This is my understanding of the teachings found in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. It is a work in progress, but those interested can find my thoughts on the the Epistle here.
Paul starts out his Epistle to the Romans by telling them why he is writing. His reason is to show how God has been faithful through the Gospel. Paul says that God has been faithful from A. to Z. when he mentions “from faith to faith”. He quotes Scripture saying that God’s faithfulness is to the righteous. Paul argues that God will bless the righteous with His faithfulness but punish the wicked with His wrath. He says His anger is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. Paul continues to remark God’s anger to those who practice wickedness. He remarks that God leads the wicked into even more wickedness in a sense by letting them continue in their wickedness. He says that anyone who practices wickedness is not exempt from God’s judgment because their knowledge of His existence and power in the natural world.
It’s in the second chapter that Paul begins to condemn those who think they will obtain the promise because of the Law of Moses and by being a physical decent of Abraham. Paul says everyone is condemned who practices wickedness. That’s the Jew and the Greek. Then He goes on to say that whoever does righteousness is accepted by God. His illustration is a hypocritical son of Abraham and a righteous gentile. The hypocrite is judged but the righteous one is blessed. Paul remarks that God will judge everyone according to their works. He says that those who have good works/deeds will be given eternal life, but those who practice unrighteousness will be punished. He also argues that circumcision or being the son of the Law does not benefit anything if you don’t obey the Law.
In chapter 3 Paul says that the only benefit there is to being circumcised and being an Israelite is having knowledge of the things God has done. He goes on to say that no one is better off when it comes to justification however. His reasoning for that is that no people group is righteous. He quotes David to prove this. He says only by faithfulness can one boast and that faithfulness will be shown to be the faithfulness of God in His promise. Here Paul says that the Law does not justify, but rather “faith” does. Paul also defines “the righteousness of God” as “the faithfulness of Messiah Jesus”.
Abraham is presented as exercising “faith(fullness)” toward God and God blessing Him with the numbering or counting of righteousness. That counting of righteousness in this context is the giving of the promise. Then Paul says as many as walk in the footsteps of Abraham are sons of the promise, which in other words means they are heirs to the promise as he will say later. Jesus agrees when He says to those who bring up their physical descent from Abraham that they need to “do the works of Abraham”. Paul at the end of the chapter lists some deeds of Abraham and says so God credited to Him righteousness and the promise. So yes Abraham is a great illustration and pattern from whom people should reflect to receive the same blessing that Abraham is promised. Abraham was not under the Mosaic Law, but God promised it to Him when he was in faith/faithfulness.
Abraham: Received the promise by God’s gracious bestowment, which is termed by Paul “the righteousness by or of faith.”
How did he get the promise: Not by being circumcised or being under the law, but He received it by God’s gracious bestowment. The bestowment was on Abraham who simply lived in fidelity and faithfulness to God.
How does anyone stand where Abraham is and receive the “righteousness by faith”: Abraham is the pattern to receive the promised blessings and so we should be like him in having the disposition of a faithful life to God.
Having left the illustration of Abraham Paul equates “justification by faith” as being through the “blood of Jesus.” Christ’s death is the justifier in Roman’s 5 and the “faith” that is mentioned in the chapter isn’t human faith, but rather the “faith(fulness)” of God in Jesus’ atonement. In an attempt to make salvation “not by works” some make salvation by the work of human “faith”, which is an action/work, and not by the faithfulness of Jesus. The next illustration Paul uses is Adam vs Jesus. Adam’s unfaithfulness/disobedience resulted in the punishment and death of all mankind. Jesus’ faithfulness/obedience became the means of “eternal life”. Again we see the concepts of obedience and faith, then disobedience and unfaithfulness being presented here in Romans 6 in the one who brought “the righteousness” vs the one who brought death.
In Romans six sin is presented as a disqualifier for the grace God displayed through Jesus. The comparison is sin “reigning in your body”, meaning living a lifestyle of sin, vs living a life that led to the martyrdom of Jesus, which means living in righteousness. If you “yield” your body to a lifestyle of sin you get the reward of death, but if you do righteousness you will find life as the Apostle says in this chapter. His main point is just because God has given mankind a gracious gift of promise doesn’t mean you may disobey God as you wish and receive the blessing.
