The Church in Rome
“To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 7).- Romans 1:5–7
One’s calling is an important theme throughout the opening verses of Romans, both the specific vocational call and the call to salvation. Among the first things Paul mentions in this letter is his Apostolic call (Rom. 1:1, 5), which forms the basis of his teaching authority and even his own self-understanding. Paul was conscious that Christ directly commissioned him to preach the gospel, and he saw this calling as a particularly clear evidence of God’s grace. After all, the Lord in His good pleasure not only chose to save Paul, but He also ordained that this former persecutor of the church would have a leading role in taking the gospel to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:11–17). This signifies the divine grace and mercy by which our Creator calls whom He will to serve Him as He wills.
The grace of God’s vocational call is distinguished from His effectual call by which the Holy Spirit brings His elect to faith in the gospel. By the preaching of men such as Paul—who had the vocational call of Apostle—the Lord creates faith in the hearts of His people. Thus, Paul’s original addressees in Romans are those “loved by God and called to be saints,” individuals who were “called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:6–7).
Note that the Christians in Rome were called to faith through the preaching of the gospel but not the personal preaching of Paul himself. Contrary to the claims of many people, especially those seeking to strengthen the papacy, neither Paul nor Peter established the church in Rome. The best evidence for this is the book of Romans, which is clearly written to an existing church that Paul did not plant, and the letter also contains no reference to the Apostle Peter. In all likelihood, the “visitors from Rome” who heard Peter preach on the day of Pentecost planted the church in Rome, and the two Apostles only later had any association with the congregation there (Acts 2:1–41). Given the extensive discussion of Jew-Gentile relations throughout the epistle, it seems quite clear that the Roman church Paul addressed was made up of both Jews and Gentiles who believed in Jesus the Messiah.
According to Romans 1:5, Paul’s vocational call involved preaching “the obedience of faith” to the nations. This phrase can mean “the obedience that flows from faith” or “the obedience that is faith itself.” Both readings reflect key biblical truths developed in this epistle. To obey God truly is to trust in Jesus alone for salvation, and keeping His commandments is the necessary fruit—not the ground—of this salvation.
Faith and repentance go hand-in-hand. To turn to the Lord in faith is to turn away from trust in oneself and in one’s own righteousness. Repentance is this turning, and it is a command of God in Scripture (Acts 17:30). As the flip side of repentance, faith is something that we are commanded to exercise as well. Faith itself is not meritorious, but it is something that we must do. In preaching the gospel, let us be clear that trusting in Christ is not optional. It is what He orders us to do.
Passages for Further Study