What is the gospel and how does it work? In a way, this question is most fully answered in the letter to the Romans. Of course, the gospel is the message of all the Bible, but the book of Romans is perhaps the most thorough exposition of the gospel in the New Testament. As is common in Paul, he touches on the major points of the book in the opening verses. There he makes the following statements, which he unpacks in the rest of his letter:
- It is the Gospel of God (v. 1): It is an announcement from God and about God. Not just any God, though, but the triune Godhead of Father (v. 1), Son (v. 4), and Holy Spirit (v. 4). Romans is saturated with a trinitarian theology showing how all of the Godhead works in the fulfillment of the good news. See for instance: 5:5-6; 8:3-4; 8:11
- It was promised through prophets in Holy Scriptures (v. 2): It is not new, but the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and expectations. Romans contains many allusions to and quotations from the Old Testament and they all serve to explain how the gospel unfolds in salvation history. See for instance: 1:17; 3:10-18; 3:21; 4:1-25; etc
- It concerns his Son (v. 3): the central character of the gospel is Jesus. This Jesus is both fully human (“according to the flesh”) and fully divine (“declared to be the Son of God in power”). In Romans, everything happens in and through Christ and because of Christ. Jesus is the embodiment of the gospel Paul preaches.
- This God-man Jesus is the Davidic heir to the kingdom of God among all the nations (v. 5-6): Paul particularly strives to show that in Jesus, God offers salvation to both Jews and non-Jews, uniting all nations under Jesus and forming a new humanity. See for instance 3:19; 3:27-29; 4:11-12; 6:4; chapters 9-11.
- Paul’s aim is to bring about the obedience of faith (v. 5): Faith is a key theme in Romans as it summarizes the response of man to the gospel of God. See for instance 3: 21-26; 4:16ff; 5:1; 10:4; 10:11; 11:20
We do well to ponder the opening verses of Romans for they contain the entire book in seed form. These seeds sprout, blossom and bear full fruit as the letter unfolds.