1. Paul’s relationship to Jesus (1,2). In the first few verses of the book Paul relates himself to his master, his gift, and his work.
His master. In relating himself to Jesus as his master Paul uses the expression, “a servant of Jesus Christ.” This is the Hebrew Old Testament expression “servant of the LORD [Yahweh],”1 the highest title that anyone could have. Paul makes a powerful statement by substituting “Jesus” for “Yahweh.” This would be heresy to an unconverted Jew; but Paul has the deity and dignity of Jesus in mind. The point is that everyone who has been redeemed belongs to him; they are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to him, their LORD and Master.
His gift. Paul was an apostle, or as the term “called” shows, he was an apostle by calling, or, his gift originated in divine calling.2 The term “apostle” refers to his spiritual gift more than an office—he was sent on a mission to represent the risen Christ. This kind of term is not used in the New Testament for an “office” in the strict sense. Verse 5 shows the concept behind the gift: there was never the idea of the right to stand above or over someone else, but rather the privilege of serving. Nevertheless. The right to be called apostles in the New Testament leadership sense included seeing the risen Christ and being commissioned by him.
His work. Paul was “separated unto the Gospel.” On the road to Damascus God transformed him into a spiritual Pharisee. From then on he would proclaim the “good news.” The term we know as “gospel” is here called “the gospel of God—the Gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures.” The “gospel” is the Old Testament term for good news about the Messiah’s coming, who, according to Isaiah 40:9, is both God and Messiah. This good news had now become Paul’s life.
The Gospel is about Jesus Christ. But while it is good news, it is not completely new news, for it was promised before (Galatians says preached before). Any such news not found rooted in the Old Testament is considered a false gospel. What is new is the complete revelation of the gospel in Jesus of Nazareth, that is, exactly how the revelation of God in the Old Testament would work out in the New.
So then Paul’s identification of himself is that of a servant under the authority of Christ, a messenger called to a new life work, and a devoted minister of the Gospel. Clearly, the person of Jesus Christ was to Paul an unparalleled authority.
2. The subject matter of Romans: the divine Son (3,4). The subject matter of the book is expressed in the words, “concerning His Son.” This is what the Book of Romans is all about. The full title is given at the end of verse 4: “Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Two things are now said of this “Son”: He was born the seed of David according to the flesh, but through the Spirit of holiness He was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.
The “Son” was born of the seed of David “in the sphere of” (a more precise translation than “according to”) the flesh. The Son of God moved in the realm of the flesh, i.e., among humanity, as a physical descendant of David. There was a birth to be sure; but that birth in Bethlehem did not mark His beginning. He entered the world through the family of David that He might be the promised Davidic King.
He was also “appointed” (a more specific translation than “declared”) to be the Son of God by the resurrection out of the dead. This was not in the sphere of the flesh, in weakness, but in power, in the realm of the spiritual, through the Spirit of holiness (or as some translate it, the Holy Spirit3_ftn7). What this means is that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead demonstrated that He was not just another physical descendant of David who passed off the scene. He is the resurrected Lord. With His exaltation in glory, Jesus for the first time possessed a glorified, resurrected body, perfectly human and fully divine. Peter in his sermon in Acts 2 announced that through the resurrection God made this Jesus both Lord and Christ.
To be appointed to be the Son of God refers to his assuming (or resuming) his sovereign and divine authority. At the resurrection and exaltation Jesus is said to have been completely “begotten”—he was appointed to the position where He could carry out all that is involved with divine Sonship. The Book of Hebrews draws on the imagery of the coronation Psalm 2 to stress this point: “You are my Son, this day have I begotten You.” This image of “the Son” certainly has to do with authority, and the idea of being begotten to rule refers to his coronation; but the description of Jesus as the “Son of God” takes the language beyond Davidic coronation liturgy and speaks of a nature shared with the Father. John describes Jesus as the “only begotten Son” in the latter sense of a shared nature. So these images of “son” reveal that Jesus has the same nature as the Father who is divine—the Son of God is equally eternal and divine.4 A son of David?—yes, to be sure, for the child was born of Mary. The eternal Son of God?— most certainly, because of the declaration of the resurrection. So Paul uses both descriptions of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah had this same balance correct: “Unto us a child was born, unto us a Son was given (Isa. 9:6). The child was born, according to the flesh, in Behtlehem; but the Son was not born, but given or sent to the world. So the creed presents it simply but profoundly: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the virgin Mary, and was made man.” In short, Jesus was very God and very Man. And now in glory there is a God-Man, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The two descriptions of the Son also reveal the two stages of the Lord’s coming (in the historical process), the incarnation as the Son of David (humiliation) and the glorification as the Son of God (exaltation).
