The Core Idea of Romans

Romans 1:16-17

Our text last week concluded the introduction to Romans. Paul moves next to something akin to our modern concept of a thesis statement. That is he states in just a couple sentences a summary of what he is going to spend the rest of the letter explaining. This tells us up front what we can expect to read in his letter. This thesis statement also reads like a general summary of Paul’s theology. Since this thesis statement touches on topics the most of the rest of the book is about we will only deal briefly with them here, and go into more detail as the book unfolds.

Paul starts out by saying “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” Looking back from our modern day it seems like an odd thing for Paul to say. We know by this time Paul has beaten many times, stoned and shipwrecked (2 Corinthians 11:24-26) for the sake of the Gospel. Surely no one would ever think Paul was ashamed of the Gospel. We can only say that because we know Paul through our prior study in the book of Acts. The Romans that Paul was writing to likely did not know much about Paul, because he had never been to Rome.

Rome was the capital of the empire, and because of that a major city. In it, one could expect to find every imaginable vice and religion that the ancient world had to offer. Emperor worship would be chief among the religions there. There would have been great philosophers and great thinkers there. If you did not know Paul, you could imagine that the reason Paul had not traveled to Rome yet was not because he tried and was prevented, but because he was afraid. Paul address that fear right up front with this statement, and he has already said in the prior verse (Romans 1:15) that he is coming to preach.

The next thing Paul says is that the Gospel is “the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16). The NIV 2010 edition renders this verse as, “the power of God that brings salvation” which is closer to the idea that Paul is expressing. That is that the Gospel results in salvation. When Paul preaches the Gospel, it is more than just a nice message; it is the power of God. It changes people, even if they do not respond. The word power here is the word from which we get the English term “dynamite”. The idea behind the word is potential for functioning in some way. It can be rendered as power, might, strength, force, and capability.[1]

When Paul ties the power to salvation here he is speaking of more than just being saved from sin. He is speaking of the entire process that starts with salvation and justification, travels through sanctification to glorification. (Those are big churchy words that we will unpack as we go through our study) The emphasis in this process is that it is the power of God that does this, not something any human does.

Next, Paul covers the universality of the power of salvation. He states that it is for both the “Jew and the Greek.” In the Jewish mind, there were only two groups of people, Jews, and non-Jews. So by saying “Jew and Greek” Paul is referring to the entire world, and not just the people who lived in Greece. This is also clear from Paul’s statement that the Gospel is “for all who believe.”(Romans 1:16)

The text says that message of the Gospel was “for the Jew first”. Israel was a chosen people, a chosen nation. They were supposed to be a light onto the nations (Isaiah 42:6). They were to be a great nation (Gen 12:2-3) that impacted the world in God’s name. This is why Jesus came to the Jews first (Mat 15:24) and then later sent them into the world (Mat 28:19). This is also Paul’s model for evangelism. In every city he preached in, he went and found the Jew’s first (if there were any) and offered them the Gospel first. Today we are living in the second part of that, and the message is out for the whole world, Jew and non-Jew alike. (Gal 3:28)

Paul goes on to further explain “the Gospel” with the phrase “for in the Gospel the righteousness from God.” Some translations have rendered this phrase as “righteousness of God,” but in my translation, I use “from God” as it more clearly explains the idea. That is that it is God’s righteousness given to us that declares us righteous. It is not any human action or human goodness that can accomplish this, it is all from God. This is the same idea that Paul wrote about in Philippians 3:9, that is, it is through faith and faith alone that we come to God to get His righteousness, not of any work we have done.

The expression “from faith to faith” denotes the completeness of faith. The Old Testament scripture Paul quotes here further emphasizes this, “The righteous will live by faith.” Paul’s emphasis is on faith, on trust in and reliance on God as the way to righteousness and life. The Pauline conception of faith, however, also involved obedience, as we saw earlier in this letter (Romans 1:5). [2] There is emphasis here on the continuity of faith. It is not a one-time act, but a way of life.[3]

Paul’s thesis statement sets up for us what we will spend the majority of the rest of our lessons from this book on. The core theme of Romans is the righteousness that comes from God in response to our faith. As we travel through the letter we will see topics like the righteous wrath of God, the saving righteousness of God, the hope that comes from the righteousness of God and many other topics around this core theme.

The challenge for us this week is to ask ourselves the question Paul answered, are we ashamed of the Gospel? A good way to check that is to ask yourself, does every person you meet know you are a Christian and have they heard the Gospel? If not, then ask yourself why not? Are you ashamed to show Christ to them?

 

[1] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 262.

[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, vol. 6, Romans, Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1998), 75.

[3] John MacArthur, Romans (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), Ro 1:17.

 

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