Summary: The theme of Romans is clear: Paul is explaining in rudimentary terms, where even babes in the faith can understand; the basic gospel. He not only presents justification by faith, but the entire “Righteousness of God.” Which also includes ideas such as gu
Today I would like to dig into the book of Romans a little. There is little argument over whether or not Paul is the author of Romans; if the first verse isn’t identification enough, then the style and content is undeniably the work of the most prolific writer of the New Testament. As you can assume by the title, Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome. Paul had been planning to visit the missionary outpost in Rome for some time, but was unavoidably detained by other matters. He writes to let them know he, nor the rest of the fellowship, has forgotten about them, and to make ready for his visit. However, the communication is not merely a letter, but a thesis on the theology behind church doctrine. Directed not only to the church in ancient Rome, but to all Christians past, present, and future.
The Roman church was populated with Jewish and Gentile converts, who joined the church during Pentecost. While they believed the same message, there was much animosity between the two groups. Here is what it boiled down to: the Jews believed the Gentiles to be unworthy of salvation; while the Gentiles believed the Jews to be overly preoccupied with rules, festivals, etc. The purpose of the letter was to present the gospel to a church that had not, as of yet, been under the guidance of an apostle, but reared by laymen. Paul also wanted to explain that both Jew and Gentile had a part in the plan of salvation. The theme of Romans is clear: Paul is explaining in rudimentary terms, where even babes in the faith can understand; the basic gospel. He not only presents justification by faith, but the entire “Righteousness of God.” Which also includes ideas such as guilt, sanctification, and security.
Paul’s timing could not have been better in regards to this letter and his upcoming visit to Rome. Let me explain the circumstances in which this fledgling missionary branch of the early church was having to develop. It is one thing to be converted, proclaim ones faith, but to nourish it and expect it to grow, where there is precious little food, is quite another thing all together.
Travel with me back to Rome for a minute. Keep in mind, Paul was a Roman citizen and knew the urgency of his communication. He wrote this letter probably while in the home of a friend in Corinth, around the year A.D. 57. The Roman Empire was less than half century from reaching its peak. The city of Rome was a dazzling marvel to behold. The city, situated on seven hills, its size had grown immensely, spilling over the walls of the original city and stretching for miles. Lavish temples to various gods, whitewashed buildings of government, towering columns and archways, aqueducts bringing water to the city (many of the wealthier residents even had running water), awesome arenas and theaters, and roadways (most of them paved) reaching some of Rome’s most remote provinces. It was the center, the hub, of the civilized world. Many claimed Rome was the crowning achievement of mankind; others dubbed it the sewer of the universe. For opposite its spectacular achievements were social injustices that rival the workings of inner cities today.
In power was the infamous Emperor Nero. Best remembered by the false account of him playing his violin while Rome burned around him. He had recently assumed control, after his predecessor was poisoned by his own wife. The church, still in its infancy, was viewed as some upstart cult, a sect of Judaism. For the most part they co-existed without incident, however, they were still looked at with suspicion and reservation, especially by government officials. These uncertainties came to fruition when in A.D. 64, fire engulfed the city of Rome. Nero, needing a scapegoat to pin blame on, mainly in order to direct attention away from the implications he had something to do with the inferno; blamed the Christians. It is recorded he “illuminated his gardens with the bodies of burning Christians.”
Maybe Paul knew of the impending tribulations to be suffered by the Roman Christians, or merely used his head, as common sense would lead “that a young church in the capital city of lust and secularism is bound to have problems, and if they were going to be persecuted in Rome, what would stop the government from oppressing the Christians throughout the empire. Paul wanted not only the church in Rome, but the entire Christian population, to be well grounded in the gospel, in order to strengthen their faith for the trying times ahead. For withing thirteen years of writing this letter, Paul would be executed, Christians burned by Nero, and the temple in Jerusalem destroyed. Yes, the church would have survived, but how great the setback. With Paul’s detailing explicitly the plan of salvation, along with a hearty dose of the Holy Spirit, the early church did not even break stride when faced with adversity.