Romans 1:1-17

If there is a magnum opus in Holy Scripture, or something that might be considered the best of the work of an inspired author, this book qualifies. Though not written as a full systematic theology, Paul lays out the gospel revealed to him in a more extended, tightly argued, coherent, systematically arranged way than anywhere else in Scripture. Though many themes are interweaved in this magnificent doctrinal treatise, the driving concern is justification by faith. Paul shows how this divine act is a perfect manifestation of grace and at the same time the perfect fulfillment of Law. He shows how it destroys all pretensions to human merit and yet is productive of the greatest efforts for holiness and righteous living. He shows how it fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of the inclusion of the Gentiles as the people of God and remains true to the covenantal promises to Israel. To accomplish such a salvation we learn about, not only the glory, but, the logic of the incarnation in pursuit of this demonstration of righteousness. Divine Sovereignty is manifest in an ineffable display of wisdom leading the saved to glory only in the unmerited and invincible purpose of God to save them, while the lost have their mouths shut as they can utter nothing in defiance of the pure justice of God or in excuse of their unbroken pursuit of arrogant sinful rebellion. Sin which must be damned is also the occasion for the revelation of abundant grace. Israel’s unfaithfulness, much to be lamented, served as the opportunity for the salvation of the Gentiles.


I. Romans 1:1-7 – Salutation and Summary; Paul greets this church that he has never visited, though he clearly knows many of its members personally (See chapter 16). He is so full of his purpose to expound to them the gospel that he preaches that he fills these introductory words with an intense summary of the full purpose of God in the gospel.

A. Notice the vocabulary of divine action and purpose in these verses: (1) Paul himself was called, set apart; (3) the gospel itself was promised beforehand; (4) Jesus himself was declared to be the Son of God, and the Spirit of holiness vindicated such a title by the resurrection; (5) Paul received grace and apostleship; his work would bring about obedience for the sake of Christ’s name among the Gentiles (cf 15: 7-12); (6) the Romans themselves were called to belong to Jesus Christ; (7) this shows they are loved by God, and so called with effectual power; all of this is from God.

B. Not also Paul’s claims to be qualified as an instructor of the gospel. He is a “servant of Jesus Christ,” perhaps peculiarly distinct from the way that other Christians are, since he was commissioned in a special way by Christ [Acts 9:5, 6, 15, 16]; in that light notice also that he describes himself as one “called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” We must understand something of Paul’s concept of “call” by the way in which he received the call. It is seen as a powerful demonstration of the sovereign prerogatives of Jesus Christ in forming his redeemed community. Paul’s commission was twofold; to call out the called, and then to instruct them in the way of truth according to the gospel. Perhaps include verse 5 in your discussion of this. Here he seems to reiterate the specific commission that he received for the specific task of evangelism and instruction of the Gentiles, as seen in Acts. Notice that he received “grace” referring to the salvation that Christ bestowed on him, and “apostleship” referring to the commission to go to the Gentiles. We will look at the phrase “obedience of faith” below.

C. Note, that the gospel Paul serves and the Christ he proclaims has not appeared absolutely de novo, but was “promised beforehand.” His acceptance of the “holy Scripture” and the inspiration of the prophets throughout this epistle is remarkable. In one sense it may be viewed as an extended exposition of Habakkuk 2:4 [1:17]. Chapter 2 gives a discussion of the Law in its relation to the law written on the heart in creation. Chapter 3 discusses sin as revealed in many OT passages as well as his affirmation that the “Law and the Prophets” [21] witness to justification by faith. Chapter 4 looks at Abraham in his relation to faith and imputation. Chapter 5 discusses Christ’s work of reconciliation in the gospel and relates it covenantally to Adam as our head in the fall and Christ as our head in redemptive restoration. The relation of the gospel to other OT themes appear throughout, particularly in 9-11 as Paul discusses at length God’s covenant with Israel and its relation to the redemption of the Gentiles.

D. The doctrine of Christ – Christ is the Son of God. This means that he is naturally; i.e. intrinsically, eternally, related to God as a Son to a Father sharing his nature, not subsequent in time as it is in human relationships since creatures are by nature contracted to time, but co-eternal with the Father since God is by nature eternal. In the mystery of the incarnation the Son of God (eternal, immutable, impassible, holy) through the line of David took upon himself, into his eternal personhood, a temporal, changeable, passible, morally testable human nature [1:3]. His resurrection from the dead declared before the world that this man descended from David also was the Son of God. His claims to be the Son in this sense of deity [e.g. John 5:18-29] were sustained by his own resurrection through the Holy Spirit [1:4]. Although Father, Son, and Spirit each were involved in the resurrection, Paul points to the work of the Spirit in particular. The Spirit sustained Jesus throughout his earthly sojourn (1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 9:14) and thus give powerful verification to his works and words by this resurrection from the dead. He continued to vindicate Christ through the teaching, preaching, and writing ministry of the apostles. So he continues now in giving power to the word of the gospel when it is preached.

E. His view of the Romans:[1:6, 7]They are called to belong to Jesus Christ, they are called to be saints. This calling is an effectual calling; it is more than a personal invitation, but an operation of divine energy [Ephesian 1:18, 19] in which the repentance, faith, and discipleship toward which we are admonished is also bestowed. He also says, they are “loved by God.” He revisits this theme in Romans 5:8 and 8:35-39. He uses a similar idea in 1 Thess. 1 when he ties election and calling to the point that the Thessalonian church is “beloved of God” [1 Thess. 1:4, 5] this should remind us of the “everlasting Love” of Jeremiah 3:3, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.”



