We continue with our outline of the book of Romans. So far we have seen that in Romans 1:16-11:36 the Holy Spirit led Paul to set forth the exalted theme of justification by faith. This we call the doctrinal part of the book.
3. We now come to the next main division of the book which deals with the practical application of the doctrine of justification by faith (Romans 12:1-15:12).
We must demonstrate our gratitude for this justification by walking in holiness in all areas of our life (Romans 12:1-21). This is accomplished by presenting our bodies a living sacrifice through the renewing of our mind. By the grace given us we are to think humbly and soberly (Romans 12:1-3). All the gifts which God bestows upon us must be used for the welfare of the whole body of Christ (Romans 12:4-8). This requires a sincere love for one another (Romans 12:9, 10), kindness, industry, patience, hospitality, compassion, and a willingness to take abuse but return only good, “be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:11-21).
The believer has a duty regarding civil magistrates (Romans 13:1-7). The higher powers (civil rulers) are ordained of God (Romans 13:1). The believer may not resist them (Romans 13:2). The calling of civil rulers is to protect the citizen by punishing evil doers, even bearing the sword-exercising capital punishment and fighting wars of defense (Romans 13:3, 4). Our response as citizens must be to honor them, obey them, and pay our taxes (Romans 13:5-7).
The apostle now explains how the believers are to deal with each other within the church (Romans 13:8-15:13). We are to love one another and so fulfill the law (Romans 13:8-10). This is necessary, for the night is far spent and we have the Word as an armour of light (Romans 13:11, 12). By doing this, we will put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:13, 14).
There were in the church then, as there are also now, weaker brethren who considered it sin to eat certain foods (probably food offered unto idols), or they thought all eating of meat was wrong. Others were preoccupied with the observance of festal days (Romans 14:1-6). Paul does not warn as severely as he did in the epistle to the Colossians. The reason is that the view of these people was not an attack upon the heart of the gospel as it was before in other places. Here it is more a matter of “weaker brethren.” We must be charitable in dealing with these people. We must not judge them harshly, but rather deal with them as Christ would have us do. We must be careful not to offend, that is, to cause our weaker brother to fall into sin because of our example. We must do all things by a true faith (Romans 14:7-23). The strong must bear with the weak (Romans 15:1-7). Once again Paul exhorts the believers to recognize that in the church there must be room for both Jews and Gentiles because Christ came to die for both (Romans 15:7-13).
4. Conclusion of the epistle (Romans 15:13-16:27). Paul expresses a prayer that God may, fill the Roman congregation with joy and peace. He expresses confidence in them that they will receive and act upon the things he wrote in this epistle (Romans 15:13, 14). He assures them that he is an apostle to the Gentiles and that God confirmed this with many signs and wonders (Romans 15:15-21). He expresses his desire to come to see them after he is finished in Jerusalem. He seeks their prayers on his behalf that God may spare his life in the face of opposition (Romans 15:22-33). Paul then extends his personal greetings to many individuals whom he knows in the Roman congregation and also gives the greetings of many who are with him in Corinth that desire to be remembered to the Romans as well, (Romans 16:1-24). He closes with the apostolic blessing (Romans 16:24-27).
Upon reading the entire letter of Romans, one cannot help but appreciate the close relationship between doctrine and life. Frequently, in our day, we hear a clamor for less doctrine and more emphasis on the practical side of the Christian’s life. This comes to expression in evaluating the preaching of the gospel. How often ministers are criticized because there is too much doctrine and not enough practical material! This criticism may be directed against the selection of a text used for the sermon, or it may be directed against any one sermon that contains too much doctrinal emphasis over against the practical application. We do well to examine the book of Romans from this point of view. Here the inspired apostle sets forth a strong doctrinal basis (justification by faith) upon which he builds the structure of a holy Christian life. We should keep this in mind at all times, for life without a foundation will surely fail. The holy life must be thoroughly grounded in the finished work of Christ. Within the doctrinal section of Romans, we find many important truths emphasized: we are righteous, not by the works of the law, but by faith; Christ’s work of redemption constituted the only basis for our righteousness before God; by grace we are freed from the law of sin and death and brought forth unto the liberty of Christ; God is sovereign in our salvation; He determines who will be saved (predestination) and He applies that salvation by grace. Only when we understand these doctrines are we able to go on to the holy life. We will never boast in our works, rather we will glory in the God of our salvation.
