THIS ARTICLE IS FROM
THE GOSPEL COALITION
The book of Romans is about more than the “Romans Road.” It’s not just a book about individual salvation (though it certainly communicates this glorious message). It’s also about gospel-centered community and gospel-centered mission.
Michael Bird¹ says Paul is “gospelizing” the believers in Rome. He wants every aspect of their lives to be shaped and empowered by the gospel. This is reflected especially in the latter half of the book. Therefore, Romans stands as a great book to consider, not only for theological clarity, but also for insights on gospel-centered leadership.
Before discussing the benefits of gospel-centrality, it’s important to understand how it differs from other approaches:
These shouldn’t be called churches. Various cults and extreme brands of liberalism would fit this category. They deny the essential truths of the gospel.
Related to the previous category, these add to or subtract from the gospel. Examples include the prosperity gospel and the social gospel.
These churches say they believe the gospel, but they rarely preach it plainly and deeply. It’s “Christianity-lite.” Leadership talks, therapeutic sermons, and practical-improvement messages fill the air.
Like the previous group, these churches believe the gospel doctrinally, but the gospel is only meant for evangelism, and it is segmented out of the life of the church.
These churches are known for preaching the gospel every week in corporate worship. But the gospel is still viewed as simply evangelistic. The gospel tips people into the kingdom, but it isn’t taught as that which also shapes and empowers Christian living. Often what is communicated to believers is some form of post-conversion moralism.
These churches preach the gospel every week explicitly—but not just to the unbeliever. They also preach and apply the gospel to Christians, as Paul did for the Romans (Rom. 1:15). It shapes and empowers Christian ethics and the life of the Christian community.
For example, marriage is taught by looking at Christ’s love for the church (Eph. 5:25); generosity is viewed through the lens of Christ’s generosity (2 Cor. 8:9); the call to forgive is rooted in Christ’s forgiveness of us (Col. 3:13); hospitality reflects the welcome of Christ (Rom. 15:7). Calls to social action—like caring for the orphan, the widow, the refugee, and the poor—are also made to believers with reference to their own identity in Christ.
We could give many reasons to pursue gospel centrality, but I’ll limit it to five.
1. The gospel changes lives
If you are a church planter, pastor, missionary, or ministry leader of any kind, it’s imperative that you have an unshakable confidence in the gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). God loves to save sinners, and he does so when the gospel is proclaimed. Further, God loves to sanctify his people, and he does this as the gospel is applied.
2. The gospel leads us to worship
The gospel transforms us from the inside out. And when affections change, everything changes. If a person loves Jesus deeply, it will change his or her behavior dramatically. Paul’s theology regularly leads him to doxology (Rom. 8:31–39; 11:33–36).
3. The gospel lifts us from despair
Sin, suffering, and death cause us to despair. The gospel lifts the saints from dark nights of the soul by reminding us that God’s verdict has already been pronounced; that though we suffer now, we’re still in the grip of the Father’s grace. Even death cannot separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:31–39).
4. The gospel unites diverse believers in community
In Romans 8, Paul is exulting in glorious gospel promises. It’s important to see the plural language Paul uses: “us,” “we,” “brothers/sisters,” and so on. Paul is seeking to unite both Jews and Gentiles in Christ, so he labors over the beauty of the gospel for several chapters in Romans. He wants to help them pursue unity in the gospel, and to consider how they should love one another practically (Rom. 12–14).
When we get to chapter 15, Paul’s appeal to unity climaxes with this prayer: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 15:5–6). Paul is applying his theology to build a unified, diverse people.
5. The gospel fuels our mission
You can endure opposition when you have promises like those in Romans 8. When you have a gospel this big, you’ll want to take it to the nations. Many don’t have a passion for the nations precisely because they don’t have a gospel worth preaching.
So it’s no surprise where Paul goes at the end of Romans. In chapter 15, you find that Romans is a missionary support letter. Paul wants to go to Spain with the gospel. Tom Schreiner2 says Paul could have been 60 years old at the time of writing! That’s what a big vision of the gospel does: it fuels our global mission.
Pursue Gospel Centrality
So let’s seek to create a gospel-centered culture in our churches and ministries. Exemplify gospel centrality in your personal life. Apply the gospel in your teaching. See the gospel in the church’s ordinances. Pray the gospel. Sing the gospel. Saturate your groups and classes with the gospel. Advance the gospel through evangelism and church planting. Celebrate the gospel as lives are changed. Evaluate your ministry by carefully noting how the gospel is being proclaimed and magnified.
May we follow Charles Spurgeon’s counsel:
Keep to the gospel, then, more and more. Give the people Christ and nothing but Christ. Satiate them, even though some should say that you also nauseate them, with the gospel. . . By the roadside, in the little room, in the theater—anywhere, everywhere, let us preach Christ. Write books if you like and do anything else within your power; but whatever else you cannot do, preach Christ.
From the “roadside” to “the little room,” in large worship centers to underground house churches, from cities to farmlands, from the urban poor to the suburban rich, from hard places to holiday places, let us keep what is of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3) the main thing in our lives, ministries, and churches.
Tony Merida is pastor for preaching and vision of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He’s also the content director for Acts 29, producing blogs, podcasts, and other resources on church planting. Tony has an extensive itinerant ministry and has written several books, including The Christ-Centered Expositor, Ordinary, Orphanology, and eight volumes in the Christ-Centered Exposition, commentary series, of which he also serves as a general editor, along with Danny Akin and David Platt. He is happily married to Kimberly, and they have five adopted children.