Introduction to Romans

By James M. Rochford

Introduction to Romans. 1

Authorship. 5

Date of Romans. 5

Who were the Romans?. 6

Did Peter or Paul start the church in Rome?. 7

Reason for writing Romans. 7

Genre of Romans. 8

Is Romans Paul’s systematic treatment of Christianity?. 9

Commentary on Romans. 9

Romans 1:1-17 (Introduction). 9

Romans 1:18-32 (Judgment based on the revelation of creation). 13

Romans 2:1-16 (Judgment based on the revelation of conscience). 18

Romans 2:17-3:8 (Judgment based on the revelation of Scripture). 20

Romans 3:9-20 (Judgment for all: whether Jew or Gentile). 25

Romans 3:21-31 (Forgiveness from judgment). 26

Romans 4:1-25 (The Gospel in the OT). 29

Romans 5:1-11 (Results of Justification). 33

Romans 5:12-21 (Federal Headship). 36

Romans 6:1-23 (Being “in Christ”). 39

Romans 7:1-25 (Struggling under the Law). 48

Romans 8:1-16 (Walking in the Spirit). 52

Sonship. 56

Romans 8:17-39 (Glorification in Christ). 57

Romans 9 (God’s grace for the Gentile race). 60

Romans 10 (The Jewish people). 60

Romans 11 (God’s promise for Israel has not—and will not—fail). 63

Romans 12 (The Body of Christ). 72

Romans 13:1-7 (Submission to Government). 78

Romans 13:8-14 (Love). 78

Romans 14:1-23 (Willingly limiting our freedom). 81

Romans 15:1-14 (Essential Christian living). 88

Romans 15:15-33 (Paul’s personal ministry). 90

Romans 16:1-27 (Paul’s mail). 92


There is little doubt—even among critical scholars—that Paul wrote the book of Romans. D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo write, “There is little debate about whether Paul wrote Romans.”[1] Thomas Schreiner concurs, “No serious scholar today doubts that Paul wrote Romans.”[2]

Paul used a scribe to write the letter for him. At the end of the book of Romans, the scribe takes control of the pen and writes, “I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord” (Rom. 16:22). This might be why Romans almost sounds like a live teaching! Paul preached this letter out loud, and Tertius wrote his words, as he spoke them.

Date of Romans

When we compare Paul’s missionary plans in Romans 15 with the book of Acts, we discover that Paul wrote the book of Romans at the end of his third missionary journey. Paul wrote the letter before he made his trip to Jerusalem (Rom. 15:24-32; Acts 21). It seems most likely that Paul wrote Romans while in Corinth, Greece:

  • Paul mentions Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2) who was from Cenchreae (one of the port-cities of Corinth).
  • In Romans 16:23, Paul mentions writing in the house of Gaius. In 1 Corinthians 1:14, Paul mentions baptizing “Gaius” in Corinth.
  • Paul writes, “Erastus, the city treasurer greets you” (Rom. 16:23). In 1929, a piece of pavement from the first century uncovered the inscription: “Erastus, Procurator and Aedile, laid this pavement at his own expense.” At the end of his life, Paul again mentions that Erastus “stayed in Corinth” (2 Tim. 4:20).

When we flip over to the book of Acts, we see that Paul stayed in Corinth for “three months” at the end of his third missionary journey (Acts 20:3). Blomberg[3] and Bruce[4] date the letter to the winter of AD 56-57, while Paul was on a three month sabbatical in Corinth, Greece. Making a more conservative estimate, Schreiner states that we can “safely locate the letter between AD 55 and 58.”[5]

Who were the Romans?

Suetonius records that the Roman Emperor Claudius kicked all of the Jews out of Rome in AD 49, because they were rioting over a man named “Chrestus.” He writes, “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Emperor Claudius] expelled them from the city.”[6] The Latin for Christ is only one letter away from this title (Christus). Blomberg writes that “most historians think that Suetonius’s statement reflects a garbled reference to Christian and non-Christian Jews squabbling over the truth of the gospel.”[7] Even Critic Bart Ehrman explains that “this kind of spelling mistake was common.”[8] If this is a reference to Christ, this means there were Christians in Rome at least by AD 49. Luke mentions Claudius’ edict in Acts 18:2, when Priscilla and Aquila are living in Corinth, bringing the news about the expulsion from Rome. After Claudius died in AD 54, the Jews flooded back into Rome. Priscilla and Aquila must have found their way back to Rome, because Paul mentions them at the end of his letter to the Romans (Rom. 16:1-5), which we’ve dated to AD 56-57.

Many of these Jews had lost their homes and jobs due to Claudius’ edict. This must have created tension between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers, when the Jewish believers came back into town. Since Paul wrote his letter in AD 57, these issues must have still been fresh to the audience, and there was still tension between the Jews and Gentiles.

Did Peter or Paul start the church in Rome?

Roman Catholic tradition holds that Peter founded the church in Rome. They base this on two church fathers: Eusebius (~AD 354) and Irenaeus (AD 180). Eusebius writes that Peter was in Rome in AD 42 (Ecclesiastical History, 2.14.6), and Irenaeus (AD 180) states that Peter and Paul “founded” the church in Rome (Against Heresies, 3.1.1; 3.3.2; cf. Ignatius, Romans, 4.3). However, this seems unlikely for several reasons:

First, Paul is clear that he is a stranger to Rome (Rom. 1:10, 13, 15:22).

Second, if Peter travelled anywhere after Acts 12:17 (“[Peter] left and went to another place”), he no doubt went to Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14), not all the way to Rome. After all, we find Peter back in Jerusalem in Acts 15. Is it really likely he travelled all the way to Italy and back in such a short time? Schreiner comments, “Few contemporary scholars espouse the theory that Peter established the church when he went into hiding.”[9]

Third, why wouldn’t Luke mention Peter in Rome in the book of Acts—especially since that is such a focus of Luke’s writing?

Fourth, other church fathers deny that an apostle made it to Rome. Ambrosiaster (the fourth century Latin father) said that the Romans “had embraced the faith of Christ, albeit according to the Jewish rite, without seeing any sign of mighty works or any of the apostles.”[10]

Finally, why wouldn’t Paul mention Peter in his sixteen chapter letter—especially since he greets so many believers in chapter 16?

Regarding Irenaeus’ statement that Peter and Paul “founded” the church in Rome, Schreiner comments, “[Irenaeus] probably does not mean that they both established the church in Rome, since it is obvious from Romans that Paul had no role in the church’s founding. Irenaeus likely refers to the fact that Peter and Paul both ministered and were martyred in Rome.”[11]

Reason for writing Romans

Get the picture in your mind. Paul has just finished his third missionary journey. He settles down at the house of a friend in Corinth to get some rest. He probably had heard from Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:2) that a revival is occurring in none other than Rome, the capital of the ancient world! Rome contained anywhere from a quarter million to a million people, and the Jewish population was anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 people.[12] Yet no apostle had ever been there.

Most likely, the church was started by a “visitor from Rome,” who had come to Christ during Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Paul knows a lot of the believers involved in the church in Rome (see his closing comments in Romans 16), and he can’t stand being away from them. He wants to show up to Rome to teach doctrine and theology, and he’s looking forward to helping this young (but thriving) group, as they grow in Christ. In Romans 1:9, Paul writes, “How unceasingly I make mention of you.” As Paul prayed for them, he was hoping that he could come to them “at last” (Rom. 1:10), longing to see them (Rom. 1:11).

Given the cost of papyrus and the labor of a scribe (amanuensis, Rom. 16:22), scholars estimate that the book of Romans cost roughly 20.68 denarii (or $2,275 by today’s standards).[13] The average ancient letter was only about 87 words. Roman statesman Cicero averaged about 295 words per letter, and Seneca averaged 995 words. With this in mind, Paul’s letter to the Romans is 7,114 words![14] This was a long and expensive letter to write, but millennia later, we’re glad he made this investment during his sabbatical in Corinth.

Genre of Romans

Paul wrote Romans in the style of a diatribe. Diatribe is a back and forth style of writing, where the author interacts with a hypothetical opponent. It’s similar to a courtroom argument. Imagine Paul in a courtroom arguing with an opponent. Carson and Moo write, “While Paul clearly uses some of the devices of the diatribe, it was not so much a genre as a style that could be employed in many different genres.”[15] These two don’t think that diatribe is the genre of Romans, but they definitely think that Paul uses this literary device in the letter. James Dunn explains,

Paul’s interlocutor [opponent] was no straw man… In fact we would probably not be far from the mark if we were to conclude that Paul’s interlocutor is Paul himself—Paul the unconverted Pharisee, expressing attitudes Paul remembered so well as having been his own![16]

Udo Middleman writes, “Until recently, Romans was studied in American law schools in order to teach students the art of presenting an argument. A reasoned case is made for a foundational proposition. Counter statements are considered one by one, and refuted. Romans is not about a leap of faith but presents a comprehensive argument for the central proposition.”[17]

Is Romans Paul’s systematic treatment of Christianity?

Yes and no. Because Paul had never personally visited Rome, he needed to explain the essentials of Christianity to them—from A to Z. Unlike his other letters, Paul didn’t have an overt pastoral concern for the Romans which he need to address (compare with 1 Corinthians, for example). In this sense, Romans is a unique letter.

On the other hand, Paul did know many of the believers in Rome (R0m. 16). Furthermore, he was no doubt aware of Claudius’ expulsion of the Jewish believers in Rome, because he spoke with Aquila and Priscilla in person (Acts 18:2; cf. Suetonius, Claudius, 25.4). By the time he wrote Romans, he addresses this Christian couple personally (Rom. 16:3). His knowledge of the Jewish-Gentile tensions comes out throughout the letter. Specifically, he addresses this tension in chapters 1-3, 9-11, and 14.

Furthermore, if Romans is truly a comprehensive account of core Christianity, it’s odd that there is little mention of eschatology (though see ch.11) and Christology (though see 1:3-4; 9:5). In conclusion, it’s probably better to say that Romans is the most systematic account of Paul’s teaching.

Commentary on Romans

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

Romans 1:1-17 (Introduction)

(1:1) “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” This could be an allusion to Jeremiah 1:5. Paul didn’t create his own calling to be an apostle. Rather, Jesus personally called Paul to this role (v.5). As Christians, we don’t place ourselves into roles, but rather, God calls us to them. Similarly, the gospel didn’t belong to Paul, rather it was “of God.”

(1:2) “which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures.” Throughout the book, Paul grounds his ideas about salvation in the OT. The gospel was not a revision of God’s plan, but was his plan all along.

(1:3) “concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh.” In order for Jesus to be the Messiah, he needed to come from the line of David. This must be an extrapolation from verse 2—namely, Jesus was from David’s line and this was promised all along.

(1:4) “who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.” If Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead, we would likely believe that he was a dead messianic pretender. However, God’s resurrection of Jesus validated his life, ministry, and teaching.

This concept of “power” (dunamis) comes up again regarding the gospel itself (Rom. 1:16).

(1:5) “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” Paul viewed his calling as an apostle as being of grace and being under grace. Paul viewed his role as a privilege—not an obligation.

(1:5) Does this passage support Lordship Theology?

(1:6) “among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ.” This implies that Gentiles (v.5) constituted many of the Christians in Rome.

Paul writes that “you also are the called.” In context, the rest of the “called” are “all the Gentiles.” If “called” (klētos) refer to the elect, then this would imply that “all” Gentiles are elected. This implies that being “called” does not refer to unconditional election. Rather, many are called, but few are chosen (Mt. 22:14).

(1:7) “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are not lovable; instead, we are loved (agapetos). God doesn’t love use because we are lovely, but because he is loving. Moreover, this text doesn’t state that we act as “saints” (hagiois); instead, we are called saints. The “as” in the NASB is not in the original Greek. God simply calls us saints (i.e. holy). Paul will later unpack this “forensic righteousness” in the rest of his letter.

(1:8) “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all…” What was at the top of Paul’s list? (“First…”) His top priority was giving thanks to God for these believers. This gives insight into how Paul operated in ministry. He remembered to give thanks for people who were following Christ, many of whom he’d never met.

“…because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” Since Rome was at the center of the known world, it would make sense that “everyone” was hearing about these believers.

(1:8) What does Paul mean when he says that their faith reached the “whole world”?

(1:9) “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you.” Paul “serves” (latreuo; literally “worships”) God through his ministry of sharing the gospel.

(1:10) “always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.” Paul kept praying for an opportunity to come to Rome. Paul writes about this at the end of his letter (Rom. 15:22-32). This implies that Paul wanted to discover and follow God’s will and timing for his plans in travelling to Rome.

(1:11) “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established.” This spiritual gift probably refers to seeing people come to Christ (v.13) through his teaching (v.15).

(1:12) “that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Paul didn’t take a “top down” approach with these fellow believers. He wanted to approach them as a fellow Christian. Tim Keller writes, “This is striking! Since Paul sought out encouragement from other believers, and since if Paul sought that encouragement in the faith of other believers, how much more should we?!”[18]

(1:13) “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” Paul planned to come, but he was stopped. This might relate to verse 10, where he was praying for God to open the door for him to come. Paul writes that he was “prevented” from coming. This likely relates to the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Emperor Claudius (AD 49).[19] When Claudius left power in AD 54, the decree was rescinded and Jews were allowed back into Rome. Paul (himself a Jew) wouldn’t have been allowed return until this time (AD 56-57).

(1:14) “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” Who are the “wise” and “foolish”? Paul unpacks this later in Romans 1, referring to the Gentiles: “Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). In the Jewish mind, the Gentiles were “foolish” (Rom. 2:20).

In what sense was Paul “under obligation” to them? Tim Keller writes, “It is illustrative to think about how I can be in debt to you. First, you may have lent me $100—and I am in debt to you until I pay it back. But second, someone else may have given me $100 to pass on to you—and I am in debt to you until I hand it on. It is in this second sense that Paul is ‘obligated’ to everyone, everywhere. God has shared the gospel with him. But God has also commissioned him to declare it to others. So Paul owes people the gospel.”[20]

(1:15) “So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Paul couldn’t wait to teach = to the Romans about the gospel. Some Christian teachers take a devotional interpretation of this passage—namely that Paul wanted to preach about the gospel to the Christians in Rome. However, the context refers to the non-Christians in Rome (v.14). Perhaps both are in view (?).

(1:16) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Paul writes about not being ashamed of the gospel in the context of evangelism (vv.14-15; cf. 2 Tim. 1:7-8). Why isn’t he ashamed? Because the gospel is the “power” of Almighty God! The power of the gospel is similar to verse 4—the same “power” that raised Jesus from the dead. The gospel, likewise, has the power to bring spiritually dead people to life. Paul also notes that the gospel is God’s power, which is His role. Our role is simply to trust in this message and “believe” it. Surprisingly, the hardest part of the Christian life is simply believing that God is really this good!

“To the Jew first and also to the Greek…” Paul started with the Jews, because they were closer to the God of the Bible. He also believed that they were coming back in God’s plan (11:26-27). Thus they deserved to hear about the Messiah first.

Keller notes that the gospel is boundless (“to everyone who believes”), but is also boundaried (“to everyone who believes).[21]

Referring to the depth of the gospel, Theodoret (a Syrian bishop in the fifth century) writes, “A pepper outwardly seems to be cold… but the person who crunches it between the teeth experiences the sensation of burning fire.”[22]

(1:17) “In it the righteousness of God is revealed…” How does the gospel reveal the righteousness of God? Throughout the rest of Romans 1-11, Paul shows how God is righteous in his plan of salvation.

This stands in contrast to “the wrath of God [being] revealed” in the next verse (v.18). The righteousness of God is revealed through faith, and the wrath of God is revealed through unbelief (or “suppressing the truth”).

“From faith to faith…” While this is debated, our view is that this refers to coming to Christ, living for Christ, and being rescued by Christ at the end of history. Thus justification, sanctification, and glorification are in view, as the rest of the letter unpacks. Harrison writes, “What it conveys is the necessity of issuing a reminder to the believer that justifying faith is only the beginning of Christian life. The same attitude must govern him in his continuing experience as a child of God.”[23] This makes sense of Paul’s citation of Habakkuk 2:4 (“The righteous man shall live by faith” in the present tense).

Augustine understood this to mean “from the faith in the law to the faith in the gospel” (Augustine, The Spirit and the Letter, 11.18).[24] However, we disagree. Romans 4 shows that OT believers like Abraham and David believed in grace.

Karl Barth[25] and James Dunn[26] understand this to mean something like “from the faithfulness of God to the faith of humans.” This seems to be importing too much into these four short words.

Moo[27] and Osborne[28] argue that Paul is using intensification, meaning something like “faith and nothing but faith.” This is a rhetorical way of repeating the same word for emphasis.

“As it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” Paul cites Habakkuk 2:4. In the book of Habakkuk, Israel is being judged by the Gentile nations, because they didn’t keep the Law. Therefore, because they didn’t obey the Law, they went under the curse of God. Habakkuk told his people that the way out from under the curse of God (i.e. takeover by the Gentile nations) was by faith. Nothing has changed in this regard. Paul argues that God would bring people out from under the curse of judgment because of faith during Habakkuk’s time, and he will bring NT believers out from under the curse of judgment by faith during our time.

Romans 1:18-32 (Judgment based on the revelation of creation)

(1:18) “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” While there is certainly a day of final wrath to come, there is also wrath right now. Note the present tense. The wrath of God is (currently) revealed from heaven. How can we see God’s wrath right now? One sign of God’s wrath is that he doesn’t intervene. This is called God’s passive wrath, where he hands us over to our own devices (v.24, 26, 28).

The problem with people is not the absence of evidence, but the suppression of it.

This passage explains our “unrighteousness” in comparison to God’s “righteousness” revealed in the gospel (v.17).

While the wrath of God often offends people, Tim Keller notes, “If you don’t understand or believe in the wrath of God, the gospel will not thrill, empower or move you.”[29] After all, from what did God save us if he is not a God of justice?

(1:18) Is God wrathful?

(1:19) “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” The truth of God is “evident” (NASB) or “plain” (NIV, ESV, NET). The Greek word phaneron means “revealed” or “manifest.”

(1:20) “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” When we look at a piece of art, we know certain things about the artist. When we look at creation, we know certain things about the Creator.

This leaves them “without excuse” (anapologetos) or literally “without an apologetic.”

(1:21) “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” What does it mean that they “knew God” in this passage? This must refer to the suppressed knowledge of general revelation in creation from verses 19-20.

At the root of unbelief is a refusal to give thanks. This has a poisoning effect on the mind. Paul mentions this in Ephesians 4:18, using the same word (“being darkened in their understanding”).

(1:22) “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” At the exact same time that these people were saying how wise they were becoming, they were in reality becoming more and more foolish! Osborne writes, “This is especially true of the Greeks, who developed the greatest concentration of philosophical ‘wisdom’ in history in the midst of one of the most depraved cultures in the ancient world.”[30]

(1:23) “And exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” Instead of recognizing that God made us in His image, they decided to make God in our image. They resort to worse and worse forms of idolatry (e.g. from man to birds to animals to crawling creatures). They go from the Creator to “crawling creatures.” Harrison writes, “Man is a religious being, and if he refuses to let God have the place of preeminence that is rightfully his, then he will put something or someone in God’s place.”[31] John Stott wrote that the essence of sin is taking God’s place, but the essence of salvation is God taking ours.

We might compare “incorruptible” metals like gold to “corruptible” metals like rusted iron. Imagine trading gold for junky rusted metal! How foolish! Paul states that this is the great foolishness of humans throughout history.

Paul was against worshipping humans, but he wasn’t against worshipping Jesus of Nazareth. That’s interesting. If Jesus wasn’t God, then worshipping him would be idolatry—according to Paul.

(1:24) “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.”

“Lusts” (epithymia) is used 17 times in the NT. It is a compound word: epi (“over”) and thumos (“desire”). This is an inordinate desire or “over desire.” Whenever Paul uses the word referring to himself, it is used in a positive sense (1 Thess. 2:17; Phil. 1:23). However, the other 15 usages are not only negative, but connected with sin (cf. Rom. 6:12; 7:7-8; 13:14; 1 Thess. 4:5).[32]

“Impurity” (akatharsia) is used nine other times in the NT. In Romans 6:19, Paul relates this to “impurity and to lawlessness.” Paul writes of those “who have sinned in the past and have not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced” (2 Cor. 12:21). He writes, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are immorality, impurity, sensuality” (Gal. 5:19). These are moral connotations—not civil or ceremonial laws.

“Dishonored” (atimazō) is used several times throughout the NT. It is elsewhere translated as living “shamefully” (Mk. 12:4), treating Jesus with “dishonor” (Jn. 8:49), and how breaking the Law brings “dishonor” to God (Rom. 2:23).

“Gave them over” is legal language. Instead of judging us actively, God does this passively. He hands us over—not to the executioner—but to ourselves! God is so loving, that letting us rule our own lives can actually be considered a form of his judgment. Osborne writes, “The verb for gave them over means to ‘deliver’ them for their punishment; as Cranfield (1975:120) notes, it refers to a judicial act on God’s part.”[33] It’s degrading to live a life apart from God. We don’t make something more of ourselves, but something less. Tim Keller writes, “The tragedy of humanity is that we strive for and fail to find what we could simply receive and enjoy. We suppress the truth which would free and satisfy us.”[34]

Notice that God didn’t force them to sin. He gave them over “in the lusts of their hearts.” One commentator describes this as God refusing to continue to hold the boat, allowing the current of the river to pull it away.[35] As atheist Aldous Huxley openly admitted, his reason for rejecting Christianity was because he “objected to the morality because it interfered with [his] sexual freedom.”[36]

Note that Paul addresses opposite-sex fornication before he addresses same-sex fornication. Many Christians have pre-marital sex. According to a recent study from the General Social Survey, of those in fundamentalist churches, 86% of females and 82% of males had sex before marriage. And this is only after the age of 18, so the percentage could be even higher.[37] How hypocritical for these same Christians to denounce SSB, when they themselves engage in fornication!

(1:24, 26, 28) Why does it say three times that God “gave them over” to their sin, if God loves people?

(1:26) “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions…”

“Degrading” (atimias) refers to “a state of dishonor or disrespect, dishonor” (BDAG).

“Passions” (pathē) is only used in two other occasions in the NT, and both refer to sin (1 Thess. 4:5; Col. 3:5). This term is also combined with the term “degrading,” which adds to a negative view on Paul’s behalf. The combination of “degrading passions” refers to “illicit sexual passions.”[38]

“For their women exchanged…” This passage is parallel with the idolatry above: Just as all people “exchanged” (metallassō) the truth about the Creator for a lie (v.23, 25), these women “exchanged” (metallassō) God’s natural design for sex.

“Natural… unnatural…” (physikēnpara physin) refers to God’s created (“natural”) order. Even Gentiles, according to Paul, should be able to recognize the natural complementarity of male-to-female biological anatomy for sexuality.

“Function” (chrēsin) is used for both women (v.26) and men (v.27).

(1:27) “And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” The penalty is not God’s active wrath as in 1 Corinthians 6:9, but God’s passive wrath. Just as opposite sex fornication is degrading, so same-sex fornication.

“…burned in their desire toward one another…” This does not refer to exploitative sex (e.g. masters and slaves, rich and poor). This is consensual sex between two men—not sexual assault—because both “desire” one another. “Desire” (orexei) is only used here in the NT, so it is difficult to translate. Schmidt notes that Philo “employs orexis fourteen times, always negatively, and twice in discussions of sexual desire.”[39]

“Men with men committing indecent acts…” This does not refer to pedophilia. Both people are grown “men,” not boys and men.

The SSB “acts” are considered “indecent” (aschēmosunē), which is “behavior that elicits disgrace, shameless deed” (BDAG).

“Receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error…” This probably refers to how sexual sin affects us. Referring to fornication, Paul writes, “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18).

(1:28) “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.” This whole section can be understood as rejecting God’s will and way. If we choose not to acknowledge God, then he will not acknowledge us. He gives us over to what we want. Tim Keller writes, “The worst thing that can happen to us is that we are given what our hearts over-desire. Take a man who worships his career. He serves it as what will make him ‘a somebody.’ It drives him, and it dominates his life—everything else is fitted around it. The worst thing that can happen to him is promotion! It allows him to continue to think that he can find blessing in his over-desires. It convinces him that this is ‘real life.’ It enables him to forget the wreckage he is making of his marriage, his family, his friendships, in order to pursue his god. Oscar Wilde summed it up well: ‘When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.’”[40]

Lest we fall into self-righteousness, we should remember that Paul will have a fierce rebuke of this attitude in Romans 2. Citing 1 Timothy 1:15, Tim Keller writes, “We only grasp the gospel when we understand, as Paul did, that we are the worst sinner we know—and that if Jesus came to die for us, there is no one that he would not die for.”[41]

(1:29-31) “being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful.” While Paul addresses same-sex fornication in verse 24-28, here he addresses all of the other sins that plague humanity. We’re all in the same proverbial boat when it comes to sin.

It’s interesting that Paul adds “disobedient to parents” on this list of heinous sins. In our modern culture, we think that disobeying parents is not that big of a deal, but having a healthy family was thought of as very important to Paul (cf. 2 Tim. 3:2).

(1:32) “And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Paul himself isn’t being self-righteous. He had been one of the people who gave “hearty agreement with putting [Stephen] to death” (Acts 8:1).

Regarding this list of sins, Tim Keller writes, “[Paul] has in view people who promote and encourage idolatry. It is easier to see how others do this, and harder to see it in ourselves. But it is worth asking: Do I ever encourage my children to make idols of exam results? How might I nod sympathetically at someone’s envy? Have I allowed gossip to go on around me unchallenged?[42]


How did all of this sin enter into the world? The gateway to a rejection of God is not flagrant disobedience or vitriol. Instead, the pathway starts with a lack of thankfulness and gratitude (v.21). When we refuse to give thanks, our minds become poisoned and we can’t think straight. This leads on a slippery slope that can lead to all other forms of unbelief and sin.

Do you really want to hold onto the reigns of your own life? God considers this a form of his “wrath” to allow you to do this! Are you ready to come under the loving leadership of God?

Romans 2:1-16 (Judgment based on the revelation of conscience)

(2:1) “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” The term “no excuse…” (anapologetos) is literally “no apologetic” or “no defense.” This is the same word used in Romans 1:20.

It doesn’t matter if you think something is wrong (“judge”). It matters if you do the same things (“practice”). The self-righteous Gentiles are being judged based on the law of their conscience. Their judgment of others turns around and condemns them.

(2:2-3) “And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?” God’s judgment is fully fair. He bases his judgment on their own moral conscience, which they themselves break. Francis Schaeffer described this as an invisible tape recorder that is hung around the neck of every person who ever lived.[43] (Today, we might say it is an mp3 or digital recorder.) Every time the unbeliever makes a moral statement, this is recorded. At the end of the person’s life, God will “play back the tape” to judge the person based off of what he said. He will judge the person based on their own judgments.

(2:4) “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” This is a noteworthy verse when considering how God desires to change us—not through fear but through kindness—not through judgment but through grace.

(2:5) “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” We’re learning more about God’s “righteousness” that is revealed in the gospel (1:17). God’s active judgment will be revealed in the future—just as his passive judgment is being revealed in the present (1:18).

(2:6, 16) “Who will render to each person according to his deeds… On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” God’s judgment will be fair—based on what we’ve done (citing Psalm 62:12).

(2:7) Does this verse teach that good works can get us into heaven?

(2:7-10) “To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” If you seek God and do good, you’ll be given eternal life. The problem (as Paul makes clear) is that no one seeks God and no one does good (3:10-12).

(2:11-12) “For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.” Again, this judgment will be fair. God will judge the Jews and Gentiles based on what revelation they were given. The Gentiles might complain, “But I was never given the Law!” Paul’s point is that they were given the law of conscience, and they couldn’t even live up to that. It might be like someone saying, “I was never given an opportunity to go to college!” But that same person couldn’t pass their classes in high school. If the Gentiles cannot even pass the law of conscience, then how could they pass the even higher Law of God?

(2:13) “For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.” It isn’t enough to merely hear the Law. We need to do it. This is very similar to James’ burden in his letter (Jas. 1:22-25).

(2:14-15) “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.” Even people without the Bible still have a moral conscience. It isn’t as though someone reads the Ten Commandments for the first time and says, “We shouldn’t murder? That’s so strange! I always thought murder was a good idea!”

The plight of this person is that sometimes their conscience defends them (leading to self-righteousness), while other times it accuses them (leading to condemnation and guilt). Paul is leveraging this innate sense in every human heart to show people their need for God’s grace.

(2:16) “On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” God will even judge what is in the human heart. What a terrifying concept when we really reflect on this! All “secrets” will be exposed on this day. Imagine if all of your internal private thoughts were posting on a teleprompter above your head throughout your whole life. How many friends would you be able to keep, when they saw each and every shameful thought going through your mind? If you’re anything like me, you’d be a very lonely person!

On the Day of Judgment, all of these hidden thoughts, motives, and desires will be brought to light. Our only hope is grace—not self-effort—which Paul will explain in Romans 3:21ff. Here, he is only setting up the insurmountable problem.


This passage is addressed to non-believing Gentiles. However, we see principles that apply to Christians as well.

Self-righteous judgment is a serious sin. Not all judgment is wrong (see Matthew 7:1), but self-righteous judgment is certainly wrong. When a fellow believer has a moral fall, we should correct, comfort, and even admonish them, but we should make sure that this doesn’t lead to self-righteousness in our own hearts. In a different situation, we realize that we could’ve made the same sinful choice ourselves (Gal. 6:1-2).

No matter how sinful you think you are, you’re worse! Truly, I am the worst sinner that I know (1 Tim. 1:15). Only I have first-person awareness of my thoughts, desires, motives, and intentions, and even I am not qualified to sort all of these out (Jer. 17:9-10; 1 Cor. 4:3-4). When we begin to self-righteously judge others, God will often remind us of our own sinful thoughts and desires—presumably to keep us humble before him. Our role is to humble ourselves before God, rather than stick to the thin veneer of self-righteousness.

Romans 2:17-3:8 (Judgment based on the revelation of Scripture)

If you noticed, in Romans 1:18-32, Paul drew in his Gentile readers. He spoke of them with “they, them, those…” language. But in Romans 2:1, he turned on the individual, and said, “Therefore… YOU…” calling out the individual. Paul uses the same strategy here in Romans 2:17 with his Jewish readers. Paul will draw them in from verses 17-20, and he will drop the hammer in verse 21.

(2:17) “But if you bear the name ‘Jew’ and rely upon the Law and boast in God.” The problem isn’t with the law or with circumcision. The problem is that they “rely” and “boast” in these things.

The word for “rely” (epanapauomai) means to “to be in a state or condition of repose, rest, take one’s rest” or to “to find well-being or inner security, find rest, comfort, support” (BDAG). These religious people took comfort and security from merely possessing the law.

The word for “boast” (kauchomai) means to “to take pride in something, boast, glory, pride oneself, brag” (BDAG). These religious people bragged about merely possessing the law.

(2:18) “And know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law.” We can’t just approve of God’s will. We need to do it.

(2:19-20) “And are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth.” The Jewish people were supposed to be a light to the Gentiles in the OT.

(2:21) “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?”

Paul cites the 8th commandment: “You shall not steal.” Again, it isn’t enough to teach that you shouldn’t steal. It matters if you actually steal. While this passage is directed toward unbelieving people, there is great significance for Christians as well. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “As you read your Bible day by day, do you apply the truth to yourself? What is your motive when you read the Bible? Is it just to have a knowledge of it so that you can show others how much you know, and argue with them, or are you applying the truth to yourselves? …As you read… say to yourself, ‘This is me! What is it saying about me?’ Allow the Scriptures to search you, otherwise it can be very dangerous. There is a sense in which the more you know of [the Bible], the more dangerous it is to you, if you do not apply it to yourself.”[44]

(2:22) “You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?”

Paul cites the 7th commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” Paul doesn’t give any commentary on this commandment, but he must have known that this would’ve connected with his audience.

Paul cites the 1st and 2nd commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me… You shall not make any graven image.” The religious Jewish people were desecrating the Temple (Mt. 21:13). They didn’t like idolatry, but they also didn’t mind profiting off of these idolatrous temples.

(2:22) What does it mean to “rob temples”?

(2:23) “You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?” Again, these religious Jewish people were boasting about the Law, but they were dishonoring God through the Law.

(2:24) “For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ just as it is written.” The Gentiles “blasphemed” God, because they saw that God’s followers were hypocrites. Tim Keller writes, “A life of religious legalism is always distasteful to those outside their faith.”[45]

(2:24) Why does Paul cite Isaiah 52:5 and/or Ezekiel 36:20ff?

(2:25) “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” Paul is arguing that the Jewish people should not be self-righteous based on circumcision or the Law. These are worthless without obedience. This is similar to a golfer who is always bragging about his expensive golf clubs, shoes, and polo shirts… but doesn’t know how to swing the club! In the same way, merely having circumcision and the Law doesn’t mean anything unless you’re putting it into practice.

Gentiles were uncircumcised and thus outside the covenant people. By calling the Jews “uncircumcised,” Paul is equating these religious people with the Gentiles!

(2:26) “So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?” If the Gentiles follow the Law, they are more righteous than the Jewish people by comparison.

(2:27) “And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?” This would be a radical statement for a Jewish listener. He’s saying that the Gentiles will actually hold court and judge the Jewish believer, if the Jewish believer doesn’t keep the Law. In some sense, this shouldn’t be that radical, because God used Gentile nations in the OT to judge the Jewish people.

(2:28) “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.”

(2:28-29) Does this passage teach that Christians inherit the Jewish promises of the Old Testament? (c.f. Phil. 3:3; Gal. 6:16)

(2:29) “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” Moses predicted the circumcision of the heart: “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). Jeremiah writes, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds” (Jer. 4:4).

(3:1) “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?” Paul anticipates the question that would be on his Jewish readers’ minds: If being Jewish only condemns someone more, then what is the benefit of being Jewish? Wouldn’t you be cursed to be Jewish—not blessed? Not at all! Paul explains why…

(3:2) “Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.”

“First of all…” Paul only mentions one benefit here, but he mentions many benefits later in Romans 9:4-5.

Paul notes that one blessing was having the Bible—namely the “oracles of God.” The “oracles” (logia) refer to the word of God (cf. Acts 7:38; Heb. 5:12). Peter uses this expression to refer to what our language should be when we speak and teach (1 Pet. 4:11). Note, this implies that the Jewish canon was already established in Paul’s day. Otherwise, he couldn’t have said that they were entrusted with the word of God.

God “entrusted” (episteuthesan) them with the Scriptures, which is the root word for “faith” (pistis).

(3:3-4) “What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged.’” The problem with God’s plan wasn’t Him; it was the people’s lack of faith. Paul is lining up for what God’s solution will be for him to be faithful to his people. He will be the “just and the justifier” of sinful people (3:26). This is how he could forgive David in Psalm 51:4 (“That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged”). Even David recognized that God is justified when he judges.

“When You are judged…” In our estimation, this should be taken in the middle voice (“in Your judging”)—not the passive voice (“are judged”).[46] See the NASB footnote.

(3:5) “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.)” Some might argue that their sin only makes God look better by comparison. But Paul flatly denies this and concludes that God will judge sin—not become personally inflated by it (v.7). God doesn’t need us to sin in order for him to look better by comparison! This is the thinking of self-righteous people—not the morally flawless God.

(3:6) “May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?” Remember, Paul is writing to a Jewish audience in this section, and Jewish readers would affirm that God will judge the world. If they agree with that premise (which they most certainly did), then their argument from licentiousness falls apart.

(3:7) “But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?” The Jewish listener might say that their sin only makes God’s truth more glorious. However, Paul retorts, God doesn’t get more glory from us sinning more. As a self-existent being, he doesn’t need us.

(3:8) “And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come’? Their condemnation is just.” Paul was accused of teaching antinomianism (cf. Rom. 6:1-2).


While this passage is directed to unbelieving Jewish people, there are principles of application for us as Christians.

Why do you read your Bible? We should never discourage knowledge of the Scriptures, because the Bible never once disparages knowledge. However, Scripture does speak against education without application. What truths of the Bible do you already know that you’re stubbornly refusing to put into practice? What has God already revealed about your life and character that you haven’t had a change of heart about?

Teaching the Bible is a serious responsibility. All Bible teachers sin (Jas. 3:2). There’s no doubt about this. But are you communicating your own faults under grace—even as you teach others the truth of God?

Discussion question

Daniel Gilbert (professor psychology at Harvard University) writes, “Science has given us a lot of facts about the average person, and one of the most reliable of these facts is that the average person doesn’t see herself as average. Most students see themselves as more intelligent than the average student,[47] most business managers see themselves as more competent than the average business manager,[48] and most football players see themselves as having better “football sense” than their teammates.[49] Ninety percent of motorists consider themselves to be safer-than-average drivers,[50] and 94 percent of college professors consider themselves to be better-than-average teachers.[51] Ironically, the bias toward seeing ourselves as better than average causes us to see ourselves as less biased than average too.[52] As one research team concluded, ‘Most of us appear to believe that we are more athletic, intelligent, organized, ethical, logical, interesting, fair-minded, and healthy—not to mention more attractive—than the average person.[53]’”[54]

How do you react to Gilbert’s statement? How have you seen this in your experience?

Why is self-righteousness so deceptive?

Romans 3:9-20 (Judgment for all: whether Jew or Gentile)

(3:9) “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” The Jewish people had an “advantage” and “benefit” (v.1), but not with regard to the penalty of sin. Here Paul is combining his two different arguments into one: both Gentiles (1:18-2:16) and Jews (2:17-3:8) are both under God’s judgment. Paul cites various Psalms to make his case that all people are sinful.

(3:10-12) “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. This is a citation of Psalm 14:1-3. The passage uses universal language (none righteous, not even one” “all have turned aside” “together they have become useless”). There are no exceptions in this passage.

Don’t some people do good things from time to time? The context here is in reference to doing good before a morally flawless God. God sees our motives and intentions. Tim Keller writes, “Without faith in Christ, good deeds are not truly done for God, but for ourselves—and thus are not truly good.”[55] He gives the illustration of walking an old lady across the street—only to rob her on the other side! Or to give money to her—only so we could get moral praise from others. In this case, the person isn’t doing the good deed for others, but really for themselves. They are acting virtuously in order to get something in return.

(3:11) Do humans seek for God or not?

(3:13) “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips.” Here Paul cites from Psalm 5:9 and 140:3. When they open their mouths, it is like cracking open a coffin with a dead corpse inside. What a vivid image for the death that comes out of lost humanity! Human history only attests to this sad state of affairs.

(3:14) “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” Paul cites from Psalm 10:7.

(3:15-17) “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 and the path of peace they have not known.” Paul cites from Psalm 59:7. G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The ancient masters of religion… began with the fact of sin—a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders… have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”[56]

(3:18) “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Paul cites from Psalm 36:1. The “fear of God” is the summary problem of Paul’s indictment on lost humanity. Tim Keller writes, “This does not mean that every person is as sinful as every other person. It means that our legal condition is the same. We are all lost, and there are no degrees of lostness.” He gives the illustration of three swimmers trying to swim from Hawaii to Japan: One sinks immediately, another makes it 60 feet, and another makes it 50 miles before drowning. Keller asks, “Is one more drowned than the others? No! It doesn’t matter at all which swam further; none were anywhere near Japan, and each ends as dead as the others.”[57]

(3:19-20) “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Paul argues that all people know the law—whether the law of conscience (2:14-15) or the Law of God (2:17ff). But the law was never given to justify us, but only to show us how far we fall short. It is the X-ray of the broken bone, but not the splint to fix it. It’s the scale that shows us our obesity, but not the Weight Watchers program. Keller writes, “The law is not a checklist we keep; it is a benchmark we fail.”[58]

Clearly this is a universal statement of judgment for all humanity (every mouth may be closed” “all the world may become accountable to God” “no flesh will be justified in his sight”).

The conclusion to this section (1:16-3:20) is that humans need to give up on their self-improvement project. They need to admit that they are not good enough for God, and receive his grace. Keller writes, “What keeps people from salvation is not so much their sins, but their good works. If we come to God telling him that we are good, offering him the works of our hands as our righteousness, we cannot take the righteousness he gives by grace. We need to give up our goodness, and repent of our religiosity as well as our rebellion. We need to come with empty hands, and silent mouths, and receive.”[59]

Romans 3:21-31 (Forgiveness from judgment)

 (3:21) “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” Thank God that the letter doesn’t end here! Instead, we read two words that can change our lives: “But now…”

Paul said that God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel (1:16-17). Here, after two chapters of explaining God’s righteousness against sin, he finally explains how God has chosen to forgive sinners like us. This isn’t something that the NT authors invented, but instead, it is a concept that the OT predicted (“witnessed by the Law and the Prophets”). Remember that Paul just cited various OT passages to make this case clearly from the OT itself (vv.9-18).

Keller compares this imputed righteousness to a person with a spotless resume for a job they are applying for.[60] If you have the credentials, the company will hire you. Here, God is willing to give this “spiritual resume” to anyone who asks—as long as we approach him “apart from Law” (i.e. self-effort, self-righteousness, etc.).

(3:22) “Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.”

(Rom. 3:22) Is this verse about the “faithfulness of Jesus” or is it about “our faith in Jesus”?

(3:23-24) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” While all of us have fallen short, there is good news: We can be justified by God. The verb for “justified” (dikaiomenoi) is a legal term used of a judge’s verdict in a courtroom. We are not justified in the sense that we become righteous, but rather we are declared righteous by the Judge—by God himself. For instance, a lawyer approached Jesus, asking him how to obtain eternal life. When Jesus told him that he needed to keep the entire law, he sought to “justify” (dikaiosai) himself. God doesn’t want us justifying ourselves, but instead, to accept his justification.

This term “justified” (dikaiomenoi) is in the passive participial. That is, this justification is not something we do, rather it is something done to us. It’s a “gift” (dorean), which means “to being freely given, as a gift, without payment, gratis” (BDAG). Elsewhere, this term is translated as a “free gift” or “without charge” (2 Cor. 11:7). How did God accomplish this? How is it possible for Paul to write for two chapters on the fact that we’re legally guilty, but now, we can be declared righteous?