Paul shows that the commands in the Law aren’t sin or bad, they are just not the means to receive eternal life. The Law amplified and showed the consequences of sin, but itself could not be the means of carrying out the promise. He compares the Law itself to the law of marriage. If a man dies his wife is free to marry, so now that Jesus has come and fulfilled God’s requirements for life the law itself is out of commission. He ends it by saying the flesh is still bound to the law of sin from Adam, but life has come in “the mind” through Jesus.
Now there is no condemnation to those in Christ in comparison to the Law. The Law amplifies death for sin, but Christ’s faithfulness brings about the resurrection of life. The Law was unable to do this, but the promised fulfilled the destruction of Death and the gift of eternal life. He compares the person who lives according to the promise to those who live in the flesh. Now those who live in the flesh live to sin and they will find death, but those who “put the deeds of the body to death” there will be life. He says this is done by living under, or in obedience to, the Spirit. He continues the chapter by showing how great the promise of God is for all of creation and the “elect”.
In this chapter Paul talks about Israel. He mentions that they were given the great promises, but he shows that the blessing of it is not according to physical decent, but rather by being faithful to God. God promised great things through Israel, but many didn’t end up receiving it? God is still faithful because the promise is on those who are faithful and if some aren’t it surely does not nullify the faithfulness of God. Paul goes unto to explain why many aren’t receiving the blessing. The reason is that they are not of the promise. Why aren’t they of the promise and why are they not elect? The answer is because God chooses whom He wills and destroys whom He wills. Paul uses illustrations of those whom chose to live in wickedness like pharaoh and remarks that God puts up with them long enough to eventually destroy them. The righteous however are compared as being prepared for glory and blessing. Paul remarks that nobody can choose whom God will give the blessing to. Because it is a gift of God and a promise, then only God determines who will get it. Paul uses the illustration of Moses’ quotation and various characters from the Bible to show only God can choose whom the promise belongs to. The promise falls on those whom are faithful to Him, just as the illustrations portray. Doesn’t God speak through Moses that “I will show mercy (covenant faithfulness) on thousands of those that love me and keep my commandments?” But to the unrighteous He says “responding to the transgression of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me.”
Paul displays his sorrow for Israel in not obtaining future salvation. He explains that because they refuse to obey God in faithfulness to Jesus they are not submitting themselves to God’s promise. They thought it was simply by being sons of the Law that would warrant them the life to come. Paul again compares the Law to the Promise. The Law does not promise future life, but has commands by which not to be put to death. The Promise however is shown to come down from Heaven and shown even to return from death. The promise has life, but the law amplifies the curse of sin. Paul shows the promise being accomplished by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul goes on to speak about how the gentiles who are not physically descended from Abraham still will receive the promise.
Paul records that there is no need for a gentile to be arrogant about his position in Christ. The whole book of Romans is Paul showing why the Jew cannot boast simply because he is a son of the Law and of Abraham. Now the gentiles who would like to boast cannot either because it’s by grace for them as well that the promise comes. Just as many of Israel have fallen through “apistos” or unfaithfulness so the gentiles who have come to Christ can fall as well. Paul says if gentiles stand in “pistos” or faithfulness then they need to fear that they don’t follow in the path of many unfaithful Israelites because they can be unelected as well. Illustrations of the unfaithful are those whom killed the martyrs and the illustration of the faithful are the martyrs and those whom have chosen of their own volition not to bow to Baal. God chooses the righteous for Himself according to His marvelous grace. Paul then uses the illustration of the olive tree and its branches to show that God is gracious to give the promise to those in obedience and faithfulness, but to those who were originally joined to the tree God is able to cast them off for unfaithfulness.
Long Story Short:
Romans is not about “works” vs “faith”. Rather it is the Promise vs the Law of Moses. It can also be termed as God’s faithfulness through Jesus vs the Mosaic Law.