Part I: Introduction to the Letter


Lesson 1: Introduction (1:1-7)


Romans is one of the most fascinating and important books in the Bible. Many Christians think of Romans as a doctrinal presentation of the gospel. However, if we try to understand and interpret Romans based solely on being a profound doctrinal statement, we are likely to misunderstand it. Paul did not write Romans as a textbook on theology. He wrote Romans first and, most importantly, as a specific letter to a particular church to address particular problems and issues. It is not complete systematic teaching covering all aspects of God, humans and salvation. Of course, there is much teaching in Romans, but it is primarily written as a pastoral letter for the specific need and benefit of the Roman Christians.  

So, to understand why Paul wrote, we also have to do our best to understand the concerns of the early Roman church. Once we understand the Roman church situation, we can safely obtain general principles true for Christians in all cultural and historical settings. And once we have a firm grasp of these principles, we can properly apply them to our specific individual and corporate lives and contexts. 

The Letter

Romans was written as a letter, so it involves two parties: the writer was Paul, and the recipient was the church in Rome.[1] So we will first try to understand Paul's situation and what motivated him to write this letter. And secondly, we will attempt to understand what the church in Rome was like; that is, who its members were, their difficulties, and the issues that concerned them.


In many ways, Paul was the ideal evangelist for Jews and Gentiles. He was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28) and grew up in Tarsus, one of the largest cities in the Roman empire. He was well aware of Roman customs, religions and philosophies. He was also fluent in Greek, the primary language of the empire. However, Paul was educated as a Pharisee in the school of Gamaliel in Jerusalem. There he excelled beyond all the other students (Galatians 1:14).     

Paul’s letter to the church in Rome begins and ends as a typical letter. Paul opens with a lengthy description of himself (1:1-6). He ends the letter with personal issues about his travel plans (15:14-29), prayer requests (15:30-33), and specific greetings to individuals he knows personally in Rome (16:3-16). What is unique about this letter, compared to other letters, Paul has written is the amount of space he reserves for these remarks. This is not entirely surprising because Paul had not founded the church in Rome. In fact, to this point, he had not even visited. Of course, he knew people such as Aquila and Priscilla in his travels and work in other churches. By the time Paul wrote this letter, both Aquila and Priscilla were back in Rome attending church there (16:3). As well, it was through such friends and others that the church knew about Paul. At the end of the letter, Paul greets twenty-six people, twenty-four by name, all of whom he seems to know well. Still, it is most likely he had not met most of the members of the church.

Even though Paul has never been to Rome, he does believe he had the right and the authority to instruct the church. In 1:1-5, Paul states he is “a servant of Christ Jesus and by doing so, equates himself with great Old Testament saints. This same phrase – servant of Christ – is often used of Moses as well as Joshua and David. Specifically, Paul received his authority as an “apostle” who was uniquely chosen and sent by the Lord himself (1 Corinthians 1:1; 9:1-2; 15:3-10; 1 Timothy 2:7). And, even more specifically, Paul was an apostle to Gentiles (1:5). Because Paul understands himself to be an apostle, he views all churches, including the Roman church, to be under his apostolic authority. He makes this point explicit in 1:14-15 and again at the end of the letter in 15:15-16. One of the most direct statements by Paul saying he is speaking on behalf of God is in his letter to the church in Corinth: “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized” (1 Corinthians 14:37-38). So, Paul did not write as a ‘touring’ preacher, but one who had the duty and authority given to him by Jesus Christ to be an apostle to the Roman church.

At the end of the letter, Paul outlines his travel plans (15:18-29).  The details in this section tell us where and when he wrote the letter. It is most likely Paul wrote the letter in Corinth at the end of his third missionary journey around ad 57 (Acts 20:2-3) while staying at Gaius’ home in Corinth (15:25; 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14).  The travel section also helps us to know why he wrote this letter and why he included certain specific arguments in it. Although commentators have given different reasons,[2] it is most likely he hoped the Roman Christians would assist him on his way to preach the gospel in Spain (15:24). Rome was the most important city in the empire.  It was also the closest city to Spain.  In this light, the entire letter is an extended introduction to the church in Rome, explaining what Paul believes and what he thinks is important. It is a personal doctrinal statement to establish the worthiness of their financial assistance.[3] Paul also desired their prayer support for his upcoming trip to Jerusalem (15:30-33). Of course, there is no doubt Paul wanted to help the church pastorally.  Paul had a great love and concern for all Christian churches regardless of whether he founded the churches or not (e.g., the church in Colossae). Rome was the cultural centre of the Roman empire, so it would have been important to ensure the church had a solid footing in doctrine and Christian behaviour.

Paul’s desire for the Roman Christians to support him and encourage them is clear. However, his other reasons for writing focus on the specific circumstances the Roman church was facing. By understanding what the church was like and its ethnic makeup, we can better appreciate the motivation for the particular teaching Paul has chosen to include in the letter.

The Church in Rome

Interestingly, the book of Acts does not describe how the church in Rome began.[4] However, Luke does tell us that on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and filled the disciples who were gathered together. There were also diaspora “Jews and proselytes” at that festival who were visiting from Rome (Acts 2:1-11; v. 5). It is not difficult to assume some of these Jews and proselytes were among the three thousand who were converted (Acts 2:37-41). These new Jewish converts likely returned to Rome to form the beginning of the Christian church. We also know there was a significant Jewish population in Rome during this time.  Although the church would have been predominately Jewish, it would also have included gentile God-fearers.[5]

However, the Jewish character of these churches would have changed dramatically in 49 ad.  At that time, Emperor Claudius had become utterly exasperated with the disputes among the Jews concerning a certain Chrestus. Many historians believe that Chrestus is a reference to Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ.[6]  As a result of the arguments, he issued an edict expelling all Jews from Rome. This would have included Jewish Christians such as Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:2). In a short time, the Roman church would have become entirely Gentile. Eventually, Claudius’ edict was reversed, and Jews were permitted back into Rome. So, by the time Paul wrote the letter, Jews such as Priscilla and Aquila had returned to Rome (16:3). It is not difficult to imagine the social tension created in these churches. The Jews, whose historical and religious heritage had formed the foundation of Christianity, were no longer the church's leaders. They were likely the minority with much less influence. This is one of the reasons Paul allots so much of the letter to the Jewish law and its relationship to the life of Jews and Gentiles who became Christians (7:1ff). It is also why he admonishes the Gentiles for their arrogance (11:18-23), including his teaching on strong and weak Christians (14:1-15:13).

It may be hard for us today to understand the depth of this Jewish-Greek tension. Paul taught that the Gospel did not introduce a new religion but fulfilled the Old Testament. As such, we can begin to comprehend the church's struggles in coming to a proper understanding of the relationship between the old covenant of the Law and the new covenant of grace. In addition, there was the great dilemma that most Jews did not accept Jesus as fulfilling their messianic promises. Why did so few Jews believe the Gospel if the good news of Jesus Christ fulfilled all their promises from their (Old Testament) Scriptures? This was a source of great sorrow for Paul, so he dedicated a significant amount of his letter to this issue (chapters 9-11).

The New Perspective on Paul

Throughout the history of the Protestant church, the letter to the Romans has primarily answered the question posed by Martin Luther: How can I, as a sinner, have a relationship with a just God? Or, in other words: How can I be justified before God? Luther’s argument was with the Catholic Church, whose answer to this question depended, at least in part, on proper obedience to the commands of God; that is, to some extent, right standing before God depended on personal effort.  Instead, Luther found the answer in Paul’s teaching. Justification is solely by God’s grace received through faith.

Recently, however, Biblical scholars have wondered whether this was Paul’s primary concern and argument.  They concluded that Paul’s primary issue concerned “how Gentiles are included as covenant people of God.” They view Paul’s criticism of the law as less about attaining righteousness by keeping it than Jews using the Mosaic law to exclude Gentiles.  Certainly, this was a real concern for Paul. However, the way Paul answers this first-century question is the answer Luther saw in the letter: Jews and Gentiles are included as people of God the same way – only by the grace of God through faith in his Son. Therefore, these notes take the traditional Protestant view of justification.


So, what is Romans all about?  Certainly, it is about the gospel of grace and our justification to stand innocent before a righteous God. It is, therefore, about our need for salvation. But if we focus on that alone we might miss the bigger picture. Romans is primarily about God[7] who, though we were in sinful rebellion against him, loved us enough to provide a way for salvation from his wrath and judgment.  As a result, we are to live to glorify him and to be in loving care of each other.  So mostly, we will concentrate our attention on God.

In fact, it has been argued that no other New Testament book is so God-centred. Romans is all about the revelation of God, including the wrath and judgment of God on sinful man; it is all about the righteousness of God, including both his holiness and his Son’s righteousness which he offers us; it is about our right response to God for this gracious offer of salvation, and it is about living a God-centred life pleasing to God. Our prayer throughout this study is that we will, with spiritual eyes, behold God's glory and beauty in all of his perfection, as revealed in Christ Jesus. And so, rejoice with inexpressible joy because we know the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:8-9). 

Structural Outline

Romans has been outlined in many different ways. The following is the outline and structure we will follow.

I.    Prologue (1:1-15)

1.   (1:1-7)                Salutation

2.   (1:8-15)             Paul and the Romans

II.  The Gospel of God (1:16-8:39)

1.   (1:16-17)           Theme: The Righteousness of God

2.   (1:18-4:25)       The Gospel of Faith: Solution to the sin problem

i. (1:18-3:20)   The Problem of Sin

1:18-32      God’s wrath against pagans

2:1-3:8       God’s judgment against Jews

3:9-20        Gods judgment against Jew and Gentile

ii. (3:21-4:25)  Justification by Faith: Solution to the Sin Problem

3:21-26      Justification and God’s Righteousness

3:27-31      Justification by faith alone

4:1-25        Justification of Abraham

3. (5:1-8:39) The Gospel of Hope: Our eternal security in Christ

i. (5:1-21)         Rejoicing in the Hope of glory: Result of Justification

5:1-11      Peace and hope with God through Christ

5:12-21   Death in Adam, life in Christ

ii. (6:1-33)        Freedom from Sin

6:1-14      Union with Christ

6:15-23   Freed from slavery to sin

iii. (7:1-25)       Freedom from the Law

7:1-6         Death of Christ frees us from the Law

7:7-12      Purpose and value of the Law

7:13-25   Life under the Law and Sin

iv. (8:1-39)       Freedom from Death: Our assurance of salvation

8:1-13      The Spirit of Life

8:14-17   The Spirit of Adoption

8:18-30   The Spirit of Hope

8:31-39   Victory because God is for us

III. Defense of the Gospel: The Faithfulness of God to Israel and Gentiles (9:1-11:36)

1. (9:1-24)               Gospel of Faithfulness: God’s word has not failed

i. (9:1-5)            Lament of Paul over faithless Israel

ii. (9:6-29)        God’s word has not failed

9:6-13      God’s call

9:14-21   God’s sovereignty

9:22-29    God’s election of a new people

2. (9:30-10:21)      The Gospel of Christ: Christ, the fulfillment of God’s word

i. (9:30-10:4)                     Israel pursued righteousness through the law

ii. (10:5-13)                        Why? Because their understanding was flawed

iii. (10:14-21)                    This resulted in their disobedience

3. (11:1-36)             The Gospel for Israel: All Israel will be saved

i. (11:1-10)                         God’s past faithfulness to Israel: The Remnant

ii. (11:11-32)                      God’s future faithfulness: All Israel will be saved

iii. (11-33-36)                     Praise to God’s sovereignty, grace, and faithfulness

IV. The Gospel of God (continued): Gospel of Love (12:1-15:13)

1.   (12:1-21)           The Gospel of a Renewed Mind

i. (12:1-3)                           A living sacrifice

ii. (12:4-8)                          Unity in the body through the diversity of gifts

iii. (12:9-15)                       Love: The identity of a Christian

2.     (13:1-14)         The Gospel of the Law of Love

i. (13:1-7)                           A Christian’s obligation to earthly governments

ii. (13:8-10)                        A Christian’s obligation of love for his neighbour

iii. (13:11-14)  A Christian’s obligation to Christ

3.     (14:1-15:13)The Gospel of Life in Christ

i.         (14:1-12)                  A Christian’s life with his brothers and sisters

ii. (14:13-23)                     A Christian’s life not to judge a brother or sister

iii.      (15:1-7)                    A Christian’s life of mutual encouragement

iv        (15:8-13)                  A Christian’s life filled with hope, joy and peace

V. Paul’s closing (15:14-16:27)

1. (15:14-21)          Paul’s mission to the Gentiles

2. (15:22-29)          Paul’s plans and request for prayer

3. (15:33-16:27)    Paul’s final instructions and greetings

Introduction (1:1-7)

The central theme of Paul’s letter is an exposition of the gospel. Paul mentions the gospel four times in these opening verses (1:1, 9, 15, 16) and again when he concludes the letter (16:25) – eleven times in total.  So, it is not surprising Paul’s proclamation of the gospel of God, in all its dimensions, flows from his heart and is a central theme throughout his letter.

Paul and the Gospel of God (1:1-5)

The letter begins in a similar way as most of Paul’s letters. He follows the standard Roman custom of letter writing and includes an extended introduction.  This was, as mentioned earlier, likely because he had not founded the church in Rome, nor had he visited.  Therefore, he felt it necessary to introduce himself and the gospel he preached in more detail.

v. 1 Paul’s self-understanding

After introducing himself as “Paul,”[8] he immediately gives three personal descriptions to show he has both the responsibility and authority to write to the church in Rome. He states he is a “servant of Jesus Christ” and has been “called to be an apostle.”  His calling as an apostle meant he was “set apart for the gospel of God.” These parallel designations identify Paul’s Master, his calling, and ministry.

In the first self-description, “servant of Christ Jesus,” Paul states how he understands himself in relation to Christ.  It is his ordinary way of describing himself.[9]  The word “servant” is often translated “bond servant” (nasb) or even “slave”[10] (net) because “servant” implies being paid for one’s services. In the Old Testament, great leaders such as Abraham (Genesis 26:24), Moses (Joshua 1:2) and Joshua (Joshua 24:29) called themselves slaves of the Lord. In the New Testament, the reference to the Lord has been transferred to Jesus (1:4, 7).  A slave belongs entirely to his owner. It is in this sense that Paul is using the word. All followers of Christ have been purchased and redeemed (Matthew 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 7:23) from the “slavery of sin” to become “slaves of righteousness” (6:16-20). Yet, believers are not simply slaves, but God has made us his very own children by adopting us and giving us the “Spirit of adoption,” so we might call him “Abba, Father” (8:14-17).

Paul is also “called to be an apostle” (1 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1).  The word “called” means chosen or appointed. The term “apostle” means messenger but refers specifically to Jesus’ choice and designation of the twelve apostles (Luke 6:12f). Paul is telling the Roman church he should be included as one of these Twelve, equal to Peter and John. To be an apostle meant he was directly and personally called by Jesus (Acts 9:3-19). It also meant he was an eye-witness of Jesus and, most importantly, saw him after the resurrection (Acts 1:21-26; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8f; Galatians 1:15-16a). These Twelve were given the authority and power to represent Jesus and his gospel.

Describing himself as both a “servant” and a “called apostle” highlights his view that he is entirely under the authority of Christ and has the authority to proclaim Christ’s gospel. Paul continues his description, stating he was “set apart” by Christ for the “gospel of God.” In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he also writes that he has been set apart – using the same words – “before I was born” (Galatians 1:15). The words “set apart” mean “holy” in the Old Testament and refer to being set apart for God. This is very similar to how God called the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5). Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus was not only the time of his conversion from rabbinical Judaism to following Christ but also his commission to be an apostle; that is, to proclaim, explain and defend the gospel. Although God conceived and planned the gospel before eternity, he gave the apostles and all his followers the responsibility to preach and teach the gospel to all nations (9:14-17; Matthew 28:18-20).

v. 2 Paul’s understanding of the Gospel

Certainly, Paul’s calling was to proclaim the “gospel of God” to the Jews.  But it was a calling specifically to Gentiles (1:5; 9:24; 11:13; Galatians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:7). In vv. 2-6, Paul now gives the Christians in Rome his understanding of God’s gospel. The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news.’ In Roman times this often referred to the news of victory in war. However, the gospel Paul proclaims is the good news “of God” – that is, the good news that comes from God and is about God. God is the source and origin of the gospel. He conceived, planned, prepared and accomplished it. The letter to the Romans is all about God describing both his justice and his love; that is, what he has done in restoring his own people to himself. A few verses later, Paul also equates Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with God by calling the gospel “the gospel of his Son” (1:9).

Although Paul calls the gospel of God “my gospel” (2:16; 16:25), he did not create or invent it. Instead, he was given the authority (“called” and “set apart”) to proclaim it to a sinful world.  Christianity is not a human invention, nor is it just one more religion among many. In a certain sense, it is not a ‘religion’ at all; rather it is God’s good news to a suffering and rebellious world.  It is the only way of restoring a relationship of peace with God so his children can live in his presence. And this gospel is the only way God himself has provided. 

Paul describes the “gospel of God” as not a new thing.  Rather, it was already promised a long time ago through the Old Testament prophets.  As we pointed out, Christianity is not a new religion but a fulfillment of all God “promised beforehand through his prophets.” The reference to “holy Scriptures” refers to all of the Old Testament since the New Testament Scriptures were not yet complete at the time Paul wrote this letter. Jesus himself affirms he was this fulfillment (Matthew 5:17-18; John 5:39, 46; Luke 24:25ff, 44f; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1).

This gospel, therefore, was not only the fulfillment of the promises but also the fulfillment of the law of Moses (3:21; 10:4; 2 Corinthians 1:20; Hebrews 7:23-24; 9:12). Paul does not tell us which passages he is referring to, but it may well have been to the section beginning in Isaiah 40:9 where Isaiah himself prophecies:

      Go on up to a high mountain,

                  O Zion, herald of good news;

       lift up your voice with strength,

                  O Jerusalem, herald of good news; {i.e. gospel}

                  lift it up, fear not;

       say to the cities of Judah,

                  “Behold your God!”

Later in verse 15, Paul says he is “eager” to preach the gospel.  The gospel is God’s message. Through his Son, he has declared those who put their trust in him just and righteous so they are no longer under his condemnation (8:1).

If we understand verse 2 to be a parenthesis between verses 1 and 3 (see kjv version), then verse 1 ends with “the gospel of God,” and verse 3 begins with “concerning his Son.” Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is at the centre of God’s gospel.  In verse 9, Paul states that this gospel is “the gospel of his Son.” The gospel of God begins and ends with Jesus Christ.  Adding or removing anything from the gospel diminishes who Christ is and what he has done. As John Calvin writes in his commentary, “This is a remarkable passage, by which we are taught that the whole gospel is included in Christ so that if any removes one step from Christ, he withdraws himself from the gospel. Since he is the living and express image of the Father, it is no wonder that he alone is set before us as one to whom our whole faith is to be directed and in whom it is to centre.”[11] 

Most Jews in Paul’s day would have expected a saviour, a messiah. They believed God would send them a military saviour to deliver them from their Roman oppressors. Paul boldly states that this long-awaited messiah is actually God’s “Son.”  In the following two verses, Paul elaborates on what he means by this.

vv. 3-4 Paul’s understanding of Jesus

Paul describes Jesus in two parallel statements: he is “descended from David” and “declared with power to be the Son of God.” Here Paul highlights the two natures of Christ: his humanity and his deity. First, the son of David was a messianic title (2 Samuel 7:12ff). The second title, “the Son of God,” was taken from David’s psalm (Psalm 2:7). Jesus’ own designation when he referred to the Father as “Abba, Father” (Matthew 14:36 and 11:27) indicates he was not just a human messianic descendent of David. Paul emphasizes these two natures (1:9; 5:10; 8:3, 32). That Jesus was a son of David causes no difficulty and underlines the promises made by the prophets. However, the verb “declared to be” raised questions in the early church, particularly when the phrase includes “in power” because the verb can also be translated as “appointed” (niv, net).  However, the New Testament never speaks of Jesus being appointed or established as the Son of God sometime after his birth. Therefore, we follow the interpretation emphasizing “in power” as part of the reference to the “Son of God.”  The full phrase then is “the Son-of-God-in-Power” or, even better, “the only true powerful Son of God” (bdag, see also net and csb). “Son of God” was never a title for Jesus. Instead, it refers to the eternal divine nature of Jesus. Then, Jesus was declared, or better, shown to be the powerful Son of God by the Holy Spirit because of his resurrection.

The resurrection itself is, to humanity, evidence of his sonship.[12]  These two parallel statements include the parallel phrases “according to the flesh” and “according to the Spirit of holiness.[13] It may be best to understand these phrases to mean before and after Jesus’ resurrection; that is, Christ in humiliation and Christ in exaltation, Christ in weakness and Christ in power. He is Jesus, the descendent of David, the “Christ” or “Messiah” in Hebrew. And he is also “Lord,” which in this context refers to God, the exalted Son of God. However, even after his resurrection, Jesus Christ retains both natures. Paul, then, brings this all together when he ends these verses with “Jesus Christ our Lord.” The gospel, therefore, has its foundation in our Lord Jesus Christ, the son of David, Son of God.

vv. 5-6 Paul’s understanding of the scope, purpose and reason for the Gospel

After this glorious description of Christ and the gospel, Paul returns to the responsibilities Christ has given him. Paul already stated he had received apostleship, but now he also adds grace.[14] Here, “grace” means Paul’s apostleship was God's undeserved and surprising gift. Paul always appears astonished that he who had murdered and imprisoned Christ’s devoted followers would be called to follow the One he hated and be his apostle (Galatians 1:13-16a). Paul now describes his apostleship in more detail.  He states its scope is “among all nations,” but it also includes the Roman Christians, those “whom you too are called by Jesus Christ” (v. 6).  The scope of the gospel is universal, including both Jews and Gentiles. 

The purpose of Paul’s preaching is to “bring about the obedience of faith.”  This is an important expression since he uses it again at the end of his letter (16:26). There are several explanations for this phrase. First, it could simply mean believing and obeying the gospel; that is, “obedience to the Faith” (kjv).  “Faith,” in this case, means the Christian faith or doctrine.  Certainly, other New Testament passages are similar (6:17; 10:16; Acts 6:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 1:22; 4:7). However, this use of “faith” treats it as a body of teaching, while the letter to the Romans consistently views faith as trust and hope in Christ and his grace. Secondly, “obedience” and “faith” can be linked so that it means ‘obedience which is faith’ (nlt).  Again, faith in Christ demands obedience since they are two different things. A particular emphasis of the letter is to highlight this difference.[15]  The third, and most likely, the phrase refers to “obedience that comes from faith” (niv).[16]  The primary example of such faith is Abraham (chapter 4).  Our obedience to Christ comes from or is derived from our trust, hope and love of Christ.  However, it is also true that faith is not true saving faith unless there is obedience; obedience without faith is simply works (James 2:14-17). And even more importantly, faith that includes works but not love is only “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” in which nothing is gained (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

Therefore, faith in Christ has as its foundation the love of Christ.  This is the greatest of all commandments on which everything else hinges.  This commandment was first given in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4) and affirmed by Christ (Mark 12:28-30).  Our faith in the sense of believing in orthodox doctrine can be perfect, but if it is not grounded in our love of Jesus, it is worthless.  See especially the warning to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7.

Note as well, the obedience of faith is now for “all nations.” Before the coming of Jesus Christ, it was only for the nation of Israel. Now through the person and work of Jesus, the gospel goes out to all nations.

v. 5b

Paul has given the scope of the gospel and the purpose of the gospel.  Now he provides us with the goal of or reason for the gospel.  Paul states the goal, or reason, for faithful believers in all the nations is “for his name’s sake.”  This reason for the gospel is at the end of the Greek sentence, indicating it is the most critical aspect of the gospel.  Paul preached the gospel to exalt, honour and glorify the name of Jesus Christ.  Christ’s name is above all names, and someday every knee will bow before him (Philippians 2:9ff). As John Stott writes, “we should be ‘jealous’ for the honour of his 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 honour and glory which is its due.”[17] The highest goal of the Great Commission and all evangelistic work to save sinners is not just to save them from the wrath of God (1:18), but primarily for the glory of Jesus Christ;  “to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:12, 14). This is the reason for the earliest missionaries and why we proclaim the gospel (3 John 7).

In summary, then, from these first verses, Paul begins his letter to the Roman Christians by clearly stating the gospel he preaches has its source in God, its foundation in the Lord Jesus Christ, its demonstration in the Old Testament Scriptures, its scope is for all people, its purpose is to bring all people into the obedience of faith. Its goal is to honour and glorify Jesus Christ.

The Christians in Rome (1:6-7)

After his initial introduction of himself and the gospel of God, Paul addresses the Roman Christians.  He first states they are “called.” The word “called” (vv. 1, 6, 7) does not simply mean invited, but to those who respond to the calling of God to the obedience of faith.

Second, he calls them “loved by God”; that is, God’s own children. All believers in his Son are loved by the Father (John 13:1; 14:21, 23; 17:26; 1 John 3:1; Jeremiah 31:3).

Third, he calls them “saints” (literally “holy ones” – those who are dedicated or consecrated to God), which is a standard Old Testament reference to the holy people of Israel. All God’s children, those who have put their hope and trust in his Son are called saints, regardless of their ethnic (Jew or Gentile) background. Paul mentions several of these saints at the end of the letter.

And fourth, Paul then reminds the saints they have received “grace” and “peace.”  This greeting sums up the gospel succinctly and perfectly. By grace, we have been saved and so have peace with God (5:1; Ephesians 2:5).  The order is important.  First grace is given and then peace is the result of the gift of grace.  Here in this phrase we first learn what it means to have freedom in Christ.  First, the freedom we have comes as a gift of grace, and second, it produces peace with God (Acts 10:36; Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 1:20).  In Galatians 5:1 Paul states, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.” Freedom and salvation are similar: freedom from the bondage of sin and decay (8:21) and from its powers (Galatians 4:3) and the wrath of God’s judgment (5:9; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6). As a result, we have peace with God. When we have peace with God, we also have peace with our brothers and sisters, no matter their ethnic origin.  Paul is writing to the Romans to instruct the church about the unity and peace the Jewish and Gentile Christians have with each other as one covenant people of God. As mentioned earlier, this was still a source of significant friction and misunderstanding and, sadly, as it has continued to be throughout the history of the Christian church.  This grace and peace come “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul uses the personal “our Father.”  Through the revelation of the Son, we can now call God our Father (Galatians 4:6).


Questions for Reflection

Study it

1.     Where, when and what motivated Paul to write this letter?

2.     If Paul never started the church, how do you think it began? 

3.     Most churches have problems, so it’s not surprising Rome also experienced some. What do you think were the tensions and issues in the Roman church? Is there anything in the first seven verses that help answer this question?

4.     [1:1] List all the things which Paul says about himself. How was he “called”? In what sense is Paul an “apostle.”

5.     [1:1-4] List all the things Paul says about Jesus Christ; and the gospel. How are they linked?

6.     [1:4] What does it mean that Christ Jesus was “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead”?

7.     [:1:1-7] Identify all the references (names and pronouns) to God. (Hint: there are 14).  Would you agree that at least the first seven verses are all about God?

8.     [1:1-7] Identify Paul’s reference to the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

9.     [1:7] What does the phrase “Grace to you and peace” mean?


Live it

1.     Do I view myself as a “slave” of Jesus Christ?  What does this mean to you? 

2.     Paul goes on and calls Jesus “our Lord” twice.  What does that mean? How is the lordship of Christ evident in your life? Paul was “called.” How were you “called” (cf. Ephesians 1:4-6)?

3.     How do you relate “obedience” with “faith”?  Although we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, what role does obedience take in the life of a Christian?

4.     How do you understand the purpose and goal of evangelism?  How does it compare to Paul’s goal?

5.     Tensions existed between Christian Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church. What tensions exist in your church, and how might you resolve them?

[1] The population of Rome was likely around one million people of which half were slaves.  The physical size of Rome was relatively small, comprising about fifteen square kilometers. 

[2] Martin Luther stated, “this epistle represents the fundamental teaching of the New Testament and is the very purest Gospel.” While more recently, there has been an emphasis on how Gentiles are integrated with the Jews as the one people of God.

[3] Douglas Moo, Romans, NIV Application Commentary, 22.

[4] The Roman Catholic tradition understands Peter was the founder of the church in Rome. Jesus himself gave Peter the office of the “rock” on which the church of Christ was to be built (Matthew 16:18). However, there is little historical support for this tradition. Luke states Peter left Jerusalem for another place (Acts 12:17), but the specific location is not mentioned. We do know he attended the Jerusalem council held around 48-49 ad (Acts 15) and that he also taught in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12). As well, Peter’s reference to “Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13) is most likely a reference to Rome sometime during or after Peter was in Rome with John Mark. This would have been near the end of Peter’s ministry and life. Finally, it seems unlikely Paul would have written to a church in the way he did without any mention of Peter. For these reasons, it is most likely Peter did not reach Rome until after Paul had written his letter.

[5] Unlike proselytes, God-fearers were Gentiles who had not completely converted to Judaism. For example, they were not circumcised nor did they adhere to Jewish food laws. However, they attended the synagogue and followed some of the teaching of Judaism.

[6] In “The Life of Claudius 25.4” (ca. 110 ad), the historian Suetonius wrote, “As the Jews were making constant disturbance of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”

[7] Leon Morris, “The Theme of Romans,” W. Ward Gasque & Ralph P. Martin, eds., Apostolic History and the Gospel. Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F.F. Bruce. Paternoster Press, 1970. Pp. 249-263.

[8] Paul’s name changed from Saul to Paul on his first missionary journey when they were in Cyprus (Acts 13:9).  There is likely no more significance to this other than Saul was his Jewish name while Paul was his Greek name. However, others have noted a new name is often given after a significant spiritual event (Genesis 41:45; Daniel 1:6-7; and in the New Testament John 1:42; Mark 3:17).

[9] See for example 1 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 11:23; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1. Sometimes Paul states he is a servant of the gospel (Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23), but since the gospel can be viewed as the life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ, it is really the same thing.

[10] Of course, “slave” is a very negative word. No one thinks in positive terms about slavery.  Yet, in the New Testament, the word is used more than 130 times. Even in Revelation, when the angel shows John the new Jerusalem, he states that before the “throne of God and of the Lamb,” “his slaves will serve him.” (also v. 6).  Of course, using “servant” or even “bond-servant” reduces the impact.  New Testament use of the word means complete and total devotion, not the humiliation and degradation, which is normally the condition of a slave. Paul affirms, like the Old Testament saints, that he is entirely devoted to Christ without reservation.  Today, we only partially understand what it meant to be a slave during the Roman occupation of Jesus’ day.  But Jesus and the apostles completely understood slavery since it was all around them. Still, as Christians, we need to take the word and its meaning seriously.

[11] Calvin, 43.

[12] Hodge, 18.

[13] The “Spirit of holiness” refers to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17, 26).

[14] It does not seem likely that the “we” would include the other apostles since he does not include them in the rest of the letter (Stott, 51).

[15] Faith in Christ refers to our justification, while obedience as a Christian refers to our sanctification, life in Christ.

[16] Stott, 52.

[17] Ibid., 53.