Outline of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans

by Jean Muller

1. Opening Remarks

The four gospels display the great mystery of godliness, and the coming of the Son of God on earth to accomplish the work of redemption. While the Acts of the Apostles shows the beginning of the Church, the 21 epistles of the New Testament bring out the marvellous results of Christ’s work and the revelation of God’s love in Him.

The Apostle Paul first reveals salvation through faith in Christ, which secures forgiveness of sins and justification, together with deliverance from sin (Romans). He shows further the Christian before God, as dead and risen again with Christ (Col. 3:1), placed in the position of a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). He also speaks about the Church as an habitation and the house of God on earth, the body and spouse of Christ. His ‘doctrine’ (2 Tim. 3:10) rests upon four foundation truths, which Christ in glory gave His dear apostle in direct revelations:

  1. The Church is Christ’s body (Eph. 3:6).
  2. The Lord’s supper as the memorial of His death and  emblematic of the oneness of His (spiritual) body, the expression ‘the Christ’ speaking of Christ together with His Church (1 Cor. 10:17; 11:23; 12:12).
  3. The first resurrection of believers asleep in Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3).
  4. The rapture of the saints at the Lord’s coming (1 Cor. 15:51).

Paul’s writings present the order which becomes God’s house (1 Cor. 1-9; 1 Tim.), together with the special provisions of grace when the Christian testimony is in ruins (2 Tim). The Church, Christ’s body, is nourished by spiritual gifts sent by the glorified Head in heaven (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:7-16). The four epistles dated from the apostle’s first captivity in Rome are of special value for our hearts. Therein, the great apostle of the nations reveals God’s eternal counsels (Ephesians and Colossians), while not forgetting the condition of a fugitive slave (Philemon). Paul – a simple servant of Jesus Christ – declares also what His master was for his heart – his life, his example, his goal, his joy and his strength (Philippians). This is precisely what He should be for us too.

John’s epistles show the revelation of God the Father (light and love) in His Son, who is eternal life. Believers are the Father’s children in His heavenly family. According to God’s own witness: ‘He that hath the Son hath the life’ (John 3:15-16; 1 John 5:12). Christ – grace and truth – is in the believer. That which was true in Him on earth is now true in us (1 John 2:8). When the foundations are destroyed (Ps. 11:3), stability rests securely upon the person of Christ, and the testimony of the truth is of all importance (2 and 3 John).

The catholic epistles (James’s, Peter’s and Jude’s) together with the epistle to the Hebrews consider the Christian as a pilgrim on earth, having Christ as a great high priest in heaven. The future of the world and the decline of Christendom are announced. There will be a two-fold apostasy (the abandonment of the truth previously received), for it will be moral and religious (Jewish and Christian). Thus the epistles close on the promise of deliverance for the Lord’s own, the judgement of the world and the final destruction of the first creation and ungodly men.

2. Introduction of the epistle to the Romans (ch. 1:1-15)

The great purpose of the epistle is to answer the solemn question: ‘How can man be just with God?’ (Job 9:2) Therefore, the epistle develops the message of the gospel, the good news of grace and its practical results for sinful man. However, it does not show in detail the aspects of God’s thoughts towards Christ and His assembly. This vital aspect of divine truth, partially presented in the epistle to the Corinthians, is only fully revealed by the apostle’s last writings, at the time of his captivity in Rome (Ephesians and Colossians). We may say by analogy to the history of Israel, Romans considers the believer as still in the wilderness (the world), Ephesians as already in the land (the heavenly places) and Colossians as crossing the river Jordan (as dead and risen with Christ). Romans shows man’s responsibility and Ephesians the side of God’s eternal counsels. The centre of all remains Christ and His work on the cross.

A large assembly had been formed in Rome with no involvement of the apostle, but he desired greatly to visit the saints in order to preach the gospel (v. 15) to them, who were called of Jesus Christ. This gospel goes beyond the salvation of the soul by faith to include all the display of God’s purpose towards man through Christ’s work. Yet, the apostle would not visit Rome except as a prisoner of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:1).

