Joseph Smith said, “I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer, or caused Jesus to utter the parable? (Joseph Smith, HC, 5:261; Teachings, 276)”
As we study the epistles for the remainder of the year it’s important to remember why these epistles were written. It’s easy for us to understand what modern circumstances can inspire President Nelson to speak, but that historical context has been lost for many of the epistles. However, it is possible to infer the questions the early Christians asked (or asked through their ignorant application of Christ’s doctrine) by carefully studying the epistles. Particularly for Romans, this isn’t too difficult to do. Paul is writing to the Roman Jews and Gentiles who still have disputes over circumcision and the practice of the Law of Moses. It seems the Jews believe following the law is necessary for salvation, while the Gentile converts believe it is not necessary. In Paul’s epistle to the Roman’s he touches on several important points of doctrine regarding faith, works, justification of man, and Christ’s atonement.
Here is a fantastic BYU Speech given by Brad Wilcox in July of 2011.
Some of the letters that Paul writes can be confusing or hard to understand. Thankfully, we have the Book of Mormon to teach us the same doctrines, but with simpler language and less ambiguity. Not to say Paul’s writings aren’t worth reading, we should all definitely take the time to read through his epistles and seek to understand his words, but he can be quite poetic in his words. So, we can use the Book of Mormon to clarify his teachings and help us to understand the doctrine he teaches.
Here are some Book of Mormon chapters that correlate with Paul’s teachings from Roman’s 1-6.
Paul talks about how God condemns sin and does not justify it. He says that believers should not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God does not respect persons, no matter who you are, we are all subject to the laws of God. Paul is teaching the Jews and Gentiles that is does not matter where they are from or what customs they have, if they are not converted to God and put his heart into Christ, they will not be saved.
Read Jacob 2-3. Jacob gives a similar sermon to the people of Nephi following Nephi’s death. In this sermon Jacob condemns unchastity. Jacob compares the Nephites to the Lamanites, commenting on the righteousness of the Lamanites in how they treat their families, despite the “filthiness” of their fathers. He is teaching the people that you are not saved because you come from God’s chosen, but only if you give your heart to God. God will send his blessings and save those that follow His law, regardless of who they are or where they come from.
Paul continues his lecture to the Romans that it is not our following of the law that justifies us to God, but the grace of Jesus Christ. He makes it clear (as clear as Paul is able to make it) that just following the law is not good enough, but that we must do so with faith in Christ and with our hearts given to God. Intent matters.
Read Alma 31-32. Alma goes on a mission to preach to the Zoramites, who have apostatized. They built a tower and worshipped God through vain prayers. The people followed their religious laws, but since they only spoke with their lips and did so for their own glory, not for the glory of God, they were condemned by Alma.
Paul teaches of Christ’s grace and sacrifice. He juxtaposes Christ with Adam, through Adam sin entered into the world and through Christ sin is absolved. Paul touches here on the concept of Justice and Mercy. He also gives a great explanation of the symbolism of baptism.
Read Alma 42. Alma gives us a deep dive into the concept of Justice and Mercy. He starts with the problems introduced through the fall of Adam (same as Paul) and then introduces the solution through Jesus Christ.
Seek to emulate the righteousness of Christ and be quick to forgive someone who has wronged you either during this week or in the past. Focus on the light of Christ in each person and ask yourself, why did Christ suffer for this person in particular?