The Book of Romans
In 1515, a priest by the name of Martin Luther was the professor of sacred theology in the Catholic University at Wittenberg. He was involved in teaching the epistle of Romans to his students. He became so fascinated by the book of Romans that he taught it every day. As he prepared his daily lectures he became more and more convinced of the Bible’s foundational teaching of “justification by faith,” whichPaul confirmed over and over again in his epistles. Luther had been agonizing for years over how he could please God so that God would accept him, but he just could not seem to find the answer. Nothing that any one could say was able to take away the guilt that he lived with all the time. He could find no peace with God. Luther states that he longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Nothing stood in his way except for that one expression, “the righteousness of God.” Luther goes on, “Because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous.” [fn]
Finally Luther was able to see the truth, that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby through grace and sheer mercy, God provides us salvation by faith. This is often referred to by the description, justification by faith.
Luther describes that he felt reborn at that moment and that he had gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning. Where before the righteousness of God had filled him with hate, it now began to fill him with a sweet love.[fn] God obviously had big plans for Luther because many people must have felt the same way he did, and just look at the way God used Luther to change His Church.
Now before going any further it is essential that we clearly understand some terms regarding what it means to be truly saved. We need to understand terms such as:
- “justification by faith “
In order to do that we have to go way back to the Old Testament times in Israel to get some idea of how the Jewish law-court functioned. The Jewish law-court was set up somewhat like our court system in that there was a judge, a plaintiff, who was the accuser (today it is most often a district attorney like on the television program “Law and Order“), and of course there was a defendant, who today can defend himself/herself or hire an attorney to defend them against the accusations of the plaintiff.
If the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the plaintiff would be declared righteous, but if he ruled for the defendant, it was the defendant who was declared righteous. In the case of the Jewish law-court the judge is declaring one of the parties to be right or righteous, which means they are not guilty and have done no wrong. In Old Testament times plaintiffs personally brought accusations against those they felt had wronged them, and those who were accused would personally defend themselves. The judge would declare one of the parties to be right or righteous.
Let us first see how this process applied to the folks in the Old Testament. After God created the first human beings He made a covenant with Adam and Eve. It was pretty simple, although apparently not simple enough for Adam and Eve.
God told them that if they obeyed Him they would be blessed and allowed to remain in the Garden of Eden. He made only one stipulation: that they not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2:15-17 NAS:
15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;
17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
You see, God likes to know that His servants trust Him completely before He gives them His blessings or entrusts them with further responsibility within the kingdom. It is a little quirk of His. Well, Adam and Eve failed the test big time and as a result God withdrew His blessing and sent them from the Garden of Eden which was probably very close, if not identical, to the paradise of Heaven. Because of their disobedience sin entered the world and the relationship between God, humankind, and nature was cut off.
But as always God was one step ahead of everyone and had a back-up plan for Adam and Eve’s failure to obey. That plan involved a way to heal the relationship between God, humans, and nature, and it would be fulfilled through Jesus Christ. But until Christ came, God provided for such healing to come through faith in Him and His promises which included the coming day of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, as Savior of the world.
In the meantime, all those who trusted, who had faith in God’s promises, were credited with righteousness. So all of the people who lived before Christ were saved to eternal life if they trusted in the promises of God. By way of clarification, “saved” simply means people are declared to be right or righteous before God and are going to Heaven.
God also made a promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:4-6 NLT:
4 Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own to inherit everything I am giving you.”
5 Then the Lord brought Abram outside beneath the night sky and told him, “Look up into the heavens and count the stars if you can. Your descendants will be like that—too many to count!”
6 And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord declared him righteous because of his faith.
Abraham’s faith in God demonstrated that Abraham was a willing believer in God’s promise. This faith in God engaged God’s mercy. Because of God’s grace and mercy Abraham was judged to be right with God and therefore God declared him righteous. Without God’s declaration of righteousness, neither Abraham or anyone else could ever be saved. If you are wondering how this works, let us look at a remarkable formula that is present throughout the Bible, the formula that reunites God with His creation.
Theologians refer to this as the covenant structure[fn], but theologians love to make the simple complicated, and the complicated impossible. So let us just look at this formula as involving three basic categories that will lead to a person’s salvation or to their condemnation. We will call the first category:
1) Provision and/or Promise. This category contains God’s provision or promise to do something.
Being saved cannot result from what we do by our own actions to please God. Salvation comes unconditionally by God’s grace as a gift for those who trust Him.
The second category contains certain:
2) Requirements, whereby God explains to us how we are to live in the present in order to do His will through faith, hope, and love. This is a human response based on what God did for us previously in the first category.
The third category contains:
3) Promises of blessings or curses that are a window for humankind into the certainty of their future. There is a blessing in store for those who satisfy the requirements in category two and curses for those who do not.
3) Promises of Blessings or Curses
If we put all these categories together, here is how it works. In the past God has 1) provided everything we need in order to fulfill the 2) requirements He has established for how we should live our lives and find salvation through Him. If we follow God’s direction we will receive God’s 3) promises and wind up in Heaven; if we do not we will end up in Hell. Let me give you an example from Scripture to show you how this is practically applied. Let us look at Matthew 7:13 and 14 NAS:
13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.
14 “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
In this passage we find a provision from God for salvation. The provision is the small gate in verse 14, which is Christ (the provision). We are also told what we must do in this life in order to attain that salvation. We must enter through that narrow gate, (the requirement) which simply means we must believe in Christ’s message and unite ourselves with Him. And that belief leads to life (blessing). Eternal life is found toward the end of verse 14, which means a new life while we are here on this earth, and then eternal life in Heaven forever. There is also a curse thrown in here for those who do not obey God’s requirement, and that is: “for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction,“ which is a warning to people who choose the ways of the world over the way of Jesus.
We find this theme in passages throughout the entire Bible. You might want to start trying to identify them. It may open up meaning for you in Scripture that you have never seen before.
God also made a covenant with Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy 30:1-10. I will let you diagram that one on your own. God also gave Israel the Law as part of His provision. God, in effect, told the people what was going to be necessary in order to be saved.
Romans 2:13 NAS:
“For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.”
One must obey the Law in order to be declared righteous, in order to be saved. Since it is impossible for a human to completely obey the Law, that necessitated Christ’s coming. It is only through faith in Christ that God sees us as being obedient to the Law. Through believing and trusting in God‘s promises, the Old Testament saints became members of the family of God and were therefore saved as well in the anticipation of Jesus’ death, which would provide forgiveness for all people throughout history. Christ was meant to be the fulfillment of the Law. He was to be the only One who could achieve perfect obedience to the commands of God.
But keeping all this in mind we can now fast-forward to the New Testament and the time of Christ. The basic message of the New Testament is the Gospel, and it tells us that if we hear the Gospel, the Holy Spirit can use that knowledge to create belief in the Gospel message within a person. Such belief results in the person becoming a member of the community of the people of God, the Church. Many choose to express this inner commitment with an outward demonstration of public water baptism. As one becomes a member of God’s family through belief in the Gospel message, God displays His grace to that person by declaring them righteous.
The promise or blessing of God is that we will be declared righteous for all eternity if we adhere to God’s requirement of believing in the message about Jesus. The provision God gives us to accomplish this requirement is the message itself and the help of the Holy Spirit to believe it.
Let us provide just a little more detail for clarification. The Gospel message was and is the announcement that Jesus Christ is Lord. The message also reveals the righteousness (perfection and holiness) of God and His faithfulness in dealing with the sin of the world by fulfilling His promises in Jesus. You see, God needed a faithful messenger and servant, a true Israelite who would fulfill the promises of God by keeping the Law perfectly and thus deal with the sin of the world by providing forgiveness for that sin.
Through Jesus the requirements of the Law were accomplished for all those who believed in what He did.[fn] In providing all of this, God has fulfilled all of His covenant promises and demonstrated all the requirements of the Jewish law-court judge.
As one hears the message of the Gospel just described, the Holy Spirit begins to work in that person and takes the person to the point of decision. One can either accept and believe in the message or, as many do, reject it. But if they believe it, they confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord and are received into the family of God, the Church. As a result of their belief, God, the great law-court Judge, justifies them or declares them righteous. This righteousness that they are given is only attainable by and through Jesus. Because of what He accomplished on the cross it can be given to us. Jesus can give His righteousness freely to all who believe. As Satan (the plaintiff) stands before the Judge accusing us of sin, Jesus, the attorney for the defense, our advocate in Heaven before the throne of God, provides the perfect argument for our case, which is His death on the cross. Our sins are forgiven. This is what is meant by the term justification by faith, and it could not be achieved without the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately for those who do not accept and believe the message, Jesus does not appear as the attorney for the defense and God (the Judge) sees clearly the guilt and sin of the accused and declares for the plaintiff Satan, and Satan thus gets the person for eternity.
Faith is not something a person does on their own to gain admittance to the family of God. It is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8,9). The proof that a person has accepted the gift is demonstrated by the way they live their lives in accordance with the will of God. Such people are guaranteed a future in Heaven (Romans 5:12-21; 6:12-23).
Romans 4:5 ESV:
And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
So I believe we are now prepared to plunge right into the book of Romans itself. Let us begin with Romans 1:1:
Let us stop there. We would not be able to understand the book of Romans without understanding its author, Paul. Paul, by the way was not his birth name, it was the name given him with his status as a Roman citizen. He was named Saul at birth.
