Back in the 1960’s, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a very popular preacher and author. He gave a great piece of advice that has remained with me since the early 1970’s. It was almost certainly in one of his commentary series on Paul’s letter to the Romans. He pointed out how systematic and logical the Apostle was in his writing and that it was important for Christians, when studying Paul’s epistles, to pay attention to small but very important linking words. Words and phrases like: ‘Therefore’ ‘If’ ‘Then’ ‘So’ and ‘For’. These are the words that help us to understand the Apostle’s construction of his reasons, conclusions and implications with regard to the statements that he makes. Paying attention to these kinds of words helps Christians to understand the structure and logical flow of what Paul is saying and why he is saying it.
With this principle firmly in mind, over the next series of posts, I am going to look at Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which he presents a concise summary of the gospel – the good news – along with its implications and comments as to how Christians should respond to it. Words like ‘So’, ‘And’ and ‘For’ will serve as a guide with regard to how the Apostle introduces new themes as well as how the Apostle introduces the implications of these themes.
My first intention was to write a couple of posts made up of headings – outline notes of the statements and themes that the Apostle writes about. But I found this to be very difficult, because the Apostle’s writing is so compact, so dense in the many different themes that he covers in just a few sentences. Hence, this series of posts on the gospel, drawn from Paul’s letter to the Romans, will be quite a few more in number than just two or three!
I will make considerable reference to the original Greek text and to relevant word studies. This means that in quoting Scripture verses I am present an amplified version in reference to the original words of the text in order to try and bring out the full meaning of the verse and what I understand to be the Apostle’s intended meaning.
In Chapter 1 verses 1 – 6 we can note that this letter is written by Paul who is an Apostle – a person who has been directly commissioned by Jesus Himself to preach the gospel, baptize new Christians and so on. We read elsewhere that Paul was called to be an Apostle at a slightly later time that the other eleven disciples of Jesus. Jesus called the eleven disciples to be Apostles shortly before his ascension to the spiritual realm of heaven, but Paul – initially a strong and zealous opponent of Christianity – was called later, whilst he was traveling on the road to Damascus on a mission of persecution of Hebrew Christians. There, he saw the now-resurrected Jesus for himself. He became an eye-witness that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. This appearance of Jesus was not a subjective hallucination or illusion – Jesus, now resurrected and alive after his crucifixion and death – actually appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road. (This is one reason why Paul was contemptuous of dead idols of stone, wood and metal manufactured by human hands – Paul worshipped Jesus as physically real and alive). Jesus commissioned Paul to preach the gospel to non-Jews – to Gentiles.
Paul declares that this gospel, this good news that Paul has been set apart for, had been promised beforehand – through Jewish prophets – their words being recorded in the writings of what we know as the Old Testament – the Hebrew Scriptures. This good news is in regard to God’s Son, Jesus the chosen Deliverer, our Master, who in his earthly life was a descendant of King David. He was marked out to be the Son of God in powerful energy brought down by the pure Spirit of God – by the raising up to life again from the dead.
Through him, says Paul, we received God’s favor and His commission on behalf of His name, leading to every kind of Gentile or non-Jew entrusting themselves in obedience. And you (Christians in Rome) are also among those Gentiles Jesus the Messiah summoned.
Verses 7 to 14 are mainly concerned with Paul’s personal greetings and news, then, after these initial comments, Paul comes back in v 15 to his theme: Paul was eager to preach the gospel in Rome. Why? What is it about the gospel that is so special? Paul tells us immediately:
It is the power of God that brings deliverance to everyone who believes
First to Jews
Then to Gentiles
Now how can this be? How can this message of good news about Jesus bring deliverance? Right here, in verse 17, Paul declares the predominant theme of his letter to the Christians in Rome:
The gospel is the power of God that brings deliverance to everyone who believes
BECAUSE (here is one of the first of those important linking words)
Because in the gospel
The fair judicial approval of God is revealed –
By a gift of persuasion that leads to obedience
Leading to a gift of persuasion that leads to obedience
It has been written:
Those who have God’s judicial approval
Will live by a gift of persuasion
That leads to obedience coming out from within them
That is the theme of Paul’s letter – the good news of the fair judicial approval of God received by a gift of persuasion that leads to obedience.
This is something that was hidden in previous times. There had been the promise of a Deliverer – a chosen one set apart by God. God had promised that the Deliverer would come from the Jews, from the physical descendants of Abraham and Sarah, and as such, the Jews would prove to be a blessing to other nations. And the Jews had been cultivated, nurtured and set apart to be ready for their promised Deliverer. They had been given God’s Law and the Prophets. But the details as to how God would accomplish this deliverance were vague – veiled and hidden. Prophets and angels longed to look into these details but they could not perceive what was entailed. Now, at this present time, in the gospel, God’s fair, judicial approval is revealed.