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Romans Overview 3 - The Good News (3:21 - 5:21)

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Also available: Introduction 1:1-17 1:18 - 3:20 6:1 - 8:39 9:1 - 11:36 12:1 - 15:13 15:14 - 16:27

So far, Paul has established that all of mankind, whether Jew or Gentile, deserves the wrath of God. He has shown very clearly that it is impossible to be justified before God by keeping the law (3:20). The answer to the problem of sin is not the law, but the good news is that God has provided the answer to mankind’s awful predicament through Jesus. There is a great contrast here between the demand for holiness and righteousness and the penalty of wrath, and justification as a free gift appropriated through faith. He uses the law to show that Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, was also saved by his faith, even before the law was given. The personal benefit of being justified by faith is reconciliation and peace with God, because, through the cross, Christ reversed the sin of Adam.

Justification by the free gift of grace (3:21-31)

The good news is that the righteousness of God has been revealed and is available to all through faith in Jesus Christ. Through him, the believer is justified and redeemed because Jesus has been the atoning sacrifice. Because justification is by faith, receiving the free gift of grace, there is no room for boasting before God.

All have sinned, but are now justified by grace (3:21-26)

This section follows nearly three chapters of bad news, and begins with the words, "But now", which come like a breath of fresh air, introducing the new section with the good news.

The righteousness of God has been revealed in the Gospel, apart from the law. This comes in contrast to his wrath being revealed (1:18). Again, Paul is stressing the continuity of the Gospel with the OT (as 1:2, 17). The law points to Christ, and the Gospel was predicted and foreshadowed in the law and the prophets. Here are just a few examples: Moses wrote about Christ (Jn 5:44), Moses predicted the coming of a prophet like himself (Deut 18:15), Jesus is our Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7) and Isaiah predicted the suffering servant (Is 53). The righteousness of God comes apart from the law, but the law foreshadowed it and predicted it.

This righteousness apart from the law is for all who believe (v22). It must be received by each individual by faith in Jesus, trusting one’s life to his saving work. This act of faith places each person in a place of righteousness before God, the barrier of sin has been removed, and the way is opened to a relationship with God and the gift of eternal life.

There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, both have sinned (ch 1-3), and both fall short of the glory of God (v23), both failing to live up to his perfect standard of righteousness. The NT introduces a new distinction, between those with faith in Jesus Christ, and those who do not have faith in him.

All who have faith are justified as a free gift, which is made possible because of God's grace. Grace is God's free undeserved favour, which he give to those who are unworthy and do not deserve it. Paul has effectively proved in chapters 1-3 that no one deserves to be justified, so it has to be by God’s grace. God has taken the initiative to restore the relationship that was broken because of man's sin, something mankind could never have done himself. We are saved by God's grace and our faith connects us to that grace and enables us to receive it.

It is helpful to understand the difference between justice, mercy and grace. Justice is receiving what we deserve, which is wrath. Mercy is not receiving what we deserve, not receiving the wrath. Grace is receiving what we do not deserve, which is salvation.

This passage introduces three highly significant theological concepts, which are important for us to understand. Each of them were every-day, non-theological words for the original readers, which had a familiar setting in their culture.

1. Justify (v24)
The setting is in a law court, when an accused person is publicly declared "not guilty" of the charges brought against them, and instead is declared "righteous". Through faith in Jesus Christ the individual person can be justified, declared "not guilty", even though they are guilty. This is because Jesus took the guilt for us, in our place.

2. Ransom or Redeem (v24)
The setting is in the slave market. A slave is purchased, the price is paid, and the slave is set free from slavery. Through his death Jesus paid the price of redemption, the ransom to set slaves free. We were slaves to sin, and our freedom has been bought by the death of Jesus.

3. Sacrifice of atonement (propitiation) (v25)
The setting here is in a pagan temple, where the sacrifice of an animal appeases the god by satisfying the wrath of that god. This idea has been more controversial, as many people do not accept that Paul could use an image from paganism, or describe Jesus as a wrath-taker, so sometimes it is translated as an expiation, or guilt-taker. However, in chapters 1 - 3, Paul showed that all of humanity is under the wrath of God because of sin and rebellion. Logically someone needs to take that wrath. As the sacrifice of atonement, Jesus took God’s wrath instead of us. As Isaiah predicted. "The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Is 53:6), which shows the amazing mercy and grace of God. Jesus received the wrath, so that we could receive his righteousness, and be declared clean.

