The gospel of Jesus Christ did not come out of the blue as God’s plan B or C. The gospel was not a mere human invention. The gospel was not Paul’s idea, or the apostles’ for that matter.
According to this passage, the gospel was God’s idea and God’s doing. This gospel is not just found in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament as well. The gospel was, in Paul’s words, “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (v. 2).
The truth is the gospel of Jesus Christ has a context; it has a “before” and an “after.” In other words, the gospel has a story. This is what Paul is communicating here in this greeting to the church at Rome.
It is essential for one to put the gospel of Jesus Christ in its proper place—as the climax of the redemptive story of God, which has as one of its key characters the nation of Israel.
A quick glance at the Old Testament shows us that the nation of Israel has a story, which has at its center the Creator God who, in His grace, delivered her from Egyptian slavery, and called her to be holy and to be a light to the nations.
That being said, let’s take a look at Romans 1:1-7 and unpack it a bit by understanding the difference between the source, the story, and the subject regarding the content of the gospel as presented here by the Apostle Paul:
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be 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 descended from David according to the flesh 4 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, 5 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, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 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. (Romans 1:1-7, ESV)
The Apostle Paul begins his letter to the church at Rome by stating that he is “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” (v. 1, emphasis added).
The source of the Gospel is not man, but God. That is good news! The gospel was not invented or planned or brought about man’s wisdom or power, but by God and His infinite grace and mercy demonstrated in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
This Gospel that Paul was commissioned to proclaim (Acts 9:15; 13:2) came from God. It is God’s gospel (15:6; 1 Thess. 2:8-9; 1 Peter 4:7)—His good news to a sinful and broken world. That is encouraging.
After stating his job description, Paul continues and, in a condensed way, talks about the story of the gospel. He states, “which he [God] promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (v. 2).
The gospel that we have come to know and love—and by which we have and are being saved—has as its foundation the Old Testament. Put in a different way, Paul’s view of the gospel is rooted and grounded in who God is and what He has said, done, and promised in the past, namely, to His people—the nation of Israel.
So, according to Paul, this gospel of God was promised “beforehand.” It is important to note that this gospel is not explicitly stated in all its fullness in the Old Testament, but is, nevertheless, pointed to in various places and ways. For example, Isaiah 52:13-53:12talks about a suffering servant who was going to be sent by God to bear the sins of God’s people and to bring about God’s promises. This OT passage is often quoted in the NT to demonstrate God’s faithfulness in the Jewish Messiah.
Simply put, the gospel we read and study about in the New Testament is the climax of an already-developed story, which has, at its center, God and His mission to bring about restoration to creation and mankind.
Now, who or what is the gospel about? Paul does not leave us hanging. He says, “concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh” (v. 3, emphasis added). Much can be said here, but a few brief comments will suffice.
This gospel, which comes from God and was promised in the past, is about none other than Jesus Christ. And who exactly is this guy? Why is He so important to the story the Gospel?
Before you and I can answer the question regarding Jesus’ identity, we must understand His lineage. Why in the world would Paul mention that Jesus is a descendant of David—a dead, but highly revered king? Was Paul just trying to increase his word count by adding this brief, but highly significant truth?
For Paul, Jesus Christ is no ordinary person. He is the promised Jewish Messiah—the long-awaited Davidic King. All of this messianic language would have caused a great stir in Jewish minds. They were no strangers to the story of David and God’s covenant with him to bring about a future king, whose kingdom would be unlike any other kingdom in the history of the world (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
One must have an understanding of Israel’s story in order to more fully comprehend the story of God and the importance of the life and work of Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment and embodiment of all of God’s promises.
Paul continues and says that this Jesus was, “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead,” (v. 4). Jesus was no ordinary man, and the resurrection was no ordinary event. The gospel is about Jesus Christ, who was declared/proven/demonstrated to be the Son of God through the resurrection from the dead—a historical event that proclaimed Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah and Lord of the world.
Concluding Thoughts and Upcoming Series
Romans is a theologically-rich, mind-renewing, worldview-shaping letter. In the following weeks, I will be sharing some reflections based on the letter of Romans. We will be asking some questions like: “How does Romans shape our understanding of the gospel?” and “How does that understanding of the gospel then impact the way we live?”
Let me say upfront that I do not have all the answers, and by no means, pretend to. And, I am no Bible scholar (at least not yet), so what I share here on this blog are my thoughts as I study in Bible College and serve in ministry.
My hope and desire is for you—my dear reader—to engage with the Bible and its life-changing message. I want to make Bible truth accessible to people. That’s my aim.
For now, let me take a stab at defining the gospel according to the letter of Romans:
God, in accordance with His promises, has demonstrated His covenant faithfulness in sending His Son—the promised Davidic King—who lived a sinless life, died on a cross, and rose from the dead to deal with the problem of sin, and to bring about, in due time, a full and complete restoration of creation and mankind.
This, my friends, is good news! Hopefully, I can flesh this out a bit more in the weeks ahead.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.