A Survey of Romans, Part 2

1:1-18

As we begin our expositional survey of Romans, it would be good to recall the words of 2 Timothy 3:16—

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…

Even salutations are worthy of our attention.  In fact, Romans contains the longest of all Paul’s greetings.  Hendriksen offers the following chart of the comparative length of all Paul’s greetings from the original Greek:

1 Thessalonians  19
2 Thessalonians  27
Colossians  28
Ephesians 28/30
2 Timothy 29
Philippians 32
1 Timothy 32
2 Corinthians 41
Philemon 41
1 Corinthians 55
Titus 65
Galatians 75
Romans 93

So, given its length, we will spend a little extra time examining what Paul wrote in his salutation.

1.  Paul’s Credentials and Commission, 1:1

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.

As in all his letters, Paul introduces himself using his Roman name.  The first time he is referred to as “Paul,” as opposed to his Jewish name “Saul” occurred when he came in contact with a Roman official in Acts 13:6—12.  Prior to this encounter, the Biblical text always used his Jewish name.

The letter to the Romans begins like Titus, with Paul identifying himself as a doulos of Jesus Christ.   This Greek word is sometimes translated “slave,” but that suggests a forced, subservient position.  In Philippians 2:7 we read this of Christ’s relationship to the Father:

but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

In this passage, doulos describes that relationship, and we could hardly describe Christ’s relationship with God as “forced” and “subservient!”  A most precious truth is being communicated by Paul here.  Paul is describing himself, not as a slave who has no choice in the matter, but as a “bondman,” or “servant,” who, recognizing that he has been purchased by Christ, wholeheartedly serves Him in obedient gratitude for being set free from his bondage to sin and death.  Paul views his service to Christ as true freedom, as should we.  The Psalmist expressed it this way:

O LORD, truly I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant;
you have freed me from my chains.  (Psalm 116:16)

But Paul was a servant of the Lord with a difference.  He was an “apostle.”  If doulos describes Paul’s commitment to Christ, then apostolos describes his authority.  In the Greek, the words “to be” are absent, and so the meaning of the sentence is “Paul, called an apostle.” It is a statement of the fact of his recognized authority:  he is called an apostle by all who knew him, including, but not limited to, God.

The use of the word “apostle” in the New Testament sheds some light on its exact meaning.  It is used ten times in the Gospels, thirty times in Acts, more than thirty times in the Pauline epistles, and eight times in the rest of the New Testament.  With few exceptions, it always refers to the Twelve and to Paul.  Apostles were always men, never women.  They were apostles for life and wherever they went.  An apostle was clothed in the authority of Christ, the One who sent him, and that authority covered matters of both doctrine and life.

The characteristics of full apostleship—the apostleship of the Twelve and of Paul only—were:

  • They were chosen, called, and sent forth by Christ Himself; they received their commission directly from Him (John 6:70; 13:18; 15:16, 19; Galatians 1:6).
  • They are qualified for their work by Jesus, and have been eye-witnesses of His words and work, especially of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:8, 21; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8, Galatians 1:12; Ephesians 3:2—8; 1 John 1:1—3).
  • They were endowed with the Holy Spirit in special measure (Matthew 10:20; John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7—14; 20:22; 1 Corinthians 2:10—13; 7:40; 1 Thessalonians 4:8).
  • God blessed their work, confirming its value by means of signs and miracles (Matthew 10:1, 8; Acts 2:43; 3:2; 5:12—16; Romans 15:18—19; etc.).
  • Their office was not restricted to one local church, or did it last for a specified period of time.  Apostles were set by Christ for life and over the whole church (Acts 26:16—18; 2 Timothy 4:7—8).

Paul was a servant, an apostle, and he was “set apart for the gospel of God.”  This “separation” may be considered in different lights.  According to Galatians 1:15, Paul had been set apart for his work before he was born—

But when God, who set me apart from birth…

He is in good company, as the same thing was said of Moses, Jeremiah and John the Baptist.  But, though he was called by God to his ministry before his birth, Paul first had to learn from his weakness; he had to be brought face-to-face with both his wretched sinfulness and the unprofitableness of the flesh.  In God’s time, He had mercy on Paul, and he was set apart and called by grace.  But that was not the end of it.  Paul’s calling had to be recognized by the church as a whole; when it was, he was finally and actually “separated” with Barnabas for the specific work of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles.

