A. The importance and impact of Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
1. The impact of Romans on Augustine.
a. In the summer of 386, a young man wept in the backyard of a friend. He knew his life of sin and rebellion against God left him empty and feeling dead; but he just couldn’t find the strength to make a final, real decision for Jesus Christ. As he sat, he heard children playing a game and they called out to each other these words: “Take up and read! Take up and read!”
b. Thinking God had a message to him in the words of the children, he picked up a scroll laying nearby 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 13:13b-14). He didn’t read any further; he didn’t have to. Through the power of God’s Word, Augustine gained the faith to give his whole life to Jesus Christ at that moment.
2. The impact of Romans on Martin Luther.
a. In August of 1513, a monk lectured on the Book of Psalms to seminary students, but his inner life was nothing but turmoil. In his studies he came across Psalm 31:1: In Thy righteousness deliver me. The passage confused Luther; how could God’s righteousness do anything but condemn him to hell as a righteous punishment for his sins? Luther kept thinking about Romans 1:17, which says, the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”
b. Luther 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.
3. The impact of Romans on John Wesley.
a. In May of 1738, a failed minister and missionary reluctantly went to a small Bible study where someone read aloud from Martin Luther’s Commentary on Romans.
b. As Wesley, 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.
4. Consider the testimony of these men regarding Romans:
a. Martin Luther praised Romans: “It is the chief part of the New Testament and the perfect gospel… the absolute epitome of the gospel.”
b. Luther’s successor Philip Melancthon called Romans, “The compendium of Christian doctrine.”
c. John Calvin said of the Book of Romans, “When anyone understands this Epistle, he has a passage opened to him to the understanding of the whole Scripture.”
d. Samuel Coleridge, English poet and literary critic said Paul’s letter to the Romans is “The most profound work in existence.”
e. Frederick Godet, 19th Century Swiss theologian called the Book of Romans “The cathedral of the Christian faith.”
f. 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.”
g. Richard Lenski wrote that the Book of 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.”
5. 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).
a. 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.
1. (1) Paul introduces himself to the Roman Christians.
Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God
a. Paul: The life and ministry of the Apostle Paul (also known as Saul of Tarsus) is well documented in Acts chapters 8 through 28, as well as Galatians 1 and 2, and 2 Corinthians 11 and 12.
i. It is almost universally agreed that Paul wrote Romans from the city of Corinth as he wintered there on his third missionary journey as described in Acts 20:2-3. This is based on Romans 16:1 and 16:23 along with 1 Corinthians 1:14. A variety of commentators pick the date of writing anywhere from 53 to 58 A.D.
ii. When Paul wrote the Book of Romans, he had been a Christian preacher for some 20 years. On his way to Jerusalem, he had three months in Corinth without any pressing duties. He perhaps thought this was a good time to write ahead to the Christians in Rome, a church he planned to visit after the trip to Jerusalem.
iii. As Paul endeavored to go to Rome, the Holy Spirit warned him about the peril awaiting him in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-14). What if he were unable to make it to Rome? Then he must write them a letter so comprehensive that the Christians in Rome had the gospel Paul preached, even if Paul himself were not able to visit them.
iv. Because of all this, Romans is different than many of the other letters Paul wrote churches. Other New Testament letters focus more on the church and its challenges and problems. The Letter to the Romans focuses more on God and His great plan of redemption.
v. We know the Letter to the Romans was prized by the Christians in Rome; Clement of Rome’s letter in 96 A.D. shows great familiarity with Paul’s letter. It may be that he memorized it and that the reading of it became a part of virtually 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.
b. A bondservant… an apostle: Paul’s self-identification is important. He is first a servant of Jesus Christ, and second called to be an apostle.
i. There were several ancient 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)
ii. “A servant of Jesus Christ, is a higher title than monarch of the world.” (Poole)
c. Separated to the gospel of God: The idea of being an apostle is that you are a special ambassador or messenger. Paul’s message is the gospel (good news) of God. It is the gospel of God in the sense that it belongs to God in heaven. This isn’t a gospel Paul made up; he simply is a messenger of God’s gospel.