A second feature to be noted is that the emphasis on doctrine applies to mission work of the church as well. We stated before that Paul considered the Roman congregation crucial to the spread of the gospel. This is true, in the first place, because the congregation was typical in that it was made up of Jews and Gentiles. Both had to learn to cooperate and rejoice in the one gospel of Christ. Secondly, it was strategically located in the world. Out of Rome the gospel would literally be spread to the ends of the earth. Hence, while Paul wrote to this mission church, he did not down-play the doctrines of grace. He didn’t say to them that he had much to tell them, but they had to wait awhile because they had to mature before they were ready to be instructed in, e.g., the profound doctrine of predestination. No, the holy apostle considered the gospel as one whole, and all its elements to be presented to the entire church. True, some could understand the “milk” better that the “meat”; yet, he did not withhold the meat. The gospel must not be divided up. Rather it must be set forth in its entirety, and the Holy Spirit will apply it as He sees fit. Surely, when Paul established the churches in the truth, he did just that, and we do well to follow this example.
Because this letter is so explicit in doctrinal instruction and in the practical Christian life, we derive a great deal of our ecclesiastical vocabulary from this epistle. The question often arises about the words we use in preaching and in discussion. Do people who are not acquainted with the Scripture even understand the terminology? To be sure, one unfamiliar with the Bible must consider the language we use as Reformed believers difficult to understand. Yet, the solution for the Christian church is not to abandon Scriptural terms. Rather we should gradually teach new converts their meaning. In this way they will find not only the Bible open to them, but also our Reformed confessions and writings of our church fathers. Reformed vocabulary is Scriptural vocabulary. The book of Romans is rich in this, and we should make use of such a letter as this in our teaching.
The above points explain why there is little direct application of the word of this epistle to the Roman situation. Most other letters of Paul to individual churches include references to special problems in the congregation and how to deal with them. This letter doesn’t do that. We should remember that Paul had not personally visited Rome. He was not, therefore, directly acquainted with the situation, as he was in other churches. Paul’s intent was to set forth the principles of the faith for all saints. Hence the letter is well reasoned, systematic, and orderly developed. Any would-be opponents that Paul brings up are interjected as typical objectors in order that by answering them, the truth may be set forth understandably. The Holy Spirit used Paul, who already now had much experience in preaching the gospel and dealing with opponents, to set forth this mature statement of the faith for the benefit of the church of all ages.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. We pointed out that this letter was written as a “mature” statement of faith. Look in the book of Acts and other letters that Paul wrote and find evidence that Paul wrote this letter after much experience as a missionary.
2. As Reformed believers we hold to the Heidelberg Catechism as one of our confessions. The well-known division of this catechism is: first, how great my sin and misery is; second, how I am delivered from this sin and-misery; and thirdly, how I show gratitude to God for such great deliverance. Make reference to this letter of Romans and show that the doctrinal part of this letter follows this same order.
3. Discuss the relationship between doctrine and life and point out from this letter of Romans that God gives us direction in a proper understanding of this.
4. How do we explain the extensive introduction (Romans 1:1-15) and conclusion (Romans 15:13-16:27) (which includes reference to 35 different people) if it is true that Paul had not been to Rome before and did not know the church personally.
5. Make a list of ten doctrinal terms used in this letter. Indicate where they are used in this letter, and define their meaning on the basis of what you learn about them from the letter itself.
6. Review the passages that deal with the relationship between Jew and Gentile within the church. Show that Paul did not separate them as the dispensationalist does, but rather united them together in one faith in Christ Jesus. See Rom. 1:1-3:20; Rom. 3:21-31; Rom. 4:12-25; andRom. 9-11.
7. Make a list of the different areas of Christian life in which the apostle gives specific instruction. Be sure to write down where they are found in this letter. What can you conclude from this list?
8. Make reference to passages from the letter that shows that the Christian life consists of liberty not slavery. How do we explain that we are free to obey God’s law?