Lesson 5 of 6
In Progress

Theological Themes in Romans

Adam and Christ

In Romans 5:12-21 Paul discusses the tragedy of Adam’s trespass against God, which affected all of humanity—all people are like Adam in their rebelliousness against God. But Christ was obedient, and his righteousness is available for all. His saving work exceeds the destruction that Adam caused. Paul also uses the Adam/Christ theme in 1 Corinthians 15:21-23, 45-49.

The Holy Spirit

Paul speaks frequently about the Holy Spirit, using a wide range of expressions: “the Spirit of God,” “the Spirit of Christ,” “the Holy Spirit,” “the Spirit of holiness,” “the Spirit of God’s Son,” or simply “the Spirit.” According to Paul, the Spirit prompts faith in a person (see 1 Corinthians 12:3), distributes spiritual gifts to members of the church (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-11), and empowers the life of the individual (Romans 8:1-11).

Justification by faith

This theme is probably the first that comes to mind for many when they think of Romans (and the same is true of Paul’s letter to the Galatians). It is a major theme, emphasized strongly at Romans 3:21-26, 28, 30; 5:1. All of chapter 4 is about justification by faith in the case of Abraham and the implications that flow from it for those who share the faith of Abraham. Justification by faith means that one is justified (set in a right relationship) with God purely on the basis of one’s trust (or faith) in the promises of God, fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and not by efforts known as doing the works of the law. 

The Mosaic law

For Paul, the Mosaic law is holy, given by God as a gift to Israel (Romans 7:12), but it can also be misused when its ritual precepts (such as dietary commandments) are imposed upon gentiles (as in Galatians 2:14; 5:1) and when it is used as a measure of one’s presumed righteousness before God (Romans 3:19-20). According to Paul, Christians live under the lordship of Christ (not the law), but that will entail a life conformed to the will of God, which is summed up in the love commandment (Romans 13:9; see also Galatians 5:14).

The righteousness of God

Paul speaks of “the righteousness of God” at Romans 1:17; 3:21-22, 25; 10:3; and elsewhere in his letters. The expression does not refer to some standard (such as God’s justice) but to God’s saving work, which is made evident in the gospel (1:17).


The term refers to the process of making a person, place, or thing holy. In his letters Paul speaks of believers in Christ as people who are sanctified already (1 Corinthians 1:2) or, in similar terminology, individuals who are called to be saints, that is, sanctified people (Romans 1:7). People are sanctified through baptism (1 Corinthians 6:11). On the other hand, Paul can speak of sanctification as a process in which a believer is engaged by means of a moral life (Romans 6:19-22; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

The weak and the strong

In Romans 14:1-15:13 Paul addresses the “weak and the strong” at Rome. The “weak” are vegetarians, observe certain days, and drink no wine (14:1-2, 5, 21). The “strong” do not abide by such regulations (14:2-5, 10), and Paul identifies with them (15:1). The former probably were Jewish Christians who continued a Jewish way of life as Christians, and most likely the latter were mainly gentiles (Paul being an exception). Paul urges the so-called “strong” to bear with and honor the others (14:1, 3-4, 15, 19-21, 23).

The wrath of God

The wrath of God is mentioned 12 times in Romans (1:18; 2:5 [twice], 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22 [twice]; 12:19; 13:4, 5) and three times elsewhere by Paul (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:16; 5:9). Usually Paul says that God’s wrath will be revealed at the last day as punitive judgment (Romans 2:5, 8; 3:5; 5:9; 9:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9), but he also says that it can be seen already in the effects of the law (that is, divine judgment, as in Romans 4:15) and in the punishment of wrongdoers by temporal rulers (Romans 13:4-5).