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Romans 1:1-17: What is the gospel?

Abstract background with a quote by John Calvin on understanding the gospel.
John Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life


My husband is getting ready to teach through Romans in our community group. It’s a huge task – the book is so deep, so rich. He wants the study to be more than an academic, theological task, but one that enriches our lives, helping us to know and love God more, to fulfill our aim to glorify Him well.

To process my learning, I plan to post a few weekly thoughts on Wednesdays and share them with my readers.

I invite you into our study of Romans and hope it will be an opportunity to grow in faith and grace!

Romans 1:1-17 Overview

Take time to listen or read those first seventeen verses of Romans. When you do, I suspect you will notice as I did that Paul uses one word many times, the word “gospel!” Or, if you read from other versions, you might see the phrase “Good News” repeated. I’ve taken these seven statements from the New Living Translation:

  • Paul states that God chose him as an apostle and sent him to preach his Good News (Romans 1:1).
  • God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures (Romans 1:2).
  • The Good News is about God’s Son (Romans 1:3).
  • Paul says he serves God wholeheartedly by spreading the Good News about God’s Son (Romans 1:9).
  • Paul is eager to come to Rome to preach the Good News (Romans 1:15).
  • Paul says he is not ashamed of this Good News about Christ (Romans 1:16).
  • This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight (Romans 1:17). 

Paul, a master student of the Old Testament, might be referring to the prophecy of Isaiah:

“But I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come to know its power. Then at last they will recognize that I am the one who speaks to them.”
How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
    the news that the God of Israel reigns!
The watchmen shout and sing with joy,
    for before their very eyes
    they see the Lord returning to Jerusalem.
Let the ruins of Jerusalem break into joyful song,
    for the Lord has comforted his people.
    He has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has demonstrated his holy power
    before the eyes of all the nations.
All the ends of the earth will see
    the victory of our God.

Isaiah 52:6-10 NLT

So clearly, the Bible translators define the word “gospel” as “Good News!” But what is the good news, and why is it essential for our lives today?

Definitions of Gospel

Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.

T. Keller

The gospel is the royal announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again according to the Scriptures, has been enthroned as the true Lord of the world. When this gospel is preached, God calls people to salvation, out of sheer grace, leading them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the risen Lord.

N.T. Wright

The gospel refers to the announcement that Jesus has brought the reign of God to our world through his life, death, and resurrection from the dead.

T. Mackie

Summary of Gospel

The gospel is the announcement of good news! To clarify, the good news is that Jesus has ushered in His Kingdom by His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. He completed His mission to establish His Kingdom on earth.

The gospel is power, the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead also makes us alive in Him as we are called to salvation. We put our faith in the risen Lord, He is our King, and we are His servants.

The “So What” Question

So what?! I’ve put my faith in Jesus – how does the gospel apply? Isn’t it just for salvation?

The gospel is not just our “ticket to heaven.” The gospel is power – the power that saves, keeps, sanctifies, and grows us up in Christ, maturing us.

Rehearse the Gospel

First, rehearsing the Good News of Jesus is much like rehearsing that day when you knew you had found the one you wanted to marry. Ron and I often tell the story of our falling in love with one another. It reminds us why we loved one another then and helps keep the love blazing now. As Paul David Tripp says, “We are wired for awe.” Rehearsing the gospel, we are reminded of the incredible gift of our salvation and stand in awe of God’s glory.

Mine the Depths of the Gospel

Second, mining the depths of the gospel will take a lifetime of prayer, study, and preaching. We preach the gospel to ourselves daily because we are prone to wander and turn to idols. The gospel reminds us that Jesus died for the sins we committed today. The gospel is personal, speaking into every area of our lives, teaching us obedience and submission to the King of Kings.

Praying the gospel involves “redemptive redundancies.” I intentionally always come back to who we are in Christ and who he is in us. Like Luther said, we need the basics of the gospel every day because we forget the gospel every day.

Scotty Smith, Everyday Prayers: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith, p.13

Find your Identity & Sustenance in the Gospel

Last, we find our identity in the gospel. We are Christ-followers, dead to sin, alive to God, through the power of the gospel. The gospel changes us as we realize there is nothing we can do that will make Him love us less, nor is there anything we can do that will make Him love us more. His presence is all we need for life and godliness. Without the gospel, we are lost. It is our identity.

It is also our sustenance. We feed on the Scriptures, for in them, throughout all of them, Old and New Testaments, we see the redeeming work of Christ. And in Him, we are enriched in every way, not lacking in any spiritual gift needed to do the works He has called us to do.


Father, establish us according to Your gospel. May it continue to bear fruit in our lives. Let nothing in our lives hinder the power of the gospel at work in our circles of influence. And allow the gospel in our lives to display Your glory, Lord, so your name will be honored. Amen.

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