Paul is writing to the church in Rome as one who had been given a message that should be received by them as the very words of God. This has meaning for us, for it tells us how we are to receive this book and benefit from it. If we are to profit from our study, we must receive Romans as a message from God to both our minds and hearts. Consequently, we must obey it, just as we would obey God if He should speak to us directly.
In verses 1-17, the introduction of Romans, 'gospel' is the most important word. It is repeated six times and is important because it is the theme of the letter. Romans was written to make this 'Good News' from God more widely known. The 'Good News' is Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. We confess that everything we believe, everything we are and hope to be as Christians centers in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Too often the gospel is offered as something good to make people happy or more complete as a person, but which they are at perfect liberty to refuse. Sin becomes little more than a bad choice and faith is a good work for which people pat themselves on the back. Missing in this approach is recognition that sin primarily is rebellion against God, and that God commands us to repent and turn towards Him. In order for the gospel to be obeyed, it must be preached as a command. Paul, as God's apostle, and in the name of God, commands people to turn from sin, believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and follow Him as Lord. In our society there is the delusion that without the gospel all is well with our soul when in truth people are without Christ and perishing.
Notice in the first four verses Paul's clear recognition of both the human and divine nature of Jesus. Jesus was, is, and always has been God. In verse four Paul is thinking of the resurrection as the striking revelation of God's power over sin and death.
Verses 7-13 show Paul's commitment to prayer and mutual encouragement of Christians. Prayer for Christians is not optional. It is essential even though it can be a struggle and difficult at times. We will never fully understand the power of prayer, but we can trust that God hears us and is striving to bring us closer to Himself. A.W.Tozer was once asked which is more important to a Christian, Bible study or prayer. He answered, "Which is more important to a bird, his right wing or his left?"
Verses 16-17 contain the heart and purpose of Paul's letter. These verses are the most important in the book for they express the very essence of Christianity. They tell how a man or woman may become right with God. We are not right with God in ourselves. This is what the teaching of original sin is all about. We are in rebellion against God. Therefore we are to be judged by Him. What is to be done? On our side nothing can be done. Yet here Paul says that God has done precisely what was needed. He has provided righteousness for us. And this is received, not by our doing righteous things, but through faith. It is received through believing that what God tells us is true.
Let's look at what Paul says about this gospel. Firstly, it is the power by which God accomplishes salvation. The most important thing happening in the world at any given time is the preaching of the gospel. Lives are transformed by God's power when the gospel is told. Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because it is God's might working. God is not simply telling us about salvation; God Himself is providing salvation through the gospel.
The second important point in these verses is that the gospel is for "everyone who believes." It is first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. In the systematic disclosure of the gospel, the Jewish people chronologically occupied a first and important place. From them is traced the human ancestry of Jesus Christ. (Romans 9:3-5) A full appreciation and understanding of the gospel is gained as you study the Old Testament, the historical preparation for Jesus Christ.
Unbelievers argue, as an excuse, that the gospel may be for other people, but not themselves. Actually the whole world needs the gospel, since all are separated from God because of sin and cannot stand before a holy God holding on to anything except the grace of God in the atoning death of Jesus Christ. The gospel is for everyone who believes. At Pentecost Peter declared, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Acts 2:21 and Joel 2:32) Indeed, the Bible ends on this note: "Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take of the free gift of the water of life." (Revelation 22:17)
How can one be ashamed of a gospel that offers hope to the vilest, most desperate of men, as well as to the most 'respectable' person? How can we be ashamed of anything so gloriously universal? The reason is because the world is opposed to God's gospel and ridicules it. The gospel was despised in Paul's day and it is rejected in ours. People today reject the simplicity of the gospel; that it is all from God and of God. We cannot add to or work for our salvation. They oppose God's mercy for others, placing themselves above God's perfect judgment. In verse 17 Paul speaks of "righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'" (Habakkuk 2:4)
What is faith? Is it something to which we can attain? No. Faith is believing God. It is opening a hand to receive the righteousness of Christ which God offers. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once wrote, "Faith is not a blind thing, for faith begins with knowledge. It is not a speculative thing, for faith believes facts of which it is sure. It is not an impractical, dreamy thing, for faith trusts, and stakes its destiny upon the truth of revelation. Faith...is the eye which looks..., the hand which grasps..., the mouth which feeds upon Christ."
Our call as Christians is to
be not ashamed of the gospel. Why should we not? Because "it is the
power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." It is no less
powerful today than it was in Paul's day. We need never be ashamed of
it, for it is truth and it is life!