134-101 Romans Introduction & Chapter 1
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The importance and impact of Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
During the summer of 386, in the backyard of a friend a young man wept. He had spent his life in rebellion towards God, a lifetime of sinful living. The young man knew that this life he had been leading was killing him. Inside he felt empty and could not find the strength within to make that final full commitment to serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Nearby some children were playing a game and were calling out to each other these words: “Take up and read!” “Take up and read!” He thought the children’s words were being used by God to give him a special message. Nearby a scroll laid and the young man picked it up and began to read. “Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:13-14) He didn’t read any further; he didn’t have to. Through the power of God’s word, Augustine had the faith to entrust his whole life to Jesus Christ at that moment.
In August of 1513, in a seminary a monk lectured on the book of Psalms, but his inner life was nothing but turmoil. While in his studies the monk came across Psalms 31:1 “In Thy righteousness deliver me.” The monk became confused wondering how the righteousness of God could do anything but condemn him as a right judgment for his sins. The monk kept returning to the verse Romans 1:17 Luther kept thinking about Romans 1:17, “the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith.” The monk then also remembered this verse also from the Old Testament. “He who through faith is righteous shall live” (Habakkuk 2:4). The monk went on to say: “Night and day I pondered until . . . I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Therefore I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven.” Martin Luther was born again, and the reformation began in his heart.
In May of 1738, a failed minister and missionary went unwillingly to small Bible study where someone read aloud from Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. As the failed missionary said later: “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken my sins away, even mine.” John Wesley was saved that night in London.
Consider the testimony of these men regarding Romans:
- Martin Luther praised the Book of Romans: “It is the chief part of the New Testament and the perfect gospel . . . the absolute epitome of the gospel.”
- Philip Melanchthon called Romans, “The compendium of Christian doctrine.”
- John Calvin said of Romans, “When any one understands this Epistle, he has a passage opened to him to the understanding of the whole Scripture.”
- Samuel Coleridge, English poet and literary critic said Paul’s letter to the Romans is “The most profound work in existence.”
- Frederick Godet, 19th Century Swiss theologian called the Book of Romans “The cathedral of the Christian faith.”
- G. Campbell Morgan said Romans was “The most pessimistic page of literature upon which your eyes ever rested” and at the same time, “the most optimistic poem to which your ears ever listened.”
- Richard Lenski wrote Romans is “Beyond question the most dynamic of all New Testament letters even as it was written at the climax of Paul’s apostolic career.”
We should also remember the Apostle Peter’s words about Paul’s letters: Also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles . . . in which are some things hard to understand. (2 Peter 3:15-16)
The Book of Romans has life changing truth but it must be approached with effort and determination to understand what the Holy Spirit said through the Apostle Paul.
There is no question or doubt as to the author of the letter to the Romans being the Apostle Paul. As to when and where this letter was written we can determine by from the letter itself and the Book of Acts. Up to the date of the letter the apostle had never been to Rome. Paul had left Jerusalem with a contribution from the Churches of Macedonia and Achaia for their poor Christian brothers in Rome, which was to be a stop on Paul’s way to Spain. On this journey Paul was accompanied with four others from the Church in Corinth, Timotheus, Sosipater, Gaius, and Erastus, (Romans 16:21-23) it is then considered that this letter was written while Paul was in Corinth probably in the year 58AD. It is unknown who the founder of the Church in Rome was but is known that the Apostle Peter was the first Bishop. Yet the question does become why Paul made no mention of Peter’s presence in Rome in letters written since.
About the first Christians in Rome
At the time of Paul Rome was the most important city in the world. Rome had a vast army and was the seat of the Roman Empire. The army in Rome controlled all the countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea. So the rulers of Rome were extremely powerful and wealthy.
The Bible and other ancient records help us to understand the history of this important church:
- About 30 A.D. The first Christian church began in Jerusalem, on the day called Pentecost. On that day, Peter preached to many visitors to Jerusalem. Among them were ‘visitors from Rome, both Jews and Gentiles who believed the Jewish religion’. Some of these were probably among the 3000 that became Christians (Acts 2:9-11; 2:41). They carried the gospel to Rome.
- 49 A.D. The Emperor Claudius ordered Jews to leave Rome. There had been some trouble among the Jews. A Roman called Suetonius wrote that someone called ‘Chrestus’ had caused the trouble. Chrestus may have been a Jew who caused the trouble. But ‘Chrestus’ may be the same as ‘Christus’ (that is, Christ). Jews opposed those who preached the message about Christ. So the trouble might have begun at that time.
- Aquila and Priscilla from Rome were probably Christians before they met Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). Later they probably returned to Rome, after they worked in Corinth and Ephesus. Christians used to gather in their home (Romans 16:3-5).
- 57 A.D. Paul probably wrote this letter about 57 A.D. He had not yet visited Rome. But he knew many people in the church at Rome. Many Gentile as well as Jewish Christians were already members of the church there. In his letter, Paul says that Gentile Christians must not consider themselves more important than the Jewish Christian brothers (Romans 11:18-20).
- 60 A.D. Paul reached Rome as a prisoner. Christians from Rome met him on the Appian road to go with him to Rome (Acts 28:14-16). Paul spent two years in Rome. Although he was a prisoner, he was able to preach and to teach (Acts 28:30-31). His plan was to visit Spain (Romans 15:24). But we do not know whether he was able to do this.
- 64 A.D. Christians received the blame for the great fire that the Emperor Nero himself may have started. The writer Tacitus spoke about great numbers of Christians. He called them ‘enemies of the human family of people’.
- There is evidence of Christian graves in the catacombs (underground graves in Rome) before 100 A.D.
- Paul dictated his letter to Tertius (Romans 16:22). Paul wrote it during his stay in Corinth, probably about 57 A.D.
- Paul established churches in many cities. But he was careful not to upset anyone else’s work (Romans 15:20). However, the church in Rome was not the result of the work of any one particular person. So Paul would not be upsetting anyone’s work if he visited Rome. And for many years, Paul had wanted to visit the Christians in Rome. He had completed his work in the east. There were elders (leaders in the church) to take care of the new churches. Paul wanted to visit Rome on his way to Spain (Romans 15:23-24).
Paul’s letter to the Romans
3. There were several reasons for the letter:
- To prepare the church in Rome for his visit.
- To give a clear explanation of the gospel.
- To give the truth about the Christian faith to any Christians in Rome who had false ideas about it.
- To give practical advice about how Christians should behave towards each other (chapters 14-15).
- To give practical advice about how Christians should behave towards their rulers (Romans 13:1-7).
- To unite Jewish and Gentile Christians. In many churches, there had been serious arguments between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The Jewish Christians said that God had given his law in the Bible. So they told the Gentile Christians to obey it. But the Gentile Christians said that God had given them freedom. So, they did not want to obey any Jewish rules or traditions.
- To urge the Christians in Rome to help Paul in his work. He might need their help in order to continue his journey to Spain (Romans 15:24). And he needed the Christians in Rome to support and to encourage him by their prayers (Romans 15:30-32)
The life and ministry of Paul is well noted down in Acts chapters 8-28, Galatians, and 2 Corinthians. Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans while wintering in Corinth during his third missionary journey. By the time Paul wrote this letter he had been in the Christian ministry for over twenty years. While in Corinth, on his way to Jerusalem, Paul had some time without any pressing duties so it is probable that he used this time to write to the Christians in Rome to prepare them for his time there.
Prior to going to Rome the Holy Spirit had warned Paul of the trouble awaiting him in Jerusalem. (Acts 10-14) Though Paul had longed to go to Rome this warning must had made him question what would happen if he were not able to go. This letter possibly was written so comprehensibly to secure that the Christians in Rome had a good foundation for the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Because of this the Letter to the Romans is different than the other letters Paul had written to the New Testament Churches. These previous letters focused more on the Church and the challenges and problems of the Churches of that day, or thus, would have. The Letter to the Romans focused more on God and his great plan of salvation.
We know that the Church in Rome prized this letter from Paul, as Clément’s letter in 96 AD show a great familiarity with the letter of Paul. It is quite possible that the reading of this letter became a part of every meeting of the Roman Church. As well, many scholars (Bruce and Barclay among them) believe that an edited version of Romans – without the personal references in Romans 16 – was distributed widely among early churches, as a summary of apostolic doctrine.
The self-identification of Paul in this letter is also important. Paul first identifies himself as a servant of Jesus and then secondly called to be an Apostle. “A bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle.” There were several Greek words used to designate a slave, but the idea behind the word for servant (doulos) is “complete and utter devotion, not the abjectness which was the normal condition of the slave.” (Morris) “A servant of Jesus Christ is a higher title than monarch of the world.” (Poole)
“Some think he alludes to the name of Pharisee, which is from separating: when he was a Pharisee, he was separated to the law of God; and now, being a Christian, he was separated to the gospel of God.” (Poole)
Most New Testament letter places their focus on the Church and the challenges that a Church would face. Paul’s letter to the Romans is focused on God. “God is the most important word in this epistle. Romans is a book about God. No topic is treated with anything like the frequency of God. Everything Paul touches in this letter he relates to God. In our concern to understand what the apostle is saying about righteousness, justification, and the like we ought not to overlook his tremendous concentration on God.” (Morris) The word, itself, “God” appears 153 times in this letter. This is an average of once every 46 words. As we compare the use of other words in this letter we find that the word law appears 72 times, Christ appears 65 times, sin 48 times, Lord 43 times, and faith 40 times. The letter to the Romans deals with several themes but the focus of the letter is about God.
Neither is the gospel new nor is it an invention of man. The world in which Paul lived in was much like it is today. People wanted to hear new teachings and doctrines. But Paul did not bring something new but the old story founded in the plan of God. Jesus is the center of Paul’s gospel; He is the Son that everything else revolves around. The center of Christianity is not a teaching or a moral system but found in the person of Jesus. Jesus is both man, as He is born of the seed of David, and an eternal existence as He is the Son of God. Jesus’ human birth is the evidence of His humanity and His deity is evidenced by His resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ Divine power is shown by His resurrection because He rose on His own power. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” (John 2:19) “There is a sense in which Jesus was the Son of God in weakness before the resurrection but the Son of God in power thereafter.” (Morris)
The word declared is the ancient Greek word (horizo) comes from the idea “to bound, define, determine, or limit, and hence our word horizon, the line that determines the farthest visible part of the earth in reference to the heavens. In this place the word signifies such a manifest and complete exhibition of the subject as to render it indubitable.” (Clarke)
It means something that the Apostle Paul called Jesus Lord: “This term could be no more than a polite form of address like our ‘Sir.’ But it could also be used of the deity one worships. The really significant background, though, is its use in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to render the divine name, Yahweh . . . Christians who used this as their Bible would be familiar with the term as equivalent to deity.” (Morris)
The gospel that Paul teaches has an impact upon individual lives. What Paul teaches isn’t just a theory or a philosophy but life changing news. The gospel that Paul taught gave the Church grace and apostleship. “Without the GRACE, favor, and peculiar help of God, he could not have been an apostle.” (Clarke) The gospel of Jesus Christ is big enough for the whole world and is able to go out and impact all nations. The gospel message had reached the Roman Christians and demonstrated that they are the called of Jesus Christ.
Paul did not found the Roman Christian Church as he had never been to Rome. This is unique in that all of Paul’s letters, with the exception of the letter to the Romans, were to Churches that he had founded. It may be the Church in Rome started spontaneously as Christians came there from other parts of the empire. In Acts 2:10 we learn that there were people from Rome among the Jews on the Day of Pentecost. It is quite possible that when these people returned home to Rome they started the Church there. It is also true that Christians migrated to Rome from all over the empire. It should not be surprising that a Church sprang up in Rome without the planting of an Apostle. Even so Paul was no stranger to some of the believers in Rome by name as he mentions them in Romans chapter 16. Even though Paul only knew some of the Christians he knew two things about them who were true Christians. He knew they were beloved of God and that they were saints. “They were not called because they were saints; but they became saints through that calling.” (Spurgeon)
The Church in Rome had a good reputation and Paul expressed his thankfulness towards them. Because of the Churches location it had tremendous opportunity to glorify Jesus throughout the empire. The Christians of Rome were unpopular and considered enemies of the empire. They were also credited with such vices as incest and cannibalism. “In large numbers, then, they became the victims of the imperial malevolence – and it is this persecution of Christians under Nero that traditionally forms the setting for Paul’s martyrdom.” (Bruce)
Paul prayed for the Christians on Rome and he wanted them to know this. Paul also prayed for the opportunity to come and visit them. “No wonder that they prospered so well when Paul always made mention of them in his prayers. Some churches would prosper better if some of you remembered them more in prayer.” (Spurgeon) Paul acknowledges how easy it is for one to say that they have prayed for someone and then fail to do so, but Paul qualifies his commitment by stating the God was his witness.
Paul’s reason for going to Rome was not only to give them something but also to receive something from them. When people share a mutual faith there is always something to give and also something to receive.
Paul for some time wanted to visit the Church in Rome but was hindered in his effort. Perhaps Paul was being delayed by his enemies who thought he was afraid to go to Rome and preach the gospel in the “Major Leagues,”’ in the empires leading city.
Paul knew that he had something of a debt to Rome. The Roman Empire brought world peace and order, they brought a common culture, and an excellent transportation system to the world. Paul used all these facilities in spreading the gospel of Jesus and felt that this was the best way to repay his debt by spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul was such a tireless evangelist, working all over the world because he believed he had a debt to pay, and he owed it to the whole world.
I am ready: Spurgeon wonders if Paul didn’t use the words “I am ready” as his motto. Almost the first words out of his mouth when he was saved were, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (Acts 9:6)
Paul was ready to preach and to serve (Romans 1:15)
Paul was ready to suffer (Acts 21:13)
Paul was ready to do unpleasant work (2 Corinthians 10:6)
Paul was ready to die (2 Timothy 4:6)
“A Moravian was about to be sent by Zinzendorf to preach in Greenland. He had never heard of it before; but his leader called him, and said, ‘Brother, will you go to Greenland?’ He answered, ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘When will you go?’ ‘When my boots come home from the cobbler;’ and he did go as soon as his boots came home. He wanted nothing else but just that pair of boots, and he was ready to go. Paul, not even waiting for his boots to come home from the cobbler, says, ‘I am ready.’ Oh, it is grand to find a man so little entangled that he can go where God would have him go, and can go at once.” (Spurgeon)
“Talk of your brave men, your great men, O world! Where in all history can you find one like Paul? Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, marched with the protection of their armies to enforce their will upon men. Paul was eager to march with Christ alone to the center of this world’s greatness entrenched under Satan with the word of the cross, which he himself says is to the Jews, and offence; and to Gentiles, foolishness.” (Newell)
“I do not suppose that Paul guessed that he would be sent there at the government expense, but he was. The Roman Empire had to find a ship for him, and a fit escort for him, too; and he entered the city as an ambassador in bonds. When our hearts are set on a thing, and we pray for it, God may grant us the blessing; but, it may be, in a way that we never looked for. You shall go to Rome, Paul; but you shall go in chains.” (Spurgeon)
Verses 16-17 Paul is introducing the theme of his letter to the Romans. Here Paul gives us his thesis statement. Leon Morris says of Romans 1:16-17: “These two verses have an importance out of all proportion to their length.” In the opening verses Paul reveals his heart with the phrase, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Rome was a sophisticated city and some may have been embarrassed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, especially a gospel centered on a crucified Jewish savior, a Jew who was considered the lowest of the classes. Paul makes his statement here that he is not ashamed of his Lord and savior.
Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because he knows it has inherent power. It is not we that give it power, we only stop hindering its power when we present it effectively. It is certain that the gospel was good news and it is more than just information, it comes with an inherent power. “The gospel is not advice to people, suggesting that they lift themselves. It is power. It lifts them up. Paul does not say that the gospel brings power, but that it is power, and God’s power at that.” (Morris)
At the time Rome was the center of power in the modern world. “Power is the one thing that Rome boasted of the most. Greece might have its philosophy, but Rome had its power.” (Wiersbe) In spite of all the power of Rome the men of Rome were powerless to make themselves righteous before God. The ancient philosopher Seneca called Rome “a cesspool of iniquity” and the ancient writer Juvenal called it a “filthy sewer into which the dregs of the empire flood.” In Paul’s time the men of Rome were looking for salvation. The Philosophers of the day knew that mankind was sick and in need of help. Epictetus called his lecture room “the hospital for the sick soul.” Epicurus called his teaching “the medicine of salvation.” Seneca said that because men were so conscious of “their weakness and their inefficiency in necessary things” that all men were looking “towards salvation.” Epictetus said that men were looking for a peace “not of Caesar’s proclamation, but of God’s.” (Cited in Barclay)
Everyone who believes can receive the power of salvation, as God does not with hold His salvation to anyone who believes and believing is the only requirement. The Gospel message came to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. Jesus demonstrated this principle in His ministry. (Matthew 15:24) The disciples of Jesus continued this practice in their ministry. (Matthew 10:5-6) At the time of Paul’s venture to Rome cultural boundaries were breaking down. “At this time the word Greek had lost its racial sense altogether. It did not mean a native of the country of Greece . . . (a Greek) was one who knew the culture and the mind of Greece.” (Barclay)
The righteousness of God was revealed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The righteousness of God comes to those who had faith in the gospel. This them fulfilled the prophecy of Habakkuk. (Habakkuk. 2:4) The just – that is, the justified ones – shall live by faith. The righteousness of God revealed is not speaking of the holy righteousness of God that condemns the guilty sinner, but of the God kind of righteousness that is given to the sinner who puts their trust in Jesus. Righteousness: William Barclay explains the meaning of this ancient Greek word dikaioo, which means I justify, and is the root of dikaioun (righteousness): “All verbs in Greek which end in oo . . . always mean to treat, or account or reckon a person as something. If God justifies a sinner, it does not mean that he finds reasons to prove that he was right – far from it. It does not even mean, at this point, that he makes the sinner a good man. It means that God treats the sinner as if he had not been a sinner at all.” “It was the happiest day in Luther’s life when he discovered that ‘God’s Righteousness’ as used in Romans means God’s verdict of righteousness upon the believer.” (Lenski) This declaration is even greater when we understand that this is the righteousness of God given to the believer. It is not the righteousness of even the most holy mere man, nor is it the righteousness of innocent Adam in Eden. It is God’s righteousness. “The righteousness which is unto justification is one characterized by the perfection belonging to all that God is and does. It is a ‘God-righteousness’.” (Murray) To have faith in Jesus Christ is the bases of life for those who are justified: truly the just shall live by faith. Not only are they saved by faith they live by faith.
The phrase “from faith to faith” is difficult to determine and probably means from beginning to end. The NIV translates the phrase from faith to faith as by faith from first to last. “He saith not, from faith to works, or from works to faith; but from faith to faith, i.e. only by faith.” (Poole) It could carry the meaning of a reminder that a justifying faith is only the beginning of the Christian life. A Christian must maintain the same attitude which will govern his continuing experience as a child of God. This is an “echo” of Paul’s message in Galatians 3:1-3.
This is the gospel message:
ü Everyone has done wrong things (called sin) against God. (Romans 3:23) We all deserve God’s punishment (Romans 6:23). And we cannot save ourselves from that punishment by our own efforts. We cannot even save ourselves by good works or by religion. (Romans 3:20) So our situation is hopeless. But God did not leave us in our hopeless state.
