What’s wrong with the “Romans Road” to salvation?

Read time: 6 minutes

Steven Opp is an evangelist. Remarkably, he has read my book The Future of the People of God—I imagine he is the only “evangelist” to have done so—and he wants to know whether the narrative-historical reading of Romans can be reconciled with traditional approaches to evangelism:

I work in evangelism and so Romans, which is a key text in giving the Gospel, is important for me to understand.… I’m still trying to figure out how the narrative view can coincide with the traditional “Romans Road” for presenting the Gospel to a modern individual.

The so-called Romans Road to salvation goes something like this:

1. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

2. The punishment for sin is eternal death (6:23).

3. The free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus (6:23 again).

4. People are saved by confessing with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord (10:9).

5. Those who are justified through faith have peace with God (5:1).

What’s wrong with that? Well, to start with, you can hardly call it a road. Someone has dug up half-a-dozen paving stones from Paul’s argument and laid them in a line. That’s not a road. It’s not even much of a path. Let’s put the verses back where they came from and see if we can’t get some idea of where this ancient road was actually going.

1. An essential element in Paul’s argument in Romans 1-3 is that the Jews, God’s chosen people, were no less subject to the power of sin than the Gentiles. Rhetorically, Romans 3:23 belongs to this argument against the Jews—the sort of argument that Paul would have engaged in repeatedly in the synagogues as he travelled across the empire.

2. Yes, at one level the wages of sin is death. That is an absolute. It is true for all of us. But it is not the inevitable death of the sinner that drives Paul’s argument. It is the coming day of God’s wrath, first against the Jew, then against the Greek (Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 9, 16). The day of God’s wrath is a macro-level event, a political event. It would mean destruction for Israel and the overthrow of pagan imperialism.

3. Eternal life is not in the first place life after death. It is life after judgment. It is the life of the age to come, the age that will come after the massive historical upheavals that will constitute the wrath of God against Jew and Greek. Righteous Gentiles will find themselves justified for having persevered in doing what is good and right when God judges the pagan world. Those of God’s people, however, who lose their lives because of their testimony will be raised and will reign with Christ throughout the coming ages.

4. People were saved by confessing Jesus as Lord. I can’t argue with that. But if we reduce this to confessing Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour, we seriously truncate Paul’s gospel. The good news for Paul in Romans is that by raising Jesus from the dead, God had made him judge and ruler of the nations (Rom. 1:1-4). The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus anticipated future régime change. Not only Israel but the whole Greek-Roman world was about to have a new King, which eventually would mean the confession of Jesus as Lord by the nations of the empire.

5. Works of the Law could not save Israel because the Law could not deal with the root problem of human sin; in the end it could only condemn God’s people to destruction. Only those Jews, along with a growing number of Gentiles, who took the narrow path of trusting in the way of Jesus—the way of suffering and vindication—would be justified, would have peace with God, would not come under condemnation, would find themselves on the right side of history.

So essentially the Romans Road approach distorts Paul’s argument in the Letter in two ways. First, it takes a large political narrative about Israel, pagan empire, and the future existence of the people of God and hacks it down to the dimensions of a personal narrative of salvation and life after death. Secondly, it takes a particular historical narrative and converts it into a universalized narrative that no longer has anything to do with the vicissitudes and accidents of history.

The diagram has two axes (universal-particular, personal-political), creating four quadrants. The top half of the diagram characterizes modernity, the bottom half postmodernity, but that is incidental. Modern evangelicalism, as I see it, has dragged Paul’s argument in Romans—or rather an arbitrary selection of proof-texts from Romans—from the political-particular quadrant to the personal-universal quadrant. I’m not altogether sure what would fit in the other two quadrants—I have suggested Marxism and Existentialism. Tom Wright would probably put Romans in the top right quadrant. Caesar features prominently in How God Became King but Rome is always a type of all empires in Wright’s argument, never just Rome.

In this respect, clearly, the narrative approach does not “coincide” with the Romans Road approach terribly well. But the point to be stressed is that the controlling political-particular narrative had—and continues to have—radical implications for individuals. Evangelism was and is the call to people everywhere to respond to the large-scale story about God, the people of God, Jesus, the nations, and the renewal of creation. The narrative approach does not exclude the agenda of modern evangelism. But it does radically and disconcertingly reframe it.

One of the problems with the Romans Road theology is that it not only starts but also ends in the universal-personal quadrant. It has proved very difficult for such a highly individualistic conception of salvation and the spiritual life to embrace the political and particular dimensions of human existence. Romans is primarily a bottom-right quadrant text, but it can be shown, nevertheless, to overflow into the other quadrants: the particularity of Paul’s own story as a Jewish apostle to the Gentiles, perhaps also Romans 7; the universal reality of sin behind both Jewish failure to keep the Law and the degraded system of classical paganism; and the profound but remote prospect of the final liberation of creation from its bondage to decay. If we start where Paul starts, we get everything. If we start where modern evangelicalism starts, we get very little.

So what I would say to evangelists today is not that they should stop saving souls but that their preaching should begin and end with the bigger story.

