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According to Romans, what is the gospel?

CONTRIBUTED BY ROB TOMREN

What is the gospel? The word gospel is thrown around a lot (almost with reckless abandon) within the Christian world and used in many different ways. Christians speak of the four gospels that of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The gospel is also used as a catch all term for the message of the entire bible. Christians even reduce the scriptures to a message such as; Jesus came to save you from your sins and claim this to be the gospel. In its original Greek root it meant ‘good news’ so maybe these varied uses can be forgiven. Jesus at the beginning of his earthly ministry declared that the gospel of God “was the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe” (Mark 1:15). In Romans Paul declares a differently nuanced gospel, in this article I will look at what this gospel is according to the book of Romans and what Paul says about this gospel.

Paul’s gospel in Romans builds on Jesus’ gospel outlining just how a Christian must repent and believe to be part of Gods kingdom. Paul in Romans fleshes out the gospel explaining how people who naturally oppose God and are thus alienated from Him can be returned to have a restored relationship with God and be declared righteous and receive salvation. Paul shows that this salvation cannot come from ourselves but is a gift from God and extends from Christs life and His death. This gospel, as presented in Romans, can be distilled to that you must seek God in Christ for salvation through grace alone and through faith alone.

In chapter 1 Paul establishes that God is righteous (Rom 1:17) and His wrath is set against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom 1:18). And all people have given themselves over to their unrighteousness and therefore deserve nothing but death (Rom 1:18-32). This is a doctrine that would have been unsurprising for the early church or even the non-Christian Jews, but Paul goes further stating that this is not only true for the Gentiles but also for the Jews. The Jews, God’s chosen people, had the law and believed that adherence to the law was the way to being right with God. However Paul points out that this was not the case  – they continually transgress the law, as no sinful person is able to keep the law (Rom 2:12-3:8). He explains that the purpose of the law is to point to the need for another way to salvation (Rom 7:7-25)). Thus both Jew and Gentile are destined for judgement and thus all are in need of salvation.

If then all people are condemned and there is no salvation to be obtained through the law God has given his people how can any be saved? Paul posits that salvation can only be acquired through Christ. Through Christ’s life and the sacrifice of his blood the anger of God against our sin is quelled when Jesus’ righteous is conveyed to those who believe in Him. In chapter 3 Paul confirms that the righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3:22) and that redemption is in Christ Jesus (Rom 3:24). Paul once again confirms this at the beginning of chapter 5 stating that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ “(Rom 5:1b). 

Then it must be asked how can people be in Christ, and thus receive the benefits of his conveyed righteousness and become reconciled with God? Paul tells us from the very outset in Romans that the mechanism for this is faith when he asserts “the Righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith as it is written the righteous shall live by faith” (Rom 1:17).  Thus by faith we can know the Righteousness of God and by faith we are also accounted as righteous.  This faith, or more simply put belief, in God has always been the way to reconciliation with God. Paul demonstrates this in chapter 4 where he looks at the examples of Abraham and David. “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Rom 4:3), Abraham who lived before the giving of the law has righteousness attributed when he believes. Paul next highlights that David understood that righteousness is imparted separately from works when he writes how blessed is the man whom God will not count his sin against him (Rom 4:6-8). In this manner Paul demonstrates how God has always credited righteousness to those believers who have faith in Him – now through Christ we can understand just how this is possible.

Then is the attributed righteousness a reward earned by those who have faith and believe? Paul’s treatment of the gospel in Romans clearly and repeatedly refutes this, asserting that this righteousness is an undeserved gift of grace believers receive from God. In chapter 3 directly after expositing that righteousness is only to be obtain through Christ by those who believe, Paul characterises this justification as a gift of grace from God (Rom 3:24). Then again in chapter 4 while discussing the faith and accredited righteousness of Abraham, Paul labours the point that this righteousness was a gift and not the wages of Abrahams work (Rom 4:4). Thus we can be assured that just as salvation comes through faith alone, it also comes through grace alone. We have seen how the gospel as found in the book of Romans is the same gospel that Jesus pronounced; that the Kingdom of God is here and we must repent and believe if we are to be a part of it. Paul in Romans shows why our repentance is needed, as well as how this repentance results in seeking God in Christ. Further only in seeking God in Christ and believing him in faith will we receive salvation. This salvation Paul demonstrates is obtained by the gift of grace that is Christ righteousness being applied to us as if it were our own.  Only through this gospel may we become the righteous who live by faith.