Paul was born a Jew in a family of Pharisees in Tarsus of Cilicia, a center of commerce and learning that embraced the Greek culture and Roman politics. It was a city of which he could be proud. His parents named him Saul after the first king of Israel, but Acts 13:9 notes that he “was also called Paul” (niv). He uses the Roman name, Paul, throughout his letters. A Pharisee, for those who are not that familiar with the term, can be described as a member of a Jewish sect of the period noted for strict observance of rites and ceremonies of the written law and for insistence on the validity of their own oral traditions concerning the law.[fn]
From religious parents Paul received knowledge of the Law and Prophets and the Hebrew and Aramaic languages.[fn] We may assume Aramaic was Paul’s native tongue. Aramaic would have been the language spoken in the home and also in the synagogue Paul’s family attended. His family was strictly observant of the Jewish way of life and maintained their links with their home country of Israel.[fn] Tarsus, however, was not a Jewish city. Rather it had a Greek character where the Greek language was spoken and Greek literature was cultivated. This accounts for Paul’s familiarity with Greek (Acts 21:37), the language of the streets and shops of Tarsus.
Jews were brought to Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, in 171 b.c. to promote business in the region. At that time Paul’s ancestors were probably given Roman citizenship. Paul inherited his Roman citizenship from his father which would prove to be of great value to Paul in his later life as he traveled with the Gospel through the Roman Empire (Acts 16:37; 22:25–29; 23:27). Paul may have had several brothers and sisters, but Acts 23:16 mentions only one sister whose son performed a lifesaving act for his uncle. Like all Jewish sons Paul called his father “Abba,” an Aramaic word Paul later wove into the fabric of the Christian faith as an affectionate and intimate title for God the Father (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). The closest translation we have for the word is “daddy.”
Paul was a tentmaker (Acts 18:3). He may have learned this trade from his father, or he may have selected it as a means of self–support as was the custom of those in rabbinical training. Tarsus was well known for goat’s hair cloth called cilicium. It was the weaving of this cloth and the fashioning of it into tents, sails, awnings, and cloaks that gave Paul his economic independence during his apostolic ministry.[fn]
Although born in Tarsus, Paul testified to the Jews in Jerusalem that he had been “brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3). It is not clear when Paul was first brought to Jerusalem, but it is likely that sometime between the ages of thirteen and twenty he began his formal rabbinical studies. His teacher, Gamaliel, was the grandson of Hillel, who began the Pharisaic school whose teachings run through the Jewish writings to this day. No doubt it was while studying under Gamaliel in Hillel’s school that Paul began to advance in Judaism beyond many Jews of his own age and became extremely zealous (which can also be translated enthusiastic, gung ho, or nutty) for the traditions of his fathers (Galatians 1:14). Paul had become one of the most highly educated men of his time. Perhaps then Paul also began to experience the struggles with the Law he would later describe in Romans chapter 7.
While Paul was studying the Jewish law in Jerusalem, Jesus was working as a carpenter in Nazareth. When Jesus began His ministry around A.D. 27, He gathered the disciples who would one day be Paul’s fellow workers in the Gospel. After fulfilling His ministry and accomplishing redemption by dying on the cross of Calvary, Christ then rose from the grave. He ascended into Heaven 40 days later giving birth to the Church, which was given the gift of the Holy Spirit of Jesus at the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem just ten days after His ascension.
After completing his education, Paul returned to Tarsus and it is believed he became the leader of a synagogue there. But when Paul heard about this Jesus movement that was going on in Jerusalem, he felt it was necessary to take immediate and forceful action to nip the Church in the bud so to speak, and put an end to its threat to the Jewish and particularly the Pharisaic way of life. So he returned to Jerusalem.
Shortly after Paul’s return, the members of certain synagogues in Jerusalem, including the Cilician synagogue, that of Paul’s native land, could not cope with the teaching of a member of the church in Jerusalem named Stephen (Acts 6:5-10). According to F. F. Bruce, “Stephen took seriously Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Jewish temple maintaining that such a structure was not part of the divine plan of God for His people. He further maintained that the coming of Jesus had profoundly changed the status of the Mosaic law.”[fn]A group of Jewish leaders accused Stephen of blasphemy before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:11–15). The Sanhedrin was the supreme council and tribunal of the Jews headed by a High Priest and having religious, civil, and criminal jurisdiction.[fn] After Stephen’s eloquent defense (Acts 7:1–53) they dragged him out of the city where he was stoned to death, thereby becoming the first Christian martyr (a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion[fn]). We do not know the exact role Paul played in these proceedings, but we do know that he was present and prominent in the execution. We learn this from Acts 7:58 NAS:
58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
In fact later in his life Paul described the event in Acts 26:9-11 NRSV:
9 “Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10 And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death.
11 By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities (NRSV).
At Stephen’s trial, Paul may have listened intently to Stephen’s defense, and later used a similar style of defense himself at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:16–41). He had witnessed the man with the face of an angel (Acts 6:15), full of the Holy Spirit, looking heavenward and proclaiming “the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Later Paul would write to the Colossians to “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). Stephen’s death initiated the events that would culminate in Paul’s conversion and commission as the apostle to the Gentiles. But at the time, Saul was wholeheartedly applauding Stephen’s death. In Acts 8:1-4 we read :
1 And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.
2 Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him.
3 But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
4 Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. (RSV)
Paul became a leader of the oppressors of the Church. According to the Scripture, “He breathed threats and murder against the disciples of Jesus” (Acts 9:1) and “persecuted the church of God, and wasted it” (Galatians 1:13), “binding and delivering into prisons both men and women” (Acts 22:4). Paul was so zealous that he convinced the high priest of the Sanhedrin to allow him to extradite Christians from other cities back to Jerusalem for punishment.
Conversion and Calling
One of these foreign cities was Damascus. Acts 9:1-2 NRSV:
1 Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest,
2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Paul traveled to Damascus to arrest followers of Christ but on the way something extremely significant happened. On the outskirts of the city came the event that was to transform this enemy of Jesus Christ and tireless persecutor of the infant Church into the most influential teacher of the Gospel of grace and the leading builder of the Church of God.[fn] This was the occasion of Paul’s conversion. It was of such revolutionary and lasting importance that three detailed accounts of it are given in the New Testament.[fn] And Paul makes many references to it in his writings.[fn]
At that time a light from Heaven, brighter than the midday sun, perhaps the kind of light that might be produced by a nuclear blast, shone around Paul and his traveling companions and they fell to the ground (Acts 26:13–14).There is no way to describe the incredible terror Paul must have felt when he heard Jesus’ voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). When he asked Jesus who He was, Jesus responded, “I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting.” Such an experience would have terrified anyone. This was the Jesus Paul hated. The Jesus whose followers Paul had mercilessly killed. This was the Jesus who was supposed to be dead but was alive. This Jesus was now telling Paul that he would be His servant.
Paul’s own explanation of his Damascus road experience, his immediate conversion, and apostleship should be proof enough alone that Jesus is alive and an active participant in a person’s salvation.[fn]
Temporarily blinded, Paul’s companions had to lead him into Damascus (Acts 9:8). There, the disciple Ananias, who was sent three days later by Jesus to restore Paul’s sight, did so. “At once Paul began to preach in the synagogues,” according to Acts 9:20, “that Jesus is the Son of God.” Then in Acts 9:21-23, Luke writes:
21 All who heard him were amazed. “Isn’t this the same man who persecuted Jesus’ followers with such devastation in Jerusalem?” they asked. “And we understand that he came here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests.”
22 Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.
23 After a while the Jewish leaders decided to kill him. (NLT)
Paul was threatened with death by the Jews to whom he preached Jesus but was protected by the believers. Paul was cleverly delivered from his persecutors. as Luke goes on to tell us in verses 24 and 25:
24 But Saul (Paul)[fn] was told about their plot, and that they were watching for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him.
25 So during the night, some of the other believers let him down in a large basket through an opening in the city wall. (NLT)
Then began a period of preparation which lasted about thirteen years. During this time, Paul first was in the desert of Arabia for three years. It would appear that this is where Paul received His theological training, and he received it directly from Jesus according to Galatians 1:11,12.
Following this, Paul returned to Damascus where he preached for a short time and then visited Peter in Jerusalem for fifteen days (Galatians 1:17–18).
At first the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid of him, not believing that he was also a disciple of Jesus (Acts 9:26), but he was supported by Barnabas and thus accepted by the believers in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27–28). Paul also preached in Jerusalem, perhaps in the same synagogues in which he had heard Stephen; but when his life was again threatened by the Jews, the believers sent him away to Tarsus (Acts 9:29–30; Gal. 1:21).
The end of Paul’s preparation came when Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for him and bring him to Antioch. By this time Paul had lived for ten years in Cilicia. Since his conversion, before being sent to Tarsus, he had proclaimed Jesus (Acts 9:20), speaking boldly in the name of the Lord (Acts 9:27). There is no reason to think he did otherwise while living among the Gentiles in Cilicia. In fact, his work may have been so effective that he began to attract the attention of the church in Antioch. Barnabas decided that Paul would make an excellent pastor for this new church. So Paul went to Antioch where he and Barnabas pastored together.
Sent Out From Antioch
The church in Antioch had its origins in the persecution instigated by Paul after the death of Stephen (Acts 11:19). Until they arrived in Antioch, the scattered believers had only spoken the word to Jews (Acts 11:19). It was here that the Gentiles first heard the Good News (Acts 11:20), and many became believers (Acts 11:21). It is fitting that Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13; Acts 22:21), who was as yet unknown by sight to the churches of Judea (Galatians. 1:22), should appear in Antioch to formally begin the ministry to which he was called (Acts 26:17–18).
Barnabas and Paul stayed with the church in Antioch for a year. Their work there was so blessed that a new name, “Christian,” was coined to distinguish the believers in Antioch from Gentiles and Jews (Acts 11:26). Hearing of a famine in Judea, the disciples in Antioch determined to send relief to the believers in Judea and did so through Barnabas and Paul (Acts 11:30) who carried the offering to Jerusalem. Such a gift displayed to the Jewish churches the potency of the gospel among the Gentiles. Their mission complete, Barnabas and Paul returned to Antioch with John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (Acts 12:25; Colossians 4:10).
