Paul’s Gospel

Romans is a tour de force. After an initial greeting, that centers the whole of the writing on the gospel, Paul unleashes a cascading force of prophetic rhetoric aimed at rendering the whole world silent before God (Rom. 3:19). Then Paul takes us to Calvary and begins unpacking all the treasures of Jesus Christ and how they are ours, till He has climbed to the pinnacle of the glorious covenant of God, where is there is nothing that can separate us from His love (Rom. 8:38). But none of this is his real aim. All of this is the means to the end.

Paul’s Heart

The time that Paul was writing this, Paul was busy bringing a gift to the poor in Israel. He writes about it:

“But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily: and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things” (Rom. 15:26-27).

Paul loves to bring gifts. He is a Jew and with this collection he sees the Gentiles caring for the Jews, and as a Jew he is burdened to give a gift to the Gentiles as well. He has been raised up to that end, to bring a spiritual gift to the Gentiles, “to the end ye may be established” (Rom. 1:11).
Paul was an eminent strategist! And so he writes with the future in mind. He has wanted to step foot among the saints in Rome, but he has been delayed. But he has set his sights westward (Rom. 15:24). He even mentions Spain – essentially the ends of the earth. This man was hungry to see people saved!

The oldest post-apostolic witness is Clement of Rome, who wrote about 95: “Paul … having come to the limit of the West (ἐπὶ τὸ τέρμα τη̂ς δύσεως ἐλθων) and borne witness before the magistrates (μαρτυρήσας ἐπὶ τῶν ἡγουμένων, which others translate, “having suffered martyrdom under the rulers”), departed from the world and went to the holy place, having furnished the sublimest model of endurance” (Ad Corinth. c. 5). Considering that Clement wrote in Rome, the most natural interpretation of τέρμα τη̂ς δύσεως, “the extreme west,” is Spain or Britain; and as Paul intended to carry the gospel to Spain, one would first think of that country, which was in constant commercial intercourse with Rome, and had produced distinguished statesmen and writers like Seneca and Lucan. Strabo (II. 1) calls the pillars of Hercules πέρατα τη̂ς οἰκουμένης; and Velleius Paterc. calls Spain “extremus nostri orbis terminus.” See Lightfoot, St. Clement, p. 50. But the inference is weakened by the absence of any trace or tradition of Paul’s visit to Spain. Still less can he have suffered martyrdom there, as the logical order of the words would imply. And as Clement wrote to the Corinthians, he may, from their geographical standpoint, have called the Roman capital the end of the West. At all events the passage is rhetorical (it speaks of seven imprisonments, ἑπτάκις δεσμὰ φορέσας), and proves nothing for further labors in the East.  source

He will get to Rome, but little does Paul know it will be in bonds, and there will be a delay. He will be in prison for some time, focused on bearing witness to Israel, and kings, just as Agrippa. But all in all, what motivates him is to bring gifts wherever he goes. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ” (Rom. 6:23). Elsewhere he says: “The gifts and calling over God are without repentance” (11:28). In other words: God does not pull back on a gift! And with this giving heart, Paul heads eastward and westward!
Well, what a spiritual gift he imparts! The massively enriching and gloriously exhilarating letter to the Romans! He writes to strengthen believers, settle them, and bind them together as one, as a great company of living sacrifices to God in our world and forever, devoted entirely to Him.

Wholehearted Obedience

As an apostle to the Gentiles he desires nothing less than the obedience of all the nations to God. Like a “liturgist,” who ministers the service of God, He wants the praises of the whole world to flow towards God: “That ye with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:7).
To put it in other words, he desires “that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things pertain to God” (Rom. 15:17).
In the mercy of the covenant, God has found a way to make both the Jews and the Gentiles “obedient” to Him. It is the obedience of faith. This is no less a challenge for the Gentile as for the Jew. Both have come short of the glory of God. They don’t seek God, much less obey Him. Of the Jews, Paul has to lament: “but they have not all obeyed the gospel” (Rom. 10:16). They have been “a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Rom. 10:21). Yet, in the end, Paul can celebrate that God has worked so as to make “the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed” (Rom. 15:18). There is no less hope for the Jews: “And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graff them in again” (Rom. 11:23).
Essentially, Paul will demonstrate in this epistle how in the gospel God brings both Jew and Gentile into obedience of Him by faith in the gospel of God sending His Son, by whose obedience, many are made righteous (Rom. 5:19). In this way the whole law is fulfilled, as Paul says in Rom. 13:9-10: “If there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself … Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 14:9-11). Or to put it another way: “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14). This is what the obedience of faith looks like. The way God works this will bring together all believers, Jews and Gentiles, even the strong and weak in faith.

