By a variety of means, Caesar extended his power and his version of peace. All good and well, one might think, but one might also question the need to generate thoughts along such lines as we read through Romans. Addressing that, one has to come to terms with the fact that not only does the message of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) have a spiritual component, as a declaration that heaven and earth has overlapped in Jesus (heaven come to earth), but it has a substantial political component as well. “Peace” was a charged and controversial term. Assuredly, the means of achieving peace were as debated in Paul’s day as it is in ours.
“Gospel” itself is a term associated with the Caesar and his rule. Calling Jesus “Lord” is a subversive activity, as it usurps the power of the Caesar, who was looked upon as Lord and Savior. “Christ” is not a neutral term either. It is not merely a religious or spiritual term. When somebody says that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior, they are making claims in relation to the kingdom of God that Jesus announced had come to earth and of their loyalty to that kingdom and kingdom program above loyalty to any other person or nation. Whether they know it or not, or realize it or not, calling Jesus Savior does not have to do with going to heaven upon death. Laying claim to salvation is about God becoming King on earth, as in heaven.
As we know, “Christ” is the Greek translation of “Messiah,” and the Jewish Messiah was well-understood to be the King of Israel. As the Messiah was also understood to be the physical manifestation of the Creator God of Israel, the Messiah was also thought to be King of the entire world. That, of course, along with many other titles (son of god, to choose one), was a title of, and a claim made by the Caesar. Applying these titles to Jesus, calling Him Lord and Master and Savior and King while also speaking about Him in terms of peace and salvation (that which was then said to be brought to the world by Caesar and by Rome), could not be more of a direct challenge to Caesar, to his rule, to his way of orchestrating and ruling his kingdom, to his claims about himself, to the claims made about him by others, and to the power (death) that stood behind him and any other pretender to God’s rightful place of rule of this world that was brought into existence at His word and hand.
What has all of this talk of kingship and kingdom to do with much of Paul’s concern in Romans, which is belief and justification? Quite simply, it is a question of loyalty. Acknowledgment of a ruling power engenders questions about the demands being placed on those subordinate to that power. Since being declared righteous (coming under the covenant, being justified) has to do with belief, and because belief, reaching back to Abraham and to that which is fundamental for Paul as he observes the ramifications of the Christ-event and the full sweep of the covenant people of God, has to do with the production of an unswerving loyalty to God, concerns of kingship and kingdom have everything to do with the believer’s justification. Because the kingship of Jesus extends to each and every component of this creation, calling Jesus “Lord” (acceding to His Gospel) has inescapable consequences for how one engages in and with the world, bearing on every decision and every moment.
Following the multivalent suggestions of verse one of the fifth chapter, in which Paul has expressed the peace with God that is established and that goes hand in hand with submission to the fact of His becoming King through Jesus (and as it stands in contra-distinction to the peace promised by Rome and its son of god), Paul writes “through whom we also have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (5:2a). “We” includes both Jews and Gentiles, and the access by faith is the means by which one enters upon the covenant (is justified, declared righteous, saved).