A STUDY OF THE BOOK OF ROMANS Romans 1 Everybody Knows About God from Nature
Dr. Jerry A. Collins
With no qualifications whatsoever, the epistle of Romans is the best theological treatise ever written in all of history. It could almost be said that Romans defines Christianity. If we had no other apostolic work in existence, we could define the “good news” message of the apostles with Paul’s letter to the Romans. If you are an atheist or belong to another religion, you have nothing describing your faith anywhere near as complete, concise, accurate, or definitive as the epistle of Romans defines Christianity.
Concerning the Church in Rome
Historically, both Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome, but it is unlikely that either founded the church in that city. Most likely, some of the Jews who were converted on the Day of Pentecost carried the Gospel back to the imperial city.Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes (Acts 2:5, 10). By the time Paul wrote this letter, the Roman church was well established and predominantly Gentile (1:13; 11:13; 15:15–16).
Occasion of the Letter
Paul wrote the letter to prepare the way for his visit (1:11-15; 15:14-17). It was, apparently, written from Corinth (Romans 16:1, Cenchrea was like a suburb of Corinth) on Paul’s third missionary journey, where Paul was completing the collection for the poor in Jerusalem. From there, he went to Jerusalem to deliver the money. His plan was to go to Rome and continue on to Spain (15:24). These plans were, of course, changed by his arrest in Jerusalem, although Paul did eventually get to Rome as a prisoner.
Purpose and Theme
The purpose was to pave the way for Paul’s planned visit to the empirical city-church. But in so doing, Paul did not just want to introduce himself, he wanted to introduce the church at the center of the empire to his understanding of the gospel message. He wanted to put into one letter the basic theology of Christianity—a Christianity which considered its Jewish roots, the accomplishments of Christ, the teaching of the apostles, and Paul’s own revelations from God.
Before writing Romans, Paul had:
• An accurate knowledge of the Old Testament
• A personal conversion on the road to Damascus
• Time alone with God and the Old Testament Scriptures in the Arabian wilderness
• Interactions with the other apostles, including the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15
• A time of teaching in Antioch and on three missionary journeys
• Helped the Galatians struggle with separation from the Mosaic Law
• Helped the Thessalonians clarify the nature of spiritual living and the prophetic future
• Helped the Corinthians through many moral and theological struggles
And now he is planning to visit the center of the Roman Empire, the capital city, and a church he had never seen.
Romans is a concise theological development of the basic message of Christianity: The Gospel (Romans 1:1, 9, 15, 16; 2:16; 11:28; 15:16, 19, 20; 16:25). Romans is, of course, not meant to be exhaustive in its content. For example, it does not deal with all the social and moral issues of 1 and 2 Corinthians, nor does it contain the eschatological end-times teaching of the Thessalonian epistles. Rather, it is meant to be the foundation of what it means to be a believer in Jesus Christ. In a sense, Romans is an elaborate definition of the Gospel.
1. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the power behind the gospel (Romans 1:1-16)
THIS GOSPEL HARMONIZES WITH THE OLD TESTAMENT 1-2
Paul introduces himself as a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (v 1). Paul considers himself an apostle (though not one of the twelve – 1 Corinthians 15:5-9), and his connection with the other apostles is his basis of fellowship. Christianity is the religion of the apostles. Believers are those who believe the apostles. The New Testament is the message of the apostles. False teachers are those who teach anything contrary to the teaching of the apostles.
This gospel is in harmony with the Old Testament which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures (v 2). Paul said the Gospel is rooted in Old Testament prophecy, Christ being both the Son of God and the descendent of David. So this gospel was not unanticipated, nor was it merely a human invention.
THIS GOSPEL POWERFULLY DELIVERS US 3-7
The power of the Gospel, that is, the proof of the truth of the Gospel, is the real historical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus was genuinely human born of a descendant of David according to the flesh (v 3). Jesus Divinity was asserted by means of His resurrection from the dead who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead (v 4). We do know that the Father (Ephesians 1), the Son (John 10:17-18) and the HS (Romans 1:4; 8:11) were all involved in resurrecting Christ. So the gospel centers on God’s Son who was both human and divine.
