Well Church, we finished 2 Samuel back in May, we’ve also finished our second Psalm summer, and beginning today we launch into our new sermon series, Paul’s letter to the Romans. For today, as we begin, I’d like to give you an overview of the whole letter.
But first, I’d like to begin by taking you back to the year 386 AD. In 386, in Milan, a man well-known for his sinful lifestyle was sitting in a garden when he heard nearby children playing a game, singing the words “Tolle lege, tolle lege.” These words mean “Take up and read.” Now this man had grown up with a mother who was a Christian, so he knew from her witness the Christian claim that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the very Word of God. This particular man knew his life was immoral, he knew his soul was restless, and when he heard those children singing he felt pulled within to go search the Scriptures for a remedy to his sad condition. He found a Bible, opened it, and the passage before him was Romans 13:12-14 which says, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
As these words came into the ears of this man, they pierced his heart, and caused him to run to Jesus. Looking back at this moment he would later write, “I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of the sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.” This particular man would go on in life to be a pastor, a bishop, and a theologian of great renown. His works near single handedly created western civilization as we know it today. We know him today as St. Augustine.
As glorious as his story is I could add example upon example onto this, how God has used the Paul’s letter to the Romans in the lives of His people. We’ve mentioned the great story of Augustine. I could also mention Martin Luther. For him Romans proved to be the door to paradise, granting him relief and rest from the burden of trying earn his salvation by his own works. It so moved Luther once said this about Romans, “Romans is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word by heart, but that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. We can never read it or ponder over it too much; the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”
I could also mention John Wesley. For him it was actually Luther’s commentary on Romans that got him. On reading the preface of it Wesley said, “It was then that I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” And for countless others God has revealed through Romans not, how mankind can right our own wrongs or become divine, but how the gospel proclaims a God who is not only utterly different than us, but a God who condescended in grace and mercy to save us.
Church, today we begin our trek through the book of Romans, and here at the beginning I’d like to encourage you. Since God has been pleased to use this book in the hearts of so many throughout the past, I’d encourage you to not just hope – but expect – God to do the same with us here in the present. May He once again use this letter in power in us, through us, and for His glory in our city.
Now, allow me a moment to describe how I intend to work through this most famous of all books of the Bible.
First, I am very aware of how long some pastors have taken to preach through Romans. Most well-known perhaps is Martyn Lloyd-Jones who took 13 years to get through it. Another modern example would be John Piper, who took 8 years to preach through it. While I have read/heard many of these sermons, and while I cannot recommend them highly enough for your own reading and benefit, I will not be following suit with that kind of length. Why will I not do so? I surely appreciate examining every morsel of deliciousness but I am convinced that if we go too slowly, we lose much of the big message in view from God to us. So we’ll be going at a bit faster pace. Lord willing, I expect to be in Romans for a year to a year and a half.
Second, some of you have long anticipated us getting to the book of Romans because it is such a treasure trove of theology. But I know there are others of you who feel a bit daunted by Romans simply because it is so theological and deep. Wherever you fall in this spectrum I’ll just say this. Romans is theological, it’s deep, one of the highly concentrated doctrinal books in the Bible. But we must remember, before Romans is a theological magnum opus…it is a letter, from a specific person to specific people addressing specific issues. It was intended to be an encouragement to the Roman Christians to help them understand not only who God is and what God has done, but also to help them understand why that matters so much for their daily lives. So here in Romans we don’t have to choose between being theological or being practical. Romans reminds us how practical theology truly is.
Third, I’d ask you to notice where Romans is found in our Bibles. One of the first things we should see is that it is placed first among all the letters that makeup the New Testament. Question, why is it found in first position? It wasn’t the first letter Paul wrote, no. It isn’t because it’s the longest letter Paul wrote, no. Why then is it placed before the others? I am of the opinion that it’s placed first because it is of first importance. Think of it. In the book of Acts we’ve been given an account of how the Church was formed and how it spread despite all that stood against it. Now, it follows very well that after seeing the Church formed we should get the basic foundations on which the Church of Jesus Christ must always stand. Such is Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Now, I think we’ve adequately introduced the letter, let’s get to the overview of this entire letter. Romans is divided up into 8 portions.