So then, Paul’s credentials and his commission were descended directly from God, but recognized by the Church.

2.  The nature of the Gospel, 1:2—4

[T]he gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Verse 2 is really parenthetical and it serves to link the Gospel with the Old Testament Scriptures, which would have pleased his Jewish-Christian readers.  But what he says about the Old Testament prophets is stunning, and was first preached by Peter:

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.  (Acts 10:42—43)

How powerful are the words of “the law and the prophets?”  Consider what Paul wrote to young Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

This Gospel which Paul carried with him was not new; it was neither a new law nor a new code of moral and ethical conduct.  It was not a new creed to be accepted,  or a new religion to observed.  It certainly was not just good advice to be followed.  The Gospel is a divinely appointed and ordained message concerning the Son of God. But the Gospel did not start with Matthew; according to Paul, it began in the Old Testament.  It begs the question:  would modern Christians discern the Gospel without the New Testament?

The phrase “by his resurrection from the dead” means literally “by resurrection of dead persons.”  In other words, Jesus Christ’s position as the Son of God was proved by His resurrection, but also the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, of the widow’s son and of Lazarus.

3.  The nature of the calling, 1:5—6

Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ was the One, the only One, who could rob death of its power, eliminating the fear of death forever more.  From Him, the One who did that, Paul had received grace—not just “unmerited favor,” but favor against merit, for if anybody deserved the opposite of God’s grace it was surely Saul!

These verses briefly exposit Paul’s responsibility to proclaim the Gospel.  There are two common questions surrounding these verses.  The first one is:  Who is Paul referring to when he says “we received grace?”  Paul cannot be referring to himself and his readers because they were not apostles.  Paul is likely referring to himself and all the apostles.  The other question has to do with the phrase “all the Gentiles.”  What is Paul referring to?  Given his commission to be the “apostle to the Gentiles,” he is likely referring to his sphere of ministry.  However, that phrase can also be rendered “all the nations” (ESV and others), and that would include Israel; therefore, the “we” would include all the apostles, even those who labored only in Jerusalem.

The response Paul wants to the message he brings is “obedience that comes from faith.”  That sums up the nature of Paul’s calling; his sole purpose in preaching the Gospel was to bring people to that response.  This obedience is based on faith and comes from faith.  Faith and obedience are literally two sides of one coin; they are inseparable.  Faith cannot exist without obedience and obedience is rooted in faith.  In fact, in the Dutch language our words “faith” and “obedience” are sometimes combined into one word, geloofsgehoorzaameid.

Paul for his part offers two synonymous passages in this very epistle that show “faith” and “obedience” were the same thing to him:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.  (Romans 1:8)

Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.  (Romans 16:19)

However, while they are synonymous terms, we must understand that we are not saved by merely obeying a set of doctrines or theological principles.  We are saved, wrote Barnhouse, “in order to surrender our lives to Christ.”  We are to become His servants, separated from this world unto Him.  Moule wrote:

Self-surrender taken alone is a plunge into a cold void.  When it is a surrender to the ‘Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me,’ it is the bright homecoming of the soul to the seat and sphere of life and power.

Faith is not merely agreeing to orthodox doctrines in one’s head; it is actively living out those doctrines in day-to-day life.  Obedience in not just doing things blindly without understanding why; it is action combined with knowledge.   The songwriter put it best when he wrote:

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, and the joy He bestows,
Are for those who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

4.  The true state of believers, 1:7

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, Paul gets around to his actual greeting, “Grace and peace.”  The significant thing about this single verse, though, is the phrase “called to be his holy people.”  The Greek is kletois hagiois, the English “to be” is omitted, making the phrase even more powerful:  “called saints.”  On this point, Godet has noted that “called saints has quite another meaning from called to be saints (which would assume that they were not so).  The meaning is saints by way of calling.” Christians, not just those in Rome, are already saints—holy people—at the moment of conversion.

The basic meaning of sainthood is separation.  The saints of God are those who have been separated by God from the rest of the world.  An Old Testament reference in helpful in this:

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.  (Deuteronomy 7:6)

Beet observed:

[The Christians in Rome] were men whom God had claimed for Himself.  They might be carnal like the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:3), but like the Corinthians they were still sanctified in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2).

This separation is done by God, not by ourselves; we do not separate, God separates us.