ü God sent his son, Jesus, to this world. (John 3:16) Jesus lived a perfect life, without any sin. (Hebrews 4:15) He deserved no punishment. But when Jesus died on the cross, he suffered the punishment for our sins. (Galatians 3:13 Romans 5:8 Romans 5:18) But we cannot benefit from his death if we do nothing.
ü We must be humble. God will forgive us if we confess our evil deeds (sin) to him. (Acts 3:19) We must invite him into our lives. And we must simply trust him. Then God will change our lives. (2 Corinthians 5:17).
This gospel message does not impress everyone. People may say that it is too simple. Or they may say that it is foolish. But Paul realized that many people would be ashamed to follow Jesus. In fact, Jesus himself realized that, too. Jesus knew the difficulty for his disciples to remain loyal to him. Jesus said that people would laugh at them. People would tell lies about them, and people would even attack them (Matthew 5:11). So Jesus warned them not to be ‘ashamed’ of him (Mark 8:38).
Later, Paul warned Timothy not to be ashamed about the gospel (2 Timothy 1:8). Paul himself suffered much because he was not ashamed about Jesus. Many Jews could not believe the message about Jesus. They were unable to believe that God’s Messiah would die on a cross. Gentiles thought that the message about the cross was ‘foolish’ (1 Corinthians 1:23). But the message was not wrong or stupid. It was a message to be proud of. It was an honor for Paul to declare it.
God rescues a person from the wrong way of life (Matthew 1:21). God gives him the strength to live in the right way. The person who believes God’s work by means of Jesus has a new life. This new life begins on earth. And it continues into the life in heaven. This good news is for everyone. It came ‘first’ to the Jews because God had prepared them during their history. Their Old Testament spoke about a Messiah whom God would send. Jewish synagogues provided a suitable place for Christians to give their message. Paul usually began to preach among the Jews. When the Jews refused to listen, he turned to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:46; 18:6)
In verse 18 we see the human races greatest peril, the wrath of God. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” This passage is simple but it is also sobering. That the wrath of God is revealed against the human race. From the Garden of Eden man has been in rebellion against the will of God and is deserving of God’s wrath. We must not make the mistake of equating the wrath of God with our own sense of human anger. Our own anger is motivated by selfish personal reasons or by our desire for revenge. We must always remember that the wrath of God is completely righteous in character. “It is unnecessary, and it weakens the biblical concept of the wrath of God, to deprive it of its emotional and affective character . . . to construe God’s wrath as simply in his purpose to punish sin or to secure the connection between sin and misery is to equate wrath with its effects and virtually eliminate wrath as a movement within the mind of God. Wrath is the holy revulsion of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of his holiness.” (Murray)
Paul speaks of salvation in verse 16 and here in we see that which we are saved from, the wrath of God that we righteously deserve. God’s purpose is not to punish us but to save us from the punishment that we deserve. “Unless there is something to be saved from, there is no point in talking about salvation.” (Morris) It is Paul’s purpose in this portion of his letter, Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:20, to proclaim the good news of God’s free gift of salvation from the wrath that we are heading for. Not only is Paul proclaiming the good news but demonstrating the absolute necessity of this good news to save us from God’s wrath. The wrath of God is not revealed in the gospel message but is revealed as a result of the human experience.
The human race is guilty before God and is clearly seen in his demonstration of ungodliness and unrighteousness. Man’s ungodliness is the offences that man commits against God and his unrighteousness is the offences that man commits against man. Man is guilty of suppressing the truth of God in his unrighteousness. Man has fought against every truth revealed to him by God. Man has not only disregarded the truth of God but has also obscured God’s truth.
God’s eternal power and His divine nature are clearly seen by His creation. The revelation of God is obvious to mankind both by His creation and also within the mind and heart of mankind. Man cannot look at God’s creation and not clearly see that the universe fits together in the unifying character of God. The writer of Psalm 19:1 said, “The heavens (sun, moon and stars) tell about the glory of God. The skies show the work of his hands.” Mankind is left without excuse for rejecting the eternal power and divine nature of God through His creation. “Men cannot charge God with hiding himself from them and thus excuse their irreligion and their immorality.” (Lenski) The problem then is not that man does not know God but that man refuses to glorify Him as God. Mankind does not glorify God but transfers our conception of Him into images that are more comfortable to our own corrupt and darkened hearts.