3. The state of mankind before God (chs. 1:16 to 3:20)

God’s gospel concerns His Son Jesus Christ our Lord [1] . In Him, an eternal salvation is offered by grace. The gospel of Christ is the power of God; it is presented to all men, in the irremediable state in which they all are, without exception. The gospel reveals also God’s righteousness, on the principle of faith to faith because: ‘The just shall live by faith.’ [2]

The apostle demonstrates first the state of perdition in which all mankind lies:

1.       The wrath of God is revealed against the heathen. They refused the testimony of creation to God’s eternal power and Godhead (1:19-20), forgot the knowledge of God (1:21) and finally neglected the voice of there own conscience (2:14 -15). Pagan corruption has been only surpassed by that of lifeless Christianity (2 Tim. 3:2).

2.       Philosophers and moralists (Jewish or pagan) are as inexcusable in their hypocrisy (2:1-16). There are as many of these in to-day’s world as they were in the Greek world. Like the Pharisees in the Lord’s time, they were (and still are) ready to teach lessons to others, but not do likewise and even take pleasure in them that do evil.

3.       The people of Israel, whose privileges were so great, but who are guilty of transgressing the law and blaspheming the name of their God (2:17-29).

While man (Jewish or not) may raise all sorts of objections (3:1-8), the terrible display of man’s guilt and ruin is complete. Six scriptures from the Old Testament (five from the Psalms and one from Isaiah) confirm man’s lost state in regard to his inner attitude, his words, his works and his general behaviour (v. 10-18) ‘that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law, there shall no flesh by justified’ (v.19-20).

4. Forgiveness of sins and justification (chs. 3:21 - 5:11)

‘But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested’ (v.21). After the long parenthesis, which declares man’s guilt (1:18 to 3:20), God’s answer is proclaimed: a free salvation, founded on Christ’s propitiatory [3] work offered by God’s righteousness. It is ‘unto all’ (offered to all men), but is only ‘upon all them that believe’ (imputed only to believers). Those who believe are justified by means of faith through God’s grace. Salvation is not for Jews only, but available to all on the basis of a moral rule or principle that works constantly to produce the same results. [4]

Using the example of the Old Testament saints (Abraham and David), the apostle goes on to show the place of justification by faith in relation to works, circumcision, promises and the power of resurrection, particularly that of Christ (ch. 4).

1.       Faith and works (vs. 1-8): Abraham, called the father of all believers, has been justified by means of faith without works. However, works are essential to prove the reality of faith (James 2: 21-24). Salvation remains a free gift, not a reward.

2.       Faith and circumcision (vs. 9-12): Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him for righteousness (Gen. 15:6) 14 years before circumcision was given to him as a sign of separation from the world to God. Circumcision is the seal of righteousness (v. 11), and Abraham became the father of circumcision (v. 12), the head of the company, to all those separated from the world to God.

3.       Faith and the promise (vs. 13-16): Abraham received unconditional promises from God solely dependant upon God’s faithfulness, a long time before the gift of the law to Israel.

4.       Faith and resurrection (vs. 17-22): finally, promises are founded upon the power of the God of resurrection.

In conclusion, ‘Jesus our Lord … was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification’ (vs. 24-25). The faith of believers is founded on the blood of Christ (3:25) and His resurrection (4:25).

The consequences of this first doctrinal part of the epistle are triumphant. The believer owns and enjoys:

1.       Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (peace of conscience),

2.       The grace of God (His favour),

3.       The hope of the glory of God,

4.       Joy in sufferings (tribulation, patience, experience, hope),

5.       The love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost,

6.       Reconciliation to God and salvation, and finally waits for

7.       The glory of God in Christ.

So Christ’s work is toward us for the forgiveness and justification of God concerning our sins. The gospel, therefore, answers God’s second question to Cain: ‘What hast thou done?’(Gen. 4:10).

5. Deliverance from sin (chs. 5:12 to 8:39)

The epistle goes on to address the divine answer to the question God asked man (Adam) in the garden: ‘Where art thou?’ (Gen. 3:9). The subject now is sin, the source of evil in us, rather than the sins or evil acts we have committed. The answer to this is deliverance.

