As if proving that all roads did lead to Rome, the gospel born in Judea eventually made its way to the capital of the empire. It is not clear how soon the message about Christ actually arrived at Rome, but it produced results.
By the end of the second decade following Christ’s resurrection, there was an established group of Christians there. Several house-churches were probably meeting. Paul opens his letter to these Roman believers, most of whom he had never met, by explaining who he is and what his credentials are.
Almost immediately, he directs their attention to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knew that the resurrected Christ was the most important common denominator for him and the believers in Rome. From that common ground he introduces his plan to visit them and then plunges into one of the most detailed explanations of the Christian faith found in the Bible.
When Paul wrote to the Church at Rome he was writing to a Church with those founding he had nothing whatever to do and with which he had no personal contact at all. That is why Romans, at first sight, seems so much more impersonal. Romans is the nearest approach to a systematic exposition of Paul’s own theological position, independent of any immediate set of circumstances.
It is as if Paul was writing his theological last will and testament, as if into Romans he was distilling the very essence of his faith and belief. Rome was the greatest city in the world, the capital of the greatest Empire the world had ever seen. Paul had never been there, and he did not know if he ever would be there.
Some have called Romans “prophylactic.” A prophylactic is something which guards against infection. Paul had seen too often what harm and trouble could be caused by wrong ideas, twisted notions, misguided conceptions of Christian faith and belief. He therefore wished to send to the Church in the city which was the center of the world a letter which would so build up the structure of their faith that, if infections should ever come to them, they might have in the true word of Christian doctrine a powerful and effective defense. He felt that the best protection against the infection of false teaching was the antiseptic of the truth.
THE OCCASION OF PAUL’S WRITING TO ROME
All his life Paul had been haunted by the thought of Rome. It had always been one of his dreams to preach there. When he is in Ephesus, he planning to go through Achaea and Macedonia again, and then comes a sentence obviously dropped straight from the heart, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21).
When he was up against things in Jerusalem, and the situation looked threatening and the end seemed near, he had one of those visions which always lifted up his heart. In that vision the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, Paul. For as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome” (Acts 23:11). In the very first chapter of this letter Paul’s desire to see Rome breaths out. “I long to see you that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you” (Romans 1:11). “So, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Romans 1:15).
When he actually wrote the Letter to the Romans, the date was sometime in the year A.D. 58, and he was in Corinth.
A special question?
Suppose you had the power to change the world for the better. What would you choose to do? Would you eliminate war, crime, poverty, or ignorance? I want to tell you about one man who had such an opportunity to change the world for the better and what he chose to do.
The apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:15, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”
Paul says, “If I could make the world a better place, I would choose to bring the gospel to the world.”
On the surface, that may seem to be a rather simple answer to the problems of the world; but it is the right answer. It is the right answer because it can radically change the world for the better.
·BECAUSE OF WHO HE HAD BEEN
Why did Paul make that statement? Why did Paul want to give the gospel to the world? Basically, there are three reasons. One of the reasons he announces in Romans 1 when he says, “I am [debtor] under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (1:14, 15).
Paul believed that he was in debt to the world. The reason for his debt was that he had previously been a blasphemer and a persecutor of Jesus’ church. When the followers of Christ were being put into prison or put to death, he gave his vote against them. But he had that historical meeting with Christ and came to see that He was not an imposter at all. Saul surrendered to the will of Christ and became a penitent believer in Christ (Acts 9)
A preacher came and told him, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).
When Saul was thus obedient to Christ, he began to preach the gospel that he had once tried to destroy. Because Christ had been so gracious to him, he believed that he was indebted to every man who had not heard about Jesus. Paul, because he had been a blasphemer and a persecutor, thought of himself as the chief of sinners. He writes, therefore, to the Romans, and says, “I am debtor.”
LIABILITIES TURNED INTO ASSETS
In God’s plans, no part of our background or upbringing is wasted. As with Paul, parts of our past that seem like a liability can be used by God. It is a humbling experience to look back over life and see how God has been able to turn even the difficult situations into good. Our own past makes us a wiser mentor or more merciful counselor to others we meet along the way.
