I have spent a lot of time in the book of Romans in the last... well, off and on for 8 or 9 years now that I think about it. Last year I read the Bible through in 1 year for the first time (which I highly recommend), and really enjoyed the Big Picture that I got. Well, going through Romans in the Life and Letters of Paul class, I finally just got the big picture of Romans. It should have been as simple as looking at an outline of the book... but for some reason the meaning behind it didn't come through for me until now. The whole thing centers around righteousness.
The first part of the book states the human condition. All men are completely fallen, and can do nothing to be right by themselves. We will face judgement.
Next Paul covers how we can be justified... through faith in God, given by God. Not through anything we do. The true meaning of this grace can only come after seeing the horror of our condition.
Then Paul talks about sancification. We can't just fix up the old self, we must become renewed. And this comes through yielding to the discipline of God. This is the victory part of the book... but again, you can't get here without understanding our fallen condition.
Then comes a brief explanation about God's plan for Israel.
And lastly come the instructions for living, the "does and don'ts" of life. But you can't take these in isolation, because they don't stand alone. These are not rules that we have to obey (or more acurately, are able to obey), because we are still needy at this point and must depend on God for them to happen. These are statements of God's intent for our lives, and they happen as we move from faith to faith.
Well, reading over what I have written, I realize that it doesn't really convey what struck me so strongly as I realized this progression. But I have no other words, only impressions and realizations of God's amazing love for me, of how I do not deserve it, yet He seems to have a plan for me. Of how it doesn't depend on me at all. This utter dependence on God is fabulous, because I know there is no way I can do this Christian life. God's grace takes me from beginning to end, it is all there is.