Paul expressed thanksgiving for the Roman believers before he ever visited Rome. He had not met these believers yet. Yet he is thankful for them. This is a true pastoral heart. Additionally, his thanksgiving is expressed to God through the the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the Christian’s only approach to God. It is always through Christ.
Roman visitors heard Peter preach the Gospel at Pentecost in Jerusalem according Acts 2.10. They received Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Then they returned to Rome and preached the Gospel. Their testimony is so radiant that Paul speaks of the reputation they gained throughout the world. The one characteristic he singles out is their faith. It is faith that belonged to the Roman believers. It was faith that was placed in Jesus Christ. That is the only faith that triumphs. Paul will later write that “the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed” (Romans 3.21) “to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3.26).
Paul is so thankful for the Roman believers that he unceasingly prays for them. An important request included in his intercessory effort is that he might soon be able to visit them. He is hopeful that it is God’s will for him to do so. The text points up three details that communicate important principles to every believer.
- God is our witness. The Greek word for witness is a word that is transliterated into English as our word martyr. The text states that God is Paul’s martyr. The text is obviously referring to God the Father as the subject of the verb. We are accustomed to understanding that Christians become martyrs, but what does this text mean here? The primary responsibility of a martyr is to testify regardless the consequences. But this context is talking about a witness in the sense of confirming what is said. The writer of Hebrews asks, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will” (Hebrews 2.3-4). The Holy Spirit also witnesses to us (Hebrews 10.15). God testified or witnessed of/to the gifts of Abel, that he was righteous (Hebrews 11.4). When God testifies of something or for someone, He needs no other witness to testify with Him. God is Truth. He cannot bear false witness or lie. Therefore, Paul states that God is his witness. God is our witness as well. That is, He is our witness as long as we stand in the truth of His Word illumined by the power of His Spirit.
- We serve God with our spirit. The inner man must motivate external service. When Paul states that he serves God with his spirit, he is simply telling us that his righteousness and service are externally known only after he is renewed in his mind. Jesus uses the word heart and says, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6.45). We serve the Lord God with the spirit, heart, soul, and mind! Anything less is inferior service. Many start with externals. This leads to true legalism.
- We serve God in the gospel of His Son. The gospel of God’s Son is the gospel of God. The gospel of God is the good news that righteousness from God is available to all who trust in the resurrection and death of Jesus Christ alone for eternal life. We must serve God by emphasizing the gospel which truly redeems and brings to life a new creation! Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5.17)!
Paul longed to see the Roman believers because he wanted to serve them. He had a spiritual gift that he was willing to impart. That gift would establish the Roman believers (Romans 1.11). The Greek here for establish is steridzo, which is similar to the English word strength. Paul desired to come to them in order to make them stronger, more firm in their faith. He further explains is verse 12 that he desired mutual encouragement from their mutual faith. Encouragement means to pour courage within one another. However, many times a believer may leave church sapped of courage and hope. The reason this is true is because our fellowship together must be built upon faith in the promises of God and the presence of God.
The Roman Christians needed to know that Paul had made several attempts to visit them, but he was hindered up until that point in his life. Paul desired to cultivate spiritual fruit among the Roman believers just as he did among other Gentiles. That fruit would manifest itself in his teaching and preaching among them. As an apostle, his teaching is an imperative not only for the early church, but for our churches today.
However, this did not go to Paul’s head. He viewed himself as a debtor (Romans 1.14). He was obligated to do something for the Roman believers. He was obligated to all Gentiles. Those who were refined, Greek-speaking Gentiles and those who were non-Greek speaking barbarians.
The barbarian is used as a pejorative to mock the way these Gentiles spoke. Their language had a guttural sound to it. It was as if they were saying, “Bar.. bar… bar… bar!” However, Paul was indebted to those considered wise Gentiles (Greeks) and unwise Gentiles (barbarians). Paul is ready to preach the good news of God to all, but he especially desires to preach it to those in Rome also (Romans 1.15).
Verses 16-17 are important because they make clear the theme of the Christian life. The gospel of God is the gospel of Christ. There are one in the same. Paul gives us a full five-fold description of this gospel:
- Be unashamed of the Gospel. Paul had much in his life that caused him deep shame and regret. We all are ashamed of our past to some degree. Paul will later say that when we were slaves of sin, we were free in regard to righteousness. We were not compelled to live a righteous life. He then asks a poignant question, “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed” (Romans 6.20-21). We are ashamed of our sinful past, but we are not ashamed of the gospel, which wipes away every sin and gives to us the righteousness of God!
