Romans is the apex letter of the New Testament—serving as the foundational letter of Christian doctrine. As I’m studying and preparing my heart to preach through the book of Romans, I want to understand and grasp the details of this letter long before I stand in the pulpit to preach the first sermon. It would be my goal to preach through Romans and avoid the need for an apology at the end of the series.
In his opening pages of his lengthy commentary series on Romans, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “The Bible is not an ordinary book—it is God’s Book, and it is a Book about God and man’s relationship to Him. Therefore, every time we consider or study theBible we are, of necessity, worshipping…The Apostle was concerned to help these Christians in Rome, to build them up and to establish them in their most holy faith…It is an occasion, then, for worship, and not really just a lecture.” 
According to Martin Luther, “This epistle [Romans] is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul.” 
Not only do we see the high mark of Paul’s theology put on display, but we find in the letter known as Romans the purest gospel of Jesus Christ. What was Paul’s purpose in writing to the church at Rome? What can we learn from this masterpiece of Christian theology? Although Romans is complex enough to confound the highest of intellects, it’s likewise basic enough to instruct the simple and point them to Jesus. At the foundational level of Paul’s purpose for Romans is the desire to communicate the truth about man’s sin and his need for the Good News of God.
Man Is Ruined by Sin
The word “gospel” is used many different times throughout Paul’s letter. Although Paul didn’t plant the church in Rome, he desired for this church to understand the truth regarding salvation. How many churches have crumbled to the ground based on an impotent and shallow false gospel? The word for gospel (εὐαγγέλιον) literally means good news. William Tyndale originally translated this word into English as “glad tidings.” Paul wanted to remind the church of God’s good news, but before could go to the good news, he first had to point out the bad news.
Paul communicates the bad news of man’s ruined spiritual state in the opening pages of his letter. In Romans 1:18-32, Paul explains the darkness of man’s depravity. If left on his own to seek and pursue the desires of the heart, man would take a deep dive into sinful depravity and rebellion. The heart of man is deceitful and wicked—standing in desperate need of salvation. Donald Gray Barnhouse writes:
Man stands before God today like a little boy who swears with crying and tears that he has not been anywhere near the jam jar, and who with an air of outraged innocence, pleads the justice of his position, in total ignorance of the fact that a good spoonful of the jam has fallen on his shirt under his chin and is plainly visible to all but himself.” 
I was talking with one of our church members this past week who volunteers at a pregnancy resource center. This particular individual explained to me how the staff of the center are pressuring her to not tell people they are sinners who are on their way to hell in her explanation of the gospel. She is being told to “tone down” her presentation and to refrain from discussing hell. I’m afraid that this soft approach explanation of sin is all too common in our American evangelical culture. Commenting on Romans 1:18, Luther explains that Paul “proclaims to them the wrath of God. To no one else does the Gospel appear so utterly foolish as to the wise and mighty (of this world), because it goes counter to their notions.”
When presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ—flee from the superficial approach that has become so common in our day. Follow the example of Paul as we see it here in Romans.
Good News to Ruined Sinners
After dealing sufficiently with the bad news in the opening verses, Paul employs much energy in describing the good news of God’s redemptive plan to rescue fallen and helpless sinners. Paul uses the word “gospel” eleven times throughout his letter to point the believers in Rome to the saving work of God’s mercy and grace.
In Romans 1:1, Paul calls it the “gospel of God.” In Romans 1:9, Paul refers to it as the “gospel of God’s Son.” In Romans 1:16, Paul points out that the gospel is the “power of God for salvation.” All through his letter, he continues to circle back to the good news of God’s rich salvation.
Paul was eager to preach the gospel (Rom. 1:15), and we must have that same desire as well. We must come to the understanding that apart from the gospel, man will be helpless and unable to save himself. That’s why Paul went on to explain the Great Commission of the church in chapter 10 as follows:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:14-17)
For Paul, the author of this letter, he understood that the hope of Rome or any other city in the world is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is not a gimmick for religious hucksters or marketers. The gospel is God’s good news to wretched sinners. Paul aimed his letter to a church that he never founded in a city that he had never visited and armed it with the riches of God’s glorious grace in such a way that it would shake Rome and the entire world.
Paul was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ—what about you? If Paul was certain that the gospel could change Rome—the most powerful city in the ancient world—should you have less confidence in the gospel’s power to change your city?
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 1, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 1.
- Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1976), xiii.
- Donald Gray Barnhouse, Romans, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1953), 191.