This commentary on Romans, redesigned with a new cover and updated ESV Bible references, explores justification by faith, freedom from sin, substitutionary atonement, and God’s adoption of sinners.
About the Author
R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and former professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hughes is also a founder of the Charles Simeon Trust, which conducts expository preaching conferences throughout North America and worldwide. He serves as the series editor for the Preaching the Word commentary series and is the author or coauthor of many books. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and have four children and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
Introducing Paul to Rome
NO REASONABLE PERSON would dispute that the book of Romans is one of the most powerful and influential books ever written. The epistle of Paul to the Romans has been the written force behind some of the most significant conversions of church history. St. Augustine, the most brilliant theologian of the early centuries, came to conviction of sin and salvation after reading some verses from the thirteenth chapter. Martin Luther recovered the doctrine of salvation by faith from his study of Romans 1:17 and went on to lead the Protestant Reformation. While listening to the reading of Luther's preface to the book of Romans, John Wesley felt his heart "strangely warmed" in conversion and became the catalyst of the great evangelical revival of the eighteenth century. John Bunyan was so inspired as he studied the great themes of Romans in the Bedford jail that he wrote the immortal Pilgrim's Progress. In our own time, while we may not always agree with his theology, Karl Barth's arguments from the book of Romans devastated liberal Christianity.
There is no doubt about the power of the book of Romans. The study of it produces genuine excitement and genuine trepidation — excitement because of the possibilities the life-changing themes of Romans bring to us, and trepidation at reasonably expounding their massiveness. I would invite each reader to offer the following prayer as we begin the study of this great book.
Father, I know that a humble spirit is indispensable to learning. And I pray that as I now consider the themes of Romans — so great, so history-changing, and sometimes so familiar — that through the study of them you will give me a spirit of humility, that I will be constantly learning even from the familiar. I pray that the power that was exhibited in the lives of Augustine, Luther, Wesley, and so many others — that power which comes from understanding the fundamental doctrines of the faith and appropriating them in life — will be seen in me. Give me a continued spirit of humility. May I continue in prayer throughout this study. May your blessing rest upon my life. I pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.
Paul begins his letter with an introduction that is longer than usual. It is also more theological and personal than any of his other epistles' introductions. The apostle is tremendously concerned that the Roman people receive what he has to say — that they not "turn him off" before they have read his arguments. Thus, he reveals himself and his theology, hoping that if they understand something of who he is and what he believes, they will give him a hearing.
The importance of this for us comes from the well-known fact that how a person perceives himself determines largely how he or she will act. A healthy self-perception tends to produce a healthy approach to life. I recently read of a second-grader in Tennessee who submitted an essay entitled "My Face" to his teacher. It read: "My face has two brown eyes. It has a nose and two cheeks. And two ears and a mouth. I like my face. I'm glad my face is just like it is. It is not bad, it is not good, but just right." That is terrific! Now Paul introduces us to his own healthy, dynamic life view that, if appropriated, can produce power in us. As we go through his introduction in verses 1 — 7, we are going to see:
Paul's view of himself (v. 1)
Paul's view of preaching (vv. 2 — 4)
Paul's view of his commission (v. 5)
Paul's view of the Roman believers (and us) (vv. 6, 7)
Paul's introduction introduces us to deeper and more productive levels of spiritual life.
Paul's View of Himself (v. 1)
First, in verse 1 Paul describes himself as "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God." In just one sentence he capsulizes his self-perception to his Roman hearers. That he introduces himself as a "servant" (doulos) is very significant. He could have introduced himself as "Paul, an eminent theologian, master of the Old Testament Scriptures, frontline warrior, brilliant of intellect," but he chooses doulos. Paul was well aware that to the Romans this was an abject, servile term. However, he also knew that the Jews viewed it as a title of great honor when attached to God. Paul has both views in mind — and both were glorious to him. Elsewhere (1 Corinthians 4:1) he refers to his slavery with another word, one used of the lowest galley slave.
So we see that the key to Paul's self-image is servanthood. At the root of his psyche this incredibly productive man views himself primarily as a slave of Christ. No matter who we are — pastor, teacher, office worker, corporation president — if we are to be productive for God, we must be servants — "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve" (Mark 10:45).
The next facet of his self-perception is that he sees himself as "called to be an apostle." In Galatians 1:15 — 17 Paul describes how he persecuted the Church before he was a Christian, and then says,
But when he [God] who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles ... I went ...
Paul was not self-appointed! God called him! How essential this was to Paul's ongoing service. Whenever things got rough, he could always reflect upon the evidence of his election: God had summoned him. Therefore, he understood that difficult circumstances did not come because he had wrongly appointed himself as an apostle, but because God had appointed him and he was being faithful. At the base of Paul's self-perception was the fact that his lifework was God's doing. What a comfort — what a motivation!
Closely following, and completing, his self-concept is the final phrase, "set apart for the gospel of God." The word translated "set apart" has the same root as the word "Pharisee." In fact, the Greek sounds very much the same. A Pharisee set himself apart for the Law, but God set Paul apart for the gospel. He was a Pharisee of the highest order. "Fashioned of the same stuff as all other men, a stone differing in no way from other stones, yet in his relation to God — and in this only — he is unique." Paul saw himself as uniquely separated for the preaching of the good news.
How would Paul answer the question, who are you? "I am Paul, a bond servant of Christ, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God — that is who I am." Sometimes pandemonium broke loose around him, and he could have easily felt like a speck of flotsam on the tide — but he did not! He was sustained by his call as an apostle. He was set apart for the good news. Above all, he was a doulos. He knew who he was!
Next, how did Paul view his task of preaching the gospel?
Paul's View of Preaching (vv. 2 — 4)
Verses 1 and 2, taken together, reveal that Paul saw his preaching as an extension of the ancient Old Testament message:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures.
His task was not to proclaim a theological novelty. The gospel was in the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul longed to announce "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the [Old Testament] Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3). So much of Messiah was revealed in the Old Testament. Who would Jesus' mother be? A virgin. Of what house was he to be? Of David. Where would he be born? Bethlehem. What name would he be given? Immanuel. What death would be his? The cross — piercing the body without breaking his bones. Where? At Jerusalem, outside the city. Paul's task was rooted as far back as the garden of Eden, the patriarchs, and the prophets.
According to verses 3 and 4 his task was to preach that Christ was both human and divine. Verse 3 stresses Christ's humanity by avowing that he "was descended from David according to the flesh." The Greek here is ek spermatos, from the very seed of David — thus emphasizing his intense humanity. Jesus was a man. He was not play-acting.
Verse 4 equally stresses his divinity by saying, "[he] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit [or his spirit] of holiness by his resurrection from the dead."
The story is told that a certain M. Lepeau complained to Talleyrand that a new religion of his — one he considered a great improvement over Christianity — had failed to catch on with the people. He asked Talleyrand for some suggestions. Talleyrand dryly said, "M. Lepeau, to insure success for your new religion, all you need do is have yourself crucified and then rise from the dead on the third day!" The resurrection "declared" that Jesus was the Son of God. The Greek word is very helpful in getting the force of the idea because it is related to our English word horizon, "the boundary between heaven and earth." God's mighty deed in raising Jesus from the dead "horizoned" him — that is, it clearly marked out Jesus as the divine Son. Paul's entire view was dominated by Christ as the Son of God.
But it must also be noted in verse 4 that Paul says it was not only the resurrection that declared Christ's divinity, but it was also substantiated "according to the Spirit [or, his spirit] of holiness" — that is, the holiness of his human nature. James Denney put it this way: "... the sonship, which was declared by the resurrection, corresponded to ... the spirit of holiness which was the deepest reality in the Person and life of Jesus." The resurrection verified with power that Christ's perfect life came from his being divine. Paul wanted the Romans to know that his task in sharing the good news was to preach that Jesus, in accord with the ancient Scriptures, was the resurrected human/divine Savior.
Here Paul's life and task come together. He is appointed by God, he is divinely set apart, he is above all a servant — and his message is "horizoned" before him by the resurrection of Jesus who was both human and divine. The entire sky is filled with this reality. It is this vision that drives Paul to such supreme heights of service.
We have seen Paul's view of himself in verse 1, then his view of his task in verses 2 — 4, and now we come to his view of his power and commission in verses 5, 6.
Paul's View of His Commission (v. 5)
How does Paul perceive his commission? Largely as a matter of grace. He says in verse 5: "... through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations." Here Paul means grace in the widest sense of God's favor — that is, salvation, guidance, wisdom, illumination, and power to serve. Grace is always an amazing thing to Paul, as we see later in Romans: "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (5:20). The grace of God is infinite and eternal. It has no beginning and no end. Karl Barth said, "Only when grace is recognized to be incomprehensible is it grace." If we think we understand God's love and grace, we are probably without it. Paul views his apostleship and ministry to the Gentiles as the overflow of God's mysterious grace to him.
Everything came from God! "I the brook, thou the spring."
