Editor’s Note: The history of missions is replete with examples of God using his Word to call his followers to engage in his redemptive work around the world by praying, giving, going, and sending. The aim of this article series (part one here) is to help Bible students, teachers, and readers recognize the theme of global missions throughout Scripture.
The book of Romans stands as the embodiment of Paul’s testimony to the ultimate missionary—Jesus Christ—and his gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). When Paul penned his letter to the Romans by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he filled the pages with a clear message about God’s power to redeem the nations—a theology that compelled him “to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Rom. 15:20). Indeed, the very aim of Paul’s ministry was to bring about “the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom. 1:5).
The Gospel Is about the Savior of the Nations
Paul opened the book of Romans by introducing Jesus as the Savior of the nations and as the central subject of the gospel (Rom. 1:2–4). In the first few verses, Paul entitled Jesus as “the Son of God in power” (Rom. 1:4)—a title that recalled God’s covenant promise in Psalm 2 to send a king to be the ruler and redeemer of the nations (see also 2 Sam. 7:11–16). Psalm 2 declares that the Son of God would receive the nations as his inheritance and the ends of the earth as his possession (Ps. 2:8). Furthermore, the Son of God would rescue everyone who takes refuge in him (Ps. 2:12). When Paul designated Jesus as the Son of God, he was asserting that Jesus is the king who will rule and redeem the nations (cf., Rom. 15:12).
“The book of Romans makes it clear that salvation has nothing to do with nationality but with whether God has declared a guilty person to be righteous through faith in Jesus.”
The Gospel Is Sufficient for People of Every Nation
After identifying Jesus as the Savior of the nations and the subject of the gospel, Paul emphasized the sufficiency of the death and resurrection of Jesus to save people from every nation (Rom. 1:16). Because the gospel entails that God will successfully accomplish his plan of redemption through Jesus, Paul confidently asserted that the gospel’s power to save applies to everyone who believes, including Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and barbarians, as well as the wise and the foolish (Rom. 1:14–16). That was why Paul was eager to share the gospel with anyone who would listen to him.
The Gospel Is Needed by People of Every Nation
In the subsequent chapters of Romans, Paul explained that God demands holy perfection in humanity, but everyone fails to meet his standard of righteousness. Paul reminded his readers that both Jews and Gentiles were under sin and deserved the wrath of God (Rom. 2:5–6; 3:9), that no one is righteous (Rom. 3:10–18), that everyone falls short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:22–23), and everyone in the entire world has inherited the sinfulness of Adam (Rom. 5:12, 18).
The universal problem of sin means that the gospel is needed by everyone—that every human being stands in need of God’s grace (Rom. 3:20) and that God will show no favoritism to anyone on judgment day (cf., Rom. 2:11). For this reason, Paul emphasized that no one can merit God’s favor through their own virtue and that God only offers his grace through faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:20–26; 6:23). The death Jesus Christ was, therefore, necessary for people throughout the world because everyone needs a righteousness greater than their own.
The Gospel Is Founded on a Promise for the Nations
In the book of Romans, we also see that God’s plan of redemption reaches back to the covenant promise made with Abraham (Rom. 4:16), when the Lord vowed to bless the nations through him (Gen. 12:2–3). Paul highlighted that God credited righteousness to Abraham because of his faith (Rom. 4:3, 9) and established the promise before Abraham was circumcised (Rom. 4:10–12). Therefore, Abraham became the father of many nations and the promise of salvation was granted both to the circumcised Jew and the uncircumcised Gentile with faith like Abraham (Rom. 4:13–25).
There Is One Lord
In the opening chapters of Romans, Paul overturned the assumption that Jews were distinct from Gentiles with the argument that everyone stands condemned before God as guilty of sin. Salvation, therefore, has nothing to do with nationality but with whether God has declared a guilty person to be righteous through faith in Jesus (cf., Rom. 3:22–23). Paul once again addressed Jewish nationalistic assumptions in Romans 10 by arguing that there can be no distinction because Jesus is the one and only Lord and that he is the same Lord over all (Rom. 10:9–13). Therefore, Jews and Gentiles must call upon the same Lord for salvation, and all who believe in him will be saved.
The Gospel Must Be Proclaimed to People of Every Nation
Because there is only one Lord who saves, Paul then urged his readers to preach the gospel. He reminded them that while creation declares the power of God, the message of creation cannot save anyone. Quoting Psalm 19, Paul explained that the message of God’s creation has gone into all of the earth (Rom. 10:18). However, Psalm 19 also says that “there is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard” (Ps. 19:3).
Yes, creation declares the glory of God and leaves everyone without an excuse before God, but the message of creation is not able to save anyone (cf., Rom. 1:19–20). The words cannot be heard unless someone preaches the gospel. For this reason, Paul emphasized that no one can believe unless they hear, and no one can hear unless someone preaches, and no one can preach unless they go (Rom. 10:14–15).
“Because Jesus has sought to save people of every nation, his followers should join Paul in his missionary pursuits and eagerly travel any distance to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named.”
The Gospel Transforms Sinners from Every Nation
Paul was a passionate evangelist because he recognized that he undeservingly received God’s grace. As he wrote, he was “indebted” to all people (cf., Rom. 1:14). Likewise, he reminded the readers of Romans that spiritual blessings placed them in debt to others (Rom. 15:27). Because Jesus graciously accepted them, they must, likewise, love Christians of all nations (Rom. 15:1).
Because Jesus has sought to save people of every nation, his followers should join Paul in his missionary pursuits and eagerly travel any distance to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named (Rom. 15:9–20). For this reason, the bruised and blistered feet of every missionary are precious and beautiful in the eyes of the Lord (Rom. 10:14–15). Global missions reflects the heart of God for the nations and those who participate in missions reflect the character of God himself.
All Scripture references taken from the English Standard Version.
Lucas Moncada is pursuing a PhD in New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. With the support of his wife, Lacetta, he presently serves as a research assistant to Dr. Charles Quarles at SEBTS and as pastor for students at Mintz Baptist Church.