3. The effects of the authority of the Son (5-7). Paul has a ministry of the risen Christ (“through whom” links the section with Jesus in his risen stage); or, to put it another way, it is the ministry of the risen Christ that flows through Paul to the Romans. The Book of Romans comes from the risen Christ.
The apostleship that Paul received from Jesus was to call people to the obedience of faith. I think that “faith” is appositional to “obedience here”—the obedience which is faith (see 10:14-16,17). Those who obeyed the Gospel are those who believed. And those who believed were also called to belong to Jesus Christ—they were loved by God and called to be saints.5
Paul’s salutation to the churches is “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Christian is a recipient of grace (holy love on the move) and is at peace with God. This has all come about because the divine Son died for our sins and then rose again, showing that he has the authority to take away sins. The salutation, “Grace to you and peace” is far more than a polite greeting or a good wish; it is drawn from the High Priestly benediction in the Old Testament. After the High Priest had been into the Holy of Holies and made atonement through the sprinkling of blood, he would come out and announce this oracle: “Yahweh bless you and keep you; Yahweh make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; Yahweh lift up his face toward you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26).6_ftn10 Because Jesus Christ, our High Priest, has made atonement for us through his blood, and has entered the heavenly sanctuary to intercede for us, Paul with confidence can declare that “grace and peace” belongs to us. And so that became his salutation.
So in this little introduction we have words like “servant,” “apostle,” “grace,” “obedience” “called” and “Lord,” all stressing the authority of the risen Son of God. The clear affirmation in verse 4 is that the message is about “Jesus Christ our Lord.” And verse 7 reiterates that grace and peace comes from “the Lord Jesus Christ.” It should now be clear from Paul’s introduction what it means to call Jesus “Lord.” William Barclay says it well:
“It is now plain to see what a man ought to mean when he calls Jesus ‘Lord,’ or when he speaks of the ‘Lord Jesus’ or of the ‘Lord Jesus Christ.’ When I call Jesus ‘Lord’ I ought to mean that He is the absolute and undisputed owner and possessor of my life and that He is the Master whose servant and slave I must be all life long. When I call Jesus ‘Lord’ it ought to mean that I think of Him as the Head of that great family in heaven and earth of which God is the Father and of which I through Him have become a member. When I call Jesus ‘Lord’ it ought to mean that I think of Him as the help of the helpless and the guardian of those who have no other to protect them. When I call Jesus ‘Lord’ it ought to mean that I look on Him as having absolute authority over all my life, all my thoughts, all my actions. When I call Jesus ‘Lord’ it ought to mean that He is the King and Emperor to whom I owe and give my constant homage, allegiance, and loyalty. When I call Jesus ‘Lord’ it ought to mean that for me He is the Divine One whom I must for ever worship and adore.”_ftn117
1. Paul thanks God for them (1:8). His gratitude for them is “through Jesus Christ,” the one true Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). The thanksgiving, in typical Hebrew fashion, was offered to God, on the basis of the sacrificial Lamb of God. Paul is thankful not only that the Roman Christians have believed, but that their faith is being reported all over the world. What a marvelous reputation—in contrast to what was being reported about the Corinthian Church all over the world.
2. Paul remembers them in prayer (1:9). Paul affirms, with God as his witness, that he has been constant in praying for them. He may never have been there, and he may be across the sea in Corinth at the time, but his prayers have bound him closely to them. Thus it always is with the prayers of the saints.
3. Paul longs to visit them (1:10-13). He hopes to visit them in Rome for the mutual benefit of all. He had always planned to go there, but had always been providentially hindered from doing so. He prays now that it will be God’s will. Note: Paul always puts God’s will above his desires in prayer.
The purposes of his visit would be (1) for mutual encouragement of one another’s faith, (2) that Paul might impart some spiritual gift to them, and (3) that Paul might have a harvest among them as with other Gentiles.
4. Paul regarded himself as a debtor to the Romans (1:14,15). Because he owed his salvation to the grace of Jesus Christ, Paul knew that as a privileged believer he owed it to a needy world to tell them about His wonderful Savior. With all the ability he possessed, and at any cost or hazard, he was willing to embark for Rome to preach the Gospel—as he had to Jews and Gentiles for years.
It has come as a surprise to many that the Book of Romans does not deal with many of the issues to be found in Rome. It was a city filled with social problems, but Paul does not address those issues. It was a city filled with slaves, but he does not mention that. It was a city of lust and vice, but he does not direct his comments to avoiding these sins. It appears that Paul did not consider social reform in Rome an evangelical imperative, at least not at this occasion. Rather, the gospel of the revelation of a righteousness acceptable to God and available to people graciously upon the condition of faith was Paul’s primary imperative.