“Will you kindly notice, that, according to my text, knowledge is of no use if it does not lead to holy practice? “They knew God.” It was no good to them to know God, for “they glorified him not as God.” So my theological friend over there, who knows so much that he can split hairs over doctrines, it does not matter what you think, or what you know, unless it leads you to glorify God, and to be thankful.” (Spurgeon)
Mankind cannot seem to resist the temptation to create God into our own image, or an image that is beneath us. When we chose to worship gods of our own making we tend to become like the god we serve. This fault that man has is the very reason the Christian finds it absolutely essential to constantly compare their own conception of God against the reality of who God is as revealed in His Word. Otherwise we can become guilty of worshipping a self-made god. Image in Romans 1:23 is the ancient Greek word eikon. It is a dangerous thing to change the glory of the incorruptible God into an eikon (image) of your own choosing.
Mankind shows little gratitude towards God. “I cannot say anything much worse of a man than that he is not thankful to those who have been his benefactors; and when you say that he is not thankful to God, you have said about the worst thing you can say of him.” (Spurgeon) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and before God created there was nothing. All that we see or have was either created by God or created from what God has made. Yet with this abundance of God’s provision man expresses little thankfulness. “But when you glorify God as God, and are thankful for everything – when you can take up a bit of bread and a cup of cold water, and say with the poor Puritan, ‘What, all this, and Christ too?’ – Then are you happy, and you make others happy. A godly preacher, finding that all that there was for dinner was a potato and a herring, thanked God that he had ransacked sea and land to find food for his children. Such a sweet spirit breeds love to everybody, and makes a man go through the world cheerfully.” (Spurgeon)
By mankind’s rejection of the revelation of God man has not become smarter or better. On the contrary mankind’s rejection of God has made him futile in his thoughts, darkens their foolish hearts, and in the reality of this condition mankind has become foolish. The man who rejects the truth of God and His Son Jesus will fall for anything foolish. He will put his trust in feeble and fanciful systems founded in the foolishness of worldly wisdoms. The fact is once a man rejects the truth of God and His Son Jesus; he will fall for anything foolish, and trust far more feeble and fanciful systems that what he rejects from God. This futility of thinking, darkening of the heart, and folly must be seen as one example of God’s righteous wrath against those who have rejected His revelation. Part of His judgment against us is allowing us to suffer the damage our sinful course leads to.
The result of man’s disobedience against God is the guilt burden on his sinful nature. The sins of mankind bare weight upon his spiritual shoulders. Sin has weight and will burden man’s consciousness and he will find no relief for this labor. (Matthew 11:28) A right relationship with Jesus will lift this burden, but only the wise men will seek Him. For those who reject God they are given up to the sin of their evil heart’s desire. By their choice to turn away from God they will experience the self-destruction of their sinful ways. The prophet Hosea expressed the judgmental aspects of God giving men up and leaving them to their own sin. (Hosea 4:17) Man thinks wrongly that it is God mercy or kindness that allows him to continue in sin. It is actually part of God’s wrath that allows man to go on destroying himself with sin.
