A Study Of Romans 1:1-4
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
(which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)
concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;
and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
It is not known what is the beginning, and what is the origin of the church at Rome. Certain it is that the Romish tradition that Peter was the founder of it and that he was the first bishop cannot stand the test of Scripture. We may believe that, if the apostle Peter had been instrumental in establishing the church at Rome, at the time when Paul writes this epistle, the apostle Peter must still have been there and he must still have been, according to the Roman Catholic claim, overseer of the church. And that is impossible, for Paul would never interfere in another man’s work. He would not have written this epistle.
Besides, in the long list of names mentioned at the end of the epistle, Peter is not even mentioned.
As to the origin of the church, there must have been a good deal of connection and traveling between Jerusalem and Rome. There were connections of business, etc. Besides, the large congregation at Jerusalem soon was scattered, due to persecutions. Undoubtedly many went to Rome. Perhaps the congregation at Rome was finally established by one of the helpers of the apostles, although it is not certain.
According to the evidence of the epistle, the congregation consisted of converts out of Jews and Gentiles.
As to its contents, the theme of the epistle is clear. This is due to the fact that there was no particular reason in the congregation which causes the apostle to write this epistle. There were no heresies and no particular sins against which the apostle is called to warn the congregation. He simply states that he longed to see them, but was let hitherto. And so he felt the need of writing them. What we have, therefore, in this epistle to the Romans is a quiet development of one theme. That theme is that a man is justified, not by the works of the law, but by faith in Christ.
We find that there is a threefold division. The first is that it is impossible for man to become righteous before God on the basis of works. The second is the expounding of the positive doctrine of justification by faith. And the third is the application of that doctrine of justification by faith to them that are so justified. Inasmuch as that is the main theme, and inasmuch as that faith by which man is justified cannot possibly rest on the word of man, the apostle introduces himself to the Roman church in our text as one separated unto the gospel. That is the theme of this part of the epistle.
A Significant Gospel
Notice that the apostle is speaking of the gospel of God. The gospel, as to the meaning of the word, is good news. It is a good message, a tiding of joy. As to the scriptural meaning, the gospel is in the first place a message from God. That is an essential element of the gospel.
In the second place, it is a message from God to His people as they are in this world. It is a message from God in this world of darkness, of sin, and of death. It is a message from God in that world in which His people are by nature children of wrath. It is a message from God in that world in which His children are loaded with sin and in which everything about them testifies of sin and of death. In that darkness comes a message. It is a message that comes from heaven, a divinely authoritative message, a message that is glad news.
That news consists in this that those who are in darkness see a great light; that those who are in sin receive righteousness; that those who are in death, receive life. That is the gospel.
Now notice that the apostle tells us concerning that gospel that it is the gospel of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the object of that gospel. It is concerning Him that glad news comes from heaven. It is the gospel concerning His Son, who as we know Him, as He stands with His face toward us, is the Lord Jesus Christ, and who as He stands with His face to the Father, as we do not see Him and know Him, is the eternal Son. As He stands with His face to us, as we see and know Him, He is Jesus of Nazareth, who became like unto us and walked among us for thirty-three years. He is the object of that glad news.
If you ask, what does God declare concerning His Son, what is the contents of that glad news, then the apostle mentions two facts. The first is His incarnation. The second is His resurrection.
Notice: “concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” That, God declared concerning His Son.
According to the flesh, He was made of the seed of David. Flesh in the text does not mean sinful flesh, but means His human nature; it means His human body and soul. Jesus, according to His body and His soul, was made. He was made of the seed of David. That is, He assumed, He took upon Himself, that flesh, that body and soul. He took that flesh from the heart of the covenant line which was in David. You may notice that, according to prophecy, the heart of the covenant line runs through David’s house. The covenant line is like a pyramid that has for its base the seed of the woman. For its apex it has the house of David. The last that we have in Scripture concerning the coming of the Son of God in the flesh is that He will take on the flesh and blood, not merely of man, but of David. Jesus could not be a Roman; He could not be a Greek. But He took on the flesh from the heart of the covenant line. He was made of the seed of David.
That, God declared. That is the gospel, you understand. That is the one fact of the gospel.
The other fact is the resurrection. God declared concerning His Son that He was powerfully declared to be the Son of God, so that we also know Him as the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. “Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead,” the apostle says. “According to the spirit of holiness” stands over against the flesh here. The spirit of holiness is not the third person in the Trinity. It is not the Spirit of sanctification, as the Dutch translation has it (“De Geest des heiligmaking”). But the spirit of holiness refers to the divine nature of Jesus. God is a spirit. His nature is spiritual. The chief characteristic of God as a spirit is that He is holy. When the apostle says that He was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness, the meaning is that Jesus according to His human nature is of the seed of David, but that according to His divine nature He is the Son of God. Now then, that is the gospel.
That powerful demonstration of Jesus as the Son of God is the resurrection. When He lies as a babe in Bethlehem, that does not become manifest. As far as we can see, He is just like any other babe. But when He rises from the dead, we have a powerful demonstration that He is the Son of God.
Now then, we have this: The gospel is glad news, coming from heaven, concerning the Son of God who, as we see Him, is Jesus Christ our Lord. That which God declares concerning His Son is that according to the flesh He is of the seed of David, but according to His divine nature He is declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead.
Why does the apostle select these two?
It is evident that these two mark the beginning and the end of His being with us. That period was the period. In that period the gospel is realized, the gospel which concerns His Son. It is in that period that God comes from heaven in His Son, is with us for thirty-three years, and then returns. All that lies between that beginning and that end constitutes the gospel of our salvation. That is the only historical basis for all that we believe. That is really the gospel.
Now what happened?
God came, through His Son, into our darkness. Here, there was nothing but darkness, sin, and death. The Son of God came into our darkness and death. If He was not the Son of God, then there is no gospel. Then there is no hope. If the modern interpretation is correct, there is no gospel. On the incarnation of the Son of God hangs all the righteousness which is by faith. He entered into our life. He became like us in everything, sin excepted. He became a man among men, weak and suffering. Not only that, but He died. He died as all men die. But if that is all that can be said about Him, there is no gospel. For, viewing Him as the Son of God entering into our night, we are watching and wondering whether He will come out of that night. No man ever did. No man ever entered into our night and came out of it.
When the Son of God comes into our night, the question is, what will become of Him?
In breathless expectation the church stands and asks the question, what will become of Him?
He was raised. The Son of God came, and He walked among us, and he bore our sins, and with our sins He sank into death, but He was declared to be the Son of God in the resurrection. Upon the incarnation as the beginning and the resurrection as the end depends the gospel, the gospel of our justification. If that child of Bethlehem is not God, He did not bear our sin. And if He is not raised, He failed to atone. But in the resurrection He was powerfully declared to be the Son of God. That is the gospel.
That gospel God declares. We read in the text that it is the gospel of God. “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.” It is the gospel of God. That is, God is the author of that gospel. God made that gospel. He conceived of the glad news concerning His Son to His people. He made that gospel. God is the author of that gospel because He realized it in the fullness of time. In the fullness of time God rent the heavens and sent His Son into our darkness. He loaded upon Him our sin. He gave Him over to the death of the cross. He poured the vials of His wrath over Him. And He raised Him; He glorified Him; He set Him at His right hand in the highest heavens; He gave Him the Spirit without measure.
But the gospel is also the gospel of God in the sense that He declares it. He is the only one who is able to declare it. In the first place, this is because man is not able to understand and interpret that gospel concerning the Son of God. Suppose that it was left up to man to interpret the facts. He would never come to this gospel. All the philosophy of man cannot interpret that Babe in Bethlehem. All modern theology, for that is modern theology, in interpreting that Babe, sets aside God’s interpretation of that Babe, and then you have nothing left but that an ideal man is born. Modern theology is the setting aside of God’s interpretation. After setting aside God’s interpretation, it interprets that Babe itself. Then you have nothing left. For there is nothing to see. From our side that Babe is just like all others. That is modern theology concerning the cross. Set aside the declaration of God concerning the cross, and you have nothing left but the pitiful spectacle that a man is cruelly put to death, whether that man be guilty or innocent.
In the third place, the gospel must be declared by God because it is only on the basis of God’s declaration that we can believe impossible things. I believe in such impossible things as the forgiveness of sin. That that God who is unchangeably righteous forgives sin is impossible. Yet, on the basis of God’s declaration, I believe that the impossible is possible. All such things that are contradicted by all that is around me, I believe. I live in the valley of death. I die and I am gone. In the midst of that, I believe that I have eternal life. All about me contradicts it. And I believe.
Why do I believe?
Did Moses say so?
Then my faith is vain.
Did Isaiah say so?
That faith cannot rest on the word of man. If I am to be confident of that righteousness and life in the midst of death, then there is only one that can tell me. If there is ever to be glad news for me, then it must be God that brings it to me.
This is what the apostle says. That is why he says, “The gospel of God, which He had declared afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,” that is, in the old dispensation. He declared it through His prophets. He declared it as a promise. In the old dispensation God said, “My Son will come.” His people suffered. But they clung to that word of God. They died in that faith, not having received the promise. God finally declared it through His Son, when He sent Him into the world. Through Him God spoke directly to His people. He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; I am the resurrection of life.”
A Necessary Separation unto that Gospel
In the new dispensation, the apostle says, He still declares that same gospel. The apostle means to say, “Don’t take it as my word. If you ask me, how did you get it, Paul? Did you go to school to learn it? Did you prepare for it? Did you receive it by coming into contact with philosophers? What then? The answer is, ‘Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, that is, His slave, who is to speak what He tells me to.’
“Called to be an apostle!” It was far from the mind of Paul to become an apostle. So far was it from his mind that he persecuted the church, and raved against that gospel. But Christ called him. He separated him unto the gospel. He so separated him that Paul became the instrument of the Spirit to receive the gospel and to declare it. So that we have that gospel in the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures are God’s testimony concerning His Son to His people.
The practical application is that upon the basis of God’s declaration we believe, as soon as that gospel speaks to our heart, the impossible possibility, by the grace of God, that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life. The Son of God was made flesh from the seed of David.
Do you believe it?
The Son of God was raised from the dead.
Do you believe it?
Do you say of the Son of God, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom I belong?” Then this gospel is yours, and you can rejoice, “I then, having been justified, by faith, have peace with God.”
By Herman Hoeksema