This “gospel” not only fueled the apostle’s ministry and message throughout the world, it is the primary subject of his message to the Romans, which he foreshadows in a network of phrases between “[From] Paul” (1:1) and “to all who are beloved of God in Rome” (1:7). The chart “Paul’s Greeting” shows how the phrases are linked together to establish several truths about the good news and its main character, Jesus Christ.
First, the origin of the gospel is God. Paul declared that the gospel was “promised” (1:2). How? Look beneath the word “promised” on the chart.
The gospel was promised “beforehand” (1:2). The message Paul carried was not new; it had been the central focus of the Old Testament and the impetus behind the Lord’s interaction with humankind since Adam and Eve’s tragic disobedience in the Garden of Eden.
The gospel was promised “through His prophets” (1:2). The message Paul carried fulfilled the hope of salvation foreshadowed by every prophet since Moses.
The gospel was promised “in the holy Scriptures” (1:2). The message Paul carried passed the ultimate test of truth; it was bs born out of God’s Word. And the apostle will demonstrate the veracity of the gospel throughout his letter by quoting or paraphrasing Old Testament Scripture no less than sixty times.
Second, the content of the gospel is Jesus Christ. Note that the gospel was promised “concerning His Son” (1:3), about whom Paul declares several truths. God’s Son “was born of a descendant [literally, ‘a seed’] of David according to the flesh”; this means that Jesus is a genuine human male, insofar as His physical nature is concerned (1:3).
Jesus was undeniably proven by His resurrection to be the Son of God (1:4), insofar as His eternal identity is concerned. The pe pe phrase “Spirit of holiness” refers to His divine nature; for just as God is spirit, so the Son shares this nature.
God’s Son is “Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:4). The “Christ” is none other than the Jewish Messiah, who is our Kyrios, the Greek term used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the Lord God.
Because the Roman believers do not know Paul personally, it is important for him to present an unblemished pedigree of truth, to demonstrate a theological kinship with his audience from the outset. And no issue divides true believers from apostates more definitely than the identity of Christ.
Today, we must do the same. The labels “Methodist,” “Presbyterian,” “Baptist,” or even “Evangelical” mean little to the average person on the street. A teacher of authentic Christian truth must have a clear understanding of who Jesus is in relation to the Trinity and as the central figure of the gospel. If any person says that Jesus is anyone other than God in human flesh, then he or she cannot be trusted to teach others. This person might be Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness or some undefined strain of skeptic. This person might choose to wear the label “Christian” and carry a Bible; nevertheless, he or she is not Christian.
That’s not to say we should shun or reject such a person. We must simply recognize that he or she needs to hear the gospel.
Third, the purpose of the gospel is to produce obedient faith (1:5). At one time, learning was said to have taken place when an individual’s behavior changed as a result of gaining new information. God did not save us merely to deposit a set of theological principles in our heads. We are saved in order to surrender our lives to Christ (Rom. 16:26). When you think of obedience, attach to it the synonym “submission.” Paul submitted everything to the will of God, from his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus to the very end of his life.
Paul reminds the believers in Rome that they too are “the called of Jesus Christ” (1:6). While their calling does not have the official capacity of his apostleship, they share his mission nonetheless. Jesus Christ has called them to faith and obedience, and then charged them with the responsibility to bring Gentiles—that is, their fellow inhabitants of Rome and the Roman Empire at large—to the same faith and obedience.
The responsibility to “make disciples” (Mt. 28:19–20) does not rest entirely on the shoulders of vocational, full-time ministers of the gospel. To be sure, they dedicate their lives to preaching, teaching, and leading, but they are not surrogate servants—hired hands to do work on behalf of others. All of us, every member of Christ’s body, are charged with the same mission. We are to seek those who have not heard the good news and become the means by which they come to faith and obedience.
Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Romans, Swindoll’s New Testament Insights (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 28–29.
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