The Book of Romans opens with the word PAUL.
No one disputes that the apostle Paul wrote Romans. Like his namesake, Israel’s first king (Saul was Paul’s Hebrew name; Paul his Latin name), Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin. He was a Roman citizen by birth. Like his father before him, Paul was a Pharisee, a member of the strictest Jewish sect.
Saul called himself a Pharisee of the Pharisees. Hence, he laid great stress on the ritual and forms of pious laws and traditions that Jesus so sharply condemned. Undoubtedly, he viewed Jesus and His followers as a threat to everything he had been taught and embraced.
Saul was born about the time of Christ’s birth, in Tarsus, an important city in the Roman province of Cilicia, located in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Tarsus, with the Mediterranean at its feet, was a great port. Set in the flowering Cilician plain, with the river Cydnus flowing through the city, the snow Taurus mountains at its back, its streets and buildings, it university and temple unrivaled in the East. Tarsus was a jewel for merchants, philosophers, and the footloose rich who traveled tirelessly in pursuit of the sights.
Flax was grown in the fields. In the bitter mountain cold, rough long hair grew on the Cilician goats. Both flax and goat hair made the linen, tent, and sailcloth on which Tarsus built its fortune—perhaps even the fortune of Saul’s family, for many scholars believe that his father was a rich man.
Pious Jews, rich or poor, taught their sons a trade to protect them from charity. Saul had been taught the trade of weaving, tent and sail-making. However, Saul spent much of his early life in Jerusalem as a student of the celebrated rabbi Gamaliel.
This Jewish-Roman citizen was a thinker of the first order, a man with a penetrating mind, well-versed in the OT. A brilliant intellect and iron made Saul a relentless persecutor of the Church and Jesus Christ.
Christianity had enjoyed a time of tolerance and acceptance, until Stephen preached a sermon that rebuke the Sanhedrin and Jews for their persistent rejection of Christ. He proclaimed—
You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.
The cross was a curse. To the Jew, a curse was not merely a mental condition; it was a deadly poison that affected the atmosphere about it. An executed criminal who was hanged on a tree suffered a special curse and shockingly defiled the air and ground on which his shadow fell. To this Pharisee of Pharisees, anyone who called this crucified Jesus of Nazareth the Righteous One of Jewish prophecy, was guilty of an outrage too monstrous to reckon.
Saul like the others covered his ears, and yelling at the top of his voice, help drag Stephen out of the city. The witnesses laid their clothes at Saul’s feet and he gave his approval to the stoning of Stephen to death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem with Saul became the chief persecutor.
On his way to Damascus (ca. A.D. 33-34) to arrest Christians in that city, the young Saul encountered the living Christ. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The blinded Saul is taken to Damascus. There a disciple named Ananias receives a vision from the Lord telling him to go to Saul, but Ananias is reluctant to meet Saul —
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Saul receives both his sight and the Holy Spirit and he is baptized. Christ Himself has called and chosen Saul to be an APOSTLE—His delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders to preach the Gospel of God to the Gentiles.
By the Grace of God, Saul the Sinner is Paul the Saint. The Persecutor is now the Preacher—and the world is about to be turned upside down.
Immediately, Saul began proclaiming the gospel message. After narrowly escaping Damascus with his life, Paul spent three years in Nabatean Arabia, south and east of the Dead Sea. During that time, he received much of his doctrine as direction from the Lord.
He will spend another fourteen years studying the Scriptures in Tarsus until Barnabas comes searching for Saul and takes him to Antioch to help teach the church. At Antioch, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, depart on the First Missionary Journey. On this journey, Saul becomes known as Paul.
More than any other individual, Paul was responsible for the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. He made three missionary journeys through much of the Mediterranean world, tirelessly preaching the gospel he had once sought to destroy.
Though physically unimpressive, and often trembling on the outside when preaching, Paul possessed an inner strength granted him through the Holy Spirit’s power. The grace of God proved sufficient to provide every need, enabling this noble servant of Christ to finish successfully his spiritual race.