The theme of the book is the exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostle does not set out the details of the Gospel here; but we may gather from his other writings that the gospel is the good news of Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and appearances together with the apostolic explanation of the doctrinal significance of these great facts (1 Cor. 15:1-5).8_ftn12 The word for “gospel” or good news carried with it a note of excitement; it is the kind of message one would shout with enthusiasm.
Here we may notice the following: Paul’s designation of the Gospel is “of Christ,” for it centers in the person, ministry, and passion of the Savior; the description of it is the “power of God” (the intrinsic power of the whole Christ-event); the objective of it is “unto salvation” (meaning complete salvation, looking to the final tense of the doctrine of soteriology9_ftn13); the universality of its presentation is unto “everyone” regardless of race or generation; the simplicity of its reception is “that believes”; and Paul’s attitude toward it all is “I am not ashamed.”10_ftn14
The central idea of the Gospel, promised in the Old Testament and now revealed fully in Jesus Christ, is “the righteousness of God.” This term “righteousness” does not here indicate only the attribute of the LORD, for in this case it is said to be by faith. Here it is forensic: it is righteousness that is revealed in the Gospel, meaning, it is conferred on people; it signifies being in the right relation to God.
To be justified is to be declared righteous by God, not to be made righteous by God. To possess the righteousness of God, then, is to possess a righteousness which God provides (5:17) and thus approves (cf. 2:13). If the righteousness that justifies is God’s, and Paul’s “It is God that justifies” (8:33) forever settles the matter, then it can only be our’s by imputation; it is credited to us by God. Therefore, the term “the righteousness of God” refers to an imputed righteousness.11
As Johnson summarizes it, “The righteousness of God, then, is the key to salvation. They who have it know the power of God in personal salvation. They who do not have it are lost. They who have it know that they are right with God. They who do not have it are not right before Him. It is as simple as that. Principal Cunningham used to say, ‘The righteousness of God is that righteousness which His righteousness requires Him to require.’ According to Paul the simplest believer in Jesus Christ is clothed in this required righteousness through the justifying work of the Last Adam (cf. Rom. 3:21-26).”12
This righteousness is “from faith to faith.” It is from faith, and it is designed for faith. Or, faith is the source of the righteousness, but it is also the goal of righteousness.13 To support this point Paul cites Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous shall live by faith.” The words in the context of the Old Testament prophet carry a certain ambiguity (double entente). The text says that “the righteous shall live by his faithfulness,” meaning a firm faith that is directed toward God.14 Habakkuk was drawing upon Genesis 15:6 to show that faith is belief in and firm reliance on the LORD. Paul, quoting from Habakkuk, leaves out the pronoun “his” to stress this kind of faith: “The righteous shall live by faith.” So Habakkuk, in affirming that faith is the key to one’s relationship with the Lord, was teaching that God’s favor is secured by trust. He was contrasting this with the proud Chaldeans who trust in themselves—the just, who trust in God, shall live. Paul’s use is analogical; in stressing the same point about faith, he is telling how one can attain right standing before God and live eternally.15 The key passage is Genesis 15:6 (which he will develop later; and Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:16-17 are offshoots of it. So there is some ambiguity in the line of the prophet; but Paul’s idea of “from faith to faith” stresses both points of faith as well: we have become righteous by faith, and by faith we shall live.
Thus, the main point of the argument is very clear: good works could never deliver people from judgment. Rather, it is the good news of Christ’s sacrificial work received by faith that liberates from sin, for it alone is the power of God unto salvation.
From this first section of the book there are many things that could be discussed for application, and several themes that could be stressed in developing lessons from the material. But the following questions come immediately to mind as a result of this study.
1. What does it mean that Jesus is Lord? Think in terms of the doctrinal implications about deity and sovereignty, but think also about the practical aspects—what difference will/should it make in my life that He is my Lord? How will it affect my worship, my prayer life, my daily activities or life style?
Related to this are a couple of subordinate questions. What does the title “Son of God” signify? If Jesus was appointed Son, how does that relate to his sovereign rulership? And, how does the resurrection do that?
2. What is the Gospel? Can you express its component parts succinctly and clearly—the facts of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, the response of faith, full salvation, and the righteousness of God? This should be clearly understood and easily explained by anyone serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 I shall continue to use the traditional representation of the holy name in these notes: in the Old Testament LORD is the way the name Yahweh was signified in the English, as opposed to Lord when the term “lord, master” was meant.
