Romans: Introduction (Romans 1:1-7)

In his commentary on the book of Romans, Warren Wiersbe writes: “On May 24, 1738, a discouraged missionary went “very unwillingly” to a religious meeting in London. There a miracle took place. “About a quarter before nine,” he wrote in his journal, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”That missionary was John Wesley. The message he heard that evening was the preface to Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. Just a few months before, John Wesley had written in his journal: “I went to America to convert the Indians; but Oh! who shall convert me?” That evening in Aldersgate Street, his question was answered. And the result was the great Wesleyan Revival that swept England and transformed the nation. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is still transforming people’s lives, just the way it transformed Martin Luther and John Wesley. The one Scripture above all others that brought Luther out of mere religion into the joy of salvation by grace, through faith, was Romans 1:17: “The just shall live by faith.” The Protestant Reformation and the Wesleyan Revival were both the fruit of this wonderful letter written by Paul from Corinth about the year a.d. 56. The letter was carried to the Christians at Rome by one of the deaconesses of the church at Cenchrea, Sister Phebe (Rom. 16:1).Imagine! You and I can read and study the same inspired letter that brought life and power to Luther and Wesley! And the same Holy Spirit who taught them can teach us! You and I can experience revival in our hearts, homes, and churches if the message of this letter grips us as it has gripped men of faith in centuries past.”[1]The human author of Romans is the Apostle Paul. He is writing a letter to believers who are in Rome, during the time that he was in Corinth. In the first seven verses of Romans chapter one, we learn several things about Paul. Romans 1:1-7 says, “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. 5 Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”[2]

A servant of Jesus Christ. The term ‘bondservant’ literally means ‘slave.’ Paul was suggesting that He has enslaved Himself to Jesus. At the time of this writing there were an estimated 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. A slave was looked on as a piece of property and not a person. Paul had such a love for Jesus that enslaved Himself to Christ. He no longer lived for Himself, but He live for Jesus. Notice what 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. [3]All believers in Christ should understand that we do not belong to ourselves, we belong to Jesus. We are to be ‘bondservants’ of Jesus. We are to willingly of our own choice enslave ourselves to Jesus. Why should we do this? Because we do not belong to ourselves anyways. Jesus paid the price for our sins on Calvary. He redeemed us. He bought us out of the slave market of sin. Though He did this out of love and grace and as a free gift, we should be so grateful that we desire to give our lives completely over to Him. As believers, it must be understood that we have no right to live any way that we want to live. We have no right to do anything of our own desire or choosing. We should be so totally devoted to Jesus that we refuse to do anything apart from His leading. This is exactly how Paul lived and it is how we should live today.

An Apostle. The word ‘apostle’ basically means, ‘one who is sent by authority with a commission.’ Paul was one of the apostles of Christ. It must be understood here that there are no official apostles living today. God called a few select men as apostles in order to give us divine revelation from Jesus. That revelation is now complete and is given to us in scriptures. Therefore, there is no need for apostles today. As a matter of fact, one of the requirements of being an apostle is that you have seen the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1-2). With that in mind, it would be impossible to have apostles living on this earth today. Though there are no ‘official’ apostles today, there are those who are called by God to preach the Gospel. There is a general calling upon all believers to proclaim the Gospel; however, there is a specific calling of God to men whom He has chosen to be sent with authority with a commission from God. John Calvin wrote: “We must here observe, that all are not fitted for the ministry of the word; for a special call is necessary: and even those who seem particularly fitted ought to take heed lest they thrust themselves in without a call.” [4] This call for the ministry of the Word is also given in specific ways. Some are called to serve in various countries as missionaries, others are called to preach as an evangelist, others are called to pastor, and the list goes on. It should be noted here as well concerning the calling of God to ministry that there is a difference between the call to preach and the call to serve as a pastor. There are those who have a special calling and gift to preach, but not to pastor. The call to serve as a pastor is a special calling that also requires the call to preach. Unfortunately, many a men have caused great harm to the body of Christ by attempting to pastor a church without having the call to be a pastor. The calling of God to any ministry must not be taken lightly. It must be seriously considered through much prayer, counsel, and education. These special callings of God to specific tasks does not negate the general calling upon all believers to preach the Gospel. Every true believer is called by God to share the good news of Jesus with the world.

A preacher of the Gospel. When he was a Jewish rabbi, Paul was separated as a Pharisee to the laws and traditions of the Jews. But, when he yielded to Christ, he was separated to the Gospel and its ministry. This Gospel is not a new message; it was promised in the Old Testament as early as Genesis chapter three. The Gospel is the ‘Good News’. It is the message of redemption. There are three things that we need to understand about the Gospel: 1. It originates with God, not man. God is the author of the Gospel. It was His idea. It is His story. It is His plan. This divine plan of God began even before He created the world. In His foreknowledge, He knew that man would need saving. Therefore, He provided a way through Jesus. It is all of God. 2. It centers on Jesus. The Gospel is all about Jesus. He is the only way. There is no other Gospel. There is no other way. Jesus is the only way. The message of the Gospel centers on what Jesus did for us on the cross. The entire Bible points to this truth. From Genesis through Revelation, it is all about Jesus. 3. It is available to all. One of the underlining themes in scripture is the fact that it is the desire of God’s heart that everyone be saved. The Gospel is available to all who will listen and receive. God does not turn anyone away who comes to Him by faith. This means you. It does not matter who you are or what you have done, Jesus loves you. He died for you. He has given you His grace. He has offered to you the gift of salvation. All you must do is receive it.

A missionary to the Gentiles. It was mentioned before that God calls preachers to specific tasks. Paul was called specifically to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. There were probably several assemblies of believers in Rome and not just one church, since in Romans 16 Paul greets a number of ‘home church groups.’ We do not know for certain how these churches began, but it is likely that believers from Rome who were at Pentecost established the assemblies on their return to Rome. There were both Jews and Gentiles in these fellowships, because Paul addressed both in this letter. The churches in Rome were not founded by Peter or any other apostle. If they had been, Paul would have not have planned to visit Rome, because his policy was to minister only where no other apostle has gone. Paul was writing to believers who were also called of God. In verses seven, we find that the translators added the term ‘to be.’ However, Paul was not saying that they were called ‘to be’ or ‘to become’ saints, they already were saints. The term ‘call’ in this instance means ‘a set-apart one.’ When you come to Jesus through faith, you are then ‘set-apart’ as a child of God. It must be made clear that you as individual were not ‘set-apart’ before salvation. Being ‘set-apart’ occurs at the moment of salvation and not before. God has set-apart or chosen a people, His church. All those who are saved, are then set-apart at the moment of salvation and placed into His church.

In considering these introductory verses in Romans there are several questions to consider: 1. Have you responded to the Gospel? Has there been a time in your life in which you repented of your sin and trusted in Jesus completely? 2. Are you a ‘set-apart one’? Have you been saved? 3. Is God calling you to the Gospel ministry? 3. Have you answered God’s call? May we all consider and ponder these questions in a personal way. May we be obedient to whatever God is calling us to.

[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Ac 28:11). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 1:1–7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] The New King James Version. (1982). (1 Co 6:19–20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (p. 42). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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