What is the Gospel? (Rom 1:1-6, 14-17)

After a very brief introduction of himself (Rom 1:1), Paul begins his magnum opus by launching off into what the gospel is (Rom 1:2-6,14-17). What is the gospel (to which Paul has been set apart)?
  1. The origin of the gospel is God (Rom 1:1). God is the most important word in this epistle. God's good news to a lost world is "the gospel of God" (Rom 1:1c). Paul did not invent it; it was revealed and entrusted to him by God (Eph 3:3-12).
  2. The attestation of the gospel is Scripture (Rom 1:2). The gospel was "promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures" (Rom 1:2). The gospel did not 1st appear in the NT to the apostles. Jesus himself was quite clear that the OT Scripture bore witness to him (Jn 5:39,46; Lk 24:25-27,44-46). The gospel of God has a double attestation (OT,NT) and both bear witness to Christ.
  3. The substance of the gospel is Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1-4). "The gospel of God" (Rom 1:1) is "regarding his Son" (Rom 1:3,9). Luther says that the Scripture must be understood in relation to Christ. Calvin writes similarly that "the whole gospel is contained in Christ." Rom 1:3-4 have references, direct or indirect, to the birth, death, resurrection and reign of Christ. They also speak of his humanity (earthly life/human nature, descendant of David) and his deity (Spirit of holiness, Son of God). Who is Jesus? This duality/balance expresses
  • both the humiliation and the exaltation, 
  • the weakness and the power of God's Son, 
  • his human descent as the seed of David, and his divine power established by his resurrection as the Son of God, 
  • both weak and powerful, 
  • incarnate and exalted.
4. The scope of the gospel is universal (Rom 1:5-6). Paul says that the gospel he received is "to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith" (Rom 1:5). Paul regards his calling as "grace and apostleship" (Rom 1:5), which means "the undeserved privilege of being an apostle," for Paul always regarded his apostleship to God's gracious decision and appointment (Rom 12:3, 15:15; 1 Cor 15:10; Gal 1:15, 2:9; Eph 3:1, 7-8). Paul discloses and defines the scope of the gospel as "all the Gentiles" (NIV) or "all the nations" (ESV). Though Paul was a patriotic Jew, he was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15,22:21,26:17; Rom 11:13,15:16; Gal 1:16,2:2; Eph 3:8). To serve the gospel, we to have to be liberated from all pride of race, nation, tribe, caste and class, and acknowledge that God's gospel is for everybody, without exception and without distinction. This is a major theme of Romans.

5. The purpose of the gospel is the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5). Without equivocation, Paul states from the outset (and at the end of Romans) that obedience is the response which the gospel demands (Rom 1:5,16:26). Though Paul insists most strongly that salvation or justification is "through faith alone," yet he apparently writes that it is not by faith alone, but by "the obedience of faith" (ESV). What does this mean? Although faith and obedience do always belong together, they are not synonymous. To use the illustration of Abraham (Heb 11:8), it is the obedience of faith, not the obedience of law. The proper response to the gospel is faith, indeed faith alone. Yet a true and living faith in Jesus includes within itself an element of submission (cf. Rom 10:3), because it's object is "the/our Lord" (Rom 1:4,7), and it leads invariably into a lifetime of obedience. The response to the gospel Paul looked for was a total unreserved commitment to Jesus Christ (Rom 1:6), which he called "the obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5).

6. The goal of the gospel is the honor of Christ's name (Rom 1:5). "For his name's sake" (NIV, 2010) or "for the sake of his name" (ESV) is the climax of Rom 1:5. We should be jealous for the honor of Jesus' name---troubled when it remains unknown, hurt when it is ignored, indignant when it is blasphemed, and all the time anxious and determined that it shall be given the honor and glory which are due to it. "The highest of all missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God [Rom 1:18]), but rather zeal -- burning and passionate zeal -- for the glory of Jesus Christ." (p53)

7. The gospel is a debt to the world (Rom 1:14-15). Why did Paul feel obligated to all kinds of people, though he owed them nothing? It's because Jesus entrusted him with the gospel for them (1 Cor 4:1; Gal 2:7; 1 Th 2:4; 1 Tim 1:11; Tit 1:3). It is Jesus who made Paul a debtor by committing the gospel to his trust, which explains his eagerness to preach the gospel to the Romans (Rom 1:15). Similarly, if the gospel has come to us, we are debtors to the world.

8. The gospel is God's power for salvation (Rom 1:16). Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, because like us, Paul likely knew the temptation to feel ashamed of it. Paul came to the Corinthians in weakness, fear and trembling (1 Cor 2:3). He knew the message of the cross was foolishness to some, and a stumbling block to others (1 Cor 1:18,23), because it undermines self-righteousness and challenges self-indulgence. Whenever the gospel is faithfully preached, it arouses opposition, often contempt, and sometimes ridicule. But though some despise the gospel for its weakness, it is in the fact "the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom 1:16). This gospel is the great leveller, for everyone who is saved is saved in exactly the same way -- by faith, regardess of Jew or Gentile (Rom 3:22, 4:11, 10:4,11). The gospel is both a debt to discharge and a power to experience (Rom 1:14-16). Like him, we may be "under obligation," "eager," and "not ashamed."

9. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God (Rom 1:17). What is the righteousness of God? It can be thought of as:
  • a divine attribute (who God is),
  • a divine activity (what God does) and
  • a divine achievement (what God bestows on us sinners).

  • It is at one and the same time a quality, an activity and a gift.
  • It is God's righteousness initiative in putting sinners right himself, by bestowing on them a righteousness which is not their own but his. It is:

    • God's just justification of the unjust,
    • his righteous way of pronouncing the unrighteous righteous, in which he both demonstrates his righteousness and gives righteousness to us. He has done it through Christ, the righteous one, who died for the unrighteous. He does it by faith when we put our trust in him, and cry to him for mercy.
    10. The gospel promotes faith from "faith to faith," from first to last (Rom 1:17). There are 4 explanations:

    1. Faith's origin is God; it is from God's faith (faithfulness) to our faith. God's faithfulness always comes first, and ours is a response.
    2. The spread of faith from one believer to another.
    3. The growth of faith from one degree of faith to another.
    4. The primacy of faith, for example, faith from first to last, or by faith through and through.
    This is based on The Message of Romans (1994) by John Stott (46-54, 58-65).