The gospel in Romans is the same gospel taught elsewhere in the New Testament. It is a message for both unbelievers and believers. Unbelievers should place faith in Jesus for justification and eternal life; believers should live a life of faith so that the power of God can deliver them from the power of sin in their lives.
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What is the Gospel in Romans?
If Romans is Paul’s magnum opus on the gospel, we should expect his letter to contain a clear explanation about the content of the gospel he preached. And this is exactly what we find. If Galatians is Paul’s defense of the gospel, Romans is where he defines the gospel. But we must be careful to include everything within the gospel that Paul himself does.
From my own study of Romans, it seems that many stop short of including everything within the gospel which Paul includes in his letter to the Romans. Many want to stop at the end of Romans 5, or maybe the end of Romans 8, but a careful reading of Romans reveals that Paul’s gospel explanation carries all the way through Romans 16.
Paul begins his letter right away by talking about the gospel. He wants to tell his readers what his letter is about, and so from the opening statement in his letter, he indicates that he will be writing about the gospel of God (Romans 1:1). Romans 1:1 indicates that all sixteen chapters concern the gospel, not just the first three, five, or eight chapters.
The Gospel in Romans 1:1-5
In Romans 1:1, we read, “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.” The following verses explain what he was separated to.
First, Paul states that the gospel of God was “promised before though His prophecies in the Holy Scriptures” (Romans 1:2). In other words, the gospel was a topic of prophecy. But in Romans 1:3, he really gets into the content of the gospel. This gospel concerns “His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”
As can be immediately seen, Romans 1:1-2 contains several elements of the gospel which are normally not included in typical gospel presentations. Not only does Paul’s gospel include Old Testament prophecy, but it also includes the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the fact that according to the flesh, Jesus was born of the seed of David. Though many teach that the Lordship of Christ is essential to the gospel, almost nobody today includes the descendancy of Jesus from David.
Thirdly, he goes on to write that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4). This can be understood in various ways, either as a reference to the deity of Jesus or to His royal kingship, but either way, Paul stipulates that he is thinking primarily of the power and authority Jesus received after the resurrection. Nobody denies that the resurrection is central to the gospel, though few mention the power and authority as the Son of God that Jesus received by the resurrection from the dead.
In Romans 1:5 Paul explains why he was separated to the gospel, and why he preached. He says that he preached this gospel “for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name.” There are numerous ways this phrase “obedience to the faith” can be understood. The best option is that Paul is not primarily referring to initial faith in Jesus for justification, but the continual life of faith in Christ which results in obedience.
So Paul’s gospel in Romans is not simply to tell unbelievers how to receive justification and everlasting life. Paul’s gospel in his letter to the Romans includes this truth, but much more as well. Paul wants to emphasize how justified believers can live the life of faithful obedience to God, thereby escaping the temporal wrath of God in this life which comes upon us as a result of sin.
The Gospel in Romans 1:16-17
This idea is further seen in Romans 1:16-17, the key verses of Romans. The main point of these verses is that the gospel Paul preached is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
“Salvation” in the Bible is not primarily about how to receive eternal life, but is instead about deliverance from some sort of physical, temporal, or even spiritual calamity, we are led to look into the context for what kind of deliverance Paul has in view. And we need not look far.
Romans 1:16 itself indicates that whatever deliverance Paul has in view, it is deliverance for believers, that is, it is for people who have already believed. The deliverance in view is not for people who have not yet believed, but for those who have believed, both Jews and Gentiles alike.
And in Romans 1:17, we see a theme that reminds us of what we saw in Galatians, that believers should live their life in Jesus by faith. Going on into Romans 1:18 and following, Paul writes about how the wrath of God comes upon those who practice unrighteousness, and in Romans 2 Paul indicates that this wrath (which is not hell!) can fall upon anybody who practices unrighteousness, believer and unbeliever alike—for there is no partiality with God (Romans 2:8-11).
Paul does not want this temporal discipline of God to fall upon anybody, and especially not the believers in Rome to whom he is writing, and so He calls them in the following chapters to live their lives by faith in the Son of God. This is the idea he introduced in Romans 1:16-17, and which he expounds throughout his entire letter.
A Gospel for Believers
So in Romans, Paul is not teaching a gospel for unbelievers, but for believers. He wants to tell those who have already believed how to be delivered from the “wrath of God” coming against those who practice unrighteousness.
Paul’s gospel in Romans is a message about how all people, whether Jew or Greek, can escape the temporal devastation caused by sin in this life. And how does that occur? Unbelievers must believe in Jesus for justification (Romans 2–4). Believers must live a life of faith under the cross of Jesus Christ (Romans 5–8). But Paul’s gospel does not stop with chapter 8. He wants believers to live a life of faith, whether they are Jewish believers or Gentile believers. And so in Romans 9–11, Paul addresses some particular concerns that Jewish believers face concerning the wrath of God, the ingrafting of the Gentiles, and the future of the Jewish people as God’s chosen nation.
To be delivered from temporal wrath, it is critical to see that Romans 9–11 are just as much a part of Paul’s gospel as Romans 1–8. His gospel explanation does not stop at Romans 8:39, but is only half finished.
This is also true for Romans 12–16. Just as Romans 9–11 helps Jewish believers grasp the gospel as the power of God for delivering them from temporal wrath, Romans 12–16 similarly helps all believers (including Jewish believers) live in a way that will bring deliverance from temporal discipline. As evidence that the entire letter is part of Paul’s gospel, near the end of what he writes he reminds the Roman Christians that what he has written to them, though strongly stated in some areas, is so that he can be a faithful minister of the gospel of God (Romans 15:16, 19-20).
Even in his concluding remarks, he says something almost identical to what he wrote in 1:5, 16-17, that what he writes is the gospel which is for obedience to the faith (Romans 16:25-26).
So the gospel in Romans is the same gospel we have seen elsewhere in the New Testament. It is a message for both unbelievers and believers. Unbelievers should place faith in Jesus for justification and eternal life; believers should live a life of faith so that the power of God can deliver them from the power of sin in their lives. The gospel message in Romans includes a vast array of truths and ideas to accomplish these goals.
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