PT— If there were no resurrection, then there could be no gospel. What makes the gospel powerful is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s ministry came from Jesus Christ and it consisted of a special grace of being an apostle to bring about obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake (v 5). Paul’s mission, and that of all the apostles, is to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, such as those in Rome among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ (v 6). Paul’s calling was to apostleship while those in Rome, called saints (v 7), a saint being a common term designating believers.
An Application— The essence of Christianity is the revelation of God in the Bible. The Bible is the authoritative and sufficient truth upon which we understand reality—the way things actually are. This is true no matter society’s truth source. Much of what is true in the world is the exact opposite of the truth of Scripture. That is to be expected due to the spiritual dark forces at work in this world.
THIS GOSPEL SAVES FROM SIN BY FAITH 8-15
Paul has been praying about visiting the Roman church for some time. There are four reasons he wants to come to Rome. (1) Because of their publicized faith your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world (v 8). It is clear that their faith in Christ is marking them out in a way that is very noticeable. The manner of his praying for them is The content of the prayer is that by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.
(2) Because he long[s] to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you (v 11). He wanted to strengthen them for their spiritual benefit that you may be established. But also so that they both may be encouraged together (v 12). (3) Because he desires some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles (v 13). This harvest included everything from evangelism to discipleship. The whole gamut of this ministry he longs to see happen in Rome.
(4) Because he wants to preach the gospel in Rome under obligation to all gentiles I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome (v 15). He is a debtor because they gave him a ministry, which gives him fruit, which is spiritually profitable for a heavenly reward. So the gospel-the good news of Christianity-is not just the plan of salvation-though it is that; it is also the whole council of God, i.e. the kingdom in all of its aspects (Acts 28:30-31).
THIS GOSPEL PROVIDES RIGHTEOUSNESS ON THE BASIS OF FAITH 16-17
The Gospel is here defined as the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (v 16). So the Gospel says that when someone believes (makes a free-will choice to receive Christ as Savior – John 1:12), God gives him or her the power to be saved (from the judgment for sin – Romans 6:23). The Gospel came to the Jew first and also to the Greek. This is the chronological order of the spread of the Gospel, not a priority for the presentation of the Gospel. For example, Paul was coming to Rome to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, yet there were plenty of Jews in Rome who needed the Gospel.
In the Christian Gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith (v 17). This seems to say faith is essential from the beginning to the end of the Christian life. We are saved by faith, and as we grow, we continually learn more about the righteousness of God when we increase our faith. So the spiritual life is a movement from faith to faith. The righteous man shall live by faith is a quote from Habakkuk 2:4. The point is: the one who has come to Christ by faith only grows in righteousness through faith. It is unachievable by mere human effort.
An Application—Since eternal life requires holiness, then God supplies that and applies it to us when we believe the gospel. We are made fit for heaven. Holiness not goodness is required. Goodness cannot deliver one from judgment. God provides the righteousness; it is credited to us by God. This righteousness is the key to salvation. The righteousness of God is that righteousness which His righteousness requires him to require.
2. Mankind has a Universally Desperate Need for the Gospel (Romans 1:18-32)
MANKIND IS MORALLY CULPABLE BECAUSE HE REJECTS GOD 18-27
Paul shows why the wrath of God is revealed from heaven. The reason for the wrath of God is that people suppress the truth in unrighteousness (v 18). So their basic motive is to live in unrighteousness. It is something we can see being expressed in the world today. This wrath is being directed against two things (1) all ungodliness, that is, all that neglects God and qualifies as rebellion against Him, and (2) all unrighteousness, that is, injustice and wickedness toward human beings. So against both God and man the truth is being suppressed, that is, the truth they know about God (v 25) that effects the way they treat people. This suppression is with a wicked attitude.