It is much more important to proclaim that Jesus died for the sins of Israel, that God raised him from the dead and made him Lord over the nations, etc., that God will finally judge humanity and consign all his enemies to the lake of fire, than to proclaim that Jesus died for my sins so that I might have eternal life, whatever we may mean by that. The good news is not primarily that people can be saved but that the creator God is in charge—and I don’t think we have much of a clue how to make that outrageous claim in anything like a meaningful fashion in today’s world.

We have domesticated evangelism. We have reduced it to the unimaginative, repetitive level of the door-to-door selling of life insurance. We should be appalled at this. Modern evangelism is virtually calculated not to disturb the status quo. Evangelism should challenge the bedrock of our culture. It should shake the bedrock of the modern church, for that matter. How are we now to respond to the proclamation that Jesus has been made judge and ruler of the nations when, to all intents and purposes, he has been dethroned by the all-powerful gods of our secular age? Evangelism, I think, ought to be a very disturbing activity for everyone concerned.

Chris | Fri, 05/25/2012 - 23:55 | Permalink

Good points Andrew. This post reveals where I think you need to re-visit your view of the Nations in Revelation. In Revelation the Nations are always antagonistic toward God and His people. They are eventually thrown into the Lake of Fire you reference in this post. THEN the Nations appear coming into the New City for healing. This seems to indicate that God is forever offering life to the Nations. The Lake of Fire is for purging and cleansing. 


Sorry, Chris, I simply don’t agree. The destruction of death and satan in John’s closing vision seems too final to think that a cycle of conflict and healing continues. But this is a post about Romans, not Revelation, so I’ll leave it at that.

Andrew, this is an important post.  I warmly agree with much of what you say.  Restoring the corporate and structural dimensions of evangelism are an important step along the way to a more biblical ‘Roman Road’.  There are a number of related questions.  The latest flurry of interest in online evangelism raises concerns (at least my concerns) about ‘disembodied’ communication rather similar to a narrow theology of ‘soul winning’.  

Currently we are involved with ‘Walking Church’.  It is a fresh expression of church where the heartlands of faith happen in the walking.  Wood Green Mennonite Church is running (walking) a pilot, but we’re finding that the interest is growing.  Our experience with Walking Church highlights the relevance of the literal road and the value of slow evangelism.  In part this journeying approach enables us to connect the wider dimensions of evangelism (e.g. peacemaking and ecology) to a more accompanied, journeying approach to personal evangelism.   

For me the issue with Roman Road is not primarily that it is personal, but that it is yet another formula reaching for a decision at breathless haste. What that means for perceptions of Christian witness in a Post-Christendom culture is alarming.

Steven Opp | Sun, 05/27/2012 - 01:45 | Permalink

Thanks Andrew, these have been helpful.

Thanks Andrew — this is great stuff.

I’ve been studying the minor prophets recently (trying to summarise them for a children’s talk!), and your statement that “The good news is not primarily that people can be saved but that the creator God is in charge” reminded me strongly of Habakkuk. My summary for this was “God is in control” (even though it may not look like it). It was God who sent the Babylonians to punish Judah, and then it was God who sent the Persians to punish the Babylonians.

In making the claim (from Habakkuk, to the 21st century congregation) that “God is in control”, I very much felt as you do that “we [don’t] have much of a clue how to make that outrageous claim in anything like a meaningful fashion in today’s world.” Our world sure doesn’t look like God is in control! The parable of the wheat and the tares is a partial answer, but not complete. Does God really just sit back, deist-style, and wait for the end of the universe? I don’t think so.

hamilton | Tue, 06/05/2012 - 20:43 | Permalink

I am sorry, but I can not bring myself to agree with your logic. Romans 1:16 shows where Christ died for all; first for the Jews then for the Gentiles.  And I believe that The Romans Road is a great way to present that fact.  But your argument to debunk this presentation of the gospel seems to negate that fact.  Also in your article I see where you make the argument that Romans was written for the Jews and Gentiles of early times.  I agree that when Paul’s letters were written that they were written for the people of that time, however, does that limit them to where they aren’t relevant to today’s audience?  If the fact that any of the Bible was written to only the original audience and does not relate to today’s audience then what’s the point of reading it?  If one part was for them (original audience) and the other for us (current audience) then that would make the Bible unreliable.  Who are we (sinners) to determine was is and isn’t right about God’s word?  Should we take ALL of it literal?  I know that there are some parts that can’t be taken literal.  )i.e., Songs of Solomon 1:15.  Her eyes aren’t really doves.)  But we ALL have sinned, the ONLY way to Heaven is through Christ, God does love THE WORLD, and THE WORLD was flooded.  When we decide to say that some parts are relevant for us and some are not, we consequently decide that the Bible can not believed wholly.  So for you to say that The Roman Roads is irrelevant because of the fact that they were not written for us is to say that we have no hope because we can’t trust that part of the Bible.

On the flip side; I believe that we as evangelist and preachers of the gospel should be living it out loud and that we should be the loudest voice out there.


Hamilton, thank you for taking the trouble to defend the traditional approach to evangelism.

I am less concerned to debunk the Romans Road presentation of the gospel than to bring into the foreground of our reading of Romans what I think actually constitutes Paul’s basic argument in the Letter. His argument does not centre on the individual’s need for salvation but on what God is doing for and through his people as part of his “campaign”, at this particular moment in history, to be acknowledged as ruler of the pagan world. This is Paul’s “gospel” unpacked—the story of how God is proving himself to be righteous in the eyes of the nations. It entails i) divine judgment or wrath against both the Jew and the Greek, against both Israel and against the dominant pagan culture; ii) the redemption of God’s people through the death of Jesus; and iii) the prospect that in the not too distant future Jesus—and not Caesar—will rule the nations.

This “political” narrative had implications for individuals at the time—for Jews and Greeks—though not exactly the same implications. It also has radical, life-changing implications for people today, which is a point I have been labouring to get across recently.

My argument back to you would be that this approach takes the Bible more seriously and, frankly, more literally than the approach which treats it as all written primarily and directly for the universal reader. You say:

When we decide to say that some parts are relevant for us and some are not, we consequently decide that the Bible can not believed wholly.

But the point I made in the post is that that is exactly what the Romans Road does: it selects a few verses that it considers practically relevant for the purpose of personal evangelism and pays no attention whatsoever to the argument of the Letter. I am not saying that personal evangelism is irrelevant, only that it needs to be reframed if it is to be fully biblical.

@Andrew Perriman:

I have tried to study this “romans road to salvation” as well. I hear many people and pastors talking about it. I keep coming across one very big thing that is missing. I’m not talking about the using certain scriptures to change or elaboratethe meanings that are trying to be brought out. 

In Mark 16 I find these verses:

15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

All the way through this Romans Road there is no mention of Baptism. Without Baptism I do not see where this romans road can really get you anywhere unless you are just trying to get someone into the churh (which is at least a start). Are we to believe that this essential part of Christian life is not important anymore?


The point of the post, though, Darin, is that there is a lot more wrong with the Romans Road model of personal evangelism than the omission of baptism. I presume that most traditional evangelists expect their converts to get baptized at some point.

@Andrew Perriman:

You are right, Andrew. In fact, the entire concept of presenting the Gospel as if it were a formula that begins with a static number of verses from one place in the Bible and then concludes with a prayer for salvation is not found in Scripture. First of all, God is the One who leads the person to salvation through the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. The faithful witness scatters the seed and waters it, but he doesn’t pull out a heat lamp and a quick-grow formula to try to do the job for God. (Mark 4:26-28)

I was pressured into a false conversion (see “Lost on the Roman Road” and “I Was Adopted Twice” at http://romanroadheresy.com) and was without true peace for decades until I simply trusted the work that Jesus accomplished for me on the cross. I deeply regret later counselling several people with that same Roman Road formula, and I pray that God sent someone with the true Gospel after I pushed them into praying a prayer. Please examine why this is an unscriptural system that leaves many people lost because they are trusting their own works—a prayer, their tears, their walk up an aisle, etc. Some people are truly saved by looking to Christ, but many are not—as is demonstrated by their return to their old, unholy lifestyles.

ME Hess


Paul states that the Gospel is the Power of God to Salvation . Just like you do not get any power from a electric plug unless you connect to it you do not get the power from the Gospel unless you connect to it and participate in it.

Rom_6:4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

@Andrew Perriman:

I teach youth (grades 7-12) at our home church. One of the things I find is that the more mature kids are interested in the “history” and “historical implications” of certain passages. As we mature, we should ask the Holy Spirit to reveal deeper meanings to us when we read and study the Bible. However, if I try to explain to less mature students the political reasonings of Paul regarding Jews, Romans and Gentiles at the time he authored the book of Romans, I’ll lose them completely! They need to know the basics of salvation to be SAVED first, not the complete historical implications and political agendas of 2000 years ago. Its important for theologians, Bible scholars, and those well versed in the Bible to understand that we all start with “baby steps” and the “milk of the word” until we can digest the meatier meanings of God’s Word.


I understand the problem. But this sort of dilemma arises the way it does because these conversations are played out against a modern theological background, a reductionist worldview. This worldview provides the default position. It defines our beliefs, our presuppositions, sets the parameters for thought, without us realizing it, and we absorb it from a very early age in our churches.

If we developed a different world view—one which quite naturally thought and read scripture in narrative terms, for example—the distinction between milk and meat would look very different.

As long as our theological culture prioritizes personal salvation, we will struggle to make sense of the historical dimension of the New Testament, no matter how old we are. If it ever came to the point where our theological culture prioritized the historical narrative, we would not have the difficulties that you describe.



I strongly believe in study of theology and all the degrees that come with it, but that is where sometimes becomes problematic when knowledge supercedes the most important part of the bible, God’s love for the people and His desire for ALL to be saved..  I’ve encountered a lot of people from bible schools and missing the point of why they even went and learn if all they do is argue and think they  they have better idea of God’s salvation for ALL the people.  


This discussion is terrific and that there is such an interest is encouraging. If the subject matter is the public proclamation of the Gospel, then why not first look at what John the Baptist told people. He got his message from God the Father. John didnt preach whatever he felt like the “modern” people of his day would hear. In a nutshell his message was Repent for the savior is here and if you do not repent then He< the savior will gather you like a dried up twig and cast you into the fire that burns forever. “Repent and bring forth fruit meet for repentance” Christ “began to preach and to say repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” “Go ye and sin no more” Paul preached to Agrippa repentance. To Festus “Righteousness, temperance and judgement to come” all in the context of you have only two choices, repent or perish. Why try to use scriptues written for the edification of the saints in the setting forth of systematic theology to unbelievers? Do it the way it is modelled by John, Peter, Stephen, Jesus, and Paul. This same savior who died for you will cast your poor soul into the lake of fire if you reject him. Repent! Much love to the saints of God.

M. Macomber | Fri, 10/05/2012 - 04:04 | Permalink

Something to think about:

Was reading a quote today by Mart De Haan from RBC Ministries that said this..."If we see the Bible as a handbook for solving our problems, rather than a revelation of God and the story of our rescue, its moral principles will seem like a cut flower...clipped from its stem and root."

Maybe what you are saying about the "Roman Road" is that it looks like a bunch of flowers in a vase clipped from it's roots.

Salvation, whether for an individual or a National, must have an intimate encounter with the Living Lord. There is a transaction where the Spirit of God bears witness to your spirit that you have passed from death to life. When that happens...the Bible becomes not just a book of facts or knowledge but a Revelation of God and Christ who gave himself for us.

Everything in the Bible, from beginning to end is a Revelation of the Triune God who reveals Himself through Christ who is not only our Sovereign Creator but our Savior, our Comforter, our Shepherd, our King, our Advocate, Intercessor, Deliverer, and the list goes on ...and on.

M. from VA

I think The Romans Road is just a tool that can be used along with other bible verse. Don’t get to hung up on the on name “Romans Road” I don’t used the whole 5 steps in Romans. “Sharing Jesus without fear” is another good tool to use.


Hello Andrew, 

I got saved at the age of eight years old with the gold, red, green and white book. 

The whole point of the “Romans Road” is to keep salvation simple. We take something that is complex and make it simple. 

It seems to me as if you like to take something simple and make it complex. 

And since you seem like a complex man let me ask you this:

How many converts have you personally have that you so thologicaly led to the Lord? 

Do you witness on a weekly basis? 

The Bible says that we should preach the gospel to all creature.

And that the ealy disciples preached the Gospel every day.

It is better to have a “poor method” of evangelism than no method, or a complex method that reaps no fruit.


Michael, thanks for the comments. I understand your concerns.

I have no problems with presenting the “gospel” to people in simple terms. I think it is essential to the life and witness of the church that people hear good news, are “saved” (though I think this is a misleading term), are converted, get baptized, are filled with the Spirit, live righteous lives, do good works, and so on.

I have problem, however, with framing the gospel exclusively as a message about personal salvation because I think that seriously distorts the witness of the New Testament. The gospel that the early disciples preached every day is not the gospel that mostly gets preached in our churches.

I also have a problem with the practice of misreading and mis-teaching the New Testament in order to defend our modern constructions of what constitutes authentic Christian life and ministry. There is no excuse for that. I don’t think that these difficult theological conversations will “save” anyone, but I do think that they will help us to get to a place where we can do the simple stuff in a much more robust and credible theological framework.

@Andrew Perriman:

Andrew, I always look at the person (believer) of unique quality(God created),in joy of the diversity,with which,HE made them for His purposes. The mind of Christ is impressive in its God given meditations and revelations.It is a mind that will receive the wisdom,knowledge,and understanding of the Triune God. The Word of God, Is always meant to glorify the Lord. I thank you for showing that perspective,and so it is said.The gospel should always reflect the precision,accuracy of the Truth of His Holiness in wholesomeness. It is to honor,glorify, in a service of worship(lifestyle), to present the Gospel in the proper context, and without adding, or taking away from it(altering it). Romans also states that the Jews rejected Christ so the Lord brought forth the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles(spiritual-salvation). It also states that a veil was placed over the minds of the Jews until the full number of gentiles were brought to salvation(the Lord-personally,involved). The Lord is involved everywhere,He delights in the Macro,but also the micro,just because.We all, should declare the Lord as you have His position, power,and sovereignty, and proper spoken Gospel.I see,as others see it,about you,- this gift of a high mind. It is one thing, to speak out on what the Lord has revealed to you, and to bring it out,that’s the first part. The second part is show- us, a more excellent way of presentation, with your gift,- such as yours.Christ lead by example,as well (ex.-washing of feet),I know you can develop,a more excellent way,in my heart.We are all called to a striving after excellence, as if unto the Lord. We all have some part in the infinite plan of our Lord. God bless you.

Penguin | Sun, 04/07/2013 - 16:15 | Permalink

     I think if you’re going to pick the Roman Road theory apart, first you need to remember that it isn’t refering to “Roman Roads”. It’s a simple text giving the unbeliever a way to come to the cross in a way they will understand it so they can also come to know christ. Nothing more, nothing less. Baffling others with knowledge only discourages those who don’t understand. Basically, “KEEP IT SIMPLE” should be a rule. The milk of the Word. I am also an Evangelist, and have never tried to impress any knowledge on those that won’t, can’t, or don’t understand. I share the good news as I’m led by the Holy Spirit. Whether it’s in the grocery line, or in the back alleys of the city.

    Respectfully, your post may look and sound impressive. But I didn’t finished reading it because of the unsupported opinions that do absolutely nothing for the Kingdom of God or bringing the unsaved to the cross. It was confusing to the simple minded to say the least.

    Over time, I’ve learned to look at others through the eye’s of Jesus, rather than my own. By doing that, I can be of service to them and Christ, being useful for the Kingdom as best I can. Remember, just “KEEPING IT SIMPLE”, will draw others closer to God than our own carnal minds ever could…


Penguin, thanks for taking the time to comment—even if you couldn’t find the time to read the whole post!

You should at least have noted that the post addresses a particular problem: the clash between a way of constructing an evangelistic message that purports to be based on Paul’s letter to the Romans and a narrative-historical reading of Romans. That is a real and extremely problematic clash which is not solved by keeping things simple. The fact is that if we approach the issue of evangelism from the basis of a narrative-historical reading, it appears that the traditional evangelistic approach really does not do justice to the central proclamation of the New Testament. I am not saying that personal evangelism is wrong, only that we are framing it wrongly—that we are missing the massive significance of the political and historical dimensions of the New Testament witness.

@Andrew Perriman:

Andrew, I appreciate your apparent commitment to handling accurately the Word of truth. You are willing to challenge traditional and cherished uses (and abuses?) of Scripture. I also appreciate the patience and kindness of  your responses, even when people not only disagree with your ideas but become disagreeable towards you as a Christian. You are gentle and respectful.      I can’t say I grasp everything you are saying. I was trained in a historical-grammatical approach. How does that compare to your narrative-historical approach? I do sense that evangelicalism’s (me included) understanding of the gospel, evangelism and Christianity is infected with an unbiblical individualism. Is salvation more than the blessed assurance that we’ll go to heaven when we die? Surely the gospel is more than personal and individual, yet it applies to individuals personally and presently, as well as to people corporately (politically) and always. I am also affected by the times in which I live. For example, I am critical of postmodernism but I am not as discerning of modernism! The disciples show how our Lord Jesus can work in and through us in spite of our limitations.


Dale, good thoughts. I’ve started writing a piece comparing the narrative-historical and grammatical-historical methods. I’ll post it in the next few days. 

@Andrew Perriman:

Thank you, Andrew. I just came across your site this week, and just finished reading “The message of the Bible in one sentence”. So, if you were talking with a person and wanted to share the gospel, what would that look and sound like? Realizing not everyone we talk with is in the same place, and so the starting place may be different, can you give an example or two?

@Andrew Perriman:

Penguin I completely agree with you. Andrew you make only one point that I find valid. The road to salvation is only the beginning. One must encourage and ensure that the Christian is inspired, aware of, and provided a church community that can lead him/her to maturity in Christ. Baptism is not required for salvation nor is maturity. But it pleases God and is also the purpose of our churchs. We should take care of each other. Theological discussion is not more important than salvation. If that were so it would have been the work Jesus engaged in. He did not focus there. Neither should we.


Just for clarity, the post is entitled ‘What’s wrong with the “Romans Road” to salvation?’, not “What’s wrong with salvation?” It’s about the nature of Paul’s argument in Romans, not about whether people need to be saved. What I’m objecting to is the reductionist subordination of this very complex and historically framed letter to a universal model of personal evangelism.

Interesting comments by all however when Relating to the unsaved or first time hearer of the Gospel , a simple explanation of scripture and the understandable need of coming to faith in Christ is Paramount.

Therefore for the one who needs salvation the Romans Road is a practical and simple to understand approach to help bring them to an understanding of a need to accept Christ and trust Him.

Once established in the Kingdom a further understanding of scripture can be developed in all of us. I have never yet had a conversation with a person that has not yet come to Christ that really wants to know the political background to scripture. 

However I do see people coming to Christ through simple and short thought provoking scripture that demands a response on their behalf.

The Romans Road is OK and ‘God meets us we we are at’ as it were. But He leads us on to a greater understanding as we get to know Him!

Be Blessed, one an all!


Brian Hobble | Sat, 11/09/2013 - 20:41 | Permalink

This discussion is terrific and that there is such an interest is encouraging. If the subject matter is the public proclamation of the Gospel, then why not first look at what John the Baptist told people. He got his message from God the Father. John didnt preach whatever he felt like the  “modern” people of his day would hear. In a nutshell his message was Repent for the savior is here and if you do not repent then He< the savior will gather you like a dried up twig and cast you into the fire that burns forever. “Repent and bring forth fruit meet for repentance” Christ “began to preach and to say repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” “Go ye and sin no more” Paul preached to Agrippa repentance. To Festus “Righteousness, temperance and judgement to come” all in the context of you have only two choices, repent or perish. Why try to use scriptues written for the edification of the saints in the setting forth of systematic theology to unbelievers? Do it the way it is modelled by John, Peter, Stephen, Jesus, and Paul. This same savior who died for you will cast your poor soul into the lake of fire if you reject him. Repent! Much love to the saints of God.

@Brian Hobble:

The Bible is a multi-faceted book; it is God’s word “breathed” into the writers themselves.  Therefore, this is a book that has many layers or levels, like an onion.  Yes, it can be looked at in terms of the nations (Gentiles) versus the Jews.  But, it can also be looked at on a personal level as well, hence the individual way to salvation.  John 3:16 clearly states that those who believe in Jesus immediately receive eternal life.  This life begins the moment a person accepts Jesus as his/her Savior, understanding that Jesus is God’s only begotten son and that His death on the cross paid for all sins (past, present, future) of everyone who trusts in ONLY Jesus to give them salvation.  God accepted Jesus’ death as atonement for sin because Jesus never sinned while he lived on earth.  The Old Testament stated that “without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness.”  Jesus fulfilled the Law; before He came, the Law could only condemn people.

@Chris Hall:

Yes, indeed the law is a ministration of condemnation. There is no other way to establish what sin is. Sin is transgression of the law. The social engneers have removed the law of God from our society and thus have removed peoples fear of God. It’s high time to bring it back and then warn them to flee from the wrath to come.

@Chris Hall:

The word believe in John 3:16 is a verb. It comes from and is based upon faith in God. But Jesus didn’t say to simply have faith or say ” I believe” but to actually obey him. Many times in the NT the word believe is used but it is a verb which denotes action, such as obeying what Christ said rather than just a statement of faith. James 2 indicates that faith is expressed by “works” which is exactly what the word believe expresses. Romans 1:16 &17 is a perfect example of this -

“16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
17For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”

Paul is indicating that belief is equivalent to obedience. Jesus own words in John 3 are also saying this as well. But we can stop this debate about the Roman Road if we consider that the Apostle Paul was writing this letter to Roman belivers. The book of Acts, that so many skip to get to the Roman Road, is the origin of the church, where the Apostles preached what Jesus told them to preach in His finals words in Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Luke 24. The Epistles are letters written for encouragement and spiritual growth for the born again beleiver. Romans 10 is referencing the fact that the Jews were struggling with Jesus as their Messiah who had completed the Law of Moses by his death, burial,and resurrection. Go back to the Book of Acts read it slowly and carefully and you will find that the Apostles preached exactly what Jesus said to preach- the New Birth which is two-fold — water and Spirit — by repentance, water baptism in Jesus name and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Yours in Christ. Ronald.

Phil Ricks | Tue, 09/13/2016 - 19:53 | Permalink

Paul said in I Cor. 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I DECLARE unto you the Gospel….how that Christ DIED….was BURIED…..and that he ROSE AGAIN. So the true Gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the GOOD NEWS. We must do the same as Jesus did; we must die (repentance), we must be buried (water baptism in Jesus’ name), and we must be resurrected (receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost). This is the new birth experience, or birth of water and of spirit that Jesus talked about in John 3:1-8. We fulfill this GOSPEL in our own lives when we obey ACTS 2:38. We shouldn’t jump over the Book of Acts and go to the book of Romans to find salvation. God shows us how to be saved in Acts chapter 2. Peter said this “promise is unto you and your children and all that are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call”. Peter was given the keys to the kingdom by Jesus himself and you find him using the keys in ACTS 2:38. Read it!

Greg Demmitt | Thu, 04/19/2018 - 15:25 | Permalink

I was just thinking about how the Romans Road over simplified the message of Romans, so I googled “what’s wrong with the Roman Road” and yours was the only critical post that showed on the first page of responses. I appreciate your perspective and plan to read more about the narrative view.

I have commented in teaching Romans that it is a history of salvation, not a theology of salvation. In other words, Romans 4 isn’t written to illustrate the doctrine of election, but to show how God had always been building a people.

That would be another objection to the way the Romans Road is used. Often it is in Street evangelism and the goal seems to be to get someone to pray the sinner’s prayer, with Little attention paid to getting them connected to other believers.

@Greg Demmitt:

The goal of Evangelism was and always will be to present testimony of God and of Jesus Christ. It is not our responsibility to save them. We do not have the authority to do this. We have the authority to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ (not of Calvin or a fabricated gospel of Paul), to make disciples of men, and to baptize them into salvation, and teach them to obey everything Jesus taught. This is the commission given to the Disciples and carried forth to the Church as a whole.If they believe and are baptized and obey, then they will be saved. We can only assist along with the Holy Spirit assisting them as well. Saying a set of words does not save anyone. A life lived in obedience to the pleasure of the Father is real faith, complete and whole, and you will not be turned away from eternal life for this.