5.1 Sin in the believer (ch. 5:12-21)

Although Adam ‘is the figure of him that was to come’ (v. 14), Christ, the apostle sets out the contrast between the first man (Adam) and the second man (Christ, the last Adam). Both are the head of a company: Adam’s is the natural human family, Christ’s the heavenly family. The members of these families manifest the moral characteristics of their respective heads (see Appendix A):

Once bound to Adam by birth in this world, believers are now bound to Christ. Now, for them, grace reigns ‘through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord’ (v. 21).

5.2  Flesh in the believer (ch. 6)

The believer is delivered from the bondage of sin because he is ‘dead to sin’ (vs. 10-11) and identified with Christ in His death. This is the moral import of Christian baptism (v.4). Henceforth, the Christian lives practically for Christ, showing the characters of His life: a new life which produces acceptable fruits for God here below in a walk of practical holiness. The ‘old man’ is crucified (V.6) and the believer is called upon to keep the flesh (which still dwells in him) in the place of death. There are three moral steps to this, exemplified by the apostle himself:

1.       ‘For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God… Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth’ (Col. 3:3, 5).

2.       ‘Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 6:11).

3.       ‘Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body’ (2 Cor. 4:10).

5.3  The law and the believer (ch. 7)

Believers are also dead to the law (of Moses). The value of the law is not in question; it revealed man’s state but without bringing any remedy. Now the believer is practically made free (like a slave bought by his master) from the authority of the law because his death with Christ has broken the obligation he once had to it. A conflict will continue within the Christian as long as he struggles alone with himself. Jesus Christ, the great Liberator, answers the distress of his soul to make him grasp the reality of deliverance. The apostle shows successively:

1. Deliverance from the law is through death (that of the believer, not of the law) (vs. 1-6).

2.  Knowledge of sin is by the law (vs. 7-13).

3.  The state and experience of a soul who is not yet made free (vs. 14-23). The apostle identifies himself with this soul to demonstrate:

a)  no good thing dwells in the flesh (v. 18),

b)  there is a difference between ourselves and the sin that is in us and, finally,

c)   there is no strength in us to do these things.

4.       We need the help of another, Christ as we are unable to deliver ourselves. But also that nothing needs to be done, because Christ’s work is complete.

 

5.4  Deliverance and blessings (ch. 8)

The conclusions of the second doctrinal part of the epistle are as triumphant as those of the first. Delivered from sin, the flesh and the law, we Christians taste the glorious liberty of God’s children. The Holy Spirit in us is life and power.

1.  As Spirit of life, He makes us free from all bondage (the epistle to the Galatians deals specifically with deliverance from the world, sin, flesh and law).

2.  He energises our spiritual lives (v. 10).

3.  He leads us, showing that we are sons of God (vs. 14-15; Gal. 5:18). Sonship speaks of our privileges and responsibilities  that result from adoption.

4.  He bears witness that we are children of God (v. 16). As children we partake of the divine nature and share divine affections.

5.  The firstfruits of the Spirit are the witness of our final deliverance.

6.  The Spirit helps our infirmities (v. 26).

7.  Finally, while we groan within ourselves (v. 23) in the midst of a groaning creation (v. 22), He makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered (v. 26). And Christ also makes intercession for us (v. 34).

In the midst of suffering, we are strengthened by the hope of the glory to come. We are perfectly safe as objects of the love of God and Christ from which no creature or anything else can ever separate us (v. 39).

This marvellous chapter contains a brief reference to the eternal counsels of God concerning His beloved Son, the firstborn among many brethren (vs. 29-30). The believers are presented as:

1.  foreknown

2.  predestinated to be conformed to the image of the son of God

3.  called

4.  justified

5.  already glorified as far as the purpose of God is concerned.

 

6. Israel and the gospel (ch. 9-11)

An important question remained to be settled in relation to the gospel, now offered to all men whether Jews or from the nations. How was it possible to reconcile this message of salvation to all with the particular promises made previously by God to His people, Israel?