Beginning from the day of Pentecost the work of sharing the Gospel had been casual and incidental. Contacts were made in the homes, the marketplace, the streets, synagogues, highways, etc.[fn] But in Antioch, the Holy Spirit initiated a determined effort to evangelize a section of the Roman Empire (Acts 13:1–3). By the Holy Spirit’s instructions, the church designated Barnabas and Paul for this work. With the prayers and encouragement of this church and with John Mark as their assistant, Barnabas and Paul, sent out by the Holy Spirit, sailed for Cyprus (Acts 13:4).[fn] And so began the ministry to which Paul was called, to be the apostle to the Gentiles. This is the first of the three missionary journeys Paul made and which are described in Acts 13--21.
Why did Paul write the book of Romans? It would seem that at this point in his ministry God was showing him the tremendous potential of reaching the heart of the Roman Empire for Christ. Paul also wanted to get to know them and get their support so that at a later time he could move on into Spain (Romans 15:28). So the letter to the Romans was an introduction of himself as an apostle and of his doctrine so that they would have no question about it. Paul writes this letter to notify them of the truth about Jesus, to show that he was truly an apostle, to give them confidence in him, and to expect his arrival.
Paul was gentle, humble, and he had a loving heart according to Romans 5:5. He had a great sense of God’s love and he also had a great love for God. He understood God’s love and he loved God in return. He also had a great love for Israel (Romans 9), and a great love for the Church (Romans 16). He also had a great desire to see others love (Romans 13:9,10). Paul is simply full of love and a great example to all of us of the love of Christ.
Now when you have a man with a biblical mind, a determined will to obey God’s plan at all costs, and a man filled with love, you have a man that can be used by God to turn the world upside down.
Paul lived to glorify God and he repeatedly tells us throughout his letters to be like him, to follow his example.[fn] God can use us in the very same way if we live the way Paul lived and love the way Paul loved.
Douglas, J. D. ; Comfort, Philip Wesley ; Mitchell, Donald: Who's Who in Christian History. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House, 1997, C1992.
[fn] Hafemann, Scott, New Testament Theology, BITH 648, Lecture outline, 2004, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.
[fn] Romans 3:21-31; 4:1-25; 10:3; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9.
[fn] Merriam-Webster, I. 1996, c1993. Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary. Includes index. (10th ed.).Merriam\Webster: Springfield, Mass., U.S.A.
[fn] Acts 21:40; 22:2–3; 23:6; Gal. 1:14; Phil. 3:5-6.
[fn] Bruce, F.F., Paul the Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1998). P.43.
[fn] Acts 18:3; 20:34; 28:30; 2 Cor 11:9; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2Thess. 3:8.
[fn] Op cit, Bruce, p.67.
[fn] Merriam-Webster, I. 1996, c1993. Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary. Includes index. (10th ed.). Merriam-Webster: Springfield, Mass., U.S.A.
[fn] 1 Tim. 1:13; 1 Cor. 3:10.
[fn] Acts 9:1–19; 22:1–21; 26:1–23.
[fn] 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8; Gal. 1:15–16; Eph. 3:3; Phil. 3:12.
[fn] Lyttelton, G, Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St. Paul (London, 1747), Paragraph 1.
[fn] Acts 3:1; 5:12, 42; 8:26–29; 10:22.
[fn] Douglas, J. D., Comfort, P. W., & Mitchell, D. 1997, c1992. Who's who in Christian history. Illustrated lining papers. Tyndale House: Wheaton, Ill.
[fn] 1 Corinthians 11:1; 4:16; Philippians 3:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:7ff.
Romans Chapter One
SIN AND THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL
Romans 1:1-7 (NLT):
1 This letter is from Paul, Jesus Christ’s slave, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News.
2 This Good News was promised long ago by God through his prophets in the holy Scriptures.
3 It is the Good News about his Son, Jesus, who came as a man, born into King David’s royal family line.
4 And Jesus Christ our Lord was shown to be the Son of God when God powerfully raised him from the dead by means of the Holy Spirit.
5 Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name.
6 You are among those who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ,
7 dear friends in Rome. God loves you dearly, and he has called you to be his very own people. May grace and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The main theme of Paul’s introduction to the epistle, or letter, to the Romans is found at the end of verse 1. It is the Good News (the Gospel) of God. This is what the entire book is all about. If we look at any newspaper or magazine today, or turn to the news on radio or television, we find the news is bad and getting worse. What is happening on a large scale is only the magnification of what is happening on an individual level.
Men, women, and children are in the grip of a frightening power, a power that controls them from deep within, and drives them to self-destruction. That power is sin, and sin makes for bad news either individually or on a national scale.
We see at least 4 major categories where sin results in bad news for all of us:
1) Sin creates selfishness. Humankind, for the most part, is self-centered. Many people like to do their own thing if allowed to do so and they will go as far as society’s toleration level will allow. When a friend, family member, or spouse no longer provides what an individual wants, that person is cast aside as if they were useless. People today demand their rights. Such demands are evidence of what is deep in their hearts, self-destructive selfishness. Men, women, and children turn from what is morally right because of their selfish lust for gain, fame, dominance, popularity, money, and physical fulfillment. The bottom line is that people are unable to sustain meaningful relationships. They are unable to really love.
They are unable to give freely of themselves. Thus they forfeit what is the real source of joy, selflessness. Such behavior leads people to utter loneliness and despair, for the more one gets, the harder one becomes to be satisfied. Sin produces selfishness and selfishness produces despair.
2) Sin results in guilt. Doing whatever is necessary to gain your own ends brings about guilt, because God has designed us to feel something when we sin. God has given us guilt as a way to tell us we are on the wrong road and something has to change. Many of us live with anxiety, fear, sleeplessness, psychological problems, ulcers, and sickness caused by our guilt. We try to deaden the pain or detract attention from this guilt with alcohol, drugs, TV, popular music, sex, travel, physical fitness, food, and some even go as far as suicide. This is simply more bad news because selfishness leads to guilt and guilt leads to meaninglessness.
3) Sin results in meaninglessness. Sooner or later, no matter how rich or successful, one will say to oneself, “Is this what life is all about?” Life becomes an endless cycle of trying to be fulfilled, when that goal is an impossibility. In that type of life there is no fulfillment, and where there is no fulfillment, all the basic questions are raised: “Is this all there is? Where are the real answers? What are the real questions? Why am I alive? What’s the meaning of life? What is truth? How do I find out what is true?”
Human beings are fed a steady diet of lies by Satan who is temporarily being allowed to run the world system. Such people live a series of 24-hour days without significance. Nothing changes and meaninglessness is usually the result, and with meaninglessness comes emptiness.
4) Sin results in hopelessness. We have seen that people may start out with a consuming selfishness and finally wake up to the fact that such a consuming selfishness provides us a first-hand proof of the law of diminishing returns. The more we do to satisfy our own desires the less satisfying they become, leaving us with a sense of hopelessness. We therefore face death with no hope. In order to ease the pain of that reality, people do all they can in order not to face the ultimate reality of their own death. They joke about it, laugh at it, mock it, or somehow disregard the reality of it in order to alleviate the fear that it brings. The bottom line is that there is not only nothing in the here and now but there is nothing in the future either.
Whatever good news there is occasionally seems to fade quickly. Is there any really good news? Is there any good news about the nature of sin, that it can be dealt with? Is there any good news about selfishness, that you do not have to live that way? Is there any good news about guilt and anxiety, that it can be alleviated? Is there any good news about the meaning of life? Is there any good news about the future life after death? Paul tells us in verse 1 that yes, there is good news, and that good news is the Gospel. There is good news that sin can be forgiven, that life can have meaning, and that the future can be eternally glorious. However, when we observe the way the world reacts to the Gospel, one would think it was bad news.
Now Paul must have been so excited about what he was going to say in Romans that he could not wait until he got to the end for us to understand the entire message. So he summarized it all in the first 7 verses. Verse 1 tells us that God had chosen Paul, a willing servant, to be the first major spokesman for the “Good News.” Paul, then, brings us a message directly from God Himself. Imagine if you went to your mailbox and found a letter that was directly from God. You would be speechless, right? That is exactly what is occurring in the book of Romans and all the other letters God directed Paul to write for you. We all need to stand in awe of God’s Word in the Bible because although He used men and women to write the message, the message is directly from God.
There is a hunger in the human heart that can only be fed and satisfied with the Word of God. Each person has been created so that they cannot find rest unless it is in God. There is no more graphic illustration of this than the multitude of religions that exist today throughout the world and that have existed throughout the history of humankind. It is not a question of whether people will worship, it is only a question of what they will worship.
But because of humankind’s perverse nature, they inevitably reject the true God. Instead, they worship things and gods of their own creation, things they can be comfortable with. After all who wants to believe in a God who expects you to do the right thing? By choosing such things to believe in, they find no solution to their sinful confusion but only an intensifying emptiness.
This then is the Good News. God is now offering a solution to all that confusion because of His love and mercy. He is giving this to us along with eternal life as a free gift. Jesus Christ is the Good News. What makes it really unbelievable is that we do not deserve such favor, yet God wants us to have it because He loves us. Verse 2 tells us that the Good News is not a new idea, but that it was announced by various prophets in the Old Testament over a period of 1,000 years. So it is not new Good News, it is old Good News.
There are approximately 106 prophecies in the Old Testament that predicted things that would happen in relation to the coming of the Messiah. All of these predictions came true in the life of Jesus which in and of itself should prove He was the Son of God. What do you think the statistical probability is for 106 out of 106 prophecies to come true by mere chance? If you can conceive of such a number, it is 1 chance in 1 to the 72nd power, which comes to a number of 1 followed by 72 zeroes.