1:1-17 – Introduction
Paul begins his letter to the Romans by introducing himself to them because he’s never met them. The Church in Rome likely began when the few Romans who were present at Pentecost went back to Rome and began sharing the gospel. Paul has heard of them, and deeply desires to come see them to encourage them in the truth. So he introduces himself, and in his introduction Paul is very concerned to introduce not just who he is, but more importantly he’s eager to introduce the gospel of God, who Jesus is, and what Jesus has done. And one of the wonders is that he says these things aren’t new. Rather, he says in v2 the holy Scriptures have been fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who he says in v3-4 isn’t only the long anticipated Son of David but the Son of God as well. This Jesus, Paul says, called him as an apostle to bring about the obedience of faith among the nations.
And Paul makes it clear in v8-15 that he’s been praying for the Roman Christians, and that even though he’s been prevented from doing so he’s been seeking a way to come visit them to preach the gospel to them. What gospel is eager to preach to them you ask? Look how he explains it in v16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” In this passage we’re introduced to the main theme of Romans, God’s righteousness revealed in the gospel, and God’s righteousness received by faith through the gospel. Paul will return to this again and again in this letter.
After the introduction Paul moves on to the first large section…
1:18-3:20 – The Sinfulness of Man
Here Paul descends into the depths of our sinfulness. He begins with a reminder that God, in the creation He has made, has revealed Himself and His glory and His power to all mankind, so clearly in fact that all mankind is without excuse. What does man do with this knowledge of God? Rather than worshiping God for who He is they foolishly suppress these truths in unrighteousness. They exchange the glory of the immortal God for the glory of mortal images. For this God gives them up, gives them over, if you will, to the lusts of their hearts. What results? They not only practice all manner of unrighteousness from homosexuality to disobedience to parents, they approve and applaud those who do the same.
From reading the vile list of sins in chapter 1 we as readers might be thinking we’re in the clear from such sin, but then chapter 2 begins, where Paul makes one grand point. True the sins of chapter 1 are vile, but those who bank on their religiosity before God are just as vile. Then chapter 3 begins, where Paul lumps the pagan sinners of chapter 1 together with the religious sinners of chapter 2 and makes a complete statement saying in 3:10-12, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Many people have disliked this first part of Romans because of what it says, what it implies for men and women. We like to think ourselves as not this bad, but the Scripture is clear and if we think differently we aren’t just disagreeing with Paul, we’re disagreeing with God. This isn’t Paul getting back at sinners, or doling out blanket condemnation, this is Paul’s compassion telling the truth about what we are in our sin. This is the dark sky against which the gospel shines so clearly. But note, as soon as we find ourselves in the uttermost depths of sin, the next section teaches us how God, in Christ, has reached down to those depths to save us from that sin.
3:21-4:25 – The Heart of the Gospel
Beginning with the famous “But now…” Paul reveals the power of God in the plight of man. God was not content to sit back unmoved by the lostness of men and women, no, He intervened. How so? Paul comes back to righteousness once again. God revealed His righteousness in Jesus Christ, and freely gives His righteousness to unrighteous sinners who have faith in Jesus. How can God do such a thing? Through the gospel. Through the cross. Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Because of this God is now both just (punishing sin in Christ) and the justifier of sinners who believer in Jesus. In other words, when unrighteous sinners believe in Jesus as He is offered in the gospel, God declares them to be what their not, righteous. How? He gives the righteousness of Jesus to them as a free gift.
Paul anticipates a question in 3:27 then, “Then what becomes of our boasting?” We want to think we can save ourselves, we have righted our wrongs, and amended our ways based solely on our own works, but here we see it as it is: our best works can only condemn us, only Jesus works can save us. Therefore all boasting in man is gone forever.
Some think Paul is being a kind of theological pioneer or innovator, as if he’s completely doing away the Law of God given through Moses and creating or inventing doctrine that is new or never before seen. Nothing could be further from the truth. In all of chapter 4 Paul goes to great lengths to show what he’s saying has always been the case throughout the Old Testament as well. He proves it with two case studies going back to the lives of Abraham and David.
Now, Paul never just leaves doctrine out there for people to think on, he drives it home. How does he do it? Why do these things matter? This brings us to the third section of Romans.
5:1-8:39 – The Assurance of the Gospel
Listen to 5:1, “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We who were once enemies of God and at odds with God and under the wrath of God are now at peace with God, we have access to God, we stand in the grace of God, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, and we enjoy no more shame because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Spirit of God. Because of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus we enjoy a robust assurance that no sin or struggle can ever remove. To prove this even more Paul, once again, goes back to the Old Testament in 5:12-21 to show how this was the plan all along. How so? As the first Adam’s disobedience led to death for all man through sin, so too the obedience of Jesus Christ (the Second Adam) leads to life for all who believe in Him. And more, God’s grace has so powerfully worked to save us that against the blackness of sin grace reigns all the more brightly.
