Gospel as Salvation
- Main text: Romans 1:1-17
- Accompanying text: Matt 9:10-13
What this passage means to us
By the order of the biblical Canon, Romans is the first epistle encountered in the Bible, but it is generally assumed to be one of his later letters chronologically. While in Acts 14 we saw Barnabas and Paul sharing the gospel with the Gentiles, in Paul’s letter to the Romans we hear first-hand what the gospel is to Paul.
Paul begins, as was customary in such letters, by introducing himself. For Paul, his identity is in Christ. He describes himself as a ‘servant of Christ Jesus’ – in the Greek this is literally a ‘slave’ of Jesus Christ (though modern translations avoid this term because slavery to most modern readers is linked with the racist, dehumanising, colonial ideology of the last five hundred years or so). Paul’s use of this phrases echoes similar sentiments expressed in the Old Testament where both Moses and Joshua are described as being servants of the LORD (Yahweh) (e.g. Deut 34:5). What is significant here is that Paul takes the term Yahweh from the Old Testament (which like in modern translation was translated as LORD in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament) and he feels comfortable in replacing it with Jesus Christ.
Paul’s description of himself as a servant of Jesus Christ is viewed often as a mark of Paul’s humility – it is a declaration that he is the servant, not the master, but it also means that Paul is a representative of Jesus. This theme is expanded when he states that he is ‘called to be an apostle’, called to be one who is sent by Jesus (Acts 26:17) having been ‘set apart for the gospel’. Thus, while Paul is identifying himself as the one who is writing to the Romans, he is making it clear that he writes, not on his own behalf, but on behalf of his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He writes not for his own purpose or gain, but ‘to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [Christ’s] name among all the nations’ (Rom 1:5). He writes to preach the gospel.
Paul writes in verse 16 that he is ‘not ashamed of the gospel’ which some commentators view as a figure of speech indicating the strength of his belief in the gospel. Yet Jesus also warned his disciples not to be ashamed of him (Mark 8:38). In 1 Corinthians Paul describes the gospel as ‘folly to those who are perishing’ and the resurrection as a ‘stumbling block to the Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (1 Cor 1:18,23). “Whenever the gospel is faithfully preached, it arouses opposition, often contempt, and sometimes ridicule. How then did Paul (and how shall we) overcome the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel? He tells us. It is by remembering that the very same message, which some people despise for its weakness, is in fact the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” .
Paul then introduces one of the topics that dominates his letter to the Romans – the righteousness of God. “For Paul, it was not enough for God to be righteous; he must act consistently with his righteousness to establish justice in the world. He did this by sending his Son. Paul believed that what God had accomplished in Christ demonstrated his covenant faithfulness and established salvations for Jews and Gentiles” . Our faith is possible because of the faithfulness of God shown to us in Christ Jesus, and it is through our faith that we are given the life and righteousness of Christ (see Rom 1:17).
Context and Story-line
For Paul, the gospel is the ‘Gospel of God… concerning his Son’ (Rom 1:1,3) – it is all about Jesus Christ. In his brief recitation of the gospel here in Romans 1, he touches upon many of the themes that have been covered in the lectionary over the last year. Jesus is the ‘son of David’ (Rom 1:3), the promised messiah of Micah 5. He came ‘according to the flesh’ (Rom 1:3), echoing Matthew 1:23. He was declared to be ‘the Son of God in power’ who was raised from the dead (Rom 1:4) just as Peter described to Cornelius in Acts 10:38, and as Matthew records throughout his gospel account, culminating in the description of the disciples and the followers of Jesus when they encounter the risen Christ. Through Jesus, God promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3 to bless all nations, both Jews and Gentiles, is fulfilled (Rom 1:5, 16).
Paul puts it more succinctly: through Jesus Christ, God has given us grace and peace (Rom 1:7), and this is the theme that Paul will expound more in the rest of his letter to the Romans…
- 2 Timothy 1:6-12
- Philippians 3:7-14
- 1 Thessalonians 2:8-13
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- John Stott, The Bible Speaks Today: the Message of Romans (Downers Grove, Il: Intervarsity Press, 1994). Digital Edition.
- David B. Capes, Rodney Reeves and E. Randolph Richard, Rediscovering Paul, An Introduction to His World Letter and Theology (Downers Grove, Il: Intervarsity Press, 2007). 179.