In the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, Luke has helped us see Jesus as the One God has sent to both announce the good news and to show the kingdom of God through His teaching and miracles. At the appointed time, Jesus died and was risen by God from the dead. After this, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit who would make His followers alive to God and enable them to live this life in Christ.
At the end of Acts, the gospel has been announced, disciples have been made, and churches have been formed—from Jerusalem to Greece to as far away as Rome. In fact, the book ends with Paul in a Roman prison, showing and telling the good news to his guards and other officials.
Which brings us to the book of Romans. The book was probably written from Corinth during Paul’s third missionary journey, just a few years before he ended up under house arrest in Rome.
Without question, Paul explains the gospel more systematically in Romans than in any of his other letters. This seems to be motivated by a desire to clarify misunderstandings about the gospel, particularly how God’s plan and purpose from the beginning had been to bless all peoples through Christ—not only the people of Israel. Yet when we get to the end of Romans, we’ll see the book is actually a missions letter—and in pursuing this missions partnership, Paul is at pains to outline his theology. In fact, he starts with theological and missiological doctrine before getting to the practical aspects of partnerships. Read how he begins the letter:
“Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news— 2which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures— 3 concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh 4 and who has been declared to be the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness.5 We have received grace and apostleship through Him to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name,6 including yourselves who also belong to Jesus Christ by calling.” (Romans 1:1–6)
Now notice how Paul ends his letter to these Roman Christians:
“Now to Him who has power to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation about Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God to advance the obedience of faith among all nations— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ—to Him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 16:25–27)
As we read Romans, let’s remember to look for the places Paul writes about trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection. These verses in Romans 10 provide a good example: “Now the Scripture says, everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame, for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:11–12).
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. So it’s clear now that this good news is not only for Jews but for all peoples, and as such it must be announced to all peoples.
This is why Paul emphasizes the role of those who are sent to tell this good news, something that was expected even in the Old Testament! His emphasis comes through in a series of rhetorical questions: “But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things!’” (10:14–15)
Paul’s letter to the church at Rome invites them to support this mission—in particular, his desire to take the gospel to the people of Spain. Paul also wanted to establish a clear foundation for an eventual partnership with the churches in Rome. Perhaps he even wished to recruit some Roman Christians to go with him. The Apostle Paul greets a host of close acquaintances at the end of the letter, giving a shout-out to 27 ordinary people, not missionary “rock stars.”
In Acts, Christ-followers showed and told the good news of Jesus, calling people to repent and believe. Though the response wasn’t always positive, in many places churches were organized. Over time, these first Christians sought to go and make disciples themselves, beginning churches wherever they went.
Suffering and sacrifice seemed to go hand in hand with this work, just like Jesus predicted in Luke’s Gospel. But through it all, God remained in control, accomplishing His good purposes and fulfilling His plan. Remember the end of Acts? Though Paul is suffering under house arrest, the gospel is still making good and unhindered progress in Rome (Acts 28:31).