Paul wrote the letter to the church in Rome around 57 A.D., after Nero became emperor but before his severe persecution of Christians began. Paul had never personally visited this church, but he had friends there and mentions several people by name. Paul was a militant Jewish Rabbi who became a follower of Jesus Christ and was convinced that the gospel was for all peoples, not just the people of Israel. Because Christ’s perfect life and substitutionary death had atoned for sins, salvation could be had by grace through faith in Christ. It was no longer dependent upon having Jewish roots and keeping Old Testament laws.
Fittingly, then, the church in Rome includes both Jews and Gentiles, and there was some tension between them. Paul illustrates to them how both Jews and Gentiles are debtors to God because of their sin, without hope apart from the grace and mercy God offers in the accomplished work of Christ. Therefore, the only way any person—Jew or Gentile—can be made right with God is through faith in Jesus, the One who suffered the punishment for all those who would believe.
Paul longed to preach the gospel as far West as Spain. He was committed to this because Paul knew from the beginning God’s plan to create a multi-ethnic family of those who have faith in His promises. This family would extend God’s blessings all over the world, as a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12.
In other words, the gospel is for everyone because sin has affected everyone. This is why, in the first five chapters of Romans, Paul clearly illustrated how all are sinful and therefore under God’s wrath. Because of this, the only way to be made right with God is to receive the righteousness we need from God, through faith in Jesus Christ. In Romans 6-8, then, we see how those who have been made right with God will lead lives of righteousness and obedience because sin is no longer their master. In Romans 9-11, Paul turns the focus onto his own people, the Jews, and considers the reasons for their stumbling over God’s promised Messiah. And yet, Paul says, because of this stubbornness, salvation had come to the Gentiles. Paul praised God for His amazing plan.
Romans 12 begins Paul’s long section on how Christian faith affects all areas of life. Those who truly understand the love, mercy, and grace of God will be motivated by thankfulness to respond in loving obedience as “living sacrifices,” using the gifts they’ve been given to the glory of God.
In interpreting and applying the New Testament letters, we must remember they are not abstract essays. In each letter, there were needs or situations the apostles felt they needed to address. Reading the letters is like listening to one side of a phone conversation. We have only clues in the letters as to the pressing situation or needs.
Sometimes, we can read through the book of Acts and find the situation the epistle is addressing. Other times, careful attention to the letter itself helps us reconstruct the other side of the conversation, but we should do so humbly and cautiously.
Leaves, Branches, Trees, Forest. Always read the entire letter before interpreting any part of it. Remember that the letters usually address particular situations or problems in a first-century church. Outline the themes, main ideas, and flow of the letter to see where the writer is going and how each part fits into the whole.
Get in the flow. Never try to interpret anything less than a paragraph. For each paragraph, ask yourself: “What point is the writer trying to make?” and “How does this point fit into the flow of his argument?”
Others first! Always ask, “What did this mean to the original hearers of the letter?” before you ask, “What does this mean to me?”
Build bridges carefully. Before attempting to apply the teaching to our current situation, ask what’s similar and what’s different between the original hearers’ situation and ours. There are some real cultural differences like dress, communication media, customs, greeting habits, languages, etc.
Lastly, remember what hasn’t changed at all in 2000 years! All people are still sinful and rebellious. All cultures need correcting and confronting by Jesus and His gospel. All churches contain forgiven sinners needing God’s grace and simple reminders from Scripture about every aspect of following Jesus. God’s Word both challenges and encourages His people, and as we read, let’s look for both the challenge and the encouragement.
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Email the verse to yourself