Opening Our Hearts to Each Other

Evidently, as elsewhere, there was tension, if not some sense of division between strong and weak in Rome (Rom. 13-15). The original context here is likely one in which the weak were more bound in their mind to the cultic and ceremonial casing of the Old Testament era (dietary laws) – thus likely more Jewish converts. Meanwhile, the strong, Gentile Christians, had little understanding for this and easily offended the Jewish Christians, and abusing their liberty so as to make others fall. The exhortation in verse 7 focuses on “receiving one another.” The sense here is the allowing another into one’s heart. This is what God has done in Christ. He has opened His heart to sinners, who by faith by see His love and experience it in its manifold richness (see John 1 and John 17; also Eph. 3:19). John Murray comments that “Christ’s acceptance of all without distinction is the grounds by which we are to accept one another.”
There ought to be freedom of conscience. God alone is the Lord, and to Him people will have to answer (Rom. 14:10-12). After all, in the gospel Christ has received by Jew and Gentile: “Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). How did He do that? “Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy, as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name” (Rom. 15:8-9).
How do we all get established in this? It is to that end that Paul has written Romans: “Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now made manifest, and by the scripture of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever” (Rom. 16:25-27).

The Heart of the Gospel

The Gospel, then, has as function – not only to lead to faith, but to establish in the faith. That is why Paul so eagerly broaches the gospel, already in the introduction to his letter (Rom. 1:2 The gospel has already been promised in the prophets of the Old Testament. It focuses on Christ, as the seed of David, raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:3-4). He is the Son of God.
I am not ashamed” (Rom. 1:16). This is an understatement, for Paul is boasting. The good news is the power of God for salvation. God’s righteousness is revealed in this good news. This refers to the fact that God is faithful and right. Everything he does, he does in a way that shows fairness and equity. That means He must punish sin, but it also means that He gave Christ and in Him, all who believe in Him, are viewed by God as righteous.
This righteousness is from faith to faith, or most probably “beginning and ending in faith.” Justification is by faith in the gospel; sanctification is by faith in the gospel. It is faith for the Jew; faith for the Gentile. The whole of the appropriation of salvation is by faith.

The Heart of Sin; the Sin of the Heart

Paul aims his preaching at the whole created order, and shows that our sin is Adamic – in Adam. Sin means we strive to establish our own existence and value apart from the claims of God. It manifests itself chiefly in idolatry. Sin is the suppression of truth (Rom. 1:18) and leads to the deterioration of the capacity to know the truth (Rom. 1:25). This is the essence of life according to the flesh: boasting; self- aggrandizement that asserts the value of the self at the expense of others. This self-assertion arises from a deep well of fear, a primitive and pervasive terror at nonbeing and worthlessness. This requires such ceaseless toil and vigilance that becomes slavery.
This problem does not only plague the Gentile, but the Jew as well; the pagan and the religious person both. And God is just. There is no partiality in Him. He will not justify the wicked; He will not condemn the just. It is not just sinful actions, but a sinful being God takes aim at. Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). And sin makes us liable to punishment, and there is no escape apart from the satisfaction of justice. Paul leaves all of creation hushed and in silence before the majesty of the just Judge of heaven and earth (Rom. 3:19-20).

The Heart of Redemption: The Cross

The transition in Rom. 3:21 is astounding: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: (Rom. 3:21-22) … Being justified freely … The legal, forensic, declaration of pardon, acquittal and acceptance as righteous in the sight of God by imputation of an alien righteousness, namely that of Christ’s passive and active obedience, appropriated by faith. How all of a sudden the change?
With the death and resurrection of Christ, there is the revelation of the righteousness of God in the gospel, a mystery, which was kept secret in large part, but is now revealed. It stands opposite the wrath and condemnation, which lies upon all mankind by nature; it is established by the propitiation set forth, through whom we have now received the atonement. It will lead to, and is in fact already now, a revelation of the glory of the children of God.

The Heart Set Free

This righteousness is not a new thing, for it is witnessed to by the law and the prophets (Rom. 3:21). Thus we read in Gen. 15:6: “Abraham believed in the Lord and it was reckoned unto him as righteousness.” Abraham was not righteous by his deeds of works, but by faith in God, who raises the dead (Rom. 4:19). Abraham was not an idolater who refused to give glory to God. He waxed strong in faith, hoping against hope, and thus giving glory to God (Rom. 4:20). This is the paradigm for a righteous standing with God – faith in God, who delivered Christ up for our offenses (Rom. 4:25), and raised him again for our justification.
Though justification is a legal decree and deals with our judicial standing before God, it is not an action that remains alone. Justification speaks of reconciliation, and reconciliation speaks of love. And that’s the message of the cross as a whole: “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him … we will be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:9-10).
Christ’s work accomplishes a full redemption that not only undoes what Adam did, but does what Adam failed to do. Because of Christ’s role as the second Adam, not only the justification of believers is sure and incontestable, but also their sanctification. There is a new hegemony or rule in the world: it is the reign of grace (Rom. 5:17).
Does the fact that we have to made free from the verdict of sin allow us to continue in sin? Paul will answer this in Rom. 6-8. How can we continue to live in sin, since we have died and risen with Christ. We are new creatures, freed from the bondage of sin and the law. We are now free from sin, and servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:18). In this their death in Christ, they are free from the law that bound them heretofore. They are married to another husband, Jesus Christ, and as such they are under a new law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Rom. 7:3, 7; 8:1-3).
This is not to say that the law is bad (Rom. 7:13), for it reveals God’s will; however, the keeping of the law is not possible by our sinful nature; in fact, sin highjacks the whole process and uses the law to excuse itself. It uses the law to urge on sin. God uses the law as a schoolmaster to make us realize we cannot fulfill the law and please God, and in despair of our own righteousness, we learn to look outside of ourselves for righteousness, which we find in Christ.
After conversion, however, since there are remnants of sin, the believer’s struggle continues. The law pursues the believer trying to intimidate him into thinking the law is still entitled to him and he needs to fulfill it, and in this way, we discover more and more the wretchedness of our old self, in order to run to, and cling more and more to Christ.
This is the process that God uses to by the Spirit to assure us more and more through the struggle we face that we are the children of God. The Spirit helps us mortify sin. The Spirit helps us know we are children of God. The Spirit leads us. The Spirit makes us know and feel our adoption. The Spirit focuses us more and more on our inheritance in Christ. The Spirit helps us in prayer. None of this happens without struggle. But the sufferings of the present time cannot compare with the glory that shall be. In fact, they are the groans for the full manifestation of the children of God in the future.