The Gospel is a demonstration of the righteousness of God (v25). In the OT, through his divine forbearance, he had passed over previous sins. He had looked forward to the coming of Jesus and the future work of the cross, so could overlook sin, and bring forgiveness to repentant people.

The Gospel is the answer to the problem of whether forgiving sin affects God's righteousness and integrity (v26). How can sin be forgiven, while justice is still being done? Through the Gospel, God remains righteous, sin is dealt with, and he justifies those who have faith in Jesus. If God let us off, and merely forgave sin, he would make himself unjust. The cross demonstrated the justice of God. Through his death, Jesus paid the price of sin, so we can share in God's righteousness. God still remains righteous, without him compromising his justice and holiness. God retains his integrity, and justice has been done.

A few thoughts about justification by faith

This doctrine is the heart of the Christian gospel, which makes Christianity totally different from all other religions. Salvation depends on what Jesus has done, rather on what we have done. Paul continually emphasises that justification has been made available apart from the law (v21). The law exposes sin and shows the need of a saviour, rather than being any actual help. The law shows that all people stand guilty before God and deserve his wrath. Justification (being declared not-guilty) is received by personal faith in Jesus Christ, as an act of trust in his death as a sacrifice for sin. Each person needs to respond personally in faith in order to receive salvation.

Justification by faith is always seen as a gift, given by God (v24). God has shown his love and mercy, by extending grace to rebellious and sinful mankind. He has given favour and shown mercy, when wrath and judgement were deserved. God's free gift was extremely costly, we have been brought with a price. Jesus willingly gave his life as a ransom, the price to be paid to bring redemption, to set mankind free from the slavery to sin. In this way justice was done, and God's holiness was not compromised.

Justification by faith is open to everybody. Just as there is no distinction in man's sinfulness, neither is there any distinction in justification. All have sinned, and the way of salvation is open to all, whether Jew or Gentile. Salvation is a free gift, made possible through God's grace, so there is no room for boasting. Nobody deserves it or has earned it. We receive the free gift by faith. A free gift is very difficult for humans to accept. It is an insult to our pride, so we have a continual temptation to try to pay for it. Justification by faith is only the first step in the Christian walk. This new relationship with God now needs to be worked out day-by-day in a life of service to God.

Justification by faith excludes boasting (3:27-31)

For the rest of chapter three, Paul employs another diatribe, defending his Gospel of grace against an imaginary (or real) critic. There are a series of three logical questions that Paul answers.

The first question is about the place of boasting. 'Boasting' is a key word through the next few chapters of Romans. We will see that there are things we must not boast about, and other things which we should boast about. In his answer Paul says boasting is excluded. There is no place for it in salvation. Boasting was particularly a problem for the Jews, who boasted in their identity as God’s chosen people, and boasted in their ability to keep the law. If people live under the law and think they are keeping it there is tendency towards boasting and pride, but if people think they are failing, the tendency is to fall into condemnation. Because salvation is available by faith alone, there is no room for boasting. Salvation depends totally on what Jesus has done for us. He gets the glory, not us.

The second question is whether God is God of the Jews only. The answer is, 'No'. There is only one God (Deut 6:4), and he is the God of both Jews and Gentiles. There is now no distinction between Jew and Gentile, both are justified in the same way - by faith, and not by law-keeping. All people on earth are equal before the cross.

The third question is whether this implies we overthrow the law. Again, the answer is 'No'. If salvation is by faith, apart from the law, then it might be logical to overthrow the law. Instead, in the next chapter, Paul upholds the law, looking in the law, specifically at the life of Abraham, to prove the truth of justification by faith. Later, in chapter six, he answers the charge that he is living without law.