Paul wrote the Letter to Romans from Corinth toward the close of his third missionary journey (most likely in February or March of 58 A.D. At the time, he was preparing to leave for Palestine with an offering for the poor believers in the Jerusalem church. Phoebe was given the great responsibility of delivering this letter to the Roman believers. Phoebe carried to Rome one of the most profound, influential and powerful documents ever written—THE CATHEDRAL OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH.
In A.D. 64, the historian Tacitus speaks of the Christians in Rome as “an immense multitude.” Within a period of six years from the writing of this letter, the Church of Rome emerges from a place of insignificance to significance in the capital of the world. It has been said that this letter has been associated with every great spiritual revival in the history of the Church. Together with the Letter to Galatians it lay at the foundation of the Reformation. Augustine, Luther, Wesley, and Barth were captured by its message and they launched spiritual movements as a result.
In Romans, Paul coined the vocabulary of Christianity. He expounded the true meaning of Christ’s coming, death, resurrection and ascension and revealed the deeper meaning of the OT in light of these events. The OT is Paul’s text, which he quotes sixty-one times plus alluding to OT history, types and doctrines.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul produces an extraordinary exposition of faith that unlocks the entire Word of God. He demonstrates that the Christian life begins and ends with faith. Faith is counted for righteousness by God. The born again believer experiences the power of resurrection, becoming a new man. Yet, the old man continues and wages war with the new. Paul addresses this crisis and shows the way out of bondage.
Many Christians have settled for only a half salvation! The death of Christ on Calvary is only half the truth; the other half is the saving life of Christ, by His Spirit, reproducing His character and delivering us from the power of the world, the flesh, and the devil. At the Cross, we have forgiveness of sin. With the empty tomb, we receive the power to stop sinning!
Job 9:2 asks the question? But how can a mortal be righteous before God?
Romans tells us how to be RIGHTEOUS—right with God, right with self, right in the world, and right with others.
Therefore, the Letter of Romans is well placed at the head of all the others, as laying the foundations in a systematic way, of the relations of man with God and God with man.
First and foremost, Romans is a theological presentation of the GOSPEL OF GOD. Martin Luther wrote in the preface of his commentary on Romans:
This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.
Today, we begin knowing it word for word, occupying ourselves with it. May the LORD grant that Romans will be the daily bread of our soul as we ponder its depths. May this Gospel of God become more precious and better tasting with each passing day. Amen.
Following the pattern of First Century letter writing, this illustrious letter begins with a SALUTATION, Romans 1:1-4—
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and
apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.
From the salutation, we learn six important facts about the writer of this letter.
FIRST, the writer introduces himself by the name of PAUL, of Latin derivation meaning SMALL. This name was probably given to him by his parents at birth, but Saul did not become prominent until he began his ministry among the Gentiles. After his conversion, Saul’s own estimation of himself would come to be SMALL.
SECOND, Paul is A SERVANT OF CHRIST JESUS. OT saints such as Moses, Joshua and David were called A SERVANT OF THE LORD. This is the first instance in the NT, where similarity called by this title. Instead of using the term LORD, Paul substitutes His Title and Name—CHRIST JESUS and latter identifies Him as LORD.
Paul regarded himself as bought with a price of precious blood, and out of love to the One who purchased him, he willing became a servant of CHRIST JESUS. The Greek term used for SERVANT is doulov—a BONDSLAVE. It is a metaphor for one who of his own accord gives himself up to another’s will. The BONDSLAVE is devoted to another to the disregard of his own interests. The background of the free will servant comes from Exodus 21:5-6—
But if the servant declares, `I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.
Paul viewed himself as a servant in the hand of Christ Jesus, with no initiative or merit of his own. He was ready to do whatever his Master asked. Isn’t that the attitude Jesus desires from each of us?
THIRD, Paul is CALLED TO BE AN APOSTLE. Although, his position is that of a servant or bond slave in relation to Christ, he carries the authority of an apostle—a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders from the risen Lord.
The idea of being CALLED is rooted in the OT. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Jeremiah, Isaiah, the other prophets were called by God. They did not choose to serve God; the LORD chose them—just as Jesus called Peter, James, John and Andrew to become fishers of men.
