Paul's Epistle to the Romans
Paul’s epistle to the Romans is universally accepted as being authentic. It is thought to have been written by Paul around 57 AD. Paul wrote many of his epistles prior to this time, encouraging the Corinthians, Galatians and Thessalonians to provide for the poor. In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul explains he is enroute to Jerusalem with the funds to deliver to the leadership there.
Paul repeats some discussions he has had in previous letters: justification, Abraham, Adam and Christ as the new Adam,
Romans’ topics have been the source for several key traditional Christian concepts, including Augustine’s original sin, Martin Luther’s justification by faith alone, John Calvin’s double predestination, and John Wesley on sanctification.
Paul had established several Christian churches around the Aegean Sea, and desired to preach where others had not yet established a church: Spain. His plan was to visit Rome on the way.
It is probable that the church in Rome was founded by Jewish Christians. Gentile Romans became interested and believed in Christ. The Jewish Christians in Rome taught the Roman converts to receive circumcision and obey the Law of Moses. In writing to Rome, Paul was explaining that the Gentile Christians were saved through faith, and not the law of Moses.
In 49 AD, the Roman leader Claudius expelled from Rome both Jews and Jewish Christians over their disruptive arguments over whether Jesus was the Messiah. His successor, Nero, allowed them to return in 54 AD, but would persecute them a decade later after the Great Fire, where he tradition states he fiddled while Rome burnt.
It is during Nero’s reign that Paul wrote the Romans, in hopes of establishing his branch of Gentile Christianity among them.
I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ
Referencing the “Wisdom of Solomon”, an ancient Jewish document, Paul condemned the sexual and violent sins of Rome. Nero was famous for orgies which often lasted from noon until midnight. He built a 50 foot round dining room, which rotated to simulate the movements of the earth and planets. Entertainment in Rome included violent depictions of battles, and often included the deaths of captured enemies or rebels.
Paul was not ashamed to preach the gospel of Christ against such evils, noting that God would someday punish the wicked for such great sins. A major portion of his epistle would point to two main issues: the intense focus by some on following the Mosaic Law on the one hand, and the licentiousness of the Roman pagan society. Paul would have to teach them a middle view of what salvation meant. In speaking about the sins of Rome, Paul explained,
“Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile... (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness)” (Romans 2:9-15).God has given a basic law, which not all have officially received via commandment of God. Many Gentiles lived chaste and non-violent lives without a prophet to command them, but following their conscience. Paul speaks of justification here. Those who keep God’s commandments, whether commanded through prophets, or inspired by the Holy Spirit to the conscience of man, are blessed for it. But it requires us to do, and not just hear or know a law. Many of the Jewish Christians knew the law, but were not following it.
Instead, the gospel became a point for them to contend with Jews, and some of the Jewish Christians picked and choose the laws to be obeyed. They were not justified in knowing, but not doing. Paul then teaches that the Mosaic Law is one method, as is the method for the Gentile Christians. All have sinned, and therefore none can save themselves (Romans 3:9-11), but there is a salvation offered for both those under the Mosaic Law and those not under the law:
“ 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. 29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: 30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”So, Paul confusingly seems to be saying we both need and don’t need the law. In fact, he is teaching that the law is not an ends in itself. One is not saved by being circumcised or offering animal sacrifices. Nor is one saved by making prayers and offerings. But the Jew or Gentile Christian who develops his faith, will follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance to his conscience, and such a person will want to live the laws of God as a normal outpouring of faith. A person obeys because of faithfulness. As Jesus stated, “if ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). What the Lord meant is that if we love him, keeping the commandments will be a natural outcome of that love. Our faith and love of Christ will naturally have us desire to be like him.