Did Jesus come with a new revelation which was disconnected from the message of the law and prophets? Let us read what Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-20 (NLT):
17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them.
18 I assure you, until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God’s law will remain until its purpose is achieved.
19 So if you break the smallest commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
20 “But I warn you—unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all!
Jesus did not come to put the Law aside. He came in order that the purpose of the Law might be fulfilled. Jesus came in order to perfectly fulfill all the requirements of the Law. In so doing He was the only one who ever lived that was qualified to be the perfect sacrifice for sin.
When we believe through the power of the Holy Spirit, after hearing the message of the Gospel, that Jesus died on the cross as that perfect sacrifice for our sin, God declares us righteous and our sins forgiven. From that point on we are members of the family of God and our eternity in Heaven is secured. It can never be lost. In this process, our lives are joined with Jesus, and because of His perfect righteousness, He may give that righteousness to us, then when God looks at our lives, they are as pure as the life of Jesus.[fn] That is why the Bible says in John 14:6 NLT:
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
The Jews said they could not become Christians because they would be denying their heritage. The truth is that by not becoming Christians they have denied their heritage, because even they as the chosen people of God could not keep the requirements of the Law on their own. The gift was meant for them as well as for the rest of the people of the world.
The really Good News in verse 3 is that God became a man. Why? So that He might become one of us. He came in order to show us that as a man in the flesh He could experience all the suffering and pain of humanity yet still keep the law of God perfectly. Jesus submitted Himself totally to the will of God and kept all of the Law. In this way He could become a member of the human race which would qualify Him to take our place and die the death that we would have had to die without Him. He could therefore become the substitute for humankind and provide us righteousness. Is that Good News or not?
Then we hear from those who claim that Jesus never existed. Those people should spend some time studying history before they make such arbitrary claims. There happens to be documented historical evidence of Jesus and His works outside of the accounts in the Bible. The Roman secular historian, Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 55-A.D. 120), tells us that the founder of the Christian faith was Jesus Christ and that He was put to death by the Roman emperor, Tiberius.[fn]
Josephus, another secular historian who was thought of very fondly by the Romans, wrote in A.D. 90, in volume 2, book 18, chapter 3 of The Antiquities of the Jews:
“Now, there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man. For he was a doer of wonderful works. A teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ (the anointed one promised by the Old Testament prophets). And when Pilate condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him. For he appeared to them alive again the third day as the divine prophets had foretold. And the Tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct as of this day.”[fn]
There was a letter sent by Publius Lentilus to the Roman senate. Archaeologists found this letter and it dates to the time Christ was alive. This is what it says:
“There appeared in these days a man of great virtue named Jesus Christ, who is yet among us. Of the Gentiles accepted as a prophet of truth, but his disciples call him the Son of God. He raises the dead and cures all manner of disease. A man of stature, somewhat tall and comely [having a pleasing, attractive appearance][fn], with a very reverend countenance such as the beholder must both love and fear. His hair is the color of a chestnut, full ripe. Plain to the ears whence downward it is more curling and waving about his shoulders. In the midst of his forehead is a partition of his hair after the manner of the Nazarites.
“His forehead is plain and very delicate. His face without spot or wrinkle. Beautiful with a lovely red color. His nose and mouth are forked. His beard thick and colored like his hair, not very long. His look is innocent and mature. His eyes are gray, quick and clear. In reproving (to criticize for a fault or misdeed)[fn] he is terrible. In admonishing (to counsel against something),[fn] He is courteous and fair spoken. Pleasant in conversation, none remembered if any have seen him laugh, but many have seen him weep.
“In proportion to body, most excellent. His hands and arms delectable to behold. In speaking, very temperate (exercising moderation and self-restraint)[fn], modest, and wise. A man of singular beauty surpassing the children of men.”[fn]
Perhaps Publius got a little carried away in his description of Jesus especially in light of the description Isaiah provides in Isaiah 53:2. But this letter can leave little doubt that Jesus did exist and that He was a man. From the description given He was apparently more than just a man. In fact this description is a great lead into verse 4, which tells us that Jesus was the Son of God with power. And how was that power provided? By the Holy Spirit. If there was any doubt in any one’s mind as to whether Jesus was the Son of God, the resurrection should have ended it. What could be a greater demonstration of power than to raise someone from the dead? We read a verse like this almost in passing today, but at the time Paul wrote about it, there was no doubt of its historical occurrence and what it meant. But in spite of the overwhelming evidence in the Bible and from secular historians, those that want to deny who Jesus really was have made every possible attempt to suggest that Jesus’ death and resurrection did not really occur. The simple fact is that it did.
Verses 3 and 4 show us both Jesus’ complete humanity and complete deity, fully God and fully man. He had to be human to take our place and He had to be God to conquer death, Hell, and Satan. He truly came to be “the ransom for many” that Jesus said He would be in Matthew 20:28 NLT:
28 For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
“Faith,” as used in Romans 1:5, is not believing the unbelievable but trusting in God’s word because of what one has come to know about God’s character. And faith expresses itself in acts of obedience.
A faith that does not obey is not a true, justifying faith (James 2:21-26; Galatians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; Hebrews 11:17).
Romans 1:7 is a greeting from Paul to all the Christians in Rome, both Jew and Gentile. It is very possible that there were several house churches in Rome at this time and the letter was read in each of them rather than to a gathering of all the Christians.
As we move to Romans 1:8-17 NLT, we find nine marks of true spiritual service:
8 Let me say first of all that your faith in God is becoming known throughout the world. How I thank God through Jesus Christ for each one of you.
9 God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by telling others the Good News about his Son.
10 One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you.
11 For I long to visit you so I can share a spiritual blessing with you that will help you grow strong in the Lord.
12 I am eager to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours. In this way, each of us will be a blessing to the other.
13 I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see good results, just as I have done among other Gentiles.
14 For I have a great sense of obligation to people in our culture and to people in other cultures, to the educated and uneducated alike.
15 So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach God’s Good News.
16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—Jews first and also Gentiles.
17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”
When Paul writes in verse 8 that they have become known throughout the world, it might be of interest to you to know that the Christian church in Rome may have been one of the first to be founded outside of Judea and Syria, and it was established some 10 years before Paul’s arrival in Rome.
In Romans 1:8, we find the first mark of spiritual service, a thankful attitude. Some people see the negative in everything; they can only see the glass half empty. One of the reasons for this is that the only good things they care about are the good things that happen to them. They know nothing about being grateful for what God has done for someone else. Paul thanks God for what God is doing for the Romans. When Paul wrote this letter he was in Corinth and the Jews there were plotting to kill him. But he still found reason to be thankful to God. His greatest concern was the Kingdom of God and not his own hide. Gratefulness comes from deep within. Those who are not thankful are usually those who feel they have not received what they deserve. But if God gave us what we deserve, I doubt that we would be thankful.
Verse 9 highlights a concerned and prayerful attitude. A concerned heart prays for others. We see it again in Ephesians 6:18:
Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere (NLT).
What do you think Paul said in his prayer? Might he have requested money for the remodeling of the church? Might he have asked for a larger chariot? Or a high speed papyrus tablet and pen? Or perhaps more leisure time? Not Paul. Listen to Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19 NLT:
14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner person,
17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—
19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
None of this is material stuff; it is all spiritual stuff. This attitude continues in Paul’s prayer for the Colossians in Colossians 1:9-12 NLT:
9 So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.
10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy,
12 always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.
Paul prayed for the hearts of people to be knit together with the heart of God, for them to know God’s will, and for obedience to do it.
In Romans 1:10 we discover a serving attitude. Paul not only prays for the Romans, he is also willing to be involved in God’s work among them. It is easy just to pray for someone, but it is something else again to be willing to get involved and help them. God knows well if we are praying from a position of safety or from a submissive spirit. Paul is showing us what prayer is really all about. This is how we should pray: “Lord, I would like this to happen, and if it is Your will for it to happen, I am willing to get in the middle of it so that You, Lord, might use me to accomplish that which is Your will.”
So the first 3 marks of true spiritual service involve:
1) A thankful attitude
2) A prayerful and concerned attitude, and
3) A serving attitude.
You cannot serve God with externals, such as lighting candles, crossing yourself in the sign of the cross, or doing penance. You serve God from the heart or you do not serve Him at all. You know what happens when you serve this way? Amazing things begin to happen, John 4:23, 24 NLT:
23 But the time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way.
24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The fourth mark of true spiritual service is:
4) A submissive attitude.
Also in Romans 1:10 we see that Paul’s behavior was regulated by his commitment to the will of God. His concern was to do the will of God from the heart.
The plan of God is outlined in the Bible. If we know the Bible, submit to it, and seek to live in accordance with it, we shall find ourselves living in joy and harmony with God. If we reject this plan, establish our own, and resist God or deny Him, we will find no peace in life.
In Romans 1:11 we find that the fifth mark of true spiritual service is:
5) A loving attitude.
“I long to see you” at the beginning of this verse would certainly imply love. Paul also wanted to go to Rome to give them something. What does love do? Love gives as we are clearly told in John 3:16 NAS:
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
A major characteristic of love is unselfish giving. Paul wants to give them Christ and all the benefits of life and eternity that go along with this gift. Paul knew so much about true love and a loving attitude that he wrote about it at length in his letter to the Corinthians. We often hear 1 Corinthians chapter 13 quoted as the definition of love.
Romans 1:12 also shows us the attitude of humility. Paul is not claiming to be the superstar gift giver, but rather he will give something to them, they will give something to him, and they will give to one another. That is humility. Some people think they have nothing to learn and they have it all to give. That is arrogance. The humble person says, “Let’s learn together.” That is the kind of humility you find in a pure heart according to what Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:2-6 NLT:
2 Care for the flock of God entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.
3 Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your good example.
4 And when the head Shepherd comes, your reward will be a never-ending share in his glory and honor.
5 You younger men, accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, serve each other in humility, for “God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.”
6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and in his good time he will honor you.
To be humble is to realize that everything you have comes from God, whether talent, looks, abilities, or even material possessions. It may also involve considering the needs of others more important than your own. Jesus was willing to humble Himself by being obedient to God, leaving the comforts of Heaven and coming to earth to satisfy our need for a Savior. Philippians 2:5-8.
As we move on to Romans 1:13 we find:
6) A fruitful attitude
A fruitful attitude can be defined as a desire to produce fruit. Paul knew that the purpose of preaching was not to get applause and his own TV show because of his brilliant delivery. The purpose of preaching is fruit. It is to get you to think about divine truth in order to change your heart. Spiritual fruit consists of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, living within God’s will, giving, righteousness, making converts to Christianity, and perhaps a few others that may have eluded me for the moment (Galatians 5:22, 23; Ephesians 5:9). John records Jesus’ words in John 15:16 NLT:
16 You did not choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit that will last.
Seeking spiritual fruit was the main purpose of all apostolic activity. A person who serves with his/her heart, a person whose spiritual service is genuine, is only content with fruit. So real ministry is not a ministry of maintenance where you have a group of satisfied church members just sitting around looking at each other. Real ministry is touching the lives of people who do not know the truth about Jesus Christ. Real ministry challenges, encourages, and helps those who are Christians to keep growing in their faith.
Most of us do not have much of a problem seeing clearly the confusion, chaos, and lostness of this world, or the foolishness that is pumped out in the name of human philosophy. We hear the ignorance that comes at us through the media, the lies, wrong answers, and wrong opinions that flood us from a variety of sources each day. So many people have no idea what they are talking about.
To be able to invade that world and bring someone to the truth is what living is all about.
In Romans 1:14 we find the seventh mark of spiritual service:
7) An attitude of obligation.
Paul says that he has an obligation. Ministry is not just a job to Paul, it is an obligation to God for the good of people. People who do not know the truth about Jesus are in a dangerous situation. Those who do know that truth have the information that can save their lives and are obligated to tell them. Wherever a Christian sees a need, he/she is obligated to attempt to meet that need. Suppose you were walking down the street and saw one end of a house on fire. Through the picture window at the other end of the house you could see the family eating dinner in their dining room, unaware of the danger they were in. You could walk by thinking they will soon become aware of the fire and flee to safety, or surely someone else will notice the fire and warn them to flee to safety. Of course you would not do that because that would not be the responsible or right thing to do. You would warn them of the danger they were in. That is exactly the responsibility one has who knows the truth about the message of the Bible.
People will suffer without a saving relationship with their Creator. The responsible or right thing to do is warn them of the danger.
The eighth mark of spiritual service, and we find it in verse 15, is:
8) An eager attitude
This cannot be described any better than by looking at what Paul said in several of his writings. We will begin with Philippians 1:21 NLT:
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Acts 20:22 NLT:
“And now I am going to Jerusalem, drawn there irresistibly by the Holy
Spirit, not knowing what awaits me.”
Colossians 1:24 NLT:
“I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am completing what
remains of Christ’s sufferings for his body, the church.”
Paul’s only concern was to fulfill the plan of God and the ministry God had given him. How about you? Are you eager? It might be helpful to know that Paul had all these attitudes, knowing that Rome was a hostile environment and most of the people in Rome would reject him and his message.
We now come to the ninth mark of spiritual service, which is found in verse 16:
9) An attitude of boldness
In view of all the potential danger and rejection, why is Paul so anxious to get to Rome? Because he is “not ashamed of the Gospel.” Whenever he gets an opportunity to preach, he will preach. It is kind of sad what shame will do to a person. Many people are real eager in the planning stage but once the battle starts, they faint. There are many people like that in our country today that have turned against the war on terrorism. You also see it in the Church. Some people are very supportive of projects until the hard work begins and then they are nowhere to be found. Others quickly back away from their faith when they are confronted by a non-believer or atheist. Someone might say to them: “You mean to say we’re all sinners? But I’ve never broken the law. I donate to charity. You cannot mean to tell me I am a sinner and cannot get into Heaven?” Suddenly we see the so-called Christian backpedaling to be “less offensive.” That is being ashamed of the Gospel. Others have a tendency to downplay certain truths in the Bible because they do not seem to fit in with what is politically correct today. That is being ashamed of the Gospel. They demonstrate the eagerness, but they do not have the boldness nor the commitment to the truth..
Paul demonstrated this quality in every city that he visited because he nearly lost his life everywhere he went, and that was because he never pulled a punch. A true servant of God will always face all situations in an unashamed, bold way. The great ones never compromise or become ashamed. Jeffrey Wilson writes,
“The unpopularity of a crucified Christ has prompted many to present a message which is more palatable to the unbeliever. But the removal of the offense of the cross renders the message ineffective. An inoffensive Gospel is an inoperative Gospel.”
Because of the emphasis on political correctness in our contemporary culture, the Church has weakened the Gospel so that it will not offend anyone. But when that is done the message itself is weakened and few are truly brought to the point of becoming fully devoted followers of Christ. If you find shame in your life for the Gospel of Christ, it should be a reminder of how far away you are from the heart of true spiritual service.
When you get right down to it the things that keep people from Christ are most often personal comforts. They are afraid of giving up comfort and personal possessions. Or they are afraid their reputation will be hurt if they take a bold stand as a Christian. Along come false teachers who offer the very thing that keeps people from Christ. False teachers allow them to have their comforts or their good standing in the eyes of the world. People, therefore, by-pass the real Gospel for a phony.
Unlocking the Meaning of the Gospel
Romans 1:16,17 NAS:
16 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 (anyone who is not a Jew).[fn]
17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous person shall live by faith.
We are told in Romans 1:16 why Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel. It is because the Gospel is powerful, it has the power to change lives. Faith is the starting point of the Gospel and faith is the goal of the Gospel. Paul did not care if he was popular. He just preached the Gospel because he knew what it could do. There are four words in verses 16 and 17 that are key to understanding the Gospel. If you understand these four words, their meaning and connection, then you will understand the Gospel. The four words are:
3) Belief (faith)
The Good News about Jesus is that the Gospel has power. The all powerful God of the universe stands behind the Gospel message in order to help change the person who wants such power. People really do want to change. As a matter of fact, all the advertising that goes on in the world is based on one simple fact and that is that people want things different than they are. They want to smell better, look better, and feel better. They want to appear rich, famous, and respected. They want to change their lives but they feel helpless to do so on their own. Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 22:29 (NLT):
29 Jesus replied, “Your problem is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.
Jesus is saying that the people do not know what real power is.
The latter part of verse 16 needs a bit of clarification. Paul’s first stop was usually the synagogue where he presented the Gospel message to the Jews first.
The synagogue provided a bridgehead for reaching Gentiles. Paul would often be taking the Gospel message into hostile territory and his chances of receiving a fair hearing were always better among the God-fearing Jews, who formed part of his audience in every synagogue.[fn]
For Christ was a Jew and therefore the descendant of Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. While the blessing given to Abraham was “for all the people of the earth” (Genesis 12:3), the first opportunity to receive it was naturally extended to Abraham’s own family, the Jews.[fn]
In verse 16, Paul is also explaining why he is eager to announce the Gospel, that Jesus is Lord of the world, including Rome. Then in verse 17 Paul says that the Gospel reveals God’s own righteousness, His covenant faithfulness, which operates through the faithfulness of Jesus for the benefit of all those who are faithful. He is telling the world the news that the God of all the world has been true to His Word, and through the cross has dealt decisively with the evil that has invaded the creation, and is now placing in motion the plan that will one day restore justice, peace, and truth for all those who believe.
The heart of the message of Romans is one of love. God’s justice is His love in action, to right the wrongs of His suffering world. God’s love is the driving force of His justice. Paul knows that no matter what happens the future is secure. The Gospel is the announcement of the lordship of Jesus and reveals God’s righteousness, His promise of faithfulness, His dealing with the sin of the world through the fulfillment of His promises in Christ. He has done all this righteously and impartially. He has dealt with sin, and rescued the helpless. He has thereby fulfilled all of His promises.[fn]
In Romans 1:17, Paul applies the same principle in the New Testament that applied in the
Old Testament, and that principle is:
“The righteous person will live by faith.”
We see this same promise coming from God through the prophet Habakkuk in the Old Testament, writing in Habakkuk 2:4 around 600 B.C.:
“Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked; but the righteous will live by their faith. (NLT)
The second word we mentioned is salvation. God makes His power available so that a person might have salvation. God’s power is seen in salvation. Let us jump over to Ephesians 2:8-10 and see what Paul wrote to the Ephesians:
8 God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you cannot take credit for this; it is a gift from God.
9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (NLT)
The human race is spiritually dead in sin and the salvation act of God makes them alive in order that they might live forever. They are cleansed of their sin and made fit for the Kingdom of God.
Salvation means deliverance from the power and effects of sin. One is cleansed of the effects of sin and washed clean by the blood of Christ. God now sees us as being pure, spotless, and without any trace of sin. Only the Gospel of Christ has the power to do that. There is nothing else that can save you.
Human beings seem to have a love affair with their vices, which only bring them despair. Salvation has the power to bring them peace and joy. So why do you think so many people think the Gospel sounds so stupid? It is because of the very thing that Jesus came to free us from, sin. Because of sin, Satan has the ability to control all those who are outside of the Kingdom of God. Those who choose not to accept Jesus as their Savior live outside the Kingdom of God in the kingdom of Satan. Those are the only two choices available. If you do not belong to God, you belong to Satan. And it is not beyond Satan’s power to make life very comfortable for those who follow his lead. He is very deceptive and often allows his followers to believe they are very good people, even though deep in their hearts they know something is missing. Because of sin, Satan can make the message of the Gospel sound foolish to people and steer them in another direction. He can even make the concept of his own existence sound foolish to them, which quite frequently results in a person scoffing at the existence of Satan. Listen to what Paul had to say about this is in 1 Corinthians 1:18-20, 27-29 NLT:
18 I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God.
19 As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy human wisdom and discard their most brilliant ideas.”
20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made them all look foolish and has shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense.
27 God deliberately chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful.
28 God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important,
29 so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.
In Acts 2:40 we are told that we are saved from a crooked and perverse generation. Some things do not change much in 2000 years because that is exactly what people are saved from today as well. If you have an ounce of morality within you, you are no doubt grieved by the state of morality in our world today. If you do not think there is a problem with decency and values in our culture today you may well be the victim of Satan’s power to deceive even the most intelligent people. Having spent the greatest part of my life as an atheist I can understand how you may be feeling, but that simply does not change what the Bible has to say about right and wrong. You might also be interested in knowing that a recent Gallup pole indicates that 8 out of 10 Americans think morality is at an all time low.[fn]
We are not here to tell you what you should believe. Our purpose here is to give you an honest presentation of what the Bible says and honestly answer any questions you may have based on what the Bible says. The rest is between you and God. Hopefully, you will accept it, but history confirms that many will not. Some of you may accept part of it and reject part of it, and again that is between you and the Holy Spirit of God. Our church (Village Church of Wheaton) is a family and we will care for one another, be considerate of one another, not be judgmental of each other’s feelings, and in no way hurt one another. Anyone who does not want to be part of that should look for another church.
The leadership in our church accepts the Bible as the one and only source of God’s Word and anything that is added to it or subtracted from it by humankind cannot be looked upon as the authoritative Word of God. Listen to the Word of God as John transcribes it in Revelation 22:18,19:
18 And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book.
19 And if anyone removes any of the words of this prophetic book, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. (NLT)
There are already an untold number of people throughout history that have suffered the consequences of using God’s Word for their own personal benefit. It is spiritual suicide to tamper with the Bible and its meaning, and those who are teachers and pastors should most definitely be aware of this warning from God. That warning is clearly stated in James 3:1 NLT:
1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
That should send shudders up the backs of most pastors in this country. With that having been said let us continue by turning to Romans 1:17 NLT:
This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”
This verse brings us to the third word, or words, to be more exact. The words belief and faith are interchangeable. We have seen that the power of God through His Holy Spirit can produce salvation. For whom, therefore, is this power and salvation released?
For everyone who believes.
Where there is faith, there you will find the power of God. You might ask, “What is faith?”
Faith is believing. Faith is trust.
To one degree or another we all live by faith. Think about the last time you got on an airplane. Did you know the pilot personally? Did you have an opportunity to interview him and review his resume? Did you check to determine if his blood-alcohol level was okay? Probably not. But you had faith that whoever was up there was qualified to fly. What about the last time you flipped on a light switch? Did you doubt for a moment that the lights would go on? That was faith. So we live by faith all the time. That is the only way we can survive. It would therefore not be too much of a stretch to suggest that we all have been created in such a way that we understand what it means to live by faith.
Faith in God should not be any harder for us to activate than it is to have faith that the lights will go on, the car will start, or the elevator will go up and down.
Faith in God is nothing more than believing and trusting. The power of God can bring about salvation, but it will only save those who believe.
Believe in your heart that God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ and came to this earth to free people from their bondage to sin and death. Believe that He was willing to go to the cross and die a tortuous death that few of us could even imagine. Those who have seen the movie, The Passion of the Christ, have some idea of His actual suffering. Believe that the Holy Spirit resurrected Jesus from the dead and that He showed Himself to many people over the course of forty days and nights, and then ascended into Heaven to be our advocate before the throne of God. If you believe that, God will declare you righteous, and by His declaring you righteous you will be saved and guaranteed eternity in Heaven. Let us look at Ephesians 2:8,9 again:
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you cannot take credit for this; it is a gift from God.
9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it (NLT).
God does not ask us to jump through hoops, He asks us to believe. The righteous behavior comes after salvation. Therefore, it is essential that you understand that salvation does not come from declaring that you are a Christian. Salvation does not come to a person when they are simply baptized, nor does it come because they have accomplished moral reform. Salvation is not granted to someone just because they go to church, or conform to the rules of the church, or because they exercise discipline and self-restraint.
So many people think they are saved for all the wrong reasons. Salvation does not come to a person through the church. It comes to a man, woman, or child when they recognize they do not have the resources to manage their own lives all by themselves, that they are lost and in need of a Savior, and call upon His saving power by saying from the heart, “I believe!”
This takes us to the term righteousness and we have to be very deliberate in determining the meaning of the term righteousness in this verse or it can be seriously misinterpreted. There are certain teachers of the Scripture, whom we deeply respect that interpret verse 17 as saying that because humans have no righteousness of their own, faith helps the person to see the righteousness of God and because they now see God’s righteousness and believe that God is righteous, God gives them His righteousness so they might be saved. We do not believe that is the Bible’s meaning here and we will tell you why. Paul writes in Romans 4:5 NRSV:
5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
The definition of “the righteousness of God” is taken from the Hebrew law court. God’s righteousness may be defined therefore in the same way that the judge’s righteousness in the Hebrew law court was defined. Righteousness for the judge means he must try the case according to the law; he must be impartial; he must punish sin, or some might call it wrongdoing or crime, and he must support those who are defenseless. God’s righteousness can be defined simply as God’s own faithfulness to His promises. God is righteous because He is perfect and keeps every one of His promises. That is not the kind of righteousness Romans 1:17 refers to when it speaks of a “righteous person.”[fn]
The righteousness referred to in verse 17 is a condition in which God declares us not guilty of sin.
Because of our faith (and belief or trust mean the same thing as faith) in what Jesus did, we are declared innocent of sin in the sight of God.
Because we have been joined to His Son through our belief, we are cleansed and God no longer sees sin in us.
All that He sees in us is the perfection of Jesus.
We will summarize all we have discussed here in the form of a chart that hopefully will help you solidify these things in your mind:
GOD goes to earth in the form of the man, JESUS
to present the GOSPEL message to ALL PEOPLE.
When they read or hear the GOSPEL, the
HOLY SPIRIT helps them to understand it.
If they believe, God declares them to be RIGHTEOUS,
which means they have been joined to Christ
and are capable of becoming like Him,
which means they are fit for the KINGDOM OF GOD.
Because they are joined to Christ, God does not see their sin.
They then have PEACE with God here and HEAVEN for eternity.
If a person rejects the Gospel message they will spend their eternity in Hell. We will see this documented shortly.
Salvation is a gift from God and can only come from Him. The gift is guaranteed to all those who believe the message delivered by His Son, Jesus. In this way God sees the believer as having kept the entire Law in Christ. Because Christ kept the law perfectly and because we have attached our lives to His, God sees us as, and declares us to be, law keepers (righteous), perfectly holy. We do not want to get too theological here but this is the essence of the Gospel message that is found in the words we highlighted and which leads us to this conclusion.
Now we will move to the last part of this chapter, Romans 1:18-32, which discusses the consequences of not believing in the Gospel message of Christ. Romans 1:18 NLT:
But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who push the truth away from themselves.
Surprised? There can be no question that God makes a very clear statement regarding His feelings toward those who reject the truth of His message through His Son, Jesus. This verse stands in total contrast to the message delivered by most churches today. They prefer to talk about God’s love. They prefer to talk about happiness, abundant living, forgiveness, joy, and peace. They offer people all of these things, things which God does provide in varying proportions to those who believe His message presented through the Bible, but they avoid mentioning the aspect of God’s character that is released against those who reject that message.
It is interesting that Paul introduces this aspect of God’s character very early in his message to the Romans. We believe he does so in order that people might better understand God’s love, grace, salvation, and forgiveness. Besides, unless you realize you are in grave danger, there really is not any reason to recognize the need for a Savior, is there?
In the previous verses we saw that salvation can only come to a person through a declaration from God based on their faith. Romans 1:18 then correctly states that without that declaration of salvation from God all people are considered unrighteous. They are therefore under God’s wrath and unless they somehow get out from under, they are not going to receive the gift of salvation. This will result in a final judgment, which in effect they have chosen for themselves because of their stubbornness and pride. And yes that judgment will be an eternity separated from God in the place the Bible refers to as Hell. Paul expresses this very well in Ephesians 2:1-3 NLT:
1 Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.
2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.
3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
But remember that God’s anger is not like our anger. The anger of God is always perfect anger, it is a righteous anger, a proper expression of His pure holiness. Our anger is often based on a bad temper, selfishness, pride, and a number of other negative attributes. God’s wrath stems from a perfection that cannot tolerate anything that is not pure. God’s wrath is directed at those to whom He has given life and who in turn deny Him as their Father. His wrath is a result of perfect judgment.[fn]
You might be wondering what God’s wrath looks like. Well, God revealed His wrath toward people for the first time in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed His command. Immediately God passed upon them the sentence of death; the earth was cursed as well, and Adam and Eve were thrown out of paradise. This should have been the lesson that taught the world that God will not tolerate sin. God’s wrath was also revealed in the flood when God drowned the whole world except for eight faithful followers (Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives).Then there was the drowning of Pharaoh’s army as they chased the Israelites through the parted waters of the Red Sea. God’s wrath was again revealed when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire from Heaven because of rampant homosexuality (Jude 1:7). These are just a few examples of how God’s wrath has been manifested. There are many more, but we think you get some idea of how God expresses His feeling about persistent sin in the lives of individuals or nations. As a matter of fact the wrath of God is constantly revealed in our world today.
