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When we read of Paul in the Bible Dictionary, he is defined as “the great apostle” and truly, he was. He was fearless and audacious in his testimony of Jesus. He was relentless in his desires to take the gospel to every nation he could. He was tireless in his efforts, making journey after journey after journey.

Biblical scholars, D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew Skinner, calculated that Paul would have traveled a cumulative of 13,400 miles on his missionary journeys, according to the most direct, or shortest distances. That is a staggering amount of terrain to traverse, mostly on foot, and often with resulting peril, persecution, and danger.

This week’s lesson begins a study of Paul’s epistle to Roman church members, a diverse group of former Jews and Gentiles, written about 20 years after the Savior’s resurrection. There were now Christian congregations almost everywhere the Apostles could reasonably travel, including Rome, which was the capital of an enormous empire. 

These letters were written to specific church members, but their message is universal and still applicable to each of us.

The Pauline Epistles

Paul wrote most of the epistles in the New Testament, from Romans to Hebrews. Fourteen of them. Written to those who would have already had some knowledge of the gospel. Bible translators organized the letters by length, not chronology, from longest to shortest. So the book of Romans was actually written near the end of Paul’s journeys. 

While we are not studying the epistles in chronological order, it is helpful to understand that in the earliest days of the church, the problems encountered were different from the problems met in later days of the church. Early membership was mostly Jewish, so problems mainly consisted of questions about the Law of Moses. Later, when gentile membership had increased, problems circled more around Greek philosophy. So it is helpful to note that early persecution came from Jews and Judaizers, while later persecution came from the Roman government.

Epistle to the Romans

This epistle was written by Paul while in the city of Corinth, probably during the winter of A.D. 57-58. In the first century after Christ, Rome was the center of the civilized world, with one to four million people crowded inside its walls. Paul was contemplating a visit to Jerusalem, which was sure to be dangerous. If he escaped with his life, he hoped afterwards to visit Rome. This letter was to prepare Rome’s church members for his coming, and to correct false doctrines which had been popularized by Judaizing Christians. (These were Jews who taught that converts to Christianity needed to be circumcised.)

The letter is heavy on doctrine and was written to Saints who had already been baptized and had received the gift of the Holy Ghost. They had already been taught the basic doctrines of the gospel, so it touches on more in-depth doctrines, such as justification, sanctification, reconciliation, foreordination, adoption, intercession, mediation, and redemption through Christ. According to Skinner, most scholars believe this epistle is “Paul’s greatest theological treatise.”

Yet, not everything in the letter is clear or easy to understand. Some words are obscure, ideas are complicated, and syntax seems slightly skewed. This is likely because the literature has been reworked many times through the process of translation.

Scriptures to Post or Memorize

“Without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” (Romans 1:9)

“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” (Romans 1:16)

“For there is no respect of persons with God.” (Romans 2:11)

“Thou therefore which teaches another, teaches thou not thyself?” (Romans 2:21)

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith.” (Romans 3:28)

“We glory in tribulations… knowing that tribulations worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

“Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

“The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

As a jumping off point, the Come Follow Me manual offers some very helpful definitions for words like law, circumcision, justification, and grace. I would recommend discussing those definitions as a family.

Preparation Activity: Assign each child one of the definitions listed above and have them prepare ahead of time to teach the family what it means. Encourage use of the bible dictionary and topical guide. 

I particularly love the bible dictionary’s definition of grace as an enabling power: Grace is “divine means of help or strength…Through the grace of the Lord, individuals… receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means.” I have experienced this enabling power again and again in my life. It is truly a gift. Something we cannot earn. It is generously bestowed when we do all we can.

I Make Mention of You Always in my Prayers (Romans 1:9)

As he begins his letter, Paul tells the Roman Saints that without ceasing, he has made mention of them in his prayers. What a tender way to describe his concern and love for the growing church in that city. As a mother I have felt a similar and constant concern for my children. I pray for them without ceasing, just as Paul did for the Romans.

While discussing this chapter, consider pointing out the similar love you have for your children, your hope for their happiness and well-being. Here’s an idea of how you can put this verse into practice:

Action: Choose to kneel with each of your children before bed, and instead of listening to their nightly prayer, tell them you will say the prayer, and pray for them aloud by name. Offer up your gratitude for them that God sent them to you, petition blessings for them as you feel inspired. I have only done this a handful of times with my children, but it has been such a sweet and connecting experience. I know we could benefit from prayers like this more often.

