The Good News: Salvation and Love
The book of Romans is the most comprehensive statement of the Gospel in the pages of Scripture. It starts with these words, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” (Rom. 1:1) Each word is significant, but one that is normally overlooked is the little word “of” in the phrase “the gospel of God.” Here, the word does not mean “about” as in the gospel about God. The word “of” here speaks of possession. The gospel of God is the gospel belonging to God, or God’s gospel.
This little word “of” then has tremendous implications. It speaks of the fact that God is not only the author of the gospel, but that He owns exclusive rights to it. The gospel is His Gospel, and we as proclaimers of that gospel have no right to alter it, modify it, or shave off its rough edges in an effort to make it more palatable.
According to almost all commentators on the book of Romans, in chapter 1:16, 17, Paul outlines the theme of the book when he writes, “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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the righteous shall live by faith.'”
The book of Romans is the presentation of the gospel. The word “gospel” means good news. That always needs to be kept in mind. Yet the good news doesn’t make too much sense without an understanding of the bad news.
You might think that Paul would jump straight into the good news about God’s love for man, and His saving purposes carried out through His Son Jesus Christ. But that is not where Paul goes. Not yet anyway. Starting with the very next verse, Romans 1:18, Paul announces the terrible bad news that all mankind needs to understand.
The Bad News: Our Sin Sickness
A good doctor first diagnoses a patient’s sickness before suggesting a course of action or remedy through medication. Once determining exactly what is wrong, the doctor takes as long as is necessary to make sure the patient knows the nature of the condition. He certainly doesn’t just get a patient in his office and suggest some pills to take. He makes a thorough investigation of the patient and then explains the results he finds in a way that can be understood. Once a patient understands the serious nature of his condition, he then has an interest in the cure that is available.
Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in much the same way, starts his gospel (Rom 16:25) with a thorough diagnosis of mankind’s awful problem. The test results are in, and they are not good – not good at all. All mankind is under the wrath of God because of grevious sin against a just and holy God.
That’s where Paul starts. But that’s not where most preachers start today – in fact, most preachers never mention the wrath of God.
I preached in one Church just recently and asked “how many of you have ever heard a sermon on the love of God?” All raised their hands. Then I asked, “how many of you have ever heard a sermon on the wrath of God?” No one raised a hand. Not a soul. Of course, I remedied that over the next 40 minutes or so! I say this because we can’t understand the biblical Gospel without reference to the wrath of God. In the Gospel, God sent His Son to save us from His own wrath (Romans 5:6-10). We are saved by God from God, for God.
The Sin in All of Us
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s get back to what Paul outlines for us in the early chapters of Romans. According to the first three chapters, God’s wrath is against all of humanity because of the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom. 1:18). In fact, from chapter 1:18, right through to chapter 3:20, Paul articulates the reasons why God’s wrath (His righteous anger) is against mankind because of sin.
In chapter 1, Paul reveals the sin of the Gentiles. I could imagine a self righteous Jew looking over Paul’s shoulder as he writes saying, “let them have it Paul… go get ’em!” But while there’s no doubt that all Gentiles are gunned down in chapter one, the guns of God now turn to the Jews in chapter 2. Just because the Jews were given the law, it doesn’t mean they have kept the law, and in fact, all Jews, just like all Gentiles are in the exact same predicament – under the wrath of God because of sin. Romans 3:9, 10 states “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one.”
All Gentiles and all Jews are under sin. If anyone was left not feeling the full weight of this fact, it is as if Paul then (starting with Romans 3, verse 10, right through to verse 18) loads his scripture machine gun and fires off text after text from the Old Testament towards any who would still try to hold out that they might be the one exception in all this.
Only when Paul is convinced that all have got the point that all are under the judgment of God and every human mouth has stopped trying to justify itself (Romans 3:19) – only then – does Paul start talking about the remedy found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Earlier in chapter 1:16, 17 Paul stated his theme as the good news of the righteousness of God. From 1:18 to 3:20, Paul discussed the wrath of God, and only now in 3:21 and following does Paul get to the theme of God’s righteousness found in the gospel.
Under the Wrath and Grace of God
All of this, I believe, was by Divine design. We can’t understand the joy of being put right with God through the gospel of Christ without understanding why this is so essential. The reason this is so essential is because all mankind is under the wrath of God, with God having every right to throw all of us rebel sinners into hell, and then throwing away the key. All the angels would still be singing “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” and no one could ever say that God would be unrighteous in doing so. It is never wrong to execute justice, and mercy by definition can never be demanded – never. It is given solely at the discretion of the one showing mercy.
In chapter 3:21, Paul moves from the theme of the wrath of God, to the righteousness of God – “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all (all Jews and all Gentiles) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.” (Rom. 3:22-25)
Romans 5:6-10 “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
The Gospel is not about us feeling good about ourselves, getting acquainted with our inner child or finding purpose to life. Certainly these things are never mentioned in Romans, or anywhere else in scripture for that matter. Of course, we do find purpose to life through the Gospel, and that is to live for the glory of God. But the Gospel itself is about being put right with a God who has every right to throw us into hell for the cosmic treason we have committed.
Just how does this happen? Not by human merit, not by human works, but by God’s grace found in Christ alone.
Romans 3:28 “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
Romans 4:4-5 “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
With Scripture alone as the authority I affirm that salvation is by God’s grace alone, received through faith alone, because of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. Wonder of wonders, God’s gospel is this – God sent His Son to save enemy rebel sinners from His fierce and holy wrath, and all who put their faith in Christ will receive not only the forgiveness of sin (a cancellation of their severe debt to God), but the very righteousness of Christ (all Christ achieved by His sinless life and fulfillment of every demand of the law) transferred to the believer’s account as a free gift of grace (Rom. 5:17).
The good news is truly amazingly good news, but only in the light of a true understanding of how bad the bad news really is.
Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!