How is it that some evil people seem to prosper? Why does God not punish them for the way they live? Their time is coming. God’s bowl of wrath is continually filling in the lives of such people. God may even be giving them some additional time to repent and come to Him. But if they refuse that merciful patience, the day will come when they will pay for how they have lived and pay dearly. It is a foolish person who says, “There is no God.” Why would one say that? Because they know that if God does exist they are in big trouble. The other side of that is that many people invent the kind of god they know will tolerate their life style. What a shock awaits them when they die. Remember, however, there is Good News. Christ has taken the full fury of God’s wrath for everyone who will accept His gracious substitution.
Let us now continue in Romans 1 with the passage from Romans 1:19-23, and we will include verse 18 for transition and clarity:
18 But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.
20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.
22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.
23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. (NLT)
As we look at these verses, you should begin to understand why God’s wrath is justified. In verses 19 and 20 we see that God has made His existence known to people through His created world and universe. God would never send anyone to Hell that did not have an opportunity to know Him. This is the answer to those who refuse to believe because they think God is not being fair to those people who have never seen a Bible. Remember what we just read in verse 19? “For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts.” And verse 20 told us that through God’s creation, people can see the power and presence of God. You see God is a God of justice and He is the perfect judge. The evidence of God’s presence is all around us in nature. Look at the variety of flowers, each unique in design. Look at the variety of birds, each unique in their design. Look at the marvel of the universe and its perfection of design and function. Look at the human body and the complexity of design and function, and the remarkable fact that two human bodies have the ability to reproduce another complex human body, identical in all the basic necessities and yet unique in many ways. Verse 19 also tells us that what is knowable about God is revealed to each person in their heart.
This is simply saying that when a person looks at nature they perceive in their hearts that it is the result of God’s creation. Everyone in the world, therefore, has the opportunity to know God, including those pygmies in Africa that people keep referring to. If you are one of those who doubt God for this reason, I would suggest that you worry more about yourself than those who have never seen a Bible, because you are hearing the message right now, and if you reject it for any reason, your fate will be sealed. God will be perfectly just to those who have never had an opportunity to see or hear the Gospel.
Psalm 19:1 NLT says it all:
The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship.
When someone tells me that creation just happened, that simply makes no sense. It is like taking your computer apart piece by piece, putting it in a box, shaking it, and expecting the computer to go back together again in perfect working order. Such a statement is absolutely ridiculous. Design speaks of a designer.
Romans 1:21 clearly tells us that people have rejected the clear evidence of God’s existence. When people find God in creation, they reject Him, and turn away from Him. If you think about it, human beings are the only thing God created that refuse to do what God designed them to do. The heavens, trees, and tides all function according to God’s design. So do the animals. It is only humankind that insists on doing their own thing and who refuse to recognize God.
In verse 22 we find that having had their hearts and minds darkened they became fools. Darkness means they were filled with meaningless thoughts and empty words, intellectual ignorance, and an absence of righteousness. Paul makes this even more clear when he writes in Colossians 2:8 NLT:
8 Don’t let anyone lead you astray with empty philosophy and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the evil powers of this world, and not from Christ.
Do not let anyone distract you with human wisdom, theories about truth that come out of a darkened heart. The same applies to people who think they use common sense to find the right solution. This is simply the same thing because it is not part of God’s truth and wisdom. Whatever comes out of the human mind without any guidance from God is simply a collection of the principles of the world, which has come to mean in this day and age: “Forget morality, just make money and satisfy your pleasures.” So a rejection of the evidence of God’s existence leaves human beings in a state of sin. They are left with empty, meaningless, human philosophy. Their darkened hearts are filled with deceit, yet they announce to others that they are wise. That is called rationalization and denial, and both represent a loss of touch with reality, as we saw earlier in 1 Corinthians 1:18-20.
In this sorry state into which humankind had allowed itself to slide, they decided they would become religious, and they began to make gods out of statues of people and animals. They worshipped the sun, moon, and stars. Today in “civilized” societies they worship social position, power, and material possessions. Some people look at religion as the highest attainment of human good when actually it is the pit, the lowest achievement of human wisdom. After people reject the real God, they have an empty feeling in their heart and they think they can fill it by creating a god of their own. So they make one up. It is almost as foolish as a husband and wife abandoning their daughter and then going out and buying a life size doll to replace the daughter and proceeding through life introducing the dummy as their daughter. People like that are candidates for mental institutions but our society elevates them to positions as “great thinkers and scholars.”
You might find it interesting that a tooth is reverenced by 400 million Buddhists as the most sacred object on earth. They claim the tooth was rescued from the funeral pyre of Buddha in 453 B.C. They have set the tooth in a golden lotus blossom in a temple they call the Temple of the Tooth. They have surrounded it with rubies and flowers. People come from many countries to worship it, bringing gifts of gold, silver, and jewels. This is just one of a multitude of gods Buddhists worship.[fn]
Some so-called Christian churches offer the very same kind of idol worship. The Roman Catholic Church claims to have several locks of hair of the virgin Mary in churches at Naples and Rome. It is also said that Mary’s wedding ring is in a cathedral in Peru. The holy basin used at the last supper is supposedly kept at a cathedral in Genoa. Legs, fingers, and arms of John the Baptist are supposedly available for viewing as well.[fn] This is not what God had in mind when He created the world and the people who inhabit the world. Does God have a right to be angry about sin? You bet He does. But again we have to remember God’s anger is not like human anger. His anger is righteous anger and He deals with His anger in a perfectly just manner. God’s wrath is no less a divine perfection than His love or His holiness. It is as much an element of His perfection as anything else. It is divine perfection. Way back in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah made a statement that would endure for all time, Isaiah 44:9-11 NLT:
9 How foolish are those who manufacture idols. These prized objects are really worthless. The people who worship idols don’t know this, so they are all put to shame.
10 Who but a fool would make his own god— an idol that cannot help him one bit?
11 All who worship idols will be disgraced along with all these craftsmen—mere humans— who claim they can make a god. They may all stand together, but they will stand in terror and shame.
Romans 1:23 says that people exchanged the glory and power of the true God for images of stone, wood, and metal. Today we exchange the glory and power of the true God for money, power, good looks, sexual satisfaction, and a thousand other forms of personal pleasure.
As we move into the next phase of Romans chapter 1 we will tap into the meaning of the statement, “God will render to every man and woman according to their deeds.”
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES
Romans 1:24 and 25 NAS:
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.
25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
People replaced God’s truth with Satan’s lie! What is Satan’s lie? Worshiping the creature (Satan) and not the Creator (God); worshiping man instead of God; worshiping things instead of Christ. The truth believed and obeyed sets us free (John 8:31–32); the truth rejected and disobeyed makes us slaves.[fn]
Verse 24 tells us that God gave them a free hand to pursue their lusts and to dishonor their bodies. The word lust means “a wrong desire.” It is typically human to crave what is wrong. They wanted their own way rather than to follow God’s way, and God let them have their way as well as the consequences that would go with it. They perverted God’s intended use for the body. They desired fornication, sexual deviation, sexual perversion, and sexual promiscuity. I know many people who simply cannot believe that a book written 2,000 years ago could apply to our modern culture today. Why not? People still behave in the same way today that they did then. The only difference today is that they drive instead of walk, fly instead of walk, and watch television instead of talk. The need to satisfy the lusts of their hearts remains exactly the same. And God still permits people the free will to make their own choices because without free will, without choices there can be no true love. Would your wife’s love mean anything to you men if they were forced to love you? And would your husband’s love mean anything to you women if they were forced to love you? God is not going to force anyone to love Him. He is going to allow each person to make the decision to love and obey Him or to reject Him and disobey Him.
God’s promise is that love and obedience will result in peace, happiness, and eternal life in Heaven, and that disobedience will result in disappointment and separation from God throughout eternity in that other place nobody likes to mention. Our lives and our future lie in the decisions that we make.
What does the Bible say about decisions that lead to perverted behavior? Let us read what Paul had to say to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 NAS:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;
4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,
5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.
7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.
Hugh Hefner, the pillar of moral purity who has given men fifty years of looking at naked women anytime they feel a lustful desire of the heart to do so, was quoted in Eternity magazine as saying, “Sex is a biological function like eating and drinking, so let’s forget all the prudery about it and do whatever you feel like doing.” The human race has an insatiable desire to fornicate in almost every perverted manner imaginable. They had the desire in the year 2000 B.C., they had it in the year A.D. 1, and they still have it today. We have an entire world doing this. Our society today flaunts the body anywhere and everywhere, including churches. We exploit the body by the way we dress. The body is wrongly exploited through television, music, and movies. People are always talking about going to bed and there is fornicating going on all over the place. The implication is clearly to do whatever you feel like doing, whether you are 6 or 16 or 60 or 100. Humankind has turned the body into an instrument of lust, and any such use of the body God gave us in order to perform good works dishonors the body. The church itself has become entirely too tolerant of such behavior.
We saw in verse 25 that people had the truth about God written in their hearts. But they did not want what their Creator knew was best for them. So they exchanged the true God for false gods, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” What is the lie referred to in verse 25? The lie is that God is not God, that God does not have to be honored and glorified. It is the same lie Satan’s been pushing on humankind since the Garden of Eden. So people buy the lie and choose to worship idols and things they love rather than their Creator. People today worship cars, houses, clothes, their bodies, their children, the opposite sex, the same sex, success, money, and false gods in a religious environment. They have idols coming out of their ears and that is the reason God gives them up, leaving them to their own sinful willfulness.
