The Aim of the Gospel

Text: Romans 1:5-7

The Apostle Paul has declared in Romans 1:1-4 his theme for Romans, The Gospel of God, which has as its focus the glorious Person and work of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This is the content of Paul’s message, a message that the Apostle has been commanded to preach. In 1:5-7, Paul will tell us for whom this message is intended and with what intent it is to be proclaimed.

I.          The Apostolic Mission:  To believe the Gospel, as D. Martin Lloyd-Jones duly noted, “is not merely an intellectual matter. It includes the intellect, but to obey the gospel…is something more than merely giving intellectual acceptance or intellectual assent to the teaching of the gospel.”[1] What is “saving” faith? “Justifying faith not only assents to the truth of the promise, but receives and rests upon Christ for pardon” (Westminster Larger Catechism 72). There may be belief without faith. A man may credit the statements made by Jesus Christ and yet not rest in him for salvation. Faith is a “saving grace,” but belief is not. All who are not skeptics believe the testimony of Christ and his apostles, but not all who are not skeptics have faith. Faith is accompanied with love; belief is not: “The devils believe and tremble.” (James 2:19) The natural man believes that God is merciful, but does not trust in his mercy. This distinction is marked in the New Testament, by the use of the prepositions connected with the verb or noun. PISTEUO when used in reference to Christ is accompanied with EN, EIS, and EPI because the object is to denote rest and reliance upon his person.

Paul said to the jailer, “Believe on (PISTEUSON EPI) the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” (Acts 16:31) He did not bid him merely to believe that the statements, which he had heard from Paul respecting Christ, were correct. He bade him do much more than this, namely, receive and rest on Christ himself as a living and personal Redeemer. Had he asked only for the assent of the mind to testimony, he would have said: “Believe the Lord Jesus Christ.” The same use of the prepositions is sometimes associated with the term gospel because of its connection with Christ: “Repent and believe (PISTEUETE EN) the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Even when there is no preposition, PISTEUO sometimes denotes trust: “Christ did not commit himself (OUK EPISTEUEN HEAUTON)” (John 2:24); “who will commit (TIS PISTEUSEI) to your trust the true riches?”(Luke 16:11); “unto them were committed (EPISTEUTHESAN) the oracles” (Rom. 3:2); “the gospel of circumcision was committed to me” (Gal. 2:7); “I know whom I have believed (HO PEPISTEUKA)” or trusted in (II Tim. 1:12). An instance of mere belief in testimony is found in Mark 11:31: “Why did you not believe him (DIATI OUK EPISTEUSATE AUTO)?” This fiducial or confiding nature of faith is taught in the phrases looking to Christ, receiving Christ, eating his flesh, and drinking his blood. The definition which makes faith merely belief in testimony converts Christ into a witness only. He is this, but much more: a prince and savior; a prophet, priest, and king; a person not to be believed merely, but to be believed in and on.2

A.        Its Purpose:  The saving act of God in Christ is traceable to pure grace and nothing else. In verse 5 the word grace occurs in Romans for the first time. It is a typically Pauline word. Of the 155 occurrences of this word in the New Testament, no less than 100 of these are found in Paul’s epistles. He uses it 24 times in Romans, the most of any of the epistles. Paul states that he had received grace and apostleship for a specific purpose: to make people obedient to the gospel. Please note that true faith stresses commitment; the same word for obedience, HUPAKOUO is used of Christ in Romans 5:19 and in Romans 10:16 to again underscore this aspect of saving faith.3 Today we are experiencing a major shift in how faith is defined either as simply accent (by this I mean the attitude that says, “Oh, yeah, I believe in Jesus.”)4 “Sometimes in the history of the church such prominence has been given to orthodoxy and to assenting to the truth that the necessity for what Whitefield called ‘a felt Christ’ has been almost ignored and forgotten. At such periods Christianity was defined in terms too exclusively intellectual. That is patently not biblical. Scripture emphasizes both belief and experience, both truth and feeling. ‘These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full’ (John 15:11; also, 17:13). A true consequence of having the word of Christ dwelling in us richly is song, (Col. 3:16).

Christianity without emotion is a repelling affair, yet the Word of God never gives priority to feeling. The truth addressed to the mind comes first; faith resting on Scripture comes first. All feelings and experiences, which do not begin and continue in obedience to the Word are worthless (Matt. 13:20; John 8:31-2).”5 However, we must not, as Norman Shepherd does, use the phrase “obedience of faith” to imply obedient acts, or works done in faith that are the instrumental means of justification.6 Nor should we like Don Garlington, seek to join the two concepts semantically, arguing that faith and obedience are virtually synonymous.7 (We are never said to be justified by obedience in Scripture) Rather, as Moo observes “we understand the words HYPAKOE (obedience) and PISTEOS (faith) to be mutually interpreting: obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience. They should not be equated, compartmentalized, or made into separate stages of Christian experience. Paul called men and women to a faith that was always inseparable from obedience—for the Savior in whom we believe is nothing less than our Lord—and to an obedience that could never be divorced from faith—for we can only obey Jesus as Lord when we have given ourselves to Him in faith. Viewed in this light, the phrase captures the full dimension of Paul’s apostolic task, a task that was not confined to initial evangelization but that included also the building up and firm establishment of churches.”8

