The first New Testament book of the Bible I would like to look at is the Epistle to the Romans. Why “Romans”? There are a great many reasons why this particular book is perhaps the most crucial in the entire Bible for the Christian to understand the doctrines of the Faith. Nowhere else in Scripture is so direct and precise of presentation given concerning the great truths of the Gospel. The Apostle Paul, with the logical and systematic approach of an attorney presenting his case before the court, brilliantly and eloquently lays out the tenets of the Gospel with a profundity that at once satisfies the believer and silences the skeptic.
In the first four books of the New Testament, we are presented with what we call “the Gospels”, that is, the account of the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are given the Words from the mouth of our precious Savior Himself referring to the Redemption that God the Father sent Him to accomplish, but most of the details concerning how this works in the life of the believer, as well as what precisely has occurred at the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, remains hidden. Jesus promised to His apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit to explain those very things that He taught (John 14:26).
In the Book of Romans, we have the explanation of the Gospel. The revelation of the Spirit of God, passed through the mouth of Paul, into the pen of Tertius (Rom. 16:22), and finally onto the parchment that would be delivered to the believers in Rome has found its way, by the grace and will of God, onto the pages of the Bible we hold in our hands. The great Truths of what Christianity is all about are spelled out in this wonderful book of the Word of God.
Perhaps no other portion of Scripture has made such an impact throughout the history of the Church. Some of the most influential figures in Church history, individuals used by God to enact great revivals and returnings to Him, were first spoken to by the Holy Spirit through the Book of Romans. Augustine recounts the circumstances of his conversion to Christ in his memoir, “Confessions”, as having been the result of God speaking to him through the words of Romans:
“I flung myself down, how, I know not, under a certain fig-tree, giving free course to my tears, and the streams of mine eyes gushed out, an acceptable sacrifice unto Thee. And, not indeed in these words, yet to this effect, spake I much unto Thee, – “But Thou, O Lord, how long?” How long, Lord? Wilt Thou be angry for ever? Oh, remember not against us former iniquities;” for I felt that I was enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries, – “How long, how long? Tomorrow, and tomorrow? Why not now? Why is there not this hour an end to my uncleanness?”(1)
As he sat in mournful and desperate prayer, Augustine recounts that he heard the voice of a child beyond the garden repeating the words, “Tolle, lege“. “Take, read.” Believing these words to be a Divine admonition, Augustine promptly returned to where he had laid his own copy of the Scripture. Resolving to take the Book up and read the first passage that he flipped to, Augustine’s eyes fell upon the words of Romans 13:13-14:
“Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Rom. 13:13-14 NKJV*)
“No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended – by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart, – all the gloom of doubt vanished away”, he wrote of the experience (1). Martin Luther, the man through whom the Protestant Reformation began in earnest, would write that it was during his study of Romans 1:17 that God would cause the “light” to break through to him during what has been called his “Tower Experience” (2). Two hundred years later, the mighty evangelist, John Wesley, was moved profoundly by hearing read “Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans” during what would later be called his “Aldersgate Experience.” “I felt my heart strangely warmed”, he would later recount (3). The experience would forever change the way that Wesley preached and his understanding of personal Salvation and Justification by Faith. Lutheranism and Methodism were both born directly from a deeper understanding of the teachings of the Book of Romans. Yet it should be more accurately stated that it was not so much a deeper understanding of the Book of Romans, but a more personal and spiritual understanding. It was by occasion of the Holy Spirit taking the words from the page and planting them into the hearts of the hearer; by making them “come alive” and carry with them the illumination of the Holy Spirit that the words of this book became the springboard of such mighty moves of God.
One can scarcely take a long and meaningful look at the contents of the pages of Romans and not come away from it a changed person. Writing in his above mentioned commentary, Martin Luther writes of Romans:
“This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian’s while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.” (4)
To be honest, I do not believe this to be an exaggeration to any extent. I am eager to write about this great portion of Scripture because I know profoundly the capacity that writing about, reading about, and studying this Epistle has to affect wonderous spiritual growth for everyone involved, regardless of how many times they have previously done so. It is, therefore, with joy, excitement, and a keen awareness of my own inability to adequately deal with the Text at hand that I invite you to join me on this journey through the Book of Romans. May we come away from it at study’s end with a new and fresh appreciation for this very wonderful book of the Bible!
(1) Taken from “The Confessions Of St. Augustine” (Book 8, Chapter 12)
(2) For a great article about Martin Luther’s “Tower Experience”, Click Here
(3) For more information on John Wesly, Click Here
(4) For complete text of “Preface to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans”, Click Here
*New King James Version (NKJV)
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.