i. Separated unto the gospel: “St. Paul may here refer to his former state as a Pharisee, which literally signifies a separatist, or one separated. Before he was separated unto the service of his own sect; now he is separated unto the Gospel of God.” (Clarke)
ii. “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)
d. The gospel of God: Other New Testament letters focus more on the church and its challenges and problems; Romans focuses more 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)
i. The word “God” occurs 153 times in Romans; an average of once every 46 words – this is more frequently than any other New Testament book. In comparison, note the frequency of other words used in Romans: law (72), Christ (65), sin (48), Lord (43), and faith (40). Romans deals with many different themes but as much as a book can be, it is a book about God.
ii. There are many important words in the vocabulary of Romans we must understand. Bruce quotes Tyndale’s preface to Romans: “First we must mark diligently the manner of speaking of the apostle, and above all things know what Paul meaneth by these words – the Law, Sin, Grace, Faith, Righteousness, Flesh, Spirit, and such like – or else, read thou it ever so often, thou shall but lose thy labor.”
2. (2-6) Paul introduces his gospel to the Romans.
Which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
a. He promised before through His prophets: This gospel is not new, and it is not a clever invention of man. Paul’s world was much like ours, with people who liked “new” teachings and doctrines. Nevertheless, Paul didn’t bring something new, but something very old in the plan of God.
b. Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord: This is the center of Paul’s gospel, the “sun” that everything else orbits around. The center of Christianity is not a teaching or a moral system, it is a Person: Jesus Christ.
i. This Jesus has both a human origin (born of the seed of David according to the flesh), and an eternal existence (declared to be the Son of God). The evidence of Jesus’ humanity is His human birth; the evidence of His deity is His resurrection from the dead.
ii. The resurrection of Jesus shows His divine power because He rose by His own power: Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again (John 2:19).
iii. “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)
c. Declared: This 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)
d. Jesus Christ our Lord: 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)
e. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith: Paul’s gospel impacts individual lives. It isn’t interesting theory or philosophy, it is life-changing good news.
i. The gospel gave Paul and the church grace and apostleship, and one reason those two gifts were given was to produce obedience to the faith. “Without the GRACE, favour, and peculiar help of God, he could not have been an apostle.” (Clarke)
ii. The gospel is big enough and great enough for the whole world; it must go out to impact all nations.
iii. The gospel had reached the Roman Christians, demonstrating that they are the called of Jesus Christ.
3. (7-15) Paul’s desire to come to Rome.
To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.
a. To all who are in Rome: Paul had never been to Rome, and he did not found the Roman church. This makes the Book of Romans different because most of Paul’s letters were to churches he founded. It seems the church in Rome began somewhat spontaneously as Christians came to the great city of the Empire and settled there. There is also no Biblical or historical evidence that the Apostle Peter founded the church in Rome.
i. Acts 2:10 describes how there were people from Rome among the Jews present at the Day of Pentecost; so when they returned home, there was a Christian community in Rome. Beyond that, the origins of the church in Rome are somewhat obscure, but Christians continually migrated to Rome from all parts of the Empire. It shouldn’t surprise us that a church started there spontaneously, without being directly planted by an apostle.
ii. Even so, through mutual acquaintances or through his travels, Paul knew many of the Christians in Rome by name because he mentions them in Romans 16. Even if Paul only knew many of the Roman Christians by acquaintance, he knew two things about them and every true Christian. He knew they were beloved of God and that they were saints.
iii. Called to be saints: “You notice that the words ‘to be’ are put in by the translators; but though they are supplied, they are not really necessary to the sense. These believers in Rome were ‘called saints.’ They were not called because they were saints; but they became saints through that calling.” (Spurgeon)
b. Grace to you and peace from God: Paul formally addresses his readers with his familiar greeting, combining the Greek greeting of grace with the Jewish greeting of peace. This grace and peace is not the kind wish of a man; they are gifts, coming from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
c. I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world: Paul was thankful for the good reputation of the church in Rome. Because of its location, this church had a special visibility and opportunity to glorify Jesus throughout the Empire.
i. These Christians had to be strong. “The Christians of Rome were unpopular – reputed to be ‘enemies of the human race’ and 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)
ii. “The Romanists urge this place to prove Rome the mother church; but without reason: the church of Thessalonica had as high a eulogy: see 1 Thessalonians 1:8.” (Poole)
d. Without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers: Paul wanted the Roman Christians to know he prayed for them and prayed for an opportunity to visit them (I may find a way in the will of God to come to you).
i. “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)
ii. For God is my witness is perhaps Paul’s acknowledgment of how easy it is to say you will pray for someone, and then fail to do it. He wanted them to know that he really prayed.
e. I may impart to you… that I may be encouraged: Paul’s desire to visit the church in Rome was not merely to give to them, but to receive as well, because Paul realized that in their mutual faith they had something to give to him.
f. I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now): For a long time, Paul wanted to visit Rome and was only hindered by external circumstances. Perhaps some enemies of Paul implied he was afraid to go to Rome and preach the gospel in the “major leagues,” in the Empire’s leading city.
g. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise: Paul recognized 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 in spreading the Gospel; so he can best repay this debt by giving Rome the good news of Jesus Christ.
i. Paul was 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.
h. I am ready: Spurgeon wondered 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).
i. “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)
i. I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also: This is boldness talking. “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, an offence; and to Gentiles, foolishness.” (Newell)
i. Ironically – in the mystery of God’s irony – when Paul did eventually get to Rome, he came as a shipwrecked prisoner.
ii. “I do not suppose that Paul guessed that he would be sent there at the government’s 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)
4. (16-17) Paul introduces the theme of his letter: the righteousness of God, as revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
a. After his introduction, Paul introduces his “thesis statement” for his Letter to the Romans. Leon Morris says of Romans 1:16 and 17: “These two verses have an importance out of all proportion to their length.”
b. I am not ashamed of the gospel: This reveals Paul’s heart. In a sophisticated city like Rome, some might be embarrassed by a gospel centered on a crucified Jewish Savior and embraced by the lowest classes of people – but Paul is not ashamed.
c. For it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes: This is why Paul is not ashamed of a gospel centered on a crucified Savior. He knows that the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ – has inherent power. We do not give it power, we only stop hindering the power of the gospel when we present it effectively.
i. The gospel is certainly news, but it is more than information; it has 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)
ii. In particular, the city of Rome thought it knew all about power: “Power is the one thing that Rome boasted of the most. Greece might have its philosophy, but Rome had its power” (Wiersbe). Despite all their power, the Romans – like all men – 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.”
iii. For salvation: In the Roman world of Paul’s day, men looked for salvation. Philosophers knew that man was sick and needed 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)
iv. The gospel’s power to salvation comes to everyone who believes. God will not withhold salvation from the one who believes; but believing is the only requirement.
d. For the Jew first and also for the Greek: This is the pattern of the spread of the gospel, demonstrated both by the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 15:24) and the initial ministry of the disciples (Matthew 10:5-6).
i. This means that the gospel was meant to go first to the ethnic and cultural Jew, and then to the cultural Greek. “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)
e. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed: Simply, the gospel reveals the righteousness of God. This revelation of God’s righteousness comes to those with faith, fulfilling Habakkuk 2:4: The just – that is, the justified ones – shall live by faith.
i. It is essential to understand exactly what the righteousness of God revealed by the gospel is. It does not speak 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 Christ.
ii. 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.”
iii. “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)
iv. 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 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)
v. This faith (trust) in Jesus Christ becomes the basis of life for those who are justified (declared righteous); truly, the just shall live by faith. They are not only saved by faith, but they live by faith.
f. From faith to faith: The idea behind this difficult phrase is probably “by faith from beginning to end.” The NIV translates the phrase from faith to faith as by faith from first to last.
i. “He saith not, from faith to works, or from works to faith; but from faith to faith, i.e. only by faith.” (Poole)
ii. “Perhaps what it conveys is the necessity of issuing a reminder to the believer that justifying faith is only the beginning of the Christian’s life. The same attitude must govern him in his continuing experience as a child of God.” (Harrison) This is an echo of Paul’s message in Galatians 3:1-3.
