Series: Best Book In the BibleEvery Christian knows the importance of reading their Bible, but many are overwhelmed with the task of devouring such a monstrous book! Often times, when Christians lose steam in their yearly reading plans, they can become frustrated and feel defeated. It is for this reason that individual book studies can be a lifesaver. In the Best Book in the Bible series, we will provide entry points into faithful study through “selling” you on why you should fall in love with the various books of the Bible.
For many believers, Romans is their favorite Bible book! A while we certainly do not want to minimize the other sixty-five books, there is something special about this letter. It encapsulates the gospel, packing a hard punch of theological truth. It ignites the heart, soothes the soul, challenges the mind, and quickens the affections for Christ. In this post, we explore just some of what makes Romans the best book in the Bible.
Main themes: the gospel of God
“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.” (Rom. 1:16)
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)
“I urge you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:1-2)
In Paul’s letter to the Roman church, he lays out the clearest gospel presentation in the Bible. But more than simply spelling in out in credal form, Paul argues the gospel, making an air-tight case for man’s need for Christ and the glory of salvation. While there are several ways to outline the book, I’m choosing to block it out according to the main doctrinal themes.
1:1-3:20. The doctrine of condemnation.
After a lengthy introduction, Paul launches right into three chapters of condemnation. He quickly establishes that the revealed “wrath of God” (1:18) is the basis of such condemnation, since all humankind has violated His perfect law. No one is excluded. In the tail end of chapter 1, Paul unleashes accusation against all pagans, who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18), committing abominable acts against the Lord. The beginning of chapter 2 levels a charge against the moralist—those who think they can simply “be a good person” and attain favor with God. The second half of chapter 2 attacks the Jews, who have committed hypocrisy by professing to keep the law, but disobey it on every front. By chapter 3, it is evident that “none is righteous, not even one” (3:10) and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).
3:21-5:21. The doctrine of justification.
Starting in (3:21) with “But now…”, Paul launches into his discourse on justification “by faith apart from works of the law” (3:28). Now, according to Wayne Grudem, justification is “an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belong to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.” The main argument is that the act of declaring the sinner righteous, and thereby saving them, is a grace of God through the believer’s faith. In chapter 4, Paul uses Abraham as an example of the kind of faith needed to be saved. It is significant that Abraham was justified by faith before the Law was ever given (4:3; cf. Gen. 15:6). Chapter 5 capitalizes on the grace of God, rooted in the work of Christ Jesus as the “second Adam”. While we were condemned because of the sin of Adam in the Fall, we are redeemed in Christ because of the cross. Chapter 5 ends on a high note—grace!!!
6:1-7:25. The doctrine of sanctification.
In response to the declaration of the immense grace of God, Paul then answers the hypothetical question: “Can we then sin as much as we want, since God’s grace covers all?” The answer is emphatically NO! Paul argues for the sanctification of the believer—growth in Christlikeness. Once we are redeemed by Christ, we then become “slaves to righteousness” (6:18). However, he admits to the continuing problem of sin dwelling in the members of our body, and notes the battle between the saved soul and the flesh (7:7-25).
8:1-11:36. The doctrine of glorification.
Just when all hope seems lost in the battle for righteousness, Paul asserts that victory is won in Christ! “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” he declares (8:1). Paul argues that the grace of God works through the justification of the sinner, unto sanctification, and results in ultimate glorification. In fact, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39).
At this point, Paul seems to depart from his discourse and explore the future of Israel in God’s plan of redemption (chapters 9 through 11). Paul extols the grace of God in working through Israel, but notes her rejection of Christ in unbelief. With great pains, he pleads with his people to embrace their Messiah, but knows that God is working through their hardness of heart to bring about the salvation of the Gentiles (11:11). But all is not lost, as Paul declares that God will reignite faith in the people of Israel, noting that “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).
12:1-16:27. The doctrine of consecration.
Whereas the first 11 chapters of Romans constitutes the ‘doctrine’ portion of the letter, Paul concludes with practical matters. Based on what we’ve learned, how then shall we live? Chapter 12 exhorts the church to conform to Christ’s image and live in light of His grace. Paul emphasizes the need to practice love within the body. Chapter 13 shifts the focus toward the church’s responsibility to governing authorities, as well as toward others in love. Chapters 14 and 15 deal with the treatment of others, namely those who are less mature in the faith. Finally, after a long discourse of greetings to his faithful friends (16:1-16), Paul concludes with an encouragement and a doxology.
What Makes This Book So Great:
By his own account, it was Paul’s letter to the Romans that was responsible for the conversion of Saint Augustine. The great reformer Martin Luther was saved through one phrase in Romans—“the righteousness of God”. John Calvin has said that Romans provides “an entrance… to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture.” There is no doubt that Romans is the pinnacle of doctrine, prose, and practice in the New Testament. Its value is inestimable and inexhaustible, displaying the true grace of God.
Romans is just… well, Romans!
While Romans can be read in one sitting, it is helpful to slow down and study it out. It’s not that I’m discouraging casual reading, but the power of Romans comes through Paul’s dynamic argumentation and the nuance of each phrase. Break the book down into sections—perhaps 1-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-16. Read, meditate, and even memorize as much as you can! Try and trace Paul’s flow of thought. In the end, test yourself: can you articulate the various parts of the gospel? Challenge yourself to argue the gospel like Paul. After all, every believer is responsible to be able “to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15) and Romans will certainly equip you to do it.
- R.C. Sproul, Romans. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009)
- John MacArthur, Romans [2 vols.] (Chicago: Moody, 1991).
- Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996).
Note: Find the rest of the Best Book in the Bible series here: EntreatingFavor.com/BestBookSeries