By Earl E. Robertson
The overall objective of the book of Romans is sublimable: God, in justice, says all have -sinned but He proposes to save all in Christ Jesus by the gospel. This book is, in my judgment, the greatest production ever presented to man. Phillip Schaff said in his introduction to this book, “The Epistle to the Romans is the Epistle of the Epistles,” while Meyer describes it as “The grandest and richest in contents of all the apostle’s letters.” Bryan Vinson, Sr. says, “No composition in human language authored by man or the Holy Spirit surpasses the scope, depth and grandeur of thought communicated in this letter.” This epistle is sublime because it is the gospel of God which concerns His Son Jesus Christ our Lord (1:1-4). Of the infinite storehouse of God’s provisions to save the world Paul says, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out” (Rom. 11:33).
Admittedly, this book is difficult, perhaps due to its depth and fullness. However, the obscurity of truth often observed in much writing on the letter is purely human. W.G. Rutherford, in the preface of his “Epistle To The Romans” says, “This was once a plain letter concerned with a theme which plain men might understand.” Peter says some things Paul wrote are hard to be understood, and that some unlearned and unstable wrest unto their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:15,16). This wonderful book is not the basis for the concepts and doctrines advanced by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and Barth, others to the contrary, notwithstanding. Neither is it rightfully the aid-giving source for the objectives sought in recent times by Garrett, Fudge, and Hardin. Its section dealing with personal judgments (ch. 14) is not a blanket covering the sins of substitution, additions, and perversions in God’s plan of salvation, church organization and worship as often alleged. Fellowship is based on the truth preached by the apostles. Beside this, there is no scriptural fellowship in the kingdom of God. John testifies the fellowship others had with the apostles was contingent upon what the apostles had seen, heard, and declared (1 John 1:3; Acts 4:20). The difficulties experienced in efforts of exegesis seem to come due to a forcing of this book to teach what it does not teach.
Paul, like Peter later (1 Pet. 1:17), affirms that with God there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. Paul argues in this book that “there is no respect of persons with God” (2:11); that “even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ (objective genitive – faith in Christ as a result of gospel testimony, EER) unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference” (3:22); that “there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (10:12). Thus, in an absolute sense God views all mankind the same, and, in this regard, the gospel one agency – of Christ is God’s power to save the believer whether Jew or Gentile. The power of the gospel clearly shines in contrast to the weakness of the law of Moses (8:24). This power was used in each case of conversion recorded in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 18:8). Paul shows this gospel was not contrived in human wisdom, but is “of God.” God put His word in man (2 Cor. 4:7) and, with miraculous demonstrations, proved what they said to be His word (2 Cor. 4:7; Mk. 16:20; Heb. 2:4. He further emphasized this theme by showing the difference between the law of Moses arid the gospel of Christ: The gospel is “unto salvation.” The law of Moses was not given to save from sin, but to cause conscious awareness of sin (Rom. 7:8,9). What a difference in results! Paul further shows this theme to his readers by stressing the universality of the gospel – it will save every one that believes. As shall be seen, “all have sinned” and are in trouble with God. God demanded death for sin; but mere man could not atone for his own sins, so Christ died for all (Heb. 2:9). Only through Christ has God provided salvation universally. But in this theme Paul declares this salvation offered through the gospel is conditional – it is to every one that believeth. Jesus said concerning those who had heard the gospel preached: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:15,16).
So, the theme stated, that God is no respecter of persons, is proven in that he has given only one Redeemer for all and one gospel to manifest this Savior to all. Difficulties and controversies will surely be experienced in any contrary interpretation. The maxim in interpretation is always allow the scriptures to freely say exactly and only what their proper meaning is.
Three-fold Position Of GodInasmuch as God respects no man’s person, He must view all alike and offer the same provisions to all exactly alike. This truth is fully demonstrated in the book of Romans.
1. God regards sin upon all alike. This is affirmed from 1:18 through 3:23 explicitly. The first chapter proves that the Gentiles have sinned and chapter two proves that the Jews have, too. Chapter three shows both Jews and Gentiles are alike lost the same way – through sin. Paul desired fruit from among these Gentiles (1:13), but to enjoy such he must first convince them of their own sins. The very creation of God manifested Him in power, wisdom, and goodness, thus making the Gentile without excuse. Of this, Paul said, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened . . . . Wherefore God gave them up to uncleanness through the lust of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies” (1:21., 24). “God gave them up!” Paul said this three times. Though they knew God, they glorified him not as God. They chose to push out of their minds their knowledge of Him, so God gave them up and they ran headlong into a life of things which were not befitting. The squalid, filthy, behavior loved and practiced by these Gentiles was sinful in God’s sight. Perhaps the world accepted it and them but God condemned both it and them! One has no way to go when he leaves God out of his thinking and behavior but down – morally and spiritually. Concerning the Gentiles, Paul concluded, “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (1:32).
