It is ordinary for academic types to begin anything they are discussing with a lengthy introduction. I am reminded of a theology that is three volumes with the first volume entirely prolegomena. I’ll avoid that here except to put on the table Tom Wright’s opening salvo to his commentary:
“Romans is neither a systematic theology nor a summary of Paul’s lifework, but it is by common consent his masterpiece.” We’ll dip into this masterpiece (Romans) this summer. For several years I have used the quiet time before church services, when some are chatting or figuring out where to sit, wherever I might be, to read Romans. The book is breathtaking.
The only other introductory remark I wish to make is this one: Romans moves from a theological address (chps. 1-8) into a bit of a theodicy or at least an explanation of a major issue — God’s story with Israel, how Jesus Christ is the summary of that story, and how Christ and the Church fit into that story (chps. 9–11), and then Paul summons the Christians of Rome to live the way Christians ought to live, but he does this mostly by giving specifics instead of some big theory. We’ll have to remind ourselves of this throughout our time together because it is easy to lose the big picture.
Paul’s life is devoted to the gospel of God (1:1) and this gospel should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the prophets. After all, this gospel Paul is devoted to is pre-preached in the prophets in the holy scriptures. This gospel was about Jesus Christ, who is a descendant of David’s, and who was declared or “marked out as” Son of God (basically God incarnate who rules as king) by being raised from the dead. This, Paul tells us, is what he is all about. Implicit in Paul’s statements in 1:3-4 (about as dense as Paul gets) is that Jesus brings to completion the story of Israel in his very person.
Let me put this even more forcefully: Paul is identified by the gospel. His personal identity, as a convert to and one devoted to the gospel, is all about the gospel itself. Paul is gospeler, Paul’s being throbs with that gospel, that gospel throbs in him and gives him life.
Paul says his apostolic calling is God’s grace to him (1:5, where “grace” and “apostleship” are probably the same thing for Paul). And he gets to summon people to “obedience of faith” and it is quite likely that Paul means that now “obedience” means “faith in Jesus Christ [and all God is doing in Jesus Christ].”
Paul’s life of being devoted to God is God’s grace to him: God’s gift to him was to get to be an apostle to the Gentiles. And the Romans are one of the groups to whom he gets to preach that gospel.