The length and theological depth of Romans makes it virtually impossible to find any one singular theme for the entire letter. Since the days of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther, many Protestant Bible commentators have emphasized Paul’s theme of justification by faith, which is one of the dominant themes, but likely not the predominant theme.
After surveying the entire spectrum of theological interpretation on Romans, one Bible commentary says, “Four themes in particular stand out among the many that can be identified. First and arguably foremost, the righteousness of God takes center stage…There is, of course, considerable debate about the meaning of the terminology Paul uses…The exact phrase ‘righteousness of God’ occurs only eight times in Romans (see Rom 1:17; 3:5, 21, 22; 10:3 [2x]), but it plays a pivotal role in Paul’s articulation of the gospel in the letter…Second, Paul advocates for the unity of Jews and Gentiles as one family of God, both on theological and practical grounds. Paul still envisions the priority of Israel in salvation—’to the Jew first and also to the Greek’…—but the argument in Romans is that God’s salvation is available for every individual who believes and that God has grafted the Gentiles into the one people of God alongside Israel (Rom 1:17; 11:11–24)…Paul urges both Jews and Gentiles in the Roman churches to accept one another as members of God’s one family (see Rom 14:1–15:13). Closely related to this theme is the question of Israel’s place in the plan of God… Third, Paul’s presentation of Christ as the ‘second Adam’—that is, the head of the new humanity—places Christ at the center of God’s salvific activity and at the heart of Paul’s argument (Rom 5:12–21; compare Rom 3:21–26)…Fourth, the Holy Spirit plays a key role in Paul’s theological argument in Rom 1–11 and in his exhortations in Rom 12–15. For Paul, God’s Spirit dwelling in believers serves as proof of both the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Scriptures (e.g., Ezek 11:19–20; 36:25–27; Joel 2:28–32; Jer 31:31–33) and God’s adoption of His children (Rom 5:5; 8:12–17). The Spirit empowers ethical Christian living by liberating the believer from the power of sin (Rom 8:2), helping believers to live in obedience to God (Rom 8:4–16; 14:17; 15:13), and interceding on behalf of believers in their weakness (Rom 8:26–27).”12
The home you live in probably has four sides. Each side has its own uniqueness, and together the four sides complement one another to make it a good environment. For the Christian, Romans is to be a bit like a home. In it we are to live our life, learn about God, and love others. Each of the four themes in Romans is a bit like the four sides of a home. By keeping them all connected, we enjoy the best home possible. Just like taking down an exterior wall in your home causes everything to crumble, the same thing is true when we fail to keep each of the four themes of Romans together.
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- Derek R. Brown and E. Tod Twist, Romans, ed. Douglas Mangum, Lexham Research Commentaries (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).