B.        Its Range:  To call people from among the nations. Note the similar language in Revelation 5:9-10. The word ETHNE (from which we get the word ethnic) refers to the Gentile world, which contains civilized as well as heathen or barbarian people. In the past God suffered the Gentiles to walk in their own ways, although He did not leave Himself without a witness (Romans 1:18). But now He commands all people everywhere (through the Scriptures and their proclamation) to repent (Acts 17:30).

C.        Its Motive:  For His name’s sake. “In New Testament times ‘the name’ had a much fuller significance than with us. We see it as a label, a way of differentiating one from another. But in antiquity generally it was held that in some undefined way the name summed up the whole person. That is the significance of changing a person’s name. God changed people’s names at times when he bestowed a new character on them (e.g., Genesis 17:5, 15; 32:28). When one person changed another person’s name it emphasized his lordship (II Kings 24:17, etc.). Here name stands for the whole person. Paul’s obedience was to all that Christ stands for.”9

II.         The Recipients of the Epistle:  The approximate date of Paul’s epistle to the Romans is A. D. 58-60—less than thirty years after the death and resurrection of Christ, and yet, the Apostle can declare that their testimony has already become well-known in the Roman World.

A.        Their Present Circumstances – Citizens of Rome:  Rome was the chief city of the first century. Who planted this church? How did it start? Roman Catholic tradition states that Peter was the founder of this church, yet we have very little evidence to confirm this.10 The fact of the matter is simply this: we do not know how the church in Rome began. All we do know is that God raised up this church in the imperial city of the Roman Empire.

B.        Their Relationship to God – Beloved:  They are the objects of God’s love by virtue of their relationship to the gospel. They have been reconciled and as such are beloved (cf. Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 3:2; especially Romans 5:1-11; 8:35-39). Paul’s fellowship with the Christians in Rome is the result of their being called. They belong to Christ because God the Father has divinely summoned them into the fellowship of the gospel (cf. John 6:27, 43, 65; I Corinthians 1:9).

C.        Their Destiny and Vocation – Called of God:  Notice that they are called to be saints. What does this mean? First of all, note that the word saints is plural. The word “saint” is never used of any single individual in the New Testament (not even with reference to the Apostles, i.e., Saint Paul or Saint Peter). This is most interesting. It is used in the plural to point to the community of believers who have been set apart (the basic meaning of the word “sanctified”) from sin and the world unto God. Furthermore, as Leon Morris points out: “The term does not convey the idea of outstanding ethical achievement which we usually understand by saintliness. While the importance of right living is insisted on and may even be implied with this very term, the main thrust is not there. It is rather in the notion of belonging to God.”11 The word stresses separation and consecration (cf. Ephesians 1:4; I Corinthians 7:14).

D.        Their Apostolic Blessings – Grace and Peace:  We often use the word “blessing” somewhat carelessly, almost casually, like a greeting or farewell. Paul didn’t. The words have rich, significant meaning for him. “Grace is, first of all, the disposition of favour on the part of God, but it would be arbitrary to exclude the concrete ways in which that disposition comes to expression in favour bestowed and enjoyed. The Pauline concept of ‘peace’ cannot be understood except on the background of the alienation from God which sin has involved. Hence peace is the reconstituted favour with God based upon the reconciliation accomplished by Christ. The basic meaning is indicated in 5:1, 2. It is only as we appreciate the implications of alienation from God and the reality of the wrath which alienation evinces that we can understand the richness of the biblical notion of peace as enunciated here by the apostle. Peace means the establishment of a status of which confident and unrestrained access to the presence of God is the privilege. And peace with God cannot be dissociated from the peace of God, which keeps the heart and mind in Christ Jesus (cf. Philippians 4:7). ‘Grace’ and ‘peace’, though necessarily distinguished, are nonetheless correlative in this salutation and sustain a close relation to each other even in respect of the concepts denoted. When taken in their mutual interdependence and relation we see the fullness of the blessing, which the apostle invokes upon those addressed in his epistles (cf. I Corinthians 1:3; II Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; I Thessalonians 1:1; II Thessalonians 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 3).”12

Conclusion:  I want you to note the activity of God in all of this. He is the One who calls. He is the One who loves. He is the One who exercises grace and speaks peace. He is the One who sets people apart and declares them to be saints. Those who have been so favored by God will obey and follow Him all the days of their lives. “If God is angry,” proclaimed John Calvin, “even though everything may seem to be favourable to us, our very blessing is changed into a curse. The only basis of our happiness, therefore, is the kindness of God.”13 The Gospel is addressed to sinners, be they great or small, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All sinners are called to repent and believe the gospel because they are presently under the judicial wrath of a holy and righteous God (John 3:36). This is Paul’s mission. This is our mission, as well, to tell people the glorious gospel.