Our redemption is “in Christ.” Paul will argues in Romans 5-8 that our sanctification is “in Christ” as well.

(3:25) What does “propitiation” mean?

(3:25) “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” God chose to “pass over” the sins of OT believers until Jesus came. In other words, he waited to judge their sins on his Son. Now that the Cross has occurred in space-time history, all sins have been paid for: past, present, and future.

(3:26) “For the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Christ absorbed the punishment for our sin in himself. We access this atonement through faith. God fulfilled his justice by punishing Christ—not us. This is how he can be both “just” (punishing sin) and the “justifier” (granting justification to sinners).

We see the same objective versus subjective genitive here. Almost all translations render this as the objective genitive (“faith in Jesus”), while NET renders this as the subjective genitive (“because of Jesus’ faithfulness”). We agree with most translations that this should be rendered in the objective genitive (see comments on verse 22).

(3:27) “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.” He uses the term “law” in a generic sense (i.e. the “law” of gravity). Here, he refers to the “law of faith.”

Paul doesn’t end in theological abstractions. He shows that these deep theological truths about the Atonement relate deeply to our lives: specifically, boasting and pride.

 (3:28) “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” Justification is antithetical to Law.

(3:29-30) “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.” Neither Jews nor Gentiles can boast about being in God’s people, because neither earned it. This will come up later in Romans 9-11, where Paul attacks Jewish and Gentile self-righteousness.

Compare this passage about boasting with Paul’s statements in Philippians 3:5-8. Paul had every reason to boast in his self-effort, but considers these things “rubbish” (Phil. 3:8). Believers—even “righteous” law-livers like Paul—should only boast in Christ (Gal. 6:14).

(3:31) “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” How is it that law-breakers can uphold the law? Paul will later explain that Christ fulfilled the Law for us (Rom. 10:4; cf. Mt. 5:17). Moreover, as believers walking by the Spirit, we can actually begin to carry out the Law in our new identity (Rom. 8:4; 13:8-10).


Our concept of God is life-changing. Whatever we think about God will change us—for better or for worse. What consequences might occur if we rejected either the love of God or the justice of God?

As one person has said,[61] no matter how sinful you think you are, you are worse (Rom. 3:10-20). And no matter how much you think God loves you, he loves you more (Rom. 3:21-31).

Romans 4:1-25 (The Gospel in the OT)

Paul’s Jewish audience probably wondered how all of this could be possible. If God is now declaring people righteous on the basis of grace through faith, is this is a new and novel idea? Not at all. In Romans 4, Paul argues that the grace of God is not new. In fact, it was how both Abraham and David were declared righteous before God. Abraham lived 2,000 years before Christ, and David lived 1,000 years before Christ. Since both Abraham and David had tremendous clout in the Jewish community, this would carry serious theological weight. These two men are the “founding fathers” of the nation of Israel: did their experience align with Paul’s teaching on salvation by grace through faith and apart from works?


(4:1) “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?” Paul continues his discussion of the gospel by appealing to Abraham. What is it that Abraham discovered about justification? Was it by works, or by grace through faith?

(4:2) “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” If Abraham was sinless, then he could boast before humans (since humans are sinful). But since God is already sinless, Abraham couldn’t boast before God. This aligns with our reading of James 2:14-26. Namely, this is a case where a person could be “justified” in the sight of people.

(4:3) “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” Paul appeals to Genesis 15:6 to show that Abraham was justified by faith—not works. He builds his argument from the authority of “Scripture.”

(4:4) “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.” You don’t consider your paycheck a “favor” (charis) from your boss every two weeks. They are required to pay you based on a transaction.

(4:5) “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Faith is not a work. It isn’t that Abraham’s faith was a righteous act. Instead, his faith was the instrument that connected him with God’s righteous declaration. Similarly, even though we are “ungodly,” we can be “justified” (v.5).


(4:6-8) “Just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. 8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” Paul next cites that David was made righteous in the same way (v.6). Of course, he doesn’t mention faith here, but he cites Psalm 32 to show that righteousness is apart from works. David was an adulterer and a murderer (2 Sam. 11); yet he says that these sins were forgiven by God.

It doesn’t say that the blessed man avoids “sin” or “lawless deeds.” It says that the blessed man has these sins “forgiven… covered… not [taken] into account” by God.

What about circumcision? Do we need this work to be counted righteous?

(4:9-12) Is Paul teaching that the church has fulfilled the Abrahamic covenant?

(4:9-10) “Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, ‘Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.’ 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.” Paul’s Jewish readers probably figured circumcision gave someone forgiveness from God (Rom. 2:25-29). But Paul makes a historical argument that Abraham was granted righteousness before he was circumcised. Abraham was “credited righteous” in Genesis 15, but he wasn’t circumcised until Genesis 17.

(4:11) “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them.” Abraham isn’t just the father of faith to the circumcised, but the uncircumcised too. He is “the father of us all (v.16). He is the “father of many nations (v.17). He is the father of faith for the Gentiles!

(4:12) “And the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.” Paul doesn’t oppose circumcision. After all, he himself was circumcised. He merely states that circumcision does not bring about righteousness—only faith does.

(4:13-14) “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified.” Paul’s Jewish readers probably figured that the Law gave someone forgiveness. But Paul makes the historical argument that Abraham received the promise (and righteousness) 500 years before the Law was given to Moses.

(4:15) “For the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.” The Law was not introduced to bring forgiveness, but judgment. Even in our legal system, we don’t have laws primarily to reward good actions, but to punish bad or evil actions.

Paul might be lining up for the shot he’s going to take in Romans 5-8; namely, we need to get out from under the Law to be justified and sanctified. The Law brings “wrath,” not spiritual life or spiritual growth.

(4:16) “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” Abraham received the promise to be a blessing to the nations (i.e. the Gentiles), and he received this by faith—not law.

What is biblical faith?

(4:17) “(As it is written, ‘A father of many nations have I made you’) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” Paul cites Genesis 17:5. This is after Abraham receives the covenant of circumcision. However, even in Israel’s election, the focus was still on the “nations” (i.e. the Gentiles).

God brings the dead to life. He “makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do” (NET).

(4:18) “In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” Paul cites Genesis 15:5 to show that Abraham’s descendants should be like him. Abraham wasn’t expecting this promise to come to fruition naturally, but supernaturally. He didn’t trust in the weakness of his body, but he expected it to come true through God’s power. This is the key teaching of faith: Not I, but Christ.

Two types of “hope” are being pitted against each other (“hope against hope”). There was no natural hope, but there was a supernatural hope. The NLT renders this, “Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping.” He trusted the One who gave him the promise (“he believed”).

(4:19) “Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” His body was “as good as dead” and so was Sarah’s. Keller writes, “Faith is not opposed to reason, but it is sometimes opposed to feelings and appearances. Abraham looked at his body and it looked hopeless. But he didn’t go on appearances. This shows us that faith is not simply an optimism about life in general, nor is it faith in oneself. It is the opposite. Faith begins with a kind of death to self-trust. Faith is going on something despite our weakness, despite our feelings and perceptions.”[62]

(4:20-21) “Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” He was “fully convinced” (NET, NLT, ESV) or “fully persuaded” (NIV) that God was able to fulfill this promise. Faith is not antithetical to reason. Abraham faced the barriers squarely, but also reflected on God’s power.

Specifically, biblical faith is grounded upon “what God had promised (v.21). He couldn’t have worked for this promise. Instead, he believed that God would fulfill it for him. Likewise, since Abraham is the father or paradigm of faith, he is a model to us regarding biblical faith.

(4:22) “Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness.” Again, Paul alludes to Genesis 15:6.

(4:23-24) “Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” This story wasn’t just for Abraham, but has application for us. If we didn’t see this already, Paul shows that Scripture has application throughout the centuries—not merely to the original audience.

(4:25) “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Paul seems to be alluding to Isaiah 53:11-12.

Douglas Moo and the NET take the second dia (“because of”) as prospective, which would mean that Jesus’ resurrection caused our justification. This passage would be rendered in this way: “He has handed over because of our trespasses [e.g., because we are sinners], and was raised for the sake of our justification [e.g., in order to secure our justification].”[63] Otherwise, Moo argues, our justification “was in some sense a cause of Jesus’ resurrection.”[64]

However, we don’t see how this follows. After all, our sins didn’t cause Jesus to take up the Cross. After all, he could’ve chosen not to do so. In the same way, our justification didn’t cause Jesus to rise from the dead.

Since dia is used retrospectively in the first part of the verse (“delivered over because of our transgressions”), it seems more consistent to take it this way in the second part (because of our justification”). Since dia can be rendered as “for the sake of” (BDAG), we could see that Paul is using this meaning in both clauses (“delivered over for the sake of our transgressions… for the sake of our justification”). Thus Paul is simply stating that Jesus’ death and resurrection were a “package deal” that accomplished our justification. We consider this understanding to be the most consistent interpretation of the language and grammar.


Keller lists several applications from this text:[65]

  • no boasting (vv.2-3, 20)
  • no cowering (vv.6-8)
  • a great identity (vv.12-17)
  • complete assurance (v.16)
  • hope when all hope seems gone (v.18).

Faith is the key that unlocks the door to all of these great virtues. We neither boast in arrogance—not cower in fear. Why? We have a new identity in Christ, so boasting and fear are both inconsistent with this identity. We have meaning (i.e. identity), assurance (i.e. security), and perseverance for the future (i.e. hope when all hope seems gone). Do you want these qualities in your life? You need to stop minimizing God’s promises, and instead, trust in what he says about you. In a word, you need to grow your faith!

Romans 5:1-11 (Results of Justification)

Whenever we get good news (e.g. job promotion, engagement, our wife gets pregnant, etc.), we immediately think of how this will affect the rest of our lives. In this chapter, Paul unpacks what justification means for the believer, and how it will change our lives.

(5:1) “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice that our justification with God is a past event (“having been justified by faith”). Jewett writes, “By employing the nominative plural of the aorist passive participle, he clearly refers to an event in the past, an event that extended righteousness to all believers.”[66] This is also given in the passive voice—meaning that this was something that was done to us—not something we did.

Keller notes that this is not the subjective peace of God (Phil. 4:7). Rather, this is peace with God—an objective standing with him, regardless of our feelings.[67]

(5:1) Do we have justification in the past tense, or are we supposed to seek justification in the future tense?

(5:2) “Through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace…” Verse 1 refers to the truce in our war with God. We are no longer God’s enemy. Here, we have something more: we have access to God. The term “introduction” is also translated “access” (NIV).

“…in which we stand…” The Enemy will try to move us from this firm ground on which we “stand.” Our role is not to flee, but to take our stand. If we give up this ground, we give up everything to our Enemy! Paul writes, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil… Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:10-11, 13). We don’t stand on feelings, but on divine facts.

“…and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” We “exult” (or “boast”) in God’s work on our behalf. There is nothing inherently wrong with boasting. In fact, we were designed to boast—as long as we boast in God, rather than in ourselves.

(5:3-4) “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” The truth of our justification becomes a personal reality during times of suffering and endurance. When temporal blessings are taken away, we grasp to these spiritual and eternal truths even firmer. Like a man clinging to a life preserver after his boat sinks, we appreciate these truths like never before.

We boast in our “tribulations”but why? Paul explains that suffering brings about…

“Perseverance…” Suffering produces an ability to endure. This isn’t an ascetic end in itself. Instead, perseverance transforms us and leads to develop “character.”

“Character…” BDAG defines the Greek word dokimen as “(1) a testing process, test, ordeal; (2) the experience of going through a test with special reference to the result, standing a test, character.” This leads to “hope.”

“Hope…” BDAG defines the Greek word elpis as “looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment” or as “matters spoken of in God’s promises.” Of course, this definition fits with the context that states, “Hope does not disappoint.” If we were hoping in the sense of gambling, we could very well be disappointed! But that is not Christian hope.

(5:5) “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Interestingly, this is “the first time Paul has mentioned God’s love in Romans.”[68] We deserve God’s wrath poured out on us, but instead, we get his love.

The “love of God” could be translated either as a subjective genitive (“God’s love for us”) or an objective genitive (“Our love for God”). Most translations favor the subjective genitive, and that is our view, because this favors the context. However, even if the objective genitive is in view (“Our love for God”), it would only show how our love for God comes as a consequence of the Holy Spirit being “poured out within our hearts.” Thus even the subjective genitive would imply God’s initiative—not self-effort.

“Because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” This is the reason that “hope does not disappoint.” The Holy Spirit in our hearts is the assurance that we belong to God, and later be with Him.

(5:6, 8, 10) “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Paul gives three attributes of our spiritual state before meeting Christ: “helpless” (v.6), “sinners” (v.8), and “enemies” (v.10). There is intensification in this list. He goes from viewing us as weak to willfully sinning.

“Helpless…” This term (asthenes) means “weak” (1 Cor. 4:10; 1 Pet. 3:7) or “unimpressive” (2 Cor. 10:10). But it is normally rendered as “sick.” BDAG’s first definition is “pertaining to suffering from a debilitating illness, sick, ill.” This word is used to refer to the paralyzed man that Peter and John healed (Acts 4:9), the sick brought to the apostles’ feet for healing (Acts 5:15), and those dying of sickness in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:30). The point is that both renderings are probably in view. We were weak, helpless, and spiritually sick. Christ looked on us with love and charity, knowing that we couldn’t heal ourselves.

Why does it say that Jesus died for us “at the right time”? Is this the right time in our lives, or the right time in history (cf. Gal. 4:4)? It is definitely the latter view, because he is referring to the historical event of the Cross—not our subjective experience of meeting Christ.

“Sinners” This term (hamartolon) means “not measuring up to a moral standard” (BDAG).

“Enemies” This term (echthroi) means “being subjected to hostility or hatred” (BDAG).

Even though this was all true, Christ died for us in this spiritual state.

(5:7) “For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.” Human love only goes so far. We might sacrifice our lives for our kids or loved ones. But we wouldn’t give our lives for a mass murderer or a child molester!

(5:9) “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” We were justified in the past tense by Jesus’ blood, but we’ll be saved in the future tense from his wrath. Justification has future ramifications. Since we were justified, we can know that God won’t ever judge us. There is nothing here mentioning the fact that we can be unjustified. Once justification occurs, our future salvation is secure.

(5:10) “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” This is a great passage for eternal security. Paul uses an a fortiori argument: If God forgave us when we were his enemies, how much more can we know that we’ll be sent to heaven now that we’re his allies? Keller writes, “If he was able to save us when we were hostile to him, would he fail us now that we are friends? If he didn’t give up on you when you were at war with him, what could you do to make him give up on you now that you are at peace with him?”[69]

(5:11) “And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” Our reconciliation with God has started, and this is our basis for “boasting” about God in the future.


Earlier, Paul wrote that the religious people “boasted” (kauchaomai) in the Law (Rom. 2:23). In this short section, believers “boast” (kauchaomai) in “God” (v.2, 11).

This passage shows the great security we have in Christ. We have been justified in the past tense (v.1), we have the Holy Spirit (v.5), and Christ died for us when we were enemies (v.6, 8, 10). How much more will he hold us secure in his love as his sons?

Because we are secure, we can persevere and grow. This is the subject to which Paul will turn in the rest of Romans 5-8.

Romans 5:12-21 (Federal Headship)

Federal headship refers to gaining an identity in Adam or in Christ. This concept has also been called “corporate personality.”[70] Paul offers a parallel discussion of this in 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-49. His full explanation can be found here.

While the Jewish and Gentile Christians were arguing over genetic ancestry (e.g. Abraham), Paul levels the playing field by going back to our earliest common ancestor: Adam. We’re all descended from Adam, but we’re all saved through Christ.

(5:12) “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” This is not merely saying that we also sinned like Adam sinned. In verse 15, Paul makes it clear that we died because of Adam’s sin (“by the transgression of the one the many died”). This isn’t “fair,” but neither is our forgiveness in Christ: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). It is simply a fact that in a world of free-moral agents, other people can affect us for good or for bad.

(5:12, 14) How can God judge all men for Adam’s sin, when it wasn’t their fault?

(5:13) “For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” God judged people according to the light they were given. Before the Mosaic Law, he judged them according to Natural Law (Rom. 2:14-15).

(5:13) Did God not judge people before the time of the Law?

(5:14) “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam…” They sinned, but not in the same way that Adam sinned. Adam disobeyed a direct law from God (Gen. 2:16-17).

“…who is a type of Him who was to come.” A type is a foreshadowing of something to come. Types are not identical analogies. In this case, the analogy is that Adam and Jesus both had a universal effect on humanity—even though Adam brought death and Jesus brought life. Paul shows the differences in the subsequent verses.

(5:15-16) “But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.” Again, we need to stress that types are not exact analogies. The type here refers to the universal impact of both Adam and Christ. However, Adam’s decision universally impacted humanity negatively, while Jesus universally impacted us positively.

(5:17) “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” If Adam could affect so many, how much more can Jesus?

(5:18-19) “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Here the comparison is between Adam’s action of sin and Jesus’ action of dying on the Cross. The way we got into this problem (through one man) is the way we can get out of this problem (through one man). Our problem starts with our OLD IDENTITY in Adam, so it can only be solved through our NEW IDENTITY in Jesus.

(5:15, 17) Is Paul saying that everyone will be forgiven in the end?

(5:20) Is Paul saying that the Law makes us want to sin more?

(5:20-21) “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Paul lines up here for the shot he’s going to take in chapters 6 and 7—namely, falling under the law causes us to sin more—not less. Law is not the solution, but the problem.

Watchman Nee: “In his atoning work before God he acted alone; no other could have a part. But the Lord did not die only to shed his Blood: he died that we might die. He died as our Representative. In his death he included you and me.”[71]

Watchman Nee: “If we are ‘in Adam’ all that is in Adam necessarily devolves upon us; it becomes ours involuntarily, for we have to do nothing to get it. There is no need to make up our minds to lose our temper or to commit some other sin; sin comes to us freely and despite ourselves. In a similar way, if we are ‘in Christ’ all that is in Christ comes to us by free grace, without effort on our part but on the ground of simple faith.”[72]

Watchman Nee: “In his death we all died. None of us can progress spiritually without seeing this. Just as we cannot have justification if we have not seen him bearing our sins on the Cross, so we cannot have sanctification if we have not seen him bearing us on the Cross. Not only have our sins been laid on him but we ourselves have been put into him.”[73]

Miles Stanford: “Death is his decreed portion. There cannot be two masters in our lives. If the old ‘I’ is in active possession of us, then Christ cannot be. But if we gladly take hold of the great fact of redemption—‘I have been crucified with Christ’—then Christ by His Spirit takes up the exercise of the function of life within us, and leads us as His bond-slaves (disciples), in the train of His triumph.”[74]

Miles Stanford: “‘If only I were stronger,’ we say, ‘I could overcome my violent outbursts of temper,’ and so we plead with the Lord to strengthen us that we may exercise more self-control. But this is altogether wrong; this is not Christianity. God’s means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker. This is surely a peculiar way of victory, you say; but it is the divine way. God sets us free from the dominion of sin, not by strengthening our old man but by crucifying him; not by helping him to do anything but by removing him from the scene of action.”[75]

By contrast, Douglas Moo does not think that the “old self” and “new self” refer to our natures. He contends that these refer to our old relationship to Adam and our new relationship to Christ: “What is crucified, then, is that relationship. Our tie to Adam is dissolved; he and the sin and death he represents no longer dictate terms to us.”[76] However, this doesn’t fit with the language. Paul doesn’t say that our relationship died, but that we died. Just as Jesus himself died, so did our old natures. We are a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

Romans 6:1-23 (Being “in Christ”)

(6:1) “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” If we are truly under grace, shouldn’t this cause us to fall into licentiousness? Paul firmly disagrees. But notice that his argument isn’t based on revoking grace or threatening God’s wrath. Instead, he says that sin is inconsistent with who we are “in Christ.”

From this passage, we can infer that Paul had been accused of being an antinomian; that is, he was accused of eliminating the law or being anti-law with his teaching about grace. Of course, Paul’s teaching was certainly not antinomian, but it must have been close enough for someone to cast this accusation (Rom. 3:8). Otherwise, the accusation would carry no weight, and Paul would never have raised the question here at this point in his letter. John Stott writes, “This shows conclusively that he did preach the gospel of grace without works. Otherwise, if he did not teach this, the objection would never have been raised. It is the same today. If we are proclaiming Paul’s gospel, with its emphasis on the freeness of grace and the impossibility of self-salvation, we are sure to provoke the charge of antinomianism. If we do not arouse this criticism, the likelihood is that we are not preaching Paul’s gospel.”[77] Stott’s point is interesting: When was the last time you were accused of being an antinomian? Of course, antinominianism is a heretical doctrine, but Paul’s teaching of radical grace was so forceful that he garnered this criticism. Extreme Lordship theologians would never garner this criticism![78]

(6:2-3) “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” The first step to spiritual growth is not to struggle or fight with sin. We shouldn’t simply “try harder” or “just do it” as the Nike slogan says. Paul’s focus here is not on doing, but on knowing (“do you not know…?”). Bruce writes, “[Paul] could never consider legalism as the remedy for libertinism; he knew a more excellent way.”[79]

Instead, Paul’s focus here is not on doing, but on knowing (“do you not know…?”). The first step is to realize an important divine fact: I’m dead. If I was praying through this passage, I might say, “Thank you, God, that James Rochford is dead! That man who is so selfish, so greedy, so narcissistic, so jealous… you’ve killed him. He’s dead and gone! Thank you! He died with Christ on the Cross.” Over time, this results in the reality of Christ being formed in us (Gal. 4:19).

(6:3-4) Is this passage describing water baptism?—or something else?

Keller agrees that this is spiritual baptism—not water baptism.[80] He interprets Romans 6 in line with the “new identity” in Christ. He writes, “When a Christian sins, they are acting against their identity. Why would they sin? Therefore, if I sin, it is because I do not realize who I am; I have forgotten what has been done for me in Christ.”[81]

(6:4) “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Again, the baptism here is being “put into” Jesus’ death (“buried with Him”). The resurrection of Jesus was a certainty (“Christ was raised from the dead”). But the term “might walk” (peripatesomen) is in the subjunctive mood, meaning that this is a possible outcome, rather than a certainty.

(6:5) “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.” Some hold that this refers to our physical resurrection after death.[82] After all, Paul uses the indicative mood (“certainly we shall…”), rather than the subjunctive mood (“we might…”). This implies the certainty of the believer’s resurrection from the dead. He also uses the future tense (“we shall also be…”).

We agree with other commentators that Paul is referring to our spiritual union to Christ in our new identity. For one, the language refers to our union with Christ. Even this verse mentions being “united” with him. Second, the context refers to our daily walking in “newness of life.” In the flow of thought, the certainty is not the physical resurrection, but rather the certainty of being united with Christ’s resurrection if we have died with Christ. In other words, there is no such thing as a person who has “died” with Christ who is also not united to his resurrection power. Our “death” isn’t literal in the sense that our pulse has stopped and our brains have gone dead. He’s saying that our old self is dead. In the same way, our resurrection is a current power in the Christian life right now.

Regarding the future tense (“we shall be…”), we agree that this fits with the view that this refers to our bodily resurrection. However, it also fits with the view of our future and ongoing sanctification. Thus it fits both perspectives.

(6:6-7) “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him…” The punishment for sin is death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23), and so the old self has been crucified (Gal. 2:20). Instead of rehabilitating our old self, God crucified and killed it. God has made us a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

“…in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” If my old sinful self is dead, then I can’t sin. “Knowing this” is what inactivates the sinful nature. The term katargeo (“done away with”) means to cut off the power of sin or make it inactive.

(6:7) “For he who has died is freed from sin.” Again, the death of the old nature is a divine fact. When we realize that our old self is dead, we see that we are “freed from sin.” Sin can’t control a dead guy!

(6:6) Does Paul really believe that we do not have a sinful nature anymore?

(6:8) “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” To “live” with Christ is our current walk with him in this life (vv.4-5). Based on these truths, we have a battle of belief ahead of us. Our war is not with sin, but with unbelief. We don’t have the power to fight sin; instead the Holy Spirit does this in us. Paul writes that our “flesh” (old self) fights with the Holy Spirit: “The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17). It isn’t that we fight with sin, but the Holy Spirit does this for us! Our role is to be “led” by the Spirit. Hence, Paul writes, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (Gal. 5:18).

What is our role in this process? Do we passively plop down and have nothing to do? Is the Christian life inactive and lifeless? No way! The battle is in our own mind—a battle of belief. We do need tremendous action, but action in the right place. In his book True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer referred to this as “active passivity.”[83] By this, Schaeffer was not trying to be paradoxically deep—like some mystic sage. Instead, what he meant was that we are very active in one respect (i.e. our faith), while we are very passive in another respect (i.e. self-effort). Again, we don’t battle sin with self-effort, so in that sense, we are passive. However, we do battle sin by fighting to believe that what God says about us is true, giving ourselves to him in faith. We need to (1) know, (2) consider, and (3) present ourselves to God.

#1. Know

(6:9-10) “Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.” Death has no power over Christ because of his resurrection from the dead. If we never knew about this, we wouldn’t have access to this power in our lives. Like a slave who was never told about the Emancipation Proclamation, we would continue in slavery—not knowing that we had been freed. Paul gives a second step: we need to trust, mediate, and “consider” the great truth of our new identity.

#2. Consider

(6:11) “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The NIV renders “even so” as “in the same way.” This relates Jesus’ death and resurrection to our current sanctification—not our future resurrection. Just as Jesus cannot die again, so too, we cannot die again… because we’re already dead!

“Consider yourselves to be dead to sin…” The term “consider” (logizomai) is an accounting term and often refers to making an accurate ledger entry. In other words, our role is to believe that we have died, and we’re now alive to God (“consider yourselves”). Harrison writes, “[Considering] does not create the fact of union with Christ but makes it operative in one’s life.”[84] Bruce writes, “This is no game of ‘let’s pretend’; believers should consider themselves to be what God in fact has made them.”[85] This implies that we very actively trust in these great truths, battle false beliefs, and take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

To return to our illustration from earlier, this is similar to a slave who did hear about the Emancipation Proclamation, but was too afraid to claim his freedom. Author David Oshinsky writes,

Among the hundreds of ex-slaves interviewed in the 1930s, about forty percent claimed to have moved during the war itself or in the months immediately following emancipation. But most remained where they were, living as tenants or field hands on the same land they had worked all along… The exhilaration of moving was tempered by feelings of insecurity and fear. ‘We wanted to be free at times, den we would get scart an’ want to stay slaves.’ a freedman recalled. ‘We was tol all kinds of things but didn’t know jes what to believe.’[86]

It’s one thing to know we are free, but it’s another to trust and believe in our freedom. Then, Paul gives another crucial aspect of spiritual growth. Once we know about our new identity and consider it, we need to present ourselves to God.

#3. Present

(6:12-13) “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” There are two commands here: (1) not presenting ourselves to sin, but instead (2) presenting ourselves to God. It’s interesting that Paul does not say that we are to present ourselves to righteous living. Righteous living is surely the goal. But in order to get there, you need “to present yourselves to God.” This text doesn’t say anything about acting on our faith—at least, not yet. Here, this is the active decision to turn to God in faith, presenting yourself to him in your new identity in Christ, believing what he says about you is true. Without this, we’re operating out of self-effort and willpower. When we actively remember and believe in our new identity, righteousness comes naturally.

To repeat, the contrast is not between sinning and not sinning. The contrast is between presenting ourselves to sin and presenting ourselves to God.

“…instruments of righteousness to God.” A scalpel cannot do anything on its own. It is merely a lifeless “instrument.” But in the hands of a surgeon, a scalpel can perform tedious and delicate—not to mention lifesaving—surgery. So too, apart from Christ, we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). Instead, we present ourselves to him as “instruments” for him to use. Only in this condition can we do anything in his powerful hands! (Phil. 4:13)

To return to our illustration above, a slave would need to know that he was legally free and he would need to believe he was free. But then he would need to present himself to others as a freeman—not a slave. Here, the believer needs to start by presenting himself in this identity to God himself. Even during times of struggles or sin, she might pray, “God, I believe that I’m loved by you and completely accepted. You love me, just like you love Jesus (Eph. 1:7; Mt. 3:17). I’m coming to you right now as your dearly loved daughter, and pray that you’d use me as an instrument to make an impact for the cause of Christ. I trust that you will guide and empower me to accomplish your will today.”

Examples of the importance of believing in identity and reality

Paul’s teaching about our new identity is very abstract, but perhaps these illustrations can help.

EXAMPLE #1. A warrior who didn’t believe the war was over. Hirō “Hiroo” Onoda was a Japanese intelligence officer in the Philippines in World War II. His commander, Major Taniguchi gave this order to Hiroo:

You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts. If that’s the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you [to] give up your life voluntarily.

After the war ended, Onoda and his three friends didn’t believe it. The Japanese blanketed the jungles of the Philippines with leaflets (signed by General Yamashita), but Hiroo continued to fight for 29 years! It wasn’t until Major Taniguchi personally visited him in 1974 that Hiroo surrendered! Similarly, many believers never grow spiritually because they do not know, consider, or present themselves to God based on their new identity.

EXAMPLE #2. A librarian who didn’t know what book was in her attic. In 1961, Barbara Testa, a Hollywood librarian, inherited six steamer trunks that had belonged to her grandfather. They sat in her attic for 30 years. Then, in the autumn of 1990, she unearthed the original handwritten copy of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is valued at $1,500,000!

EXAMPLE #3. A prisoner who couldn’t live as a freed man. In the film The Shawshank Redemption (1994), “Red” (played by Morgan Freeman) is released from prison, but he can’t adjust to real life! He still asks for bathroom breaks and even wishes at times that he could go back to prison.

(6:14) “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Paul argues that the key to spiritual growth is to get out from under the law. When we focus on law, we are not under grace.

Does “under law” refer to the OT era? Douglas Moo takes this verse to refer to the Mosaic law which “dominates the old regime from which we have been set free in Christ; grace dominates the new regime inaugurated by Jesus.”[87] Likewise, Thomas Schreiner writes, “Paul has turned the tables on those who would say that the entrance of grace actually foments sin. On the contrary, it is those under the law who are subservient to sin, while it is only those under grace who triumph over it.”[88]

We disagree that “under law” refers to the Mosaic era and “under grace” refers to the new covenant in general. The difficulty with this view (as Schreiner admits[89]) is that this would imply that there was no grace in the old covenant! Schreiner takes this to be a generality, rather than a rigid statement. We simply hold that this is on the wrong track altogether. We take Paul’s statement at face value: the Ten Commandments are not helpful for generating spiritual growth. In the next verse, Paul refers to his original question of whether we should sin because we are “under grace” (Rom. 6:15). Clearly, his approach to spiritual growth was radical; otherwise, he wouldn’t need to repeat this question about licentiousness twice in this chapter (Rom. 6:1, 15).

We agree with Tim Keller who writes that Paul is getting us to focus on our position and identity in Christ—not the law:

We need to realize that we are not to be stoics when it comes to sin: Just say NO! Paul is showing us here that sinning comes not so much from a lack of willpower, as from a lack of understanding our position and a lack of reflection and rejoicing.[90]

Watchman Nee writes,

How can you know? You can know for the one sufficient reason that God has said so. It does not depend on your feelings. If you feel that Christ has died, he has died; and if you do not feel that he has died, he has died. If you feel that you have died, you have died; and if you do not feel that you have died, you have nevertheless just as surely died. These are divine facts.[91]

‘If only I were stronger,’ we say, ‘I could overcome my violent outbursts of temper,’ and so we plead with the Lord to strengthen us that we may exercise more self-control. But this is altogether a fallacy; it is not Christianity. God’s means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker. That is surely rather a peculiar way of victory, you say; but it is the divine way. God sets us free from the dominion of sin, not by strengthening our old man but by crucifying him; not by helping him to do anything but by removing him from the scene of action.[92]

If we had more revelation, we should have fewer prayers and more praises. We spend so much time praying for ourselves just because we are blind to what God has done.[93]

What, then, is the secret of reckoning? To put it in one word, it is revelation. We need revelation from God himself (Matt. 16:17; Eph. 1:17, 18). We need to have our eyes opened to the fact of our union with Christ, and that is something more than knowing it as a doctrine. Such revelation is no vague indefinite thing. Most of us can remember the day when we saw clearly that Christ died for us, and we ought to be equally clear as to the time when we saw that we died with Christ. It should be nothing hazy, but very definite, for it is with this as basis that we shall go on. It is not that I reckon myself to be dead, and therefore I will be dead.[94]

The Devil is a skillful liar, and we cannot expect him to stop at words in his lying. He will resort to lying signs and feelings and experiences in his attempts to shake us from our faith in God’s Word. Let me make it clear that I do not deny the reality of the “flesh.” Indeed we shall have a good deal more to say about this further on in our study. But I am speaking here of our being moved from a revealed position in Christ. As soon as we have accepted our death with Christ as a fact, Satan will do his best to demonstrate convincingly by the evidence of our day-to-day experience that we are not dead at all but very much alive. So we must choose. Will we believe Satan’s lie or God’s truth? Are we going to be governed by appearances or by what God says?[95]

(6:15) “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” After Paul explains our identity in Christ, he returns to his original question from verse 1. Now that he has explained the argument from the new identity, the answer to this question takes on a deeper meaning.

(6:16) “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” The key to spiritual growth is over who we are presenting ourselves to. Again, Paul appeals to the mind—not our willpower (“Do you not know…?”). If we present ourselves to God, then he will use us as his “instruments” (v.13) and his “slaves” (v.16). Jesus taught, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (Jn. 8:34). When we present ourselves to sin, it enslaves us even further. Now that we are “in Christ,” we have a new master. But which master will we subjectively believe and identify with?

(6:17-18) “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” This refers to our identity shifting from the one to the other, because these verses are in the past tense. These are indicatives—not imperatives.

(6:19) “I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh…” Paul was using an analogy for them to grasp these deep spiritual truths.[96]

“For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity… so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification…” Since our identity objectively changed (vv.17-18), the imperative is to actively present ourselves to God based on that new identity. This is the key to “sanctification,” or spiritual growth.

(6:20) “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” Before we met Christ, we didn’t exert effort to sin. This came naturally, and this is Paul’s point. If only we could get our identity working in the other direction, then righteousness and love would also come naturally!

(6:21-22) “Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” Our old lives led to death (Gen. 2:17). Our new identity leads to sanctification in this life and glorification in the next life. Notice the parallel between “death” (v.21) and “eternal life” (v.22). Why would we engage in sin, when we know that it leads to death? Peter writes that we’ve already had our fill of sin: “You have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you” (1 Pet. 4:3-4 NIV).

(6:23) “For the wages of sin is death…” Harrison writes, “Sin turns out to be a wretched paymaster, promising life but meting out death.”[97] Harrison also points out that the concept of “wages” implies a repeated payment of death. Sin leads to more and more death in the life of the Christian.

“But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” While the “wages” is given in the plural, the “free gift” of God is in the singular (cf. Rom. 5:15-16). Moo summarizes the three contrasts that Paul gives in this chapter: “The master that is served—sin versus God; the outcome of that service—death versus eternal life; and the means by which this outcome is attained—a ‘wage’ earned versus a gift received.”[98]


We are not referring to the placebo effect. We actually have a new identity in Christ. The problem is that we don’t believe and trust in who he says that we are.

Your actions will follow what you believe—not what is true. As we saw in all of the examples above (e.g. southern slaves, Japanese intelligence officer, librarian with an original copy of Huck Finn, etc.), their lives weren’t based on reality but on what they believed about reality. If God says that you are loved and accepted, but you feel that you’re unacceptable and worthless, who is right? Will you choose personal feelings or divine facts?

How many believers are walking through life without ever knowing any of this? They are sitting on a goldmine of spiritual facts, but they simply don’t know it or believe it! What a tragedy!

Romans 7:1-25 (Struggling under the Law)

(7:1-4) “Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? 2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” We shouldn’t press Paul’s analogy too far. Parables and illustrations usually give only one main lesson. If we over exegete them, we run into problems. For instance, regarding the ten virgins and their oil lamps (Mt. 25), interpreters will often ask, “What do the virgins represent?” or “What does the oil represent?” or “Why are there ten virgins?” This misses the point entirely. The one main lesson of the parable is, “Be ready!”

In this analogy, all Paul is trying to illustrate is that death breaks the contract of the law. He asks the question, “What breaks the law of marriage?” Well, naturally, we know that marriage is binding “until death do we part…” In the same way, argues Paul, how do we get out from the legal binding of the Law? We need to die! Paul argues that we did die—with Christ on the Cross. Our identity is wrapped up in His identity (v.4).

Interestingly, Paul says that this death allows us to “bear fruit for God.” Our death and separation from the law is essential for spiritual growth.

(7:1-3) Why does Paul compare the Law to marriage? This illustration doesn’t seem to fit.

(7:5-6) “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” It isn’t that the Law died. That would be antinomianism. Instead, Paul argues that we died (v.4, 6). We have been released from the obligation and covenant of the Law, because of the work of Christ. This refers to sanctification—not justification. Note that Paul emphasizes the current release from the Law in sanctification. He mentions that we bear fruit for God” (v.4) and serve in the newness of the Spirit” (v.6). This is the language of sanctification—not justification.

Just as the old self was “done away with” (katargeo, Rom. 6:6), now we are “released” from the Law (katergethemen, Rom. 7:6).

Some commentators think that this entire section refers to Paul’s pre-conversion, because he refers to being “in the flesh” (v.5), but Paul uses this expression for believers (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:22; 2 Cor. 10:3; Phile. 16; cf. 1 Pet. 4:2). He also uses it in contrast to spiritual living (Rom. 8:8-9). Elsewhere, Paul tells us not to “trust in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).

Another way of understanding “in the flesh” is to say that this refers to the old self, but now, we are released from the Law. Either way, our current standing with the Law in regards to sanctification is one of release—not bondage.

(7:6) In what sense are Christians “released from the Law”?

(7:8-13) Is Paul describing himself here, or something (or someone) else?

(7:7) “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” Once again, Paul anticipates the accusation of antinomianism: Is the Law sin? Not at all. It isn’t that the Law is sinful. We are! There is nothing wrong with the Law of God. One of the purposes of the Law is to know and identify sin (“I would not have come to know sin except through the Law”). Paul cites the 10th commandment.

(7:8) “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.” Paul uses a military metaphor when he writes “taking opportunity” (aphormen).[99] Paul cannot be saying that people cannot sin before they know the Law (cf. Rom. 2:14-15; 5:13). Instead, he must be saying that the Law (when combined with our flesh) produces more sin. This one law (the 10th commandment) produced sin “of every kind.” If only we could get out from under Law, we’d be free from sin (“apart from the Law sin is dead”). The first humans were given the law in order to live, but they chose death (Gen. 2:17).

(7:9) “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died.” Again, the context is sanctification—not justification. Paul would never say that a person without Christ could be considered “alive.” He writes that without Christ we “were dead… by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1, 3), and “we were dead in our transgressions” (Eph. 2:5). We didn’t become “alive” until we met Christ (Eph. 2:5; cf. Col. 2:13). This is the first time Paul uses the pronoun “I” in his letter.

Keller holds that verse 9 refers to Paul’s Pharisaical view pre-conversion: “He had not realized what the law really required. He saw a plethora of rules, but not the basic force or thrust of the law as a whole. He had no understanding of holiness, of what it meant to love God supremely, of what it meant to love his neighbor as himself. Thus he was ‘apart’ from the law. What does it mean, though, that he was ‘alive’? Paul probably is referring to his own self-perception. He felt he was spiritually alive—pleasing to God, satisfying to God… [Paul] must mean: The commandment came home to me.”[100] Keller later argues that Paul is speaking about sanctification in verses 14-25 (i.e. Paul’s present struggle with sin).[101] But here, he holds that this is referring to justification. We respectfully disagree with this interpretation. The more natural reading is that Paul is still writing about sanctification in the present—not launching back into justification. Paul doesn’t say that he felt alive, but that he was alive (“I was once alive apart from the Law…”).

(7:10-11) “And this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” What does Paul mean by “death” here? One interpretation is that this refers to spiritual death (i.e. hell and the judgment of God). Another view is that this is referring to dead works or death to our sanctification. We hold to the latter view. Paul uses “death” in contrast to “righteousness” (Rom. 6:16). He also refers to “bearing fruit for death” (Rom. 7:5). Later, he refers to his current body as “the body of this death” (Rom. 7:24). In our view, the death mentioned here refers to death to our spiritual growth.

(7:12-13) “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.” Paul is not against the Law. God’s Law is “holy” and “righteous” and “good.” Paul describes a time after he came to Christ when he was living in his position in Christ. But then, the law came in. As a former Pharisee, it was probably easy for Paul to fall back under law. He describes the struggle that this was for him. Whereas he formerly relied on the law as a Pharisee, after coming to Christ, he realized that the law only inhibited spiritual growth.

(7:14-25) Is Paul describing his own personal struggle with sin?

(7:14-25) “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” Paul explains what it is like to fall back under law as a believer. Notice that he focuses on himself (“I”) and the Law. This frustration leads him to ask, Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (v.25). Notice that Paul’s savior is a who—not a what. He depending on a person—not a list of laws.


First, if you’re having these feelings about your sin, this is a good place to be! Don’t despair. The lesson of Romans 7 is to understand that faith in God begins, where faith in self ends.

Second, believers who don’t understand this are superficial. Broken believers are very enjoyable to be around. You don’t feel like you have to put up a façade around them. You can be open about sin and struggles. This is because they are able to get their focus off of the law and onto the Holy Spirit. Romans 7 mentions the law 31 times (and the Holy Spirit once). By contrast, Romans 8:1-27 mentions the Holy Spirit 19 times.

Third, the law is useful in breaking us of our self-sufficiency. When we fall under law (e.g. comparison and performance), spiritual growth breaks down. If Romans 7 is teaching on the believer’s reaction to a law focus, then Lordship Theology will actually cause less spiritual growth—not more.

Watchman Nee: “A drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself. When we give up the case, then God will take it up. He is waiting until we are at an end of our resources and can do nothing more for ourselves. …For our every attempt to do his will is a denial of his declaration in the Cross that we are utterly powerless to do so.”[102]

Watchman Nee: “Anyone who serves God will discover sooner or later that the great hindrance to his work is not others but himself.”[103]

Watchman Nee: “If you have a very clumsy servant and he just sits still and does nothing, then his clumsiness does not appear. If he does nothing all day he will be of little use to you, it is true, but at least he will do no damage that way. But if you say to him: ‘Now come along, don’t idle away your time: get up and do something,’ then immediately the trouble begins. He knocks the chair over as he gets up, stumbles over a footstool a few paces further on, then smashes some precious dish as soon as he handles it. If you make no demands upon him his clumsiness is never noticed, but as soon as you ask him to do anything his awkwardness is apparent at once. The demands were all right, but the man was all wrong. He was as clumsy a man when he was sitting still as when he was working, but it was your demands that made manifest the clumsiness which, whether he was active or inactive, all the time were in his make-up. We are all sinners by nature. If God asks nothing of us, all seems to go well, but as soon as he demands something of us, the occasion is provided for a grand display of our sinfulness. The Law makes our weakness manifest. While you let me sit still I appear to be all right, but when you ask me to do anything I am sure to spoil it, and if you trust me with a second thing I will as surely spoil that also. When a holy law is applied to a sinful, man, then it is that his sinfulness comes out in full display. God knows who I am: he knows that from head to foot I am full of sin; he knows that I am weakness incarnate; that I can do nothing. The trouble is that I do not know it. I admit that all men are sinners, and that therefore I am a sinner; but I imagine that I am not such a hopeless sinner as some. God must bring us all to the place where we see that we are utterly weak and helpless. While we say so, we do not wholly believe it, and God has to do something to convince us of the fact.”[104]

Romans 8:1-16 (Walking in the Spirit)

(8:1) “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why does Paul return to the security we have in Christ at this point in his letter? He must do so because this is a place of worry for the believer. When we try to serve God, we repeatedly fail and wonder if we’re really in a position of security with God at all. Some Bible teachers like to threaten the believer at this point: “Perhaps you’re not even a Christian… Or you may have even lost your salvation.” Yet how different is Paul’s perspective! The “fear-threat” motivation wasn’t Paul’s method for motivating spiritual growth. Instead, he brackets this entire section with the security we have in Christ (8:1, 39).

It’s true that a fear-threat motivation can give us some change. For instance, it can get people to work on time, or even get people to give up various addictions. However, the goal of spiritual growth is love (1 Tim. 1:5), and a totally changed outlook on life (Rom. 12:2). We need more than threats to change at such a fundamental level. We need a new identity.

In Greek, the first word gives the emphasis. In this opening verse, the sentence opens with, “No.” It is as if Paul is saying, “There is NO condemnation for those in Christ.”

“Now…” Remember the context: Paul was wrestling with sin at a very deep level (Rom. 7:14-25). His conclusion? Even in the midst of sin, there is “now,” at this very present moment, no condemnation. We have security “in Christ” even in the midst of sin.

(8:1) Is there condemnation or not?

(8:2) “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. Paul uses the word “law” (nomos) in a more general sense—like the “law of gravity.” He is saying that if you live according to the Spirit, you’ll be set free from the death that occurs by living under law.[105]

This doesn’t refer to the moral law. For one, Paul mentions two different kinds of laws in the same verse, and these cannot both be the moral law. Just a few verses earlier, Paul uses the word “law” (nomos) in a more general sense: “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:22-23). These cannot all refer to the moral law.

 (8:3) “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” This refers to the moral law, because it lacks any kind of modifier as in verse 2 (“the law of the Spirit… the law of sin). It just says “the Law.”

Did God’s Law cease to be fulfilled? No! It has been totally fulfilled—just not by us. It was fulfilled by Christ (Mt. 5:17-20).

“He condemned sin in the flesh…” This is a good passage for substitionary atonement. God took out his judgment (katakrino) on Christ. This is why there is “no condemnation” (katakrimo) for those who are in Christ (v.1).

(8:4) “So that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This refers to our condition—our current spiritual state. If we are walking by the Spirit, we’ll naturally carry out the requirements of the Law. But if we make our focus on the Law, we cannot fulfill the Law. We only fulfill the Law when we focus on our standing in Christ.

(8:5-7) “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so.” The key to spiritual growth is our mindset. Paul refers to our mindset four times in these three verses. Are we focusing on Christ or the Law? Keller writes, “The twentieth-century Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said: ‘Your religion is what you do with your solitude.’ In other words, wherever your mind goes most naturally and freely when there is nothing else to distract it—that is what you really live for. That is your religion. Your life is shaped by whatever preoccupies your mind. The overcoming of sin in our lives begins in our minds; and victory over sin is only ever the result of having minds set on the Spirit.”[106] He continues, “We are to be preoccupied with our standing in Christ. We are to drill into our minds and hearts his love and adoption of us.”[107]

Paul writes that we will either think about the things of the Spirit or the things of the flesh. We can do one or the other, but we cannot do both (and we cannot do neither!).

“The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so…” Apart from the “renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:2), we are unable to “please God.” This is our role: to consciously set our minds on our new identity in Christ. We should revisit what it means to know, consider, and present in Romans 6 for more detail.

(8:8-9) “And those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you…” When Paul uses according to the flesh,” this refers to our condition. When he uses in the flesh,” this refers to our position. Those who are “in the flesh” are non-Christians. Those who are “according to the flesh” are carnal Christians.

“…But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him…” If we have the Spirit, then we are believers. There is no such thing as a believer without the Holy Spirit.

(8:10) “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” Paul brackets our condition (“though the body is dead because of sin”) with our position. Our old self was crucified with Christ (“James Rochford is dead”). But our spirit is alive, because we have been identified with Jesus’ resurrection.

(8:11) “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” This could refer to our future bodily resurrection, because of the future tense (“[The Spirit] will also give life to your mortal bodies”). Moreover, the parallel here is between Jesus’ bodily resurrection and presumably our bodily resurrection.

However, this could also refer to our current sanctification. After all, this is the context, and Paul uses the first-class conditional clause[108] (“If and I’m assuming this is the case that the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you”). In verse 10, Paul is referring to the current power of the Spirit in the life of the “dead” believer. So when Paul says that God will “give life,” this could refer to our spirits being alive for spiritual growth (v.10). We think the context favors this view.

(8:12) “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.” Again, when Paul uses the expression according to the flesh,” this refers to our condition.

He uses the word “obligation” (cf. Rom. 1:14). We don’t owe the flesh anything.

(8:13) “For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Our “death” here refers to spiritual alienation from God in our condition (“you must die”). Sin leads to the death of our spiritual growth. Earlier Paul wrote, “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Rom. 7:9-11). The death and killing cannot refer to future judgment. This is present alienation from God. Paul is calling for us to line up our position with our condition (cf. Col. 3:5).

While our old self was already crucified with Christ, we can choose to “put to death the deeds of the body.” Elsewhere, Paul writes, “Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Col. 3:5).

(8:14) “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Paul is not introducing a fear-threat motivation here. After all, in the very next verse, he writes, “You have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again” (v.15). Note too that this passage is not an imperative. The believer is being passively led by the Spirit. The picture here is that of a father leading his little son by the hand.

What does it mean to have your mind set on the flesh?

There are a number of ways to have a mindset on the flesh. A fleshly mindset refers to focusing on (1) self, (2) sin, (3) the law, and (4) the world. These are all things that we have died to in our position. Thus focusing on these brings a fleshly mindset.

(1) Self: Paul writes, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). We shouldn’t focus on “I… I… I…” but instead, “Him… Him… Him…” When believers spend 90% of their time focusing on themselves, they are in a fleshly mindset.

(2) Sin: Paul writes, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2) In much Christian literature, the suggestion is to spend the first several minutes confessing your sins. There are surely times when we need to bring conscious sin to God and repent of it. But the emphasis of much Christian literature doesn’t fit with what Paul wrote. Where do we read that the new covenant believer should be constantly thinking about and confessing our sin to God? This morbid introspection is all wrong. Should I focus on what I’ve done before God?—or what he’s done for me?

(3) Law: Paul writes, “We have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:6). Many believers approach God focusing on what they have to do for him. Yet Jesus said that in him we will “find rest for [our] souls” (Mt. 11:29). If we feel burdened by our walk with Christ, then we are probably under law. Of course, in the same context, Jesus said that we find rest when we take up his “yoke” (Mt. 11:28). Paradoxically, we find rest when we are serving and working for him. We just need to make sure that our focus is on him—not on law.

(4) World: Elsewhere Paul writes, “The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). Christians who are focused on the “world” (kosmos) have a mind set on the flesh (cf. 1 Jn. 2:15-17; Mt. 6:24).


(8:15) “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” Paul is the only NT author to use the adoption metaphor. (See “From Slaves to Sons: The Fatherhood of God and Spiritual Adoption”)

(8:16) “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” Both the Holy Spirit and our spirit testify to us that we’re children of God. Regarding the word “witness” (martyria), Keller writes, “The word originally meant an authoritative witness who solved a difficult case and put the solution beyond doubt. The picture Paul is painting looks something like this: There is a trial going on and the defendant is being accused of a crime. There seems to be some evidence against her and some evidence in favor of her claim of innocence. Then, suddenly, the defense comes in with a new witness who can be proved to have been at the scene of the crime! …This person ‘testifies with’ the defendant. He says the same thing and puts the verdict beyond doubt.”[109]

Romans 8:17-39 (Glorification in Christ)

(8:17) “If children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

“If indeed we suffer…” This is a first-class conditional clause,[110] which assumes the consequent for the sake of argument. We will reign and rule with Christ to the extent to which we suffered for him. Reward is in view here (v.18).

In the first century, one “heir” would inherit the money, land, etc. Since God has so much to give, Paul can write that we are all heirs of God’s estate. We are fellow heirs with Christ.

(8:18) “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Paul will continue to expound upon the terrible suffering that we endure in a fallen world when we are trying to follow Christ. But here he tells us, “It’s all worth it!” Right now, Paul is in heaven, and there is no doubt in his mind that his suffering was worth it.

“…the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The word “to” (eis) could also be translated “in.” Therefore, Paul could be writing, “The glory that is to be revealed in us.” Later Paul writes of seeing “the revealing of the sons of God” (v.19) and “the glory of the children of God” (v.21).

(8:19) “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.” Creation itself waits to see the image-bearers restored and glorified. The purpose of the Earth was for sinless people to rule over it and take care of it (v.21; cf. Gen. 1:28). This purpose has never come to its ultimate fruition. But someday, it will.

(8:20) “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope.” Adam doesn’t have control of the world—only Christ does. This could refer to God cursing the world after the Fall (Gen. 3:17-18), throwing the first humans into a hostile environment of cause and effect.

(8:21) “That the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Paul personifies creation as eagerly waiting for its own redemption through the redemption of believers.

(8:22) “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” Again, Paul personifies creation as “groaning” until its redemption.

(8:23) “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” Everyone can see that the world is “not the way it’s supposed to be.” But Paul takes this a step further: “We are not the way we’re supposed to be!” We can look outside or inside, and we yearn for God’s restoration. Paul looks forward to his heavenly body. Our adoption is “already-not-yet.” We are currently sons (Rom. 8:15). But to a much fuller extent, we will later be revealed as sons.

(8:24-25) “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” Paul is confident that this hope will be realized. He calls for patience—not uncertainty. The term “hope” (helpidi) means “the looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment, hope, expectation” (BDAG).

(8:26-27) Does this refer to speaking in tongues?

(8:26) “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should…” We are so weak that we can’t even pray without the Holy Spirit’s help!

“The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…” This passage can be translated as “we do not know how to pray as we should” (NASB) or as “we do not know what we ought to pray for (see NET note).

Sometimes, we pray for something that is biblically sound, but might not be in the omniscient will of God. For instance, we might pray for someone to come to a Bible study, but it would actually be better if they didn’t make it that night. While we are praying a biblical prayer, the Holy Spirit knows what the person needs more than we do. So he intercedes to bring about the intention of our prayer. Perhaps it would actually be better for the person to stay at home that night and receive Christ, and the Bible study would actually a distraction to making a decision for Christ. Of course, we would never think to pray this! But because the Holy Spirit knows all things better than we do, he intercedes for us. Notice that the Spirit is the One groaning here—not us.

(8:27) “He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” What is it like for the omniscient third person of the Trinity to communicate with the other omniscient members of the Trinity? (!!!)

(8:28) “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” This promise is contingent on loving God and putting him first. We don’t receive this promise if we are rebelling against God’s will.

This promise allows the believer to trust in the sovereignty of God. Keller writes, “This must lead to some ability to relax! We are not in the grip of blind chance or fate. The Greeks thought that even Zeus was subject to the fates. Not us! The universe is not a mechanism run by blind chance; it is run by a person—and not just any person, but our Father. We don’t need to fear life and circumstances.”[111] He continues, “If we think we require some good thing that God has withheld from us, in reality we don’t absolutely need it. It also means that if we feel our life has been ruined by some bad thing, in reality it is playing some very important role in our lives.”[112] We would simply qualify his statement by noting that the suffering may not be for our earthly good (or even for us at all). But we can know that God will use it for the cause of Christ, having implications far ahead in eternity.

(8:29-30) “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” This has been called the “golden chain of redemption.” Once the process starts, God takes us step by step into glorification.

(8:29-30) Is this passage teaching predestination?

(8:31) “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” Because we are in Christ, we can have confidence that God is for us. What can a human being do to us, if we know that God is with us?

(8:32) “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” If God gave us the ultimate gift of his Son, why would he be stingy on giving us anything else?

(8:33) “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies.” God is the ultimate judge. If we’re clear with him, no one can make us guilty.

(8:34) “Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” God “justifies” us (v.33), and Jesus “intercedes” for us (v.34). With an intercessor like Jesus and a judge like God, we have nothing to fear in the divine courtroom!

(8:35) “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” This list comprises all of our greatest fears in life. Yet none of these can separate us from the love of God. There is no need to fear anything when we are secure with God’s love!

(8:36) “Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’” Paul quotes Psalm 44:22 to show that believers can be persecuted for doing the right thing—yet we need to cling to the promises of God.

(8:36) Why does Paul quote Psalm 44:22?

(8:37) “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” We don’t conquer by avoiding suffering but by persevering in suffering. We “overwhelmingly” conquer suffering through Jesus who loves us. Even in suffering, we don’t rely on self-effort or moral willpower. We conquer suffering by relying on the love of Jesus.

(8:38-39) “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Keller writes, “The central question of the Christian life—the one that prompts all our doubts and worries and tensions—is this: Is there anyone or anything that can separate me from Christ’s love for me?[113]


Do you relate to God as a son or as a slave? (v.15)

What circumstance is creating fear in your heart? How does the love and security of Christ calm that fear?

Romans 9 (God’s grace for the Gentile race)

See Romans 9: An Arminian Interpretation

Romans 10 (The Jewish people)

(10:1) “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” Paul still struggles with the fact that many of his Jewish brothers do not know Christ, and are rejecting him. Apparently, this was a residual prayer of Paul’s. Paul was not an abstract, cold theological thinker. These great truths about God’s plan, God’s election, and God’s sovereignty stirred his heart for evangelism.

(10:2) “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” Paul used to be zealous for the law (Phil. 3:6), but didn’t acknowledge the truth of Christ. Paul’s statement contradicts the modern concept of, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.”[114] Psychological certainty or personal sincerity is not enough. Truth matters!

(10:3) “For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” The problem with Paul’s Jewish brothers was that they underestimated the righteousness of God. Instead of accepting the gift of his righteousness through Christ (Rom. 1:16-17), they want to establish self-righteousness. This is a willful ignorance, as Paul has already argued in chapters 1-9.

(10:4) “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Christ fulfilled the righteous demands of the law in our place (Mt. 5:17-18). To “subject yourself to the righteousness of God” (v.3) means to allow Christ to fulfill the righteous demands of the Law in your place.

(10:5) “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.” Paul cites Leviticus 18:5 to show that we need to follow the law (perfectly!) to be righteous. The problem isn’t with the Law, but with the fact that no one follows the Law perfectly. No one, of course, except Jesus.

(10:6-7) “But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).’”

(10:6-7) What does Paul mean, when he writes about “ascending into heaven” and “descending into the abyss”?

(10:8) “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching.” Paul cites Deuteronomy 30:12-14 to show that the message of the Law was not difficult to understand. And if the Law was easy to understand, then how much easier is the gospel to understand?

(10:9-10) “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” The message of Christ is simple: Confess and believe in the person and work of Christ. Like Hebrew parallelism, “confess” and “believe” are not distinct, but complementary ideas: the point is that we need to trust in Christ.[115] This is similar to how “righteousness” and “salvation” are parallel in verse 10. Later, Paul just describes this as “call[ing] on the name of the Lord” (v.13).

(10:11) “For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’” Paul cites Isaiah 28:16 for the second time (cf. Rom. 9:33). We make a lot of decisions that we will regret, but receiving Christ is not one of them! This is the greatest decision we will ever make.

(10:12) “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him.” We all need the Savior: Jews and Gentiles alike. This fits into the sweeping context of Romans 9-11—namely, both Jews and Gentiles are in God’s kingdom. In the historical context (see Introduction above), the Jewish and Gentile Christians were likely embittered with each other. Paul’s repeated affirmation that they were both in God’s church with “no distinction” abolished the idea that some were greater than others. This theological truth had sociological implications.

(10:13) “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He cites Joel 2:32 which originally referred to calling on the name of Yahweh. Here, Paul applies this passage to calling on the name of Jesus (see the parallel in verse 9).

Paul’s point is that Joel referred to “whoever” would call on the name of God—not just the Jewish people. Gentiles are included along with Jews.

(10:14) “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”

(10:14) Does this verse teach that we need to hear Jesus’ name to be saved?

(10:15) “How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’” Paul cites Isaiah 52:7. He shows that Christian communities need to send people out to preach the gospel.

(10:16) “However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’” The problem with Israel is not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of faith. They heard the gospel, but they didn’t believe. Paul cites Isaiah 53:1 to show that God anticipated Israel’s unbelief.

(10:17) “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The word of Christ can build faith in people.

(10:18) “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’” Paul cites Psalm 19:4 to show that God’s general revelation has made it to everyone on Earth.

(10:19) “But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, ‘I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a nation without understanding will I anger you.’” Paul cites Deuteronomy 32:21. Paul is setting up for the concept of Gentiles causing the Jews to be “jealous” of the gospel in Romans 11. Jewish people will see the transformation of Gentiles by the Holy Spirit, and they will yearn for the same transformation in their own lives.

(10:20-21) “And Isaiah is very bold and says, ‘I was found by those who did not seek Me, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.’ 21 But as for Israel He says, ‘All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’” Paul cites Isaiah 65:1-2. This passage shows that God predicted how the Gentiles would accept him, but his own Jewish people would deny him.


We saw in Romans 1:18 that our core human condition is not the lack of evidence, but the suppression of it. Here, Paul applies this same logic to Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness. This isn’t complicated. We need to agree with God (“confess”) and trust God (“believe”), and we will be saved (v.9). Are you ready to come to faith in Jesus? There’s nothing complicated about this. All you need to do is surrender to the love and leadership of God in your life. Why procrastinate on this decision?

God is standing with open arms wanting people to come to him (v.21). The problem is not on God’s end, but on ours. Will you turn to his loving invitation, or reject him?

Romans 11 (God’s promise for Israel has not—and will not—fail)

(11:1-21) Why did the Jews reject Jesus, if he was their Promised Messiah?

(11:1) “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!” This comes on the heels of Paul writing that God had outstretched arms to a “disobedient and obstinate people” (Rom. 10:21). It wasn’t that God rejected his people, but that they had rejected him.

“For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” To prove that God is still working with a remnant of believing Jews, Paul writes that God was faithful to at least one Jew: namely, Paul. Yet the question remains, “Why haven’t more Jews come to faith in Jesus? Why so comparatively few?”

(11:2) “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?” Why does Paul bring up God’s foreknowledge here? It seems that he is reemphasizing the fact that God knew the Jewish people would rebel, and God’s plan hasn’t fallen off the tracks. He cites Elijah to drive home this point. Elijah thought that he was the only true follower of God, but he was massively mistaken! In the same way, many Jewish people could feel like they are all alone in their faith, but how do they know that they are not in the same situation as Elijah?—thinking that they are only one of the few Jewish followers of God?

(11:3-4) “‘Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’ 4 But what is the divine response to him? ‘I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’” To support his case, Paul quotes from the story of Elijah from 1 Kings 19:10, 14, 18. By drawing from this story, Paul is arguing that God has always worked through a minority of his people. In this sense, nothing changed after the coming of Christ. God is working through a minority of believing Jews now—just as he did in the past. If we consider our context, we see that in Romans 10, Paul demonstrates that Moses and Isaiah also described the same difficulties in their time, as well (Deut. 32:21; Isa. 65:1-2).

