The Romans Get the Best of News
HOW can a sinful human be righteous in God’s eyes and thus gain everlasting life? This question caused heated discussions in the first century of our Common Era. Do you know the answer? Whether you do or not, you owe it to yourself to read the apostle Paul’s masterful discussion of the problem in the Bible book of Romans. Doing so will help you to understand the vital relationship that exists between faith, works, righteousness, and life.
PAUL AND THE ROMANS
The book of Romans is a letter written by Paul about 56 C.E. to the Christians in Rome. Why did he write the letter? Although Paul in 56 C.E. had not yet visited Rome, he evidently knew many Christians there, since in his letter he addressed a number of them by name. Additionally, Paul very much wanted to go to Rome in order to give encouragement to his Christian brothers there, and he also seems to have planned to make Rome a staging point in his proposed missionary trip to Spain.—Romans 1:11, 12; 15:22-24.
However, Paul’s major purpose in writing this letter was to answer the question: How can people gain the righteousness that leads to life? The answer turns out to be the best of news. Righteousness is counted on the basis of faith. Paul makes this point and sets the theme of his letter when he writes: “I am not ashamed of the good news; it is, in fact, God’s power for salvation to everyone having faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek; for in it God’s righteousness is being revealed by reason of faith and toward faith, just as it is written: ‘But the righteous one—by means of faith he will live.’”—Romans 1:16, 17.
FAITH AND THE LAW
In the first century, not everyone agreed that righteousness was counted on the basis of faith. A vocal minority insisted that more was needed. Had not Jehovah provided the Mosaic Law? How could anyone be righteous who did not submit to that inspired provision? (See Galatians 4:9-11, 21; 5:2.) In the year 49 C.E., the question of adherence to the Law was discussed by the governing body in Jerusalem, and they concluded that Gentiles who accepted the good news need not get circumcised and submit to the regulations of the Jewish Law.—Acts 15:1, 2, 28, 29.
About seven years later, Paul wrote his letter to the Romans supporting that landmark decision. Indeed, he went further. Not only was the Law unnecessary for Gentile Christians but Jews who depended on obedience to it would not be declared righteous for life.
RIGHTEOUSNESS THROUGH FAITH
As you read through the book of Romans, you will notice how carefully Paul builds his case, supporting his statements with many quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures. When speaking to the Jews, who might have difficulty accepting his inspired teaching, he shows affection and concern. (Romans 3:1, 2; 9:1-3) Nevertheless, he presents his case with notable clarity and indisputable logic.
In Romans chapter 1 through chapter 4, Paul begins with the truth that everyone is guilty of sin. Hence, the only way that humans can be declared righteous is on the basis of faith. True, the Jews tried to be righteous by keeping the Mosaic Law. But they failed. Hence, Paul boldly says: “Jews as well as Greeks are all under sin.” He proves this unpopular truth with a number of Scripture quotations.—Romans 3:9.
Since “by works of law no flesh will be declared righteous,” what hope is there? God will declare humans righteous as a free gift on the basis of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. (Romans 3:20, 24) To avail themselves of this, they must have faith in that sacrifice. Is this teaching that humans are declared righteous on the basis of faith something novel? Not at all. Abraham himself was declared righteous because of his faith before the Law was even inaugurated.—Romans 4:3.
Having established the importance of faith, Paul in chapter 5 discusses the basis of Christian faith. This is Jesus, whose course of righteousness annuls the bad effects of Adam’s sin for those who have faith in Him. Thus, “through one act of justification,” not by obeying the Mosaic Law, “the result to men of all sorts is a declaring of them righteous for life.”—Romans 5:18.
If, though, Christians are not under the Law, what is to prevent them from going ahead and committing sins and counting on being declared righteous anyway, thanks to God’s undeserved kindness? Paul answers this objection in Romans chapter 6. Christians have died to their past sinful course. Their new life in Jesus obligates them to fight their fleshly weaknesses. He urges: “Do not let sin continue to rule as king in your mortal bodies.”—Romans 6:12.
But should not the Jews, at least, still cling to the Mosaic Law? In chapter 7, Paul carefully explains that this is not the case. Just as a married woman is freed from the law of her husband when he dies, so the death of Jesus freed believing Jews from subjection to the Law. Paul says: “You also were made dead to the Law through the body of the Christ.”—Romans 7:4.
