A person who studies a book of the Bible can interact with it at 6 different levels:
The first level of the triangle represents the most basic knowledge that one can have of a book of the Bible, and the sixth level the most advanced.
The single biggest secret of Bible study (apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit!) is this: The triangle must always be accessed from the top. This means that the detail or parts of a book, such as a few loose standing verses, must always be interpreted in the light of the broader context, or the whole. This is essentially what we mean when we speak about the “Big Picture Principle.”
If we honour this principle, we will always interpret a specific level in the light of a higher level, which means we will first get a grasp of the higher level.
Level 1: As we have seen, the Theme of Romans is a courtroom drama during which a life exchange takes place.
Level 2: The Major Divisions of Romans (which we briefly referred to in Chapter 1) can be depicted as follows:
Level 3: The Sub Divisions of Romans divide our picture even further:
Level 4: The Chapters that are contained in the Sub Divisions can be summarised as set out hereunder. Note that each chapter “setting” or “event”, as it appears in our Big Picture, has its own name and unique character to help you remember the theme of the chapter and distinguish it from other chapters.
Sub Division 1: The Problem (Chapters 1-3)
Chapter 1: A Pagan Party
Human beings were created for God, but exchanged their view of God with a focus on self. As a result, their instinct to worship God was replaced with a desire for self-empowerment, which in turn birthed a selfish lifestyle.
Chapter 2: A Religious Riot
Religion cannot save us. An effort to keep God’s law may lead to prideful actions that appear righteous on the outside, but it can never change the heart.
Chapter 3: An Incredible Indictment
The religious and irreligious have all sinned, and fall short of God’s glory.
Once Sub Division 1: The Problem is fully populated, it will look like this:
Sub Division 2: The Solution (Chapters 4-6)
Chapter 4: A Fatherly Faith
Abraham believed God and was declared righteous. We can also become righteous if we believe in this way.
Chapter 5: A Radical Righteousness
The first outcome of saving faith is forgiveness. The blood of Jesus Christ pays the penalty for our sins and reconciles us to God.
Chapter 6: A New Nature
The second outcome of saving faith is deliverance from the power of sin. Christ did not only die for us. We died with him!
Once Sub Division 2: The Solution is fully populated, our big picture will look like this:
Sub Division 3: The Outcome (Chapters 7-11)
3.1 The Outcome for the Christian (Chapters 7-8)
Chapter 7: An Impossible Instruction
We have not only died to sin, but have also died to the law. The tenth commandment points us to Christ, as it prohibits the sinful inclinations of the heart. No one can keep this commandment, and so it condemns all who are not in Christ.
Chapter 8: A Glorious Guide
The believer is no longer guided by selfish desire and deeds, but by the Holy Spirit. Through him we become God’s children and heirs.
3.2 The Outcome for Israel (Chapters 9-11)
Chapter 9: A People of Promise
God has called a people to himself made up of both Jews and gentiles. They are children of promise instead of physical descent, just like Jesus Christ.
Chapter 10: A Wrong Righteousness
Israel tried to establish a righteousness of their own, instead of submitting to God’s righteousness. True righteousness stems from believing with the heart and confessing with the mouth.
Chapter 11: A Future Faith
Israel’s present unbelief does not mean that God has rejected them. God has preserved a remnant for himself that will come to saving faith at the appointed time.
Once Sub Division 3: The Outcome is fully populated, our big picture will look like this:
Sub Division 4: The New Life (Chapters 12-16)
Chapter 12: An Industrious Identity
Believers are “living sacrifices”. They have died, yet are alive. They belong to a new family, the body of Christ, and discover their identity therein.
Chapter 13: A Loving Loyalty
Believers are no longer self-driven, and so they humbly submit to the authorities. They live by the law of love, which is the fulfilment of the law.
Chapter 14: An Accepting Attitude
Believers do not judge fellow believers who differ with them on minor issues, but accept them in love.
Chapter 15: An Excellent Example
The calling to relate to others according to the law of love is best understood by looking at the life of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 16: A Gracious Greeting
Paul greets his readers and warns them against those who oppose the doctrine he teaches, namely the “revelation of the mystery”.
Once Sub Division 4: The New Life is fully populated, our big picture is complete (finally!) and will look like this:
Levels 5 & 6: The bottom two levels of our triangle (Chapter Divisions and Verses) will be dealt with in the material to follow.
A question that may arise is this: How do I integrate the 6 “phases” of the courtroom drama with the chapters and “sub-divisions” of Romans? The graphic below provides a neat idea:
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