Then comes chapters 6-8, where Paul drives his point home. In chapter 6 Paul will say by believing in Jesus we died to the power of sin, so sin is no longer master over us and we are free from it. Consider, he says, that you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. And more, in our new state we are not ‘masterless’, no, our new master is Christ, Paul encourages to a wholehearted obedience and even calls us slaves of Christ.
In chapter 7 Paul keeps on, saying we’ve not only died to sin, but that we’ve also died to the condemnation to the Law. Yet, we grieve that even in our new condition we’re not yet as we ought to be, we fight sin’s remaining corruption and long for the day when we will be made perfect and be saved from this body of death.
To conclude this, Paul pens what I believe to be the greatest chapter in all the Bible, Romans 8. Beginning with no condemnation and ending with no separation, we learn how the gospel takes us all the way home. Conclusion? As we wait for that day, we groan inwardly and wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies.
9:1-11:32 – A Defense of the Gospel
Does it seem a strange shift from 8:39 to 9:1? At first it does seem like whiplash in the soul, from glorying in God’s love shown to us in Christ to Paul’s brokenness over his fellow Jews rejection of the same. They’ve rejected God’s righteousness revealed in the gospel, but God is nonetheless sovereignly working all of history to bring together a new people, a new Israel made of up Jew and Gentile through the Spirit empowered preaching of the gospel.
What does all this lead to?
11:33-36 – The Bridge
When we take a step back from the book of Romans to look at the whole book, a thing of beauty that stands out. These first 11 chapters of this letter give us some of the richest, deepest, and thickest theology in the entire Bible. After writing this glorious treasure trove of theology in Romans 1-11, what happens? Paul explodes into praise and this praise has often been called the bridge in Romans because of where it comes from and where it leads to. Before the bridge we have rich theology…after this bridge we have chapter 12 which begins a new section of Romans that deals primarily with application. Why is this important? Because a pattern reveals itself here. Is it any surprise that rich theology, for Paul, leads to deep praise, and deep praise then leads to robust application? Romans 11:33-36 functions as a bridge betweenright doctrine and right living. So, contrary to popular opinion, theology leads to the praise of God. So many people believe theology is a word that brings up images of damp libraries, musty tomes, and somber monasteries. That couldn’t be more wrong. When people give up on deep thinking about the deep things of God they give up deep worship.
This leads us to the last section before the conclusion.
12:1-15:13 – The Transformation of the Gospel
Beginning with “Therefore” we now find out how God’s righteousness revealed in the gospel transforms our daily living. In chapter 12 it transforms how we relate to one another. In chapter 13 it transforms how we relate to our authorities. In chapter 14 it transforms how we relate to our weaker brothers and sisters in our midst, and use our liberty and freedom in Christ for good and not as a badge of pride. Then in chapter 15 Paul roots all of this in the example of Jesus so that we together would with one voice glorify God.
Then we come to the end…
15:14-16:27 – Conclusion
Here Paul shares his vision for future ministry to them, and his ministry with them as he desires to go to Spain. He shares his excitement for visiting them, greets over 30 people, warns them against enemies, false doctrine, and division. And in his final words he comes back to the gospel promise in Genesis 3:15, that God will soon crush Satan under their feet.
Where does this leave us? I’d encourage you to view Paul’s letter to the Romans as the Mt. Everest of the New Testament. And as we approach it, there simply is no telling what God may do in us and through us. Through Augustine, Luther, and Wesley God was pleased to do a mighty work in the world. Might He be preparing us for the same? May He do so!!
Allow to me to end by quoting the late J.I. Packer. “We find ourselves in the position of a mountain climber who, after looking at a grand mountain from a distance and traveling near it, finds himself in the position to approach it directly with the intention of climbing it.”
 Augustine, Confessions, 8.12.29.
 Cited in Timothy F. Lull and William R. Russell, eds., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fortress, 2012) 76.
 Cited in J. Ligon Duncan et al., A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized, ed. Michael J. Kruger (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016), 169–71.
 Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968) 28.
 J. V. Fesko, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), xx.
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000), 16.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – Vol. 1 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 2–3.
 R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991) 198.
 J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 16.