Introduction to the Epistles
So far, we have discussed the historical section of the New Testament, namely the Gospels and Acts. We now turn our attention to the epistles, which could be termed the doctrinal section. Of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, twenty-one are in the form of letters. Each writer, though inspired by the Spirit, leaves the impress of his own personality on his writings. For instance:
- Paul is the apostle of faith.
- Peter is the apostle of hope.
- John is the apostle of love.
- James is the apostle of works.
- Jude is the apostle of vigilance.
The New Testament is broken up into three groups of writings.
1. Nine Christian Church epistles (Romans – II Thessalonians)
2. Four pastoral and personal epistles (1 Timothy – Philemon)
3. Nine Hebrew Christian epistles (Hebrews – Revelation)
Let us focus our attention on Paul’s epistles. None were sent to churches, but four were sent to individuals. The chronological order is interesting and important to observe:
I & II Thessalonians—A.D. 52-53
I & II Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans—A.D. 57-58
Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon—A.D. 62
I & II Timothy and Titus—A.D. 67-68
Each of these groups has a particular theme:
Group 1 – The Coming of Christ
Group 2 – The Cross
Group 3 – The Christ
Group 4 – The Congregation
These epistles are of inestimable value to us today.
Introduction to Romans
Now for the Roman epistle itself, Coleridge said that it was the most profound piece of writing in existence. Luther said that it was the chief book in the New Testament. Godet said, in studying it, we find ourselves, at every word, face to face with the unfathomable.
The Writer and Background
Paul wrote the book of Romans. He had always wanted to visit Rome. “I am ready to preach the Gospel to you who are at Rome.” On his third missionary journey while staying at Corinth, he wrote this epistle in lieu of a visit. Soon after this, he was arrested in Jerusalem. Eventually he arrived at Rome, but not as a freeman.
The theme of the letter is redemption (see Romans 3:24). Five aspects of redemption are carefully developed by Paul.
I. Introduction (Romans 1:1-17)
II. Sin—The Need for Redemption (Romans 1:18-3:20)
A. Gentile sin (Romans 1:18-2:16)
B. Jewish sin (Romans 2:17-3:8)
C. Universal sin (Romans 3:9-20)
III. Justification—The Provision of Redemption (Romans 3:21-5:21)
IV. Sanctification—The Effect of Redemption (Romans 6:1-8:39)
A. Union with Christ (Romans 6:1-23)
B. Conflict of natures (Romans 7:1-25)
C. Victory by the Spirit (Romans 8:1-39)
V. Jew and Gentile–The Scope of Redemption (Romans 9:1-11:36)
A. Israel’s past: God’s judgment for sin (Romans 9:1-33)
B. Israel’s present: God’s offer of salvation (Romans 10:1-21)
C. Israel’s future: God’s promise of restoration (Romans 11:1-36)
VI. Service – The Fruit of Redemption (Romans 12:1-15:13)
VII. Conclusion and Greetings (Romans 15:14-16:27)
Some prefer the following analysis:
I. Doctrinal: Basic doctrines of the Gospel expounded (Romans 1-8)
II. Dispensational: Israel’s past, present, and future outlined (Romans 9-12)
III. Practical: Doctrine of the Gospel applied to individuals (Romans 12-16)
A. Exposition (a. Sin problem, Romans 1-8)
B. Explanation (b. Jew problem, Romans 9-11)
C. Application (c. Life problem, Romans 12-16)
Please note the “therefores” of Romans:
Romans 2:1 “Therefore, thou art inexcusable o man."
Romans 5:1 “Therefore, being justified by faith.”
Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation.”
Romans 12:1 “I beseech you, therefore, by the mercies of God.”
The following are some of the great doctrines in Romans:
1. The total unregenerate state of man.
2. The righteousness of God revealed.
3. The justification of the believer.
4. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
5. The sanctification of the believer.
6. The consecration of the believer.
Let us mention briefly some of these cardinal doctrines:
Righteousness—the quality of being right or just. It is an attribute of God used also to describe that gracious gift of God to man, whereby all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are brought into right relationship with God. This righteousness or right relationship cannot be attained by either obedience to the law or any merit of man’s own. Faith in Christ is the only means of obtaining this. The man who trusts in Christ miraculously becomes “the righteousness of God in Him” (Him being Christ).
This righteousness has two aspects: There is the righteousness that is imputed or reckoned to us on account of our faith in Christ (Romans 3:21-7:6). There is also the righteousness that is imparted to us by the Holy Spirit (Romans 7:7-8:39). The faith thus exercised in Christ for salvation brings us into a vital union and right relationship with God, and inevitably produces righteousness of life through the Spirit.
Justification—this denotes an act of acquittal, signifying the establishment of a person as just, by acquittal from guilt. Justification is the legal and formal acquittal from guilt, by God, as Judge. It is also the pronouncement of the sinner, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, as righteous. This doctrine is spoken of in three ways: (1) Justified freely by God’s grace (Romans 3:24), (2) Justified by Jesus’ blood (Romans 5:9), and (3) Justified by faith (Romans 5:1). In effect, the believer is absolutely acquitted from guilt and brought into a right relationship with God.
Sanctification – this denotes a separation to God. It is the conduct of the life befitting those who have been separated. It is also a term used of separation from both evil things and evil ways. This sanctification is God’s will for the believer (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3). It is also His purpose for calling him with the Gospel (see 1 Thess. 4:7). Sanctification must be learned from God (see 1 Thess. 4:4) as He teaches it through the Word (see John 17:17-19). The believer must pursue it earnestly and not deviate (1 Timothy 2:15).
Holy character, brought about by sanctification, cannot be transferred or imputed. It is an individual possession that is built up, little by little, as the result of obedience to the Word of God. Sanctification is seen in two aspects:
1. Positional Sanctification: This aspect of our sanctification is entirely out of our power. It is absolutely the result of the work of the Lord Jesus on the Cross.
2. Practical Sanctification: This is the result of the work of the Spirit in us. Practical Sanctification is the gradual molding of the believer into conformity with Christ. It means holiness in everyday life. It means victory over indwelling sin. It means God’s will being done perfectly in our lives.