Obedience flows from faith, but not necessarily the other way around. Many Pharisees paid tithes and offerings and prayed, but their obedience did not bring them to believe in Christ. Of course, faith is more than just a belief. According to the Lecture on Faith, faith is a moving power for God and in all things. The greater the faith, the greater the power of God that is with us. In chapter 4, we find that Paul discusses Abraham - a Jewish ancestor that he seeks to use to inspire both the Jew and Roman believers. Abraham was blessed because he believed or had faith, not because he was circumcised. Yet his faith led him to do great works of obedience, including offering up Isaac, his son. As we learn from the Nephite King Benjamin, we cannot obey enough laws or do enough to ever pay back God for our sins and disobedience in life. First off, he gave us life, and then gives us food and other blessings along the way, for which we owe him. When we obey God, he blesses us, so we still are ever in his debt. Benjamin noted that we are not even worth the dust we are created from, because God created the dust (Mosiah 2-5). Nephi taught us that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23). But what exactly does that mean? The Lamanite king Anti-Nephi-Lehi encouraged his people to bury their weapons of war and violence. In doing so, he explained to the people:
“it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain” (Alma 24:11).In essence, faith and repentance are all we can do. Jesus does the rest. The greater our faith and repentance, the more Jesus can do for us. We find from Alma’s Near Death Experience and his intense sufferings in hell for his sins that a very basic faith and repentance are required for us to be saved from hell and death:
“ 12 But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. 13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. 14 Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.... 16 And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul. 17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. 18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. 19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. 20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36).We find that Alma’s sins and disbelief cast him from God’s presence and into a darkness of his own making. Only his repentance could save him from the eternal torment that was upon him. So it is with all of us. A basic faith and repentance save us from hell and death. In chapter 5, Paul explains we are “justified by faith” through the blood of Christ. When we accept the atonement through faith and repentance, we are rescued from hell and death. We are basically made guiltless for our sins, reconciled to God, and therefore made eligible for heaven (or in LDS teaching, one of the levels of heaven). Although Paul does not speak here of it, we can then seek to be sanctified by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, which purifies us as we become more faithful and obedient. As with Christ, we can go from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace, until we receive a fulness (D&C 93). At each new level of grace, we are sanctified by the Holy Ghost, purifying us and making us worthy to a higher level of glory and heavenly reward.
Faith, Repentance, Baptism
Interestingly, Paul follows the key principles and ordinances of the gospel in his epistle to the Romans. In chapter six, he discusses baptism. Baptism is the first ordinance of the gospel. Paul explains it is an outward sign of our following Christ as a true disciple. Previous to baptism, we demonstrate faith and repentance. In baptism, we are buried in his death, and follow Christ in the resurrection and rebirth as a child of God. Even after baptism, Paul notes that the believer must continue to believe, repent, and be obedient. He warns that the “wages of sin is death.” In chapter seven, he explains that the Law of Moses is replaced with the law of Christ. This new law is written in the heart of the believer. He naturally follows what is right, because the Spirit guides the conscience of the inner man.
Joint heirs with Christ
Paul then taught that the rebirth of faith, repentance and baptism adopts us into the family of God. He emphasizes a belief long lost among the Jews, but restored by Jesus: inheritance.
“ 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”Those reborn are adopted into the family of God. Unlike some Christian ideas of the adoption, where we are still something less than God (i.e., angels that forever play harps), Paul insists that we are literal “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” If Christ has a fulness of the Father, then so shall those who are justified by the blood of Christ into being guiltless, and sanctified in the Spirit to being holy. We will be glorified together with Christ. It cannot be made any clearer than that: If God and Jesus are perfect and divine, so we too will become divine and perfect through justification and sanctification.
Elder Todd D Christofferson, Justification and Sanctification, Ensign, June 2001: http://lds.org/ensign/2001/06/justification-and-sanctification?lang=eng
Wikipedia on Romans: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Romans
Early Christian Writings on Romans: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/romans.html
Catholic Encyclopedia on Romans: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13156a.htm
Wisdom of Solomon: http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/wisdom.html
Nero’s rotating banquet hall: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33077263/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/neros-rotating-banquet-hall-unveiled-rome/