Who are you? At some point in life every single person arrives at this grand question, ‘Who am I?’ Think of this. When you describe yourself to a person you’re meeting for the first time, what do you most want to tell them about who you are? Or after the first five minutes of meeting someone what would they know about you? Maybe some of you describe yourself by what you are. ‘I’m a vegan.’ ‘I workout.’ ‘I’m a republican.’ ‘I’m a Calvinist.’ Maybe some of you describe yourself first by what you’re not, ‘I’m an anti-vaxxer.’ ‘I’m not like those ungrateful young people.’ Or, ‘I’m not like those out of touch old people.’ Sadly, maybe others of you define yourself with what you most struggle with, ‘I’m an addict,’ or ‘I’m depressed,’, or ‘I’m overweight.’ You see, what you say about yourself to others reveals much about who you believe you are, what your life revolves around, what you think matters most, and how you want others to view you.
Few questions are so fundamental about us and few questions reveal as much about us. I begin with this today because in our passage Paul answers this very question for himself and his answers are quite refreshing.
If you’ve not already, open your Bibles to Romans 1:1-7, where firstly we…
Meet the Apostle (v1)
In reading the Bible ourselves and in hearing the Bible preached I think most Christians have grown so accustomed to how Paul’s letters begin that we don’t really pay attention to them. In essence we rush past these introductions to get to the content that really matters. This is something we must indeed stop doing. We must come to understand that we rob ourselves of great riches if we do this. Take this first verse as an example. You might think it’s just a general introduction from Paul to the Romans, that it isn’t very different from how he begins his other letters, and that there really isn’t anything we can learn from it. But a closer look at v1 shows us how Paul, from the very outset, is eager to teach the Romans. Teach them about what? We’ll let’s look into it to see.
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…”
Remember, it’s likely that most of the Christians in Rome have heard of Paul but Paul has never met them or been to visit them, so he must introduce himself to them. See how he does it? As was common for letters in the first century Paul begins with his name, but he then does something unexpected. After telling them who he is, he immediately tells them Whose he is. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.” Whatever else the Romans might learn about him, Paul is anxious to teach them this most important thing about himself. He’s anxious to introduce them to the one Person in his life that matters most, the one Person Paul cannot think of himself apart from, Jesus Christ. Paul could’ve easily said ‘Paul, eminent theologian, master of the Old Testament Scriptures, frontier missionary, gospel champion.’ But no, he says he’s a servant of Christ Jesus. Don’t miss it Church. The very first thing he wants them to know about himself is that he belongs to Jesus.
This word ‘servant’ is key. The Greek word used here is doulos which is more rightly translated ‘slave.’ But you won’t find this is most English translations, because slavery in our modern world brings to mind such appalling things, most English translations avoid the word slavery and use servant or bondservant instead, which really ends up softening what Paul’s saying here. We’d do well to see this as it is. Paul doesn’t view himself as being a free man, no. He doesn’t come and go as he pleases, no. Christ is his Master and he is his Master’s possession. That’s the first thing he wants the Romans to know about him.
The second thing he wants them to know is that he has been called and set apart to be an apostle. This language of calling and setting apart is very similar to how God speaks of Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. Israel was and the Church has now been brought out from the rest of the world and made separate. But Paul also brings in the word apostle to clarify what he means in this. Paul uses this term in v1 to teach the Romans that he’s not a rogue figure out and about on his own mission, teaching his own ideas, trying to create his own religion. No, Paul is an apostle, a ‘sent one.’ One whose been chosen, called, selected to be an officially authorized representative of Christ along with Peter, James, John and the other apostles. Those hand selected 12 who were with Jesus and eyewitnesses of His resurrection. The Romans may have never met Paul, but they should certainly listen to Paul since he’s an apostle. Why? Because as an apostle, he’s writes with the full authority of Jesus Christ Himself.
The third and final thing he wants the Romans to know as he begins in v1 is that God called and set him apart as an apostle for a reason. See it? The gospel of God. Here we have the first mention of the word that will dominate this letter, gospel. Paul will soon say he isn’t ashamed of this gospel and then spend the rest of the book explaining both the contents of the gospel and how the gospel transforms our lives. But did you note how he says this in v1? Paul identified himself earlier as one who belongs to Jesus, so we could say Paul is Jesus’ Paul. Well, what gospel is this? What gospel has Paul been set apart for? Not Peter’s gospel. Not John’s gospel. No, God’s gospel. The gospel belongs to God! Romans then, is a letter about God. How God acted to bring about salvation, how God’s justice can be preserved in that salvation, how God’s purposes are being worked out in history, and how God can be served by His people throughout all their lives.
