through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:5–7)
The story is told of a very wealthy man who had many valuable art treasures. His only son was quite ordinary but was dearly loved. When the son died unexpectedly as a young man, the father was so deeply grieved that he died a few months later. The father’s will stipulated that, at his death, all his art works were to be publicly auctioned and that a painting of his son was to be auctioned first. On the day of the auction the specified painting was displayed and the bidding was opened. Because neither the boy nor the artist were well known, a long time passed without a bid being offered. Finally, a long-time servant of the father and friend of the boy timidly bid seventy-five cents, all the money he had. When there were no other bids, the painting was given to the servant. At that point the sale was stopped and an official read the remainder of the will, which specified that whoever cared enough for his son to buy the painting of him would receive all the rest of the estate.
That touching story illustrates God’s provision for fallen mankind. Anyone who loves and receives His Son, Jesus Christ, will inherit the heavenly Father’s estate, as it were. The good news of God is that everyone who receives His Son by faith is blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). That is why Paul could exult, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Quoting Isaiah, the apostle declared that the Christian’s riches include “things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9; cf. Isa. 64:4; 65:17).
In Christ, the believer has riches beyond any imagination. The Christian has life that will never end (John 3:16), a spring of spiritual water that will never dry up (John 4:14), a gift that will never be lost (John 6:37, 39), a love from which he can never be separated (Rom. 8:39), a calling that will never be revoked (Rom. 11:29), a foundation that will never be destroyed (2 Tim. 2:19), and an inheritance that will never diminish (1 Pet. 1:4–5).
In Romans 1:5–7 Paul continues to summarize that good news, describing its provision (v. 5a), its proclamation and purpose (vv. 5b-6), and its privileges (v. 7).
The Provision of the Good News
through whom we have received grace and apostleship (1:5a)
Paul here mentions two important provisions of the good news of God: conversion, which is by God’s grace, and vocation, which in Paul’s case was apostleship.
It is possible that Paul was speaking of the specific grace of apostleship, but it seems more probable that he was referring to, or at least including, the grace by which every believer comes into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Grace is unmerited, unearned favor, in which a believer himself does not and cannot contribute anything of worth. “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” Paul explains in his Ephesian letter; “and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). Grace is God’s loving mercy, through which He grants salvation as a gift to those who trust in His Son. When any person places his trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God sovereignly breathes into that person His own divine life. Christians are alive spiritually because they have been born from above, created anew with the very life of God Himself.
A believer has no cause for self-congratulation, because he contributes nothing at all to his salvation. Human achievement has no place in the divine working of God’s saving grace. We are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24), a redemption in which man’s work and man’s boasting are totally excluded (vv. 27–28).
Salvation does not come by baptism, by confirmation, by communion, by church membership, by church attendance, by keeping the Ten Commandments, by trying to live up to the Sermon on the Mount, by serving other people, or even by serving God. It does not come by being morally upright, respectable, and self-giving. Nor does it come by simply believing that there is a God or that Jesus Christ is His Son. Even the demons recognize such truths (see Mark 5:7; James 2:19). It comes only when a person repenting of sin receives by faith the gracious provision of forgiveness offered by God through the atoning work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The great preacher Donald Grey Barnhouse observed, “Love that gives upward is worship, love that goes outward is affection; love that stoops is grace” (Expositions of Bible Doctrines Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952], p. 72). In an unimaginable divine condescension, God looked down on sinful, fallen mankind and graciously offered His Son for its redemption (John 3:16–17).
The dying words of one ancient saint were, “Grace is the only thing that can make us like God. I might be dragged through heaven, earth, and hell and I would still be the same sinful, polluted wretch unless God Himself should cleanse me by His grace.”
Another provision of the good news of God is His calling believers into His service, which is a form of apostleship. Paul opens the epistle by speaking of himself, and he resumes his personal comments in verses 8–15. In verses 2–4 he speaks about Jesus Christ. But from the end of verse 4 through verse 7 he is speaking about believers in general and about those in Rome in particular. Paul had already mentioned his own calling and office as an apostle (v. 1), and it therefore seems reasonable to launch from this reference to his apostleship to discuss God’s divine calling and sending of all believers.
The Greek term apostolos, which normally is simply transliterated as apostle, has the basic meaning of “one who is sent” (cf. the discussion in chapter 1). God sovereignly chose thirteen men in the early church to the office of apostle, giving them unique divine authority to proclaim and miraculously authenticate the gospel. The writer of Hebrews even refers to Jesus Christ as an apostle (Heb. 3:1).
But every person who belongs to God through faith in Christ is an apostle in a more general sense of being sent by Him into the world as His messenger and witness. In an unofficial sense, anyone who is sent on a spiritual mission, anyone who represents the Savior and brings His good news of salvation, is an apostle.
Two otherwise unknown leaders in the early church, Andronicus and Junias, were referred to by Paul as being “outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Rom. 16:7). Luke refers to Barnabas as an apostle (Acts 14:14). The term apostolos is also applied to Epaphroditus (“messenger,” Phil. 2:25) as well as to some unnamed workers in, or known by, the church in Corinth (“messengers,” 2 Cor. 8:23). But those men, godly as they were, did not have the office of apostleship as did Paul and the Twelve. Andronicus, Junias, Barnabas, and Epaphroditus were apostles only in the sense that every believer is an apostle, a called and sent ambassador of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes an athletically inept student will be put on a team out of sympathy or to fill a roster, but the coach will rarely, if ever, put him in a game. God does not work that way. Every person who comes to Him through His Son is put on the team and sent in to play the game, as it were. Everyone who is saved by God’s sovereign grace is also sovereignly called to apostleship. The Lord never provides conversion without commission. When by grace we “have been saved through faith,” Paul explains, it is not ourselves but “is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” But as he goes on to explain, when God saves us we thereby become “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8–10). Later in that same epistle Paul entreats believers “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (4:1).
A victor at an ancient Greek Olympic game is said to have been asked, “Spartan, what will you gain by this victory?” He replied, “I, sir, shall have the honor to fight on the front line for my king.” That spirit should typify everyone for whom Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.
After one of D. L. Moody’s sermons, a highly educated man came to him and said, “Excuse me, but you made eleven mistakes in your grammar tonight.” In a gracious rebuke Moody replied, “I probably did. My early education was very faulty. But I am using all the grammar that I know in the Master’s service. How about you?” On another occasion a man came up to Mr. Moody and said, “I don’t like your invitation. I don’t think it’s the right way to do it.” “I appreciate that,” Moody responded. “I’ve always been uncomfortable with it, too. I wish I knew a better way. What is your method of inviting people to Christ?” “I don’t have one,” the man replied. “Then I like mine better,” the evangelist said. Whatever our limitations may be, when God calls us by His grace, He also calls us to His service.
In reflecting on his ordination into the Presbyterian ministry, Barnhouse wrote:
The moderator of the Presbytery asked me questions, and I answered them. They told me to kneel down. Men came toward me, and one man was asked to make the prayer. I felt his hand come on my head, and then the hands of others, touching my head, and pressing down on his and the other hands. The ring of men closed in, and one man began to pray. It was a nice little prayer and had one pat little phrase in it, “Father, guard him with Thy love, guide him with Thine eye, and gird him with Thy power.” I kept thinking about those three verbs, guard, guide, gird. It seemed as foolish as performing a marriage ceremony upon two people who had been living together for a quarter of a century and who had had a family of children together. I knew that I had been ordained long since, and that the Hands that had been upon my head were Hands that had been pierced, and nailed to a cross. Years later the man that made the prayer that day signed a paper saying that he was opposed to the doctrine of the virgin birth, the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement, the doctrine of the miracles of Christ, and the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures, as tests for ordination or a man’s good standing in the ministry. When I read his name on the list, I put my hand on the top of my head and smiled to myself, wondering how many dozen times I had had my hair cut since his unholy hands had touched me. And I had the profound consolation of knowing that the hand of the Lord Jesus Christ, wounded and torn because of my sins, had touched me and given me an apostleship which was from God and which was more important than any that men could approve by their little ceremonies. (Man’s Ruin: Romans 1:1–32 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952], pp. 76–77. Used by permission.)
Dr. Barnhouse’s account reminds me of my own ordination. Before being approved, I was interviewed by a number of men who asked me all kinds of questions concerning such things as my call, my knowledge of Scripture, and my personal beliefs and moral standards. At the ordination service those men gathered around me and placed their hands on my head. Each man then prayed and later signed his name to the ordination certificate. The first name on the certificate was written considerably larger than the others. But not long afterward, that man who signed first and largest abandoned the ministry. He became involved in gross immorality, denied the virtue of the faith, and became a professor of humanistic psychology at a prominent secular university. Like Dr. Barnhouse, I give thanks to God that my ministry did not come from men but from Christ Himself.
The Proclamation and Purpose of the Good News
to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; (1:5b-6)
to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, (1:5b)
Like Paul, every believer is called not only to salvation and to service but to witness for Christ in order to bring about the obedience of faith in others. Paul uses the phrase “obedience of faith” again at the end of the letter, saying that “the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25–26).
A person who claims faith in Jesus Christ but whose pattern of life is utter disobedience to God’s Word has never been redeemed and is living a lie. Faith that does not manifest itself in obedient living is spurious and worthless (James 2:14–26). We are not saved in the least part by works, no matter how seemingly good; but as already noted, we are saved to good works. That is the very purpose of salvation as far as our earthly life is concerned (Eph. 2:10). The message of the gospel is to call people to the obedience of faith, which is here used as a synonym for salvation.
Although Paul does not use the definite article before faith in this passage, the idea is that of the faith, referring to the whole teaching of Scripture, especially the New Testament. It is what Jude refers to as “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). That faith is the Word of God, which is the only divinely-constituted authority of Christianity. Affirmation of that faith leads to the practical, lived-out faithfulness without which a professed faith is nothing more than dead and useless (James 2:17, 20). Genuine faith is obedient faith. To call men to the obedience of faith is to fulfill the Great Commission, to bring men to Jesus Christ and to the observance of everything He commands in His Word (Matt. 28:20).
It is not that faith plus obedience equals salvation but that obedient faith equals salvation. True faith is verified in obedience. Obedient faith proves itself true, whereas disobedient faith proves itself false. It is for having true faith, that is, obedient faith, that Paul goes on to commend the Roman believers. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all,” he says, “because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8). He gives a similar commendation at the end of the letter. To his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, most of whom he had never met, he says, “The report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you” (16:19). In the first instance Paul specifically commends their faith, and in the second he specifically commends their obedience. Together, faith and obedience manifest the inseparable two sides of the coin of salvation, which Paul here calls the obedience of faith.
God has many titles and names in Scripture, but in both testaments He is most frequently referred to as Lord, which speaks of His sovereign right to order and to rule all things and all people, and most especially His own people. To belong to God in a relationship of obedience is to recognize that salvation includes being in submission to His lordship. Scripture recognizes no other saving relationship to Him.
Some years ago, as I was riding with a professor at a well-known evangelical seminary, we happened to pass an unusually large liquor store. When I made a comment about it, my companion said it was one of a large chain of liquor stores in the city owned by a man that went to his church and was a regular attender of an adult Sunday school class. “As a matter of fact, he is in my discipleship group,” my friend said; “I meet with him every week.” “Doesn’t the kind of business he is in bother you?” I asked. “Oh, yes,” he said. “We talk about that frequently, but he feels that people who drink are going to buy their liquor somewhere and that it might as well be in his stores.” Taken aback, I asked, “Is the rest of his life in order?” He replied, “Well, he left his wife and is living with a young woman.” “And he still comes to church and discipleship class every week?” I asked in amazement. The professor sighed and said, “Yes, and you know, sometimes it’s hard for me to understand how a Christian can live like that.” I said, “Have you ever considered that he may not be a Christian at all?”
A theology that refuses to recognize the lordship of Jesus Christ for every believer is a theology that contradicts the very essence of biblical Christianity. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord,” Paul declares, “and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Rom. 10:9–10). With equal clarity and unambiguity, Peter declared at Pentecost, “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). The heart of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is that faith without obedience is not saving faith, but is certain evidence that a person is following the wide and delusive road of the world that leads to destruction, rather than the narrow road of God that leads to eternal life (Matt. 7:13–14).
