Timothy Keller. Romans 1-7 For You. The Good Book Company, 2014. 208 pp. $22.99.
While all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, it’s hard to deny that in a sense there is something extra-special about the Epistle to the Romans. It is, as Luther wrote in his commentary on the book, the “purest gospel.” No other section of the Bible takes us to such devastating lows in confronting us with our depravity, and no other section of the Bible takes us to such soaring heights with the reality of our justification and union with Christ. And through the Spirit of God this marvelous book has been the explosive catalyst in the lives of giants in the faith like Augustine and Luther, whose effects are still felt in the Church today.
As glorious as the Epistle to the Romans is, there are parts that are undoubtedly difficult to understand. Though there are riches to be gleaned even at the surface, there is a vast trove of treasures available to be mined by those willing to do a bit of hard digging. And a perfect tool for digging up the great treasures in the first seven chapters of this magnificent biblical book is the latest volume of the God’s Word For You series, Tim Keller’s Romans 1-7 For You. Each volume of this series “takes you to the heart of a book of the Bible, and applies its truths to your heart” (5). It’s designed to be used in a variety of ways: simply to be read cover to cover, to be used as a part personal devotions, or as a resource to teach others the Word of God.
Each chapter of Romans 1-7 For You is split into two parts, with each part concluding with several questions for reflection and application. The book walks through the first seven chapters of Romans verse-by-verse, with helpful exegesis in plain language. It’s free from original language (except for a few explanations of transliterated words that provide significant insight into the text) and technical jargon; when words appear for the first time that are not commonly used outside of the church, they are highlighted in gray and defined in a glossary in the back. Also in the appendices are a summary of Romans 1-7, a section on identifying the idols of the heart, and a brief introduction to the New Perspective on Paul.
The meaning of the biblical texts are richly illuminated, with helpful stories and illustrations typical of Keller. It’s also application-oriented, because true understanding of the Word always produces life-change. This is a book that simultaneously expands the mind and cuts to the heart; it simultaneously causes you to marvel at God and to be gripped by your own idolatry. Perhaps the best way to give you a taste for this book is to highlight a smattering of quotes:
- We never grasp the gospel until we understand that it is not fundamentally a message about our lives, dreams, or hopes. The gospel speaks about, and transforms, all of those things, but only because it isn’t about us. It is a declaration about God’s Son, the man Jesus” (13).
- The gospel is the way people are called to faith, and the way people grow in faith” (18).
- At the root of each and every sin, and each and every problem, is unbelief and a rejection of the gospel. People who are immoral and people who are moral both reject the gospel when they try to be their own savior” (22).
- If you don’t understand or believe in the wrath of God, the gospel will not thrill, empower or move you” (25).
- How do we know we have understood and received the gospel? When the thing we are most looking forward to in eternity is praising him forever” (31).
- [S]self-righteous religion is just as much a rejection of God, and a misunderstanding of his character (2:4), as the self-centered irreligion of the end of chapter 1″ (41).
- The main difference between a Christian and a religious person is not so much their attitudes to their sins, but toward their ‘good deeds.’ Both will repent of their sins; but only the Christian will repent of wrongly-motivated good works, while the religious person will rely on them” (73-74).
- A Christian is one who stops working to be saved, not one who stops working!” (97)
- [I]f you face suffering with a clear grasp of justification by grace alone, your joy in that grace will deepen. On the other hand, if you face suffering with a mindset of justification by works, the suffering will break you, not make you” (113).
- WIthout a knowledge of our extreme sin, the payment of the gospel seems trivial and does not electrify or transform. But without a knowledge of Christ’s completely debt-satisfying life and death, the knowledge of sin would crush us or compel us to deny and repress it” (135).
The above quotes represent pithy yet profound statements. But there are also extended sections of helpful biblical and theological exposition that are too long and involved to quote here. Difficult issues are explained and explored, such as the federal headship of Adam as presented in Romans 5:12-21.
This book is great for anyone longing for a deeper understanding of Romans as well as life-change by the gospel. Very few books do a good job of being both devotional and exegetical/theological; Romans 1-7 For You accomplishes this. You will come away from this book with both a clearer understanding of what the biblical texts mean, as well as greater love for God and a greater desire for grace-empowered obedience.
DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.