Paul's letter to the Romans is addressed to God's beloved in Rome. In this letter, Paul tells us that he was "set apart" by God to make known "the gospel". In the opening verses of the letter he gives us a shorthand version of this message from God. Paul begins with the "time is fulfilled" statement - Jesus Christ, descended from David, risen from the dead in the power of the Spirit and now Lord. Paul then gives the typical "kingdom of God is at hand" statement - as Lord, Jesus freely gives right-standing in the sight of God through the instrument of faith. He then goes on to explain his part in the gospel: God has graciously charged Paul with the task of gathering the Gentile "remnant" into the kingdom.
v1. Paul begins by describing himself as a "slave" of Christ, called to be an "apostle" of Christ, one of those officially sent out by Christ. The "sent ones" were originally those who could claim to be "a witness of the resurrection" and who had been with Christ from the beginning. This narrow definition widened as time passed. Paul was "called" to this task in the sense of directly authorized by Christ to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles.
v2. Paul here defines the gospel as the fulfillment of God's promises revealed through the Old Testament prophets.
v3-4. He now gives a summary of the gospel. Jesus is of the Davidic line and is fully human; he came "as a man", "so far as his human nature is concerned", 9:5. Through the resurrection event Jesus was appointed Son-of-God-in-power, in contrast to Son-of-God-in-humility. Jesus' resurrection was expedited through the Holy Spirit whose sanctification of believers is imaged in the resurrection event ("Spirit of holiness" = the Holy Spirit who sanctifies, makes holy).
v5. Paul and the other apostles, were shown mercy and kindness ("grace") when God gave them the ministry of apostleship. For Paul and his team, this "grace" consisted of a special authority to preach to the Gentiles. His task was to call the Gentiles to the obedience of faith, to invite all people to accept God's offer of salvation in Christ. From such "obedience" comes righteousness, a right-standing in the sight of God as a gift of grace through the instrument of faith, rather than effort applied to the law.
v6. His Roman readers are among those so "called". The call is probably not an effectual predestining of individuals to salvation, but rather an invitation to join the chosen people of God, to join those who have found salvation in Christ, through faith.
v7. Paul therefore, addresses the Roman Christians as "loved by God" and "called to be saints" (children of God).
The obedience of faith
When I was a young assistant minister in my first parish appointment, I got to know a most amazing old believer. He was affectionately called Pop. In his younger days he worked as a street evangelist. There is nothing more difficult than preaching the gospel to people on a busy sidewalk. I have spent my life hiding in a pulpit, but to stand on a milk crate at the corner of a busy city street is something else. Of course, his passion for the gospel never waned. When we first met he took me aside and explained the way of salvation, just in case I had missed it at theological college. What passion for the gospel! They all knew him around the district. Even the most mundane remark about the weather or something else, gave Pop an evangelistic opportunity. The gospel came into every conversation.
Paul the apostle had the same passion. By the second sentence of his letter to the Romans he is into a short outline of the gospel. It's the classic two part presentation, properly adjusted for his Gentile readers. He begins with the "time is fulfilled" statement, but only makes a passing reference to Jesus' fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. The events of Jesus' life proclaim him "Son of God", or even better for Gentile ears, "Lord". As is typical of the New Testament, the stress falls on Jesus' resurrection rather than his crucifixion; a point often missed in evangelistic sermons today.
Paul then goes on to declare that through Jesus the "kingdom is at hand." Of course, he doesn't use this exact phrase, a phrase so commonly used in the gospels. The blessings of the kingdom must be contextualized for Gentile ears and Paul does this in the phrase "the obedience that comes from faith". This statement goes to the center of the gospel.
There is of course, a problem. The phrase "obedience of faith" is hotly debated. There are many who would argue that Paul is speaking about the doing of obedience, ie. the godliness that flows from faith. Yet, it is more likely he is speaking about Christ's obedience which is imputed to a believer through faith. Perfect obedience to the Law will justify a person, but other than Christ, no person has ever obeyed perfectly. The gospel proclaims the good news that obedience can be credited to a believer through faith - an imputed obedience rather than a done obedience. The good news is that a person who through faith is obedient, will live.
So, in a nutshell, Paul tells us that the kingdom is at hand, but does so in a summary of the doctrine of justification, namely that righteousness, right-standing in the sight of God, is ours as a gift of grace through faith. We would do well to emulate Paul's gospel message and his gospel passion.
1. Outline the summary of the gospel presented in this passage.
2. Does this summary need to be contextualized for our generation, and if so, how would you "adjust" it?