What is the result of such behavior for such people? It is a compounding, escalating, snowballing sinfulness with all its associated heartache. that is God’s wrath because He just backs away from such people, removes His hand of protection, and allows them to go it on their own. Do you know what effect that has on people? It degrades them, strips them of their dignity, and steals their peace. Their lives are filled with fear, torment, guilt, stress, anxiety, and self-doubt. Some people even kill themselves to find relief from the torment. Sin destroys relationships, marriages, families, and morally corrupts nations. People buy big, expensive toys or go on extravagant vacations, or take alcohol and drugs to try and forget. But nothing works. There is no way out of such sinfulness by human endeavors. They are suffering the consequences of choosing to get along without God. And God lets them go in their despair until they call out to Him for help, at which time God will hear and respond. Listen to what the Bible says in Psalm 51:17 NAS:
The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.
Matthew 5:6 NLT:
God blesses those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for they will receive it in full.
Psalm 119:71, 72 NAS:
The suffering you sent was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your principles.
72 Your law is more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver!
God allows people to suffer so that they will see and recognize their need for Him. Otherwise they might never turn to Him. As we continue in this chapter, we read in
Romans 1:26, 27 NLT:
That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other.
27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved.
In this verse we begin to see some specific details about how people dishonor their bodies. One way they dishonor their bodies is through the practice of homosexuality. The words in these verses clearly describe what God considers to be unnatural sexual relationships. We see here a statement about people doing things utterly opposite of the way God made them. A better literal translation of verse 27 appears in the NAS translation where we read that they “burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts.” There is a level of lust among homosexuals that is not know among heterosexuals. There is a burning that far exceeds anything that could be considered natural. It is not uncommon for the average homosexual male to have a hundred or more partners per year. It is not uncommon for them to go to the hospital to have all sorts of articles extracted from within them. Sometimes doctors are called in to separate them, to remove limbs from one another.
Many prominent figures in our world who admit to being homosexuals are writing books and magazine articles about how wonderful their relationships are. Many political leaders today advocate gay rights. In fact Bill Clinton as president was a gay rights advocate. He even appointed a number of homosexuals to high government positions. It is now considered discriminatory to refuse a person a job because they are a homosexual.
We not only allow it, but we appoint people to high positions that do it. Several years ago the Quaker Church released a statement that homosexuality is no more abnormal than being left-handed. Many denominations have ordained practicing homosexuals to the ministry. Homosexual behavior is a sin according to the Bible and as it says in Romans 1:27 there are built-in consequences for such practices: “They receive in their own bodies due penalty for their actions.” I believe AIDS confirms the validity of this verse.
The former chief medical examiner of New York City, Milton Helpburn, wrote a book entitled, Where Death Delights, in which he said:
“Having been responsible for 60,000 autopsies, it is high time for those that deviate from the norms to understand the risk. I do not know why but it seems that the violent explosions of jealousy among homosexuals far exceed those of the jealousy of a man for a woman and a woman for a man.”
That would explain the meaning of Romans 1:27 which says that “men burned in their desire for one another.” Helpburn goes on:
“The pent-up charges and energy of a homosexual relationship simply cannot be contained. When the explosive point is reached, the result is brutally violent. The normal pattern of these homosexual attacks can involve multiple stabbings and senseless beatings that obviously continue long after the victim is dead. When we see these brutal, multiple wound cases in a single victim, we just automatically assume that we’re dealing with a homosexual victim and homosexual attacker.”[fn]
If you want to know what God intended, consider the following passage in Genesis 1:27,28 NAS:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
God made a man and a woman and placed them together because that was the only way it was meant to be. We should also go to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 NLT: “Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin.” “The penalty for homosexual acts is death to both parties. They have committed a detestable act and are guilty of a capital offense.”
But before someone jumps up and says how unfair this is let us read 1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT:
11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
God saves people that are in situations like that. People involved with the practice of homosexuality are consumed by guilt, pain, physical disease, bodily wounds, and despair. The horrible results of the practice of homosexuality are its own condemnation. But God in His grace and mercy offers a way out for even the most perverted of behavior. God offers hope to everyone no matter how awful their sin might be.
One sure way to condemn a person for eternity is to tell them that their sin is OK. If you want to truly help someone, tell them what they are doing is sinful. Because until they see it that way, they will not turn to God for help. Practicing homosexuals are committing a sin against God and are thus alienated from Him. The only way they will ever be helped is to recognize what they are doing is wrong and that God wants to help them. Homosexual behavior is the result of a choice, not of genetic structure. It is a choice a person makes and it is a choice a person makes to keep on doing it. There is also the choice of seeking help and doing the right thing rather than the wrong thing. Is it right for an alcoholic to say, “I drink because of my genetic structure, so that is the way I am.” They can say that if they want a miserable life and a premature death. Or they can go to Alcoholics Anonymous and seek the help that will allow them to stop destroying themselves. The homosexual is no different, except perhaps that they hold on more tightly to their denial. Paul’s words to the Corinthians should provide encouragement for anyone who is struggling with temptation. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT:
13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
There are some people who are more tempted toward adultery than others because of their backgrounds. In the same way, there are others that are more tempted toward stealing. There are some people, because of whatever circumstances, who are more tempted toward homosexuality than others. No matter what the temptation might be, we can all have victory through Christ. We can choose Him over sin, and we can call upon His cleansing blood when we do sin. We can wash that sin off just as we would dirt and move on without guilt. But for those who refuse this help, we see the inevitable outcome in the final verses of chapter one.
Romans 1:28 NLT:
28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done.
Because people turned away from God, God let them go their own way. This is the basic problem with people. They do not want to know God. They do not want to trust God. They do not want to obey God. So, God just lets them go their own way. Listen to the words of Job in Job 21:13-15 NRSV:
13 They spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol.
14 They say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We do not desire to know your ways.
15 What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’
People just do not want God; they want no part of the truth, because the truth would expose them for what they really are. Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 4:22 and 9:6 NLT:
“My people are foolish and do not know me,” says the Lord. “They are senseless children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no talent at all for doing right!”
“They pile lie upon lie and utterly refuse to come to me,” says the Lord.”
That is what happens when people turn away from God. They will in one way or another develop a depraved and worthless mind. To what extent does humankind go? we are about to find out in Romans 1:29-32 NLT:
29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting, deception, malicious behavior (seeking revenge), and gossip.
30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They are forever inventing new ways of sinning and are disobedient to their parents.
31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, and are heartless and unforgiving.
32 They are fully aware of God’s death penalty for those who do these things, yet they go right ahead and do them anyway. And, worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
These are the traits that characterize human beings. Why are people like this? Because God has let them go. Now in verse 32 we see the low point of human behavior. To sin yourself is evil, but to delight in the perversion of others is even worse because you are not committing the evil act itself, yet you are still taking delight in it. People today do that all the time. They will sit in front of a television or go to a theater and watch people sin, and they will enjoy it. One major reason our society is in a state of decadence is that we enjoy “x” rated movies, soap operas, sitcoms, talk shows, and now reality TV.
There is a species of ants found in parts of Africa that leave the shelter of their underground tunnels to go out on work details. The queen remains in the tunnel network. If the queen is killed while they are away they become frantic rushing around aimlessly. It appears they are connected to the queen by some radar-like device. When she dies, all of their orientation stops, confusion follows, and ends in death.
There cannot be a better illustration of humankind. People are naturally connected to God as we have read earlier. When they are cut off from God they become disoriented and confused, which inevitably leads to death. Romans 1:20 told us that people are without excuse. That is bad news for the proud and arrogant, very bad news. There is a positive side to this, however, and that is the good news. The apostle Paul said that “Jesus Christ has come to save sinners.” God can save anyone no matter how bad the sin according to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT:[fn]
9 Don’t you know that those who do wrong will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, who are idol worshipers, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals,
10 thieves, greedy people, drunkards, abusers, and swindlers—none of these will have a share in the Kingdom of God.
11 There was a time when some of you were just like that, but now your sins have been washed away, and you have been set apart for God. You have been made right with God because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you.
If you have not yet accepted Jesus as your Savior, I hope you will allow Him to save you before the consequence of sin is irreversible. Let us turn now to chapter 2 of the book of Romans.
Romans 10:9,10; John 1:12; Romans 8:38, 39.
[fn] Elwell, Walter and Comfort, Phillip (Editors); Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Wheaton, 2001, Tyndale House Publishers. P. 1236.
[fn] Whiston, William (translator), The Works of Josephus: New Updated Addition; 1987 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., ISBN: 0–913573–86–8; Book 18, Chapter 3, Section 3.
[fn] McArthur, John, The Book of Romans, Audio Series, Tape #1.
[fn] Bruce, F.F., The Book of the Acts (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1988). P. 247.
[fn] Stott, John, Romans, God’s Good News for the World, Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 1994, P. 61.
[fn] Montez, Josh, Morals in Poor Standing (Gallup Poll, 6/1/04).
[fn] Carson, D. A.: New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA : Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, S. Ro 1:16.
[fn] Wuest, Kenneth S.: Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament : For the English Reader. Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, 1997, c1984, S. Ro 1:18.
[fn] McArthur, John, The Book of Romans, Audio Series, Romans 1:18.
[fn] Wiersbe, W. W. 1997, c1992. Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament . Victor Books: Wheaton, Ill.
[fn] Houts, Marshall, Where Death Delights, 1968.
[fn] McArthur, John, The Book of Romans, Audio Series, Romans 1:29-32.