6.1 Chapter 9

The position of the Jews with regard to God and His gospel proceeds from three general truths:

1.       God is sovereign. While He owes nothing to men, He will accomplish the desire of His will according to the election of grace, as shown by the examples of Isaac and Jacob.

2.       God endures with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted to destruction (v. 22), like Pharaoh.

3.       The riches of God’s glory are made known upon vessels of mercy, we who are believers.

6.2 Chapter 10

On account of disobedience, Israel has lost all rights to the promises. Consequently, they shall be blessed only on the ground of grace. Salvation is by faith in the Word of God received in the heart and confirmed by the mouth in confession (v.10). Because Israel has rejected God’s testimony, a veil is now placed upon their heart (2 Cor. 3:14-16).

6.3 Chapter 11

However, God has not rejected Israel, and the apostle brings forward three proofs of this:

1.   His own case: he was a Jew and yet an object of God’s grace. There remains a remnant according to the election of grace. This was confirmed by the example of Elijah and the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (vs. 1-10).

2. God’s purpose was to use the nations to awaken Israel’s conscience, and not to reject His people [5] (vs. 11-24).

3. God’s ways were a mystery, that of blessing Israel, after it been set aside for a time (vs. 25-31).

Finally, the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (v. 29). While all men are concluded in unbelief (disobedience), mercy is offered to all ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!’ (v. 33).

7. Practical exhortations and the apostle’s ministry (ch. 12-15)

The exhortations are based on the epistle’s doctrine and have their source in divine compassions. Christians belong to Christ and are called to offer themselves to God. Separation from the world (in walk) and humility (in heart) will enable them to know the good, acceptable and perfect will of God so as to please Him (ch. 12:1-4).

The gifts of grace are given to the Assembly (Christ’s body on earth) to maintain practical links between believers (as members of that body). The exhortations that spring from this cover all the activities of Christians in their mutual relations (12:9-16, except v. 14) and contact with the world (12:17-21). The apostle’s encouragements start with love and end with overcoming evil with good (ch. 12:5-21). The gifts of grace and the exhortations stand in particular relation to one another (see Appendix B).

Christians are also exhorted to submit to the authorities because of wrath (they have a responsibility towards human authorities as citizens) and because of conscience (they have a responsibility towards God as Christian). The supreme reason is love, a debt each Christian has towards God that nothing should quench (ch. 13:1-10). Time is short before the Lord comes; it is high time to awake out of sleep, to cast off the works of darkness and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, in expectation of the eternal day (ch. 13:11-14).

Christian liberty is expounded in regard to responsibilities towards others and the consideration due to them. Christ is the perfect example of devotion and self-sacrifice. As we are occupied with Him, we will realise the moral characteristics of the kingdom of God in our lives: righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Specifically, we will be guarded against the dangers of laxity and legalism in respect of the conscience of our brother ‘for whom Christ died’ (chs. 14 to 15:7).

God is a God of Hope, for the Jews as well as for the nations. The Apostle Paul had preached the gospel in the whole Greek world. He was now uncertain as to what would be the continuation of his service in the Latin world (Italy and western Europe, including Spain). However, the God of peace would remain with him, as with us also.

8. Greetings and conclusion of the epistle (ch.16)

The many greetings that conclude the epistle show the link of affection between the apostle and the saints in Rome whom he had never seen except a few of them. Paul associates all the assemblies in Asia in his greetings (v. 1-16; 21-24).

Vigilance was required towards those that troubled the assembly by strange doctrines. They needed to be, ‘wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil’ until the God of peace bruised Satan under their feet (v.19-20).

The epistle has shown the gospel of God and its practical results for sinful man. The cross of Christ answers perfectly to man’s responsibility before God. The truth of salvation by faith has been placed in relation to the successive dispensations of God in His dealings towards man on earth (promise, law etc.). However, the apostle could not close his letter without mentioning what he calls the mystery, the mystery par excellence: God’s purpose of uniting His redeemed ones of the Church (Jews or from the nations) in one body to Christ. Mentioned already in 1 Corinthians, this mystery was to be fully revealed in Ephesians and Colossians, written while Paul was a prisoner in Rome.