Thus far, Paul has told the Romans what he wants them to know about himself. He is a servant. He is God-appointed, not self-appointed. He is separated out for the gospel. His entire horizon, the very atmosphere of his life, is dominated with the resurrected human-superhuman Christ. And finally he sees his commission and apostolic power in terms of incomprehensible grace to bring about the obedience of faith among the nations.
Paul's view of himself made all the difference in the world. In fact, it has been making a difference in the world for 2,000 years. What would we be like if we saw ourselves as God-owned, our task as preaching the resurrected Christ, and everything in life as a matter of grace — and our mission to get the gospel out to the world?
Paul's View of the Roman Believers (vv. 6, 7)
So much for Paul's self-concept and divine commission. Now, as he closes his introduction in verses 6, 7, he gives his view of the believers in Rome, which suggests how they should regard themselves and how we should regard ourselves. "... you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." There are three applications of this verse to us. First, we are "loved by God." Paul does not mention the believer's love for God, but rather that which is far more fundamental — God's love for the believer.
Sometimes I like to recount how much I am loved by thinking of John 3:16 (KJV) in this way:
For God — The greatest Lover
so loved — The greatest degree
the world, — The greatest company
that he gave — The greatest act
his only begotten Son, — The greatest gift
that whosoever — The greatest opportunity
believeth — The greatest simplicity
in him — The greatest attraction
should not perish, — The greatest promise
but — The greatest difference
have — The greatest certainty
everlasting life — The greatest possession.
Fellow believers, we are loved by God! We need to get used to this, but we should never get over it.
Second, we are "called to be saints." How is this possible? We are not called because we are saints, but we are saints because we are called. And as saints we are set apart for holiness. Thus, we are in continuity with the saints of all the centuries and are in continuity and unity with each other.
Lastly, we are recipients of "grace" and "peace." Paul says, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." This greeting bears the poetry of redemption, for the regular Greek greeting was "Rejoice!" (chaire), and the regular Jewish greeting was "Peace" (Hebrew shalom, Greek eiriene). But here Paul combines the two, and then replaces rejoice (chaire) with the similar sounding but far richer charis — "grace." He in effect combines the greetings of the Eastern and Western worlds, then modifies the Western and gives the whole world the sublime Christian greeting, "Grace to you and peace." The two combine naturally and beautifully in cause and effect, because when God's grace comes upon us, taking away our sins and making us objects of his favor, his peace floods our being.
We have seen how Paul's self-perception — his image of himself, his task, and his commission and power — made the difference in how he lived his life. Would to God that we would have this same self-perception and know the same fire.
But whether we ascend to his level or not, there is a self-view that all believers of all ages have embraced and which we joyously embrace:
We are loved of God,
We are saints,
We are objects of his grace and unending favor,
His peace is ours Forever.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For 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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
ROMANS 1:8 — 17(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Romans"
Copyright © 1991 R. Kent Hughes.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Word to Those Who Preach the Word 11
1 Introducing Paul to Rome (1:1-7) 15
2 Paul's Motivation for Ministry (1:8-17) 23
3 Understanding Unbelief, I (1:18-25) 31
4 Understanding Unbelief, II (1:24-32) 39
5 God's Perfect Judgment (2:1-16) 49
6 The Heart of the Matter (2:17-29) 57
7 The Religious Advantage (3:1-20) 67
8 The Miracle of Righteousness (3:21-31) 75
9 Sola Fide (4:1-16) 83
10 The Faith of Abraham (4:17-25) 91
11 Justification-Exultation (5:1-11) 99
12 Grace Abounding (5:12-21) 107
13 Freedom from Sin (6:1-14) 115
14 Freedom in Slavery (6:15-23) 123
15 Freedom in Christ (7:1-25) 131
16 Liberation by the Spirit (8:1-17) 141
17 Three Groans and One Glory (8:18-27) 151
18 Super Conquerors (8:28-39) 159
19 Sovereign Election (9:1-33) 167
20 God's Sovereignty-Man's Responsibility (10:1-21) 177
21 Israel's Future (11:1-32) 185
22 From Theology to Doxology (11:33-36) 197
23 Elements of Commitment (12:1, 2) 205
24 Renewed Thinking (12:3-8) 213
25 Love in Action (12:9-21) 221
26 Heaven's Citizens and Human Government (13:1-7) 231
27 Loving on the Level (13:8-14) 241
28 Unity and Diversity, I (14:1-12) 249
29 Unity and Diversity, II (14:13-23) 259
30 Christ Our Example (15:1-13) 267
31 Paul's Missionary Heart, I (15:14-33) 277
32 Paul's Missionary Heart, II (16:1-23) 285
33 The End Is Praise (16:25-27) 293
Scripture Index 311
General Index 317
Index of Sermon Illustrations 323