- The gospel is the power of God. Acts 1.8 uses the same word power when it says that the believers at Pentecost would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. The power of God is found in the gospel of God, the gospel of Christ. Every other supposed bit of good news is powerless. All of our potential is found in the power of God unleashed in the gospel of Christ!
- The gospel is to salvation. The gospel delivers us from sin, death, and an eternity separated from God in the Lake of Fire, which is the second death. The gospel’s message rescues us from such a fate.
- The gospel is for everyone who believes (Jew first and also for the Greek). First, the gospel is for everyone. We must preach it to everyone. Second, the gospel has the potential to save everyone because it is that powerful. Third, not everyone is saved. The gospel is for everyone who believes. Therefore, the unbelieving will not be saved.
- The gospel reveals the righteousness of God from faith to faith. The just ones or the righteous ones live by faith. God’s righteousness includes not just the idea of being put right with God. We are declared right with God the moment we trust in the gospel message. However, God’s righteousness is revealed to us and through us from faith to faith. We grow in our understanding of God’s righteousness. We increasingly display God’s righteousness. And we do all this for the glory of God.
We grow from faith to faith. Paul is quoting Habakkuk 2.4 in Romans 1.17. He will quote it again in Galatians 3.11. The writer of Hebrews will use it in Hebrews 10.38. Faith is both the starting point (justification) and the finishing line (glorification) for the believer. Between the starting point and finishing line is our growing awareness and manifestation of the righteousness of God by faith. The just shall live by faith and by faith alone!
This leads us into the next section of Romans 1. Just as the righteousness of God is being revealed from Heaven (present tense), even so the wrath of God is being revealed from Heaven (present tense).
But before we this final section of Romans 1, we need to examine verse 16 more closely. If we have the righteousness of God by faith in Christ, how could we ever be ashamed of it? Many of us would not think that we are ashamed of the gospel. Yet we certainly demonstrate we are at times. We do so in three different ways:
- We do not grow in our understanding of the gospel. That is, we fail to understand that when we are made right with God it is for the purpose of demonstrating His righteousness for His glory. The means by which we do so is through study of His Word, illumined by His Spirit. The simple fact that we don’t make time to think about the Word of God proves we are ashamed of the Gospel. If we were steeped in God’s Word, the richness of such an experience would indeed flow in and through us. Where is the fragrance of Christ in your Jerusalem.
- We do not openly speak to others about the gospel. We learned in Acts 28 that the Jews in Rome desired that Paul speak to them about sect spoken against everywhere (Acts 28.22). As Christianity declines in its popularity, Christians are less and less willing to be open and vocal about the true gospel and manifest the righteousness of God for the glory of God. Are we not ashamed when we will not hand out a tract, place a doorhanger on a door, or engage a neighbor in a conversation for the purpose of testifying of Christ? Jesus set us apart with His own blood. He suffered outside the gate. He carried our shame. We are urged by the writer of Hebrews to “go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 10.13)? What reproach do you carry? What shame do you bear? If you do not take up your cross and follow after Jesus, you are not worthy of Him (Matthew 10.38). Jesus said, “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8.38). The cowardly have their part in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 21.8). We cannot participate in the sin of cowardice and be ashamed of the gospel! “Confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10.10).
- We do not walk worthy of the gospel. It is certainly surprising to see the lack of holiness in American Christianity. Christians conform to the world instead of Christ. They live carnal lives that sow death instead of holy lives offering hope. They say that they need become all things to all men. But they twist and pervert that passage. Paul didn’t advocate unholiness or sinful living. Paul was free from all men, but made himself a servant to all. For what purpose? To win the more! To win the Jews. To win those under the law! To win those without law! To win the weak! All things to all men in order to be all means save some! When you become like the world, you’re simply blending into the world. You put your light under bushel. If you are to walk worthy of the gospel, you must walk as a child of light. Where is the goodness, righteousness, and truth for the glory of God? What does it mean to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them (Ephesians 5.8-11)? Noah condemned the world and became an heir of righteousness by faith when he boarded the ark (Hebrews 11.7). We must “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that [we] may rejoice in the day of Christ that [we] have not run in vain or labored in vain” (Philippians 2.15-16). Paul withstood Peter to his face, because he was to be blamed. He withdrew from eating with Gentiles when certain men from James in Jerusalem came around. He even brought the comforter Barnabas into his hypocrisy (Galatians 2.11-13). Walk worthy of the gospel of God!
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.