C. Why man must be justified by faith: the guilt of the human race in general.
1. (18a) The greatest peril facing the human race: the wrath of God.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven
a. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven: The idea is simple but sobering – God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against the human race, and the human race deserves the wrath of God.
b. The wrath of God: We sometimes object to the idea of the wrath of God because we equate it with human anger, which is motivated by selfish personal reasons or by a desire for revenge. We must not forget that the wrath of God is completely righteous in character.
i. “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.” (Murrary)
ii. In Romans 1:16, Paul spoke of salvation – but what are we saved from? First and foremost we are saved from the wrath of God that we righteously deserve. “Unless there is something to be saved from, there is no point in talking about salvation.” (Morris)
c. The wrath of God: In this portion of the letter (Romans 1:18-3:20), Paul’s goal is not to proclaim the good news, but to demonstrate the absolute necessity of the good news of salvation from God’s righteous wrath.
i. The wrath of God is not revealed in the gospel, but in the facts of human experience.
2. (18b-23) Why the human race is guilty before God: demonstrations of our ungodliness and unrighteousness.
Against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man; and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
a. Ungodliness: This refers to man’s offenses against God. Unrighteousness refers to the sins of man against man.
b. Who suppress the truth in unrighteousness: Mankind does in fact suppress the truth of God. Every truth revealed to man by God has been fought against, disregarded, and deliberately obscured.
c. His invisible attributes are clearly seen: God shows us something of His eternal power and divine nature through creation, by the things that are made. He has given a general revelation that is obvious both in creation and within the mind and heart of man.
i. Clearly seen: The universal character of this revelation and the clarity of it leave man without excuse for rejecting it. “Men cannot charge God with hiding himself from them and thus excuse their irreligion and their immorality.” (Lenski)
d. Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God: The problem is not that man did not know God, but that he did know Him – yet refused to glorify Him as God. Therefore, mankind is without excuse. Instead of glorifying God we transformed our idea of Him into forms and images more comfortable to our corrupt and darkened hearts.
i. “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)
ii. We can’t seem to resist the temptation to create God into our own corrupt image, or even in an image beneath us. Tragically, we inescapably become like the God we serve.
iii. It is absolutely essential that we constantly compare our own conception of God against the reality of who God is as revealed in His Word. We can also be guilty of worshipping a self-made God.
iv. 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.
e. Nor were thankful: Man’s simple ingratitude against God is shocking. “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)
i. “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)
f. Professing to be wise, they became fools: Our rejection of God’s general revelation does not make us smarter or better. Instead, it makes mankind futile in their thoughts, and makes our foolish hearts darkened – and we become fools.
i. The fact is once a man rejects the truth of God in Jesus, he will fall for anything foolish, and trust far more feeble and fanciful systems than what he rejects from God.
ii. This futility of thinking, darkening of the heart, and folly must be seen as one example of God’s righteous wrath against those who reject what He reveals. Part of His judgment against us is allowing us to suffer the damage our sinful course leads to.
3. (24-32) The tragic result of human guilt before God.
Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
a. Therefore God also gave them up: In His righteous wrath and judgment, God gives man up to the sin our evil hearts desire, allowing us to experience the self-destructive result of sin. This phrase is so important Paul repeats it three times in this passage.
i. Hosea 4:17 expresses the judgmental aspect of God “giving us up,” leaving us to our own sin: Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.
ii. We make a mistake when we think that it is God’s mercy or kindness that allows man to continue in sin. It is actually His wrath that allows us to go on destroying ourselves with sin.
b. Who exchanged the truth of God for the lie: In every rebellion and disobedience against God we exchange the truth of God for the lie of our own choosing, and set the creature before the Creator.
i. Paul uses the definite article – it is not a lie, but the lie. The lie is essentially idolatry – which puts us in the place of God. It is the lie you will be like God (Genesis 3:5).
c. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions: Paul wrote this from the city of Corinth, where every sort of sexual immorality and ritualistic prostitution was practiced freely. The terminology of Romans 1:24 refers to this combination of sexual immorality and idolatrous worship.