2. BECAUSE OF WHO HE WAS
There is a second reason he wanted to bring the gospel to the world. He wanted the gospel to be preached because of who he was.
He was a servant of Jesus Christ (v. 1a). The word Paul used for servant would be meaningful to the Romans, because it is the word slave. There were an estimated 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire; and a slave was looked on as a piece of property, not a person. In loving devotion, Paul had enslaved himself to Christ, to be His servant and obey His will.
He was an apostle (v. 1b). This word means “one who is sent by authority with a commission.” It was applied in that day to the representatives of the emperor or the emissaries of a king. One of the requirements for an apostle was the experience of seeing the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1-2). Paul saw Christ when he was on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), and it was then that Christ called him to be His apostle to the Gentiles. Paul received from Christ divine revelations that he was to share with the churches.
He was a preacher of the Gospel (vv. 1c-4). When he was a Jewish rabbi, Paul was separated as a Pharisee to the laws and traditions of the Jews. But when he yielded to Christ, he was separated to the Gospel and its ministry. Gospel means “the Good News.” It is the message that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again, and now is able to save all who trust Him (1 Cor. 15:1-4). It is “the Gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1) because it originates with God; it was not invented by man. It is “the Gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16) because it centers in Christ, the Savior. Paul also calls it “the Gospel of His Son” (Rom. 1:9), which indicates that Jesus Christ is God! In Romans 16:25-26, Paul called it “my Gospel.” By this he meant the special emphasis he gave in his ministry to the doctrine of the church and the place of the Gentiles in the plan of God.
The Gospel is not a new message; it was promised in the Old Testament, beginning in Genesis 3:15. The Prophet Isaiah certainly preached the Gospel in passages such as Isaiah 1:18, and chapters 53 and 55. The salvation we enjoy today was promised by the prophets, though they did not fully understand all that they were preaching and writing.
1 Peter 1:10-12 (ESV) Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
Jesus Christ is the center of the Gospel message. Paul identified Him as a man, a Jew, and the Son of God. He was born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25) into the family of David, which gave Him the right to David’s throne. He died for the sins of the world, and then was raised from the dead. It is this miraculous event of substitutionary death and victorious resurrection that constitutes the Gospel; and it was this Gospel that Paul preached.
(a) He had received grace. Grace always describes some gift which is absolutely free and absolutely unearned. In his pre-Christian days Paul had sought to earn glory in the eyes of men and merit in the sight of God by meticulous observance of the works of the law, and he had found no peace that way. Now he knew that what mattered was not what he could do, but what God had done. It has been put this way, “The law lays down what a man must do; the gospel lays down what God has done.” Paul now saw that salvation depended not on what man’s effort could do, but on what God’s love had done. All was of grace, free and undeserved.
(b) He had received a task. He was set apart to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul knew himself to be chosen not for special honor, but for special responsibility. He knew that God had set him apart, not for glory, but for toil. It may well be that there is a play on words here. Once Paul had been a Pharisee (Php 3:5). Pharisee may very well mean The Separated One. It may be that the Pharisees were so called because they had deliberately separated themselves from all ordinary people and would not even let the skirt of their robe brush against an ordinary man. They would have shuddered at the very thought of the offer of God being made to the Gentiles, who to them were “fuel for the fires of hell.” Once Paul had been like that. He had felt himself separated in such a way as to have nothing but contempt for all ordinary men. Now he knew himself to be separated in such a way that he must spend all his life to bring the news of God’s love to every man of every race. Christianity always separates us, but it separates us not for privilege and self-glory and pride, but for service and humility and love for all men.
There were probably several assemblies of believers in Rome and not just one church, since in Romans 16 Paul greets a number of “home church” groups (Rom. 16:5, 10-11, 14). We do not know for certain how these churches began, but it is likely that believers from Rome who were at Pentecost established the assemblies on their return to Rome (Acts 2:10).
