Major themes in Paul's letter to the Romans
Paul's letter to the Romans is devoted to basic doctrines without which it is difficult to speak of understanding even of the most basic Biblical teachings. The letter opens with the clue of the Bible: God foresaw salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Later on the apostle develops threads, beginning with basics, through more advanced doctrinal teaching in the middle of the letter, ending with elements of ethics:
- Romans 1 - Jesus Christ according to the body was David's offspring; according to the spirit of consecration he became the son of God; the just will live through faith; God's attributes are visible; the obligation of faith;
- Romans 2 - God's judgement will be on the basis of deeds; God's law written in man's heart; he is a Jew who is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart;
- Romans 3 - all are sinful; nobody will be justified by deeds of the law, for the law gives the awareness of sin; justification from grace by faith through the redemption in Jesus Christ; faith does not remove the law, but it establishes it;
- Romans 4 - Abraham believed in God, and it was accounted to him towards justification; circumcission as a sign of faith; Abraham as the father of faith; the promise of offspring (Isaac) brought to life by faith;
- Romans 5 - the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us; conditions of reconciliation with God; sin through one man - justification through one;
- Romans 6 - baptism into death; the dead is free from sin; do not give body to sin, but to God as a tool of justice; sin is paid by death; eternal life is God's gift through Jesus Christ;
- Romans 7 - the law rules over man as long as he lives (with reference to the regulation stating that in case of husband's death his wife can take another as her husband); awareness of sin by the law; the law of the body leads man as the captive of sin; with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin;
- Romans 8 - no condemnation to those who are in Christ; the weakness of the law through the flesh; the thinking of the flesh and the spirit; all who received the spirit of God are God's children; the hope of glory through suffering; creation will be freed from futility at the revelation of the sons of God; all things work together for good to those who are called; the procedure of the calling (foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification; glorification); Christ's intercession for us;
- Romans 9 - God's children are by promise, not by flesh; God's election not by deeds - based on the stories of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, the Pharaoh; the potter has power over the clay and so God can make some to be vessels of mercy and some vessels of wrath; the calling of the non-Jews shown in prophecies; looking for justification from the deeds of the law, Israel stumled upon the rock (Jesus), whereas the pagans believed and received justification based on faith;
- Romans 10 - Christ is the end of the law; the law promised life based on deeds; everybody who calls the name of the Lord will be saved; faith comes from hearing, whence the need for the preacher;
- Romans 11 - God did not reject Israel, but gave them the spirit of deep sleep; the likeness to the olive tree from which natural branches have been broken off and wild branches have been grafted in; the conversion of Israel;
- Romans 12 - present your bodies a living sacrifice, which is your reasonable service; the Body of Christ and its various members; behaving like a Christian;
- Romans 13 - submit to the government; owe no one anything except to love one another; love is the fulfillment of the law; put on Jesus Christ;
- Romans 14 - we live for the Lord; do everything with full conviction - doing with a doubt, one commits a sin; do not judge because we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ; do not cause your brother to fall; everything which is not from faith is a sin;
- Romans 15 - everything was written for our instruction; be of one spirit; the strong should bear the scruples of the weak; Christ the servant of the Jews so that nations can glorify God for His mercy; Paul's decision to preach only where the Gospel has not been preached before; problems with arriving to Rome;
- Romans 16 - Satan crushed under the feet of the believers; avoid ones who cause arguments contrary to the truth; final greetings.
"Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God (2) which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, (3) concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, (4) and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (NKJV)
Commentary: first words of the letter to the Romans explain who Jesus was. Our Lord was a human, a descendant of David. His biological parents were Joseph and Mary, even though the Gospel informs that Mary's pregnancy was a result of a supernatural action of the holy spirit, not of sexual intercourse. At his baptism in the Jordan Jesus received fullness of spirit which effected his consecration - separation for the service of the truth - and at the same time made him a spiritual son of God. Paul statement that our Lord received spirit "by the resurrection from the dead" refers to baptism by immersion, which symbolizes repentance (death of the body of sinful character). From this death Jesus was raised by the spirit of the truth which enabled him to fully control imperfections of the body.
"...for I am not ashamed of the good news of the Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation to every one who is believing, both to Jew first, and to Greek. (17) For the righteousness of God in it is revealed from faith to faith, according as it hath been written, 'And the righteous one by faith shall live" (YLT)
Commentary: justification is a reform of character. However, as the casus of the Mosaic Law shows, it cannot be effected by mechanical implementation of regulations. The motivation to change needs to operate within, spurring both heart (emotions) and mind. Faith provides this kind of motivation, bringing together conviction (knowledge, mind) and the will to act accordingly (love). The mentioned will may embrace both the obligatory love (piety), which every man is obliged to pay God, and the love agape (sacrificial love for the truth), which is God's gift for the elect. The condition for the elect to receive it is, however, taking up repentance and conversion in the name of Jesus Christ, which basically boils down to piety. That is why the apostle Paul writes that "the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith" - from the faith motivated by piety (obligation) to the faith motivated by agape. The faith motivated by the love for the truth leads its recepients to learn it and act according to it, thus developing the character in the image of Jesus Christ and in further consequence, preparing them to receive the gift of eternal life.
