It is generally agreed upon that the book of Romans is Paul’s magnum opus. In it Paul most clearly gives us the gospel of Jesus Christ in both its simplicity and its multifaceted depths, such that Paul proclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom. 11:33) The gospel is life changing and so is reading the book of Romans. Romans has provided the entirety of content for the traditional “Romans Road” evangelistic message and it has dominated the preaching ministry of men such as Martin Lloyd Jones and John Piper.
Romans 1-7 For You by Tim Keller is the third book in the God’s Word For You series from The Good Book Co. The series functions as a devotional guide that provides exegesis of the text, commentary and practical application. The two previous books are Galatians For You and Judges For You both by Tim Keller.
Keller begins with the focus of the book of Romans on the righteousness of God as presented in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what changes the lives of people who read it. Keller notes,
It was the message that the perfection and holiness of God has been seen in the life and death of Jesus Christ; and that this perfection is offered to us, as a free gift, through the life and death of Jesus Christ…..Paul shows us not only how God in the gospel makes sinners righteous, but also how this most precious gift of God is enjoyed in our lives. (9)
So how can the gospel makes us right with God? Because, as Paul emphatically states, “it is the power of God unto salvation.” (Rom. 1:16) The gospel message has power to change the life of the sinner because “in it the righteousness of God is revealed.” (Rom. 1:17) In these two verses the entire message of Romans is summarized: the gospel is the power of God for salvation because it reveals the righteousness of God. This is contrasted with God’s revelation of Himself through nature and conscience, the truth of which man “suppresses in unrighteousness.” (Rom. 1:18-20) The rest of Romans Paul fleshes out in great detail how this is true objectively and what it means for our lives subjectively.
Rather than summarize the book itself, I thought it might help to give some short snippets of Keller’s comments that will help the reader see how Keller faithfully handles the text:
On Rom. 1:24 – “God’s judgment on godlessness and wickedness is to give us what we want.” (29)
On Rom. 1:26-27 – “But ‘unnatural relations’ is literally ‘against nature’ – para phusin. This means that homosexuality is a violation of the created nature God gave us. And there is nothing here to suggest that Paul only has some kinds of homosexual acts in mind. As a cultured and traveled Roman citizen, Paul would have been very familiar with long-term, stable, loving relationships between same-sex couples.” (32)
On Rom. 3:25 – “If God had really and totally forgiven the sins committed by his Old Testament people, they would be gone; nothing more would need to be done. But Paul is showing us that in fact God had not forgiven them, so much as left them unpunished, until he punished his Son for them on the cross. In other words, God in his patience had deferred payment on those sins. The sacrifices and rituals of the Old Testament were only place-holders pointing to Christ; they did not really pay the debts.” (84)
On Rom. 5:12 – “What does Paul mean by ‘because all sinned’? The verb ‘sinned’ here is in the aorist tense. The aorist always points to a single past action. So by using the aorist here, Paul is saying that the whole race sinned in one single past action. To use a large collective noun ‘all’ with such specific verb tense is so awkward that it must be deliberate.” (124)
On Rom. 7:14-25 – Keller believes Paul is talking about himself as a Christian for 4 reasons: (1) the verb tense is in the present, (2) the situation he discusses is that of ongoing struggle with sin, (3) Paul delights in the law of the Lord and (4) Paul admits that he is a sinner in need of Christ. (167-68)
These examples are just a sample of Keller’s ability to clearly communicate the meaning of the text especially when it comes to the harder verses. Romans 1-7 For You is a great place to start for personal or group study. I look forward to reading the next book on Romans by Keller.
NOTE: I received this book for free from The Good Book Co. through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest opinion. The thoughts and words are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.