Summary: The gospel produces a burden, produces boldness, produces confidence, reveals God’s righteousness, and reveals God’s wrath.
No other portion of Holy Scripture so completely sets forth the great doctrines of the Christian faith as does Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. No other product of the pen has ever more powerfully confronted the mind of man with the great truths of God. All of man’s alibis, all of his pretenses, all of his attempts at self-justification are mightily struck down by the truths of this book. In Romans, every argument which man can muster against the claims of God are thoroughly demolished with unanswerable logic by the Apostle Paul.
Paul had heard of the church at Rome, but he had never been there, nor had any of the other apostles. Evidently the church was begun by Jews living in Rome who had come to faith in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. They spread the faith on their return to Rome and the church grew.
Although many barriers separated them, Paul felt a bond with these Romans. They were his brothers and sisters in Christ, and he longed to see them face to face. He had never met most of the Christians in Rome, yet he loved them. He sent this letter to introduce himself and to make a clear declaration of the faith.
It is likely that the importance of the Epistle to the Romans cannot be overstated. In the summer of A.D. 386 Aurelius Augustinus, a native of Tagaste in North Africa and Professor of Rhetoric at Milan, was on the brink of beginning a new life. Taking up his scroll he read, “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:13-14). “No further would I read,” he said, “nor had I any need; instantly, at the end of this sentence, a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” Such was the conversion experience of St. Augustine.
In November, 1515, an Augustinian monk and Professor of Sacred Theology at the University of Wittenberg, Germany, began to expound this epistle to his students. As he prepared his lectures, he became more and more convinced that the just shall live by faith. “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,” he wrote, “and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the righteousness of God.’ . . . Night and day I pondered until . . . I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn . . . .” Through the reading of this epistle, Martin Luther was born into the family of God. Many credit Luther with sparking the Protestant Reformation.
On the evening of May 24, 1738, John Wesley unwillingly attended a society meeting at Aldersgate Street where someone was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. Wesley wrote in his journal, “About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken my sins away, even mine; and saved me from the law of sin and death.” This event, more than any other, launched the Evangelical Revival of the eighteenth century.
The great Swiss Reformer John Calvin said of this epistle, “When any one understands this Epistle, he has a passage opened to him to the understanding of the whole Scriptures.” James I. Packer, twentieth-century theologian, comments that “there is one book in the New Testament which links up with almost everything that the Bible contains: that is the Epistle to the Romans. . . . From the vantage point given by Romans, the whole landscape of the Bible is open to view, and the broad relation of the parts to the whole becomes plain. The study of Romans is the fittest starting-point for biblical interpretation and theology.”
In his commentary on Romans the well-known Greek scholar Frederic Godet observed that “The Reformation was undoubtedly the work of the Epistle to the Romans, as well as of that to the Galatians; and the probability is that every great spiritual revival in the church will be connected as effect and cause with a deeper understanding of this book.”
It has been said, “Reading through Romans repeatedly results in revival.”
I. The Gospel produces a burden (1:14).
"I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise."
Paul’s burden is stated in the words, “I am debtor.” The term “debtor” refers to anyone who has a moral obligation. Paul felt he had a moral obligation to declare the gospel to all people. He would proclaim Christ with equal passion to a runaway slave like Onesimus or to a proud monarch like King Agrippa.