FOURTH, Paul is SET APART FOR THE GOSPEL OF GOD. His appointed was by a sovereign act of the Lord Himself. He was converted without human instrumentality, and was taught the Gospel by divine revelation. He testifies in Galatians 1:11-12—
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
He did no acquire this position by ecclesiastical succession, congregational election, or self-appointment. He was therefore in no sense presumptuous in approaching the church of Rome. He was operating within the authority that had been conferred on him. Paul wrote of his commissioning in 1 Corinthians 15:7-10—
Then [Jesus] appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
FIFTH, Paul is a recipient of GRACE. Remember what Yahweh told Moses in Exodus 33:19—
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
Paul is living proof that the LORD gives grace to those we might least expect. Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples when God’s mercy and compassion reached down and touched him on the Damascus Road. Did Paul deserve to be saved? NO! If anyone was ever deserving of the wrath of God, it was Saul of Tarsus! But Paul received GRACE!
This letter is all about GRACE— God’s Righteousness at Christ’s Expense. Righteous is directly spoken about fifty-two times in this letter—A RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD—which lies at the heart of THE GOSPEL OF GOD.
Having experienced GRACE, this undeserving apostle profoundly understood it! He not only was saved by grace, but he was motivated and empowered by it. And now he writes to share the mystery of it.
SIXTH, Paul’s task as an APOSTLE is TO CALL PEOPLE FROM AMONG GENTILES TO THE OBEDIENCE THAT COMES FROM FAITH. Here Paul echoes Christ’s Great Commission—
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
As apostle, Paul is TO CALL PEOPLE OF ALL NATIONS TO CHRIST and TO TEACH THEM TO OBEY EVERYTHING JESUS COMMANDED.
In the very first verse, Paul introduces the theme of ROMANS—THE GOSPEL OF GOD. The GOOD NEWS is not of human origin, but OF GOD! All religions of the world are man-made, except the GOSPEL!
It was conceived in eternity past and gradually unfolded in the OT Scriptures. THE GOSPEL OF GOD is THE GOSPEL HE PROMISED BEFOREHAND THROUGH HIS PROPHETS IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES. Therefore, Paul uses numerous OT quotes and illustrations to demonstrate this truth. Neither Christ nor Christianity burst on the scene unexpectedly; both were planned and predicted in the HOLY SCRIPTURES.
The GOSPEL is not NEW, but OLD! We discovered that to be the case in our study of the Book of Exodus. By sheer volume, the OT contains more Gospel than the NT. The NT is a commentary on the OT. This means that in the NT the things were open, clear, comprehensible, which in the OT were latent, obscure, secret and hidden. There is a saying, which goes like this:
The New is in the Old contained,
The Old is by the New explained.
Many make the mistake of overemphasizing the NT at the expense of the OT. The very first doctrine Jesus taught after His resurrection was to two disciples on the Emmaus Road. He said to them in Luke 24:25-27—
“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
The OT is all about Christ Jesus—God’s Son! Not to read the OT expecting to see Christ is foolishness as well as spiritual blindness. Paul read the OT with his spiritual eyes wide open and saw that the Gospel was revealed therein. Therefore, he writes in verses 2-4—
The gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:2-4).
Many in churches sit in the presence of God, few stand on the promise of God. The Good News is a PROMISE, and the Promise is a Person—Jesus Christ our Lord. The Gospel of God’s Son is Old, not New! It began in the Garden of Eden, with the first promise made by God, when He told Satan in Genesis 3:15—
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
With this cryptic promise, God predicted that His Son would be born of a virgin, Satan would kill Him, yet He would destroy Satan. That’s the beginning of the Gospel and now Paul identifies this Promised Person, who will fill the pages of this letter:
He is JESUS—YAHWEH SAVES
He is CHRIST—THE ANOINTED ONE
He is LORD—SOVEREIGN
He is HUMAN—DESCENDANT OF DAVID
He is DIVINE—THE SON OF GOD
Through the Holy Spirit’s overshadowing of the virgin Mary, Jesus became David’s seed according to the flesh, meaning that for the eternal Word there was a change in the condition of His existence. He once existed only as God, now He not only continues to exist as God, but by a miracle of God has incorporated true humanity into the condition of His existence.
There is no question that Jesus Christ is God. He is Lord, yet He is also referred to as the Son of God. Many have asked, “How can He be both God and the Son of God?”
The term SON was used by Paul and other NT writers to speak of Christ at His incarnation—when the Second Person of the Trinity made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Jesus became a SON in taking on the role of the Son of God at His incarnation.
When you think of the word SON, you probably think of the submission, obedience, and honor shown to one’s father. That is the sense in which Jesus is the Son. Jesus became the Son of God when took on human flesh and He was declared the Son of God when He rose from the dead. Verses 3-4 literally read—
Concerning His Son the One who Himself became out of the seed of David according to flesh the One declared the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of Holiness out of the resurrection of dead—Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Good News is that God became a man. He was born into a family. He was flesh and blood. He was born of a virgin but nonetheless born. He became a Son. At His birth, we read in Luke 2:10-11—
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
Jesus Christ had to be more than a man; He also had to be God. If Jesus were only a man, even the best of men, He could not have saved man from his sin. If He were even the right man from the seed of David, but not God, He could not have withstood the punishment of God the Father at the Cross and risen from the dead. He could not have overcome the world, the flesh, and the Devil but would have been conquered as all men are conquered.
If there was ever any question that Jesus was the Son of God, His resurrection from the dead should have ended it. He had to be man to reach us, but He had to be God to lift us up. He became a Son by His virgin birth and was affirmed a Son again at His resurrection.
If Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, a phony—He would have rotted, decayed and returned to dust. Yahweh would never play into the hands of a phony. Since God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, the resurrection affirmed as well as declared that He is the Son of God.
The expression SPIRIT OF HOLINESS suggests that the Lord Jesus lived a life victory over the power of sin, and indeed, His life was perfectly holy. He never looked with lust; He never uttered a hasty, unkind, untrue or frivolous word; and He never entertained an impure thought. He was never accused by conscience, never inflamed by wrongful passion, never out of step with the will of God. His time was never wasted, His talents never debased for selfish wrong. He never had to apologize for anything He did or retract a single word He said. He was never too late or too soon; never upset; never insipid, shallow or afraid. Every day He lived on earth was a marvel of holiness! And His resurrection DECLARED it!
DECLARED comes from the Greek word orizo (horizo), which means boundary. We get our English word HORIZON from it. It refers to the clear demarcation line between the earth and sky. Paul is saying there may have been questions in the minds of some about whether Jesus is the Son of God, but because of the resurrection, the line was drawn in absolute clarity. As clearly as the horizon divides the earth from the sky, so the resurrection divides Jesus from the rest of humanity. When Jesus was raised from the dead through the power of the Spirit of Holiness, He was irrefutably distinguished from all other human beings.
Interestingly, SET APART and DECLARED are from the same Greek word. Paul’s HORIZON changed when he received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Now his life revolved was centered on a different horizon. The new center was so far removed from that in which he lived before that there were no segments overlapping.
When Paul encountered the risen Christ on the Damascus Road, his horizon changed. Christ was not a dead person who claimed to be the Messiah, but the living Lord. Paul testifies to his new horizon in Acts 22:9-10—
About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, `Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ “`Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “`I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
“`What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. “`Get up,’ the Lord said, `and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’
“WHAT SHALL I DO, LORD?”—the most lofty words a person can ever utter.
Instantly, Paul had absorbed the escapable of Christ being raised out of the dead—He is LORD! Without hesitation, Paul put his ear to the doorpost—WHAT SHALL I DO, LORD and the Master pierced it— “GET UP and GO and YOU WILL BE TOLD!
OBEDIENCE COMES FROM FAITH—without faith it is impossible to please God, and it is equally true as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. Immediately, Paul demonstrated his faith by his obedience.
From the moment when Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus— down to the moment when he sealed his testimony with his blood, his eventful life was devoted to the promulgation of the faith which once he destroyed.
The power of the Gospel of God miraculously changed this wretched man into a living servant of the risen Lord! How about you?
We are A CALLED PEOPLE from among all Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith! Have you taken the position of a willing servant—ready to obey whatever Christ might command?
Has your horizon changed and become new?
A person of faith serves Christ—no longer serving sin or the sinful nature. He is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
The old horizon of the world, the flesh, and the devil have been exchanged for a new horizon that includes obeying Christ and serving Him.
Because He lives, we live to serve Him!