Apparently the Jew yet sensed a secure feeling, being the physical seed of Abraham. They had told Jesus they were in bondage to no one because they were the seed of Abraham (John 8:31-34). John the Baptist had warned them saying, “Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our Father” (Matt. 3:8). At this time, only they who are “Christ’s” are Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:29), because the seed-promise made to Abraham was not “through the law” of Moses, but through the righteousness of faith (4:13). These Jews had not fully accepted this fact and were yet demanding circumcision for salvation and, thereby, condemning the Gentiles. Their morals were hardly any better than the morals of the Gentiles. The apostle condemned them saying, “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (2:1-3) God told these Jews that they were impenitent and had treasured up for themselves wrath at the judgment of God. He further shows this judgment would be by Christ Jesus and according to the gospel preached by Paul (2:16; cf. John 5:22; Acts 17:31). The Jew had taught everyone but himself, and, thus, had become a hypocrite (2:17-24). They had not kept the law and had, therefore, become sinners. The law could not save them; the praises of fellow Jews could not make them right with God. They, life the Gentiles, needed Christ for salvation! In this condition, they were not one whit better than the filthy Gentiles. They both were without Christ being dead in their own sins. Lost! Lost!
2: God proposes to save all the same way. God is just in His condemnation of the sinner, and He is the justifier of each who believes in Jesus (3:26). Since God put no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles, purifying their hearts by faith – that is, their reception of the gospel (Acts 15:9) – He saves the Jew “even as” the Gentile (Acts 15:11). God makes no offer to save any without Christ; He offers to save none out of Christ. Yet, He proposes to save all in Christ. Judaizing bigotry and paganizing licentiousness could both be forgiven, but only in Christ. In Christ, both Jew and Gentile are one. Such conciliatory overtures offers the Jew exactly what is offered the Gentile. God will not accept one man in one way and the other another way. Dispensationalism is not taught in the gospel of Christ.
Gospel preaching reveals the universal human need of redemption (1:18-3:23). Paul shows that the wisdom of the Gentiles cannot provide salvation for anyone and neither could the ancestral privileges of the Jews. But God is able to save all who come unto him by Christ Jesus (Heb. 7:25). Paul shows we have peace with God through Christ (Rom. 5:1). Our sins destroyed the friendship between us and God, and God demanded death for sin. Christ interposed by His death to effect harmony between God and man, which human sin had destroyed. Isaiah said Christ was “wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities,” and further “the chastisement of our peace was upon him” (Isa. 55:5). The prophet further declared, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put hint to grief:, when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:10, 11).
The sinner must have complete trust in this divine provision for sin and express this confidence through obedience from the heart (Rom. 6:17, 18). This obedience is just what the word means. It is neither legalism nor Phariseeism, but it is the expression of trust or belief that God’s way of saving all sinners will work. His conditions for salvation are His and let none of the so-called 20th century-Moseses allow through their teachings or in any other way cause you to reject them through disobedience. Moser says, “The conditions of salvation are not a `plan’ or `scheme’ arbitrarily demanded by one in authority, but the natural responses, as to signification, to the blood of Christ.” We just select our own terms! What foolishness. Billy Williams allows if we call the divine conditions “God’s plan,” it borders on sin. Hardin, in nearly every sentence, calls it legalism. The heretics of the past century called it Phariseeism. But Paul calls it obedience! Here one is reminded of Albert Barnes’ statement, “Where Paul states a simple fact, men often advance a theory. The fact may be clear and plain; their theory is obscure, involved, mysterious, or absurd.” And so it is. Amen!
Paul wrote these Romans, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (6:17, 18). Now, you call this whatever you wish, but the fact remains it is obedience both in name and action! Those tainted with Calvinism objurgate, but dare we change the word of the living God to satisfy a theory? Romans 6:18 and 22 affirm freedom from sin as the logical results of obedience to God which the gospel demands. The Romans obeyed; they obeyed the gospel. The verb “obey” is followed by the accusative. This case (accusative) marks primarily the immediate object of the action expressed by this verb (obey). They were made free from sin (not sinless, but emancipated) when they obeyed. When they obeyed they were made free and they became servants. Free, indeed so; yet, slaves. There is no middle ground about this matter. There is no salvation from sin until one obeys from his heart the gospel of Christ; and no one becomes a slave to righteousness until he is freed. What is wrong with inspiration’s expression of their actions? What is wrong in calling this obedience to the doctrine?
What did the Romans do when they obeyed the faith? Paul says they did what the Lord required of them to get into Christ. He says they were baptized into Jesus Christ (6:3). Salvation is in Christ (2 Tim. 2:10) and they had to get into Him to enjoy it, but baptism is the door through which one by faith enters into the Lord. The preaching of Jesus Christ to all nations is “for the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25, 26; Matt. 28:18-20).
Inasmuch as God was just in pronouncing condemnation upon men because of their sin, he also has the total right to announce the basis or terms upon which he will accept the sinner as justified (Rom. 11:34-36). These terms, announced by the Saviour, are accepted and applied in Romans 6. In accordance with the will of Christ as expressed in the commission of Mark 16:15, 16, both Jews and Gentiles had the gospel preached unto them; however, all obeyed not because the word preached was not mixed with faith in them that heard it (Rom. 10:16; Heb. 4:2). This response shows the volition of each responsible human being. Each man can choose his character of life and his destiny. As God’s terms of salvation are conveyed to the heart of a sinner he can either accept them in obedience or reject them in disobedience. Whatever the sinner does right here makes the difference in results. “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey: whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16). Which ever way the sinner goes, God remains just! God is both able and willing to save all sinners the same way: grace and faith. His grace is expressed through ability and willingness -He gave His only Son. Man’s faith expresses itself in accepting the terms of this grace for salvation – obedience to the gospel.
God’s sovereign and inherent right to condemn sinners for sin, give His only Son to ransom them, cause the gospel of Christ to be preached declaring it to be His power to save the believer, cut off the Jew as a nation and special people through their rejection of him, and receive individually all who trustingly obey him whether Jew or Greek must be conceded by all. It is God’s business and the very heart of Romans 1 through 11.
3. God proposes to save when His provisions are utilized. The Lord is able to execute and perform to the fullest all His promises and sayings (cf. Rom. 9:28; Isa. 55:11). He promises to free from sin those who obey the truth when they obey (Rom. 2:8; 6:17, 18). Paul illustrates this magnificant and sublime truth with the faith and obedience of Abraham. Paul seeks to show the Jews of Rome that, though Abraham was justified, he was not justified through the law or circumcision (Rom. 4:10, 13). When in Romans 4:10 identifies the time of his faith being reckoned for righteousness. Now, Paul shows, if God could without the law or circumcision count Abraham’s faith for righteousness, he can now save the physically uncircumcised through his grace and their faith (Rom. 4:16). Lard makes these comments on Romans 4:3, “Abraham believed God, -and it was counted to him for justification.” He said, “There was nothing miraculous in his belief. It was belief in the sense in which we believe, the only difference being in the things. believed.” “Moreover, be it noticed, that the thing counted to Abraham was his own, not another’s. Dakalosune means acquittal from sin, with subsequent recognition and treatment as just. Now Abraham’s belief was counted to him eis-in order to, dikalousunen-in order to his acquittal from sin, or that, by means of his belief, he might obtain justification. It was, in a word, the condition of his release or pardon, just as it is the condition of ours.”
Paul says Abraham is the “father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that the righteousness might be imputed to them also . . . who walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham” (Rom. 4:11, 12). To walk in the steps of that faith of Abraham is to yield to God’s instructions by doing what he commands. It means when sinners hear and believe the gospel of Christ they must repent and be baptized. Then the promise of remission of sins is enjoyed (Acts 2:38); “Being then made free from sin” (Rom. 6:17, 18). When God called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees he, by faith, obeyed (Gen. 12; Heb. 11:8). Abraham believed in the Lord and he counted it to him for righteousness (Gen. 15:6). Years later, even -after he had lived in Canaan ten years, Hagar the maid conceived and had Ishmael. When Ishmael was thirteen years old, God appeared unto Abraham and promised to make a covenant with him, promised him a son “next year” by Sarah, and told him that he and all his must be circumcised (Gen. 16 and 17). Abraham was now ninety-nine years old and Sarah was ninety. Paul shows Abraham had no reason to think he could have a son other than the fact that God had said it. Paul says, “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was table also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom. 4:18-24). Abraham’s faith in God caused him to yield to the very words of God which caused his faith. So shall it be for all who today walk in the steps of that faith of Abraham. Romans 6 shows our faith in God saves us when it obeys God. Abraham’s obedience is specifically said to be the means by which his faith in God could be expressed and made perfect.-(James 2:21-24). Our faith, like that of Abraham, comes from hearing the word of God. And, our faith, like that of Abraham, is made perfect and blesses us only when it obeys God. It was God’s business to so justify Abraham; it, likewise, is God’s business to justify sinners today by faith that obeys.
This great book has three logical divisions: (1) Chapters 1-8 cover the fall of all through sin, and God’s willingness to save all through Christ, (2) chapters 9-11 show God’s rejection of the Jew and acceptance of the Gentile, (3) chapters 12-16 give general instruction as to how God’s people should live.
- Give the theme of Romans expressed in 1:16-17, along with a simple three-point outline of the sixteen chapters which develop this theme.
- In Romans, how is God shown to be a just person with all men in condemning sin? How is He shown to be impartial in His mercy and grace toward all men?
- How did men’s lives differ from God’s standard of truth and righteousness in Romans 1?
- For what were the Jews especially condemned before God?
- Explain how Romans prove one of the following: a. There is a difference in God’s dispensation of grace in Christ to Jews and to Gentiles, b. There is no difference in God’s dispensation of grace in Christ to Jews and to Gentriles.
- What are some expressions used in connection with obey or obedience in Romans?
- List some expressions false teachers use in referring to obedience in their effort to weaken the necessity for strict obedience to the gospel.
- Why do men teach that we are saved by faith alone, at the point of faith, before and without any other act of obedience? Do we find this doctrine in Romans? If so, where?
- Does the life of Abraham teach that salvation is conditional or unconditional?
- What does Romans teach us about the nature of the faith which saves?
Truth Magazine XXIII: 1, pp. 2-6
January 4, 1979