Simplicity Series #37

The Five Essential Elements of the Gospel in Romans

“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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness …” Romans 1:16–18 (emphasis added)

The Five Essential Elements of the Gospel

  1. “The gospel of Christ”—what is its message?
  2. God’s “power” to deliver—deliverance from what?
  3. “The righteousness of God”—is God just to justify sinners?
  4. The nature of “faith”—is faith static or dynamic?
  5. “The wrath of God”—why is it essential to the Gospel?


The more one looks at the epistle to the Romans with these five elements in mind, the more crucial each of them is to all the others. Take away any one of them, and it is a serious detraction from the force and impact of the other elements.

For example, we know that the Gospel is good news, but what truly magnifies its goodness is the reality of the omnipresent wrath of God. Paul declares that God has power to deliver but, apart from faith, that power is inoperable. Then, Paul says that “the righteousness of God” is revealed “from faith to faith.” The word “righteousness” (dikaiosune) here is to be understood in the sense of “justice” or fairness in His work of justification, as Paul explains in Rom. 3:26. The justice of God demands wrath on sinful men, but also the justification of those who believe. It is the work of Christ on the cross that demands both justification (where there is faith) and judgment (where there is unbelief).

Finally, the Gospel proclaims God’s righteousness and wrath, His power to save, and His justice in judging—the necessity for faith and the penalty of unbelief—to all mankind. Paul repeatedly emphasizes that his message is to “all nations” (v. 5), “to all who are in Rome” (v. 6), to “the whole world” (v. 8), to “both … Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise” (v. 14), “for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (v. 16). You have to be either blind, or resolutely resistant not to catch the universal offer of life in Christ through Paul’s gospel! We can only do a surface study of these five elements, but it is vital to our understanding of the impact of the Gospel on both ancient and modern culture.

An Important Outline

There are scores of good outlines for the book of Romans. In light of the five elements we are considering, the following outline may be helpful:

  1. 1–3:20, Condemnation—the wrath of God at work
  2. 3:21–5:21, Justification—God’s righteousness imputed to faith
  3. 6–8, Sanctification—spiritual growth “from faith to faith”
  4. 9–11, Dispensation—God’s righteousness and wrath on Israel
  5. 12–15:21, Transformation—the ongoing deliverance of God;

Rom. 15:22–16:27, concluding remarks and greetings

Each of the sections above has something important to say about each of the five elements we are looking at. We find that while the Gospel message can be summarized in a few words, the full scope of the “Good News” is both universal and comprehensive in regard to history and to individual life on this Earth. So mighty is this message, of which Paul refused to be ashamed (Rom. 1:16), that Rome itself was transformed by its power. That, in a nutshell, is the power of the Gospel to impact culture. Consider the fact that almost everything Rome gloried in, the Gospel condemns; and everything the Gospel proclaims, Rome held in contempt! Yet, it was the power of the Gospel message, working out in the lives of simple, common disciples, that won the struggle. In the end, it was not the message preached that “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), rather it was the dedicated, hard-core disciples who were determined to live counter to the prevailing culture!

The Mighty Hand of God

The Bible talks a lot about the hand of God. It is a symbol or metaphor for God working in human history, and in the lives of His people. Both Ezra and Nehemiah were under the guidance and protection of the hand of God (Ezra 7:6, 9; 8:18; Neh. 1:10; 2:8). If you do a concordance study through the Psalms, you will find repeated references to the saving right “hand of the Lord.”

If you hold up your hand in front of your face, you notice the five fingers, all slightly different, with the thumb digit standing out the most. The human hand was uniquely designed to bring the thoughts of the mind into practical expression. In his book, Human Scale, Kirkpatrick Sale shows that all measurement begins with the human hand:

“From earliest times until quite recent eras, most conscious building has been a reflection of human scale, for in every society the measurements most convenient and most constant were those of the finger, the hand, the arm, the stride, and the height of the builder—a tradition we honor today in the English system, in which an inch is based on the length of the first joint of the thumb, the foot on the length of the forearm, and the yard on the length of a normal pace or an extended arm from fingertip to nose” (pg. 38). Sale argues that when things get out of human scale, whether buildings, cities, or governments, they suffer the effect of what he calls “The Beanstalk Principle.”