Abraham: the father of those with faith (4:1-25)

Paul shows that he is upholding the law when he looks back into the books of the law (the Torah) to show that Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, was not saved by keeping the law, but by his faith, four hundred years before the law was given. He maintained faith in God’s promise, and so became the father, not just of the Jewish people, but of all people who share his faith.

a. Abraham’s faith reckoned as righteousness (4:1-8)

Abraham was revered by the Jews as the founder and physical father of their nation, so it is most significant that Paul refers to him to support his argument for justification by faith. This also shows the continuity of the gospel with the OT (1:2, 3:21). Paul needed to address this issue because the Jews believed that all the benefits that Abraham had received were theirs because they were his descendants. They claimed to be the recipients of his merits and of God's promised blessings (Luke 3:8, John 8:33,39,53). Paul shows that Abraham was not justified by works of the law, therefore he could not boast about his works before God. It was through his faith that he was reckoned as righteous.

In this chapter Paul repeatedly refers back to Genesis chapter 15, when Abraham was taken outside and told to count the stars, if he was able to. That is how many descendants he would have. In response, he believed what God had said, and this faith was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen 15:5-6, see also Heb 11:11-12). Abraham's faith involved believing God could achieve what seemed physically impossible, that he could bring life out of two bodies which were as good as dead (v19). Abraham and Sarah were both very old, and had not been able to have any children.

Another key word is introduced here, the word, 'reckon'. It comes from the world of banking and accounting in the first century, when amounts of money were added up and written down to credit a person’s account. Abraham was publicly declared righteous, and this was written down to his account. In the Book of Revelation, the written record of those who are justified is called the lamb’s book of life (Rev 21:27).

From a familiar everyday illustration, an employee’s wages are not a gift, but what is due to them. If salvation was possible through the works of the law, then the person would be earning their salvation. It would be like wages due to them. By contrast, salvation of the ungodly is a free gift of God’s grace, received by faith. Abraham trusted God without works. He was called by God from a pagan background, then trusted in God, who justifies the ungodly.

Paul now gives the example of King David, who was also justified by faith apart from works, after the law was given. In a quotation of Ps 32:1-2, David knew that his sins were forgiven, but not through his works, and his sin was not written down on his account for judgement.

Abraham, the ancestor of all who believe (4:9-12)

Abraham's faith was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen 15), 14 years before he was circumcised (v10, Gen 17). He was therefore declared righteous while uncircumcised. He can therefore be the ancestor of two groups of people: Gentiles who have faith, and Jews who have faith. The physical act of circumcision is not important, but following Abraham’s faith is crucial.

The Jews boasted that they were the children of Abraham, because they had the covenant of circumcision, which they were very proud of. But to the horror of the Jews, Paul now redefines this, stating that the real sons of Abraham are those who follow his faith. Instead of being the physical father of the Jews, the circumcised, he is the spiritual father of all who have faith, whether they are Jew or Gentile (Gal 3:7). This is a similar to the concept of the true Jews mentioned in chapter two, inward and spiritual, the true circumcision (2:28-29)

We should note again here the important theme of equality of both Jews and Gentiles before God (v9,11-12). All through history, the true people of God have always been those who responded to God in faith. These were the faithful remnant in the OT, and the Christians under the New Covenant, when the blessing of justification by faith has been extended to the Gentiles on a much greater scale than ever before.

The promise was through faith, not law (4:13-15)

God gave Abraham a great promise, of land, many descendants and being a blessing to the nations (Gen 12:1-2). This promise came to Abraham and was passed on to his descendants by faith, not by keeping the law, as the law was given 430 years after the promise (Gal 3:17). Faith in God’s promise is what matters most.

The promise was not for those who kept the law, which only brings wrath and judgement, but for the descendants of Abraham who have faith, whether Jew or Gentile (v11-12). This would shock the Jews, who thought that the law brings righteousness, but Paul had already shown that the law actually brings wrath because no one is able to keep it completely (ch 2-3).

Abraham did not weaken in faith (4:16-22)

Paul now looks more at the faith of Abraham. The promise depends on faith, and is continued to all of Abraham’s descendants. These are not necessarily his physical descendants (the Jews), but his spiritual descendants, those who share his faith, whether Jew or Gentile.