On the other hand, merely calling Jesus Lord, even while doing seemingly important work in His name, is worthless unless those works are done from faith, are done in accord with His Word, and are directed and empowered by His Holy Spirit. With sobering intensity, Jesus plainly declared that truth when He said, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ ” As He goes on to explain, the person who claims Him but lives in continual disobedience of His Word is building a religious house on sand, which will eventually wash away and leave him without God and without hope (Matt. 7:22–27). Without sanctification-that is, a life of holiness-“no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
Paul’s unique calling was to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 22:21; Rom. 11:13; Gal. 1:16). It is likely that he preached the gospel during his three years in Arabia (Gal. 1:17), but he began his recorded ministry by preaching to Jews. Even when ministering in the basically Gentile regions of Asia Minor and Macedonia, he frequently began his work among Jews (see, e.g., Acts 13:14; 14:1; 16:13; 17:1; 18:2). As with Paul, the calling of every believer is to proclaim Jesus Christ to all men, Jew and Gentile, in the hope of bringing them to the obedience of faith.
for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ. (1:5c-6)
Although God gave His own Son to save the world (John 3:16) and does not wish for any person to perish (2 Pet. 3:9), it must be recognized that the primary purpose of the gospel is not for man’s sake but God’s, for His name’s sake. Man’s salvation is simply a by-product of God’s grace; its main focus is to display God’s glory.
The preacher (v. 1), the promise (v. 2), the Person (vv. 3–4), the provision (v. 5a), the proclamation (vv. 5b-6), and the privileges (v. 7) of the good news of God are all given for the express purpose of glorifying God. All of redemptive history focuses on the glory of God, and throughout eternity the accomplishments of His redemption will continue to be a memorial to His majesty, grace, and love.
Because of His gracious love for fallen and helpless mankind, salvation is of importance to God for man’s sake, but because of His own perfection it is infinitely more important to Him for His own sake. God is ultimately and totally committed to the exaltation of His own glory. That truth has always been anathema to the natural man, and in our day of rampant self-ism even within the church, it is also a stumbling block to many Christians. But man’s depraved perspective and standards not withstanding, the main issue of salvation is God’s glory, because He is perfectly worthy and it is that perfect worthiness to which sin is such an affront.
Paul declares that one day, “at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11). Even the divine truths and blessings that are given for His children’s own sake are first of all given “that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:15).
When a person believes in Christ, he is saved; but more important than that, God is glorified, because the gift of salvation is entirely by His sovereign will and power. For the same reason, God is glorified when His people love His Son, when they acknowledge His assessment of their sin and their need for cleansing, when their plans become His plans, and when their thoughts become His thoughts. Believers live and exist for the glory of God.
The believers in Rome to whom Paul was writing were among those who had been brought to “the obedience of faith” (v. 5) and therefore were also the called of Jesus Christ. And, as has already been emphasized, the called of Jesus Christ, those who are true believers, are called not only to salvation but to obedience. And to be obedient to Christ includes bringing others to Him in faith and obedience.
The Privileges of the Good News
to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:7)
Among the countless, gracious privileges of the good news of God are those of our being His beloved, our being His called ones, and our being His saints.
Paul here addresses all his fellow believers in Rome as the beloved of God. One of the most repeated and emphasized truths of Scripture is that of God’s gracious love for those who belong to Him. David prayed, “Remember, O Lord, thy compassion and Thy loving-kindnesses, for they have been from of old” (Ps. 25:6; cf. 26:3) and, “How precious is Thy loving-kindness, O God!” (Ps. 36:7). Isaiah exulted, “I shall make mention of the loving-kindnesses of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has granted them according to His compassion, and according to the multitude of His loving-kindnesses” (Isa. 63:7). Through Jeremiah, the Lord told His people, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jer. 31:3).
Paul declares that God is “rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions” (Eph. 2:4–5). John writes, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1).
Every believer has been made acceptable to God through Christ, “to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). Every believer is a child of God and is loved for the sake of God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Paul says that “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). Later in the epistle he assures us that nothing can “separate us from the love of Christ,” not even “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” (8:35).
Second, those who have come to Christ by the obedience of faith are also the called of God. Paul is not referring to God’s general call for mankind to believe. Through Isaiah He made the appeals “Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth” (45:22) and “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” (55:6). Through Ezekiel He warned, “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!” (Ezek. 33:11). During His earthly ministry, Jesus said to the sinful multitudes, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28) and, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37). From heaven, through the apostle John, Jesus said, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev. 22:17).
But in Romans 1:7 Paul is not speaking of that general calling but of the specific way in which those who have responded to that invitation have been sovereignly and effectually called by God to Himself in salvation. Called is here a synonym for the terms “elect” and “predestined.” As the apostle explains in chapter 8, those “whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (v. 30). From our limited human viewpoint, it may seem that we first came to God through an act of our will, but we know from His Word that we could not have sought Him by faith unless He had already chosen us by the gracious act of His sovereign will.
The references to being called to salvation are always, in the epistles of the New Testament, efficacious calls that save, never general invitations. Thus calling is the effecting of the plan of election. The doctrine of election is clearly taught throughout the New Testament (cf. Matt. 20:15–16; John 15:16; 17:9; Acts 13:48; Romans 9:14–15; 11:5; 1 Cor. 1:9; Eph. 2:8–10; Col. 1:3–5; 1 Thess. 1:4–5; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:1–2; Rev. 13:8; 17:8, 14).
Third, believers are God’s saints. In the nasb text, as is printed in italics, indicating that the word is not in the original Greek but is supplied. It seems that a better rendering would be to place a comma in place of the as, taking “beloved, “called,” and saints as related but distinct blessings of the believer.
Saints is from hagios, which has the basic meaning of being set apart. In the Old Testament many things and people were divinely set apart by God for His own purposes. The Tabernacle and Temple and all their furnishings-supremely the Ark of the Covenant and the holy of holies-were set apart to Him. The tribe of Levi was set apart for His priesthood, and the entire nation of Israel was set apart as His people. The tithes and offerings of the people of Israel consisted of money and other gifts specifically set apart for God (cf. chap. 1).