2 The Greek term “called” is an adjective built on a verbal stem. Most verbal adjectives are passives; they are timeless in force (no tense)—”called.”
3 The text says “spirit of holiness”; this is not the regular way of saying “Holy Spirit” in the New Testament, but it is a way of saying it in Hebrew. But only once does Paul use this phrase, so the variation indicates a slightly different idea—the phase of sovereign spiritual existence into which He entered with power at the resurrection.
4 A simple, surface reading of these and other verses would lead one to think the image and language of “son” refers to only one thing. But in fact there are a couple of different ways it is used. Throught the Old Testament every king could be called God’s son because that is what the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7 says, and the coronation Psalm 2 puts into poetry. Whe Psalm 2 is used of Jesus, it means he is a Davidic king, the Father’s vice-regent, as it were. But John’s “only begotten Son” is more specifically referring to the nature of Jesus. The term “beget” is more restrictive than “create” or “make.” One can only beget a child with the same nature. To describe Jesus as the “Son of God” or the “only begotten Son” stresses His nature. If the Father is eternal and divine, then so is Jesus the Son. And he is unique in this—we may be “begotten by God,” i.e., by grace we are given a new nature in Christ; but there is only one God-man, Jesus the Christ. When the expression “Son of God” is applied to Jesus, or when Jesus used it, it carried much more meaning than that he was another Davidic king (although the disciples at first did not realize that). Gradually, and especially as Jesus forgave sins and proclaimed his message, the Jewish leaders knew that when he claimed to be the Son of God he was making himself equal with God.
5 Those who have believed in Jesus as Lord have been sanctified, that is, set apart to Him. This is the meaning of the word “saints” in the epistles. It is perfectly legitimate to refer to believing members of the Church as “the saints.”
6 The verbs may sound like wishes and greetings in English (“May the LORD bless you”), but the Hebrew forms (jussives) in this context are decrees or oracles, announcing what the blessing is on the basisof the atonement.. The passage says that when the priest says this the LORD will bless them. This use of the verbal blessing is like Isaac’s blessing of Jacob in the place of Esau—he could not take the words back because they were an oracle and not merely best wishes. This is very different than much modern teaching of people giving blessings to children or spouses.
7 From a sermon preached at the Round Church in Cambridge.
8 S. Lewis Johnson, “The Gospel that Paul Preached,” BibliothecaSacra 128 (1971):330.
9 The Bible uses three tenses for salvation: the past tense (we have been saved from the penalty of sin: 2 Thess. 2:13; Phil. 1:28; Eph. 2:4,8), the present tense (we are being saved from the power of sin: Phil. 2:12; 2 Cor. 1:6; 7:10), and the future tense (we will be saved from the very presence of sin: Rom. 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:8-9). The Bible can use the language of salvation or sanctification for all three stages; but the theology is very precise—if the process has begun, it will be completed. Technically, the past tense is covered by the doctrine of soteriology, the present tense by the doctrine of sanctification, and the future tense by glorification. If true believers pray for “salvation,” it must be in the sense of the present tense (saved from the power of sin) or future (final glorification, the completion of the process), because saving faith in the Gospel has already placed them “in Christ” forever.
10 Unfortunately, too many Christians—leaders especially—have become somewhat embarrassed by the Gospel. To Paul there was no ministry without it or with any false or watered-down version of it; in fact, there is no salvation apart from it.
11 This phrase, “the righteousness of God,” was the phrase that led Martin Luther into the light of truth that produced the Reformation. He had always hated the expression, associating it with judgment; but through his study of the Psalms in 1514 he learned that the righteousness of God was related to deliverance and not condemnation. This understanding was clarified and enlarged by his study of Romans, upon which he lectured at Wittenberg from November 3, 1515 to September 7, 1516. It was during these years that he came to the realization that justification did not presuppose some inner change, but that it was done outside of man through the mediatorial work of Jesus. The acceptance of this work by faith brought liberation, because a just God was now able to give freely to each believer the righteousness of God.
12 Johnson, p. 335.
13 James M. Stifler, The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 21,22.
14 The Septuagint adds a pronoun that serves as an objective genitive: “his faith in me.”
15 Several commentators would translate the line: “the one who is righteous by faith shall live” (see Douglas Moo, Romans 1-8, p. 72). The quotation, according to Cranfield, functions as the heading of chapters 1-8, “righteous by faith” summarizing chapters 1-4, and “shall live” summarizing chapters 5-8. The latter grouping is less convincing.