Man rejects the knowledge of God in the world. That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them (v 19). This knowledge is called natural revelation. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen (v 20). Creation bears testimony to it’s Maker and every human has it in plain site. Everyone can understand it. We draw conclusions about Creator from creation. The conclusion that they are without excuse. This witness so clear, so constant, that ignoring it indefensible. Culpability is not based on rejecting Christ, but sinning against the light they already have.
The method used to reject the truth revealed in creation is futile speculations they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened (v 21). So they are not following logic, reason, or the scientific method of repeatable conclusions based on evidence, but (as, for example, with creation, global warming, and life on other planets) they ignore the evidence and go with futile speculations.
Leaving them with a morally senseless standard, the fools (of, say, the film industry and the academy, politics and professional sports, Wall St. and corporate media) profess themselves to be wise (v 22).
Unwilling to submit to an absolute and universal standard of righteousness they produce one of their own. Progressively, they became fools, to become stupid, and their claim to be wise is an idle boast.
What the fools who suppress the truth always do—their default position—is worship the creation instead of the Creator exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures—as with evolution, humanism, green peace, and socialism. The outcome of this foolishness has been idolatry (v 23). The wordplay between incorruptible/corruptible or immortal/mortal emphasizes contrast—man’s willingness to give allegiance to the lesser. The insanity or stupidity of idolatry results from refusal to acknowledge God. The final verdict is that mankind is morally culpable before God because of his documented rebellion against God.
REJECTING GOD RESULTS IN JUDGMENT 28-32
Three times Paul said God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts… to degrading passions… to a depraved mind (verses 24, 26, and 28). The idea seems to be that God gave up on them, allowing them to continue on their sinful course to the natural destruction of those thoughts and actions. I take it God was no longer involved in their lives. He no longer convicted them of sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). After a certain depth of sin, God just walks away, leaving them to face the Great White Throne.
The basic sin is to worship and serve the creation rather than the Creator of that creation (v 25). Paul illustrates that with animal-image idolatry, but the principle would apply equally well to the worship or adoration of “Mother earth,” the evolution of life, human self-actualization, being true to yourself, etc.
The degrading passions are sexual. Such lustful and indecent acts have within them the seeds of punishment. They lose a sense of shame when sinning. It’s possible to conclude that when homosexual acts are mainstreamed
Finally, Paul concludes this section with a list of sins commonly committed by the world. But the main point is that they not only do these things, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them (v 32). This is not the regretful sins of Romans 7. This is a tolerant approval of those who are sinning. It is dealing with sinful activity by calling it right. Today, these people claim the world is getting better because they are changing the definition of “better.” Today, “better” people are not morally better, they tolerate sin better. The difference today is that what we used to call a problem has now become a solution.
· Never sanction or give approval to what God calls evil. You cannot hide your motives or actions from God. He will bring them to light.
· Never ask God for what you already know He does not want you to have. God punishes by letting us have what we want. Idolatry, God let have idols. Immoral, God grants wish. If granted not experiencing His goodness, but rather His wrath.
· The debate about truth is not if absolute but who gets to define it. Me or God!
Thoughts and Applications
· The Gospel is completely unique to Christianity. No other religion proclaims a payment for sin, or even a just God who requires a payment for sin. When sin is acknowledged, paid for by God Himself (by giving His Son), and that payment received as the only way to reach a just God, there is a possibility of actually being cleansed from sin. That concept is totally absent from any cult or world religion. Has your church proclaimed the Gospel and called sinners to repentance – lately?
· The way God deals with unrepentant sinners today is not like He did in the Old Testament nations connected to Israel. Those sinning nations and individuals were judged here on earth. God was patient, long suffering, and slow to anger, but finally, after a certain time, they were judged – here on earth. For those not connected to Old Testament Israel, Paul says that God leaves them to experience the results of their own sin. He says: God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity (1:24). The primary example of this impurity is homosexuality. For sure, they will be judged at the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15), but today God lets them destroy families, ruin society, pervert marriage, and mainstream the debauchery of homosexual sex (Romans 1:26-27).