Frequently in the Old Testament, however, holy refers to a persons being set apart by God from the world and to Himself, and thereby being made like Him in holiness. To be set apart in that sense is to be made holy and righteous. Whether under the Old or the New Covenant, saints are “the holy ones” of God.
Under the New Covenant, however, such holy things as the Temple, priesthood, Ark, and tithes no longer exist. God’s only truly holy things on earth today are His people, those whom He has sovereignly and graciously set apart for Himself through Jesus Christ. The new temple of God and the new priesthood of God are His church (1 Cor. 3:16–17; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9).
In a beautiful benediction to his introductory remarks, Paul says, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The only people who can receive the marvelous blessings of grace and peace are those who are the beloved, the called, and the holy ones of God. Only they can truly call God their Father, because only they have been adopted into His divine family through His true Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.
It is a puzzle to me that whenever I write about the lordship of Jesus Christ, as I did in the previous chapter, stressing that one must follow Jesus and submit to him to be a Christian, some people always object that an emphasis like this destroys the gospel. If Jesus must be Lord, then salvation cannot be by “simple” faith, they argue. If we insist that one must follow Christ, we must be mingling works with faith as a means of salvation, which is “another gospel.”
No matter that I show what true biblical faith is! No matter that I explain how obedience and faith both necessarily follow from regeneration!
I suppose that Paul had this problem, too, if for no other reason than that the human mind seems to work much the same way in all people. I believe Paul had these difficulties because of the way he develops his thoughts in the opening verses of Romans. In the Greek text the first seven verses of the book are one long sentence, not an unusual form for one writing in good Greek style. Nevertheless, there has been a natural and significant climax at the end of verse 4 in the words “Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is the point to which the earlier verses have been leading, and it would have been quite proper, as well as good Greek, if Paul had ended his sentence there. Why does he not do this? Why does he add the thoughts in verse 5 before the wrap-up to the introduction in verses 6 and 7? The answer is along the lines I am describing. The apostle has spoken of Jesus Christ as “Lord.” Now, knowing how people think when confronted with that idea, he feels the need to amplify his statement.
Must Jesus be Lord if one is to be saved by him? If he must, this will have an effect on the way we understand the gospel and obey Christ’s command to evangelize the world.
Disobedience and Obedience
The key words of verse 5 are those the New International Version translates as “to the obedience that comes from faith” (literally, “unto obedience of faith”). There are two ways this phrase can be interpreted. First, it can be interpreted as referring to the obedience which faith produces or in which it results. I think this is not the true meaning. But it is worth noting that, even if this is the correct interpretation, the point I have been making is still plain, since Paul would be saying that true biblical faith must produce obedience. If the “faith” one has does not lead to obedience, it is not the faith the Bible is talking about when it calls us to faith in Jesus Christ. It may be intellectual assent of a very high order. But it is not a living faith. It does not join us to Jesus Christ, and it will save no one.
Yet the case is even stronger than this, because a proper interpretation of the phrase is not “unto the obedience to which faith leads” (the first interpretation) but rather “unto obedience, the very nature of which is faith” (the second interpretation). Or, to turn it around, we could say, “faith, which is obedience.”
This is such an important point that I want to establish it a bit more fully before going on to show why it is important. The way I want to do this is to show that it is the view of the most important commentators. Let me cite a few, starting with the most recent and moving backwards.
1. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “The Apostle says … ‘the obedience of faith’ in order to bring out this point—that he is talking about an obedience which consists in faith, or, if you like, an obedience of which faith is the central principle.”
2. John Murray: “It is … intelligible and suitable to take ‘faith’ as in apposition to ‘obedience’ and understand it as the obedience which consists in faith. Faith is regarded as an act of obedience, or commitment to the gospel of Christ.”
3. Charles Hodge: “The obedience of faith is that obedience which consists in faith, or of which faith is the controlling principle.”
4. Robert Haldane: “The gospel reforms those who believe it; but it would be presenting an imperfect view of the subject to say that it was given to reform the world. It was given that men might believe and be saved. The obedience, then, here referred to, signifies submission to the doctrine of the gospel.”
5. F. Godet: “The only possible meaning is: the obedience which consists of faith itself.”
6. Martin Luther (contrasting Paul’s demand with human arguments): “Paul here speaks of ‘obedience to the faith’ and not of obedience to such wisdom as first must be proved by arguments of reason and experience. It is not at all his intention to prove what he says, but he demands of his readers implicit trust in him as one having divine authority.”
7. John Calvin: “By stating the purpose of his call Paul again reminds the Romans of his office, as though he were saying, ‘It is my duty to discharge the responsibility entrusted to me, which is to preach the word. It is your responsibility to hear the word and wholly obey it, unless you want to make void the calling which the Lord has bestowed on me.’ We deduce from this that those who irreverently and contemptuously reject the preaching of the gospel, the design of which is to bring us into obedience to God, are stubbornly resisting the power of God and perverting the whole of his order.”
I have taken several pages to make this point because, as I said at the beginning, it is an extremely important matter. It is important because it affects how we understand the gospel and how we seek to obey Christ’s command to evangelize. How is it that most of today’s evangelism is conducted? It is true, is it not, that for the most part the gospel is offered to people as something that (in our opinion) is good for them and will make them happy but that they are at perfect liberty to refuse! “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman,” we are sometimes told. “He would never coerce anybody.” With a framework like this, sin becomes little more than bad choices and faith only means beginning to see the issues clearly.
What is missing in this contemporary approach is the recognition that sin primarily is disobedience and that God commands us to repent and repudiate it. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Sin is not just that which I do that is wrong and which makes me feel miserable afterwards … not just that which spoils my life and makes me feel miserable and unhappy … not just that thing which gets me down and which I would like to overcome.” It is that, but it is also much more. Primarily, sin is rebellion against God. “Sin is refusal to listen to the voice of God. Sin is a turning of your back upon God and doing what you think.” So, when the gospel is preached, it must be preached not merely as an invitation to experience life to the full or even to accept God’s invitation. It must be preached as a command. (This is why Paul is so concerned to stress his role as an apostle, as one called and commissioned to be God’s ambassador.) We are commanded to turn from our sinful disobedience to God and instead obey him by believing in and following the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior.
This is the way Paul himself preached the gospel, though we frequently overlook it because of our own weak methods. Do you remember how Paul concluded his great sermon to the Athenians? “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed …” (Acts 17:30–31, italics mine). In God’s name, Paul commanded the Greeks to repent of their sin and turn to Jesus.
It is the same in Romans. In Romans 6:17 Paul summarizes the response of the Roman Christians to the gospel by saying, “Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted” (italics mine, here and in the subsequent citations). In Romans 10 he argues that the Jews “did not submit to God’s righteousness” (v. 3); in verse 16 he says, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel …” (kjv). At the end of the letter the idea appears again in a great benediction: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Rom. 16:25–27).
In my opinion, the weakness of much of our contemporary Christianity can be traced to a deficiency at precisely this point. By failing to present the gospel as a command to be obeyed we minimize sin, trivialize discipleship, rob God of his glory, and delude some into thinking that all is well with their souls when actually they are without Christ and are perishing.
Pelagius and Jonathan Edwards
But there may be an objection at this point. It comes from those who know theology and are aware that, according to Paul’s later teaching in Romans, everyone is so deeply ensnared by sin that even though the gospel may be preached to us, apart from the grace of God we are not able to repent and obey God’s commands. This was the point that bothered Pelagius and led to his deviant theology and the resulting clash with Saint Augustine. Pelagius felt that if we are commanded to do something, we must be able to do it. “Ought” implies “can.” But instead of throwing out the command (which is what most people seem to want to do today), Pelagius threw out the inability, arguing that we can turn from sin, believe on Christ, and pursue obedience in our own strength, entirely unaided by the Holy Spirit.
The problem here is that Pelagius was overlooking the nature of our inability, which he would have understood better had he paid more attention to the command for obedience. The inability of man in his fallen state is not a physical inability, as if God were demanding that a paralyzed person get up and walk to him. A person so impaired really would have an excuse for failing to do that, but that is not the right analogy. The inability we have is not a physical inability but a moral one. That is, we do not obey God, not because we cannot obey him physically, but because we will not obey God. It is this that makes the command to obey so important and our disobedience so reprehensible.
Let me give you one illustration. Jonathan Edwards, who is probably the greatest theologian America has produced, wrote his most impressive treatise on the “Freedom of the Will,” and at one point toward the end of the treatise he had this answer for those who think the biblical doctrines unreasonable:
Let common sense determine whether there be not a great difference between these two cases: the one, that of a man who has offended his prince, and is cast into prison; and after he has lain there a while, the king comes to him, calls him to come forth; and tells him, that if he will do so, and will fall down before him and humbly beg his pardon, he shall be forgiven, and set at liberty, and also be greatly enriched, and advanced to honor: the prisoner heartily repents of the folly and wickedness of his offense against his prince, is thoroughly disposed to abase himself, and accept the king’s offer; but is confined by strong walls, with gates of brass, and bars of iron. The other case is, that of a man who is of a very unreasonable spirit, of a haughty, ungrateful, willful disposition; and moreover, has been brought up in traitorous principles; and has his heart possessed with an extreme and inveterate enmity to his lawful sovereign; and for his rebellion is cast into prison, and lies long there, loaded with heavy chains, and in miserable circumstances. At length the compassionate prince comes to the prison, orders his chains to be knocked off, and his prison doors to be set wide open; calls to him and tells him, if he will come forth to him, and fall down before him, acknowledge that he has treated him unworthily, and ask his forgiveness; he shall be forgiven, set at liberty, and set in a place of great dignity and profit in his court. But he is so stout, and full of haughty malignity, that he cannot be willing to accept the offer; his rooted strong pride and malice have perfect power over him, and as it were bind him, by binding his heart: the opposition of his heart has the mastery over him, having an influence on his mind far superior to the king’s grace and condescension, and to all his kind offers and promises. Now, is it agreeable to common sense, to assert and stand to it, that there is no difference between these two cases, as to any worthiness of blame in the prisoners?
When we first come upon an illustration like that, our reaction is to say that it is not an accurate description of our case, that we are not like the stubborn prisoner. But that is precisely what the Bible teaches we are like. Consequently, it is important for the gospel to be presented to the unsaved as a command and to have it stressed that God will hold us accountable if we persist in sin and refuse to bow before our rightful Lord.
Apostle of God’s Grace
Yet, as I draw toward the end of this chapter, I must add that although the demand that we repent of sin and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ is a command, it is nevertheless a command that comes to us in the context of the gospel. And, remember, the gospel is not bad news; it is good news. Above all, it is the good news of God’s grace.
I suppose that is why the word grace appears in verse 5—for the first time in the letter. It will occur again; it occurs just two verses later, in verse 7. In fact, it will be found a total of twenty-two times in the course of the epistle. “Grace” is one of the great words of Romans and a wonderful concept. In my opinion, the word occurs here because even though Paul is stressing the Lordship of Christ and the necessity of obeying God in response to the demands of the gospel, at the same time he is also keenly aware that those who respond to the gospel do so only because God is already graciously at work in them and because the gospel is itself the means by which the unmerited favor of God toward us is made operative.
What is this “grace”? Grace is often defined as God’s favor toward the undeserving, but it is more than that. If we have understood Jonathan Edwards’s illustration of the stubborn, rebellious prisoner, we know that it is actually God’s favor toward those who deserve the precise opposite. What we deserve is hell. We do not even deserve a chance to hear the gospel, let alone experience the regenerating work of God within, by which we are enabled to turn from sin and obey Jesus. We deserve God’s wrath. We deserve his fierce condemnation. But instead of wrath, we find grace. Instead of condemnation, we find the One who in our place bore God’s judgment and now lives to rule over us.
I do not know what went through the mind of Paul as he wrote these words. I know only what I read in the text. But I suspect that Paul was thinking of his own experience of God’s grace as he mentions the matter of his apostleship again in verse 5, saying that it was through Christ that he “received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles.”
There is a passage in 1 Corinthians that gives a clue to what is going on. Paul had been writing of Christ’s resurrection appearances and had added that after appearing to James and all the other apostles, Jesus had appeared to him as to one “abnormally born.” Then he added, in words that were not demanded by the context but which undoubtedly flowed from Paul’s acute sense of God’s rich grace toward him, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect …” (1 Cor. 15:9–10).
Like all who have been truly converted, Paul could never forget what he had been apart from God’s grace.
He had been self-righteous.
He had been cruel.
He had been fighting against the goads of God in his conscience.
He had been trying to destroy God’s work by his persecution of the infant church.
But God had stopped him and had brought him to a right mind. Up to that point he had been disobeying God. But when Jesus revealed himself to him on the road to Damascus, the rebellious will of the future apostle to the Gentiles was broken and Paul became Jesus’ obedient servant and disciple. How could that be? How could one so rebellious be brought to his knees before Jesus? There is only one answer. It was the grace of God. Only the grace of God can produce such changes. Only a gracious God would want to.
Why is it that we so easily fall into either of two wrong emphases when we present the gospel? Either we present the gospel as something so easy and simplistic that it fails to deal with sin and does not really produce conversions. Or else we present a harsh gospel, forgetting that it is only the love of God and not the condemnation of the law that wins anybody.
And there is one more point to be made. It is only the gracious love of God that motivates us to be his ambassadors. We are not apostles, as Paul was, but we have a corresponding function. We are God’s witnesses in this world, and, like Paul, we are to take the gospel to the nations. What will motivate us to do that and will actually keep us at it when the going gets hard? There is only one thing: remembrance of the grace of God, which we have first received. Paul said this in 2 Corinthians: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.… All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:14–15, 18).
And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you have at some time picked up a letter, begun to read it, been confused by what was being said, and then flipped to the end—perhaps through several pages of nearly undecipherable handwriting—looking for the signature while you asked yourself, “Who in the world is writing this?” I have done that many times, and I have thought that it would be a lot easier if we began our letters like most ancient writers did.
Writers of old started their letters with three elements: (1) the name of the writer, (2) the name of those to whom he or she was writing, and (3) a greeting. A typical ancient letter might begin like this one from the commander of the Roman garrison at Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 23: “Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings” (v. 26). “Claudius Lysias,” the first element in the introduction, is the name of the garrison commander. The second element is “His Excellency, Governor Felix,” the name of the person to whom he is writing. Finally, there is the salutation, which in this case is merely “Greetings.” The whole is a bit like the start of one of today’s inner-office memos. After these formal elements, the commander gets down to the body of the letter, which explains why he is writing it.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is styled like this, yet Paul is so filled with his basic theme—the gospel of God centered in Jesus Christ—that he inevitably adds a lot more to the introduction. He begins simply enough: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.… ” But as he begins to explain a bit further just who he is (“called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”), the word gospel sets him off explaining what that gospel of God is about. It is a gospel “promised beforehand … in the Holy Scriptures,” concerning God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, “who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” If we did not know him better, we might think that Paul is already well into his letter at this point. But Paul now brings the description of the gospel back to himself and his apostleship, the point with which he began: “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” Then, having returned to his starting point, he proceeds to the next two elements of the classical introduction: “And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This introduction is like a sine wave in mathematics. It begins low, swells to a great peak, and then falls back to an emotional low point again: Paul’s reference to the Roman Christians and his greeting to them.
Where Did They Come from?
Yet this wrap-up is not uninteresting. In the first place, it is noteworthy because of the church at Rome itself. Even at this early date—Paul is writing about a.d. 58 or 59, less than thirty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—the faith of this church was being spoken of “all over the world” (Rom. 1:8). Later, as we know, the church at Rome became increasingly strong, influential, and powerful—eventually corrupt. Even today the church of Rome is a powerful force in Christendom.
Where did this church come from? How did it get started? One thing we can say is that Paul himself did not found it. God had called him to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Rome was a Gentile city. Yet, as he himself says in verse 13, although Paul had wanted to come to Rome many times, he was prevented from doing so, presumably by pressing missionary concerns. Paul got to Rome later, and Luke tells us about it in Acts. But this was many years after the church in Rome had been founded.
Catholic tradition holds that the Roman church was founded by the apostle Peter and that he was the first pope. I do not think it is necessary to argue, as some Protestants have, that Peter was never in Rome. On the contrary, I think an early church document, “The First Letter of Clement to the Corinthians,” implies, though it does not prove, that he was there. But that is not the same thing as saying that Peter founded the Roman church, and the evidence on that point is quite the other way. We know from the long list of names in the last chapter of Romans that Paul knew a great deal about the Roman church, even though he had not been there, yet nowhere in that chapter or elsewhere does he mention Peter, which is nearly inconceivable if Peter was in Rome or if he had founded the Roman church. Indeed, Paul says that it had always been his ambition “to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20). It is hard to see how Paul could have written this in a doctrinal letter to the Roman church if it had already been founded by Peter and received its early teaching from him.
So how did the church become established? The truth is, we do not know. But there is a suggestion in the second chapter of Acts of what may have happened. That chapter tells about Pentecost, and it gives a list of the many nations that were represented in Jerusalem that day, including “visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism)” (vv. 10–11). Since the text specifically speaks of “visitors from Rome,” we are probably right in supposing that most of these visitors returned to their capital city after the Jewish feast days and established the first churches in Italy there. If this is the case, the Roman church existed from the very earliest days of the Christian mission.
Moreover, this is a pattern that would have continued. There was a great deal of travel in the ancient world, much more than we might suppose. Rome was the center of these comings and goings. Undoubtedly, people who had been brought to Christ as a result of Paul’s Gentile mission went to and from Rome, and many undoubtedly settled there. This would explain how Paul came to know as many of the Roman Christians as the last chapter shows he did, and it would explain why Paul was not hesitant to write to this church to seek its prayer support for his trip to Jerusalem as well as its financial backing for his projected missionary excursion to Spain (Rom. 15:24, 30–31).
It would also explain why, although the church was undoubtedly composed of both Jews and Gentiles, Paul writes to these believers largely as Gentiles. We see this as early as verse 6, where the phrase “and you also” most naturally picks up from the description of Paul’s commission in verse 5: “to call people from among all the Gentiles.”
So the first interesting information is that a body of genuine followers of Jesus Christ, whether large or small (we do not know), existed in the capital city of the Roman empire—of all places! We usually think of Rome as the imperial city of the Caesars, glorious in its palaces, marble monuments, and treasures. It was that. But it was also a terrible city, full of horrible sins and gross licentiousness. Vice was everywhere. Yet in this city of gross sin there was a fellowship of people who rejected Rome’s sin and instead lived an entirely different kind of life. It was a life marked by holiness, a mutual sharing of burdens, love, and compassion for those who were abused or downtrodden. It was nothing less than a new humanity planted by God atop the deteriorating carcass of the old.
That is what Christianity always is. It is not an outgrowth, not even a quantum leap upward from the world’s decaying civilization. It is something utterly new. It is what you are, if you are a Christian—“a new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). It is what your church is, if it is composed of true believers.
How Did They Become Different?
Another interesting thing about the second and third parts of the letter’s introduction is what they tell us about the spiritual origins of these people. Here is a group of people who were in the midst of a corrupt pagan society, yet were entirely different from the mainstream. How did they get to be different? How did they become Christians? In these verses Paul tells us four important things about the early church at Rome.
1. The Christians at Rome, like all Christians, were called to belong to Jesus Christ. This is a general description of Christians, which is different from the similar phrase “called to be saints” that occurs in the next verse. What does it mean? Some people have read verse 6 as if it were describing Christians as people “called by Jesus Christ,” because the Greek can be translated that way. But here the New International Version is undoubtedly correct when it inserts the words “to belong to.” The sense is not that Jesus has called Christians—that is a work usually attributed to God the Father—but rather that, as a result of God’s calling, Christians are attached to Jesus and have their true life in that relationship. Before, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1–3, they were “dead in [their] transgressions and sins” and were “by nature objects of wrath.” Now, as a result of God’s calling, they have been “made alive with Christ” and given “good works” to do (vv. 4, 9).
This is the essential definition of a Christian (a “Christ one”). A Christian is one who belongs to Jesus Christ. This is what makes him or her different and why such a one inevitably seeks the company of others who also belong to Jesus. Nothing is more important than this in a believer’s life.
Does this describe you? Do you belong to Jesus Christ? If you do, you will live like it. If you do not, you are no true Christian, regardless of your outward profession.
2. The Christians at Rome, like all Christians, were loved by God the Father. This is no bland statement, as if Paul were only declaring that it is God’s nature to love and that these citizens of Rome, like all persons, were therefore loved by him. That is not the way the Bible speaks of God’s love. This love is an electing, saving love. So the statement “loved by God” actually describes how those who are Christians come to belong to the Lord Jesus Christ in the first place.
How indeed? Some think that people become believers by their own unaided choice, as if all we have to do is decide to trust Jesus. But how could we possibly do that if, as we have seen Paul say, each of us is “dead in … transgressions and sins”? How can a dead man decide anything? Some have supposed that we become Christians because God in his omniscience sees some small bit of good in us, even if that “good” is only a tiny seed of faith. But how could God see good in us if, as Paul will later remind us: “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12; cf. Ps. 14:3)? Why, then, does God love us? The answer is “because he loves us.” There is just nothing to be said beyond that.
Do you remember how God put it in reference to Israel in the days of Moses? “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you …” (Deut. 7:7–8). The only explanation of why the Lord loved them was that he loved them. It is love and love only.
This is a tremendous thing, if we are Christians. It is something so great we can hardly begin to take it in. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says:
We are Christians for one reason only and that is that God has set his love upon us. That is the thing that brings us out of the world and out of the dominion of Satan.… And therefore it is not surprising that the apostle here should remind these Christians of this wonderful thing. The world hated them; it persecuted them. They might be arrested at any moment, at the whim of any cruel tyrant who happened to be the emperor, and they might be condemned to death and thrown to the lions in the arena. They were oftentimes hated of all men, so Paul is anxious that they should realize this, that they are the beloved of God; that they are in Christ and that God loves them in the same way as he loves Christ.… Do not rush on to chapters six, seven and eight, saying, ‘I want to know about the doctrine of sanctification.’ My dear friend, if you only realized, as you should, that you are loved by God as he loved his own Son, you would learn the most important thing with respect to your sanctification without going any further.
The most important thing is that God has loved us. Therefore, we should love and serve him.
3. The Christians at Rome, like all Christians, were called to be believers by God. Here is the same idea that occurs earlier in the phrase “called to belong to Jesus Christ”; but although the meaning of the verb is the same, the emphasis here is different. In the earlier phrase the emphasis was on what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is one who belongs to Jesus Christ; this is his identity. Here the emphasis is on the call itself, and it is a follow-up to the truth that Christians have been loved by God. First, loved. Then, called. The calling is what theologians term “effectual calling.”
There are two kinds of calling in any presentation of the gospel. The first is a general calling, which means that all who hear are called to turn from their sin to Jesus Christ. This calling corresponds to the demand for obedience that I was talking about in the previous chapter. Not all who hear will respond to this call. Not all will obey. Nevertheless, when we call in Christ’s words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened.… Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (Matt. 11:28–29a), it is a genuine calling. From God’s side no barrier is erected. Nothing stands in the way. At the same time, as we also saw, human beings do not obey God if left to themselves. No one responds to God’s offer. None want to. So, that some might be saved, God adds to the general call (conveyed to the lost by his servants), a specific call by which God’s chosen ones inwardly hear and respond, becoming Christians. The situation is similar to Jesus’ call to dead Lazarus. Left to ourselves, we are all spiritual corpses. We cannot do anything. But when God calls savingly, some of these spiritual corpses come to spiritual life and do God’s bidding. Anyone who has been saved by God has heard this call in some way and has responded to it.
It may have been—it often is—through preaching. The Word is declared, and somewhere in the church, sitting in a pew with only God looking on, the person involved hears God himself speak. He or she says, “That preacher is describing me. That is my need. It is what I must do.” And the person believes! For another it is the quiet witness of a friend who says, “Don’t you want to become a Christian? Why don’t we pray, and why don’t you receive Jesus?” It can be through the quiet reading of the Bible. It can be through a Christian movie, book, or tract. What is common to all these experiences is that God has called and the person has heard him and believed on Jesus Christ.
My good friend R. C. Sproul tells of his conversion during his first year in college. He and a college buddy were exposed to the gospel one night and both “accepted” Jesus. For R.C., life was never the same. He was and remains an entirely different person. But his friend came down from his room the next morning and said, “Wasn’t that crazy, what we did last night? I guess I just got carried away. You won’t tell anybody about it, will you?” The friend had heard only the call of the preacher. But God had called R.C., and this call, being from God himself, had produced a new man through the new birth or regeneration.
4. The Christians at Rome, like all Christians, are called saints. Here “saint” does not mean what it has come to mean in large sectors of the Christian church: one who has attained a certain level of holiness and is therefore worthy of some special veneration or even hearing human prayers. In the Bible, being a saint or being sanctified always means being separated to God and his work, precisely what Paul said of himself in verse 1 in the words “set apart for the gospel of God.” Having been loved by God and called by him, the Christians at Rome, like all Christians, were then also set apart to him, to live for him and work for him in this world.
This is why the faith of the Roman Christians was “being reported all over the world,” as Paul says it was in verse 8. Because they had been called by God and were separated to him, these believers were different from the culture around them. And people noticed it!
Do people today notice the difference in those who profess to be Christians? There is no simple answer to this question, because the answer is often relative and because it is Yes in one situation and No in another. But notice the connective relationship between the terms in these two verses. Robert Haldane speaks of the believers being loved by God, called by God and being saints, saying rightly, “They were saints because they were called, and they were called because they were beloved of God.” That is, their being saints was not the cause but the result of their election. Being elect, they were saints; that is, they were separated to God. So, if it is ever the case that one who professes to have been called by God is not actually separated unto him—I do not mean “not perfect” but “not headed in God’s direction”—that person is not saved. He or she is no Christian. The one who has been loved and called by God does obey God and does follow after him.
Grace for the Rugged Upward Way
Yet this involves struggle. It requires the grace and peace of God each step of the rugged upward way.
When Paul closes his introduction with the wish that the believers at Rome might experience “grace and peace … from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ,” he is not merely passing on a traditional (would we say “hackneyed”?) Christian greeting. He is wishing them what they, and we also, need every day we remain on this planet. We have been saved by grace. We must live by grace also. Just as we live moment by moment by drawing breaths of God’s good air, so we must live spiritually moment by moment by drawing on his favor. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b). A man who is going through a shattering crisis in his business told me just a short time ago, “The only way I get through it is by spending solid blocks of time with God each morning.” And he is doing it! What is more, the crisis is deepening his sense of God’s presence and strengthening him, rather than doing the opposite.
And peace? We always need peace, for these are not peaceful times. Only fools think them peaceful. These are troublesome times. But those who are in Christ and are drawing on him for their strength live peacefully in the midst of them.
I close with Paul’s own prayer for those great Roman Christians: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” What great gifts these are! How needed! What a wonderful and inexhaustible source of supply!
5 Now the apostle returns to his responsibility to proclaim the good news (cf. v. 1). Two problems present themselves in v. 5, and they are somewhat related. Who is indicated by “we,” and how should one understand the phrase “all the Gentiles”? Clearly, in using “we” Paul cannot be including his readers, because they did not possess apostleship. He could be referring to other apostles, of whom the Roman believers must have heard, but this would be unexpected, and it is not amplified. Mention of the intended sphere of labor—“among all the Gentiles”—makes the limitation of the “we” to Paul (as a literary plural) natural, since the Gentiles constituted his special field of labor (cf. 15:16, 18, where the word “obey” corresponds to the word “obedience” in this passage). On the other hand, “all the Gentiles” (pasin tois ethnesin) can equally well be rendered “all the nations” or “all peoples” (cf. Mt 28:19). This would favor the wider reference of “we” to all the apostles, since Israel would be included as one of the peoples. It is difficult finally to decide this question. The mission of Paul in preaching the gospel is “for his name’s sake,” i.e., for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s apostleship is by the calling (cf. v. 1), and hence the grace, of God. “Grace and apostleship” are probably to be understood in the sense of “the gift of apostleship” (a hendiadys, the two words referring to one thing). “Grace” (charis, GK 5921), the unmerited favor of God, is a word of key importance to Paul since it captures the essence of the gospel.
The desired response to the gospel message is “the obedience of faith” (hypakoēn pisteōs, GK 5633, 4411), which probably means “the obedience that comes from faith.” It would be equally possible, however, to understand these words as an apposite genitive: “the obedience that is faith.” After all, Paul’s gospel calls preeminently for faith (cf., e.g., 10:9–11). Of course, it also calls for obedience, and for Paul the two are ultimately inseparable. (On obedience, see 15:18; 16:26; on faith, see 1:16–17; 10:17.)
6–7a Just as Paul was “called” to apostleship (v. 1), the readers too are “called to belong to Jesus Christ” and “called to be saints.” The idea here is the divine initiative that is responsible for their conversion (cf. 2 Ti 1:9–10). The readers are “loved by God”; they are the recipients of unmerited love (agapē, GK 27) that makes grace possible. The word “saint” (hagios, GK 41), the common term designating believers, has almost the same force as the expression Paul uses for himself when he says he was “set apart” (v. 1). While it does not indicate actual condition (as opposed to position) of righteousness, the designation implies the holiness to which every child of God is called (Ro 6:19, 22). On the words “in Rome,” see Introduction, p. 23).
7b At length the apostle is ready to extend a greeting to his readers—“grace to you and peace.” Ordinary letters of that period usually contained a single word meaning “greeting” (as in Jas 1:1). Paul, however, is partial to terms with theological import. He desires for his readers a continuing and deepening experience of spiritual blessing that only God can bestow. “Grace” (charis) is above all the word that captures the essence of God’s favor toward sinners; “peace” (eirēnē, GK 1645) refers to the fruit of grace, a šālôm (GK 8934) that connotes ultimate well-being in every regard. It is important to note that the Father and the Son are the joint benefactors. While the NT contains several explicit statements of the deity of our Lord, in addition it has many that imply this deity, as here in the formulaic linking of God and Jesus.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (pp. 18–29). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: Justification by Faith (Vol. 1, pp. 53–68). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. (T. Longman III &. Garland, David E., Ed.)The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.