The Book of Romans in Five Sections
Before you concentrate on the details of any book in the Bible, it may be useful to read through the book to achieve a view of the whole. Read the book through, keeping in mind the historical setting and all other Biblical information that is relevant.
I followed this suggestion recently while preparing to teach the book of Romans. I found it helpful to summarize the book under five headings: Problem, Provision, Power, Predicament and Practice.
The Problem: Sin in the human race. After the introduction (1:1-15) and a statement of the theme of the epistle (1:16,17), the apostle Paul takes up the affirmation that the human problem is sin (1:18-3:20). Gentiles have fallen into sin but Jews have behaved no better. "All have sinned," (3:23). This is why the gospel is needed today. In spite of all the advancements of modern civilization, our hi-tech tools and methods and whatever sophistication we may claim - we suffer with a problem of our own doing, and that problem is sin.
The Provision from God: Salvation in Christ. This section begins near the end of chapter three and continues through chapter five. Though we humans have this problem, God has acted to provide a remedy. Though we have sinned, we can be "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (3:24). "By faith" is a phrase that identifies what our response should be to this gracious provision. "By faith" is illustrated in the behavior of Abraham who "did not waver" in his confidence in God, and "it was accounted to him for righteousness," (3:22). We are invited to "believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead," and be "buried with Him through baptism into death," and then walk in "newness of life," (4:20-24, 6:4). Our problem is sin. God's provision for our salvation in Christ is the message Paul was not ashamed to preach.
The Power: Victory over sin as we "present ourselves to God" as slaves ready to obey Him (6:13-18). From chapter six through chapter seven, Paul develops the blessings of victory and freedom we can enjoy in Christ. Not only can we be forgiven initially, when we are buried with Him in baptism (6:4) - we can find in Him the power to live daily without being debtors to the flesh. This victorious living means we can be "more than conquerors through Him who loved us," (8:37).
The Predicament: The typical Jewish response, that God has cast away His people. Before you tackle the details of this section (chapters 9-11), try to think as a typical Jew thought in the time of Christ and His apostles. Consider their loyalty to the Jewish religious system (which was not the same as the Mosaic Law, see Matt. 15:9). Take into account the harsh prejudice between Jews and Gentiles, and the national zeal Jews upheld. (If you have read Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts - before you get to Romans, you know the Jewish viewpoint!). Paul handles these issues and concerns in chapters 9-11, demonstrating that God now calls all men to come to Christ and be His people.
The Practice of being a Christian is the subject of chapters 12-16. The attitudes which are essential, prohibitions to keep, duties to perform, warnings to keep in mind, purity and character to pursue and patience for others.
It has become almost habitual or tradition to declare the book of Romans a "difficult" book. Perhaps you can take a good step away from that difficulty by reading through the book and considering the problem, the provision, the power, the predicament and the practice.
If we will read, study and respond to the truth in this epistle, perhaps we will conclude by saying: "to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever, Amen."
By Warren E. Berkley
The Front Page
From Expository Files 8.7; July 2001