When we meditate on Scripture passages about missions, we may think of Matthew 28:18-20 or Acts 1:8. We might not initially consider Paul’s letter to the Romans. Our memories of the Book of Romans may remind us of themes like justification by faith alone, the free gift of salvation by grace, and the deadness of man in sin. Each of those are significant themes in Romans, but Paul is careful to link them to the church’s mission among the nations of the earth. The redemption of people from every tribe, language, and nation of the earth is woven through Romans from start to finish.
Throughout Romans, Paul frequently mentions both Jews and Gentiles and their relationship to Jesus and his gospel. When Paul introduces himself to the Romans, he makes it clear that his role is to serve Christ by bringing about the obedience of faith among all nations, not just among the Jews.
[T]hrough whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ . . . 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. (Romans 1:5-6, 16 ESV, emphasis added)
In the introduction of the letter, Paul writes of the major themes of faith, salvation, and the gospel of Christ, and in doing so, he explicitly emphasizes that this is a message for people among all the nations of the earth. Imagine the immediate relief you would feel if you were hearing this as a Gentile believer in Rome. The Judaizers were teaching that everyone must become a Jew and keep the Mosaic law in order to be saved. You may have been confused or worried that what the Judaizers were saying might be true. You may have worried that your eternal salvation might depend on your ability to keep a foreign law that was unfamiliar to you. Today, many people who did not grow up in church may feel the same way when they begin attending a local church. They may feel like there is an unwritten set of rules and an unfamiliar culture. They may feel judged and condemned for something they do not understand. But there is freedom in the gospel of Jesus. There is relief, peace, and joy when we hear that salvation is through faith in Jesus, apart from our works.
This is the joyful message we share with people from every culture, language, and nation on the earth. You do not have to learn and obey the laws of another nation in order to be saved. The gospel is the power of salvation, not the law. And it applies to everyone, Jew and Gentile, in every nation of the earth. It does not need to be altered or adjusted to fit local laws and customs. The gospel of Jesus transcends all boundaries and borders.
No Favoritism and No Distinction
Hardly anything feels more unfair than when there are two different sets of rules. If one child has to eat all their broccoli before getting dessert, but the other child only has to taste a small portion of broccoli before dessert, it doesn’t seem fair—especially when something as important as ice cream is on the line.
What if God had decreed that some people can have eternal life by grace through faith, but others would need both faith and good works in order to be saved? That wouldn’t seem fair at all, especially when eternal redemption is on the line. But God doesn’t play favorites with his children. Regardless of our nationality and upbringing, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus is applied to all who believe.
[B]ut glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:10-11)
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction . . . (Romans 3:9, 22, emphasis added)
This was an astounding theological statement for the Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome who first received Paul’s letter, and it has serious, practical significance for us today. We can preach salvation by grace through faith to everyone, everywhere in the world. There is no special hymn you have to sing, no language or culture you have to learn, and no holy site you must travel to. There is not one list of laws for Americans to follow and others for Togolese, Ukrainians, or Filipinos to obey in order to receive eternal life. There is no special status you can earn or inherit that will give credit towards your redemption. Male, female, rich, poor, slave, free, young, or old—there is no distinction. Everyone needs salvation, and the only means of receiving it is through faith in Christ.
We tend to think the wealthy or those born into privileged families will be the ones to receive “glory, honor, and peace” (Romans 2:10). But in eternity, those things can’t be earned or inherited. Those are blessings from God which go to all those who believe in his Son. We have the privilege to deliver the message from the King of kings to every tribe, language, and nation, proclaiming that the blessings of God come without favoritism and without distinction.
Editor’s Note: This article is the first in the series Meditating on Missions Through Romans.