You may also enjoy this podcast from Leading Saints about a YSA Stake President who saw a need for greater understanding of youth and single adults. He felt it was of utmost importance that struggling individuals feel the love of their Heavenly Father, before any repentance or course correction could take place. Rather than first reprimand and discipline, he found it was most powerful to kneel in his office and pray with them. His only goal, he explained, was to pray until they could feel the unconditional love of their Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. This interview is incredibly insightful, with a powerful message everyone in leadership positions, including parents, should hear.

I am not Ashamed of the Gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16)

This verse is a window into Paul’s heart and soul. Here he declares with boldness his commitment to the revealed gospel. Every full-time missionary comes to love this scripture. When we serve in this capacity, we live with boldness our belief in Jesus Christ, we wear His name on our tag, we introduce ourselves as an emissary for His church. 

When we are not serving as full-time elders or sisters, it can be a little harder to speak up for Jesus, to proclaim our love for His gospel and our devotion to Him to those who may not share our belief. We can always show our commitment by the way we live, but in the face of ridicule, criticism, or high pressure to conform, standing unashamed of the gospel can not only be hard, but scary.

Questions: How can we show we are not “ashamed of the gospel of Christ?” Can you think of a time you were tempted to feel ashamed? This is a great opportunity for parents to share a personal experience of defending the gospel of Christ and standing tall as a disciple of Jesus.

For There is No Respect of Persons with God (Romans 2:11)

Part of the purpose of Paul’s letter to the Romans is to address the relationship of the Mosaic law with new Christian gospel. Here Paul reminds the Romans that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people, both Jew and Gentile.

You may have heard President Nelson’s recent remarks at the NAACP convention in July. I loved what he had to say about all people being God’s children. He shared this powerful truth: “We don’t have to be alike to love each other.” 

Watch: This little clip from the Church Newsroom is worth watching. Notice how President Nelson links arms with those around him, how he reaches out in love, with a hug or a handshake, how he calls each person by their name.

At this year’s International Art Contest on exhibition at the Church History Museum, I discovered this gorgeous painting by Emma Taylor. She titled it “Love One Another” and added as an explanation next to the painting that “while we are diverse, we are united in love through Jesus Christ.” All the faces of humanity represented here, caring for each other, shoulder to shoulder, tightly held in the same frame, is an inspiring sight.

Read and Cross Reference: 2 Nephi 26:33. “[God] denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” 

Circumcision is that of the Heart (Romans 2:29)

Paul reminds us in this verse that inner motives and desires are more important than outer motions. He cautions us to beware of hypocrisy. “Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the  letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” 

Remember the Old Testament teaching? “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams?” (1 Samuel 15:22)

I love this concept of the Lord looking on the heart. Selfless and righteous inner motivations combined with genuine outward motions bring us closer to God, and spiritual pedigree or adoption into Christ’s fold is far more important than any physical lineage. 

I had the realization last week, while praying to handle something the way the Lord would, that I was missing one key element of trying to be like Jesus. I realized Jesus and Heavenly Father have the added insight of knowing every individual’s heart. They know their inner motives. They see clearly the reasoning behind behavior and what drives every person. We, however, do not possess that same clarity. Sometimes we can have a pretty good idea of a person’s heart, but we cannot always know with complete confidence. Our responsibility then, must be to discern where needed, but in most situations, love as Jesus would, giving others the benefit of the doubt, without full knowledge of their hearts.

Questions: What things can we do to make sure our hearts are right before God? How do we evaluate others and how should we evaluate others? What are some ways we may be tempted to demonstrate righteousness in our outward motions but not in our hearts?

All Have Sinned and Come Short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23)

Romans 3 contains a series of verses (mostly quoted from Psalms) that emphasize all people, both Jew and Gentile, are subject to sin.

Note the change that Joseph Smith made to verse 24. We are “justified only by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” We learn this in 2 Nephi as well. Ultimately our salvation comes only by the grace of God. No matter how many good deeds we accumulate during our life journey. We cannot earn our place in heaven. An earning and consuming mentality is often at odds with a grace and giving mentality. 