i. This begins a passage where Paul describes the sin and corruption of the pagan world with an amazing directness – so direct that Spurgeon thought this passage unfit for public reading. “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)
d. For even their women exchanged the natural use: Paul uses homosexuality – both in the female and the male expressions – as an example of God giving mankind over to uncleanness and lust.
i. Some say that the Bible nowhere condemns lesbian homosexuality, but the likewise of Romans 1:27 makes it clear that the sin of homosexuality condemned in Romans 1:27 is connected to the sin of women mentioned in Romans 1:26.
ii. Paul doesn’t even use the normal words for men and women here; he uses the words for male and female, using categories that describe sexuality outside of human terms, because the type of sexual sin he describes is outside of human dignity.
iii. Paul categorizes the whole section under the idea of vile passions – unhealthy, unholy. Nevertheless, Paul lived in a culture that openly approved of homosexuality. Paul didn’t write this to a culture that agreed with him.
iv. Paul wrote to a culture where homosexuality was accepted as a part of life for both men and women. For some 200 years, the men who ruled the Roman Empire openly practiced homosexuality often with young boys.
v. At times the Roman Empire specifically taxed approved homosexual prostitution and gave boy prostitutes a legal holiday. Legal marriage between same gender couples was recognized, and even some of the emperors married other men. At the very time Paul wrote, 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.”
vi. In modern culture, homosexual practice reflects the abandonment of giving them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. A 2013 study demonstrated that male homosexuals have markedly earlier first-time sexual experiences, many more sexual partners over their lifetime, and are much more likely to have more than one sexual partner at a time as compared to male heterosexuals or females. Male homosexuals also had more sexual partners who were considerably older or younger than themselves, compared to male heterosexuals or females. (Glick, Morris, Foxman; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3334840/ )
vii. Other research indicates that male homosexuals have multiple partners (4 or more in the last 12 months) at almost three times the rate as heterosexual men and almost eight times the rate of heterosexual women. (England, Brown, https://contexts.org/blog/an-unequal-distribution-of-partners-gays-versus-straights/ )
e. Receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due: Paul speaks of a penalty for homosexual conduct; homosexuality has within itself a penalty. This speaks of the generally self-destructive nature of sin; it often carries within itself its own penalty.
i. Sometimes it is the penalty of disease, which is the consequence of violating nature’s order. Sometimes it is the penalty of rebellion, resulting in spiritual emptiness and all its ramifications. In this sense the term “gay” is wishful thinking. It sends a message that there is something essentially happy and carefree about the homosexual lifestyle – which there is not.
f. Again, this “freedom” to disobey should be seen as God’s judgment, not His kindness; those who engage in such acts are receiving in themselves the penalty of their error.
g. As further judgment, God gives man over to a debased mind, so that things that are disgraceful and sickening are readily accepted and approved.
i. The word debased (or, reprobate in the KJV) originally meant “that which has not stood the test.” It was used of coins that were below standard and therefore rejected. The idea is that since man did not “approve” to know God, they came to have an “unapproved” mind.
ii. “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)
iii. A debased mind: Our rebellion against God is not only displayed in our actions, but in our thinking. We are genuinely “spiritually insane” in our rebellion against God.
h. The list in Romans 1:29-31 gives concrete examples of the kind of things which are not fitting. Notice how “socially acceptable” sins (such as covetousness, envy and pride) are included right along with “socially unacceptable” sins (such as murder and being unloving).
i. Covetousness: This word literally describes the itch for more.
ii. Whisperers: “Secret detractors; those who, under pretended secrecy, carry about accusations against their neighbours, whether true or false; blasting their reputation by clandestine tittle-tattle.” (Clarke)
iii. Envy: Is this a small sin? Envy is so powerful that there is a sense in which it put Jesus on the cross. Pilate knew that they had handed Him over because of envy (Matthew 27:18).
iv. Proud: “They who are continually exalting themselves and depressing others; magnifying themselves at the expense of their neighbours; and wishing all men to receive their sayings as oracles.” (Clarke)
i. Those who either practice or approve of these things are worthy of death; they are the worthy targets of the wrath of God.
j. Where does all this violence, immorality, cruelty and degradation come from? It happens when men abandon the true knowledge of God, and the state of society reflects God’s judgment upon them for this.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission