By Dr. Herbert Samworth
One of the memories that I have from my growing up years was listening to the news reports on the radio. I remember that the program my parents listened to began with the reporter often uttering these words, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have good news tonight!” In a world characterized by a plethora of bad news, it is wonderful to hear good news.
What is true in the secular arena is also true in spiritual matters. The good news of which we are speaking does not come from earthly events but from heaven itself. This good news is the Gospel, a word that literally means “good news.”
But what is this good news? For whom is it good news? How can one learn about this good news? These are extremely important questions. The answers are found in the Scriptures, a revelation from God Himself. Although the good news of the Gospel is found in every book of the Bible, there is one book that contains its fullest explanation. It is the book of Romans, a letter addressed by the Apostle Paul to the church in the city of Rome. Paul had never been to Rome although he had purposed to visit it on a number of occasions. Now the way had been opened for his visit and he sent the letter ahead to prepare the church for his coming.
The theme of Romans is the explanation of the content and application of the Gospel to believers’ lives. A key to understanding the book is to remember that Paul was a Jew and had been educated in the Jewish system of writing. A characteristic of Jewish writing was that a summary of what was contained in the body of writing was given at the beginning. The book of Romans clearly illustrates this characteristic.
In Romans 1:1-17, we have a summary of what Paul was going to teach the church at Rome. He was going to tell them about the Gospel. For us to gain a clear understanding of the Gospel we must study the first seventeen verses of Romans one. In these verses Paul makes four statements that give us four perspectives of the Gospel.
THE PROMISE OF A PERSON (ROMANS 1:1-4)
(1) Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, (2) which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, (3) concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, (4) who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
Paul began his book by telling the Romans that he had been called of God to the office of an apostle. An apostle was set apart to proclaim a message. What was the message had Paul been given to proclaim? Paul had been set apart by God to announce the good news of the Gospel. However, the Gospel Paul proclaimed had been promised by God for hundreds of years. We learn in Genesis 12:1-3 that God had given this promise to Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation, two thousand years before. Throughout history God had been working to accomplish this great promise. We can say with certainty that the entire Old Testament is the account of God working out His promise. The promise reached its fulfillment in God’s Son, the Lord Jesus. Note carefully the words that Paul used in Romans 1:3 concerning the Lord Jesus. God’s Son was a man, born of the line of David, the King of Israel. However, He was more than a man because He was declared to be the Son of God with power. When did this take place? Paul wrote that this occurred when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Note Romans 1:4.
How did Jesus die? Roman soldiers (the Gentiles) put him to death after His own people (the Jews) rejected His kingship over them. Although He died on the cross and was buried in Joseph’s tomb, death could not rule over Him. Through the power of the Spirit, He rose from the dead and was declared to be the Son of God. This does not mean that He became God at His resurrection. The resurrection was the proof that, indeed, He was the One He had claimed to be.
What was the result of what Paul stated in Romans 1:1-4 about the Lord Jesus? Note what Paul said at the end of verse four; the One Who rose was Jesus Christ the Lord. The One Whom God had promised to Abraham has been declared the Son of God. He is the One God had promised in the Gospel. All authority has been given into His control. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
THE PROCLAMATION OF A PERSON (ROMANS 1:5-7)
(5) through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake, (6) among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; (7) to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul now related the impact that the Lord Jesus Christ had had on his own life. Paul was called into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ the Lord and His life was radically changed. Through Christ Paul received the grace of salvation and a new purpose of life.
Paul was commissioned by God to announce this good news about Christ to all people. Although Paul was a Jew and had a special love for his own people, in the will of God, he became the Apostle to the Gentiles. In Paul’s day the world was divided into two groups of people: the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul’s commission was to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles in order to bring about “the obedience of faith.” Numerous interpretations have been given as to what obedience of faith means. However, it appears what Paul had in mind was that the preaching of the Gospel would evoke the response of faith on the part of the Gentiles. They were to believe the message about Jesus Christ that Paul had proclaimed to them. The faith in the Gospel that they expressed was not a dead faith but a living one that manifested itself in obedience to what God commanded. It is important to note the order in which this occurred. Obedience did not lead to faith but true faith would express itself in loving obedience to God’s will.
In this section we are reminded that we have both a message to proclaim to the peoples of the world and the responsibility to proclaim it. No doubt we live in a world characterized by division, hatred, war, and a multitude of other ills. What is the answer to the needs of the world? The answer is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The message is centered in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Gospel; He is the good news for every single person on the face of the earth.
THE PROVISION OF A PERSON (ROMANS 1:8-15)
(8) First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. (9) For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, (10) always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. (11) For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; (12) that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. (13) And I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far) in order that I might obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. (14) I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. (15) Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
In these verses Paul told the Christians at Rome of his previous intentions to visit them but was unable to do so. Now, however, the way was clear for him to come. What purpose did Paul have in mind for his visit to the Church at Rome? He desired the Romans to grow in their Christian faith. Paul had a profound understanding of the nature of the Christian life. To be a Christian means to share in the life of Christ so we can strengthen one another to serve God. God had gifted Paul with abilities to instruct and nurture believers in living the Christian life. As a result of his ministry, Paul desired the Romans to be strengthened for the spiritual opposition they would face. However, this was not to be just one sided. Paul would also be encouraged in his life and ministry by the believers in Rome.
In Romans 1:15 Paul summarized the purpose of his visit to Rome and his plan of action. He intended to proclaim to them the Gospel. Paul’s statement was interesting because it helped clear up a misunderstanding that many people have regarding the Gospel. Few people would deny the need of the Gospel for those who remain in their sins and do not have a personal relationship with God through His Son. However, in this verse Paul stated clearly that those who were Christians also needed the Gospel. The reason was that the Gospel is much broader than information that tells us how we can be saved from the guilt and penalty of our sins. The Gospel also tells us how we may live lives that please God. In some sense, mature Christians need the Gospel as much as anyone.
A great need exists in churches today. While a great amount of stress is placed on evangelizing those who need the forgiveness of sins and a personal relationship with God, there is also the need to teach professing Christians the elements of the Christian life. A dearth of mature Christians exists in the Church. Too many professing Christians fail to show the evidence of a close walk with the Lord. In speaking with the elders of the Church of Ephesus, Paul stated that he had not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God. All the counsel of God is equivalent with the Gospel.
There are differences as to which of these responsibilities has the greater call on a person’s life. Are we to concentrate our energy on reaching the lost or attempt to build up believers in the faith? This question cannot be answered with an either/or. The demands of the Gospel require that we both evangelize the lost and instruct the believers. How thankful we should be that the Gospel is able to do both!
The great provision of the Christian life is the Lord Jesus Himself. Through our union with Him, we share His life. In Romans 6, Paul stated the characteristics of this life. It is a life that has power over sin. We do not have to live under sin’s dominion. The second trait of the Christian life is that it is lived unto God. What does it mean to live unto God? It is the opposite of how many people live. They live unto themselves; they live for themselves. They do not consider anyone else except themselves and their personal advantage when making choices. How different should be the life of the Christian. He lives his life for God and expresses that life by seeking to help others.
THE POWER OF A PERSON (ROMANS 1:16-17)
(16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (17) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
Perhaps one may remark, “Everything you have said is good, but there is one great problem.” How is it possible to live such a life as the one you described? I desire to live such a life but I lack the power. For such persons we have good news! We have the Gospel!
In Romans 1:16, Paul stated that he was not ashamed of the Gospel. What did Paul mean? He spoke of the total trust that he had in the Gospel. To be ashamed meant that what one had trusted in did not have the ability to fulfill its promises. The Gospel is able to accomplish what it has promised. Why is this so?
It is true because the Gospel is the power of God. By the Gospel, God demonstrated His omnipotence in carrying out what He had promised.
First, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Man does not realize how desperate his situation truly is. He is under the power and guilt of sin. He is dead in his trespasses and sins. The person who remains in their sins is in a hopeless situation. They do not have the ability to save themselves. The Bible tells us that they do not even have the desire to do so.
Paul stated in Romans 1:16 that the Gospel was the revelation of God’s power. What man did not have the ability to do, God did for him. But there is another need that man has. He is in great need of righteousness. The Word of God says that man is not righteous. But the righteousness that man needs is contained in the Gospel.
Martin Luther, the great German reformer, found this to be true. As a monk, Luther attempted to win the favor of God by his good works. While teaching Romans, Luther encountered the phrase “the righteousness or justice of God.” When he read those words, Luther was struck with terror. He thought the words meant that God demanded righteousness from man before he could be accepted. Luther knew that he could never attain to such righteousness. In his words, he did not love God but hated Him because of His impossible demands. However, Luther’s eyes were opened to understand that rather than an impossible demand put upon man by God, the righteousness of God was His gracious gift to man given in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Luther wrote that when this truth entered his understanding, he felt that he had entered the gates of Paradise. The reality of that truth in Luther’s life led to the beginning of the Reformation.
This is what Paul stated in Romans 1:17 concerning the righteousness of God. The Gospel is the power of God to provide the righteousness that we could never attain by our own works. The Greek word that is translated as power is the word dynamite. The Gospel is the dynamite of God! It is no wonder that the Gospel is good news. This is the best news that one could ever hear!
How desperate is our world to hear good news. All around us we are constantly hearing bad news. The Gospel is good news because it concerns the Person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. It is good news for all mankind without exception. It is good news for the Christian as well as the one in need of salvation. And finally, it is good news because it provides us with the righteousness that we need in order to stand before a holy God.
However, despite the good news, a question remains to be answered. How does one appropriate this good news? How does one become a participant in the benefits of the Gospel? Paul gives us the answer in Romans 1:17. It is by faith. True faith requires more than just the correct understanding of the mind and the conviction of the heart. Biblical faith also includes an act of trust or commitment to the truth of the Gospel. There are many who have a clear intellectual concept of the Gospel. There are many who are convinced that the Gospel is true. However, they have never committed their lives to the Gospel. True commitment to the Gospel is not a commitment to a set of intellectual propositions but to the Person of Jesus Christ. Apart from this personal commitment or trust, there is no true faith and thus no salvation.
Many people today are seeking to do what God has declared to be impossible. God stated, without equivocation, that it is impossible for man to approach Him on the basis of his works. See Romans 3:20; Ephesians 2:8, 9 and Titus 3:5-7 for proof of this statement. The only way by which a person can approach God is on the basis of another Person’s work. That Person is Jesus Christ and He is the Gospel. The question that must be answered is this, “Have you approached God by the only way that He will accept you? Have you come to Him by the Gospel? Have you come to Him through the Person of His Son? Have you come to Him by faith in Christ alone? The consequences of a right response to the Gospel invitation are eternal in their nature.