The Importance of Reading Romans

“One can almost write the history of Christian Theology by surveying the ways in which Romans has been interpreted.” Joseph Fitzmyer, Romans, xiii.

Because Romans is the longest of the New Testament epistles it has major influence on Christian theology. Fitzmyer is not exaggerating. In fact, most of Christian soteriology is based on the book of Romans. Is it possible to fully romansdescribe “salvation by grace through faith” using only the Jewish Christian letters? Even the Gospels themselves do not present a fully developed view of salvation. For many evangelical Christians, Romans is more or less equivalent to the Gospel! One of the basic ways to present the Gospel is the “Romans Road.”

The importance of the book can be demonstrated by examining popular systematic theologies. There far more references to Romans than any other New Testament book (and in some cases, more than the whole Old Testament!) Although the book only focuses on Paul, in N. T. Wright’s recent Paul and the Faithfulness of God, there are twenty-two columns of references to Romans, there are twenty-eight columns for all of the other Pauline letters.

The importance of the book can be seen in church history. Just two examples, there are others. Augustine was converted to Christianity when he opened up the Bible and randomly read Romans 13:13-14, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Augustine said “it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled” (Confessions, translated by Henry Chadwick; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992, 153).

When Luther read Romans and was stunned by the grace of God. As he began to study Romans and to understand how the “righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17 applied to other areas of salvation, he began to question medieval Catholic doctrine, leading to the Protestant Reformation. The study of Romans in this case led to one of the greatest dividing pints in world history!

In Luther’s own words,

This epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. We can never read it or ponder over it too much; for the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes (Martin Luther, Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans)

Michael Bird used this same quote in the preface to his recent commentary on Romans, and it appears frequently in introductions to the book. I realize this sounds a little bit like hype, since I am introducing a series on Romans. Like anyone who rehearses this information at the beginning of a book on Romans, I have a vested interest in exciting people about our study. But a study of Paul’s letter to the Romans really is exciting and will reward those who diligently study the book.

As you have read Romans in the past, what are some of the most significant verses in the book to you? What has impacted your understanding of God his faithful actions providing salvation for sinners? Are there verses which have shaped the way you think about your life as a Christian?

13 thoughts on “The Importance of Reading Romans

  1. I fully concur about the vital place of Romans in theology and church history. To Augustine and Luther, I might add the “most influential theologian of the 20th Century” (to many), Karl Barth. It was his commentary on Romans, first released in 1919 (one yr. after end of WWI), that “fell like a bombshell on the playground of the theologians” (mostly liberal, but also traditionalists). Unsettled everyone, and probably launched neo-orthodoxy.

    If one knows Barth’s work at all, the big emphasis is centrality of Christ and of grace, similarly to Luther (tho he was Reformed, not Lutheran).

    As to readings of Roman: used to drive me crazy (still could, if I let it). Though Paul’s most “systematic” or fully-developed theology, it is anything but tight logically. Often enigmatic. I know this will sound outlandish to many of your readers, Phillip, but it’s only slight overstatement to say, when combined with his other “genuine” letters, that it shows Paul was inventing an entirely new theology. Claiming, of course, it was by revelation. I’m not saying God didn’t use him positively. But that “revelation” claim has to be taken with a very large grain of salt, if thought of as meaning what most traditionalist (Evangelical, orthodox, RC, etc.) people mean by it.

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    • I had Barth included in my class lecture, and I plan on name-checking him from time to time. I am trying to read the commentary along with my lectures, but I anticipate the semester will catch up to me.

      “It is anything but tight logically” – we talked a little bit about that in class, one problem is Paul’s “logic” is rabbinical, not western and post-Enlightenment.

      As for “that it shows Paul was inventing an entirely new theology…” you might be surprised if you knew some of more quiet readers of this blog! There are quite a few who would say the church starts with Paul, rather than at Pentecost.

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  2. There are so many great verses in Romans that I have known for as long as I can remember. I grew up with many of them memorized, and now as I ponder those verses, I realize that I view them in a completely deeper more meaningful way. It is very helpful to go back to verses you have not read in a while to see if you can uncover a different meaning or purpose for that verse to have been written, so that is what I did.

    First of all, Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In this verse, I think it is important to remember that God first wants our love and devotion, and then the rewards come after that, yet ultimately God’s will must be done.

    Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The gravity of this verse is often overlooked. It is truly unbelievable that Christ would die for us, but even more so that he would die for sinners, but that is what we were. Paul explains that it is uncommon for someone to die even for a righteous person.

    Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons….will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is also a popular one that I have heard many times throughout the years, and is quite powerful. It is an extremely hopeful verse that reiterates the wonder of God’s selfless love, and Jesus’ gift of redemption.

    The book of Romans has definitely impacted my theology in a major way, and all three of these verses have shaped my beliefs as a Christian. They have each given me incredible hope, and now that I look back at them, I am even more encouraged.

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    • Wow, I have been studying how much God loves people and here it is repeated in the book of Romans. It is amazing that even during the time period of Romans being written; God desired for people to realize how much He loves them. As Paul preaches to the gentiles, I see now how important it is for Paul to include the Love of God in his letter to Rome.

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  3. The beauty of scripture is that some verses can mean so many things to different people. That isn’t to say that we can change verses around and apply different meanings with what isn’t presented, but rather that people can find encouragement from different verses depending on what they are going through. Something that I find encouraging could be encouraging to someone else for completely different reason. One of my favorite Roman passages is Romans 5:8 which says, “But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” To me this means that although we are still sinners, we are now saved through Christ. There was a time when we were not saved and were sinners and it was at that time that Christ died for us. It means so much that while we were at the lowest point humanity could be, that is the moment Christ died for us!

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  4. Though I do agree that the book of Romans is full of many foundational truths to the Christian theology, I do not agree with Luther’s energetic take on the book. Luther believes that Romans is the “purest gospel” and the “chief part of the New Testament.” I believe that without the Gospels and Acts, Romans would therefore mean nothing and we wouldn’t have the teachings of Jesus to indicate how beautiful the book of Romans really is. The ideas all come from the teachings of Jesus and that is something we need to keep in mind when reading through Paul’s letters. Many people take Paul’s letters as almost Gospel themselves, but he is not the main source of these teachings, he simply puts what has already been taught and heard into a new light to give a fresh look at the Christian life and beliefs. A great passage, Romans 14:7-8, gives evidence of such things that whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Our guidance is supposed to come from God and that is how Paul lived and we see him as a great example. Though filled with many great inspired words, we should not see the book of Romans as the height of the New Testament, though is indeed still a very important book to study all the same, it just should be under the correct mindset that one does so.

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  5. Many of the verses in Romans have significance to me. Romans is by far my favorite book in the Bible and many of the verses are important to me and the things I have experienced.

    Some of the verses that stand out to me when they are referenced in sermons and when reading through Romans itself. I have many of the verses in Romans highlighted and underlined in my own Bible purely because there are so many significant verses that I try to model my life after. Some of these verses include:

    Romans 5:8 which says, “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this while we’re still sinners Christ died for us.” I consider this an important verse because it truly is one of the pillars for salvation in the Christian faith. Christ loved us while we were unlovable.

    I have entirety of Romans 6 highlighted purely because it discusses dying to sin and becoming alive again through righteousness and I feel as a Christ-follower that I should model my life after those verses as I go through my life to live my life as an example of Christ now that I am saved by His grace.

    I have many of the verses in Romans 8 highlighted also because it talks about the love that God has for us (Romans 8:38-39) and talks about purpose (8:28) and the strength of God and I feel that they exhibit the character of God and Romans 8 also talks more about salvation which is essential to the Christian faith.

    There is also Romans 12:2 which says “Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.” This verse stands out because as a renewed Christian it discusses another essential part of the Christian faith because it is talking about being in the world not of the world which is another part of the faith.

    When reading through Romans there are many significant verses that are essential to the Christian faith and to my own faith with Jesus as a Christ-follower.

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  6. While growing up I never fully understood why it was so important to memorize Bible verses and understand what they were saying. As time has passed, I have come to really appreciate what the Bible has to offer. Adam Shultz brings up a great point when he says that verses can mean and help people in so many different ways. God has given us His word in order for it to be a guide and support for us in this life that will undoubtedly go in different directions then we expect. The book of Romans is one of my favorite books in the Bible simply because it offers so much direction,truth and encouragement. Romans 8:38-39 is a verse that I find myself going back to constantly as well as sharing with friends who are struggling and feeling that they have gone too far in their sin. It is an incredible feeling of peace to know that NOTHING at all can ever separate us from God. I find reassurance in that truth. Another verse that hits home for me every time I read it is Romans 2:1 “You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse!” This is such a great reminder that we are no better then the person we are condemning. I have personally struggled with being judgmental in my life so when I read this verse I am left speechless because I honestly have no right to be thinking poorly about someone else. God speaks to us through His word and it is so powerful! These two verses and so many others have really shaped my life as a Christian and have caused me to strive to live according to how God wants me to and would be proud of.