Richard Coplin | Wed, 12/12/2018 - 23:31 | Permalink

The book of Romans does not address how sinners are to be saved but rather how Christians are to stay saved. Paul wrote the book of Romans in 58 AD to people already saved. The plan of salvation is found in Acts 2:38. This is the only scriture that addresses what sinners are to do. Acts 2:38 adresses the death,burial and resurection as being essential for salvation. Saying Jesus come into my heart does none of those things.

You don’t go far enough with the criticism of the Romans Road or modern evangilism rooted in the completely fabricated gospel of Calvin. These systems of preaching directly oppose the exact preaching of Jesus. Evangelism must begin and end with the accounts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Epistles are not for the unbeliever, but for the churches. That is exactly who they were written for. Trying to extricate fragments and spoon feed unbelievers will only innoculate them against the actual Gospel of Jesus. These men must stop this.

Romans Six | Fri, 04/10/2020 - 11:22 | Permalink

Romans 6 makes it clear the CHURCH at Rome had the death, burial and resurrection experience — that is repentance, baptism and new life (filled with the Spirit). The letter was written from Paul to the Church at Rome, that is to people who were already saved. This is not a letter to teach them how to receive the intial salvation experience. A direct question was answered in Acts about what one MUST do to be saved and it is replaced by man pulling out pieces of the scripture in Romans on how one is to be saved. Many a false teacher will be in Hell because of false and man made doctrine. The ‘Roman Road’ is a tradition of man. Why create a doctrine when the Bible makes clear via answering a direct question in Acts, and we see being followed in the scriptures. Too many also take the story of the thief on the cross to propagate mouth conversion. The veil had not been rent at that time. The death burial and resurrection of Christ had not occurred. Thus not under new Testament salvation. God on the cross took a God action just like he did with Enoch and this event should not be used as a New Testament example of how one is to be saved.

Great article. I know it’s a few years old but I still refer back to it from time to time because it summarises the issues so succinctly.

Joel Davis | Thu, 11/11/2021 - 16:32 | Permalink

Really appreciate the post, Andrew. I am going through a seminary course on Romans and have thought about writing my research paper critiquing the origins and flaws in the “Romans Road” approach. How much do you touch on this approach in The Future of the People of God and are you aware of any scholarly books or articles that might give more insight into this phenomenon? I can’t think of many evangelistic tools that are more prevalent while more dramatically missing the thrust of the text they are ripped from.

Any help you might offer is much appreciated! 

Joel Davis

Houston, Texas

@Joel Davis:

Thanks, Joel.

That sounds like a great piece of research to be doing. I’m afraid I can’t point you to critical work on the “Romans Road” approach. Your problem there may be that popular evangelism and critical New Testament study operate in two almost entirely separate realms. I doubt many scholars will have taken the trouble to critique the practical methodology—but I haven’t looked, so I could be wrong.

The Future of the People of God is my attempt to show how Paul’s letter to the Romans presupposes the historical story of God’s people in the first century all the way through and so should not be forced to serve the interests and needs of a modern individualistic evangelistic strategy. Much scholarship will read the letter on a more universal basis, but there are those who will insist on its fundamentally Jewish purview. I do not say anything about the Romans Road in the book.

Joel Davis | Tue, 02/22/2022 - 04:02 | Permalink

Thanks for those links, just starting to work through these articles and FOTPOG more thoroughly. I noticed in your explication of the Romans Road that you didn’t include 5:8. I usually see it inserted in between 6:23 and 10:9-10, making the “half-dozen paving stones” point even more explicit since the argument doesn’t even run linearly through the letter itself.

So who am I to understand is being represented by the “us” in 5:8 of “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”? Is that mankind or is it Paul speaking as a member the people of Israel or is it for all who would subsequently recognize Him as King of all creation?

Really enjoying this, feels like I’m finally starting to get a handle on what Romans is saying but I’ve got 36 years worth of independent Bible church upbringing to unravel / intertwine?

@Joel Davis:

Just briefly, I would argue that: 1) this whole section is effectively a dialogue with the Jews; 2) “at the right time” (Rom. 5:6) corresponds to the “fullness of time” when God sent his Son to redeem those under the Law (Gal. 4:4); 3) “we were still weak” refers to Israel’s incapacity to fix the mess it is in; 4) it is Israel who are ungodly and, for the most part, unrighteous (5:6-7); 5) the Jews are sinners but still loved by God (cf. 10:21); 6) the Jews are at enmity with God and need to be saved from the coming wrath (5:9-10), which will take the form of a disastrous revolt against Rome; 7) Christ died, therefore, for “we” Jews; 8) Paul speaks primarily on behalf of the Jewish apostolic community, whose task is to proclaim to the nations the significance of what God is doing among his people (cf. 1:1-6; 15:8-9); but 9) that he is aware that Gentiles are now being grafted into the redeemed community of promise, so becomgin direct beneficiaries of the salvation of part of Israel.

@Joel Davis:

I believe Paul wrote the book of Romans as a letter. I usually tell folks to sit down and write a letter about a specific subject to an imaginary or real friend. Then take sentence 10, then 5, then 3, then 7 and see if that new letter makes sense.  We must remember always this is a letter with a theme that cannot be twisted about at least from what I have been taught. Thank you.

George | Sat, 03/26/2022 - 10:47 | Permalink

What shall we do to be saved was a straightforward question and given a straightforward answer  … let’s go with something else besides this is the modern narrative … the examples of people being saved in the Bible affirms repentance, baptism and spirit filled as the way (Jesus made the way through death, burial and resurrection or for us repentance/ death to sin, baptism/ burial and spirit filled / new life e.g. resurrection). The thief on the cross example used by Roman Road teachers is a poor example as the veil in the temple had not been rent/ Christ had not finished his work (sat down) … that is the death, burial and resurrection had not happened. The thief, like Enoch before him, was a God act and should not be taken as the way the lost are to receive salvation/ eternal life.


Thanks, George. What I would say in response is that, yes, repentance, baptism, and reception of the Spirit constitute the means or process of salvation but they don’t explain what salvation was. The New Testament does not present salvation as a stand-alone experience for individuals. It is always part of a story—not a modern story but an ancient story about God’s people in relation to the nations.

My argument is that the narrative context always needs to be taken into account both then and now. That’s just a matter of good honest theology, and it is irresponsible to disregard it.

Jews needed to be saved because Israel faced the destruction of a war against Rome. Pagans needed to be saved because their world was passing away, it would be judged by God, and a new “Christian” order would take its place. That’s all there in the New Testament. It’s not a modern invention. And to be saved today means repenting, being baptised, receiving the Spirit, but it is right and necessary to ask what the story is that people are being baptised into.

Rev. Kate Bloo… | Wed, 04/12/2023 - 23:53 | Permalink

I first heard about this error of depending on the Roman Road years ago when I  was taught about when and by who it was written.   St Augustine helped come up with this travesty.  I was so alarmed but no one will listen.  To help myself further understand I recently started learning Aramaic the way Jesus spoke and am writing a book about what Jesus sId about salvation soon to go to press called “So You Think You Are Going to Heaven?”.  It is eye opening. If you don’t mind I would like to recommend this article for readers to review. Thank you for standing up for the truth. 

Travis Stopher | Sun, 08/20/2023 - 01:59 | Permalink

I feel like the Romans Road to Salvation is a good starting point but how does this become all we have to do when you take in Act 2:38, which clearly outlines specifics as you travel the “road”? I feel like so many leave it with the road in Romans but never approach the the actions to get from point a to point b.

@Travis Stopher:

Yes, but more important, I would suggest, is the question of where the road was going. It is clear that for the community in Jerusalem what lay ahead was a great and extraordinary day of the Lord, from which the current wicked generation of Jews needed to be saved and for which the disciples were given the Spirit of prophecy.

In becoming as little children, the Romans Road (not really a road) provides a Bible-basis for a sinner’s prayer to receiving Christ. I know that much could be said here, but for someone with little or no background in the faith who needs to receive Christ, would you take a shot at writing a prayer of salvation from your perspective? If I stop doing the Romans Road, I need something I can share with new believers who want to come to Christ.

It’s been said that the best way for change is to create something new that makes the old ways obsolete. I’ve been told that I am teachable. 🙏🏼 


Mac, it’s an excellent and unsettling question. I’m not going to try to write an alternative prayer now, but let me share a few immediate thoughts.

In the first place, I would not use the term “sinner’s prayer” as it sounds formulaic, perhaps demeaning, and I think it puts the emphasis in the wrong place.

I’m also not sure that “receiving Christ” is right. The only place I could find such language (I merely searched the ESV) is Colossians 2:6, but the emphasis here is probably not on the Jewish term “messiah” but on “the Lord”: “you received the Christ, Jesus the Lord.”

So rather than leading people to pray the “sinner’s prayer,” why not direct them to confess Jesus as Lord?

But then Lord over what? Modern evangelicalism has individualised the saving transaction (my Lord and saviour), but I would argue that in biblical terms he is Lord over a people, and that it is misleading for a person to “receive Christ” without understanding the significance and purpose of the historical community over which Christ Jesus is Lord.

Salvation is first the salvation of the community in history (on more than one occasion) from destruction or obsolescence. Individuals are saved insofar as they become part of a saved community.

What comes first is not salvation or redemption but the election and formation of a people, dedicated to the service of the living God.

So at the heart of the personal “conversion” should perhaps be the expression of a deep desire to become part of a new creation, priestly community, in which the living God is encountered through the Spirit, for which Jesus died and over which he reigns as Lord.

That means leaving behind many aspects of an old way of life and learning a different way of righteousness, etc. Repentance, belief, faith, forgiveness all come into play here, but the driving thought is more than just “receiving Christ”—it is a determined and serious engagement with the whole story of God’s people throughout the ages.

Evangelism should start not with the sin of the individual person but with the story of the living, creator God, which is both biblical and historical.

But then, of course, our church context and experience need to reflect this perspective. If church is no more than an aggregation of saved individuals, then we are probably better off sticking with the old Romans road approach.

So right now it’s really the church that needs to be “saved”—as I say, from obsolescence.