I used to be a bit of a letter-writer. My most prolific letter-writing period was when I was dating my wife, Rachel. We lived in three different cities for three consecutive years—I wasn’t going to let her forget about me. I wanted her to say “yes” when I asked her to marry me. So I wrote letters. I didn’t always explicitly talk about my ultimate motivation in those letters, but even when I was in other topics, my intention remained.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, letter ever written.
An Apostle and Servant Captivated by Jesus
Paul explains the gospel of God concerning his Son from top to bottom and back to front in Romans—it’s his constant theme. He launches into this main theme and his apostolic purpose in the first five verses, showing that the gospel is all about Jesus.
Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises to Israel and the universal Lord of the whole cosmos. And his one purpose is “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom. 1:5). The gospel is for the obedience of faith for all nations.
“The obedience of faith” means at least two things. It’s about being obedient to the faith that’s been once-for-all delivered to the saints. We must intellectually assent to the Bible as our authority, believing it as it has been given to us. But it also means obeying by believing.
We can’t obey in our own strength; we must look at Christ in faith, by the Spirit, to obey the gospel and be transformed. There’s no obedience without faith—at the same time, there’s no faith without obedience. They go hand in hand. Paul pleads with the Roman church, and with us today, to have the obedience that flows from faith. He’s been captivated by the gospel of Jesus, and his purpose aligns with God’s mission: the obedience of faith among all nations, all over the world. Let us participate together—through missiological theology and theological mission—in crushing Satan’s head under our feet by planting gospel-centered, God-glorifying churches everywhere. Click To Tweet
Why Write Romans?
Paul then prepares the way for his trip to Rome (1:8–15). He’s thankful for the Romans’ faithful witness, prays without ceasing for them, and explains his desire to see them. He wants to impart some spiritual gift to strengthen them, so that they may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith (1:9–12).
It’s not yet clear what Paul wants to give them, nor how he wants to be mutually encouraged by their faith. He says he wants to “reap some harvest among [them], as well as the rest of the Gentiles” (1:13)—also tantalisingly unclear. And then he says, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (1:14–15). We assume here that Paul wants to evangelise people who don’t know Jesus. But that’s not what he means—the faith of the Roman church is known all around the world (1:8). They’re already believers!
Yet Paul preaches the gospel to the Romans from beginning to end. From 1:16 to 15:13, Paul methodically and passionately exposits the gospel of Jesus. He wants to preach the gospel to this church in order to reap an unspecified harvest among them.
A Gospel Harvest for Missional Advance
What is the harvest Paul’s looking for at the end of this glorious exposition of the gospel? Ultimately, Paul wrote the letter to the Romans because he wanted to get to Spain (15:23–24). In those days, Spain was the ends of the earth, and Paul wants to proclaim the gospel “in Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But he needed help for this missionary journey, so the church needed to be united in the gospel of grace by faith. Paul preached the gospel so the church would get on mission.
This letter is not an abstract treatise on the gospel. It’s a thoroughly personal and practical letter, where Paul had an idea that he carried through from the beginning right to the end: Please help me get to Spain. Please help me plant a church there; please help me preach the gospel to all nations, to bring all the nations, including the Spanish, to the obedience of faith—please, help me!
The glorious gospel theology Paul develops throughout Romans is all driving toward mission. Just as there’s no obedience without faith and no faith without obedience, there’s no theology without mission and no mission without theology. They go together, and they produce each other. Just as there's no obedience without faith and no faith without obedience, there's no theology without mission and no mission without theology. They go together, and they produce each other. Click To Tweet
Gospel Partnership for Practical Help
So, what kind of help did Paul give, and what did he need from the Romans?
- Reciprocal: The Roman church and Paul were to be mutually encouraged (1:11). As a global network of churches, can we believe this for ourselves, too? From the mega church in Texas to the smallest church in Slovakia, everybody can be mutually encouraged by our shared faith.
- Relational: Paul is thankful for the Romans and wants to enjoy their company, receiving and providing the warmth of relational health (1:24).
- Theological: Paul is eager to preach the gospel (1:15) and offers the Roman church bold theological help to understand it and get on mission (15:15).
- Prayer: He prays for them and begs them to struggle with him in prayer, too (1:11; 15:30).
- Financial: He’s expecting them to put their hands in their pockets and help him financially on his journey.
- Moral: Paul wants to be refreshed in their company (15:32). He wants moral support—the solidarity that comes from being together with people on the same mission.
What about us? Do we need help? Of course, we do. I need reciprocal help from you, and you need it from me. For our mission, in our day, we need the same kinds of help that Paul and the Roman church needed then. Acts 29 exists to provide platforms for the kind of help we can all bring to each other—to help each other plant churches so that people meet Jesus. It’s as simple as that.
Planting Churches to Crush Satan
And what will the result be if the Roman church gets on board with Paul’s message—if we get on board with this message? Paul doesn’t leave us in any doubt as he rushes toward his conclusion: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (15:20). As the church mobilizes for mission, as we proclaim the gospel and call people to the obedience of faith—the God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet! Click To Tweet
As the church mobilizes for mission, as we proclaim the gospel and call people to the obedience of faith—the God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet! And that, my friends, motivates me. We’re working, in Christ, to put an end to the devil and all his works, to crush our ancient Enemy from the garden of Eden who slithered into our relationship with God and made us believe a lie.
Let us participate together—through missiological theology and theological mission, through the obedience that comes from faith in Jesus—in crushing Satan’s head under our feet by planting gospel-centered, God-glorifying churches everywhere.