rejected were rejected because they would not believe in the message preached. Those who were saved were saved because they did believe.
The message of God has gone out into all the world. There is no place where His voice has not been heard. Whoever believes will be saved; God makes no distinction based upon who the man is. But so few have believed! God has sent His word to the Jews for many generations, and they have hardened themselves against the truth. Thus, God has rejected them. But He has not rejected all the Jews. He has, as always, preserved a remnant that did believe and trust in God’s grace for salvation. The sad condition, though, of those who refused to believe is that they are blinded to the truth and rejected by God.
All of the spiritual principles at play in this picture are a part of God’s overarching plan. And make no mistake about it, God has a big picture plan, and He will certainly bring it about. It might seem to us at first almost like a failure to see so many of Israel rejected for their unbelief, but it is not so at all. It is all a part of God’s wise and wonderful design.
Man might indeed rebel against God’s will for them, but even their rejection of His wishes for them will simply become a part of how God fulfills His ultimate purposes. And so Paul shows us how God is using the rejection of Israel as the means to accomplish the great ends He desires for mankind.
God called Israel and made them His chosen instrument for bringing salvation into the world through Christ. When they rejected Christ, they were rejected as a nation, only the believing remnant being saved. But what is the result of this rejection of Israel? It is nothing less than the extension of blessing and salvation to the whole of the world. All the Gentiles are given the grace to become God’s people now.
What then for Israel? Once again, God’s plan is perfectly wise. The very rejection of Israel and acceptance of the Gentiles will prove to stir Israel up to jealousy and be used by God to restore many Jews to Himself. Their rejection was not for the mere purpose of casting them aside, nor was it a final rejection. If they will turn away from their unbelief, they will be brought back into the fold of God’s people.
And so we are all admonished to be humble in our position. Whoever is in a state of salvation, whether he be Jew or Gentile, has received those blessings by the grace of God, not by any merit of his own. The continuation of that blessing depends upon his continued humble faith in God. The Jews grew haughty and were cut off. If the Gentiles grow proud, they will receive the same fate. If the Jews will repent, they can be brought back in.
The final thought from Paul concerning this whole picture is that of wonder at God’s wise plan and grace. How marvelously God is working to bring about the salvation of all mankind together in one body in Christ! His ways truly are beyond us! All praise be to God!
The “theological” portion of the epistle has been completed, and Paul is now turning to the practical discussion that flows from that rich theological picture. And it is important to realize that these practical chapters do indeed have a strong connection to the focus upon Jew and Gentile that was found in the theological study.
The first focus of the practical exhortation is to a renewed mind in Christ. We are to think much differently once we understand the true grace of God. Specifically, we will learn to look upon one another with love, humility, and acceptance. All boasting and pride has been set aside by the truth of the gospel of Christ. We see that all men are equal before God. If we have any blessings given to us, it is by the grace of God, not by our merit.
This will call us to make peace with those around us. It will call us to love and accept others. It will teach us to have compassion on the weak and struggling, not to despise them. Many various commands are given in chapter 12 of Romans, but this point of humble love and acceptance should be seen as the unifying theme. This is especially true in the matter of how Jews and Gentiles are to accept one another, but it is not limited to that. We are to be at peace with all men.
One area in which peace must be had with men is the matter of the believer’s submission to worldly authorities of government. Paul instructs all believers to be subject to these authorities, especially since they are all established by God Himself. Vital to this picture is a large-scale change of thought, particularly for the Jew. Previously, the Jews had been accustomed to thinking of themselves as part of a political nation that God had blessed and exalted above the rest of the nations. They had been given autonomy, authority, and power even over other nations as their heritage from God.
The Jews as a nation, though, have now been set aside. All believers from all nations are brought together into the people of God in the church. We must no longer think of the people of God as a political entity. Rather, we must accept the spiritual nature of God’s people and the implications of that fact. That means that other political authorities are ruling over us. We must submit. And we must recognize that this is the very plan of God Himself.
The day is coming, though, when the full promises of God will be established. His people one day will indeed reign upon the earth. We must wait, though, for that full glory to be given to us. In the meantime, let us submit to the authorities that God has established.
The Jew has had to learn many changes of mind, and Paul has just emphasized one such large change. Now, however, Paul is going to address some minor points that the Jew might struggle to change in his way of thinking, and as he does so, he will show some compassion on the struggling Jew. Whereas the large matters of faith that Paul has emphasized throughout the letter are absolutely essential for all believers to understand well, there are other things that are not nearly so consequential.
Paul here discusses such things as dietary regulations (what foods are acceptable to eat) and holy days (is there a need to follow a special religious calendar of observation of various sacred days?). In these matters, Paul asserts that acceptance and understanding is far more important than the issue itself. Though all meats are acceptable to eat, we ought to be more concerned with showing kindness to our brother than with arguing about our meats. Even if we have to give up certain foods for the sake of helping our brother, what does that really matter?
Ultimately, Paul wants to bring us to the glorious picture with which he concludes his basic letter: The picture of the Jews and the Gentiles brought together in one body in order to worship and glorify God. All of what Paul has been saying about the gospel brings us to this one end goal. God has been working to bring all men into one body to worship Him. Let us not disrupt that glorious end for small and insignificant matters.
Paul’s final words to the Romans focus upon his plans for ministry and their potential involvement in those plans. Paul desires to preach the gospel to all the nations. At the same time, he is also hoping through his ministry to aid in the progress of bringing more Jews to Christ. His plans are to go presently to Jerusalem with an offering to help the Jews in a time of need and then to travel on to Spain via Rome in order to preach the gospel in new realms of the world. We are seeing the practical expression for Paul’s life of all the ideas that he has been laying out concerning bringing the Jews and Gentiles all together in one body of worship to God.
Paul invites and urges the Roman Christians to participate in his ministry, both in prayers and support. He hopes to visit them and be sent on by them to Spain. He is sure that they will want to be a part of this ministry, as they themselves have known the grace of salvation. In large part, these plans are the occasion for Paul’s writing to the Romans and provide the context in which he writes at such length about these matters.