Through the letter to the Romans – Part 1: The bottom line: The Gospel has power.

The gospel for all nations: A recurring theme in this letter is that the, gospel, the good news of God’s rescue plan for humanity, has always been worldwide in scope. Nevertheless, in execution, it has followed a very precise path: The Jewish nation. Why God chose that path, and why it is important for all of us to understand that it was “a path” and not the end itself, is a case Paul will be building up incrementally. But he starts right off referring to it:

Romans 1: 1-7 Paul, bondman {slave} of Jesus Christ, called apostle, separated to God’s glad tidings, (which he had before promised by his prophets in holy writings,) concerning his Son (come of David’s seed according to flesh, marked out Son of God in power, according to [the] Spirit of holiness, by resurrection of [the] dead) Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom we have received grace and apostleship in behalf of his name, for obedience of faith among all the nations, among whom are *ye* also [the] called of Jesus Christ: to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and [our] Lord Jesus Christ.

The glad tidings, the good news of the gospel, were promised long ago in the Scriptures treasured by the Jewish believers. But what is just as important as that promise, is the fact that it has been in a process of progressive fulfilment, again, as proclaimed in those Scriptures (The Law). And one of the key promises to be fulfilled was that the executor of that promised salvation would be a descendant of David.

So has it happened, Paul declares: Jesus the Messiah is that descendant of David. And the fact that his arrival is part of that unrelenting fulfilment – that could only be guaranteed by God’s faithfulness and power – that fact has been attested to by God’s undeniable powerful intervention: He raised Jesus from the dead. Proving that the promised resurrection is indeed coming and it has been ushered in by the Son of David.

Notice, then, how Paul concludes that thought: this was all done so that all nations can come to the obedience of faith.

This is the way the Gospel started. Think back to the first Christmas. The setting: Bethlehem, the ancestral city for David. The proclamation by the angels: (Luke 10:10-11) Fear not, for behold, I announce to you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people; for to-day a Saviour has been born to you in David’s city, who is Christ [the] Lord.

The gospel is the bottom line

More introduction follows, with Paul demonstrating to his audience that he knows them. (We have to remember that Paul was not the founder of the church in Rome. In fact, as we see at the end of the Acts of the Apostles, the Jewish leaders in Rome had heard very little about the controversies that had hounded Paul during his missions. They knew about the Christian sect among them but that was it.)

The point is that Paul has to tread lightly. He knows (and he already told them) that his appointment as apostle is decreed by God. He has all the authority he needs. But because they don’t know him, he is extra careful, and begins by telling them that he and them can grow from each other’s faith. And then he says:

Romans 1:14-16 I am a debtor both to Greeks and barbarians, both to wise and unintelligent: so, as far as depends on me, am I ready to announce the glad tidings to you also who [are] in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the glad tidings; for it is God’s power to salvation, to every one that believes, both to Jew first and to Greek

You see, those Roman believers certainly thought they were doing fine without him. Didn’t he himself acknowledged their faith (verse 8)? But he is about to tell them, ‘you need to hear the gospel again’. Now, I have already covered what I claim is at the background of this letter. And I think you can see that problem of division along ethnic and cultural lines even here in this paragraph. Note how he frames his comment at beginning and end of this section in terms of the “me versus them” universal dichotomy that plagues all cultures: Greek or Barbarians, the elite or the common folk, Jews or Greeks. 

Of course, he can anticipate that audience looking at him and saying: “wait, wait, wait… Why do we need you to preach the gospel to us? We are already saved. We know the gospel!”

But Paul knows that knowing it and living it are two different things as he will prove soon enough. So, anticipating that reaction Paul says something he has said a different way before (1 Corinthians 9:16): ‘Don’t hold this against me, I can’t help myself, I am compelled to do this. This is what I must do: Preach the gospel (again) to all people. So, I am never going to be ashamed to preach it.’ But then Paul adds one more thing, one of the other major recurring themes of this letter:

The gospel is not just a story. It has supernatural power. In it or by it we have access to God’s power unto salvation. Faith is not just a statement of belief, it is an exercising of that power.

Why is that?

Romans 1:17 for righteousness of God is revealed therein, on the principle of faith, to faith: according as it is written, But the just shall live by faith.

The gospel has supernatural power because it is a Revelation directly from God. And as God says in Isaiah:

photo of rain and rainbow

Isaiah 55: 10-11 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall do that which I please, and it shall accomplish that for which I send it.

The gospel is the Word of God, and the Word of God transforms those who receive it. (Read that passage in Isaiah, in context.)

What does the gospel reveal?

That God is righteous. Namely that He is trustworthy, faithful, and True because He has brought about the Salvation He promised. This is the righteousness of God.

What is that salvation based on?

That salvation is based on the principle of faith (as opposed to – as we shall soon see – on the principle of Law).

Who receives this revelation?

It is revealed to faith. This revelation is only seen by those who have faith. To see this revelation, to understand it, you must believe in it…

Paul ends this declaration with a quote from the prophet Habakkuk 2:4. That verse comes after God has told Habakkuk how the wicked conqueror, that will come to punish Israel, worships his own power. Habakkuk, horrified, says no to God, ‘you wouldn’t do that to your righteous (by the Law) people’. And God’s reply is: ‘write it down… this is the way the evil live, and they will pay, but the JUST will live by faith… In other words, the just will live, but not by power, and not simply because they call themselves my people; no, the only way true life comes is by faith.’

That that Life, eternal life, is connected to faith is another recurring theme in this letter.

Again, this is exactly the gospel:

John 6:43-45 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, Murmur not among yourselves. No one can come to me except the Father who has sent me draw him, and I will raise him up in the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every one that has heard from the Father [himself], and has learned [of him], comes to me;

John 6:63-65 It is the Spirit which quickens, the flesh profits nothing: the words which I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would deliver him up. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no one can come to me unless it be given to him from the Father.

Notice that these verses do not imply that God selects (arbitrarily) who will be saved. The quote from Isaiah and Jeremiah that “they all shall be taught of God”, precludes that. All have the ability and opportunity to hear God, (Paul will return to this theme immediately.) But it is only those that listen, those that hear-and-obey (see the meaning of the Hebrew word, shema), that actually “get it.” Those that believe, receive more than just “understanding”, they receive life as a supernatural gift from the Spirit of God.

John 10:2-4 …but he that enters in by the door is [the] shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter opens; and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. When he has put forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice.

John 10:14 …I am the good shepherd; and I know those that are mine, and am known of those that are mine,

John 10:24-27 The Jews therefore surrounded him, and said to him, Until when dost thou hold our soul in suspense? If thou art the Christ, say [so] to us openly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye do not believe. The works which I do in my Father’s name, these bear witness concerning me: but ye do not believe, for ye are not of my sheep, as I told you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me;

shepherd and sheep photo

Notice how the sheep know His voice. This is not an opinion, and this is not a “belief” the way the world uses that word. Faith in the Shepherd, as cemented in our hearts by the Spirit, brings with it an assurance and a certainty that cannot be shaken. Why? Because the life of the sheep depends on it.

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