Gazing at the unsearchable marvels of the gospel and the eternal counsels of God, the apostle closes with a doxology to the only wise God. To Him, through Jesus Christ, be glory for ever!

Appendix A

The two families of Adam and Christ (Rom. 5:15-21)

Adam

Christ

1. Offence and gift of grace (v. 15)

Through the offence of one many be dead

Grace and gift abound unto many

2. Condemnation and justification (v. 16)

Judgement by one to condemnation

Free gift unto justification

3. Reign of death and life (v. 17)

Death reigns

Believers reign in life

4. Bearing of the act (v. 18)

By the offence of one, condemnation upon all men

By the righteousness of one, justification of life (eternal)

towards all men

5. Disobedience (sinners) and obedience (righteous) (v. 19)

By one man’s disobedience

many were made sinners

By the obedience of one

many shall be made righteous

6. Measure of sin and grace (v. 20)

Offence and sin abound

Grace overabounds

7. Reigns of sin and grace (v. 21)

Sin has reigned unto death

Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life

8. Salvation of the soul (Rom. 6:23)

The wages of sin is death

The gift of God is eternal life

9. Salvation of the body (Rom. 7:24; 8:11)

Who shall deliver me

out of this body of death?

(God) shall quicken

your mortal bodies

Conclusion: ‘There is then now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8:1).

Appendix B

Gifts of grace and practical exhortations (ch. 12:6-21)

No

Gift

Exhortations

Vs.

a)

b)

c)

1.

Prophecy

Love without

dissimulation

Brotherly

love

Honour to one another

9,10

2.

Ministry

Not slothful

in business

Fervent

in spirit

Serving

the Lord

11

3.

Teaching

Rejoicing

in hope

Patience in tribulation

Continuing

in prayer

12

4.

Exhortation

Doing good

Hospitality

Blessing

others

13,14

5.

Giving

Fellowship

in joy

Fellowship

in weeping

Fellowship

in the same mind

15,16

6.

Rule (with diligence)

Humility

in thoughts

Humility

in action

Humility in spirit

16

7.

Mercy (with cheerfulness)

Absence of vengeance

Honest behaviour

Searching

for peace

17-20

Conclusion: good overcomes evil (v.21)

Note: The first six exhortations (verses 9 to 16 except v. 14) address relations between Christians. The last exhortations (verses 17 to 21) cover the relations of saints with the world.

The above is taken from notes of an address given by Jean Muller at the Conference, Canterbury, April 2003.

[1] The Scriptures present Christ, as Son of God:

1.  In past eternity (Ps. 2:7; Heb. 1:5)

2.  At His birth in the world (Lk. 1:35)

3.  At the beginning of His ministry, at John’s baptism (Matt. 3.17)

4.  At the end of His ministry, on the mount of transfiguration (Matt. 17:5)

5.  At His death, according to the testimony of the centurion (Matt. 27:54; Mk. 15:39)

6.  By His resurrection (Rom. 1:4)

7.  In future eternity (Heb. 7:28)

[2] This declaration of the prophet (Hab. 2:4) in found three times in the N.T., with the emphasis successively on the just (Rom. 1:17), life (Heb. 10:38) and faith (Gal. 3:11).

[3] Propitiation defines the act of covering sin on the basic of a sacrifice. In the tabernacle, the golden propitiatory (the mercy seat) was the cover of the ark (precious symbol of Christ). The blood of the sin offering was placed upon it, a figure of Christ’s blood which makes atonement for sin.

[4] The word ‘law’ is used as in scientific language. For example, the law of gravity.

[5] God’s government on earth is compared to an olive tree (v.24). The root and the trunk represent Abraham who had received God’s promises. Israel is represented by the branches. God is the source of fatness and fruit. He grafts the nations into the olive tree in order to bless them and Israel.

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