Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for 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, 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. – Romans 1:1-7 ESV
Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome from the city of Corinth during the winter of A.D. 56-57. It would be another three years before Paul actually set foot in Rome and, when he did, he would do so as a prisoner of the Roman government. It is not clear how the church in Rome got started. Paul obviously played no role in it, having never been there before. And there is no indication that any other apostle had ever made it to the Roman capital to share the gospel. But nevertheless, the gospel had arrived, perhaps as a result of some who had been eyewitnesses to the events that took place at the Feast of Pentecost. Regardless of how the church was started, it had gained a world-wide reputation and Paul acknowledged it. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8 ESV). No doubt, Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, under the influence of the Holy Spirit and with the desire to provide them with a solid understanding of the doctrine of the gospel of God. He knew the incredible influence this church would have because of its location within the capital of Rome, the most powerful nation in the world at the time.
Paul began his letter with an introduction of himself, even though the believers in Rome would have been well-acquainted with him. He referred to himself as a servant of Christ Jesus. He did not operate on his own initiative, but as a willing slave to the one who had saved him. He served as an apostle, having been called to that role by Jesus Himself. And he acknowledged that he had been set apart or appointed for a singular purpose: the gospel of God. The entire letter of Romans will elaborate on the remarkable significance of the gospel of God, the good news concerning His Son. Paul boldly and unapologetically claims both the deity and full humanity of Jesus, “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God” (Romans 1:3-4 ESV). Paul emphatically declares that Jesus was resurrected from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. It was that one miraculous reality that had made salvation possible and the grace of God available to sinful mankind. The resurrection of Jesus is the central doctrine of the Christian faith. Without it, we have no hope, which is what led Paul to write, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV).
Paul never missed an opportunity to share the gospel, but he also took advantage of every chance he was given to strengthen the local church. He not only wanted to see people saved from sin, but he desired greatly to see them grow up in their salvation. In verse seven, Paul refers to his readers as saints, which means “set apart or holy ones”. In Paul’s mind they were positionally holy, but they were also to be practically holy in their behavior. They had been “called to belong to Jesus Christ” and so their actions and attitudes should reflect that calling. A big part of what Paul writes to them in this letter has to do with what practical holiness looks like. They are to live as if dead to sin and alive to God. They are to live by faith and not by works. They are to live according to the power of the Spirit of God and not the flesh. They are to recognize their position as heirs of God. They are to offer their bodies as living sacrifices to God and are not to be conformed to this world. The gospel of God does not stop with our salvation, but carries on throughout our lives as God continues His work of sanctification in our lives, “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5 ESV).
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are loved by God. The very fact that He sent His own Son to die in our place is the greatest expression of God’s love He could have shown us. But not only are we loved by God, we are called by Him to be saints – set apart ones. We are to live our lives in the power of His Holy Spirit and allow Him to continually transform us into the likeness of His Son. It is His miraculous transformation of us that gives proof of His Son’s salvation of us. Not only have we been saved, we are being changed. We are being conformed to the image of Christ. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29 ESV). The transformation of our lives by God is one of the greatest testimonies to the reality of the risen Christ and the power of the gospel of God.