II. Romans 1:8-15 – He begins this section with a focus on the reality that all of this is a divine work. This is not Paul’s idea, not his invention, not his power; it is not anything that he ever conceived. He begins the entire overture toward them with gratitude and rightly placed confidence. His gratitude goes to God. Note that he says, of the sovereign, eternal, omnipotent creator that he is “my God.” This is not a statement of casual familiarity or a flippant use of language, but a spiritual confidence built on the work of Christ—“through Jesus Christ.” In the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and in his present intercession, this God is “our God.”

A. Paul Prays for them

  1. He is thankful that their faith is sound in content and in spirit. Their remarkable conversion to Christ and their solid profession of loyalty to him and his truth is “proclaimed in all the world.” It provides a solid evidence of the power of the gospel in the conversion of pagan Gentiles. (1:8)
  2. He prays that God will make his way clear to go to them. Note the earnestness of Paul’s report to the Romans as to how solicitous he is of seeing them. The phrases he uses, “God is my witness;” “I serve in my spirit in the Gospel;” “without ceasing;” “always;” “somehow by God’s will;” “now at last succeed.” We could not fabricate a greater intensity of desire for the success of a plan (1:9, 10). The first phrase of verse 11 continues this effusion of earnest desire, “For I long to see you.”

B. Paul is eager to see them –

  1. 1:11,, 12 – He wants to impart a spiritual gift to strengthen them and he wants to receive encouragement from them. Paul as an apostle obviously has greater gifts to impart to them than they do to him. This letter is a demonstration of the depths of Paul’s insight in the mystery of the Gospel and its manifestation of the glory of God and its power in giving encouragement to God’s people. He is, however, sincerely aware that they have something to give to him by which he will be encouraged. God distributes his gifts sovereignly and every Christian can benefit from the least conspicuously gifted saint. Charles Spurgeon noted on this passage:“Paul wanted his faith to establish theirs, and their faith to establish his. Christians grow rich by an exchange of spiritual commodities; and I am afraid some Christians are very poor because they do not engage in the spiritual bartering with one another. You know how it was in the old time, ‘They that feared the Lord spake often one to another.’ Shall I tell you how it is now? They that fear not the Lord speak often one against another. That is a very sad difference.”
  2. He wants evangelistic fruit among them also. “Reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.” This is an indication that the church is to be a center of evangelism. The twofold task always is continued growth and edification of the saints and the calling of the unreached elect from the world to the Savior. Paul wants to go badly, but did not realize at this time that he would go under the guard of Caesar’s soldiers and be lodged in a prison within the palace.

C. Paul, by virtue of his divine call, is under obligation (has a debt to discharge) to Greeks and Barbarians, wise and foolish (14).

  1. The prophetic message often was called a “burden” or an “oracle.” [Malachi 1:1; Jeremiah 23:33-40] It was not the personal possession of the one bearing it but was placed on him as a responsibility. Paul felt the burden of that oracle and could not rest until he disposed of it in every place the Lord would send him.
  2. Even as Paul had reaped a harvest in untouched areas, so he wanted a harvest in this place where the gospel already had shown its power. Although he had earlier written about not boasting of “work already done in another’s area of influence” (2 Corinthians 10:16) and of his desire to be sent to places as yet unreached (2 Corinthians 10:14-16; Romans 15:20), he saw Rome as a field white unto harvest and as a place that could help him extend his ministry even further west (Romans 15: 24, 28, 29).
  3. To the Corinthians, Paul had argued strongly of the fitness of the gospel for those willing to suspend any pretensions to superior wisdom. The gospel as a message and action strictly from God and, as a manifestation of divine wisdom to the exclusion of all human standards of wisdom, it was peculiarly designed to promote humility and submission. The worldly wise must surrender their wisdom; the worldly foolish may be engulfed in the very wisdom of God.



III. Paul views his call of gospel-proclamation as the most excellent occupation in which a human can be engaged. Both the power and the righteousness of God are seen in this. (1:16,17.)

A. The message of the gospel begins with a broken law that results in condemnation for all men; it proclaims that the remedy for this involves the sacrifice of a man’s life blood; this is done in order to procure redemption from the danger of a justly enraged deity; it ends with the scandal of a resurrection of a dead body from the grave. Paul believed it entirely, embraced its revealed logic with fervor and an uncompromising certainty (Galatians 1:6-10), and did not suffer any embarrassment in preaching this. Though foolishness to Greeks, and a stumbling block to Jews, for those being saved it was wisdom and power (1 Corinthians 1:18).

B. Content-wise, that which gives it power is its perfect display of the infinitely excellent righteousness of God. God’s righteousness in the Law is revealed; it is accentuated in the giving of the Son of God as the only fit sacrifice for meeting the demand of punitive death of this broken law; That the righteousness of another must be imputed for the just demand of righteousness contained in this law; that this righteous advocate must continue to intercede for his people as long as they inhabit this body in this life; and that only a new creation of heaven and earth will make it a place wherein dwelleth righteousness; all these show us that in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed.

C. Our participation depends on faith from beginning to end. Never do we stand by the merit of our personal obedience. Only the changed heart and mind that constantly desires to be found in Christ and flees for union with him, to take refuge in him has seen and felt the true wonder of the gospel. Only the one that finds his righteousness by faith shall live.

D. With this quotation from Habakkuk 2:4, Paul introduces his argument for the necessity of justification and how that justification is only attained in the context of faith.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts