If we had to summarize what Romans is all about, we could condense it down to this: God is creating out of Jews and Gentiles a people to praise him. Paul regards the gospel as the proclamation that Israel’s long-anticipated release and restoration is happening and is magnetically drawing the Gentiles into its luminous display of divine mercy. For it is by redeeming Israel that God has acted also to reconcile the Gentiles, and God has determined to include Jews and Gentiles in the one people of God, on the same basis: faith in Jesus.31
We might say that Romans 1–4 is the soteriological citadel, where Paul narrates the gospel of salvation, explaining how believers shift from wrath to righteousness, how the Torah provides the scaffolding for the future building but is not part of its permanent structure. The citadel unveils God’s prized work of a renewed Abrahamic family sharing in one faith in one God by the Messiah’s death and resurrection.32 Then, Romans 5–8 is the cosmic cathedral, adorned with a mixture of religious artwork and echoing with choral music, which describes how believers have transferred from the reign of sin and death into the lordship of Jesus. The ambience of the cathedral is supplied by none other than the gift of the Spirit, which comes as a power to resist the flesh. Next, Romans 9–11 might be likened to an olive garden chapel, where believers can celebrate Israel’s privileges, lament Israel’s past failures, speak prayerfully into Israel’s current state, and hold out an olive branch of hope for Israel’s future. Thereafter, 12:1–15:13 is Christ College, the school of faith, where love and hope are on the syllabus, the Messiah’s story is lived out in their own lives, and the church is prepared to be a people ready to worship God in faithfulness, truth, and glory. Finally, 15:14–16:27 is the missionary panel, where Paul locates his own apostolic labors in the domain of God’s grand purposes, and he calls on believers in all places to support God’s people in God’s work for them.
The story of Romans obviously then stands within the larger biblical story: the story of creation fallen and creation renewed, men and women estranged in sin and then reconciled in Christ, Israel’s tragic misstep before a redemptive future, Gentile foreigners becoming adopted heirs of Israel’s God, and God’s people always rejoicing in the promises and provision of their Lord and Savior. To be more precise, Romans is part of the biblical story of the world condemned in Adam (1:18–32; 5:12–21), Israel’s covenantal call to herald God’s reign to the nations, let down by the fact that Israel too is entrenched in Adam (2:1–3:20; 9:6–10:21), and the Messiah as the goal of God’s redemptive purposes to create a redeemed family for Abraham (4:1–25; 10:4; 15:7–13). The story narrated in Romans is that in the Messiah, God has been faithful to Israel and been merciful to the nations, exactly as Scripture said he would be. God’s dealings with Israel and the Gentiles are not two separate or conflicting stories, but part of the one and same story climaxing in Jesus.
It is no surprise, then, that Paul’s letter to the Romans pivots on biblical themes like God’s righteousness, where this “righteousness” is synonymous with God’s saving action (see Isaiah 51 and Psalm 51). This righteousness is cognate to God’s truthfulness and faithfulness, which comes to Israel as the saving event of the Messiah’s death and resurrection. It is a righteousness that will put the whole world to rights and rightens believers within that world on the basis of faith ahead of the final judgment (see Rom 1:17; 2:16; 3:21–26; 10:3).
Michael F. Bird, Romans, ed. Scot McKnight, The Story of God Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 12–13.
We have just released a new Bible study on biblical book of Romans.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.