[1]        D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 1: The Gospel of God (Zondervan, 1985), p. 144.


2         Cf. W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology ed. A. Gomes (P&R, 2004), p. 787.


3         The word faith, PISTIS, is another almost exclusively Pauline term. It is found 142 times out of 243 New Testament occurrences in Paul’s writings. It appears 40 times in Romans, more than in any other Pauline epistle. The goal of Paul’s preaching was to bring Gentiles to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel that focuses on the Son (vv. 3-4) was designed to bring all nations to the obedience of faith. The precise significance of the genitive PISTEOS is disputed. The two most likely options are that it is a subjective genitive or an appositional construction. In the former case, the sense would be the obedience that springs from or flows from faith. In the latter instance the phrase could be translated as “the obedience that is faith.” Of course, Paul may have intended both ideas, and this is the most likely solution. Acceptance of the gospel in faith can be described as an act of obedience. For example, Rom. 10:16 says, “But not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah said, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’” The parallelism of the two lines reveals that disobedience consists in failure to believe (cf. also 1:8 and 16:19; 11:23 and 11:30-31). It is unlikely, though, that “the obedience of faith” should be confined to a single act of obedience that occurred when the gospel was first believed. Nor should faith and obedience be sundered as if Christians could have the former without the latter. When Paul reflects on his mission in Rom. 15:18, he remarks on the “obedience of the Gentiles” (HYPAKOEN ETHNON), showing that a changed life occurs for those who embrace the gospel. Paul also argues in Rom. 6 and 8 that the grace that is given in Christ invariably involves a transformation of one’s everyday life (cf. also 12:1 – 13:14). The belief first exercised upon conversion is validated as one continues to believe and obey (11:20-22). Such belief can never be separated from obedience, and all obedience is rooted in and flows from faith. Thomas Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary (Baker, 1998), p. 35.


4         “Many of us, at least those who take time to read a study of Romans or certain other Bible commentaries, are convinced of the truthfulness of Christianity. Perhaps we can even articulate the doctrines of the faith, as Paul does. We can systematize theology. Ah, but do we love Jesus? Are our thoughts constantly occupied with him? Is he at the forefront? Is he the center? Is he the beginning and end? When we talk to one another, do we speak often of him? Are we content to let the honors of the world pass by, so long as we can be known as Christ’s servants? This gets very close to what is chiefly wrong with our contemporary Christianity. Our religion is one of personalities, plans, and programs, of buildings, books, and bargains. Because it is not the faith of those who love Jesus, it is shallow and selfish, constantly shifting in the ebbs and flows of cultural standards. As we grow in grace we will think less of these things and more of him who ‘loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).” James M. Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary I (Baker, 1991), p. 25.


5         Iain H. Murray, “Reading Church History,” The Banner of Truth (April, 1996), p. 14.Murray goes on to say: “Today the danger for evangelicals is not that we think too exclusively of orthodox belief, it is that we allow claims based upon experience and feeling to take priority over Scripture and even to nullify Scripture.”

6         Cf. O. Palmer Robertson, The Current Justification Controversy (Trinity Foundation, 2003), p. 95.


7         Don Garlington as cited by M. A. Seifried, Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification (IVP, 2000), p. 135.


8         Doug Moo, Romans 1-8: The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Moody, 1991), p. 44.


9         L. Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (IVP, 1988), p. 50.


10       The appeal is made to Clement of Rome (about A. D. 88 to about A. D. 97), in his first Epistle to the Corinthians. He alludes to the sufferings of Peter and Paul. Since Clement was from Rome, it is assumed that Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom in Rome. This is hardly the type of evidence that would point to Peter as the founder of the Church at Rome. Cf. J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers (rpt., 1973), p. 15.


11       L. Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (IVP, 1988), p. 17.


12       John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans, 1968), p. 16.


13       Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries VIII (Eerdmans, 1973), p. 19.


Learning Theology with the Church Fathers

The early church fathers were great theologiansthough they did not think of themselves as such. They were working pastors, involved in the daily life and leadership of their congregations. Yet they were wrestling with many of the great and formative questions of the Christian faith, such as the Trinity, the incarnation, the providence of God and the nature of the church. These beliefs were defined in the crucible of spiritual leadership, pastoral care and theological conflict, all set against the background of the great cultural movements and events of their day. For the church fathers, theology was a spiritual exercise woven into the texture of life.

What would it be like to sit under the preaching and instruction of these great men, to look over their shoulders as they thought and wrote, or to hear them debate theological issues? Learning Theology with the Church Fathers offers us that experience. With the same insight and love of his subject that he brought to Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Christopher A. Hall opens the door on patristic theology. Focusing on the great questions, we view these issues in their settings and find greater appreciation for the foundations and architecture of our Christian faith.

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