It should be noted, however, that saints are not only separated, but they are also purified.  Nygren makes the valid point that all sin is utterly opposed to holiness.  This being the case, God’s holiness makes Him completely intolerant of sin “because sin robs Him of that which His holiness demands.  Only the holy (the saints) are pure, and only the pure are holy.” The purification of the saints—our purification—begins at our conversion.    What that means is simply this:  All saints—all born-again Christians—are purified from sin in the sense that God’s claims upon them have broken the reign of sin in their lives.  But the root of sin grows deep, and all true saints of God long to have the root of sin completely removed from their being.   This is accomplished, not through anything we may do, but through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit who is within each and ever believer.  It is only as we daily yield ourselves to Him in decisive dedication and consecration that we are “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

5.  Paul and the church at Rome, 1:8—15

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.  God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.  I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.  That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

It is obvious that the church at Rome had been there for some time, probably many, many years before this letter was written since their faith was, apparently, legendary.   This must have been impressive to Paul—

Paul knows nothing of a faith which is so concealed nothing of it is visible.  The world speaks of the faith of the Roman brethren, and this calls for gratitude. (Emil Brunner)

There is no inkling or hint that this assembly was the result of apostolic ministry; both Scripture and history are mute as to how the Roman church was established.  The Roman Catholic notion that Peter started it is, as has been noted by some scholars, “twaddle.”  We have no way of knowing whether any apostle ever visited Rome until Paul himself finally got there in chains.

Paul tells them that he longed to visit them, not just meet them and fellowship with them personally, but also to give them a “spiritual gift.”  He does not say what that gift might have been, although he probably does not have in mind any of the charismatic gifts (1 Corinthians 12).  Since he immediately follows that statement with mentioning a mutual encouragement based on fellowship with them, it seems likely this is what the apostle has in mind, a mutual upbuilding resulting from fellowship.  E. F. Harrison remarks—

Faith is basically one, but to see it at work in one individual after another, in various ways, adds zest to Christian fellowship.  Paul himself needed this.

As he prayed constantly for the Romans, so Paul planned to visit them many times, but was providentially hindered from carrying those plans time after time.

6.  Paul’s debt, 1:14—15

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

Paul looks forward to his visit, but he also considers it to be an obligation.  Why an obligation?  First he was Christ’s servant and as such, he had obligated himself to do his Master’s will, and second he had been given a commission to take the gospel to all people.

Even though an obligation, notice the apostle’s attitude: he was eager.  How many believers today view their obligations to God with eagerness?  All too often we see our Christian duties as a burden, a “cross to bear” and a duty to accomplish.  This is such a timely message for preacher and layperson alike.  A preacher may have great skill and a keen intellect and may be able to prepare astonishing sermons, but without eagerness and zeal in presenting it, his words will yield very little.  Living your faith at home or at work with no excitement or joy would inspire no one to want what you have.

But Paul had a marvelous perspective on his ministry; it was real to him and it impacted his whole life:

If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.  (1 Corinthians 9:17)
Either way, he was doing the Lord’s will, but we learn there is a better way to it.

7.  Not ashamed, 1:16—17

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Verse 17 means much more than some think.  Usually this verse is preached to encourage Christians to share their faith unashamedly.  Certainly Paul did not blush to be called a Christian, and we know that he was always boldly proclaimed the Gospel wherever he went; nobody or no situation intimidated him.   But to Paul, the Gospel was not just an idea, but an inspired plan for the salvation of all people.  It was a divinely revealed system of truth that transcended all man’s philosophies.  Paul was committed to the Gospel and he was prepared to defend it even if it meant his death.

Darby’s translation of verse provides a different slant:

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 is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  It meets every need a human being can ever have—mental, spiritual, and emotional.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote, as Darby translated, “on the principle of faith, to faith according to faith.”  The benefit of the Gospel—it’s inherent power to change lives—is appropriated on the basis of faith alone.  That is, only those with faith are able to access the power of the Gospel.  In other words, the Gospel is not a doctrine of salvation (or help) by works, but rather a proclamation of salvation by faith alone.  This concept was so obvious and elemental to Paul that he says even a prophet who lived centuries ago recognized it.

Verse 17, then, is the quintessence of God’s plan.  It formed Augustine’s theology.  It was the key that opened the door of liberty to Luther.  It has become the spark that ignites the fires of revival.  The Gospel cannot be understood apart from faith.  No heart untouched by the Holy Spirit can ever receive the full measure of God’s truth.  It is faith saves, faith that leads, faith that sustains.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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