Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, 10 making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established-- 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. 13 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. 15 So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith." (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter in AD 56-57 from Corinth, Greece. He stayed in Corinth for three months, December, AD 56-February, AD 57, the winter months on the Mediterranean Sea. He was waiting for Spring, when the waterways would be reopened and he could sail back to Jerusalem.
Paul was writing this letter to the Christians in Rome, with the expectation that it would be distributed to all of the first century churches. Rome was the famous capitol of the ancient world.
The census of Rome, taken in AD 48, was about 1.2 million of the 6 million people in Italy. Census numbers consisted only of adult male Roman citizens, so the population was much more than that.
The church in Rome was believed to have been started by Roman Jews who had been present on the day of Pentecost, in Jerusalem about AD 30. The church consisted of Jews and Gentiles.
In Ad 49, Roman Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome because of the spread of Christianity. Claudius sought to have a state religion based on the secret religious rites of Ancient Greece, definitely not that of Christianity.
Claudius did not tolerate proselytizing in Rome so he expelled the Druids (sorcerers) and all Jews, thinking this would take care of the Christians. That same year the Jerusalem Council met and determined once and for all that Christianity was not just a sect of Judaism, that it was its own religion. Between the years AD 49-57 some Christian Jews ventured back to Rome.
So, in this letter Paul is writing mostly to Gentiles and some Jews, all of whom had converted to Christianity. The believers were not mature believers, not having the benefit of Paul’s teachings.
The Roman believers were even less mature than the Corinthian believers. So, this letter is very doctrinal in its nature, along the lines of systematic theology.
The context of this letter is that it comes upon the heels of Paul’s issue with the Corinthians as expressed in Second Corinthians. The Corinthians had fallen under the spell of false teachers. Paul did not want this to happen to the less mature believers in Rome.
Paul began this letter in the previous passage with three introductions. He introduced himself, the Gospel, and Jesus Christ, in that order.
He introduced the Gospel as that which God “promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (v.2). The Old Testament attested to the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Christ is the Jewish Messiah written of in the Old Testament.
Now, in this passage, Paul explains the essence of the Gospel. He begins the letter, as was the custom in ancient times, by offering a prayer.
His prayer was to God, through our intermediary Jesus Christ (v. 8a). Paul thanks God that the faith of the Roman Christians “is spoken of throughout the whole world”, a reference to the Christian world (v. 8b). No doubt, Paul is choosing to start off on the right foot by praising his readers.
As God is his “witness” Paul writes that he prays “without ceasing” for the Roman Christians (v. 9a). He makes it clear that he serves God with his “spirit”, from his heart, instead of ceremony, and from the “Gospel”, instead of Mosaic Law (v. 9b).
Paul’s prayer is that he “may find a way” to visit the Roman Christians if it is God’s “will” (v. 10). He longs “to see” them so that he may minister to them the “spiritual gift” of being complete, strong in their faith (v. 11). In this way, both the church and himself will “be encouraged” by their “mutual faith” (v. 12).
So, in verses 11-12 Paul stated that he wanted to minister to the believers in Rome. Now, in verse 13, he states that he wants to minister to the unbelievers in Rome.
First, Paul writes wants that he wants them to be aware that he “often planned to come to you”, but was stopped, either by the Holy Spirit or by some unknown circumstance (v. 13a). Then he writes that he “wanted to come that I might have some fruit among you also”, that he wanted to lead the unbelievers to Christ, just as he had “other Gentiles” in the church (v. 13b).
Paul writes “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise” (v. 14). As a servant of Christ, he is obligated to share the Gospel with all cultures, with all degrees of knowledge. With all that he has, Paul is “ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also”, to all the Romans also (v. 15).
He gives his all because is “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (v. 16a). Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel because “it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (v. 16b), The Gospel was first brought to the Jews, who rejected it and, then it was brought to the Gentiles (v. 16c)
Paul then concludes this passage with the essence of the Gospel. This essence is that “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (v. 17). Through God’s grace, unmerited favor, believers are looked upon by God as being righteous and assured of eternal salvation in Heaven (v. 17a).
This is by God’s grace. We cannot earn eternal life in Heaven by our works. We are given the gift of eternal life through our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior
After a long spiritual struggle, Martin Luther became convinced by studying the book of Romans, specifically Romans 1:17, that salvation is by grace through faith, alone. This revelation led Luther to starting the Protestant Reformation in 1517, when he nailed his protest to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
While a professor at the University of Wittenberg, Luther protested the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences which began in 1190. The indulgence would supposedly help the payor or their loved one to get to Heaven. This was a practice of salvation by works.
So, it is all faith. It begins and ends with faith, “from faith to faith” (v. 17b). It is as the Scripture says "The just shall live by faith" (v. 17c) (Habakkuk 2:4).
Salvation is by grace through faith. That is the good news of Jesus Christ. That is the Gospel.
Online Bible Commentary