This is a good time to discuss the definition of justification. This can be a difficult topic to understand, because it is used in so many different ways in the New Testament. But we know it basically means pardoned of sin. We are justified when we are forgiven and declared guiltless, and this is only possible through our Savior. We cannot be “justified” by the law (read 2 Nephi 2:25). Only if we kept the law and commandments with perfect exactness from the moment we were born to the moment we died, could we be justified by the law. But we are imperfect and fallen, living in a fallen world. Which is precisely why we need the Lord’s grace and saving Atonement.

Activity: Sin Separates us from God

I love this little activity that teaches how sin separates us from God. 

Supplies: Helium ballon with a ribbon tied to it, black paper clips, paper, pen and tape. 

Write the word “Heavenly Father” on a piece of paper and tape it to the ceiling. Then explain to your family that the balloon represents each of us here on earth and above us is our Heavenly Father who wants us to be close to Him not just when we die, but during this life. Each of us, however, are going to sin. And not just once. Many times. 

Grab a paper clip and attach it to the ribbon. Chose a sin to associate with the paper clip. Something like telling a lie, stealing, or hurting someone. Explain that each paper clip represents a sin. Add a second paper clip, and watch how the ballon lowers slightly, creating a greater distance between us and Heavenly Father. Add another paperclip and another. 

Describe how sin weighs us down and separates us from God. All of us, however, will experience sin, and all of us will “fall short of the glory of God.” That is why we have repentance, forgiveness, and grace, all available to us through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. How we need Jesus Christ!

We Glory in Tribulations (Romans 5:3)

Paul teaches in chapter five that there is purpose to tribulation. In fact he uses the word “glory” to describe how we can react to adversity. “We glory in tribulation… knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.”

This idea reminds me of a verse I love in James: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations. Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1: 2-4)

While this is a difficult truth to accept sometimes, adversity and trials always lend us the opportunity to grow in patience and connection with Christ. Our burdens are not always lightened right away. Sometimes they are never lightened. But that enabling power will aid us if we ask for it. We will be able to endure it, to learn something from it, and to draw closer to the Savior as we lean into Him, rather than away from Him.

I keep this quote on my desk as a reminder that all the hardest things I have experienced, in the end, will be viewed as the most beautiful. I can already speak to this incredible truth. 

Discussion: What hard thing has blessed your life? Allow time for everyone to share. Maybe they have not yet seen the blessings, light, or purpose that can rise out of difficult experiences. That’s okay. Encourage them to pray and ask for understanding and knowledge. Discuss as a family others you know who have experienced great adversity. What have you learned from them? Maybe there is someone going through something very hard that you can help. Make a plan to serve and reach out to them.

Walk in Newness of Life (Romans 6:4)

In this last chapter, Paul offers the beautiful symbolism of baptism representing Christ’s death and burial, and our coming out of the water like his being raised from the dead. Paul explains, “Even so we also should walk in newness of life.” 

The very nature of this symbol clearly suggests that the correct form of baptism is immersion. Another way of looking at baptism is to consider the old or sinful person crucified and destroyed as they go into the water, and a new disciple rising out of the water, alive in Christ.

Questions: What are the covenants we make at baptism? Are we keeping those covenants in a way that would make the Lord happy? Do we feel alive in Christ? If yes, why? And if not, what could we do to change that?

Doer of the Word Challenge

Below are some ways you could put into action the lessons learned in this week’s Come Follow Me chapter.

  •  Make a prayer list to keep by the side of your bed. Write down the names of those in your life that could use your prayers of faith. Remember to pray for them each night before you go to bed.
  • Pray for an opportunity to share your testimony of the gospel with someone or write down  your testimony in your journal under the heading “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.”
  • Seek out someone who is different than you and determine to get to know them, become their friend. Ask about their culture, family, or religious affiliation. Remember Paul’s truth that God is no respecter of persons and all are alike unto God.
  • Draw an outline of a heart and contemplate what exists in your heart. Are there things you wish to change or remedy? Things you’d like to add? Create the heart you want on paper then pray and work to develop an inner heart more like the Savior’s.
  • Determine to make repentance a part of your daily prayers. Stay on your knees until you feel the unconditional love and forgiveness of the Lord.
  • Look for someone around you going through a significant trial or tribulation. Pray to know how to serve or bless them as they endure this hard thing. 
  • Write in your journal about a difficult experience you had or are continuing to go through. Explore how it is helping you develop patience, experience, hope, and a stronger relationship with Jesus Christ.