Does this mean that there was something wrong with the Law? By no means. The Law was perfect. The problem was that imperfect people could not obey the Law. “We know that the Law is spiritual,” wrote Paul, “but I am fleshly, sold under sin.” An imperfect human cannot keep God’s perfect Law and so is condemned by it. How wonderful, then, that “those in union with Christ Jesus have no condemnation”! Anointed Christians have been adopted by spirit to be God’s sons. Jehovah’s spirit helps them to wrestle with the imperfections of the flesh. “Who will file accusation against God’s chosen ones? God is the One who declares them righteous.” (Romans 7:14; 8:1, 33) Nothing can separate them from God’s love.
RIGHTEOUSNESS AND FLESHLY JEWS
If the Law is no longer necessary, where does this leave the nation of Israel? And what about all those scriptures promising a restoration of Israel? These questions are taken up in Romans chapters 9 through 11. The Hebrew Scriptures foretold that only a minority of Israelites would be saved and that God would turn his attention to the nations. In harmony with this, the prophecies about the salvation of Israel are fulfilled not by fleshly Israel but by the Christian congregation, which is made up of a nucleus of believing fleshly Jews and filled out with righthearted Gentiles.—Romans 10:19-21; 11:1, 5, 17-24.
PRINCIPLES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
In Romans chapters 12 through 15, Paul goes on to explain some practical ways in which anointed Christians can live in harmony with their being declared righteous. For example, he says: “Present your bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason. And quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over.” (Romans 12:1, 2) We should trust in the power of good and not fight evil with evil. “Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil,” wrote the apostle, “but keep conquering the evil with the good.”—Romans 12:21.
Rome was the center of political power in Paul’s day. Hence, Paul wisely counseled Christians: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God.” (Romans 13:1) The dealings of Christians with one another are also part of living in harmony with righteousness. “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing,” says Paul, “except to love one another; for he that loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.”—Romans 13:8.
Furthermore, Christians should be considerate of one another’s conscience and not be judgmental. Paul urges: “Let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.” (Romans 14:19) What fine counsel to apply in every aspect of a Christian’s life! Then, in chapter 16, Paul concludes with personal greetings and final words of encouragement and counsel.
FOR ANOINTED AND OTHER SHEEP
The topic discussed in Romans was important in the first century and is still of vital concern today. Righteousness and everlasting life are of compelling interest to all of Jehovah’s servants. True, Romans was written to a congregation of anointed Christians, whereas today the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses are of the “great crowd” and have an earthly hope. (Revelation 7:9) Nevertheless, this letter has a vital message for these also. What is it?
The book of Romans proves that Christians are declared righteous by means of faith. For anointed ones, this is with a view to their becoming corulers with Jesus in the heavenly Kingdom. However, members of the great crowd are also declared righteous, but as ‘friends of God,’ as was the patriarch Abraham. (James 2:21-23) Their righteousness is with a view to their surviving the great tribulation, and it is based on faith in the blood of Jesus, just as is the case with the anointed. (Psalm 37:11; John 10:16; Revelation 7:9, 14) Hence, Paul’s reasoning in Romans is of great concern to other sheep as well as anointed ones. And the book’s fine counsel for living in harmony with our being declared righteous is vital for all Christians.
The Book of Life, edited by Doctors Newton Marshall Hall and Irving Francis Wood, states: “On the argumentative and doctrinal side [Romans] reaches the highest point of Paul’s inspired teaching. It is courteous, tactful, but none the less authoritative. . . . The study of this epistle brings its own rich and abundant reward.” Why not read the book for yourself and rejoice in “the good news” that it contains, which is “God’s power for salvation.”—Romans 1:16.
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“There is no [secular] authority except by God.” This does not mean that God puts each individual ruler in place. Rather, secular rulers exist only by God’s permission. In many cases, human rulers were foreseen and foretold by God and thus were “placed in their relative positions by God.”—Romans 13:1.
Museo della Civiltà Romana, Roma
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Christians are told: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” This means they should follow Jesus’ footsteps closely, imitating him by putting spiritual rather than fleshly interests first in their lives, thus, “not . . . planning ahead for the desires of the flesh.”—Romans 13:14.
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Paul told the Romans to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” However, he was not here establishing a new Christian custom or religious rite. In Paul’s day, a kiss on the forehead, lips, or hand was often given as a sign of greeting, affection, or respect. Hence, Paul was merely referring to a custom that was common in his day.—Romans 16:16.