There were both Jews and Gentiles in these fellowships, because Paul addresses both in this letter. 0ews: Rom. 2:17-29; 4:1; 7:1. Gentiles: Rom. 1:13; 11:13-24; 15:15-21.) The churches in Rome were not founded by Peter or any other apostle. If they had been, Paul would not have planned to visit Rome, because his policy was to minister only where no other apostle had gone (Rom. 15:20-21).
Paul’s special commission was to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (the word nations means Gentiles), and this is why he was planning to go to Rome, the very capital of the empire. He was a preacher of the Gospel, and the Gospel was for all nations. In fact, Paul was anxious to go to Spain with the message of Christ (Rom. 15:28).
· BECAUSE OF WHAT THE GOSPEL IS.
There is a third reason. He wanted the gospel to be preached because of what the gospel is. He says, “Paul, a bondservant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1). The gospel is “of God.” The gospel had its origin with God Himself.
God is. The world speaks of God’s existence. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; . . .” Psalms19:1 says. Every man has within himself a consciousness, a trait that is of God. God put it there. We can know that God is from the creation and our moral consciousness.
What if God had never spoken? We could know something about God, but we would not know how to please Him. But the good news is that God has spoken. His message is in the Bible. God has spoken in these last days unto us through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-3). God has spoken and we can know His will.
The second fact about the gospel he explains in 1:2: “Which He [God] promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures.” The gospel was in the mind of God from eternity. As the Old Testament unfolds its story, God begins to reveal the good news by His prophets. For example, in Genesis 3:15 the Bible promised that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent or Satan. This was a promise of the gospel. When God called a man by the name of Abram (Genesis 12) and told him that He would make of him a great nation, give that nation the land of Canaan in which to live, and through him all families of the earth would be blessed, He was promising the gospel.
When the prophet said, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our wellbeing fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:5, 6), a promise through the prophets of the reality of the coming of the gospel was being made.
Here is fact number three about the gospel: He says, “Concerning His Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection. . . .” (1:3, 4). The gospel centers in a person, and that person is Christ. “Jesus” emphasizes His humanity. He was a man among men. “Christ” emphasizes His deity. He is the anointed one of God.
The Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, was the perfect combination of humanity and deity. Paul says He was made of the seed of David according to the flesh. That is, He descended through the line of David, the greatest king in Israel. In the Old Testament, God promised David that long after his death. He would raise up one of his descendents to sit upon his throne (2 Samuel 7). The Messiah was to come through David.
But He was more than simply a man. Paul affirms that He was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection. No one can reasonably deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God if He, in fact, was raised from the dead. The evidence is that His tomb was empty. He was even seen after His resurrection. By the resurrection, He was proven to be the Son of God. No wonder Paul wanted to tell the good news of the gospel to everyone. It is God’s message. It concerns the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God. . . .” (1:16). The reason Paul wanted to tell the world about Christ was that the gospel was the power of God.
God has various kinds of power. He has creative power. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). He has sustaining power; He upholds this world by the Word of His power (Hebrews 1:1-3). He has transforming power to bring a man into a proper relationship with Himself. That power is the gospel. The gospel is God’s drawing power. In John 12:32 Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” Like a mighty magnet the cross of Jesus Christ draws men to God. It is God’s saving power. Salvation meets man’s greatest need. The gospel is God’s keeping power. As man lives his life within the framework of the gospel, he is kept by the power of God to save. The gospel is the power of God.
Paul becomes more specific in 1:16 when he says the gospel is the power of God “for salvation.” Man is lost. He needs more than anything else to be saved. The gospel is the power of God to save. It is easy for a man to look at his own life and reach the conclusion, “I am a fairly good man.” But Paul tells us in 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No one is excluded; not the worst of men, or the best of men. Unless you have always been perfect every word, thought, and deed in your life, you need the gospel. The only answer to our sin problem is the gospel.
Paul goes further. He says the gospel is the power of God for salvation “to everyone” (1:16). No one is excluded. Everyone needs the gospel; everyone is included in the gospel. If the good news of Jesus Christ were for all men except me, it would not be good news to me. If it were for all men except Americans, it would not be good news for us. When God says “to everyone,” He settles it. It is for you; it is for me; it is for all.
He also says the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone “who believes” (1:16). Belief is man’s response to God. It is man’s link with God. Let us not make the mistake of think- ing that belief is simply the attitude which says, “Okay, it is true.” Biblical belief is not falling off a log. Biblical belief is a commitment to gospel truth. Believing the truth, I commit my very life to Jesus. It is not enough to say, “I am a sinner; Christ is the Savior.” Belief in Christ says, “Lord, I am in need.
You are the answer to that need. What will You have me do?” It is complete and absolute surrender to the will of Christ. Is it not tragic that many people have come to see that they are sinful and that Jesus is the answer to sin, but they have never surrendered? Consequently, the salvation that the gospel brings has never been theirs. Belief is a commitment to gospel truth.
When you open the New Testament and find the will of Christ for your life, what will you do with it? Perhaps it is not what you have always thought. Some will reject what Christ said. They will reject it upon the basis of “I think it should be done differently.” That is not faith at all. When the will of Christ conflicts with our will, we surrender our will to Him. That is biblical faith. Do we believe? This is the bottom line of Romans 1. It is all for naught unless we believe it.
Romans is gospel-centered
One of the “great themes” which the Book of Romans expounds and emphasizes is that of the gospel. Paul’s introduction and conclusion are dominated by the theme of the gospel. Everything in between them is an exposition of the gospel. There is no other book of the Bible which so fully expounds the gospel as Romans. If you would understand the gospel, go to Romans.
Have you believed this gospel? Do you recognize that you are among the “all” who are judged to be sinners, and who are destined for God’s wrath? Do you know that Jesus Christ died so that your punishment would be His, and so that His righteousness could be yours? Have you ceased trying to earn your own righteousness and received His righteousness by faith? That is the offer of the gospel, but it is an offer that you must receive.
(1) The gospel is never understood as fully by the Christian as it could and should be. We can never hear the gospel too often. We can never understand it too well.
(2) The gospel is constantly being distorted. In our own sin, we are inclined to distort it, both in its application to ourselves, and in our representation of it to others. The gospel as defined in Romans is a standard, against which we must constantly measure our own concept of the gospel. Romans is the perfect standard; ours is the imperfect.
(3) The gospel is not only that truth by which we are saved and that truth by which others are saved as we bear witness, it is also that truth which is the standard for our daily lives. Paul said to the Colossians, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6).
Why is the gospel so important? Paul has already told us, at the beginning of his epistle. The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation,” and it “reveals the righteousness of God” (Romans 1:16-17). No wonder the gospel is so prominent in the Book of Romans.
Romans is God-centered
How often we make man the center of our “universe,” wanting to put God into orbit around us, waiting for Him to meet our needs and to make us happy and comfortable. It is God who is to be central and preeminent, not men. It is we who are to orient our lives to Him. When you read through the Book of Romans, you will be constantly reminded that it is God who is most prominently displayed here.
The character of God, in many of its facets, is displayed in Romans, such that Paul will pause to praise and adore Him for who He is (see Romans 8:31-39 and especially 11:33-36). There are many of the attributes of God described in this great Epistle, but none greater or more prominent than that of God’s righteousness.
I would like to suggest that the righteousness of God is that attribute of God’s character which makes His other attributes all the more glorious. Think of a God who is all-powerful, but who is not righteous and just. It is a horrifying thought. Power without righteousness is terrifying. Think of a God who is “loving” but who is not also righteous. This would be mere sentimentalism. A love rooted in justice is a marvelous thing. Think too of a merciful God, who was not also righteous.
The righteousness of God. What a marvelous truth. What comfort! What discomfort! May we see more and more of God’s righteousness in Romans, in the church, and in our own lives, to the praise of the glory of His grace.