August 22, 2011

Romans 1

Last night, writing the commentary for tonight's reading in Romans, I gave something I would call "Romans Lite." I have decided to try your patience with me by giving a fuller explanation of this important book. The commentary follows a verse-by-verse format, and is longer and more detailed than those previously found on this site. Thus, they will require more of your time and effort. I pray you will find them worth it.

These comments are from my personal notes, and were not meant for publication. So, please have mercy on spelling, etc. I notice that much of my original formatting has not transferred either.

Romans 1

Chapter 1, Verse 1 identifies that the epistle is from Paul. How do you think about yourself? If asked to list ten things that will tell us who you are, what would you say? Note Paul’s self identity.
A slave of Jesus Christ. Means he is bought and paid for. He belongs to Christ. Paul no longer has control of his life. He is at the beck and call of his master at all times.
Called to be an Apostle. Called, did not take this up of his own accord. The ministry is a calling from God. Apostle literally means one who is sent. The Apostles were specific men who were called, equipped and sent by Christ to establish His Church and to teach the things He taught them during His life and ministry. There are no Apostles today, so what does it mean to believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church? First, Catholic does not refer to any one denomination, such as Roman Catholics. It means “universal” and refers to the true Church of Christ which consists of all true believers of all time. Apostolic means it continues the faith and teaching of the Apostles as given to them by Christ Himself. There are people who keep records of what is called the “Apostolic Succession” of bishops. The idea is that each bishop in this line can trace his bishops back to the original Apostles. James consecrated Simeon, who consecrated Justus, and so forth. According to these people I am in a line going back to the Apostle Peter, and also to the Apostle James. That’s nice, but it is no guarantee of Apostolic Faith and Doctrine, and that is what matters. The Apostles were called to establish the Church and to entrust to it the faith and doctrine taught to them by Christ. My job is to continue to shepherd God’s Church and teach that same faith and doctrine. What does this say about ministers who depart from the Apostolic Faith? Gal.1:6-7
Separated unto the Gospel of God. Separated means set apart and consecrated to this work. A word we are more familiar with is “ordained.” It means Paul was called to and set apart by God for the ministry of preaching the Gospel and shepherding God’s flock. See Eph. 4:11-12, and Heb. 10:25. “Assembling” is meetings for worship, also coming together into the body of Christ at the local Church. Question, would God call and set aside a person for the ministry without also calling people to be the flock and receive the ministry? What does this say about people who neglect the Church?

Verse 2 continues a sentence begun in verse 1 and continuing to the end of verse 7. Verse 2 shows that the Gospel of Christ is not new with Paul or the Apostles, or even with Christ. It was promised by God through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures, meaning the Old Testament. There is no division between the faith of the Old Testament and the faith of the New Testament. There is one faith, not an Old Testament Faith and a New Testament Faith. The New Testament is the completion of the promises of God in the Old Testament. That is the Good News, the Gospel. The promises of God are being fulfilled in Christ and His Church. The things of which the Law and the ceremonies and sacrifices were mere symbols, are being fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Thus Jesus preached, "Repent and believe the gospel," (Mk. 1:15).

Verses 3 & 4 are important doctrinal statements about Christ. He is the Son of God. Not that there was a time when He was “born.” He is God from eternity to eternity. “Son” refers to a relationship with the Father we can summarize briefly in the words obedience and heir. He is obedient to the Father, and He is the Heir of all things. There is much more in this, to be covered later. He is our Lord, our Master, our owner, our God. He is the seed of David, meaning He is descended from David, according to the flesh, through the lines of both Joseph and Mary. More importantly, He was shown to be the Divine incarnation of God with power, the spirit of holiness, and the resurrection from the dead.

Verse 5 refers again to Paul’s calling from Christ Jesus to be an Apostle to bring the faith of Christ to all nations. As seen already, Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Verse 6 Ye are the called. Paul makes a great deal of the necessity of being called to faith in Christ. Our calling is both the proclamation of the Gospel so we may hear it, and the special work of the Holy Spirit which enables us to understand and believe it in biblical faith. We will study more about this in the near future after we look at the utter ruin caused in our lives by sin.

Verse 7 identifies the recipients of this letter and pronounces the blessing of God on them.

