This article is part of the Why Study the Book? series.
Why Study Romans?
I once read that the preaching of Romans has precipitated most of the great revival moments in church history. I don’t know if that’s exactly true, but I can see how it could be. The truth of the gospel is not unique to Romans, but its systematic, historical, and theological depths stand out among all the letters of the New Testament. Here, then, are three big reasons you ought to give this great letter careful study.
Devastating and Exhilarating Truth
There is a reason why the “Romans Road” has become such a ubiquitous and effective evangelistic presentation. The key truths necessary to expose the sinfulness of man and to proclaim the gracious relief of the good news find plain, systematic, and artful expression in the book of Romans.
I have a friend named David who was converted to Christ out of a life of drugs and sexual promiscuity while living in Florida. He came across a Bible in a roundabout way, brought to his home by an unbelieving friend who had been given it by a Christian. Nobody planned to read it. But a hurricane had recently wiped out everything David owned. And he was prompted to consider what he was doing with his life. Somehow he found himself in Romans and started reading. He said that Paul’s revelation of the depravity of man apart from Christ crushed him. He knew that he was exactly who Paul was talking about. David says, “He was talking about me. I knew he was. And I was scared to death. I thought, ‘I see where this is going. And I want out’.” Thankfully, Romans showed him that too.
Chapter by chapter, verse by verse, we see in this wonderful letter the full truth of fallen humanity’s sinful rebellion—our spiritual treason against our Creator, whose existence and love are everywhere to be seen—but we also find the full truth of Christ’s atoning work, making propitiation to God for sinners who repent and believe.
Romans shows us just how bad we really are, which is a needed truth. And it shows us just how loved we really are, which is a universally hoped-for truth. The apostles explore these themes in all the New Testament texts, of course, but in Romans we find them in abundance and in depth. Perhaps nowhere in the letter is this more evident than in the masterpiece found at its midway point.
Romans shows us just how bad we really are, which is a needed truth.
Martin Luther called Romans, “The chief part of the New Testament, and the very purest gospel.” I would say that Romans 8 is the “chief part” of this letter, the center of this very purest gospel.
The turn from Romans 7 to Romans 8 is one of the most exquisite, most wonderful, most ecstatic turns in literary history. And as inspired Scripture, the hinge between Romans 7:24-25 and Romans 8:1 is nothing short of life-changing. Romans 8 is widely considered the greatest chapter in all of the Bible, and while it seems odd to set any portion of God’s inerrant word as “better” than others, those who are familiar with the chapter know the spirit behind the claim. I resonate with it.
Romans 8 is a well of deep, crystalline healing water for the parched soul. Bookended by the wonderful truths that there is no condemnation for those united to Christ (8:1) and that nothing—absolutely nothing!—can separate us from God’s love (8:38-39), all of the material in between is worth studying for eons and eons. I dare you to meditate regularly on Romans 8 and not feel like “more than a conqueror” (8:37).
The Depths of the Gospel
John Chrysostom said, “Romans is unquestionably the fullest, deepest compendium of all sacred foundation truths.” You will find gospel truth in every book of the Bible, including the Old Testament, and you certainly find the explicit gospel of Jesus Christ in every book of the New Testament. But the book of Romans, rivaled only perhaps by Hebrews, completely brings the old covenant history into the new covenant revelation. Romans has an epic sweep and a panoramic scope. You don’t just get the gospel in Romans, you get gospel deeps.
So Paul doesn’t simply say we’re sinners. He peels back the layers of our behavior to the truth-suppressing, heart-darkening, idol-worshiping root. And he doesn’t simply say we’re forgiven. He goes back to God’s covenant with Abraham, to the tension between Jacob and Esau, to the sacrificial system—and back even further, to the foundation of the world, and before that to eternity past in the glorious self-sufficient and infinite wisdom of the triune God who “foreknew” his children before the first star was ever spoken into existence. Like I said, deep. Romans speaks to forgiveness and propitiation, to justification and sanctification, to election and glorification, to union with Christ and the Spirit-filled life.
And Paul doesn’t just say, “Act right.” He spells out how those who are united to Christ live in their day-to-day lives in all kinds of environments. He answers burning questions (like “What about those who have never heard the gospel?”) and speaks to perennial issues (like “How should Christian citizens relate to their governments?”). Romans speaks on everything from homosexuality to predestination, couches it all in covenantal history and biblical theology, and leads from it all into God’s mission to reach the nations with the gospel.
You should study Romans, of course, because Romans is part of God’s holy and infallible word. But you should also study it because the depths of knowledge, the depths of love, and the depths of living are all contained in those 16 chapters.
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