A Journey Through Romans (1) – An Overview

World Setting

If verse 23 of Romans 16 identifies where Paul was while writing this Epistle (in Corinth probably on his 2nd missionary journey, since he spent approximately 2 years there), then both the sin capital of the world, Corinth, and the political-religious capital, Rome, form the background for this exposition of the Gospel. What a setting for the Gospel of God, people in their lowest and vilest corruption and highest of culture and power, all found guilty and perishing and therefore needing this grace and salvation. Romans has been called, “The most important legal document in the world.” May the Lord, the Spirit, refresh us from these wells of salvation.

Dispensational Setting

(1) As you read consecutively through the NT, you cannot help but notice that the book of Acts, which shows the progress of the Gospel after the ascension of Christ to Heaven, ends with a dispensational flavor. Paul preaches the Gospel to the Jews at Rome, when “some believed the things which were spoken and some believed not.” Then he quotes from Isaiah 6, referring to the spiritual blindness of Israel, and ends with verse 28, “Be it known therefore unto you that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they (emphatic) will hear it.”

(2) Next we find ourselves reading in Romans 1:3 how God’s Son has come out of the seed of David according to the flesh, connecting him to the nation and throne of Israel. Then he reminds us that the Gospel is first to the Jew and also to the Greek (v 16).

(3) Next in chapters 2 and 3, the Jew and their advantage over the nations is discussed, but despite this advantage, chapter 3:19 finds all the world guilty before God. The “but now” of chapter 3:21 has a very dispensational import in distinguishing the NT Gospel message of grace for the guilty as opposed to the 1500 year period of law just ended. Under law, God’s righteousness was required: but now, God’s righteousness is revealed. At the end of chapter 3, the wonder of God reaching out to both Jews and Gentiles is expressed.

(4) Chapter 4 has amazing dispensational teaching. Clearly the law given to Israel marked a distinct period of time and testing. But Paul argues that two OT men, very prominent in Jewish history, Abraham and David, both show that God’s righteousness was reckoned to them by faith apart from works or ceremonies of law.

(5) Again, dispensational teaching enters into chapter 5 as Paul distinguishes between the period from Adam to Moses (v 14) and the period of law brought in through Moses (v 20).

(6) Similarly, Chapter 7 refers to the believers’ death to the law showing the end of one period and the beginning of the next, with the “now” of chapter 8:1 emphasizing the glory of grace’s accomplishment versus the law’s inability.

(7) The revelation of glory; the earnest expectation of the creation; the manifestation of the sons of God; the deliverance from the bondage of corruption; and the redemption of our body (ch 8:18-23), all point forward to dispensations yet to come.

(8) Chapters 9, 10 and 11 are then devoted exclusively to the dispensational setting of the Gospel in relation to God’s promises of blessing to the nation of Israel. And if this all seems heavy theological doctrine to some, let us remind ourselves that this apostle who was “separated unto the Gospel of God” ends chapter 11 in a volume of worship and a great “Amen”.

(9) Chapter 15:8-12 is very dispensational in character as it contemplates blessings reaching the Gentiles, perhaps also for the purpose of encouraging the Christian Jews and Gentiles to “receive one another as Christ also received us to the glory of God.” This exhortation to reception points to a mutual reception of Jews and Gentiles in a social way rather than assembly reception. Both were encouraged to mix together to demonstrate the grace of God that had reached both on the grounds of the one sacrifice of Christ.

(10) The apostle ends the letter, chapter 16:25-27, with dispensationally flavored praise to “the only wise God” for the Gospel as a revelation of a mystery which was kept secret in eternal times, “but now” is manifested, in keeping with the prophetic scriptures, and will result in glory to God through Jesus Christ for the ages of the ages.

Strategic Setting

Romans is to the NT what Exodus is to the OT. As Exodus describes people under bondage, their deliverance from it unto God; and their service to God, so does Romans. Exodus bridges between Genesis (the origin of the nation of Israel) and Leviticus (the priestly service and sanctuary of Israel). Whereas Romans bridges between the origin of the Gospel (the Gospels and Acts) and 1 Corinthians (God’s sanctuary, the local church and His people in relation to it). In fact, as the apostle begins 1 Corinthians, he summarizes the doctrinal section of Romans in chapter 1:30: “Of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who is made unto us wisdom from God, both righteousness (Rom 1:5-11) and sanctification (Rom 5: 12-8), even redemption” (Sir Robert Anderson’s “The Gospel and It’s Ministry”).

Structural Analysis

Romans is patterned after Israel’s tabernacle, detailed seven times in Exodus. Three great themes are illustrated in the tabernacle, namely Salvation (the copper altar for sacrifice), Sanctification (the copper laver for cleansing) and Service(priestly activity in the holy places). These subjects form the structure of Romans. Chapters 1:1 to 5:11 are occupied with Salvation from the guilt and penalty of sins (plural) where the issue is justification on the grounds of a propitiatory sacrifice and a risen Saviour. Chapter 5:12 to chapter 8:39 are occupied with victory over sin (singular), where the issue is Sanctification on the grounds of a substitutionary sacrifice and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. After the parenthetical dispensational section (chapters 9-11), chapters 12-16 are occupied with our priestly Service unto God in various aspects.

To be continued.