What is in Romans?
Romans is the 45th book in the Bible, the 6th book in the New Testament, and is the longest of Paul’s letters. After expressing his wishes to go to Rome, Paul starts off by saying that the gospel is the ‘power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’. After that, a few chapters are dedicated to describing the plight of men. God’s wrath is to be revealed against all unrighteousness. Each person knows in their heart that God exists, even if they do not know the details about Him revealed in the Bible. Each person is without excuse for denying God, and denying His righteousness. All, then are condemned.

At the end of Chapter 3, Paul transitions to the righteousness of God being revealed in a new way, Jesus. By grace, people who believe in Jesus are justified (declared righteous). Paul holds up Abraham, who lived during the time of Genesis, as one who was justified through faith. Even though Abraham did not know Jesus as we do today, but he trusted in God’s power to save the ungodly and to fulfill His promises. This was not only the case for him, but it is so for us as well. Whoever has faith in God’s works, including Jesus’s death and resurrection, shall be justified. In addition to faith, this also brings us peace, even in our sufferings, as it enhances our hope in God.

Paul next draws our attention to Adam, the first man in Genesis, and how he brought sin into the world. That sin then spread through all men. Counter to that, Jesus came to give life. When one believes, they become baptized in Christ and share in his death and resurrection experience. One who has experienced this stops becoming a slave to sin, and because a slave to righteousness instead.

The old covenant defines sin by defining what not to do. Paul says that the command not to covet produced covetousness within him. Sin used the law to deceive. But the law is not sin itself. Jesus frees us from this conundrum by freeing us from sin and condemnation and the flesh, and turning us to life and justification and the Holy Spirit. The future glory that awaits us is far greater than our present sufferings, and even better, nothing can separate a believer from God’s love. This is entirely dependent on God’s mercy towards sinners, and we know that God cannot lie. Those who he has called justified are undeniably justified. Even though Israel repeatedly strayed from keeping their end of the covenant with God, He still worked to ensure that the people He chose would be saved, even those who were not Israelites.

Starting with chapter 12, Paul turns to describe how Christians should act, having received this grace from God. They should present themselves to God, doing everything within their power to keep God’s commandments, even if it may not align with the world’s wishes. Christians have been given different gifts, all to be used to the glory of God. Christians should love, abhor evil, show honor, serve the Lord continually, give cheerfully, bless everyone, and generally live in harmony with others as far as it depends on them. Christians should subject themselves to the authorities as they have been instituted by God. Those with a stronger faith should not demean those with a weaker faith, and certainly nobody should cause another person to stumble in their faith. Instead, they should build each other up.

To end the letter, Paul once again expresses his desire to go to Rome, before sending his final greetings.

Who wrote it?
Romans 1:1 names the apostle Paul as the author (although he may have composed the letter with the help of a scribe).

Who was it written to?
Romans was written to the Roman church. At this time, Paul had not yet actually been to Rome, but he would go on to visit a few years later, and Rome would be the eventual location of his martyrdom.

When was it written?
Romans was written when Paul was in Corinth in 57 A.D. Some early manuscripts have additional footnotes that tell us this.

Why was it written?
Romans mostly deals with the interactions between the old and new covenants. Supposedly the Roman church was dealing with issues related to this, possibly including how the church should treat Gentiles (Christians who were not Jews to begin with), and how the Mosaic law was relevant under the new covenant, if indeed it was at all.

How does Romans apply to me?
The book of Romans starts off by describing the human condition. We are all born in sin, and that is simply our natural state. Without any intervention by God, we’re lost. Throughout Old Testament history, it was clear that even God’s own people struggled to keep themselves right under the Mosaic law. God sent His only son, Jesus, who became a perfect sacrifice, pleasing to God, so that anyone who believes in Jesus is justified by Him. If this sounds familiar, that’s only because it is! It’s the same as John 3:16, the most famous verse of the Bible, and the central message of the Gospel. It’s good news for us because we now have hope of being reconciled with God from a life of sin. What better time to start following Christ? See our Christianity 101 post for more info on basic Christian beliefs.

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Recommended resources:

As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation.
The Bible Project videos on Romans (Part 1) (Part 2)

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Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0