"...because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse" (NKJV)
Commentary: in verses 16-17 Paul speaks about justification that "it is revealed from faith [based on obligatory love - piety] to faith [based on sacrificial love for the truth]". In verses 19-20 the apostle argues that faith in the prior meaning is every man's obligation. According to the definition provided in Heb. 11:1, faith is a 'hypostasis of things unseen'. The Greek hypostasis refers to the manifestation of being; the way in which being manifests itself on lower levels of the ontological ladder. Thus the material world, as Paul argues in the fragment of the letter to the Romas under scrutiny, is a manifestation of God, which should find its reflection in the mind of the reasoning man. That is why faith is obligatory: first, the conviction that God is above the material world, and second, acting upon this knowledge (rejection of idolatry, verse 23).
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness ... (28) And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting" (NKJV)
Commentary: juxtaposition of verses 18 and 28 shows the relation between knowledge and justice. In verse 18 Paul says that the truth is supressed by unrighteousness, so that man's moral fall prevents one from discovering the truth about God that the created universe manifests. On the other hand, in verse 28 the apostle's thought takes a different turn: here it is the lack of the truth that leads to unrighteousness. This vicious circle does, nonetheless, show how the fall can be overcome: either by turning away from unrighteousness, which will open one's eyes towards the knowledge of God, or by the knowledge of God that will turn one away from sin. The first mentioned way God uses in the present Gospel Age by calling everyone to repent. In the future Kingdom of Christ the second way will be used, i.e. God's spirit of the truth will be poured out "on all flesh" (Jl. 2:28,29) so that everyone will be able to make necessary changes and come to a relationship with God.
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"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? (2) God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (3) Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (4) Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (5) For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also [in the likeness] of [his] resurrection. (6) Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (OGIB)
Commentary: baptism into death mentioned in Rom. 6:1-6 is a consequence of repentance by which believers take up the reform of character, i.e. they put to death sinful deeds together with corresponding traits of character ("old man", "body of sin" - verse 6) in order to be reborn by the spirit of love for the truth to the "newness of life" (verse 4) by expanded understanding of the Word of God. This process of immersing into death of the old man and emerging of the new one refers to all believers without exception, making them members of the Body of Christ. Paul writes here of the newness of life/ resurrection as a promise because resulting from baptism into death for this reason that repentance and conversion can take place rapidly, whereas resurrection of character is always a process because character is changed by repetition. It requires a conscious effort of the will, which needs to repeat a given action many times before the subconscious reads it as a new pattern of behaviour and integrates it within the existing framework. Repentance is symbolised by water baptism - a baptism of complete immersion.
Another issue is raised by the statement that baptism means immersion into the death of Christ. It clearly follows that Jesus submitted himself to the same kind of baptism, which is impossible to believe by a regular Chrustian because our Lord was obviously perfect... In flesh he was not - he was a son of Mary and Joseph, which is openly stated by the Gospel. At his baptism in the Jordan Jesus received the fullness of the spirit, through which he could submit his body to a full and effective control (see e.g. Rom. 1:1-4 and 1 Pet. 2:21-25). That is why it is equally true that he did not commit sin. As Christ's followers, we don't receive fullness, but the earnest of the spirit, which we subsequently develop into: firstly, the maturity of understanding, and secondly, through the development of the mind and conscious practice of the truth, also into the perfection of character (newness of life). Thus, having the mind and the body shaped according to the truth, we become God's children, free of accussation.
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"For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. (20) For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; (21) because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (22) For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now" (NKJV)
Commentary: the sons of God of whom we read in verse 19 are believers born of the spirit, who aim to achieve the highest positions in Christ's Kingdom. They will be revealed to the world when this heveanly government starts its reign over the earth. It will be a time in which the resurrected mankind will be subjected to the judgement process in the element of instruction, testing, correction and final sentence. According to verse 21, man will be granted "freedom to glory" because the reign of Christ and the sons of God with him, will provide humanity with every condition conducive to the reform of character. Those who will take the opportunity and will pass the final trial, will receive the gift of eternal life. The present time is referred to by the apostle Paul as "birth pangs" (verse 22) because humanity is in the process of creation. In Eden man was created in God's likeness, but not God's image. So "creation was subjected to futility ... in hope" (verse 20), for the present 'futility stage' was foreseen in the Divine Plan, but at the same time it was aimed as a step towards creating perfect humanity made in God's image manifest in Jesus Christ.
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"...because whom He did foreknow, He also did fore-appoint, conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be first-born among many brethren; (30) and whom He did fore-appoint, these also He did call; and whom He did call, these also He declared righteous; and whom He declared righteous, these also He did glorify" (YLT)
Commentary: the aim of the Gospel calling is creation of man in God's image manifest in Jesus Christ by identifying their characters with the character of the Lord. Not everyone, however, receives this invitation, but only those who were foreseen by God (elect) and predestined to be called. The elect who repent in the name of Jesus Christ are called by receiving the spirit of the agape love by which they are begotten. Begettal of the spirit impregnates the mind with the Word of the truth, thus opening the way towards justification of character (birth of the spirit). Those who succeed will be glorified in the resurrection to the Divine nature.
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"...and if the first-fruit [is] holy, the lump also; and if the root [is] holy, the branches also. (17) And if certain of the branches were broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wast graffed in among them, and a fellow-partaker of the root and of the fatness of the olive tree didst become -- (18) do not boast against the branches; and if thou dost boast, thou dost not bear the root, but the root thee! (19) Thou wilt say, then, 'The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in;' right! (20) by unbelief they were broken off, and thou hast stood by faith; be not high-minded, but be fearing; (21) for if God the natural branches did not spare -- lest perhaps He also shall not spare thee. (22) Lo, then, goodness and severity of God -- upon those indeed who fell, severity; and upon thee, goodness, if thou mayest remain in the goodness, otherwise, thou also shalt be cut off. (23) And those also, if they may not remain in unbelief, shall be graffed in, for God is able again to graff them in; (24) for if thou, out of the olive tree, wild by nature, wast cut out, and, contrary to nature, wast graffed into a good olive tree, how much rather shall they, who [are] according to nature, be graffed into their own olive tree?" (YLT)
Commentary: in Rom. 11:16-24 the apostle Paul discusses the symbol of the olive tree from which natural branches were broken off and wild branches grafted in. It illustrates the fact that a large part of Israel according to the flesh - natural candidates - were cut off from the grace of membership in the Body of Christ, and in their place wild branches were grafted in - the called from outside Israel (pagans). Within this symbol, the Abrahamic Covenant is the root of the tree, the tree itself is the New Covenant. Natural branches, i.e. Israel after the flesh, were connected with the tree on the basis of the promise given to Abraham and typically, also on the basis of the Law Covenant. When Jesus started his earthly service, a major dispensational change occured, from the type to its fulfillment in the antitype. However, most Jews rejected the Messiah, so they were cut off themselves - their connection as a nation with the New Covenant will be brought back under the future rule of Christ and the royal priesthood completed during the Gospel Age.
- expanded commentary on Rom. 11:16-24
- election and predestination (Eph. 1:3-6)
- parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31)
- New Covenant
"For I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, of this secret -- that ye may not be wise in your own conceits -- that hardness in part to Israel hath happened till the fulness of the nations may come in; (26) and so all Israel shall be saved, according as it hath been written, 'There shall come forth out of Sion he who is delivering, and he shall turn away impiety from Jacob, (27) and this to them [is] the covenant from Me, when I may take away their sins.' (28) As regards, indeed, the good tidings, [they are] enemies on your account; and as regards the choice -- beloved on account of the fathers; (29) for unrepented of [are] the gifts and the calling of God; (30) for as ye also once did not believe in God, and now did find kindness by the unbelief of these: (31) so also these now did not believe, that in your kindness they also may find kindness; (32) for God did shut up together the whole to unbelief, that to the whole He might do kindness" (YLT)
Commentary: "for unrepented of [are] the gifts and the calling of God", says the apostle Paul in verse 29. The Israel which became God's chosen people in Jacob, never went out of this role. When God made his promise to Abraham, didn't He know that Jews would commit sins even unto delivering to death His first-born Son? Obviously He did. It all, however, constituted a larger Divine Plan in which Israel's unbelief turned out to be a blessing for the pagans who by faith became Abraham's spiritual offspring, and a lot of whom achieved the highest positions in Christ's Kingdom. "Hardness in part to Israel hath happened till the fulness of the nations may come in", i.e. till the last member of Christ's Bride has been sealed. When the heavenly government is completed, verse 26 will come true: the collective Deliverer will "turn away impiety from Jacob" when during the war of Armageddon Israel will be brought to the brink of their existence by their enemies, but will receive supernatural help. Thus Jews will become the first converted nation of the new millennial Kingdom with which the New Covenant will be sealed.
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"I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service" (MKJV)
Commentary: the elect who repent in the name of Jesus Christ receive the agape love, which is the love of the truth - the will to learn, use and proclaim it. That is why in Rom. 12:1 Paul writes about reasonable service and therefore this happens "by the mercies of God" (reference to election). The body is obviously a tool for performing this service. However, it is to be holy and living. Holy means separated for special service. What separates us is agape because it gives the direction to the whole life of the elect. In addition, it develops in believers the knowledge of the truth, which in turn transforms character to the image of Jesus Christ. The character is referred to as the body in the Bible. The living body means a developed character that corresponds to the principles of justice, and therefore is not burdened with a death sentence.
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