The Expository Files


Justification - The Theme Of Romans


The great theme of the epistle of Paul to the Romans is rightly stated in Romans 1:16-17: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith." The apostle Paul then proceeds to show that all men are in need of justification (1:18-3:20).

The Gentiles (Romans 1:18-32) are in need of justification because they rejected God (1:18-23) and went down the pathway of uncleanness (1:24-25), vile passions (1:26-27), and a reprobate mind (1:28-32). The Jews (2:17-3-8) are in need of justification because they were violators of God's law (2:17-29) and displayed a lack of faith in God's promises (3:1-8, esp. verse 3). Paul's conclusion: "...for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin" (3:9, cf. 3:10-20).

How can man be justified if all are under sin? The apostle Paul answers this question in Romans 3:21-31. Men can be justified in the sight of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The careful Bible student will notice how many times Paul mentions "faith" in this section (cf. 3:22, 26, 27, 28, 30). God is the "justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus" (3:26). One can picture the Jewish reaction to this declaration. To them, justification came through being a Jew, circumcision, and the law of Moses, not through Jesus Christ.

Paul anticipates their objection. He asks, "Do we then make the law of none effect through faith?" His answer: "God forbid: nay, we establish the law" (3:31). That is, through our preaching that men are justified by faith in Jesus Christ, we are confirming the law. The law of Moses directed men to Jesus Christ. Paul would say to the churches of Galatia that "the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24). Paul, himself as a Jew, came to this realization. What was his reaction when he learned that man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ? He said, "even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Galatians 3:16).

To illustrate the fact that men are justified by faith, the apostle Paul mentions the example of Abraham (4:1-25). Abraham was justified apart from works of law (4:1-8, 13-15). He was justified before being circumcised (4:9-12). How could Abraham be justified apart from the law and before being circumcised? His faith was in God (Romans 4:16-25).

It behooves us to consider the meaning of faith at this time. In reference to Jesus, Thayer defines faith as "a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah - the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 511). This is perfectly illustrated in the example of Abraham. When God commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac upon the altar, the scripture says, "Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect; and the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. Ye see that by works a man is justified and not only by faith" (James 2:22-24). Paul and James are in perfect harmony when speaking about how a man is justified. Man is justified by an obedient belief in Jesus Christ. Some might object and state that Paul is against works. Not so. Paul affirms that we are saved by works of obedience. When speaking of the judgment of God, Paul says that God "will render to every man according to his works: to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life" (Romans 2:6-7). Notice, it is those who seek for glory, honor, and incorruption that God will give eternal life. In Romans 6:17, Paul exclaims, "but thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered." What teaching were the Romans obedient to? The context determines the answer. Paul says that they "were baptized into Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:3-7). Abraham was justified in the sight of God because he had an obedient faith. What about us today? Paul says, "Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it (righteousness) was reckoned unto him; but for our sake also, unto whom it shall be reckoned, who believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead..." (Romans 4:24-25). When we render obedience to the gospel we are justified by grace through faith.

What are the results of justification? Paul answers this question in Romans 5:1-5. We have peace with God. At one time we were alienated from God and enemies of God because of our evil works (Colossians 1:21). However, as a result of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (Romans 5:1-11) we can enjoy reconciliation with God (Romans 5:11).

Friends again with God! What a wonderful thought. This is theme of the Bible first announced in Genesis 3:15. This is the theme behind the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15. This is the theme behind the law of Moses. This is the theme that the gospel reveals. The good news reveals how man can be just in the sight of God and have fellowship with Him (cf. Romans 1:16-17; 3:21-22; Galatians 2:16). In a marvelous way, the epistle of Paul to the Romans helps us see clearly the great theme of the Bible...justification.

The epistle of Paul to the Romans helps us also to see that great love that God has for us. He wants us to be justified. Paul says, "But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him" (Romans 5:8-9).

With these thoughts from the book of Romans in mind, we can clearly see the importance of justification. The choice of whether or not we will be justified in the sight of God is up to us. We can continue down the path of sin and be separated from God for all eternity (cf. Rom. 2:5, 8-9; 6:23) OR we can be justified and receive eternal life that is in Christ (cf. Rom. 6:23).

By Jay Taylor
From Expository Files 13.1; January 2006