The Gospel In Romans – It Starts With The Author
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus…”
With five seemingly simple words, the Apostle Paul begins his letter to the Roman church. Most people who have any familiarity with Christianity have heard of the great Apostle Paul. Maybe you know that he was a pillar of the early Christian Church. Maybe you know that he penned a great deal of the New Testament. Maybe you, like me, have always associated him with long run on sentences and a kind of radical commitment to Christ that you don’t feel hopeful of imitating.
This letter would go on to shake the world of the Roman Christians at the time. And it still tirelessly interrupts lives today with cold, hard, liberating truth. At its very outset, Paul wants his audience to understand exactly who he is.
The Gospel In Romans – Woven Into Every Word
You see, the gospel in Romans is not a demanding, harsh gospel of the Law and performance, nor is it a gospel of permissiveness that winks at sin. No, the gospel in Romans is the gospel of Christ – the good news that we are called to belong to Christ Jesus, just as Paul was. And even Paul’s description of himself at the beginning of chapter one is laced with the threads of the true gospel.
For Paul, claiming to be a servant (in the original language a word that actually meant “slave”), was an ironic yet beautiful way to describe himself. This was, after all, the very man that used to breathe out violent threats against Christ followers, and the one who approved of the stoning of Stephen after he preached a convicting message to the Jewish people. He’s the man who found all his significance, worth, and reason for living in zealously obeying the Law of Moses and attaching himself to the ideas of the religious leaders of the day. When Jesus drew a line in the sand, Paul didn’t start out on His side.
But Jesus shattered Paul’s world the day he met him on the road to Damascus and asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” Paul’s persecution of the early Christians wasn’t just an attempt to stamp out a religious cult. Jesus so loves his brothers and sisters that he considered it a direct attack against himself. And Jesus changed Paul that day. He brought him across the line, away from fearful hatred of that which he did not understand, away from a life seeking to derive value from what he could accomplish, away from a life of independence that was destroying both those around him and also Paul himself. Jesus convinced Paul that day that being his own master and fighting for his own significance, identity, and destiny was nothing in comparison to knowing the one true King. (To get the full story, read Acts 9 )
So when Paul starts off the book of Romans by saying, in essence, “Hey I’m Paul, and I’m Jesus’s servant”, it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal because not too long ago he was putting people in prison for claiming stuff like that. It’s a big deal because, as the gospel in Romans is going to show us, only God can take a heart like Paul’s and use it for the glory of His name.
The Gospel In Romans – More Than We Bargained For?
Paul continues his introduction by explaining that Jesus isn’t a new idea, on the contrary, He has been God’s plan for ages, He is what all the prophets promised would happen. And Paul’s life no longer revolves around his own agenda. The center of his world is now Christ, and his driving passion is to see other people, all people, come to “the obedience of faith for the sake of His name” (1:5).
Wait a second. So the gospel in Romans is about obedience to our faith? For the sake of His name? What about us? What about all the new man, never separated from His love, more than conquerors stuff? What’s in this good news for us? We often don’t like to think about this kind of gospel. We don’t like thinking about submission, even to a God we say we believe is good. This internal cringing or sighing that we feel is an indication of the rebellion and misplaced belief that is so deeply rooted in our hearts. We really believe that everything, even the gospel, should revolve around us.
But the gospel in Romans is Jesus-centered, not man-centered. And it has to be. We may think it oppressive or self-absorbed of God at first glance. But the reality is that if God allowed people to just be people, to rule their lives with Him on the back burner, to be the Kings and Queens of their own little worlds – we would damage others, wreak destruction in our lives, and end up in hell. Because that’s what humans do, that’s what we do.
Think back to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Even in the perfect state, environment, and circumstance, mankind chose himself and death over God and life. God’s not oppressive or hard on us. He just knows us.
The Reality Of The Gospel
God knows that what we twist the gospel into is more like how Paul lived before he faced Jesus- pursuing good works to make ourselves feel like we are getting somewhere, comparing ourselves to others to make sure we aren’t as bad as them, and doing holy things more to feed our own agenda than out of real love for the Lord. He knows that with eyes on ourselves, the gospel we preach to ourselves, the one that’s all about us, isn’t really good news at all. He knows that true freedom equals obedience, and that being in submission to a loving King is the safest place to be. He knows that the true standard to attain life is not just perfect performance, but perfect being, from the inside out. And since He Himself is the only one to have ever met that standard, He is the only One who can give us life. So yes, the gospel is unapologetically all about Christ.
What God Can Do
All the good stuff that Romans is known for is true and is coming. The book of Romans is bursting with one morsel of good news after another. But here’s the first teaser:
If Jesus came to save sinners, of whom Paul was chief, he came to save you.
If Jesus can make a church persecutor into a church planter, he can surely change any heart, even yours, even mine.
If Jesus can change Paul’s identity from achiever to believer, He can enter any heart and give it a new and liberating identity too.
The gospel in Romans will be clearly spelled out the further into the book we go, but it’s first testimony is found in its opening five words:
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.”
Hallelujah, what a Savior.