Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s greeting establishes several themes that shall echo throughout the letter. First, the gospel that Paul preaches is the good news that God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures.” This opening salvo introduces the premise Paul shall work from as he explains his revelation of God’s plan for redemption. Paul refuses to countenance for a moment that the message he preaches is anything other than what the prophets foretold concerning the salvation of Israel and the world. This is of the highest importance to Paul because of his critics, who snipe that Paul’s doctrine overthrows the law and voids the promises of God to Israel. Paul will show that, contrary to his critics’ claims, his doctrine teaches that the law and the prophets are fulfilled in Christ.
Paul insists that his teaching is according to the Scriptures. Because this is such a major sticking point with Paul, he will carefully weave numerous quotations and allusions to Scripture into the fabric of the epistle. He is careful to show that his doctrine is based upon the Word of God. The scriptural content of Romans is simply amazing. Even when Paul is not quoting Old Testament passages directly, Scripture informs and shapes every word he writes.
The promises of God made to Israel through the prophets “are concerning his Son,” Jesus Christ. This is the controlling idea for Paul. Everything is about Jesus. Jesus is the center of every promise in the law and prophets. He fulfills them all. Jesus, as the Son of God, is “descended from David according to the flesh” and is the long-awaited Messiah, the king and priest who would arise to deliver Israel from her enemies and from her sins.
According to the flesh Jesus descended from David, but according to the power of the Holy Spirit—the “spirit of holiness”—He is “the Son of God in power.” The resurrection demonstrated both the divine origin of Christ and the power of God to raise the dead, which, as we shall see, is the hope of Israel. In the resurrection of Christ, God keeps His promise and demonstrates His power to make all things new. Both God and Christ are vindicated (justified) in the resurrection. Moreover, the people of God share in this vindication, which is an idea Paul will develop as he goes along.
Paul confesses the fundamental Christian creed that “Jesus Christ [is] our Lord.” This is the earliest formal expression of the Christian faith. The confession, “Jesus is Lord,” was a direct challenge to the Romans loyalty oath, “Caesar is Lord.” Christians today have largely reduced the lordship of Jesus to merely an internal relationship with Jesus as “Lord of my heart.” The early church had no such idea or option. Indeed, they would have recoiled at the modern pietistic idea that isolates the reign of Christ as a personal, mystical experience with God that has no bearing on everyday life in the real world. To the early church “Jesus is Lord” meant something very real, very practical. It meant that kingdom of God had come into the world through the incarnation, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and that the entire world must be told.
The early church meant to say, and they said it, that Jesus is Lord over all the rulers of the world. They believed so fervently that “Jesus is Lord” that they died for it. If they had meant to say that Jesus was only the Lord of their heart, they could have saved their lives and pledged allegiance to Rome. Caesar had no problem with lords in the heart. But when those lords suddenly reared up and claimed to rule the world, and when these lords refused to bow before the august, imperial “son of God,” then Caesar had a problem. For Caesar and the rest of the first century world there was no separation of church and state. Religion and politics were intertwined in those days. In fact, it was not long after Paul penned these words that the first worldwide persecution of the church broke out under Nero. For the next three centuries, the church died for their confession, their faith, that “Jesus is Lord.” Thus, when Paul writes to the church at Rome—at Rome, no less!—that Jesus is the only true Son of God and that He is Lord of all, it was a direct challenge to Caesar’s pretentious authority.
Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus formed the matrix for his enduring conviction that Christ rules over all creation as Lord of all. From that moment, Paul’s understanding of the law and prophets was dramatically reoriented. From that moment, Paul understood the promise of Israel’s restoration and the redemption of all creation in terms of Christ’s exaltation to the right hand of the Father. The rule of Christ had begun, and now the Lord Jesus Christ was at work subduing all His enemies under His feet through the power of the indwelling Spirit within the church. This conquest of the earth and the defeat of hostile principalities and powers is the done through the evangelistic ministry and mission of the church. Jesus is Lord!
The lordship of Christ stands in towering majesty over Paul’s teaching in Romans, and it is the lordship of Jesus that commissions Paul with “grace and apostleship.” The mission of the church flows directly out of the universal authority of Jesus over all things. If Jesus is not presently Lord of all, then the church has no mandate for mission.
Further, the mission of the church is “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.” This particular form of the Christian mandate falls into three parts: First, the Christian mission preaches “the obedience of faith.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is the story of how God is redeeming the world and saving man from his sins through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Those who hear and believe by the grace of God are brought to obedience to the faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. This obedience is worked out after the pattern of the Great Commission as converts are baptized and discipled according to the commandments of the Lord (Matthew 28:18-20).
Second, the mission of the church is “for the sake of His name.” This is another way of saying that the conversion of all nations is to the glory of God, that His name may be honored among the Gentiles. Christian converts are saved when they call on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21; 22:16) and the name of the Lord is called upon them (James 2:7). “For the sake of His name” also refers to the authority that His name represents. Those who are baptized in His name publicly bow their knee before Him and confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). The mission of the church is for the sake of His glory and dominion throughout all creation.
Third, the mission of the church is accomplished “among all nations.” Paul opens with the declaration that he shall be careful to prove in the body of the letter, that the gospel preached to Abraham and his seed is now being preached to all nations. The gospel is no longer limited to Israel and preached to Gentiles only in a secondary and derivative sense. The gospel is for “all nations.”
Moreover, the church at Rome knows very well that the gospel is being preached to all nations because it has reached to “you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” The believers at Rome are living witnesses to the truth of Paul’s message. Those in Rome are “loved by God and called to be saints.” This is a powerful statement for one who had been indoctrinated from birth that pagans were dogs and worthy only of death unless they converted to Judaism. Paul declares that God loves the Gentiles and has called them to be saints, or holy ones. This means that Paul is deliberately placing Gentile believers in the category with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with David and the rest of the Old Testament believers. God has made the believers at Rome saints. There is no higher honor than this, to be called the saints of God.