Observation: Paul is writing to Roman Christians, whom he has never met. One key element of his theology, which he lays out here, is that we are made right with God (or "justified") not by following religious laws, but by faith in Jesus, who sacrificed himself for us. Everyone sins, but by God's grace, all can be put into a right relationship with God.
Application: It's hard for me to read this text today without thinking of Billy Graham, who died at age 99 the day before yesterday. Both to his credit and, some would say, to his detriment, Graham made proclaiming the gospel of salvation by God's grace through faith his sole mission. On the plus side, this gave him the opportunity to preach to millions, and lead millions to what he considered a saving "decision for Jesus Christ". I believe that even our faith in Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit, so I never saw eye to eye with the focus on a "personal decision", but according to those who believed as he did, he had the opportunity to lead millions from eternal death to eternal life.
On the other hand, if you make the "decision for Jesus" (or justification more broadly) your one and only concern, you may find yourself neglecting other matters that were important to Jesus: for instance, justice and equality here on earth. Consequently, some criticized Graham for being less connected to the cause of civil rights than other leaders (including Martin Luther King) would have liked, and more sympathetic and connected to people in power than perhaps would have been useful in proclaiming God's justice to American society. In the 21st century, many who are LGBTQ have expressed feeling a great deal of judgment and condemnation, if not by Graham's own ministry, then by the social policies of those who have continued to carry his torch.
I don't mean to disparage or take away from what by any measure was a remarkable ministry of the Gospel, and a man who, while he had faults like all of us, remained faithful to his calling throughout his life. In this era of "heroes with clay feet", when scandal after scandal seems to plague those we admire, you can't help but marvel that publicly and privately, Billy Graham was exactly what and who he said he was throughout his life: a minister of the Gospel.
But as I reflect on Paul's word about "Justification by Grace through faith", also a mainstay of Lutheran theology, I find myself reflecting that justification is only the beginning. I've heard it said that our lives in Christ are not just about what we're freed from (sin and death), but much more about what we're freed for (serving God and our neighbor in Jesus' name). If you were suddenly reconciled to a family member after a years-long feud, but continued to never see them or talk to them, I'd have to wonder whether that reconciliation really was as meaningful as you say it was. In the same way, if we focus only on being "made right with God" through faith, and never look at all the doors that new relationship opens for change in our lives, I have to wonder...what's the point?
Prayer: God, thank you for saving me by your own grace as a gift. Help me to trust in and proclaim that grace, as so many have done before me, including Billy Graham. But help that grace also to change my life, that I may care for those Jesus would care for in our suffering world. Amen.