Verse 8-15 commend the Romans for their faith and tell of Paul’s concern and prayers for them. It appears that no Apostle, including Peter, has visited them at this time, though their faith is known and widely respected. Yet they are weak and unlearned in the faith, and Paul strongly desires to go to them and teach them more fully the things of Christ. The Romans may have contacted Paul and asked him to come to them, and the Book of Romans may have been written to explain to them that, though he has been unable to get there in the past, he prays and plans to get there in the future. Verses 1-15 of chapter sixteen show that Paul was well acquainted with many members of the Roman church, so there must have been much communication between them and himself, including many pleas for him to spend time in Rome as he had in Corinth, where he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. Verse 15 declares that he is ready to preach the Gospel in Rome, indicating that he intends to go to Rome very soon.
Thus we are brought to the great statement of the theme of this letter in verses 16 & 17:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."

"The just shall live by faith" is the Gospel. To be justified is to be declared innocent, free of guilt. But we all know we are guilty sinners before God. We can never justify our thoughts or actions, or attitudes or habits before God because they are all like water from the polluted well of our sinful hearts. So when we stand before God how will we ever be justified in His mind? By faith. Trusting that the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross took the punishment of our sins and presents us clean, as though we had never sinned, to His Father. That is the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.
The righteousness of God is something that must be addressed. Because God is righteous sin must be punished. A human judge who turns convicted murderers loose in our community is an unjust judge. But God is a righteous judge who is angry at sinners. The only way He can accept sinners is to pay the price of their sins Himself. That is what He did on the cross. That is why He is both just and the justifier of sinners. Faith is the way we accept the gift of justification.

Verse 18. the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. Francis Schaeffer correctly says most people don't know why they need a Saviour. Verse 18 begins to answer their question, saying they need a Saviour because they are under God's wrath. The wrath of God is not a temper tantrum. The wrath of God is His righteous indignation against sinful people. It is God's incompatibility with sin and sinners. It means God holds all people accountable for their sin. It means there is no way to avoid personal responsibility. All are guilty sinners, and God holds all accountable. As we might say today, they are lost and dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1-2). The Apostle begins by showing that the Gentiles are lost. He then shows that the Jews are also lost. Finally he concludes that all people are by nature and by choice sinners, held accountable for their sins by God, and in desperate need of a Saviour. This section culminates in the statement of Rom. 3:19, "that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty [realize our guilt] before God." Gentiles are those without the Law. In our terms today, we would say they are people who do not have the Bible and have never heard of Christ. "Surely they are considered innocent before God," we want to say. "Surely they will go to Heaven, for God cannot hold them accountable for something they could not know." We may state this concern in the form of two questions. First how can people be held accountable for not knowing God when they have never heard of Him? Second, how can people be held accountable for sin when they don't have the Law of God to teach them right from wrong? Just as the issue can be asked in two questions, God's answer can be stated in two parts. First, they really do know God. Second, they really do know right from wrong. But they choose to reject God, and they choose to do evil. They hold the truth in unrighteousness.
Verse 19 begins to tell us that everyone knows about God, whether they have a Bible or not. They know about God because "that which may be known about God is manifest in them." There is something in every person that knows God exists, and that he owes worship and obedience to God. We may call it "conscience," or it may go by another name, but the fact remains that something inside of us tells us about God.
Verse 20. In addition to conscience, creation reveals God. The things of God are "clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made." We understand that God exists when we see His creation in the same way we understand a painter exists when we see a painting. No one assumes a painting is self-existing, and no one should think the much larger and more complex universe is self-existing. Even without a Bible every person should be able to conclude that God is. This is the exact opposite of the conventional "wisdom" of our era. The accepted maxim of our time is that logic and rational thought will lead us to atheism or theistic humanism. It will lead us to believe all truth and all values are matters of personal opinion, and everyone's opinion is equally valid, but only for that person. Therefore, we must stop trying to turn others to our values, and simply learn to coexist. But the Bible tells us that the correct use of logic and the correct use of rational thought will lead us to the opposite conclusion. They will lead us to the knowledge of God. They will not just teach us that God exists; they will teach us much about God Himself. Seeing that we have a sense of justice, we will be able to conclude that the One who created us is Just. Seeing that we have a sense of what is good, we will conclude that our Creator is Good. Seeing that we have the capacity to love, we will conclude that God also loves. And seeing that we have the capacity to hate evil, we will conclude that God also hates evil. We will look at the universe and conclude that God has infinite power. We will conclude that He inhabits eternity. We will conclude that He knows and sees all things. But we will also know much about the will of God. If we can conclude that God is just we can also conclude that He desires us to be just. If we can conclude that God is good we can also conclude that He wants us to be good. If we can conclude that God loves we can conclude that God wants us to love. If we can conclude that God hates evil we can conclude that God wants us to hate evil. so we know much about what God wants from us, even without the Bible. It is important to see that a sinner who has never heard of Christ is not accountable for not knowing Christ. But he is accountable for not honouring God as He is known in conscience and nature.
Verse 21 tells us that the problem is not that people without the Bible don't know God; the problem is that they don't honour Him as God. "When they knew God they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful." In fact, they rebelled against God. They rejected Him. They "became vain and their foolish heart was darkened." What is vanity here? It is not pride over looks or accomplishments. It is the arrogance of a created being who refuses to accept his status as a creature, wanting the status of the Creator instead. This is the essence of all sin. You have heard me say many times that sin is first of all the desire to be god of your own life rather than honour God as your God. Francis Schaeffer brings out a good point when he asks why non-Christian philosophies and views are so popular. Is it because of their intellectual appeal? Is it because of their water tight logic? Is it because of the intellectual genius of their adherents? Or is it that people want to believe what they teach? Is it because fallen people don't want to believe in a God to whom they owe obedience and love. Is it because they really want to be their own gods, and decide right and wrong and good and evil for themselves, rather than trusting God to decide it for them?
Some of the most frightening words we will ever hear are found in Romans 1:21. "their foolish heart was darkened." The light of God went out in their hearts, because they extinguished it. The words draw a word picture of God giving light to people, and the people snuff it out. Imagine a house in total darkness because the person who lives there cannot afford even a candle. Now imagine a kind neighbor paying to have electricity installed in the house and giving the person beautiful brass lamps to light the house. But rather than thanking the giver, the person turns off the electricity and casts the lamps into the street. That is what the Bible says people do with the knowledge of God (Jn. 3:19).
Verse 22. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools. Nothing is as proud as the heart of fallen people. But what are they so proud of? Look at the world they have created. Here is the catch, once they reject God they have rejected the foundation of knowledge. They are left with facts, not values, and they consider all values equally true, meaning, not true at all. So they have no way of determining good and evil. In fact, there is no good or evil, there is only useful or not useful. Since everyone's view of "useful" differs, the result is ideological chaos, which always leads to moral chaos, which always leads to political chaos, and in political chaos, might makes right.
Verse 23. Changed the glory of... God into corruptible man. The idea here is that they gave up the Creator and worshiped creatures and imaginary things in His place. Notice that the first thing they worship is man. This means they created idols in the shape of people, but there is great symbolism here, for in reality they are deifying themselves. This is the essence of all sin.
Verse 24. God gave them up. Verse 26 For this cause God gave them up. Verse 28 God gave them over. Three times the Bible says God turned them loose to follow their foolish hearts and wicked desires. Let me quote Francis Schaeffer.

"We could picture mankind as a bad dog. He has rebelled and has established his own direction. He wants to get away from God, his master. Therefore, God simply lets go of the leash."
"God gave mankind up, and they followed their desires into all sorts of immoral behavior" (Finished Work of Christ, p. 39).

Verses 22-32 list some of the destructive behaviors into which people fall once God lets go of the leash. We can picture the dog running at breakneck speed across busy roads, eating disgusting things it finds along the way, fighting other dogs, and doing a multitude of things that will eventually kill him if his master does not rescue him. Sin is destructive behaviour. It kills the soul and it causes untold sorrow in life. That is why God forbids it. His commandments do not exist to keep us from having fun; they exist to protect us from harm. The chapter ends with the scathing condemnation that those who have chosen this path not only commit evil themselves, but also give their approval to others who sin (32). How often we have seen this to be true. The wicked applaud wickedness. Underachievers applaud underachievement. Sinners applaud sin, mostly because they hope that by approving the sins of other they are excusing and justifying their own. But here is the big point; they know they are doing wrong. They know the judgment of God (32). They know God condemns their sin. But rather than repent, they continue in sin and give their approval to the sins of others.

Rather than listing the sins in verse 22-32, which we already know about, I would like to take a moment to outline the points of this passage because this is why those without the Law, or the Bible, need a Saviour. This is why Romans 1:20 says "they are without excuse." We may summarize this passage in the outline form shown below.

The Human Condition

1. The knowledge of God is available to them, 19.
A. Internal knowledge, or manifest in them, 19.
B. Revealed in creation, 20. This includes knowledge of His eternal power and attributes.

2. They possess the revelation of God but refuse to acknowledge Him, 21.
A. They choose their own ways instead of God's, 18.
B. They neither glorify Him nor give thanks, 21.
C. They worship creatures and imaginary things rather than God, 23, 25.
D. They pursue sin and approve of sin, 22-32.
E. They know they are doing wrong, 32.
F. They are without excuse, 20.

The Response of God

1. God continues to give His revelation, 19, 20.
2. God allows them to do as they wish. He gives them over to their desires, 24, 26, 28.
3. God holds them accountable, 18.

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