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  7. I think that Romans as a guide for salvation produces some of the most quotable material for Evangelical Christians. I learned like a lot of kids whose parents make them go to AWANA, all of the Romans Road verses before I knew that it was the Gospel. When I was in middle school is when I first learned the “Share Jesus Without Fear” method by Bill Faye, and I was able to use the Romans road to share the good news with friends and students in my own youth group, some of them coming to faith in Christ. I think that God works in the heart of people differently and through our experiences we all understand Romans differently. We come to the book seeing the verses that impact our lives as truth gripping us to make a decision in our faith and relationship with Christ. The verses that I memorized as a child: Romans 1:16, 3:23, 5:8, 6:4, 6:18-23, were definitely the verses that helped me to understand more about my faith although I had already accepted Christ. I do think that Romans has more to offer. Just reading through Moo and trying to understand the Roman culture that Paul was writing to, and then seeing the perspective we read from today can take away from the original meaning. I think that verses that I have been reading for years can still jump out at me and have a deeper meaning the more I gather from cultural context and also a deeper understanding of God’s love for us through the entire letter of Romans and not just picking out verses like the Romans road.

    I really like what Andi says. That Romans in the context of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and Acts is for a lack of the word I am searching for…”beautiful”. Romans is the light and a guide for salvation for many but we need to remember that salvation comes through Christ and that Paul is writing Holy Spirit inspired therefore he is taking the teachings of Jesus and making them applicable to the Gentiles. I would like to hear testimony from someone who has come to faith from just reading the Gospels without the influence of Romans.

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  8. Romans truly is a wellspring of knowledge regarding the person of Christ and the importance of His sacrifice, the authority of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life. One of my favorite chapters in Romans (and it deals primarily with what Jesus’ death achieved for Christians) is chapter 6. All my life I have dealt with reoccurring sin that has put me under the weight of guilt time and time again. I love this passage because it declares that I am free from sin. This is not because of anything I could have done on my own. I am set free solely by Christ’s death and resurrection. However, the Apostle Paul makes sure to cover up a few loopholes Christians may have thought of regarding sin. In verse 15, one can read that, even though Jesus forgives our sins, Christians cannot stay in a life of sin. The reason for this comes from the “enslavement to righteousness “that they experience following their conversion to Christianity. Christians are then supposed to obey the commands God has given His children and pursue righteous things because the fruit of becoming a slave to Christ “leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Romans 6:22) The pursuit of righteous things becomes more and more of a priority in my life the more I read this chapter.

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  9. Reading Romans is indeed important. Most people who have grown up in the church would be somewhat familiar with the Romans road, which gives a short explanation of the gospel. This letter has influenced many people in history. Someone who wants to have a better understanding of what the Christian faith looks like should read Romans. Even in my life the book of Romans has had great impact. Romans 8:26-27 has been a constant encouragement throughout my walk with Christ. For through my weakness the Spirit grows and helps me along the way. The letter to the Romans helps explain the gospel, however, lets not forgot the rest of the bible. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states it clearly, that all scripture is useful for teaching, correcting and training up in righteousness. The book of Romans is important, furthermore, God has also gifted us with the rest of the bible, where we can find answers

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  10. I have grown up heavily involved in the church and Christian school, which has made me very familiar with Romans. I sang Romans 6:23 and 3:23 put to music in vacation bible school, and in school I had to memorize Romans 10:9-10 and Romans 12. Because of this, I have had the understanding that I am a sinner and had to accept Christ for salvation. I wrestled with Romans 10:9-10 for quite a while, because I felt that if Jesus wasn’t the Lord of my life that I couldn’t be saved, yet I wanted to control my own life. Over time, I have realized that giving God control of your life is a process, not a prerequisite for salvation. In addition, I used to struggle with anxiety over some of the verses: believing I had to recite the exact phrases in Romans 10:9-10 in order to be saved and felt I guilty for participating in sports for fear that I would not be at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
    Most recently I have wrestled with Romans 9, and its implications for the predestination vs. freewill argument. This passage has lead me to the conclusion that even if I do not understand or like the answer I have found to the issue, God is sovereign and God is good.

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