[Romans Study 1-1]
Introduction I: Romans And The Key Figures
What Has Been Said Of Romans?
“This letter is the principal part of the New Testament and the purest Gospel, which surely deserves the honor that a Christian man should not merely know it off by heart word for word, but that he should be occupied with it daily as the daily bread of the soul. For it can never be read too often and too well. And the more it is used the more delicious it becomes and the better it tastes …”
With these words, Martin Luther in the year 1522 began his introduction to the Letter to the Romans in the first edition of the New Testament newly translated by him.
“At every significant juncture in the life of the Christian community this letter has stood, and for every giant of faith ever raised up to effect some change in that community, it has furnished the fire. And, for all the souls who have carried the embers which some great event or person has later fanned into flame, this last will and testament of Paul of Tarsus has spelled warmth and light.”
“If Holy Scripture was a ring, and the Epistle to the Romans a precious stone, chapter 8 would be the sparkling point of the jewel.”
“Certain it is that no book has had a greater influence on the theology of the Protestant Church, and no book contains more of the quintessence of the mind of Paul.”
The Epistle to the Romans was the bedrock, the foundation on which the faith of the church was held and established and enabled to continue.
Highlights Of Conversions By Romans
This Epistle is so powerful that it has affected transformation in the lives of countless Christian men and women. The list of those who have experienced transformation may be endless, including those who are being added to this list daily, but I will pick out a few of the outstanding highlights.
Augustine of Hippo was a brilliant professor and a profound philosopher and yet, he was living an immoral and dissolute life. Troubled and agonized in his soul, he was seated in a garden one afternoon: “I heard the voice of a boy or a girl … chanting over and over again, ‘Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it’ … I quickly returned to the bench … for there I had put down the apostle’s book … I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.’ I wanted to read no further, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”
The famous verses that converted him were Romans 13:13-14.
In 1515, while he was still a Roman Catholic, Martin Luther, who was at the time a teacher of theology, decided to give lectures to his students on the Epistle to the Romans. And it was as he was studying this very Epistle that the truth of justification by faith and by faith alone dawned upon his mind and his heart and his whole being. This led to that tremendous change in his life that was the catalyst of the Protestant Reformation. This great doctrine, mentioned in the first chapter of this Epistle and also in the Epistle to the Galatians, was the source of that total turnaround in Luther’s life.
Shortly before his death, the greatest Reformer of them all described the decisive change that had occurred in him: “It is true; I had been seized by an uncommon desire to understand Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. And thus far it was not cold blood around the heart that hindered me, but on single word … “in it the righteousness of God is revealed.” For I hated that word “righteousness of God” which … I was taught to construe philosophically as a formal or active righteousness (as they call it), by which God is just and punishes sinners and the unjust. … So I raged furiously and with a confused conscience. Still, I hammered persistently away at the passage in Paul, afire with eagerness to know what he means. Then, thanks to God’s mercy and meditating on it day and night, I paid attention to the context. … I began to understand God’s righteousness as something by which the merciful God justifies us through faith, as it is written: “The just lives by faith.” Right then I sensed I had been wholly reborn, and had entered by open doors to very paradise.”
That man was Luther, and the passage Romans 1:17 (WA 54, 185, 14-186, 9, author’s transl.).
Perhaps best-known of all is the account of the conversion of John Wesley on May 24, 1738, in Aldersgate Street in London. The Spirit of God had been working in him; the Moravian Brethren had been teaching him about this doctrine of justification by faith without works, and though he understood it with his mind, he had to say, ‘I have not felt it.’ It was in a state of great agitation of soul and of mind and of heart that he went in weariness to a meeting in Aldersgate Street. It so happened that there in that meeting somebody – one of the Christian brethren – was reading the Preface and Introduction to Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, and Wesley sat there listening to it. And as he sat and listened he found that his heart was ‘strangely warmed’ and he knew that God had forgiven his sins – ‘even mine’, he says. And then, he was given the certain assurance that turned him, from being a preacher who was an abject failure, into a great and mighty evangelist.
Have I Realized The Value Of Romans Yet?
Looking back at these epoch-making conversions in the history of Christianity, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones challenges us, we should be examining ourselves and asking this question: “Have I realized all this about the Epistle to the Romans? As I have gone through my Bible have I stopped at this book? Have I paused at it and given my time to it? Have I realized its profundity?”
Republished with permission from Dr. Christy Tran, the author of “The Epistle to the Romans: Paul’s Love Letter from God.”