(11:5) “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant…” While it would seem bizarre to see so many Jews rejecting Jesus (their promised King), Paul argues that this was not a NT pattern, but an OT one. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we repeatedly see that the majority of the Jews were unfaithful, while there was a “remnant” (or minority) of believing Jews within the nation.

For example, the word “remnant” (leimma) is used in the LXX in Genesis 7:23, where the “remnant” is only Noah and his family. This same word appears in 1 Kings 19:18, which refers to the 7,000 man “remnant” that would not bend their knees to Baal.[116] This is the only use of the term in the NT.

“According to God’s gracious choice…” The term “choice” is a noun—not a verb (eklogen). It can be rendered “choice of grace” (see NASB footnote).

(11:6) “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” God’s choice of the remnant (v.5) is based on grace—not works (v.6; cf. Rom. 9). Paul is still referring to groups—not individuals here.

(11:7) “What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it…” Again, the term “chosen” (eklogen) is a noun—not a verb. It can be rendered “the election” (see NASB footnote). Why were some Jews part of the elect, and others were not? Calvinists appeal to a mystery here. But look at the text: Israel was seeking legalistic righteousness, rather than God’s righteousness through Christ. Earlier Paul writes, “Not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3).

“And the rest were hardened…” A number of observations can be made about this hardening:

(1) Like Pharaoh, this hardening occurred only after the Jewish people hardened themselves first by rejecting Christ (vv.8-11). For instance, the Jewish population in Ephesus “were becoming hardened and disobedient,” when Paul spoke about Christ to them (Acts 19:9; cf. Acts 28:23-28).

(2) God is using this hardening to bring a maximum number of Gentiles to Christ (v.25).

(3) God is using this hardening to help the non-Christian Jews to become “jealous,” and thereby come to faith (v.11, “to make them jealous”).

(4) The purpose of this hardening was not to send the Jews to hell (v.11, “they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be!”), but instead, to send the gospel to the Gentiles (v.11, “by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles”). We see this in a parallel passage in Acts. There, Luke writes, “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. 46 Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles’” (Acts 13:45-46). This ties in with Paul’s thesis statement earlier in Romans, where the gospel is “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).

(5) This hardening can be taken away, if individual Jewish people turn to Christ (2 Cor. 3:14-16).

(11:8) “Just as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day.” To defend this point, Paul quotes Isaiah 29:10, which demonstrates how many Jewish people in the OT were hardened toward God. Isaiah himself is quoting Moses in this section (Deut. 29:4). Paul is pointing out that the hardening continued from Moses to Isaiah’s day. “In reality,” writes Paul, “that hardening is still continuing today.”

(11:9-10) “And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block and a retribution to them. 10 Let their eyes be darkened to see not, and bend their backs forever.’” The context for Psalm 69:22-23 is the crucifixion of Christ. Paul is using this passage to connect the Jewish hardening with the crucifixion of Jesus. Verse 21 is quoted in all four gospels as fulfilled in the Cross (Mt. 27:34, 48; Mk. 15:23, 36; Lk. 23:36; John 19:28-30). During his crucifixion, Jesus was given gall and vinegar to drink, as this passage predicts. In Romans 11, Paul quotes from the two verses immediately after Psalms 69:21. These two verses predict the hardening of the Jews after they crucify their Messiah. The logical ordering is that they crucified Jesus and then they were hardened as a consequence. It was their “transgression” that led to their hardening (11:11).

Paul argues that God is bringing salvation to the Gentiles for the purpose of reaching the Jews. This is an interesting point, because in the OT, God chose the Jews to reach the Gentiles (Gen. 12:2-3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). Now, writes Paul, God is choosing the Gentiles to reach the Jews. Paul’s hope was that the Jews would become “jealous” of the Gentiles (11:11, 14), and thus, they would come to faith in Jesus. Unfortunately, the Jewish and Gentile Christians only hated one another more in the following centuries. And yet, Paul held out the hope that the Gentiles could be used to reach the Jews.

Keller points to a possible example of this principles in Acts 6.[117] There, the Christian community took care of the needs of the poor widows. This was what the Jewish people were supposed to do for their people (see Deut. 15:4-5). As a consequence of the seven servants (many of whom had Gentile names), many Jewish priests came to faith in Jesus, because they may have been “jealous” of what they saw happening in the Christian community. The difficulty with this example is that the text of Acts doesn’t explicitly say that this was the reason for the priests’ conversion. However, it is an interesting example nonetheless.

(11:12) “Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles…” Was it wrong of God to harden many Jewish people to reach the Gentiles? No way! This is exactly what God did with the Gentile Pharaoh: He hardened one Gentile to reach many Jews. Now, God is doing this process in reverse: hardening some Jews to reach many Gentiles.

“How much more will their fulfillment be!” Paul states that “all Israel will be saved” at the end of history (v.25). A similar thought is made in verse 15.

(11:13-14) “But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.” Paul now addresses the Gentiles: He tells them that the goal is to go out and reach the Jewish people. By seeing God’s movement in the Gentile community, the Jewish people could become “jealous” and want to partake in it. Imagine what it would feel like to be a Jewish person who had perpetual sin problems, only to see God transforming, healing, and growing Gentiles to become good, godly, and loving people!

(11:15) “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” This sounds similar to Paul’s reasoning in verse 12.

The branches

(11:16) “If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also…” This metaphor is difficult to understand. Paul doesn’t stick with the metaphor or explain it, but he does stick with the root and branches metaphor, so we will spend more time looking at that one.

 “If the root is holy, the branches are too…” The “root” could refer to Christ, Jewish believers, the patriarchs, or the covenants. We understand the root to refer to the patriarchs and the covenants given to the Jewish people (Rom. 9:5; 11:28). Though, this is certainly debated.

The “branches” refer to ethnically Jewish people.

(11:17) “But if some of the branches were broken off…” This refers to ethnic Israel losing its standing and utility in the church age.

“And you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree…” The “you” refers to Gentiles. Remember, in verse 13, Paul writes, “I am speaking to you who are Gentiles.” Paul is saying that the Gentiles came to receive the blessings of the new covenant. God is now working through the Gentiles—just as he formerly worked through the Jews.

(11:18) “Do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.” The reasoning here is that God can break off branches (i.e. Jews) and graft in others (i.e. Gentiles). This should cause Gentile believers to be humble, rather than arrogant. Remember, Paul opened the letter speaking to the arrogance of the non-Christian Jewish person who relies on the law and circumcision (Rom. 2:17-20). Paul doesn’t want the Gentiles to make the same prideful error.

(11:19) “You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’” The Gentiles had an arrogant attitude toward the Jews. But why were the Jewish people “broken off”? Paul says that this was because of their “unbelief” (v.20).

(11:20) “Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear…” Instead of being prideful that God is using them (much like the Jewish attitude in Romans 2), the Gentiles should take a humble posture, realizing that none of us deserve to be used by God.

(11:21) “For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either…” God could go back to working through the Jewish people if they changed on their unbelief (see verse 23), and he could remove the Gentiles for their unbelief too.

(11:22) “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” This refers to being used by God in his global mission—not to individual salvation—as the context makes clear.

(11:22) Does this passage threaten the idea of eternal security?

(11:23) “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” The term “continue” is in the subjunctive mood, which holds open the possibility that this will occur in the future. We learn in verses 25-29 that God will eventually get back with the Jewish people at the end of history.

(11:24) “For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?” To describe God’s method of using the Gentiles, Paul uses the term “grafting” (Rom. 11:17). The Greek word for “graft” (egkentrizo) means “to cut into for the sake of inserting a scion” or “to inoculate, ingraft, graft in”[118] or “to insert a slip of a cultivated tree into a wild one.”[119] This Greek word is used a total of five times in the NT, but all five occurrences are here in Romans 11. Paul uses this illustration to explain how God chooses to use whomever he wants for his plan of salvation. Currently, God is using the Gentiles, but he could pull them out of the equation if he desired to. In fact, he is arguing that believing Jews would do a much better job than the Gentiles, if they would only believe!

God is not done with the Jewish people

(11:25) “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel…”

Who is Israel? Both Augustine and John Calvin believed that Israel referred to the Christian community—both Jewish and Gentile Christians.[120] However, most commentators believe that Israel refers to ethnic Israel.[121] Out of the 148 times the OT uses the expression “all Israel,” it always refers to ethnic Israel. In Romans 11:1, Paul uses the term “Israel” to refer to his own ethnic identity (“I too am an Israelite”), and he calls unbelieving Israel “enemies” of the gospel (v.28), which can hardly be used to describe Christians! In fact, “throughout Romans ‘Israel’ means ethnic or national Israel, in contrast to the Gentile nations.”[122]

(11:25b-26) “Until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’”

How long will the hardening last? Houtōs (and so all Israel will be saved”) can be rendered “in this way” (ESV), as Hoekma contends.[123] However, in context, “and so” makes for a better translation. Paul’s use of the word “until” in verse 25 refers to a sequential event—not an overlapping process.[124] Moo sees this language as that of “temporal reference.”[125] Thus the NEB (“when that has happened”) and the JB (“then after this”) translate this passage correctly. After the Gentiles come to faith, the hardening will be lifted. This will occur after all nations hear about Christ (Mt. 24:14); otherwise, the “fullness of the Gentiles” would not yet have been completed.

The “mystery” revealed here is the timing of Israel’s mass salvation. Paul’s Jewish readers assumed that the nation would accept Jesus en masse at the First Coming, but as it turns out, they wouldn’t largely accept him in this way until his Second Coming.

When Paul writes that “all Israel will be saved,” does this refer to the nation of Israel or simply a large number of Jewish people? Covenantalists typically interpret “all Israel” to refer to a large number of Jewish people meeting Christ before the Second Coming.[126] We disagree. Paul is referring to the nation of Israel—not just individual Jewish people. “All Israel” stands in opposition to the small remnant mentioned earlier in the chapter (Rom. 11:5). So, whatever Paul is describing, it isn’t a small part of the nation, but the nation as a whole. Paul described, “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Whatever Paul means by “all Israel,” it is in contrast to the small and partial rescuing of the Jews mentioned earlier.

Unless we believe that every Israelite on Earth will come to Christ during this time, then we must concede Paul is thinking in terms of the nation—not just another remnant. Since Paul has been thinking in terms of nations throughout Romans 9-11, the expression “all Israel” must refer to the nation of Israel.[127]

When will Israel be saved? Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:20-21 in verse 27 (“The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins”). Covenantalists argue that this refers to the First Coming of Christ.[128] This would fit their view, because it wouldn’t place the salvation of Israel alongside the return of Christ at the end of history.

However, Paul consistently uses the future tense to describe this event—not the past tense. Moreover, read the context of Isaiah 59 for yourself: Isaiah states that the Redeemer will come with “vengeance” (Isa. 59:17) and “will repay his enemies for their evil deeds” (Isa. 59:18 NLT). Does this sound like the First Coming or the Second? Surely the Second Coming!

Zechariah predicts that the people of Jerusalem will mourn over crucifying Jesus (Zech. 12:10-12), and “in that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity” (Zech. 13:1). Paul could be reflecting on his own conversion to Christ: When Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road, he came to faith. Similarly, at Jesus’ Second Coming, the nation of Israel will have a chance to come to faith in Jesus—or more likely, they will have already come to faith in him during the great and terrible Tribulation.

(11:27) “This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”

What covenant is this referring to? Paul could be thinking of the covenant made through the work of the Suffering Servant (Isa. 42:6), the promise to “restore the land” (Isa. 49:8), or the Davidic covenant (Isa. 55:3). He is most likely referring to the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31. God promised to make this covenant with Israel despite “all that they [had] done” (Jer. 31:17). Clearly, Paul believes that these OT covenants were still in effect.

(11:28) “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.” These people are non-believers (“they are enemies [of the gospel]”), and yet, they are still God’s chosen people (“from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved”). How can this be? Clearly, God’s “choice” means more than salvation, because these people are chosen, but not saved.

(11:29) “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Paul quotes multiple OT passages to make his case for Israel’s salvation: He gets his concept of a remnant from 1 Kings 19:18 (v.4); he gets the concept of Israel’s blindness from Isaiah 29:10 and Psalm 69:22 (vv.8-10); finally, he gets the concept of the holy root from Leviticus 23:10 and Numbers 15:17-21 (v.16). Thus when Paul writes that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (v.29), he must have the covenants to Israel in mind from the OT.

In Greek, the order of words shows us emphasis. In verse 29, the word “irrevocable” (ametamelatos) starts Paul’s sentence, showing emphasis. “In other words,” Paul writes, “do not ever say that God will revoke his promises to Israel!”

Covenantalists argue that the NT authors should have written more on this topic, if they truly believed in a restoration of the nation of Israel at the end of history. However, arguments from silence are only compelling if we would expect to read more on the topic. The NT authors were first century Jewish men who assumed that the restoration of Israel was in order (Acts 1:6). They felt no need to write more on the topic. As Jewish believers, they simply assumed it. Moreover, when the NT authors were writing their letters, the Jewish people were still in their land, and they were still a nation. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect the NT to say more about a topic that wasn’t even an issue when they were writing.

(11:30-31) “For just as you [Gentiles] once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience [the Jews], so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.” This is a major role reversal. In the OT, the Jews were supposed to be lights to the Gentiles (Rom. 2:19-20). Now, in the new covenant, the Gentiles are supposed to be lights to the Jews. God is working through the unbelief of one group to reach others with the gospel message.

(11:32) “For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.” God’s plan in human history is so brilliant that he is even able to use the unbelief of people to bring about the spread of the gospel. The goal of his plan is not to favor one group or another, but to “show mercy to all.” This does not imply universalism (i.e. all will be saved). To be blunt, a person who interprets Paul this way simply hasn’t come to terms with Romans 1-11! Paul simply means that God will show “mercy” to all people, extending his invitation to all people through his magnificent plan in human history.

(11:33-36) “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” Paul quotes from Isaiah 40:13, Isaiah 41:11, and Job 35:7. Paul marvels at the brilliance and complexity of God’s plan in human history. No one would’ve predicted that God would use the Jews to reach Gentiles, only to have the Gentiles reach Jews.


Anti-Semitism is a serious sin! Paul’s indictment on anti-Semitism is clear throughout Romans 11. Gentiles are supposed to be examples to Jewish people—not haters of them. Sadly, the history of Christianity has seen more hatred, than love, of Jewish people.

Do you notice the difference between how this section starts and how it ends? Paul begins with deep emotional sorrow for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-3). Paul probably had family in Jerusalem—at least a nephew (Acts 23:16), and it tore him up to see so many Jewish people rejecting Christ. Also, at the beginning, Paul wants to trade his own salvation for the Jewish people. His focus is on himself—not on God.

However, by the end of the discourse, Paul focuses upward toward God’s inexpressible nature—specifically God’s riches, wisdom, power, and glory (Rom. 11:32-36).

What changed in Paul’s heart? Paul may have been preaching Romans 9-11 to himself, as much as he was preaching to us! He worked out his feelings of grief by focusing on God’s incredible plan for all people on Earth. By the time he is finished, Paul’s spirit was lifted, and he is praising God.

Do you work out your “bitter sorrow” and “unending grief” by meditating on God and his plan for human history?

Have you ever found consolation from the fact that God has predicted and revealed the future, and you can know that he will get the final word in the end?

Are you trusting that God’s plan is not only wise, but also good?

Romans 12 (The Body of Christ)

(12:1) “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Commitment to Christ is not based on self-effort or willpower. It is based on “the mercies of God.” How different this call for commitment would be if it was in chapter 1, rather than chapter 12! Paul spent eleven chapters explaining his reasoning for high commitment to Christ.

In Greek, the order of the words shows priority. “Urge” (parakalo) starts the sentence. Paul is saying, “I urge you…” with emphasis.

Most translations render logikon as “spiritual,” but it really means something closer to “logical,” as you may see in the original Greek word itself. BDAG defines logikon as “being carefully thought through, thoughtful.” This word was “a favorite expression of philosophers since Aristotle.” Translators render it based on Peter’s usage of the “pure spiritual milk of the word” (1 Pet. 2:2 NIV). But the context of 1 Peter 2 is different, because it is referring to the words of God (logion).

After viewing all of what God has done for us, it only makes sense to give everything for Him. Why would you withhold anything from Jesus, when he gave everything for you? It’s not just sinful, but illogical and foolish! Jesus will never ask more of you than what he did, and we can never do more than what he did for us! Keller writes, “Once you have a good view of God’s mercy, anything less than a total, complete sacrifice of yourself to God is completely irrational! If you give yourself partially or half-heartedly, you are simply not thinking; you are not looking at what Jesus did. If what he did does not move you or break the ice over your soul, you must ask yourself if you have ever understood the gospel.”[129]

In the new covenant, we worship God through our daily service to him—not through old covenant methods. We worship him through our “service” in the cause of Christ.

(12:2) “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” How would we know if we’re conforming to the thinking of our culture? We can’t know this from ourselves. We need an outside perspective to know if we’re falling into conformity (cf. 1 Pet. 1:14). The Bible serves as an infinite point of reference to give us this perspective.

“Conformed” (syschematizesthe) means “to form according to a pattern or mold, form/model after something” (BDAG). Peter uses the same term in 1 Peter 1:14.

“Transformed” is the Greek term metamorphao—the root from which we get “metamorphosis.” It’s used of Jesus being “transfigured” on the mountain (Mt. 17:2; Mk. 9:2). Paul uses it of inner transformation (2 Cor. 3:18).

To “prove” the will of God (dokimazo) means “to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine” (BDAG). Who are we proving the validity of God’s will to? Ourselves? To others? Both?

(12:3) “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” We shouldn’t boast in our spiritual gifts, but rather, we should fit into the role God has given us. Keller writes, “Despite all the warnings our culture gives about the danger of low self-esteem, the real danger is self-centeredness and egocentricity.”[130]

This verse comes off the heels of verse 2. If we are “conformed to the world,” then we will have a high view of ourselves. But if we are “transformed by the renewing of our mind,” then this leads to humility.

(12:3) Does God give us our faith—or do we produce faith?

(12:4-5) “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function…” Here Paul makes an analogy with human anatomy. While the human body is composed of various parts (e.g. arms, legs, eyes, ears, etc.), these all form one singular body. While our body parts have different “functions,” they all play a vital and unique role.

(12:5) “…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” We not only have an individual identity in Christ (Rom. 6), but we have a corporate identity in the Body of Christ. Paul elaborates on this concept in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. While Paul affirms that we are individuals with special gifts and contributions, he is not teaching individualism. Each person has a distinct “function” (v.4), but we are all interconnected in the Body of Christ.

Spiritual gifts

Throughout this section, we see that Paul is referring to love in the Christian community. The expression “one another” occurs three times (v.10, 16) and “brotherly love” (philadelphia, v.10) occurs as well. See our earlier article “Spiritual Gifts” for a thorough explanation of the spiritual gifts.

(12:6) “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly…” God has given different gifts for the purpose of building up the Body. We aren’t given gifts to glorify ourselves, but to build up the Body of Christ. We don’t marvel at our gifts, but rather use them for God and others. Thank God that he didn’t fill his church with people all exactly like me! What a horrible church that would be! Thank God that he gifted all of us differently, so we can show the multifaceted nature of Jesus’ love.

“…if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith.” The gift of “prophecy” should be exercised in close connection with our faith. Why is our level of faith important specifically with regard to the gift of prophecy? Christian history shows us that the gift of prophecy can quickly degrade into false prophecy. Perhaps Paul was foreseeing that this gift could be abused in this way, and he wanted prophecy to be grounded in faith—not imagination.

(12:7) “If service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching.” The term “service” (diakonian) means “ministry.” Some think that this could refer to having a higher energy output than others. That’s possible, and we’ve certainly observed this in others. However, notice that 1 Peter 4:11 states, “Whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies.” We don’t serve based on self-effort, but based on God’s power. If a person has a higher energy output, this would only be because God gave them this gift and the “strength which [He] supplies.”

(12:8) “Or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

“Exhorts, in his exhortation…” The term “exhorts” (parakalon) is literally translated “to call to one’s side” (BDAG). It can also be rendered “to summon to one’s aid, call upon for help” or “to urge strongly, appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage” or “to make a strong request for something, request, implore, entreat” (BDAG). Regarding this passage, Keller writes, “[Regarding Romans 12:8] This is the word parakaleo, which means to ‘come alongside.’ ‘Encouragement’ is a good translation, but it also includes most of what today we would call ‘counseling’—support, inspiration. Encouragers are not necessarily trained, formal counselors. They can serve as advisors, supporters, greeters, and welcomers in many ways.”[131]

“Gives, with liberality… The term “liberality” (haploteti) can be rendered “generously” or “sincerely” (BDAG). This could refer to generous givers or transparent and sincere givers. Contrast the latter with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5! God is not in the business of promoting hypocritical financial giving.

“Leads, with diligence… The term “diligence” (spoude) can be rendered “swiftness, haste” or “eagerness, earnestness, diligence, willingness, zeal” (BDAG). Those with a gift of leadership are not supposed to be boring, apathetic, lackadaisical, or half-hearted. Leaders are supposed to bring zeal, passion, excitement, and vision to those around them.

