The Romans Epistle

By Clifton L. Fowler

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine, March, 1926


ROMANS is the book of God's righteousness. God's righteousness is perfect, it has no defects; hence Romans is a revelation of a perfect righteousness. Since only God is good and man is declared to be devoid of righteousness, Romans is a book which has absolutely nothing to do with human righteousness, we've only to exhibit its worthlessness. The righteousness set forth in Romans has no imperfections, no marks of humanity. The righteousness set forth in Romans is a righteousness of impeccable purity, hence divine. The righteousness of God finds its fullest revelation to man in the Romans epistle.

God demands that a righteousness equal to His own shall be found in all who would dwell with Him for eternity. His sublime holiness is such that it would be incongruous for him to plan to save and spend eternity with a being whose righteousness was any less in perfection or extent than His own righteousness. Such an arrangement could only result 1 the utter misery of the poor, imperfect creature thrust thus into the presence of the dazzing white light of God's perfection, and in the blighting of the honor of God Himself for sponsoring the scheme. God designs a plan of rescue for human souls which purposes to give to every soul who accepts the plan a righteousness which is equal to His own. Nay, not equal to His own, but which is His own. God offers to give His righteousness to man as a gift. Romans is the book in which God shows human beings, whose righteousnesses are as filthy rags, how they may become the happy possessors of God's righteous- bless, a righteousness which is without spot or blemish. The obtaining of this divine righteousness carries with it the guarantee of eternal acceptance before the throne of God.

In the Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul, God's special messenger to the Church age, shows up God's amazing plan under which sinners may be declared to be the possessors of the righteousness of God.

The main outline of the book of Romans is arranged by the Holy Spirit in four divisions:

1. Introduction, 1:1-17.

2. Standing, 1:18-11:36.

3. State, 12:1-15:13.

4. Conclusion, 15:14-16:27.

This unusually clear method of handling Gods truths concerning His grace-dealing with man is again employed by the Holy Spirit in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the outline of Ephesians being identical with this outline.

THE first and last sections (introduction and conclusion) of the foregoing outline answer to one another in remarkable fashion, thus bringing out not only the doctrinal perfection of the book, but the structural unity also. In the introduction he declares he is "separated unto the gospel" (1:1) and not ashamed of it (1:16); while in the conclusion he happily reports, "I have fully preached the gospel" (15: 19). In the introduction he refers to the fact that the "gospel was promised afore by His (God's) prophets in the Holy Scriptures" (1:2) and that this gospel was for both Jew and Greek (Gentile) (1:16); in the conclusion he testifies that he has ministered the gospel to both Jews (Jerusalem) and Gentiles Illyricum) (15:19). In the introduction he has "received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations" (1:5); and in the conclusion he puts them in mind of "the grace" given unto him by God as "minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles" (15: 15-16). In the introduction his salutation is "grace and peace" (1:7); in the conclusion his benediction is, "Grace be with you" (15:24). In the introduction he testifies that the Roman Christians have a faith which is "spoken of throughout the whole world" (1:8); while in the conclusion he declares his confidence that they are "full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another" (15:14). In the introduction he is debtor to both Greeks and Barbarian, i.e., all the Gentiles (1:14) ; in the conclusion the Gentiles are debtors to the Jews (15:27). In the introduction he is praying for them that he "might have a prosperous journey by the will of God" to come unto them (1:10); in the conclusion he asks them to join him in prayer that he might come unto them (15:30-32). In the introduction, when he is telling them he is coming to preach to them, he avers that the gospel reveals that the righteousness of God is imparted to man on the ground of naked faith (1:16-17); and in the conclusion he exultantly declares that he will come unto them in the "fulness of the blessing" of that gospel (15:29). The introduction and conclusion of the book are evidently designed of God to be most remarkably complementary to one another. In the introduction Paul announces the character of "his" gospel, "the righteousness of God from faith unto faith;" and in both introduction and conclusion he convincingly shows his willingness to give his very life for the preaching of that gospel.

The body of the book is given over to a sweeping and illuminating discussion of the righteousness of God from two vital standpoints, standing and state. When a soul believes in Jesus, the miracle of the new birth takes place and the soul is introduced into a new position 'n a new family. He has a standing in righteousness before God on the ground of what Jesus did. He is a son of God. The soul is saved. It is important to note that salvation rests on the standing, which was fully wrought, completed, and fixed by Jesus Himself. The standing of a saved soul never changes. It is as immutable as the blessed Christ upon Whom it rests. The poor, caviling Modernist would call it "static." This astounding standing in grace is the instantaneous possession of every soul that accepts Jesus Christ as a personal Saviour. From Romans 1:18 to 11:36 the Apostle Paul is discussing the righteousness of God from the standpoint of the believer's standing. Romans 12:1 is the pivot passage of the book. At Romans 12:1 the transition from standing to state is effected. "I beseech you . . . by the mercies of God" points back to the first eleven chapters, while the command, "Present your bodies a living sacrifice," points forward to the remaining chapters of the book. When the appeal is by the "mercies of God," it is on the ground of our wondrous standing in Christ Jesus. The command to "present our bodies" in our state is on the ground of that which has been wrought in our standing by Him. When the believer walks in his state with his faith fixed on the blessed Lord Who accomplished the "mercies of God" in his standing, then the righteousness of God begins to find manifestation in the state. The righteousness of God in the standing of the believer is a certainty. The manifestation of the righteousness of God in the state of the believer is a possibility. The condition which must be met before that possibility is brought into realization is stated in the pivot verse, — "Present your bodies."