God and His Word are complete truth. Mankind has chosen to exchange the truth of God for the lie of his own choosing. Man has bought into the lie of this world and rejected the truth of the Heavenly Kingdom to come. Man has chosen to worship himself, the creature, rather the God the creator. Paul present the problem in a correct sense, it is not a lie, but the lie. The lie is idolatry which put man in the place of God. It is the lie that you will be like God. (Genesis 3:5)
This is the reason that God gave them up to their own vile passions. Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans while in the city of Corinth. In Corinth every sort of sexual immorality and ritualistic prostitution was practiced freely. In Romans 1:24 the terminology used refers to this combination of sexual immorality and idolatrous worship. Paul describes the sin and corruption so explicitly of the pagan world with amazing directness. C. H. Spurgeon expressed that he felt it unfit to be read. “This first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a dreadful portion of the Word of God. I should hardly like to read it all through aloud; it is not intended to be so used. Read it at home, and be startled at the awful vices of the Gentile world.” (Spurgeon)
There are some that say the Bible does not condemn lesbian homosexuality, but clearly the verse in Romans 1:27 makes it clear that the sin of homosexuality is connected to the sin mentioned in Romans 1:26. Paul does not even use the natural words for men and women in this passage. He describes sexuality outside of human terms because the type of sexual sin he describes is outside of human dignity. Paul categorizes the whole section under the idea of vile passions – unhealthy, unholy. The culture of Paul’s day in Corinth approved of this kind of behavior so Paul was not writing to a culture that would agree with him. It is interesting that the Roman Empire taxed a legal homosexual prostitution system. The practitioners of this lifestyle also had a legal holiday in the calendar year. In the Roman Empire of Paul’s day marriage between same genders was also legal. At the very time Paul was writing, Nero was emperor. He took a boy named Sporus and had him castrated, then married him (with a full ceremony), brought him to the palace with a great procession, and made the boy his “wife.” Later, Nero lived with another man, and Nero was the “wife.” Much like it is here today in the United States. The Roman Empire fell and should we be caused to wonder what judgments God will have upon the legalized behavior of our own nation.
Paul now makes reference to the penalty of sin. Homosexual behavior carries with its practice its own penalty. This is the price one pays for sin as the nature of sin is self-destructive. It may be the penalty of disease, which is the consequence of violating nature’s order. It may be the penalty of rebellion which results in spiritual emptiness and all the ramifications that occur.
The privilege of freedom of choice to obey or disobey God can also be seen as God’s judgment, not His kindness. Those who chose to rebel against God’s Word and engage in sinful acts will receive in themselves the penalty of their error. Another judgment against men who freely sin against God it that God will give them over to a debased mind. So that in their blindness the things that are disgraceful and sickening are readily accepted and approved. The word debased (or, reprobate in the KJV) meant originally ‘that which has not stood the test’. It was used of coins that were substandard and therefore rejected. The idea is that since man did not “approve” to know God, men came to have an “unapproved” mind. “The human race put God to the test for the purpose of approving Him should He meet the specifications which it laid down for a God who would be to its liking, and finding that He did not meet those specifications, it refused to approve Him as the God to be worshipped, or have Him in its knowledge.” (Wuest) A debased mind is a form of spiritual insanity. Mankind’s rebellion against God not only shows itself by actions but also in the thinking process of man.
Paul gives us a list in Romans 1:29-31 which are concrete examples of the kind of things that are not fitting for man to do. We should notice how socially acceptable sins such as covetousness, envy and pride are included along with socially unacceptable sins such as murder and being unloved. Covetousness is a result of greed and people who fall to this will find little satisfaction. “Secret detractors; those who, under pretended secrecy, carry about accusations against their neighbors, whether true or false; blasting their reputation by clandestine tittle-tattle.” (Clarke) Envy is no small sin. It was envy that put Jesus on the cross. Pilate knew that they had handed Him over because of envy. (Matthew 27:18) Proud: “They who are continually exalting themselves and depressing others; magnifying themselves at the expense of their neighbors; and wishing all men to receive their sayings as oracles.” (Clarke)
Those who practice this kind of sinful behavior are worthy of death and shall suffer the Wrath of God. Where does all this violence, immorality, cruelty and degradation come from? Men have abandoned the true knowledge of God, and the state of society is a reflection of God’s judgment upon them for this.
There were lists of wrong social behavior in other Jewish and Christian books. Paul himself has lists in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21. Verse 29 speaks about wrong actions in a general way. Then Paul gives several examples of how people destroy relations with each other. This happens:
- when people are jealous;
- when people murder other people;
- when people fight;
- when people cheat other people;
- When people hate other people.