So we’ve met Paul, let’s now…
Learn Paul’s Message (v2-4)
“…the gospel of God…which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”
Now we come to next great matter Paul introduces to the Romans. That this gospel of God which God has set him apart for isn’t new. Rather the gospel is of old, it’s something God promised long ago. I think too many make too sharp a division between the Old and New Testaments, as if there were no gospel in the Old Testament and no Law in the New Testament. In our daily living as Christians this usually looks like us simply not giving much attention to the Old Testament because we think we’re New Testament people and should just stick to the New Testament. To which I respond, ‘We are indeed no longer in the shadow lands, we are living in the realities, gloriously so! But where do we think the foundation of the New Covenant was laid? Nowhere else than the Old Covenant.’ Or as Augustine once said, “The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.” This is what Paul’s getting at here in v2. His message, the gospel of God, wasn’t invented by him. No, it goes all the way back to the Garden where God spoke the first words of light into the dark fallen hearts of Adam and Eve. ‘One day’, God told them in Gen. 3:15, ‘the serpent will strike one of your Descendants on the heel, but He will crush its head.’ All the prophets of old spoke of this Descendant of Eve, of His coming, of His entrance into our world, of His life, His death, His resurrection, and His ultimate victory. This means Paul’s eager to tell them and to show them that in these “holy Scriptures” God has made many promises, and in Jesus Christ we come to see how God has kept them all.
But what does he say next in v3-4? He gets more specific, saying this gospel of God promised beforehand in the holy Scriptures is about one thing. It concerns “…God’s Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”
Now we see it! The gospel of God is not about a set of principles or about a certain spiritual program, it’s about a Person. The Person of Jesus Christ. Try as many may, there simply is no Christianity without Jesus Christ. Put anything else before Him or leave Him out entirely and you’ve left Christianity, regardless what one calls themselves. And notice, how Paul’s explanation of the gospel of God doesn’t begin with man, with man’s problems, or with man’s value or worth. No, it begins with Jesus. And more so notice, Paul isn’t content to leave Jesus simply stated and undefined. He tells us what we should know about this Person Jesus Christ. Some today might already begin having issues with Paul. Arguing with him saying he’s getting too deep and going into things he shouldn’t. ‘We just want Jesus, Paul, don’t go into all this doctrine. Doctrine divides.’ Paul sees it differently. I’d argue Paul sees it rightly and clearly. Sure, doctrine may divide, but can we see that when handled properly doctrine divides between what is true and what is false? Or see it like this: Jesus is Paul’s Master, and Paul earnestly desires and labors to make his Master’s glories plain to the Romans, and to us. Let’s see what he says about Jesus.
First, He was a Descendant of David according to the flesh. We know what this means. Not only was Jesus to be the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent (Gen. 3:15), not only was Jesus to be a Descendant of Abraham that would bless the nations (Gen. 12), not only was Jesus to be of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49), He was to be of a particular line, the line of David. Remember 2 Samuel 7? David desires to build God a house but God interrupts these desires and makes David a grand promise and says He’ll be the One doing the house building. Specifically, God will build David a great house, or kingdom and He’ll place one of David’s sons on the throne establishing David’s throne and kingdom forever and ever. This long-anticipated Son of David is Jesus. He was the true divine eternal Son of God before in eternity past, but at a certain point in time this Son of God willingly became something that He was not before as He entered into our world, true Man.
Paul doesn’t leave it at that but goes on with more detail about the nature of Jesus. First, He was a Descendant of David according to the flesh, that’s v3. See what comes second in v4, He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead…” Some read this as teaching us that Jesus was simply human before the resurrection and then became the Son of God after the resurrection. I disagree. That’s not what Paul is saying. The Son of God has always been the Son of God. The point he’s making here is that there are stages of Christ’s work to see. He – the true, the divine, the eternal Son of God – took on flesh, and in His earthly ministry His glory was largely veiled. He was King of kings while on He walked among us but He went ‘incognito’ if you will. Then something happened that changed everything. What happened? The resurrection. In the resurrection, by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power, meaning His glory is veiled no longer. He has been inaugurated, He has been enthroned, above all and overall to His rightful place. Paul is saying the resurrection is not only where we see Jesus as the Son of God, but the resurrection is where we see Jesus as the Son of God in power. Which is why Paul concludes recognizing Jesus to be what He truly is, “Jesus Christ our Lord.” This theme will be the grand foundation for everything Paul says later on in chapter 6 about how we’re to view ourselves as those who’ve been redeemed and how that resurrected power changes our daily life.
So follow Paul here in v1-4. What is the gospel of God promised long ago in the holy Scriptures all about? It concerns Jesus. Eternal Son of God, Seed of David, Messiah, and Lord. This is what Paul was set apart for. This is his message.
Learn Paul’s Mission (v5-7)
“…through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We’ve met Paul and learned his message but as we come to v5-7 we now learn more about Paul. We learn this message from God propels him out on a mission for God. What is that mission? He begins with his apostolic calling again. His mission is to be what God has called him to be, an apostle. But see how he views it? He views it as something he’s received from Jesus and calls it grace. Grace! Here again is the first mention of another word which will dominate the landscape of Romans, grace. Paul didn’t become an apostle because he chose it as a career among a large list of possible careers, no. God called him into this work, God set him apart to this work, by His grace. This grace of God will, of course, be expanded on later, but here we see the beginnings of Paul’s thought on it. He believes he is what he is by the grace of God alone. Do you agree with him? Or do you believe you are what you are because of what you have done? In this we glimpse the heart of a true believer. Paul works, toils, labors, writes, plants churches, pastors churches, suffers a great deal of pain, agony, and turmoil on account of it, and ultimately dies because of it. Yet, when Paul thinks of all he’s done he doesn’t sit back and congratulate himself on his great and glorious accomplishments, no. He gives all the glory to God and confesses, ‘It was all of grace.’
After laying a foundation of the grace of God on his ministry, Paul unfolds the what, the why, and the where of his mission in v5.
The what is “…to bring about the obedience of faith…” This phrase ‘bring about’ tells us God is going to do something through Paul in the lives of those he ministers to. What will God do? He’ll bring about the ‘obedience of faith.’ Curious phrase isn’t it? On one hand we can say these two words go together. Obedience always involves faith and faith always involves obedience, they belong together like lightning and thunder. But on the other hand there is a sure order to these words we would do well to note. Just as lightning comes before thunder, so too faith always comes before and produces true obedience. So, when put together as “the obedience of faith” we learn the Jesus we have faith in is also the Lord we obey. Yes, faith alone saves, but when faith is true faith is never alone, works always follow. Or we could put it like this: the Christian isn’t one who just believes certain things, the Christian is one who lives a certain way because we believe certain things. Our whole life is a result of what we believe. That’s the what of his mission.
Now look at the why, “…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake His name…” Paul isn’t undertaking all of this gospel endeavor for personal profit or financial gain, he is no peddler of God’s Word who can’t trusted. Paul’s grand motivation for all things is “for the sake of His name” or for His glory. This is also God’s purpose in all things, the great glory of His name. In this Paul shows himself very healthy and spiritually alive, his heart beats with the same aim as God’s heart. Does yours? It ought to. If you’re ‘why’ is anything else you’re not just off base or unhealthy or in need of an adjustment, you’re an idolater. There is no one like God and there is no God but God. He, therefore, deserves all our love, all our affection, all our praise, all our hard work, and all our obedience. His glory is our great end in all things.
Lastly, Paul’s where. Finish out v5, “…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake His name…(where?)…among all the nations…” Not just Israel any longer, but the nations. Paul knows further on in this letter he’ll describe how God is now sovereignly working throughout all history to bring a new people together, from all nations, through the gospel. So here he begins with that in mind as he gives us the where of his mission. And as robust as this is, as grand and all encompassing as this is, to these Romans it would’ve been very personal. Why? See what he says next in v6, “…including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…” The nations God has called Paul to includes those in Rome.
And so, after meeting the apostle, learning his message, and learning his mission Paul concludes his greeting with sweet words in v7. “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Church, we’ve come full circle now back to the question we began with. Who are you? We’re not apostles like Paul, no. But we are slaves of Jesus Christ, yes. We’re not Roman citizens, we’re Floridians. But we are greatly loved by God in Christ, we’ve been called to be saints, and by believing in our Lord Jesus Christ we now find ourselves in a global gospel family. A family we eagerly desire to grow, and a family we earnestly work so that it will grow, by the grace of God and through the power of the gospel.
This is our message. This is our mission.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 1 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 32.
 Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 16–17.
 Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 38.
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 41.
 R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 18.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2014), 12.
 Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 102.
 John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 7.
 Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 13.
 Moo, Romans, 48–49.
 Robert W. Yarbrough et al., ESV Expository Commentary: Romans-Galatians, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 37.
 Moo, Romans, 50–51.
 Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 169.