Right from the start, Paul leaves no question as to the main subject of his letter to the Romans, the gospel! For Paul, the gospel gripped his attention, directed his outlook, and motivated his life and ministry.
In Romans 1:1, Paul testifies that he was a servant of Christ called by God to be an apostle set apart for the gospel of God.
It is most instructive to note from this verse that all who are called to the office of teaching should consider themselves as set apart for the gospel. This may seem humdrum to some but in reality it can never be repeated enough or emphasized too much.
Pastors and congregations need to be constantly reminded that God has divinely ordained the teaching office in the church for the preaching of the gospel. In an ecclesiological culture engulfed in the therapeutic, pastors and congregations must observe and take notice that the office of God’s servants is the preaching of the gospel!
Pastor do you view your calling and office as one who has been graciously called by God set apart for the gospel? Ask yourselves, pastors and churchgoers, does the gospel grip your attention and affections? Does it direct your outlook? Does it motivate your life and ministry? Does it shape your ministry?
Is the ethos of your church characterized by a prevailing gospel culture and conversation rather than an insipid therapeutic, man-centered culture?
I urge you, meditate on v. 1 and let its truth take deep root in your heart!
In vv. 2-4, Paul gives a clear and concise summation of the gospel thereby showing that the preaching of the gospel is nothing less than the preaching of Jesus Christ as He is revealed in all the Scriptures (v. 2, “…through His prophets in the holy Scriptures…”), albeit most fully and clearly in the Incarnation and Resurrection (vv. 3-4).
The whole sum and substance of the gospel is in the knowledge of Christ.
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent,” (John 17:3).
Having given a brief definition of the gospel, Paul in v. 5, reveals why he was so eager to preach the Gospel in Rome.
Paul was eager to preach the gospel in order “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations…”
This is the great end for which the gospel is to be preached!
Again, in 16:25-27, Paul concludes his letter just as he began, thus reminding the Roman Christian yet once again the great end for which he was eager to preach the gospel, namely to bring about the obedience of faith for God’s glory! Paul proclaims,
“25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”
From beginning to end, Paul was always eager to commend to the Romans (and to us!) the power and dignity of the gospel. Why? He desired all people to embrace the obedience that comes from faith for the glory of God (i.e., the sake of His Name, 1:5; 16:27). Paul wanted to see people come to Christ and live fruitful lives in order to glorify Christ among the nations!
Where does faith come from?
Question 65 in the Heidelberg Catechism asks:
65 Q. It is by faith alone that we share in Christ and all His blessings: where then does that faith come from?
A. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts1 by the preaching of the holy gospel,2 and confirms it through our use of the holy sacraments.3 (1 John 3:5; 1 Cor. 2:10-14; Eph. 2:8; 2 Rom. 10:17; 1 Pet. 1:23-25; 3 Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 10:16)
Zacharias Ursinus, in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, writes,
What are the proper effects of the Gospel?
1. Faith. because “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God,” (Rom. 10:17); “The Gospel is the ministration of the Spirit,” (2 Cor. 3:8); “The power of God unto salvation,” (Rom. 1:16).
One’s faith begins with the gospel and then is sustained by this same good news of grace over and over again. The purpose of preaching the gospel is to declare and proclaim the riches of God’s grace, which He lavished (poured unsparingly His divine favor!) upon us for our spiritual benefit (Eph. 1:8)! Praise God for His indescribable gift! The gospel then is the means the Holy Spirit uses to produce and sustain faith in our hearts.
But, Paul’s aim was not only to produce faith but also the fruits of faith (i.e., obedience).
How does obedience come about?
Obedience comes about through faith in the free grace God through Christ, the Gospel! That’s why it is called the “obedience of faith.”
The gospel is what encourages men to obey God.
Again, Ursinus in his commentary, writes,
What are the proper effects of the Gospel?
2. Through faith, our entire conversion to God, justification, regeneration (Ursinus is referring to sanctification which is where obedience fits) and salvation, for through faith we receive Christ, with all his benefits.
The Gospel is the root of all true obedience to God (cf., Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Paul understood this and thus it is the reason why he was eager to preach the Gospel to the believers in Rome!
The gospel is just as vital for believers to believe for their sanctification as it is for unbelievers to believe for their justification.
This is why the Gospel must always be the central focus of the believer’s daily life and why pastors must be eager to preach the gospel.
New Christians and mature believers alike find the work of obedience hard. Why? Obedience is difficult because of the believers remaining corruption, the constant allurement of the world and the enemy’s relentless temptations (cf., Rom. 7; 1 John 2:15-17; 1 Pet. 5:8).
“They that think they know the Gospel well enough bewray their ignorance; no man can be too evangelical, it will take all his life-time to get a legal temper destroyed.”
It is not easy to obey when you are burdened by the guilt of sin and the wrath of God. It is not easy to obey when one’s heart is filled with worldly pleasures and desires. It is not easy to overcome a legal temperament and learn to obey by gospel principles. Ralph Erskine writes,
It is not easy to get the law killed; something of a legal disposition remains even in the believer while he is in this world: many a stroke does self and self-righteousness get, but still it revives again. If he were wholly dead to the law, he would be wholly dead to sin; but so far as the law lives, so far sin lives. They that think they know the Gospel well enough bewray their ignorance; no man can be too evangelical, it will take all his life-time to get a legal temper destroyed.
Though the believer be delivered wholly from the law, in its commanding and condemning power and authority, or its rightful power that it hath over all that are under it: yet he is not delivered wholly from its usurped power, which takes place many times upon him, while here, through remaining unbelief. (Works of Ralph Erskine, vol. 2, “Law-Death, Gospel-Life,” p. 27; see also Thomas Boston, vol. 11, p. 267).
What new and mature Christians need for encouragement to obey is the comfort of God’s grace as revealed in the gospel. Newly converted believers need to grasp the comfort of gospel grace, not man-made laws, right at the beginning of their Christian life.
The very nature of obedience and the exceeding breadth and spirituality of God’s law kills a man’s confidence and makes him see that he has no righteousness that is conformable to the law. It makes him see his utter inability to obey God’s law perfectly for one second. It reveals to the believer his immense need for the gospel every minute of every day.
Pastors who think they are helping their congregations by giving them a steady diet of practical, relevant steps, tips and insights, an endless barrage of moralistic exhortations, or heart-warming, inspirational devotional thoughts each week are in reality cutting their people off from any real possibility for living the Christian life.
There are no “secrets” to living the Christian life.
No amount of tips, advice, insights, steps, takeaways, creative and winsome presentations or relevant applications, can bring about gospel obedience. Richard Sibbes writes,
“…there is, moreover, such an efficacy and working power in this ministry of the gospel that it will not allow men to remain without alteration, as they did under Moses’ ministry, though he was read daily. But it will ‘change’ them even ‘into the image of Jesus Christ’ and carry them on still in that image and likeness, from ‘one degree of glory to another’, by a most admirable and spiritual manner of working,” (Glorious Freedom, p. 5).
Nothing is more effective or powerful than the gospel! There is no substitute for preaching the gospel! The gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). The gospel alone brings about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations (Rom. 1:5; 16:25-27)!