Taking the giant in the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” as an example, and calculating his size and weight based on the picture that showed him to be five times taller, five times wider, five times thicker than the average man, brought Sale to the conclusion the giant would have weighed 125,000 pounds! His conclusion is quite interesting: “It occurred to me one day, looking at the drawings in a book of fairy tales I was reading to one of my children, that the giant in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ looked somehow more fragile than menacing, as if he weren’t put together quite right” (pg. 55).

I would suggest that there are many systems of theology, some based on the book of Romans, that are fragile rather than robust, because they are not “put together quite right.” Just imagine if, as you look at your hand, one of your fingers was two or three times its length. The result would be grotesque and repulsive. This is precisely the effect of various theologies that magnify one aspect of God’s character or essence over all others. In the end, the picture of God presented by these distorted views of theology is more like a pagan deity than the true God of the Bible. In theology, as in all of life, there must be balance and scale, which accords with the world we inhabit, the life as we know it, and moral standards which we unconsciously affirm as right versus wrong. To put it in simpler terms, to say that God can work or act in ways that would be cruel or immoral in a human being, just because He is God, is to distort who He is and how He has revealed Himself to us in the “human-scale” Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans—The Right Hand of God

As a useful analogy, I would suggest that, in the book of Romans, Paul has given us a glimpse of God in human scale. The five elements we have seen above are the five fingers of God’s right hand. Everything is in perfect balance to bring the plan of God into human experience. Any failure to maintain the scale and balance of each of the five main topics found in Paul’s introduction distorts both Paul’s message and the image of God that is being presented.

The Gospel message proclaims the power of God to deliver from wrath and to impute His righteousness to those who believe in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we find the “five fingers”—all in perfect harmony and scale and balance. Or, to use Paul’s own words:

“…the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus … to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:22–24, 26

In this brief passage, we see the Gospel proclaimed, God’s righteousness revealed through Christ, His power to save from wrath all who believe, and (most importantly) that He is just and fair in His dealings with all mankind. Never forget that God’s dealings with the entire human race are carried out in such a way that men can see and evaluate that they are just and fair.

Abraham understood the importance of this when he challenged the Lord, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). The very standards that God has laid down for justice in human society are the same standards by which He acts in dealing with us. This is why Luke declares, “And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.” (Luke 7:29–30). To “justify God” is to declare that He is “righteous, just, and fair” in His dealings with men.

The unassailable justice and fairness of God is a major theme running throughout Romans.

This is a critical issue in the Roman epistle, but especially in chapters 9–11, which have been used to promote doctrines that are in direct contradiction to the rest of the book and to the whole tenor of the New Testament. The question of God’s justice and fairness in His dealings with Israel comes up again and again.

In a major section that anticipates and lays the groundwork for chapters 9–11, Paul addresses the question of God’s justice/fairness in His dealings with Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 3:1–20). At a recent conference, I referred to this section as looking forward to the time that God would be judged. Needless to say, I got some interesting reactions! Yet in Rom. 3:4, Paul quotes Psalm 51:4, “… that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.” Or, as Paul puts it, “That You may be justified in Your words, and may overcome when You are judged” (Rom. 3:4).

The day will come, at the Great White Throne judgment (see Rev. 20:11–15), when every unbeliever will stand before the judgment bar of God. Paul says that unbelievers will seek to justify themselves by accusing others while excusing themselves (Rom. 2:15). In an attempt at self-justification, they will claim that God is not fair, that they didn’t have a chance. In essence, their argument will be that “God is unjust to inflict wrath” (Rom. 3:5). In doing this, they will in essence be judging God. Yet, He will be justified by His Word, even as they will be condemned by their own words (Matt. 12:37).

In the end, when all evidence is presented, every unbeliever will stand self-condemned, knowing that Christ died for them, and yet they refused to believe. It is then, in the face of irrefutable proof, “that at the name of Jesus every knee [shall] bow … [and] every tongue [shall] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God” (Phil. 2:10–11).


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