THE "Standing Section" of the Book of Romans falls into five sub-sections. These five sub-sections are each masterly discussions of the particular point being raised. Toward the close of each one of these discussions the Apostle Paul states with startling clearness the conclusion at which he has logically arrived. The five conclusions placed together reveal in a glance the whole sweep of the teaching covered in the Standing Section of the book.

First, — in the "Righteousness Obscured" sub-section the sinfulness of man is clearly presented and the fact that that sinfulness has completely obscured the. righteousness of God is shown. As the Apostle draws toward the end of this section he states what he has successfully approved, "We have before proved both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin" (3:9). Having made it quite clear what has been proved by his discussion, the Apostle Paul proceeds to his conclusion, which conclusion is harmonious with that which has been proved. The conclusion is in the twentieth verse of the third chapter, — "Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Second,— in the "Righteousness Revealed" sub-section (3:21-3:31), we come to one of the loftiest peaks of all God's inspired Word. Here the Apostle declares the glorious truth that Jesus Christ was the sublime revelation of the divine righteousness; that God's righteousness as revealed in Jesus is witnessed by both the law and the prophets, thus giving it the authority of the Jewish Scriptures; that this righteousness is God's offer to a sin-cursed race "freely . . . by grace" ; and that it may become the possession of anyone on the alone and only condition of "faith." After presenting his argument, the Apostle states his conclusion,— "Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law!"

Third, in the "Righteousness Imputed" sub-section (4:1-5:21) of Romans the Apostle takes up the method employed by God in actually presenting as a free gift to sinful men the righteousness of God. The first step of the making of sinners righteous is imputation. Old Testament examples are cited, showing the grace of God in justifying (declaring righteous). David is the first example referred to by the Apostle, showing that David himself "described! the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness with works." Next, Abraham's case is most graphically cited. "He staggered not at the promise of God through 'unbelief ; but was strong in faith giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness." And then the Apostle adds these illuminating words, "Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead." The glorious conclusion to which the Apostle arrives in this sub-section is found in 5:18-19: "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous." Glorious plan, wondrous provision! Many to be made righteous on the ground of One Mans righteousness. This is indeed pure and unadulterated grace.

Fourth,— in the "Righteousness Imparted" subsection (6:1-8:39) God's method of making sinners righteous is advanced another step. His first step, as we have seen, is imputation. In other words, He Who has the right to issue any decree which is pleasing to Him simply declares the believing sinner to be righteous. And if our God declares concerning the things that are not, that they are then they are. When God has taken His first step in making sinners righteous and imputed His righteousness, the salvation question is settled forever. When God proceeds to an elucidation of His second step in making sinners righteous, He is simply showing that mode of procedure which will make manifest in the life of the "declared righteous" one the righteousness which has been declared. This sub-section of Romans is the Holy Spirit's "Hand Book on How to be Victorious." The whole question of the old nature's attacks upon the soul are gone into at length. The wicked and deceptive methods of the flesh, or old nature, are exposed and the only revealed method of thwarting the old man fully set forth. The conclusion at which the Apostle arrives is filled with comfort, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh" (8:12). Glorious conclusion! Not debtors to the flesh; not obliged to follow the behests of the old man; not forced to serve the flesh! Praise God! emancipated, set free, delivered, shackles of sin broken and the soul led forth into victory. This is the Scriptural climax of God's method of making a believing sinner a participant in the righteousness of God. First step, God imputes righteousness; second step, God imparts righteousness. Both steps are centered in simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and He has demonstrated in thousands of lives that He has strength sufficient to put over the whole program of the divine plan whenever He finds a willing soul.

Fifth, in the "Righteousness Impartial" section the whole drift of the argument is to break down Jewish pride and to bring the Jew to see that God has the same blessings in Christ Jesus for the Gentile that He has for the Jew. After carrying the reader through three chapters of most interesting and amazing argument, the Apostle arrives at his conclusion in 11:32: "For God hath concluded (shut them all up together) all in unbelief that He might have mercy on all!"

THIS brings to a close the discussions which make up the "Standing Section" of the book. The "State Section," or that portion of the book which follows the shift which the Holy Spirit makes in Rom. 12:1, is devoted to a practical application of the truths set forth in the "Standing Section." In making these applications the Apostle shows how the righteousness of God should be manifested toward members of the Body, and lived out toward rulers, our neighbors, the weak brethren, and also how this righteousness should find expression between Jews and Gentiles.

Romans is one of the outstanding epistles of the great Apostle and contains such truth as would yield a rich spiritual fruitage if the people of God would devote themselves to a mastering of its message.

Read Romans, study Romans, master Romans, and let the message of Romans master you.