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Key Themes: Romans

Key Themes: Romans

It has been said that it is a useful exercise for every christian to have a summary of each book of the Bible in their mind. This series is designed to distil the truth of various books to a maximum of 500 words and this month we start with Romans.


There are few books as vital to a basic understanding of the Bible as Romans. In this precious letter the apostle Paul lays out a blow-for-blow account of how God can save sinners and remain righteous. At the same time he addresses issues such as where the law fits in, how believers should live, as well as the vital question, what does a universal gospel offer mean for God's chosen people, the nation of Israel?

But when forced to reduce the whole epistle down to one key theme, we must turn to a little verse tucked away in the first chapter; "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Rom 1:17).

The apostle is defining the gospel message, of which he has previously stated that he is unashamed (v16). Why is he unashamed? Because "therein" that is, in the gospel, "the righteousness of God" is revealed. At first glance we might think that the apostle is referring to God's attribute of righteousness, but a literal translation could read 'a righteousness from God is revealed.' Verse 18 tells us that this righteousness is needed because God has revealed His wrath against "all unrighteousness." So 'a righteousness from God has been revealed' because we need it. Why do we need it? Because God has revealed His wrath against us because we are unrighteous. This is the heart of the gospel: God provides exactly what we don't have, and need so badly.

But it is the next expression that I think summarises the epistle. A righteousness from God is revealed "from faith to faith." This expression has been the cause of much debate over many years, but I suggest the following as an interpretation. When the apostle states that the righteousness from God is "from faith" he is simply expressing that our righteousness originates (ek means 'out of') from our faith placed in Christ. We know from chapter 5 that we are justified by faith, that is, faith is what links us to the justifier, Christ. But next he says "to faith" (eis). Eis is often used to express purpose, therefore it could be put this way; the origin of righteousness is faith, and the purpose of righteousness is faith. This is borne out by the final clause, "as it is written, The just shall live by faith."

If this interpretation is correct, then the key theme of Romans is that we are made righteous by faith, and that righteousness produces a life of faith. Or, faith is both the cause and character of righteousness. This is the message of the gospel.

Dear christian, remember who our faith linked us to! Well might Paul say elsewhere "I live by the faith of (in) the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:20). 

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