We don’t have to search for the thesis statement of the book of Romans; it’s found in chapter 1, verse 17: The righteous shall live by faith.
But we’ll need to define biblical faith as opposed to a common definition of faith, and we need to understand something right away, that we learn in chapter 1 of Romans: While some people reject the Truth outright, most people suppress Truth, and the enemy’s role is to muddle it.
A Little Background Information
When Paul wrote the book of Romans, he was looking to Rome as a home base to use as he would make missionary journeys to modern day Spain. He’d also use his ministry partners in Rome to go with him. But, as there were several house churches, most likely separated into slightly varying beliefs, he first needed to unify them with solid theology.
So Romans is Paul’s most systematic book. He’s writing to unify the churches with one overarching point: The righteous shall live by faith.
In Habbakkuk 2:4, God says he’ll send Babylon to punish Judah for sin. Habakkuk says that Babylon is worse, so how can God use her as a tool to punish? God answers that the proud person has a puffed up soul that is not upright, but “the righteous shall live by faith.”
Judah expected that God would just take care of them no matter what they did – that’s their version of trust. But they rejected the character of God and did whatever they wanted. This is how the proud live.
The righteous put their trust in the character of God and then lives accordingly. Saving faith trusts that God’s character has mended a broken relationship. We’re then transformed by that character. It’s not earned righteousness, but right relationship.
So biblical faith, then, is not blind and not hopeful without knowledge. It’s Hebrews 11, verse 1: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. ” But Hebrews goes on to show men of faith who then lived their lives God’s way, no matter the results.
The righteous shall live by faith, and faith is trusting in God’s character and living it out. The righteous put their trust in God and live rightly, regardless of circumstances and results.
Head Knowledge and Heart Knowledge
I’ve heard it said that the 18 inches from the head to the heart are the longest distance in the human experience. There’s this distinction made between head knowledge and heart knowledge, but we need to be careful how we use those terms.
Head knowledge IS NOT a necessary evil. Tim Challies puts it this way: “I believe we need to affirm the importance of believing what is true without disparaging the facts and knowledge necessary to even know what is true. Head knowledge is good; heart knowledge is good. More head knowledge is better than less head knowledge and more heart knowledge is better than less heart knowledge. Head knowledge is good because heart knowledge is impossible without it. Christianity is and must be a faith that involves the mind just as it is and must be a faith that involves the heart. The problem comes when there is a radical disconnect between the two.”
Paul understood this well, so as he writes Romans he starts with head knowledge that will then affect the heart. To believe in the sense that we live according to God’s character, we first have to believe something is true. Heart knowledge is impossible without head knowledge.
The goal of the Christian life, then, and the goal of this book, is to grow in head knowledge – which begins as a concept understood in the mind – and then grow in heart knowledge, or live out that knowledge.
Woe to us if that knowledge doesn’t change who we are! Understanding must lead to transforming.
A Brief Outline of Romans
- Chapters 1-3: Everyone has sinned. All are hopeless.
- Chapters 4-5: Salvation is through Christ
- Chapters 6-8: What living in Christ looks like (and nothing can separate us!)
- Chapters 9-11: Israel is still in God’s plan
- Chapters 12 – 15: Transformation
- Chapters 15-16: Closing greetings and remarks
Romans 1. The world is sinful not because of a lack of knowledge but because they suppress it. (Sidenote: if we have knowledge but don’t live it out, we’re in the same boat!) Paul gives details about how sinful the world gets as a result of this suppression.
Romans 2. Some live by moral law…and they’re as hopeless as the wicked. The moral person condemns themself because they know there’s right and wrong and they do wrong.
Romans 3. Religious people try to get to heaven with religion or earn their way there. Paul references the Jews who had the Old Testament law and tried to earn their way to heaven through it.
There is no way to earn salvation. You can live sinfully, morally, or religiously and you’ll never be able to earn heaven.
Romans 4. Abraham was an Old Testament saint who tried to earn or bring about God’s promise. Every time he did, he made things worse. Finally, he trusted in God’s character and God brought about His promises. Verses 21-22 tell us that this is what is credited to him as righteousness.
Romans 5. Jesus died for the immoral, moral, and religious. Verse 20 says that for believers, where sin increases grace increases all the more. What brings more grace, is more sin. Your life, your “goodness” cannot equal salvation.
Romans 6. So do we increase sin to see more grace? Never! Don’t trample on the grace of God that is there because it has to be for our salvation. We live according to God’s character because it’s His character that saves.
Romans 7. The reality of “the righteous shall live by faith” is that we struggle with sin.
Romans 8. It’s amazing to be transformed. Creation longs to be transformed! Our growth is God and His work in us. Romans 8 is His process and nothing can separate us from the Love of God.
Romans 9, 10, 11. Israel is under judgment for their lack of faith. God hasn’t abandoned them. He’s working on them.
Romans 12. Be a living sacrifice. Be transformed by a renewing of your mind. Take all the head knowledge and live it out. We need the knowledge but it doesn’t end there.
Romans 13. Being subject to our government is one way to live it out.
Romans 14-15. Gray areas in Christianity exist as we live according to His character. How do we live out our faith when the Bible doesn’t speak specifically to all issues? Answer: We loves our brothers as He does. We show them respect even when we disagree.
Romans 16. Paul’s concluding thoughts and greetings.
The righteous shall live by faith! We get to explore this fully as we study Romans over the next year… or more.