God made a promise to Abraham to be the father of many nations. This promise was ultimately fulfilled in the gospel, when Gentiles were saved by faith. It was originally given to Abraham before he had a son. The childless Abram was renamed Abraham. It is significant that the name 'Abraham' means 'Father of a multitude' (Gen 17:5). God calls the things that are not as if they are, just as he declares the ungodly Abraham to be righteous (v5). Abraham’s faith was to believe in the impossible, that God would give life to the dead (v17). Abraham's and Sarah's bodies were as good as dead, in that they were now old and had no children, but God could bring life from the dead.

We can have a few questions about the part where Paul says that Abraham did not weaken in faith (v19), or waver through distrust (v21), as this does not seem to fit the account of Abraham’s life, as recorded in the Book of Genesis. He had a child through his slave-girl, Hagar (Gen 16:1-3), and both he and Sarah laughed (Gen 17:17, 18:12). Perhaps God looked on his faith, and overlooked his weaknesses and failings.

Abraham’s example applied to all (4:23-25)

The lesson of Abraham is now applied to the readers in Rome. Just as Abraham was reckoned as righteous by his faith, the words of Gen 15:6 are also applied to the Roman readers. They, and us, also have to believe that God can bring life to the dead, through the resurrection of Jesus.

Enemies in Adam, reconciliation in Christ (5:1-21)

The personal benefit of being justified by faith is reconciliation and peace with God and the experience of knowing the love of God, which was supremely shown through the death of his Son. Through the cross, Christ reversed the effects of the sin of Adam, bringing justification instead of condemnation, and life instead of death.

Boasting in peace, hope and suffering (5:1-5)

Now Paul begins to describe the blessings of being declared righteous by faith, thus reversing the bad news of chapters 1 to 3. The personal benefit in subjective experience of being justified is that it brings to the believer the assurance of God's love. Justification is only the beginning of the Christian life. He begins by saying, "Since we are justified by faith". Our justification was a single event that has happened in our lives, the blessings of which continue day by day.

The first benefit is that we have peace with God (v1). We are no longer in rebellion against God (as ch 1), and therefore no longer face his wrath. We have now been reconciled with him (v11). This is the peace everyone is looking for, but in the wrong places. It is not merely the absence of conflict, but like the Hebrew "Shalom", it is peace with God, peace with others, and peace within. This peace with God has been made available by the cross, but we need to make it our own by faith. Having peace with God means that we are now his friends. We have access to him, and can come and enjoy his presence and his favour on us.

The second benefit is that we can boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God (v2). We can look to the future with hope. This hope is one hundred percent certain. We can be confident and secure as we look to the future, without any need for anxiety. We can look to the future with eagerness and anticipation.

Back in chapter three, boasting was excluded (3:27) because we cannot boast about achieving salvation. However now we can boast. Because of Jesus, and the work of the cross, we can be totally certain that we will share eternity with him, and even boast about it! It is false humility, and even shows a misunderstanding of the Gospel when Christians do not feel confident to say, "I know I will be going to be in glory after I die". It is not, "I might go to heaven (if I am good enough)", but, "I know I will go to heaven (because Jesus took my sin on the cross)".

We will share the glory of God, his radiant splendour, currently hidden, which will one day be fully displayed. Without Jesus all men fall short of the glory of God (3:23), but in the future we will share in this glory (8:17). So salvation is more than being delivered from the wrath of God, from sin and death, it is also entering into the fulness of life, both now, and to a much greater extent in the future. In this short passage Paul looks to the past, that we have been justified by faith (v1a), then looks at the present of having peace with God (v1b), and to the future when we will share the glory of God (v2).

The third benefit comes as a bit of a surprise - boasting in our sufferings, meaning tribulations or persecutions because of being a Christian, facing opposition to the faith. The early Christians saw it as an honour to suffer for the sake of Christ (Acts 5:41, 1 Pet 3:14, 17), which is a big challenge to us today.

Paul continues by stating that suffering has a purpose and can bear good fruit in our lives, of character and hope, if we respond to it positively. When faced with difficulties, we have a choice, either to respond with anger and bitterness, or to respond in faith. If we respond in faith, the difficulties and suffering help us to grow in Christian maturity, particularly endurance and character (v4). There is only one way to develop endurance and perseverance - that is through suffering. If there is nothing to endure, then no endurance is needed. Christians need to develop the character quality to persevere in their faith in the face of opposition, difficulties and discouragements.

