Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.
The book of Romans was written by the Apostle Paul, to the church in Rome, around AD 57. Paul wrote to introduce himself, and to prepare the church for an apostolic visit (Romans 15:28). He arrived a couple years later, and then again a few years after that. Paul was likely martyred in Rome, after a cold and lonely imprisonment (2 Timothy 4:13).
The major theme of Romans is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It also includes related themes such as the righteousness of God, the law of God, guilt, salvation, sanctification and spiritual assurance. Romans is the most complete outline of Christian doctrine in the New Testament, and likely inspired the later development of systematic theology.
Jews from Rome were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10), and probably took Christianity back to Rome when they returned. Rome was the capital of the empire, and was home to about a million people, so we might expect a fairly large church. But the final chapter of Romans suggests a fairly small church, where most of the people knew each other.
Romans 1:5 [We] call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.
The Bible makes a close connection between obedience and faith. They are not the same, but are so closely related that there is no faith without obedience, and no obedience without faith. If you do not believe, you have not begun to obey. And if you do not obey, you have not really believed.
This was made explicit by James, the brother of Jesus Christ who wrote, As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26). God commands us to believe (Mark 1:15) on the basis of sufficient revelation in nature, conscience, Scripture and Christ. Then he commands us to obey as a demonstration of our faith. Faith and obedience go together like two sides of a coin. If you have a coin with heads, but not tails, it’s a fake. We are called to the obedience that comes from faith.
Romans 1:12 [We are] mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
Paul was an encouragement to other believers, and they were an encouragement to him. Whenever we spend time with others who believe in Jesus Christ, our own faith should be encouraged. The Spirit of Christ in us, recognizes the Spirit of Christ in them. This creates a fellowship, and strengthens our hope in the gospel.
If we are encouraged by each other’s faith, however, we are also discouraged by each other’s unbelief. If the godliest people you know, fall away from Jesus Christ, you might be tempted to do the same. Since there are others who need us, or may be watching from a distance, we should be the best Christians we can possibly be.
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.
Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, but he may have been embarrassed at times. If you have never been embarrassed by the gospel, you may have never believed the gospel, because the gospel can be embarrassing.
To believe the gospel is true, you must believe that a Jewish carpenter—one who made tables and chairs—also made the world. You must also believe that he died on a cross for your sins, and rose to give you eternal life. You must also believe that he is coming back to judge the world, and all who are his will live happily ever after, and all who are not will burn in hell forever.
And if you try to say this to educated people, some of them will laugh at you, and make you feel embarrassed. That’s what it was like to be a Christian in Rome during the first century, and that’s what it’s like today.
But Paul was not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes. As Paul preached this hard-to-believe gospel, something unusual happened. Those who believed were demonstrably saved. The Holy Spirit empowered them to believe, then to live as citizens of heaven.
None of this happened because Paul was persuasive, but because God works through the gospel, to save those who believe: good and bad, rich and poor, smart and not-so-smart. Telling the gospel without embarrassment is not easy, but the fact that God works through the gospel makes it a little easier.
Romans 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness . . . .
The wrath of God is not our favorite thing about him, but the God of the Bible is angry at sin. Every time we sin, we call down the wrath of God—or at least his fatherly displeasure. But why is God so angry at sin?
Two boys were playing in the back yard when a fight broke out, and the bigger boy began to pummel the smaller boy. This was witnessed by the mother of the smaller boy, who was so enraged that she jumped into the fight and beat up the bigger boy—who then went home in tears. The reason the mother was so angry at the bully was because she loved her son. Likewise, the wrath of God the Father is a result of the love he has for his Son, and for the Holy Spirit.
From eternity past, the Father has loved the Son and the Spirit; the Son has loved the Father and the Spirit; and the Spirit has loved the Father and the Son. Whenever we sin against any member of the Trinity, each divine person is enraged at the offense done to the others.
God can also be angry at us because of his love for us. If the boy next door gets hooked on drugs, I may feel sorry for him, but I will not be angry at him, because I do not love him as my own. But if my own son gets hooked on drugs, I will be filled with anger because I love him deeply, and it pains me to see him destroy himself.
Whenever God sees us harm our character (and our relationship with him) it pains him deeply. God’s wrath is real, but it is the righteous response of his love for us, and for himself. Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath (Psalm 6:1), wrote David.
Romans 1:18b [People] suppress the truth by their wickedness.
Our greatest problem isn’t that we do not know the truth, but that we do not want the truth. The truth of the gospel is so firmly established that everyone would believe, if it wasn’t so demanding. Our sinful nature wants a lifestyle that can only be sustained if God does not exist, so we suppress the truth in order to live that way. The gospel is the best possible news that no one wants to hear.
When I was a child, we played with a volleyball in the swimming pool, and tried to hold it under water. Sometimes we would sit on it; other times we would stand on it. But whenever we let go of it, the volleyball resurfaced. That is what Jesus Christ is like. He came out of the tomb and no one can put him back. The wicked want to suppress this truth, but it will not go away.
Reflection and Review
Why is the gospel embarrassing?
Why does sin make God angry?
Why do people suppress the truth?