“Mercy, with cheerfulness… The term “cheerfulness” (hilaroteti) refers to the “opposite of an attitude suggesting being under duress, cheerfulness, gladness, wholeheartedness, graciousness” (BDAG). People with a mercy gift can often have a “martyr complex.” Paul doesn’t want the mercy-gifted to walk around feeling sorry for themselves. He wants them to serve with a happy heart—eager to help those in need.

(12:9) “Let love be without hypocrisy.” The term “hypocrisy” (hypokritēs) originally referred to a “play-actor.”[132] When we do not have close community (v.10) where people exercise their gifts (vv.6-8), we fall into hypocrisy like Paul warns. If we’re not willing to put any time into the Body of Christ, then all we’re left with is hypocrisy—fake and fraudulent love.

Thus far, the word “love” (agapē) has been used only for God’s love toward humans. This is the first time that the word “love” (agapē) has been used with regard to human love.[133]

“Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Christian community is also a moral community. Without moral boundaries, love is a farce. We need moral boundaries so that we aren’t harming each other.

(12:10) “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” The picture of Christian community is one of “devotion” (philostorgoi) or “loving dearly” (BDAG).

“…give preference to one another in honor.” This is a picture of humility. Serving people should never turn into an ego trip. The term refers to “outdoing one another in showing honor” (RSV). This comes on the heels of learning about our spiritual gifts. God gives us gifts to glorify him and others—not ourselves.

(12:11) “Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” How should all of us serve God, no matter what gifts we have? Paul mentions three qualities:

“Lagging behind” (okneroi) is literally “a state involving shrinking from something, holding back, hesitation, reluctance, idle, lazy” (BDAG). Much of our lack of zeal stems from self-protectiveness and not wanting to express ourselves publicly. We fear that we will look foolish if we express excitement and emotion about the cause of Christ. When we are thinking clearly, however, we will wonder why we show excitement for anything else on Earth!

“Diligence” (spoude) was mentioned above in reference to leadership (v.8), but here it refers to all believers. The term “diligence” (spoude) can be rendered “swiftness, haste” or “eagerness, earnestness, diligence, willingness, zeal” (BDAG).

“Fervent” (zeontes) is also rendered “zeal” (NIV). BDAG defines this term as a “figure of emotions, anger, love, eagerness to do good or evil, to be stirred up emotionally, be enthusiastic/excited/on fire.” Apparently this was one of the keys to Apollos’ fantastic teaching ability (Acts 18:25). What are ways to regain zeal if we’ve lost it? These imperatives are probably interconnected. As we engage in each imperative, they mutually support each other.

 (12:12) “Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.” It isn’t that we’re supposed to “be joyful” (NIV), as if this is an emotional state. The word (chairontes) is a verb. The NASB is correct in translating this as “rejoice.” This is a decision to rejoice—not necessarily a feeling of joy (at least, not at first). This must be connected with our ability to suffer and “persevering in tribulation.” Remember that the word “hope” (elpidi) is a “looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment” (BDAG).

How can we possibly “rejoice” during times of “tribulation”? Notice that Paul implies that “prayer” is the key. In fact, “tribulation” is sandwiched between “rejoicing” and “prayer.”

(12:13) “Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” We need to spend adequate time building up fellow believers, and taking care of their needs. But this needs to be balanced with an outward focus…

“Practicing” (diōkontes) is the word used for persecution in verse 14. Consider the zeal and drive of an antagonistic persecutor. Paul wants this same drive, but only directed toward good—not evil.

“Hospitality” (philoxenian) means to “love” (phileo) the “strangers” (xenoi). We can’t only love our fellow believers. Otherwise, Christian community becomes inward and strange. We need to balance our time by loving those who don’t know Christ yet. This fits with the context of persecutors in verse 14.

(12:14, 17) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” Paul gives the command to “bless” twice in this same verse. He must feel the need to repeat it, because it is so tempting to curse our persecutors. Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies (Lk. 6:28; Mt. 5:44) and do good to them (Lk. 6:27).

What does it look like to not retaliate against persecution—without being weak? In reality, lashing out is easier than loving others. The former is a quality that any animal has by nature, but the latter is a virtue of the transformed believer. This quality is virtuous—not a weakness. The purpose is for our witness to the world (“…in the sight of all men…”).

(12:15) “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” This is not just a command to feel empathy with those who are hurting, but also to express empathy with those who are hurting (and/or rejoicing). Since we all have the same corporate identity in the Body of Christ, we can take pride and ego out of the equation. Ask yourself, “Am I just as happy to see my brother get publicly acknowledged as I would be if I were publicly acknowledged? Do I feel the same level of pain for my sister who is hurting, as if I was hurting?”

(12:16) “Be of the same mind toward one another…” (cf. Phil. 2:2) Stott writes, “Since Christians have a renewed mind, it should also be a common mind, sharing the same basic convictions and concerns. Without this common mind we cannot live or work together in harmony.”[134] This surely refers to our common convictions and values—not “groupthink.” After all, Paul has already shown that there is tremendous diversity in the Body of Christ.

“…do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” The key to loving the marginalized is realizing that we are no better than anyone else (“Do not be wise in your own estimation”). Just consider how different your life would look if you missed out on a few key opportunities, made just a few decisions differently, or grew up in a different situation. These small changes could’ve ruined your life! If we are proud, we simply don’t realize how easily our lives could’ve been different if it wasn’t for the caring hand of God.

With such an awesome community, it seems that everyone would love this! But this is not the case…

(12:17) “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” Paul tells believers to be ethical in the eyes of the culture. He doesn’t want to see Christ’s name pulled through the mud, because of the evil behavior of believers.

(12:18) “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Sometimes, peace is impossible. But our job is to do our best to make peace with persecutors.

(12:19) “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Paul cites Deuteronomy 32:35. If we didn’t believe in the real wrath of God, then forgiveness and non-retaliation wouldn’t have any basis. Paul uses the wrath of God as the foundation for why we shouldn’t seek our own revenge. After all, if God isn’t going to judge, then we would be quick to carry out the judgment ourselves.

We’re not in a position to deliver wrath objectively or perfectly. God promises to do this for us. Our role is to win over others with love. The word “overcome” is a military word for “overpowering” the enemy.[135]

(12:20) “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Paul cites Proverbs 25:21.

(12:20) What does Paul mean by “burning coals on his head”?

(12:21) “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” When we succumb to evil solutions while suffering, we become evil in the process. God promises to overcome evil through the good works of believers (1 Pet. 2:23; Ps. 37:5ff).

Romans 13:1-7 (Submission to Government)

(Rom. 13:1-7) Are we supposed to submit to evil governments?

Romans 13:8-14 (Love)

(13:8) “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

The expression “love one another” usually refers to believers (“one another”), but here, it extends to all people (“neighbor”). This looks back to Romans 8:4. We agree with John Stott who writes, “Love needs law for its direction, while law needs love for its inspiration.”[136]

(13:9) “For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Paul cites from the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:13ff; Deut. 5:17ff). The summary of the Law can be found in the OT (Lev. 19:18) and in the words of Jesus (Mt. 19:19; 22:39ff). Love is the fulfillment of what the Law requires (Gal. 5:14).

(13:10) “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Love still has a moral dimension. Love shouldn’t harm or take from others. Love needs to be properly defined in order for it to fulfill the Law (cf. Rom. 8:4).

What is our basis for love?

Paul’s standard for love (vv.8-10) is a tall order. Why should we “do this” as Paul commands? (v.11) He gives us reasons why in this section (vv.11-14).

So far, Paul has focused on what Christ has done for us in the past. Here he focuses on what Christ will do for us in the future. Keeping our eyes fixed on Christ’s death in the past and on our expectant eternity in the future will lead to a transformed life in the present.

(13:11) “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep…” When Jesus taught on his Second Coming, he repeatedly gave the practical application to “be alert” (Mt. 24:42; 25:13; Mk. 13:32-37; Lk. 12:37; Lk. 21:36; cf. 1 Thess. 5:6). Eschatology is intertwined with our love for others. When we realize that our time is short, it makes us want to give our lives away with the limited time we have left. Our resources will all burn up. Why not give them away now before it’s too late?

“…for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.” This shows that the Bible holds to a linear view of time: the return of Christ is “nearer” than when we first believed. This also shows that the term salvation can be used in a broad sense. We are already saved, but we still await salvation. In this context, “salvation” refers to our glorification (cf. Rom. 8:23).

We don’t know when Jesus will return. However, the “uncertainty of the time” should not deter the “certainty of the event.”[137] We don’t know when Jesus will return (Mt. 24:36), but we do know that he will return.

(13:12) “The night is almost gone, and the day is near.” The “night” refers to this present evil age (Gal. 1:4), while the “day” refers to the return of Jesus. This alludes back to renewing our minds, rather than conforming to the world-system (Rom. 12:2). The motivation for change is based on the fact that we will be glorified at the return of Christ. Why not line up our lives right now with our future state? Harrison writes, “The Christian is to live as though that final day had actually arrived, bringing with it the personal presence of Christ.”[138] Paul’s argument is similar to 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.

“Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” This language of “putting off” and “putting on” comes up throughout the NT as the way to see transformation (Eph. 4:22, 25; Col. 3:8, 12; Eph. 6:11, 14; 1 Thess. 5:8; Jas. 1:21; 1 Pet. 2:1). Later, Paul explains that we “put on” Jesus himself (v.14); that is, we rest in our new identity in Christ.

The “armor” (hopla) can be translated as “any instrument one uses to prepare or make ready” or as “an instrument designed to make ready for military engagement, weapon” (BDAG). The concept of armor refers to protection, but offensive action is also in view. This aligns with Ephesians 6:10-18, which uses language that refers to both defensive armor, as well as offensive weapons.

(13:13) “Let us behave properly as in the day…” We should act consistently with what we will be.

“…not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.”

“Carousing” (kōmos) could refer to having a feast, but it was typically used of Pagan feasts, where participants would engage in wild behavior. It was “originally a festal procession in honor of Dionysus—compare our festival of Mardi Gras” (BDAG).

“Drunkenness” (methē) isn’t consistent with being “awake” and “alert,” which was mentioned above (v.11). Since our time is short, we need to make the most of our opportunities—not wasting our lives for pleasure.

“Sexual immorality” (koitais) is where we get our modern term “coitus” (i.e. sex). It can refer to lying down in a bed, sexual intercourse, or “sexual excesses” (BDAG). In this context, it refers to sexual immorality, because it is accompanied by other vices—not least of which “sensuality.”

“Sensuality” (aselgeiais) refers to a “lack of self-constraint which involves one in conduct that violates all bounds of what is socially acceptable, self-abandonment” (BDAG).

“Strife” (eridi) refers to “engagement in rivalry” or “contention” (BDAG).

“Jealousy” (zēlos) is a neutral term. It can refer to “zeal” in general, so it can be used for zeal aimed at good or evil. Therefore, it can be defined as “intense negative feelings over another’s achievements or success, jealousy, envy” (BDAG).

It’s interesting to see Paul putting sins like orgies and drunkenness right alongside jealousy and strife. By mentioning strife and jealousy, Paul is likely setting up for the divisions which he will address between the weaker and stronger brothers in Romans 14.

(13:14) “But put on (enduō) the Lord Jesus Christ…” This language (“put on”) is identical to Galatians 3:27, which states, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed (enduō) yourselves with Christ.” However, in Galatians, Paul is referring to our position in Christ (past tense completed), while here he is referring to our condition (present tense).[139]

“…and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” How do we stop the constant invasion of the flesh? Paul tells us to make no “provision” (pronoia), which means “thoughtful planning to meet a need, forethought, foresight, providence” or “make provision for something, be concerned for or about something” (BDAG). Therefore, much of our battle is in our mind. The flesh wants to take more and more ground. Don’t give it a foothold!

In AD 386, a professor of rhetoric at Milan despaired over the reality of his sinful life. He wept in the garden of a friend, wondering if he should make the decision to come to Christ. At this moment, he heard a child singing, “Tolle, lege! tolle, lege! (“Take up and read! Take up and read!”). He picked up a scroll of Romans, and he read this passage (Rom. 13:13-14). Later, he wrote, “No further would I read, nor had I any need; instantly, at the end of this sentence, a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”[140] This man went on to become one of the greatest minds in Christianity: Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430).

Romans 14:1-23 (Willingly limiting our freedom)

Paul already addressed loving persecutors (Rom. 12:14-21), the government (Rom. 13:1-7), fellow believers, as well as non-believers (Rom. 13:8-10). Here he addresses complicated love in the Christian community (Rom. 14:15). When is it appropriate to limit our freedoms for the sake of others?

1 Corinthians 8: A parallel passage?

Paul’s argument is similar to his discussion in 1 Corinthians 8. However, the careful interpreter should notice key dissimilarities as well.

SIMILARITIES between 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14

1 Corinthians 8


Romans 14

“If food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13)

Don’t stumble others “Determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (Rom. 14:13, 15, 20-21)
“Through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died” (1 Cor. 8:11) Don’t destroy one another

“If because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15).

“Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense” (Rom. 14:20)

“Their conscience being weak” (1 Cor. 8:7, 9-12; 9:22)

Mention of the weak “Accept the one who is weak in faith” (Rom. 14:1-2; 15:1)
“If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?” (1 Cor. 10:30) Your good will be spoken of as evil

“Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil” (Rom. 14:16)

“Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (1 Cor. 10:24)

Others-focus “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Rom. 15:2)
“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1) Imitate Christ

“Even Christ did not please Himself” (Rom. 15:3)

DIFFERENCES between 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14

1 Corinthians 8

Romans 14

Gentile believers were being stumbled

Jewish believers were being stumbled
The “weak” were former idol-worshippers, who were “accustomed to [idolatry] until now” (1 Cor. 8:7)

The “weak” were Jewish believers in Jesus, who had always rejected idolatry

In danger of falling into idolatry

In danger of falling into legalism
“Faith” never appears

“Conscience” never appears

Doesn’t mention the “strong,” only the weak

Mentions the “weak” and the “strong” (Rom. 15:1)

In both cases, Paul applies the same logic: Willingly give up your rights for the sake of loving others!

The imperative: “Accept one another”

(14:1) “Now accept the one who is weak in faith…” The “weak” in faith were Jewish believers in Jesus, who didn’t want to eat meat. The “strong” (Rom. 15:1) were Gentile believers in Jesus, who saw no ethical problem with eating meat. Notice that the same principle is in play as in 1 Corinthians 8, but the groups are reversed: In 1 Corinthians 8, the “weak” are the Gentiles, but in Romans 14, the “weak” are the Jews.

Paul theologically sides with the “strong,” but ethically advocates for the “weak.” These “weak” believers were clearly in the wrong theologically; otherwise, why would Paul use the term “weak” to describe them? Moreover, Paul explicitly sides with the “strong” believers theologically. He writes, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (v.14), and later he writes, “All things indeed are clean” (v.20). Stott notes, “There is no attempt to conceal or disguise what these brothers and sisters are. They are weak in faith (here meaning ‘conviction’), immature, untaught, and (as Paul’s unfolding argument makes clear) actually mistaken.”[141]

“Accept” (proslambanō) means “more than to ‘accept’ people, in the sense of acquiescing in their existence.”[142] The NT uses this term to refer to Philemon receiving Onesimus (Phile. 17), the Maltese receiving Paul (Acts 28:2), and Jesus receiving people into heaven (Jn. 14:3). Paul concludes this section by writing, “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). Acceptance is equivalent to love—not mere toleration!

“…but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” There are moral grey issues in the Christian life, which are called “opinions” (dialogismoi). This is the root from which we get our English loanword “dialogue.” Dia means “through,” and logizomai means “to think.” These grey areas of conscience should be discussed and dialogued about, but we shouldn’t hurt other people based on grey issues.

“Passing judgment” refers to “judging between” different options (diakrino). The strong could be in the right in their judgment, but their forcefulness could be wrong.

The Problem

Gentile believers in Jesus saw no problem eating meat, while Jewish believers in Jesus thought this was sinful. After all, the meat may have been originally sacrificed to an idol in the market. Therefore, in their minds, eating this meat would be tantamount participating in idolatry.

(14:2) “One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.” Why were some of the people only eating vegetables? This is most likely not referring to modern day vegetarian ethics. Instead, it is “more probably in order to avoid eating the flesh of animals that had been sacrificed to pagan deities or not properly slaughtered according to Jewish law (cf. Dan. 1:8, 12).”[143] Moo believes that the Jewish believers were trying to keep kosher laws, and “kosher meat was not easily obtained.”[144] It makes sense that Jewish believers would be stumbled by Gentiles eating meat sacrificed to idols or eating non-kosher meat.

Because some Jewish believers in Jesus wanted to avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols, they outlawed meat eating altogether!

Is 1 Timothy 4 a good parallel?

Some commentators see parallels with 1 Timothy 4, where Paul writes,

“Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:2-5 NIV).

While the theological principles are the same (i.e. all food is clean), the ethical principles are far different. Paul takes a much stronger stance toward these false teachers (calling them “hypocritical liars”), whereas he takes a softer stance toward these people whom he simply calls “weak” in faith. The difference here is that the false teachers in Ephesus were non-Christian, pseudo-Gnostics, whereas those of “weak” faith were sincere believers in Jesus, who were simply misguided.

Why should we “accept one another” (v.1)? Paul gives several reasons:

#1. Accept one another because God has accepted us

(14:3; cf. 14:14) “The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.” The “strong” are not to hold the “weak” in contempt. Likewise, the “weak” are not to judge the “strong.” We shouldn’t despise or wrongfully judge someone whom God loves and accepts. These are ethics come on the heels of Paul’s description of the Body of Christ, being built upon our corporate identity.

A modern exercise of this principle is the consumption of alcohol. Some Christians (particularly in the United States) feel that it is immoral to drink alcohol. But this passage tells both groups—the strong and the weak—not to pass judgment on each other.

(14:4) “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” In context, the “servant” is the man whom “God has accepted” (v.3). Paul is saying that we all answer to Christ.

Broadening the principle: The observance of “holy” days

(14:5) “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.” Paul’s ethical principle does not just refer to eating meat. It also refers to “holy days” and later to drinking “wine” (Rom. 14:21). This shows us that we can apply this principle to various areas of life.

We should seek to be “convinced” of our view, rather than just holding on to tradition. It’s fully appropriate to dialogue about these topics, but it’s equally important not to wound each other or the unity of the Body of Christ in the process.

Just like the case of eating meat, Paul doesn’t hold that holy days exist anymore. Elsewhere, he writes, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17).

(14:6) “He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” Paul takes a soft stance on issues of conscience, because each of these people does what he does “for the Lord” or “to God.” In other words, their motive is to do this for God.

#2. Accept one another because Jesus laid down his rights first

(14:7-8) “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” We have to consider how our lives and actions affect the Body of Christ—not just ourselves (“not one of us lives for himself”). If we are doing what we are doing “for the Lord,” that is the guiding principle.

(14:9) “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” Jesus didn’t base his life on what he deserved. Instead, he gave up his life for others. He is the example we should follow in these areas of opinion and disagreement.

This is a strong affirmation of Jesus’ deity (“[Christ is Lord of] both of the dead and of the living”). See comments on verse 11.

#3. Accept one another because we will all stand before God someday

(14:10) “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” In light of Jesus’ example of laying down his rights, why are you still judging one another? This is the same language he used in verse 3 (“contempt… judge…”). We shouldn’t judge each other harshly, because we won’t want God to judge us harshly! Paul’s point is that we should not judge “before the time” (1 Cor. 4:5).

The “judgment seat of God is elsewhere referred to as “the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). This is another affirmation of the deity of Christ.

(14:11) “For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” Paul cites Isaiah 45:23 to refer to God, but elsewhere, he cites this OT passage to refer to Jesus (Phil. 2:10-11). It’s interesting that this passage comes in the context of verse 9, where Jesus is Lord “both of the dead and of the living.” This is yet another affirmation of the deity of Christ.

(14:12) “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” Each person needs to stand before God on issues of conscience. We can’t play this role in judging their motives (1 Cor. 4:3-5).

#4. Accept one another because the alternative is to stumble one another

(14:13) “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” We shouldn’t “judge” (krino) someone’s conscience, but we can “determine” (krino) how our actions affect others and if these lead others into sin. If I drink a beer around an alcoholic, that might stumble them into drinking. We can judge this as wrong.

The word “obstacle” (proskomma) means “something against which one may strike his foot, causing him to stumble or even fall.”[145]

The word “stumbling block” (skandalon) is the root from which we get the word “scandal” or “scandalous.” It means “a device for catching something alive, trap” (BDAG). Jesus used this term to describe Peter’s words: “You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mt. 16:23). In other words, the term implies that it could influence someone into sinning.

Therefore, Paul is not referring to merely offending others with our actions, but rather, influencing others to sin by our actions. Modern fundamentalists sometimes say that drinking alcohol “stumbles them,” citing this passage. However, what they often mean is that it simply “offends” their personal, moral sensibilities. Keller rightly states, “We must be careful here. ‘Stumble’ and ‘fall’ mean more than just bothering the weaker brother. A grumpy Christian could blackmail a whole church in that case.”[146]

(14:14) “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” Paul called on these believers to be “convinced in their own mind” (v.5). Paul says that he himself is “convinced” that nothing is inherently unclean. When he says that he is “convinced in the Lord Jesus,” this could refer to Jesus’ teaching regarding “all foods [being] clean” (Mk. 7:15-23). Remember, even Peter had a difficult time with this teaching (Acts 10:9-15).

