Gordon E. Johnson


The Gospel in its very essence

Romans 1:16, 17 NKJV

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


Paul begins his masterful epistle with a straight forward presentation of himself - a slave, an apostle, one separated to the gospel of Christ. But he turns immediately to the message, a Christ-centered message that embraces the Old Testament Scriptures and the humanity and deity of Christ. The emphasis will be on God's righteousness, our holiness in standing and state. This is a message to be shared with all nations. As saints we are so declared by God and entrusted with that message of grace. In fact, we are debtors to its proclamation.

The Gospel in its Broadest Scope – Defined in essence  - Romans 1:16, 17

No where else in the inspired text is the gospel presented with such crisp clarity and in depth treatment as in these two verses.  There are other summations of the gospel as in 1 Cor. 15: 3, 4; John 3:14-18 and 1 Peter 2:21-25. But there is theological depth to Paul's condensation that includes all major facets of God's matchless plan of salvation.  In only fifty-four words, Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit has captured the essence of the gospel which he will expand and apply in this missionary epistle.

Presentation of the Gospel  -  Romans 1:16

Let us examine the contents of Romans 1:16.  This verse is an introduction which presents: 1.) Paul's reaction;  2.) a description of the transforming power of the gospel; 3.) the breadth and depth of its application; 4.) the recipients of its grace;  5.) the manner in which it is lived out in its fullness;  6.) with a recognition of a divine order: first Jews, God's people and then Gentiles "not a people who became a people" (1Peter 2: 9,10).

Paul begins with a personal negative: "I am not ashamed." In reality, the gospel was his boast, but it would be most inappropriate to begin with such a self centered statement. The gospel infinitely transcends him.  By means of this strong understatement, a litotes, he declares he has never found it wanting, whether in his own life from a Pharisee to a slave of the Messiah or in his missionary endeavors.  The gospel is the power of God "dunamis"/dynamite. God's creative powers are released in the moral impact of the living Word of God.  Paul experienced it on the road to Damascus, in Athens, in Corinth, in Ephesus and he will in Rome also.

The scope of this power extends to"salvation" in its broadest application: forgiveness for all past sins and a new standing in justification, the cancellation of the power of sin (self) in sanctification present and the reality of future enjoyment of eternal life.  All of this is on the basis of a simple faith "to everyone who believes." This simplicity of faith boggles the mind and challenges our heart. On any other basis the gospel would be impossible, because the human heart has nothing ever to offer God that he can accept. Finally God has had a divine order in his mercy: "for the Jew first and also for the Greek."

The Essence of the Gospel  - Romans 1:17

Paul now comes to grips with the theology of salvation. "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed" (is being revealed). Now comes the all important word to be understood in is depth. The righteousness of God is his absolute holiness in his own person, revealed as justice in the law but therefore in wrath toward sin in any person.  His holiness accepts only the absolutely perfect (Jesus in Matt. 3:17; 17:5). Since man cannot begin to meet the demand of the law he must face God's holy wrath. (Rom.1:18; 3:23).  But the marvel of this righteousness in action is the God himself made a way to meet that impossible demand.

"For when we were still without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly . . . But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6,8). His holiness found a way to satisfy his own justice expressed in the law that had said: "The soul who sins shall die" (Ez. 18:4). The vicarious death of Christ for you and me is the unveiling of God's grace and mercy without in any way impugning or prejudicing his holiness. The gospel is the unveiling of the wonder of righteousness and mercy.  At the Cross "Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Psalm 85:10). God's law was vindicated in the death of Jesus; God is now at liberty to forgive and reinstate the believing sinner. Such is justification.

The very manner in which God justifies, forgives and reinstates the sinner who believes is his own holiness in action. Paul, then, defines salvation, our new position in Christ, as the righteousness of God.  God's attribute of absolute holiness under girds his offer of salvation.

The wonder of this salvation provided once for all at the Cross must now be appropriated "from faith to faith." It begins with faith and proceeds on that basis of faith. No work, effort, right living, no service, no self denial, no religious rite can ever be added either to obtain forgiveness or retain forgiveness. It is exclusively the work of Christ at the Cross available on simple faith.

To add to the surety of this offer of righteousness/holiness is the objective truths stated four times in the Word. "As it is written: The just shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). This salvation is not rooted in our experience, however liberating it may be. It is rooted in God's Word, in God's initiative in His Son and in our simple believing and obeying aided by the Holy Spirit. This leaves all human boasting aside and fills our hearts with gratitude and humility.  God has graciously ruled out any human pride in any form. He reserves to Himself the "glory that he will not give to another" (Isa. 42:8).

Some Powerful Deductions from Paul's Briefest Statement  - Romans 1:16, 17

  1. All the verb tenses are in the present tense except the last one which is the result of God's present work of grace - justification.  We have so often defined salvation as a past experience when in fact God is saving us now - sanctification Rom.5:12-8:39.
  2. The emphasis falls on God's initiative and only our response in faith.
  3. Our sin is definitely implied but not stated, but the stress falls on God's righteousness; hence he will be satisfied with nothing less than that righteousness worked out in us – sanctification.  He can only accept the work of Christ in us and in our behalf..
  4. God's salvation is an objective work of grace grounded in the power of His Word.
  5. All of God's benefits are ours on the basis of simple faith in His character.
  6. Paul, the Apostle of the Cross of Christ, will develop and apply these truths to our lives.

Gordon E. Johnson

April 8, 2007