THE GOSPEL EXPLAINED
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
— Romans 1:1-7, ESV
Confessing Christians today do not seem to appreciate the great treasure we have in the word of God, the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. In Germany, the land of the Reformation, regular Bible reading is practiced by less than 2% of the population. Armè Deutsche! In the good old USA it is far better, a whopping 16%. No wonder there are so many lost people in the world, no one is looking at the map!
The Bible contains a glorious 66 books written by some 40 human authors divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. Its main character is God, its main theme is the gospel, and its chief end is salvation and instruction in the godly life. It chronicles God’s purpose in election, God’s power in creation, God’s punishment of sin, God’s purchase of certain sinners for salvation, and God’s promise of an eternal home for those who belong to Him.
The Old Testament is the gospel promised, as God chose Israel to be His people in order to produce a Messiah for the whole world. The Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, present this gospel in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Epistles, beginning with this book of Romans, explain the gospel, theologically, practically, beautifully. And the last book, Revelation, is the gospel realized in an apocalyptic vision of every last promise fulfilled.
So let us dive into Romans, first and foremost of the Epistles, and hear the gospel explained.
The Explainer: Paul
In modern letter-writing we put our names at the bottom. Early epistolary etiquette expected the author to identify himself upfront. “Paul” fits the bill here, and there has been little doubt throughout church history, even from the harshest critics, that this is the ex-Pharisee, born again on the Damascus Road, Saul of Tarsus, who became the imminent Apostle Paul. His conversion and Christian exploits dominate over half of the book of Acts.
In Acts we read of Paul’s planting a church in Corinth (Acts 18). After he left, he wrote at least two epistles to them (1 and 2 Corinthians). Then, he returned (Acts 20) to give them the strong doctrinal and moral instruction they needed. It was in the midst of these lessons that Paul wrote this inspired letter to the Christian church in Rome.
To the Romans, Paul identified himself in three idioms: “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” I do not think there is any real peer of the Apostle Paul. But I do believe every Christian should strive to be like the Christian Paul, at least in these three senses.
Every Christian is a “servant,” more literally a bondservant (doulos, used 126 times in the NT, 32 times by Paul) of the Lord Jesus Christ. A doulos is a slave set free who abides as a slave. A doulos is a slave purchased by a new master who willingly and lovingly commits to serving the new master. Could the picture be any clearer?
Every Christian is “called.” When God comes calling in salvation, He calls us and saves us for a reason, for a purpose. Paul’s calling and purpose was to be an “apostle,” both with a capital “A” and a regular “a.” I’m glad the ESV opted to use the regular “a” here, for all Christians are saved to be sent, sent with the message of the gospel to the world around them, broadcasting this message with the quality of our lives and the gracious speech of our lips.
Every Christian is “set apart,” or distinctive, in two ways. In the world, Christians should have a spiritual, moral, and ethical quality that is different, higher, more noble than non-Christians. Yes, there are lost people who live good lives in the general sense, but not in the spiritual sense, where it matters most. In the church, all the members have distinctive spiritual gifts, strengths, and interests enabling them to speak and serve for the building up of Christ’s body, where a strong church can put the gospel on grand display.
Paul had a strong speaking (and writing) gift, and when he spoke, it is the gospel that usually came out.
The Explained: The Gospel
This introductory paragraph makes much of the gospel, as should all of our letters and all of our lives. The Gospel, God’s good news of salvation, was promised in the Old Testament, presented in the person and work of Jesus Christ (as recorded in the Gospels), spread through Paul and others (in the book of Acts), and now its about to be explained (in the Epistles), preached, and taught, until the end of time (as described in The Revelation).
There is a touch of the gospel of Jesus Christ in all of the Old Testament books, written by “his prophets.” In the Law, Jesus crushes the power of Satan and sin, provides our Passover, secures our Atonement, and becomes our great High Priest. In the Writings, Jesus is “descended from David,” the kinsman redeemer, the shepherd, the Savior, and the King who will reign forever. In the Prophets, Jesus is born in Bethlehem, to a virgin mother, God with us, the suffering servant, the defeater of Death, the conquering King, the fourth man in the fire, and the one who comes in the end with a fire that cannot be quenched. And that’s just a glimmer!
The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John display “the son of God in power according to the Spirit” and each one is capped “by his resurrection from the dead.” The Gospels tell the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Acts records the “apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,” until Christ comes again as described in the book of Revelation.
Without Romans and the Epistles, however, we would not have a full explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “You who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” need to know how serious sin is, and its consequences. We need to know why Jesus had to die and rise from the dead. We need to understand justification, sanctification, and glorification, and what God has done to provide them to us. We need to know how the church would worship and work until Christ comes again. We need the gospel, explained, in terms we can understand, to reveal its inexhaustible riches. Romans explains the gospel in these ways and more.
The Explanation: Grace
Paul’s first explanation is in relatively simple terms that everyone should be able to understand. It it an explanation of how God calls and the gospel comes. It is the explanation of how a sinner is saved and becomes a saint. The explanation of the gospel is that it is given and accepted by “grace” alone through “faith” alone in “Jesus Christ our Lord” alone!
“Grace” comes first in vs. 7, for without grace one cannot have “peace from God.” By grace we are effectually “called” (mentioned three times in the text). Grace means we are saved when God calls us, not when we call God, for until He calls us we cannot call on Him. At the same time, Romans teaches us “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13).
When we call on the Lord it is called “faith,” and saving faith is always results in “the obedience of faith.” We are not saved by obedience, we are saved to be obedient, which all genuinely saved people will reasonably be. Not perfect, but obedient to the word of God, the disciples of the church, the responsibilities of Christian manhood, womanhood, and childhood.
We experience grace and engage in faith in order to show our love, honor, and desire to glorify God. It’s all by grace. It’s all in faith. And, it’s all for Him, “Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Many who do read Holy Scripture regularly have said if they could only have one of the sixty-six books of the Bible to read and reread, it would be this book of Romans. The great German reformer Luther was among them. Let us all value this great book and press on in this study. Let us savor every word, sentence, paragraph and chapter, and let us learn in greater detail and live with greater dedication this great gospel of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ!