The Global Message of Romans
The global message of Romans is that all people everywhere have free access to the riches of God’s grace in Christ as they respond in faith to the gospel. In his own Son, God has made a way for lost people to be restored to him—lost people whether they are Greeks or barbarians, wise or foolish (Rom. 1:14).
Romans and Redemptive History
The letter to the Romans itself recounts much of global redemptive history. Paul moves from the problem of sin (Romans 1–3) to the solution provided in Christ (chs. 3–8) to how that solution applies in a practical way among God’s people (chs. 9–16).
The second half of Romans 1 tells us of God’s righteous wrath upon unbelieving Gentiles (Rom. 1:18–32). In chapter 2 Paul says, however, that not only immoral people but also moral people are under God’s judgment (2:1–16). And then he presses in even deeper, saying that even religious people are ripe for judgment (2:17–29). The conclusion is that “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (3:9).
All this is a result of the fall of mankind, which we read about in Genesis 3. The sin that has flooded throughout the world is rooted in the rebellion of one man and one woman who represented all of humanity, with the man as the head (see Rom. 5:12–19). Yet at the climax of human history, at just the right time (5:6), God sent his Son to die in the place of his people and thus to begin to undo the effects of the fall (3:21–26; 5:6–21).
This great salvation is the fulfillment of promises made to ethnic Israel (Rom. 9:6). Yet the gospel has burst through all ethnic boundaries, spilling out to Jew and Gentile throughout the world until the time when Christ will come a second time and restore not only God’s children but, with them, the entire cosmos (8:19–22).
The Global Reach of God’s Righteousness
Indeed, one of the great themes of Romans is the worldwide scope of the gospel. The theme statement of the letter makes this clear: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). The gospel is God’s saving power to anyone who trusts in Christ. This is not a geographically segregated gospel. It is not for a certain class, or ethnicity, or education level. It is for everyone who is prepared to acknowledge their sin and rebellion and turn in trusting faith to Christ.
Romans 9–11 makes this especially clear. Here Paul explains that, although God chose ethnic Israel to be his unique covenant people and made special promises to them, they failed to live up to their side of the covenant. Yet the word of God has not failed (Rom. 9:6). Indeed, God himself has sovereignly overseen everything that has taken place in Israel, even down to their own hardened hearts (9:6–24). Despite Israel’s covenant failure, God has reserved a remnant among them (11:1–12). And, Israel’s failure has been God’s mysterious way of breaking open his grace to the Gentiles all over the world (11:13–36).
In this way, the hand of God down through history is bringing his salvation to every tribe and tongue and people group.
Universal Themes in Romans
Human sin. Sin is described in Romans as ungodliness (Rom. 1:18), unrighteousness (1:18), foolish and darkened hearts (1:21), idolatry (1:23), and impurity (1:24). Paul makes clear that no one is exempt from this condition. All people everywhere are “under sin” (3:9). They are “slaves of sin” (6:17). Sin does not affect us simply by causing us occasionally to make bad decisions or other mistakes; rather, sin infects all that we are and do: mind, heart, and will. This is true of all people, Jew and Gentile alike (3:9).
The extensive reach of redemption. The reach of sin is pervasive indeed, extending to every corner of the globe and to every dimension of the human person. Yet the reach of the redemption achieved in Christ is deeper still. The magnificent letter to the Romans opens and closes with resounding statements of the global reach of the gospel of grace. In his opening greeting, Paul declares his desire to visit Rome, “in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles” (Rom. 1:13). He goes on to say that he is “under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians” (1:14). And at the close of the letter Paul explains that he has made it his ambition to bring the gospel “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum” (15:19).
The very point of the Christian gospel is that God’s grace is not for a select few—otherwise grace would not be grace (11:6). The sacrifice Christ has made is available to all people everywhere in the world. The whole world will one day be cleansed of sin and injustice, and all those who have put their faith in Christ will be restored to the glory of God for which they were created (2:7; 3:23; 8:18).
The Global Message of Romans for Today
The letter to the Romans provides the greatest remedy the world could ever know (Christ) to the greatest problem the world has ever seen (sin). And this remedy is available to the greatest diversity of people the world could ever produce: everyone.
Global Christians wrestle today with problems on a variety of fronts: political, social, economic, and more. Accordingly, God calls us to engage our world with faithful presence, representing Christ and the gospel with faithfulness and fortitude in all these various arenas of life. In Romans we see an example of this in Paul’s admonition to the Roman believers to submit to the government that God has placed over them (Rom. 13:1–7).
Yet the message of Romans for the church today does not fundamentally address political or social problems; rather, it addresses the very human heart that makes such political or social problems arise. Romans tells us and shows us that the human heart is sick. Indeed, the self-salvation attempts to which all humans are so prone are both futile and unnecessary. For Romans teaches that, while immorality does not earn God’s favor (Romans 1), neither does morality (ch. 2). Our goodness cannot accomplish the salvation that our badness requires. “Works of the law” will justify “no human being” (3:20). Instead, God put forward his own Son to be a sacrifice for sin that turns away divine wrath (3:25). God the Father solves the human dilemma by sending God the Son and applying the benefits of the Son’s achievement by God the Holy Spirit (ch. 8).
What can Christians around the globe do in response but gladly surrender our lives as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1) in heartfelt praise to the God of grace?
Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:33–36)