The Heart of God for the World

In Rom. 9-11, Paul moves from the focus on the personal experience of believers to the world stage, and especially the plan of God with nations, the Jews, and the Gentiles. God has had a special place for the Jewish people, and though many have rejected their Messiah, God’s promises and gifts are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). God holds out His arms to them (Rom. 10:21). Paul is happy the Gentiles are accepting the Messiah God has given, and he holds out a strong hope for his kinsman, whom he calls “beloved for the fathers’ sake” (Rom. 11:28). No one should boast in national or ethnic heritage, for both Israel and the nations need faith. Without it, either or both will perish. Therefore, “Be not highminded but fear” (Rom. 11:20).
Worship, really, is the only appropriate response. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” We are dealing here with God, and none else. “Who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counselor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever” (Rom. 11:33-36).

Living Sacrifices

Worship is exactly what Paul wants from us. Paul wants all of us to people of grace, faith, love, and service to God. Christians live lives that mirror the gospel of mercy, grace, gift and love.
Paul begins with the overarching exhortation, substantiated by an appeal to the mercies of God. Whereas by nature we are given up to a reprobate mind, by grace we are called to a renewed mind. We are sacrifices – specifically living sacrifices (not dead ones). We live as we sacrifice ourselves. We sacrifice as we live. None are alive like true Christians are alive, for united to Christ, they have died to sin (Rom 6:6, etc.). In Him, we are truly alive. This is our spiritual service – eminently reasonable. Thomas Schreiner writes: “Since God has been so merciful, failure to dedicate one’s life to him is the height of folly and irrationality” (645).
It is significant to note that is not the judgment of God that is the basis for his appeal, but rather the mercies of God. Essentially, 3:21-11:36 has unfolded those mercies, and Rom. 11:30-32 has a triple reference to mercy (although a different word in Greek – yet cognate in meaning). John Murray: “It is the mercy of God that melts the heart and it is as we are moved by these mercies of God that we shall know the constraint of consecration as it pertains to our body” (1 Cor. 6:20).
What does this look like? First Paul warns against being conformed to the patterns of behavior that are dominant in the world. By contrast, the believer must be transformed – “metamorphosed by renewal of that which is the seat of thought and understanding … deep-seated change wrought by the process of renewal. Sanctification is a process of revolutionary change in that which is the centre of consciousness … It is the thought of progression and strikes at the stagnation, complacency, pride of achievement so often characterizing Christians” (Murray 114). This will result, thirdly, in “proving (or approving) what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” This is the experiential discovery of the will of God and how approved it is. John Murray: “There is not a moment of life that the will of God does not command, no circumstance that it does no fill with meaning if we are responsive to the fullness of his revealed counsel for us … It is the will of God as it pertains to our responsible activity in progressive sanctification” (Murray 115).
“Because of the mercy shown them by God, believers should devote themselves to Him as living sacrifices and be conformed to His will – not to this world” (Rom. 12:1-2). Believers are urged “not to think of their individual importance, for each, with all the rest, is a part of Christ’s One body, the Church (Rom. 12:3-5). They are also instructed as to how to use the individual gifts God has assigned them (Rom. 12:6-8).” Next they are pointed to their duties with respect to fellow believers (Rom. 9-13), and finally to the world, especially their enemies (Rom. 12:14-21).
In conclusion, though Romans is like the Isaiah of the Old Testament, in another way, it is like the Leviticus of the Old Testament, or even the Psalms – it is Worship of God’s Beautiful and Majestic Being as Revealed in Covenant! It extends its reach to us, and with it we can reach our world – Jew and Gentile, and all over our world, people live sacrificial lives of heart-felt obedience responding to the heart of God in Jesus Christ revealed at the cross.