Paul presents the gospel beginning from humanity’s plight due to sin until the resurrection of the dead through Jesus Christ.
In his letter to the churches in Rome, Paul presents his most detailed explanation of the gospel. He touches on its key subjects, including death, redemption, the Law, the resurrection, and the New Creation. He begins by describing the plight of humanity caused by sin, then he describes the solution provided by God through Jesus Christ.
All men find themselves in the same dilemma. Disobedience has alienated humanity from God and condemned every individual to weakness, decay, and death. No one is exempt, neither Jew nor Greek, not even the most righteous saint from Israel’s illustrious past. Even the Law given through Moses is incapable of reversing this reality.
Paul first identifies himself: “Paul, a called apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, which he promised through his prophets.” In this role, he proclaims the gospel about the one who was “marked out as ‘Son of God’ in power, according to the spirit of holiness, from the resurrection of the dead.”
The last clause more accurately reads, “resurrection from among dead ones.” The Greek noun nekros is plural and refers to dead persons, not to the abstract state of “death.” From the start, Paul grounds his message on the past death of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection – (Romans 1:1-4).
This gospel is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Jews and Gentiles are in the same fix, and therefore, acquire right-standing before God on the same basis, namely, faith.
God has “revealed a righteousness from faith for faith,” but the gospel also reveals the “wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Sinners resist what truth they already know from the knowledge they have gleaned from the created order (“The invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made”).
Having rejected the God that created all things, they exchange His worship for the “likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” – That is, for idolatrous worship.
For this reason, God “delivered them up to the lusts of their hearts.” The very sins in which fallen humanity delights demonstrate that men and women are under His “wrath.” Put another way, the “wrath” of God includes His handing men over to engage in the very sins they desire. This picture of idolatry-run-rampant primarily has Gentiles in view. But what about Jews? Are they any better off than the idolatrous Gentiles? Paul answers this in the negative – “No, certainly not, for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin.”
He cites several passages from the Hebrew Bible to demonstrate that all men have sinned, that all are in the same rotting boat, and this includes even the most Torah-observant Jews – “There is none righteous, no, not one…They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable; There is none that does good, no, not, so much as one.”
But what about the Law? Does its possession not give Israel an advantage over unenlightened Gentiles? Well, yes and no. The Jews possess it and understand what God requires. However, the Law speaks to them who are under it:
- “So that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God; because from the works of the law shall no flesh be set right in his sight; for through the law is the knowledge of sin.”
The possession of the Law only serves to highlight Israel’s sins and to increase her responsibility. The Jews are at even greater risk of receiving God’s “wrath” than unenlightened Gentiles. To whom much is given, much is required.
In contrast to the Law, the gospel provides a solution to Jew and Gentile alike – “The righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ for all of them who believe, for there is no distinction; all have sinned and lack the glory of God.”
Both Jew and Gentile are set right before God “through the redemption in Christ Jesus.” Thus, a man is put into right relationship with God from faith, and that “apart from the works of the Torah.” Thus, God demonstrated His love for us:
- “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now set right by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath through him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we will be saved by his life.”
When Paul states that we are saved “by his life,” he means his resurrection life. Sin is not reckoned to us if we believe that God “raised Jesus our Lord from among the dead.” He was handed over to death for our trespasses, but he was “raised for our justification.”
This is the plight of humanity – “Through one man, sin entered into the world, and death through sin; thus, death passed to all men, for that all sinned.”
The penalty for sin is death. Paul is referring to Adam and his disobedience. That first sin doomed all humanity to death and enslavement under sin, the just punishment for disobedience. But all do not die for Adam’s sin, for all men sin, therefore, all men rightly deserve death. Fortunately, God did not leave humanity without hope:
- “If by the trespass of the one man, the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many…For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; much more shall they that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ.”
Believers have been baptized into Christ’s death so that, “just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection… if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death no more has dominion over him. For the death that he died, he died unto sin once: but the life that he lives, he lives unto God.”
Throughout Paul’s argument, the alternative to death is resurrection – Life received by the resurrection from the dead. That knowledge should reorient our entire lives, including our relationship to the Law.
We also must “become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that we should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead.” Despite being set right before God, believers are still subject to death. However, “if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he that raised up Jesus from the dead will give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit.”
Believers remain mortal as they continue to live in the present age. But whether mortal or immortal, they live an embodied existence. The gift of the Spirit is the guarantee of their future bodily resurrection.
The Spirit dwells in mortal believers and attests that they are the “children of God,” and “joint-heirs with Christ.” The creation itself is in “earnest expectation” as it waits for that day when the “sons of God are revealed.” The disobedience of Adam subjected the entire creation to decay and death, but the creation will be delivered from this “bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God…at our adoption, that is, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:10-23).
Thus, Paul links bodily resurrection to the New Creation. The “redemption of our bodies” refers to our bodily resurrection. If the entire creation waits in anticipation of that event, then its arrival can only mean the New Creation.
Paul summarizes the first half of this letter with exclamations of faith and joy: “If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect…It is Christ Jesus that died, yea, rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” – (Romans 8:31-39).
“Who, then, shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Certainly NOT death!