There is perhaps a surprising connection between suffering and hope. If we see God meet with us and develop our character in a time of adversity, that will give us confidence and trust in him as we look to the future - a greater assurance of hope. Once justified, we are called to grow into the likeness of Christ, a process which is often called sanctification, which Paul looks more at in the next few chapters (6 - 8).

Reconciled while still enemies (5:6-11)

This paragraph focusses more on objective truth as it expands on the love of Christ shown in the last paragraph, contrasting human love (v7) with God's love in dying for the ungodly (v8). God's love is fully expressed in the death of Christ. He did this when we were still living godless, sinful and unrighteous lives (v6,8), and were still enemies of God (v10). Paul emphasises that his love for us is utterly undeserved, there is absolutely nothing we could do to earn it. Christ died for us while we were still: helpless sinners (v6), sinners (v8), and even his enemies (v10).

To emphasise his point, Paul uses the phrase 'much more surely' twice in this paragraph. Because we have been justified much more surely will we be saved from the wrath of God on the day of judgement (v9), and because we have been reconciled to God while we were still enemies, much more surely will we now be saved by his life (v10).

These two verses show that what God has already done for us in the past gives us greater assurance of what he will do in the future. The fact that he has already removed the guilt we had, and the wrath we deserved, shows that he will certainly save us from the final wrath and give us eternal life in his Son Jesus Christ.

Because we have been justified, we even have the authority to boast. This is permissible because justification is something achieved for us by the death and resurrection of Christ, and not something we have earned for ourselves. We can boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God (v2), and that we have been reconciled with God (v11). This is in contrast to the boasting in works, which is excluded (3:27), because it was based on keeping the law.

Sin and death came through one man - Adam (5:12-14)

The question naturally asked at this point would be, "How can the death of a single man in the past be effective for me?". In this next portion, Paul makes a digression to explain how the death of Jesus atones for the sin of all who put their faith in him, and how we can be reconciled with God (v11). Jesus is the last Adam, who reversed the work of the first Adam.

He begins by stating that death came into the world through one man, Adam (v12). Adam’s sin led to death (Gen 2:17), for himself and the rest of humanity after him. We need to realise that death came into the world as a result of the fall, "death came through sin". Before the fall, there was no death. Sin and death were not part of the original creation, which God described as very good (Gen 1:31). Following the fall, all of mankind shares the consequences of Adam's sin, because we are part of his humanity. We will see in chapter eight that the fall also affected the rest of the physical creation (8:19-21).

This again shows the complete incompatibility between the Bible and evolution. Death is one of the chief mechanisms of evolution, and would have been part of the world from the beginning, as the basis of the survival of the fittest. By contrast, Paul is saying that before sin there was no death, because death is the consequence of sin, having come through one man, Adam (v12, 1 Cor 15:21). The question is whether there was death before sin (evolution), or sin before death (Romans 5). If there was death before sin, then the logical consequence is that death is not the penalty for sin. If this is true, then the death of Jesus becomes irrelevant, and the Gospel completely undermined.

This alarming consequence is normally completely ignored by many Christian theologians, but seen very clearly by atheistic evolutionists, as these two quotations show clearly:
"Those liberal and neo-orthodox Christians who regard the creation stories as myths or allegories are undermining the rest of Scripture, for it there was no Adam, there was no fall; and if there was no fall, there was no hell; and if there was no hell, there was no need of Jesus as Second Adam and Incarnate Savior, crucified and risen. As a result, the whole biblical system of salvation collapses ... Evolution thus becomes the most potent weapon for destroying the Christian faith." (AJ Mattel. Three Cheers for the Creationists. Free Inquiry (vol 2, spring 1982, p 17-18))

"Christianity has fought, still fights, and will continue to fight science to the desperate end over evolution, for evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus' earthly life was made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin, and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the son of God. If Jesus was not the redeemer who died for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is nothing." (G Richard Bozath. "The Meaning of Evolution", American Atheist, (Feb 1978, p 30)

After the end of verse twelve, Paul seems to break off, never finishing his sentence, and moving into a detailed explanation of how Adam was a type of Jesus. Through his death, his act of righteousness, he reversed the effects of the trespass of Adam.

Sin was in the world before the law, from Adam to Moses, and therefore death exercised dominion (v14), but sin was only reckoned after the law was given. In the Book of Romans, sin is failure, falling short of God's standards (3:23), rather than a specific action. It describes a general state or condition of sin, from which specific acts of transgression come. A trespass or transgression is a specific act of disobedience, stepping over the line and doing something which is forbidden. Since the fall, mankind has distorted the image of God, and is alienated from God. Paul personifies sin as a power, under which we were in bondage, so men are slaves to sin. Sin is the opposite of faith. It is the wilful refusal to acknowledge God and God and to serve him.

Paul describes Adam as a type of the one who was to come, Jesus (v14). A type is an important concept in OT theology - a real physical person, place, object, or event in the OT which in some way prefigures the person or work of Jesus. To be a type, it has to be something physical, otherwise it would merely be a symbol. By describing Adam as a type of Christ, Paul is affirming that Adam was a real historical person, not merely a legend or myth.

Free gift came through one man - Jesus (5:15-17)

Paul declares that there are now two groups of humanity, no longer Jew and Gentile, but those in Adam (in sin and guilt), and those in Christ (in grace and faith). He contrasts two men: the first man, Adam, with the second man, Christ. Both men are leaders of humanity: Adam, the head of the old humanity; and Jesus, the head of the new humanity.

Adam is not a type of Christ in the normal sense of the word, but an opposite type, who is contrasted to Jesus. Paul shows that Jesus reversed the work of Adam. In each verse from v15-19 there is a vivid contrast and interchange between Adam and Christ.

In this passage, Paul describes two groups of people as 'the many', or 'all'. The first group is natural sinful mankind, the physical sons of Adam (v15a), and the second group is those who are in Christ, the redeemed believers (v15b). They have experienced the second, spiritual, birth. They are in Adam by physical birth, but in Christ by second birth, by faith. They have been born again, or born from above (Jn 3:3).

Paul contrasts Adam's trespass with the free gift of grace in Christ (v15). Adam's sin brought judgement and death to many, while Christ's gift brought life to many. What Adam ruined, Christ restored. Adam brought about sin (v19), judgement (v16), condemnation (v18) and death (v17), while Christ brought about righteousness (v19), justification (v16), acquittal (v18) and life (v17). The single trespass of Adam caused judgement and condemnation, while the free gift of Christ brings justification following many trespasses (v16). Adam's single trespass caused not just his own fall, but the fall of all of humanity, bringing death, condemnation and alienation from God. This is what is called original sin.

One trespass, one act of righteousness (5:18-21)

Paul contrasts the one act of trespass made by Adam with the one act of righteousness made by Christ. Adam’s one act of trespass led to condemnation for all (v18), which is contrasted with the single act of righteousness (v18), Jesus's death on the cross, which brings justification and life to all who put their trust in him. Through Adam's disobedience in the Garden of Eden, all mankind became sinners (v19a), the state described by Paul in chapters 1-3. Because of the obedience of Christ, in willingly giving his life to save mankind, the many who place their trust in him can be declared righteous (v19b).

Because of Adam's trespass, all mankind is under the dominion of sin and death (v17a), having lost the place of dominion which God originally intended for them (Gen 1:28). Those who receive the free gift of grace are freed from the dominion of sin and death, and can exercise dominion in life through Jesus Christ (v17b). Through Christ the relationship with God which was broken in the Garden (Gen 3) is restored.

The law came after the fall, but it is no help (v20). Instead, it only makes the situation worse. The aim of the law is to make us cry out for God's mercy. The law caused the trespasses to increase, but the good news is that when sin increased, grace abounded even more (v20). This opens the way for the inevitable question: should we sin more, so we can receive more grace. This is answered in chapter six.

This ends the section describing justification by faith in Christ. However, this is only the beginning of the Christian life. The consequences are developed in chapters six to eight, where Paul shows that since we have been justified by faith, we are now dead to sin (ch 6), dead to the law (ch 7), and made alive to the Spirit (ch 8).

Also available: Introduction 1:1-17 1:18 - 3:20 6:1 - 8:39 9:1 - 11:36 12:1 - 15:13 15:14 - 16:27