Paul is not teaching moral relativism here. Instead, he is stating that people could falsely conclude that a given action was sinful. Paul doesn’t say that God calls food unclean, but merely that to him it is unclean.” In other words, the individual person’s conscience leads them to think that an action is wrong.

(14:15) “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love…” The “strong” were causing “weak” believers to feel “hurt” (lupeitai), which means “to cause severe mental or emotional distress, vex, irritate, offend, insult” (BDAG). Is my eating of this food really worth hurting my brother in Christ? Which do I want more: a good meal or loving my brother?

“…Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.” The word “destroy” (apollymi) is very strong language. Is my food selection really worth “destroying” my brother in Christ? On a side note, Paul is not referring to “destroying” a person and sending them to hell (see comments on 1 Corinthians 8:11). We are surprised that so many commentators erroneously make such a conclusion!

(14:16) “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.” The “strong” could keep saying that all foods are clean and “good.” But their actions and attitude could rightly be called “evil” due to the fact that it was causing disunity and damage to others.

(14:17) “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Paul (sarcastically) reminds them that the point of the Christian life is not eating food, but loving people!

(14:18) “For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” Paul inserts God’s view of loving Christian workers here.

(14:19) “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Pursue peace in the Body of Christ—not food!

(14:20) “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food…” Keller writes, “It is possible that ‘the work of God’ could mean the church, and thus the strong are harming the relationships that God has built within the church.”[147] This seems most plausible in our estimation.[148] After all, Paul’s entire ethic is built on our corporate identity, and unity is the driving factor in this chapter.

“…All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.” Again, Paul sides theologically with the “strong,” but he rebukes them ethically. The word “offense” (proskomma) is the same word used in verse 13 to refer to an “obstacle.”

(14:21) “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” The focus here is on the “strong” believer having a loving outlook—not the “weak” believer being judgmental.

Why does Paul add ‘wine” here? This refers back to the kingdom of God not being about “eating and drinking” (v.17). This doesn’t relate to the modern dispute over the consumption of alcohol. In its historical context, this refers to drinking wine dedicated to idols. Moo writes, “Paul’s reference here to ‘drinking wine’ probably implies that the same believers avoided wine out of similar concerns: for wine was widely used in pagan religious libations.”[149] Osborne concurs, “Probably the weak applied the same scrupulous attitude regarding meat to wine, for it might have been offered to the gods.”[150]

(14:22-23) “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” We don’t want to act against our conscience, because this could damage our conscience. Again, we should dialogue about these issues, and we may need to be persuaded and convinced of the proper view (v.5). But as believers, we should surrender our rights for the sake of loving others.


Do I alienate others by how I talk or act?

Do I spend more time thinking about my unmet expectations, or the needs of others?

Am I holding bitterness in my heart toward another believer?

Can I refrain from certain freedoms for the sake of another’s spiritual growth?

Romans 15:1-14 (Essential Christian living)

(15:1) “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.” This is an unfortunate chapter break. This verse concludes Paul’s argument in Romans 14: The Christian ethic focuses on what is best for the other person—not ourselves. Stott writes, “Strong people are of course tempted to wield their strength to discard or crush the weak. Paul urges them instead to bear with them.”[151]

(15:2) “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.” This does not refer to the practice of man pleasing, which is spoken against by Paul (Gal. 1:10; Col. 3:22; 1 Thess. 2:4). Man pleasing is a self-protective act, where we try to tell people what they want to hear. In this context, Paul is referring to helping a person “for his good,” not our own.

Why would we adopt a selfless lifestyle like this? Paul continues…

Jesus didn’t please himself

(15:3) “For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.’” The NT frequently cites Psalm 69 as a messianic psalm. Paul cites from this psalm (Ps. 69:9) as the basis for our ethic regarding sacrificial, selfless love—namely, Jesus took our “reproaches” or “insults” (NIV, NLT).

(15:4) “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” This is a good passage on the relevant timelessness of Scripture. It wasn’t merely written for that time and place; it has a universal message for all times. Notice the broad sweeping statement (Whatever was written…”). This encouragement comes directly from God (v.5). As we open up our Bibles, God wants to speak to us (cf. 1 Cor. 10:6, 11).

There is also a practical purpose behind Scripture. As we have “perseverance” in waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled, God gives us “encouragement” and “hope.”

(15:5-6) “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This brings back Paul’s teaching that believers are “members of one another” (Rom. 12:5).

“Be of the same mind…” The Greek is auto (“same”) and phronein (“think”). It is translated as having the “same mind” (NASB) or “harmony” (ESV, NLT) or “unity” (NIV, NET). Again, this is unity in essentials, but charity in extraneous issues. We agree with Stott, who writes, “This can hardly be a plea that the Roman Christians may come to agree with each other about everything, since Paul has been at pains to urge the weak and the strong to accept each other in spite of their conscientious disagreement on secondary matters. It must therefore be a prayer for their unity of mind in essentials.”[152]

“One accord…” (homothumadon) comes from the Greek words homo (“same”) and thumos (“passion”). It refers to having “one mind/purpose/impulse” (BDAG). As Christians, our passion should be for God and the cause of Christ.

“You may with one voice glorify God…” Keller takes this passage to refer to corporate worship services. He writes, “The reference to ‘mouth’ probably refers to corporate worship. There is no way to glorify God with ‘one mouth’ unless you are singing and praying together! The ‘so that’ here shows that God gives spiritual unity in order that we can worship together; our seeking to do so will enhance unity.”[153]

We respectfully disagree. In verse 7, Paul writes that “accepting one another” brings “glory to God.” In context, the “one voice” refers to unity in our thinking, passions, and relationships—not our choirs. Singing is mentioned in verse 9, but this isn’t the immediate context of verse 6. (For more on this topic, see “What is Worship?”).

(15:7) “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” Another essential to glorifying God is to accept fellow believers—even if they are ethnically different (v.8ff).

Christ came for BOTH the Jews and the Gentiles

(15:8) “For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers.” Christ fulfilled the promises to the Jewish people to become a “servant.” Is Paul specifically thinking of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah?

(15:9) “And for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, ‘Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, and I will sing to Your name.” Paul cites 2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalm 18:49. Christ came to be a servant to the Gentiles, as well as the Jewish people. Since Christ came to serve both groups, how can a believer deny serving all ethnicities?

(15:10) “Again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.’” Paul cites Deuteronomy 32:43. The Gentiles are supposed to rejoice with the Jewish people.

(15:11) “And again, ‘Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him.” Paul cites Psalm 117:1.

(15:12) “Again Isaiah says, ‘There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.” Paul cites Isaiah 11:10.

What are we to make of these OT citations? Paul quotes from all over the OT: one from the Law, one from the Prophets, and two from the Writings.[154] He does this to show God’s love for all people, which is spread throughout the OT.

(15:13) “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” We get joy and hope when we trust in God (“in believing”). The Holy Spirit’s role is to fill us with “joy” and “peace” and “hope.” Our role is to trust him (“in believing”). As we trust in the promises of God, the Holy Spirit brings a transformation of character.

(15:14) “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.” Paul had never been to Rome, but he was confident that these believers had enough competency to counsel and instruct each other. This implies that unity includes admonition. Counseling each other is implies (see comments on Romans 12:8 above).

Romans 15:15-33 (Paul’s personal ministry)

Here were see several insights into Paul’s view of Christian ministry.

1. Ministry is based on grace

(15:15) “But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God.”

(15:15) If Paul had never been to Rome, then why does he say “remind you again”?

2. Ministry is based on the gospel message

(15:16) “To be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Paul viewed his ministry as worship. He uses OT language of worship: “minister” (leitourgon), “ministering” (hierourgounta), and “offering” (prosphora; Deut. 12:11). Paul’s offering was not an animal sacrifice; his offering was his evangelistic work of reaching the Gentiles.

3. Ministry is for God’s glory

(15:17) “Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God.” The NASB is preferable. He boasts in Christ—not himself. Keller writes, “This is a strong statement! Paul accomplished many things—consider the fact that he was probably the greatest theologian in the history of the church. But his work as a theologian was not what made him ‘glory’ (v.17). The thing he was most excited about was the people he had seen pass from death to life through his ministry.”[155] We couldn’t agree more with this assessment!

4. Ministry is by God’s power

(15:18) “For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed.” Paul didn’t boast in his ministry, but in what Christ did through him.

(15:19) “In the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” God supernaturally supported the gospel message—no matter the geographical context. Illyricum was east of Rome.

Miracles supplement the gospel message, but they do not substitute for the message. Biblically, we often see that people misinterpret miracles. For example, when Paul healed a physically handicapped man in Lystra (Acts 14:9-10), the people started to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods! (Acts 14:11) Then, they ended up stoning Paul and leaving him for dead (Acts 14:19). Without content, miracles can be easily confused.

5. Ministry is for everyone

(15:20) “And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation.” Paul wanted to reach the unreached people groups, rather than going to existing church people.

(15:21) “But as it is written, ‘They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.’” He cites from Isaiah 52:15.

(15:22) “For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you.” Paul’s ministry to these other people (“from Illyricum to Jerusalem”) was what prevented him from coming to Rome.

(15:23-24) “But now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while.” He wants to go visit them on his way to Spain, since he has hit all of the lands from Jerusalem to Italy already.

6. Ministry includes money

(15:25-29) “But now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. 28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” Paul needed to drop off the monetary gift to the church in Jerusalem (from the Gentile churches), and then he would go to visit the church in Rome. Why does Paul include this? It seems that he includes this to show how Jews and Gentiles are loving each other in the larger church. This would hit home with the Roman believers, who were having trouble with this.

This passage shows that Paul had already collected the money, but he hadn’t dropped it off yet. This would place the writing of Romans before Acts 21.

7. Ministry is fueled by prayer

(15:30) “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” Paul needed prayer. The “striving” is not with God, but with the flesh and with Satan. He wants them to join him in a powerful prayer ministry.

(15:31) “That I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints.” Paul was about to go into Jerusalem, knowing that he would face persecution, so he asks for prayer. Ironically, it was the persecution of the Jewish people that led Paul to go to Rome in the book of Acts.

(15:32) “So that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.” Paul really wanted to visit this church (cf. Rom. 1:13).

(15:33) “Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.” He seems to end the letter here… But then he picks back up to address specific believers in chapter 16.

Romans 16:1-27 (Paul’s mail)

(Rom. 16) Was this chapter added to the book of Romans?

(16:1-16) “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; 2 that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well. 3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; 5 also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” This shows that Paul was pretty diffuse in his friendships. It also shows that he worked alongside women (9 of the 26 people are women).

(16:7) Was there a female apostle (Junia), or was this a contraction for a man’s name (Junias)?

(16:17-19) “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” It seems that in every church there was the danger of false teachers.

(16:20-24) “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. 21 Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. 22 I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother. 24 [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.]” More greetings.

(16:25-27) “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.” The mystery of Christ has been revealed. This is why he calls God “the only wise God” (NIV, verse 27).

[1] Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. 393.

[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 2.

[3] Blomberg, Craig. From Pentecost to Patmos: an Introduction to Acts through Revelation. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006. 234.

[4] Bruce, F. F. (1985). Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, pp. 19-20). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 3.

[6] Suetonius Life of Claudius 25:4.

[7] Blomberg, Craig. From Pentecost to Patmos: an Introduction to Acts through Revelation. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006. 234-235.

[8] Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne, 2012. 53.

[9] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 10.

[10] Ambrosiaster, Patrologia Latina, 17, col. 46. Cited in Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. 395.

[11] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 11.

[12] Craig Keener, Romans: New Covenant Commentary (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009), 10.

[13] Craig Keener, Romans: New Covenant Commentary (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009), 1.

[14] Craig Keener, Romans: New Covenant Commentary (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009), 1-2.

[15] Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. 403.

[16] Dunn, J. D. G. (1998). Romans 1-8 (Vol. 38A, p. 91). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[17] Schaeffer, Francis A. The Finished Work of Christ: the Truth of Romans 1-8. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998. 8-9.

[18] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 15.

[19] Bruce, F. F. (1985). Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, p. 82). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[20] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 17.

[21] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 20.

[22] Cited in Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 20.

[23] Harrison, E. F. (1976). Romans. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 20). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[24] Cited in Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 76). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[25] Barth, Karl, The Epistle to the Romans (Oxford University Press, 1933), 41.

[26] Dunn, J. D. G. (1998). Romans 1-8 (Vol. 38A, p. 44). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[27] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 76). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[28] Osborne, G. R. (2004). Romans (p. 43). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[29] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 25.

[30] Osborne, Grant R. Romans. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2004. 49.

[31] Harrison, E. F. (1976). Romans. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 23). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[32] Schmidt, Thomas E. Straight and Narrow: Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1995. 71.

[33] Osborne, Grant R. Romans. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2004. 51.

[34] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 29.

[35] Godet holds this view. Moo argues that God doesn’t just let go of the boat, but also God “gives it a push downstream.” We see no warrant in the text for God’s active wrath here. Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 111). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[36] Aldous Huxley, End and Means (1937), 272.

[37] David J. Ayers, “Current Sexual Practices of Evangelical Teens and Young Adults.” Institute for Family Studies (August 2019). See also Mark Regnerus, Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[38] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 113-114). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[39] Schmidt, Thomas E. Straight and Narrow: Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1995. 73.

[40] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 30.

[41] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 35.

[42] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 36.

[43] Francis Schaeffer, The Finished Work of Christ: The Truth of Romans 1-8 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 45.

[44] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 147-149.

[45] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 59.

[46] Bruce, F. F. (1985). Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, p. 102). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[47] R. C. Wylie, The Self-Concept: Theory and Research on Selected Topics, vol. 2 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979).

[48] L. Larwood and W. Whittaker, “Managerial Myopia: Self-Serving Biases in Organizational Planning,” Journal of Applied Psychology 62: 194-98 (1977).

[49] R. B. Felson, “Ambiguity and Bias in the Self-Concept,” Social Psychology Quarterly 44: 64-69.

[50] D. Walton and J. Bathurst, “An Exploration of the Perceptions of the Average Driver’s Speed Compared to Perceived Driver Safety and Driving Skill,” Accident Analysis and Prevention 30: 821-30 (1998).

[51] P. Cross, “Not Can but Will College Teachers Be Improved?” New Directions for Higher Education 17: 1-15 (1977).

[52] E. Pronin, D. Y. Lin, and L. Ross, “The Bias Blind Spot: Perceptions of Bias in Self Versus Others,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 28: 369-81 (2002).

[53] J. Kruger, “Lake Wobegon Be Gone! The ‘Below-Average Effect’ and the Egocentric Nature of Comparative Ability Judgments,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77: 221-32 (1999).

[54] Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2006), p. 252.

[55] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 73.

[56] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Company, 1909), 24.

[57] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 67.

[58] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 75.

[59] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 76-77.

[60] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 79-80.

[61] I think Jack Miller originated this aphorism.

[62] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 104.

[63] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 289). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[64] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 289). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[65] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 107.

[66] Jewett, R., & Kotansky, R. D. Romans: A commentary. (E. J. Epp, Ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. 2006. 348.

[67] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 109.

[68] Osborne, Grant R. Romans. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2004. 131.

[69] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 118.

[70] Bruce, F. F. Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1985. 130.

[71] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 45.

[72] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 47-48.

[73] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 49.

[74] Stanford, Miles J. The Green Letters. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1975. 71.

[75] Stanford, Miles J. The Green Letters. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1975. 82.

[76] Douglas Moo, Romans: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 207.

[77] Stott, John. The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 167). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2001. 167.

[78] Of course, Stott himself was a Lordship theologian, but he was not an extreme Lordship theologian. John Stott writes, “We must surrender absolutely and unconditionally to the lordship of Jesus Christ. We cannot make our own terms. What will this involve? In detail I cannot tell you. In principle, it means a determination to forsake evil and follow Christ.” Stott, John. Basic Christianity. London: InterVarsity Press, 1958. 128. See also Stott, John R (Sept 1959), Yes, “Must Christ Be Lord To Be Saviour?”, Eternity 10: 14-8, 36-7, 48.

[79] Bruce, F. F. (1985). Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, p. 139). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[80] Keller writes, “Notice that water is not actually mentioned here. Paul is referring to the spiritual reality to which water baptism points.” Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 140.

[81] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 142.

[82] Bruce, F. F. (1985). Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, p. 142). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[83] Francis Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian View of Spirituality (Crossway Books, 2011), p.247.

[84] Harrison, E. F. Romans. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1976. 71.

[85] Bruce, F. F. (1985). Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, p. 143). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[86] David M. Oshinsky, Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice (New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1996), 17.

[87] Douglas Moo, Romans: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 200.

[88] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 300.

[89] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 326-327.

[90] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 147.

[91] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 52.

[92] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 53-54.

[93] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 58.

[94] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 65.

[95] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 76-77.

[96] Bruce, F. F. (1985). Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, p. 145). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[97] Harrison, E. F. (1976). Romans. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 75). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[98] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 408). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[99] Osborne, Grant R. Romans. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2004. 175-176.

[100] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 164-165.

[101] Keller makes this justification based on (1) the different verb tenses used, (2) the change in situation, (3) Paul delighting in God’s law in verse 22, and (4) Paul admitting that nothing good dwells within him in verse 18. Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 167-168.

[102] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 167-168.

[103] Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit (Cloverdale, Indiana: Sure Foundation Publishers, 1965), 9.

[104] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 157, 158.

[105] Keller shows that “law” could refer to (1) God’s law, (2) a general principle, or (3) a force or power. He takes law in Romans 8:2 in this third general sense. Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 14. See also Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 185-186.

[106] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 16-17.

[107] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 18-19.

[108] We recognize first-class conditional clauses by the helping word “if” (Greek ei) followed by a main verb in the indicative mood (in any tense). The NASB usually translates these conditions with the English rendering “If indeed…”

[109] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 30.

[110] We recognize first-class conditional clauses by the helping word “if” (Greek ei) followed by a main verb in the indicative mood (in any tense). The NASB usually translates these conditions with the English rendering “If indeed…”

[111] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 43.

[112] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 44.

[113] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 53.

[114] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 75.

[115] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 80.

[116] Brown, Colin. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Corporation, 1978. 248.

[117] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 90-91.

[118] Thayer, Joseph Henry. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. 3rd ed. [S.l.]: Hendrickson Pubblishers,Inc., 2007. 166.

[119] Vine, W. E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville: Nelson, 1985. 277.

[120] For instance, John Calvin writes, “I extend the word Israel to include all the people of God in this sense.” John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Edinburgh, St Andrews Press, 1961), 255. Likewise, Augustine held that “Israel” referred to as “the predestined elect, drawn into a unity out of Jews and Gentiles.” Cited in Peter Gorday, Principles Of Patristic Exegesis: Romans 9-11 in Origen, John Chrysostom, and Augustine (New York: E. Mellen Press, 1983), 171, 333.

[121] Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times: Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 212.

[122] John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 303.

[123] Hoekema prefers this reading for the purpose of relating Israel’s salvation to the Gentile salvation—namely, Israel will be saved in the same way that the Gentiles were saved. They will be made jealous of the Gentiles knowing Christ, and they will come to faith in this way. Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 145.

[124] John Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration.” Bibliotheca Sacra (October-December, 1945), 415.

[125] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 720.

[126] Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times: Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 60. Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness, 215.

[127] Dispensationalists don’t necessarily believe that this means every single Jewish person on Earth will come to Christ in the future. Yet they do believe that Paul must be thinking of something more than just another “remnant” in the future. Walvoord writes, “The release, such as it is, will undoubtedly occasion a great turning to Christ among Israel after the rapture of the church, but by no means is the entire nation won to Christ.” Emphasis mine. John Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems VIII: Israel’s Blindness.” Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September, 1945), 289.

[128] John Stott writes, “This was, in Isaiah’s original, a reference to Christ’s First Coming.” John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 303. Hoekema also takes this view. See Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 146.

[129] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 106.

[130] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 109.

[131] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 113.

[132] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 330). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[133] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 330). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[134] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 333). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[135] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 123.

[136] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 350). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[137] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 822). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[138] Harrison, E. F. Romans. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1976. 143.

[139] Both verbs are in the aorist tense (Gal. 3:27 and Rom. 13:14). However, Romans 13:14 is in the context of a present tense verb (“make”), which would imply that it should also be translated in the present tense. This translation is followed throughout almost all English translations.

[140] Augustine, Confessions 8.29. Cited in Bruce, F. F. (1985). Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, p. 65). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[141] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 359). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[142] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 359). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[143] Bruce, F. F. Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1985. 245.

[144] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 837). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[145] Harrison, E. F. (1976). Romans. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 148). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[146] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 157.

[147] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 155.

[148] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 860). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[149] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 861). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[150] Osborne, G. R. (2004). Romans (p. 373). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[151] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 369). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[152] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 371). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[153] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 164.

[154] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 372). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[155] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 169.