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This Letter was written by Paul to the church in Rome, and its whole stress is on ‘the Good News of God’. It commences with a description of that ‘Good News (Gospel) of God’, which is what the letter will be all about, and it stresses that there are two important things to bear in mind when we consider it:
· Firstly that it was promised by God through His prophets in the holy Scriptures (Writings). Thus it was not just something new based on men’s speculations, but was totally based on the words of the prophets as preserved in ancient Scriptures, words which had come forth from God through the centuries (Romans 1:2).
· Secondly that it is ‘concerning His Son’, Who was promised continually throughout the Scriptures, but is now the new factor in the equation (Romans 1:3).
Romans 1:1 - ‘Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God,’
Paul opens the letter in the usual form of those days, and describes himself under three designations in order to commend himself to his readers:
· ‘A servant of Jesus Christ.’ This was both a title of humility and a title of honour. It was a title of humility in that it represented him as a slave, the lowest of the low, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. By this he was making it clear that he was totally at Christ’s service and under His command, wanting only to please Him. This is the position that all of us should take (Ephesians 6:6). But it is a title of honour in that it paralleled the title ‘servant of YHWH’ borne by Moses (Joshua 1:1 and often), Joshua (Joshua 24:29), David (2 Samuel 7:5) and others whose lives were dedicated to God’s service. Consider, for example, the overall phrase ‘His servants the prophets’ (Jeremiah 7:25; Amos 3:7). He saw himself as being in the line of the prophets due to his high calling. As is evident from his letters, therefore, he was conscious both of his own unworthiness, and of the high position to which he had been called.
· ‘Called to be an Apostle.’ Paul saw himself, and was seen by the whole church, as one of Jesus Christ’s unique Apostles, as a result of his being ‘called’ by God to the honour by divine appointment (Galatians 2:8). He knew that God had laid His hand on him in a unique way as certainly as the other Apostles had been especially called and appointed by Jesus Christ (Mark 3:14-15). The requirements for being an Apostle were that those chosen had been present during Jesus’ ministry from the beginning, witnessing His life and receiving their teaching from Him, and that they had been eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:21-22). In Paul’s case he did receive his teaching directly from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12), and he did personally witness the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Galatians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 15:8). And it is probable that he was aware of Jesus and His ministry, as an antagonist, as a result of Jesus’ visits to Jerusalem. His calling was unique from the others and especially personal, but it was based on the same premises.
· ‘Separated to the Gospel of God.’ The word for ‘separated’ means in this context ‘separated to God for a holy purpose’ (Leviticus 20:24; Leviticus 20:26). Paul saw himself as having been so separated to God from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15), and here it is stressed that he was so separated, (like the High Priest of old was separated to his sacred task by being anointed in the presence of God) in order that he might proclaim and uphold ‘the Good News of God’. That was the whole purpose of his calling, to make known the ‘Good News of God’. This was both Good News FROM God, and Good News ABOUT God. And, as we soon learn, that Good News was concerning God’s own Son, Who was born as a human being, but was declared to be the true ‘only Son of God’ by His resurrection from the dead.
‘Which he promised beforetime through his prophets in the holy scriptures,’
Paul was concerned to stress that this Good News of God had not arrived unannounced. It had been promised beforetime through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures (the Old Testament). Thus it was not something novel, but was something promised and prepared for through the inspiration of God’s revered messengers of old. These great and holy men of old had pointed forward to Jesus Christ, preparing the way before Him, just as heralds would proclaim the coming of a king. And it was promised in the Holy Scriptures, the widely honoured sacred book of the Jews (the Old Testament) which was seen as containing God’s revelation to man. It bore the authenticity of firmly testified prophetic promises given through revered men of old, and contained within the sacred book of the Jews, a book which was honoured, even in the Gentile world.
The fact that this Good News was promised by God in His Holy Scriptures will be brought out throughout the letter:
· In the Scriptures is revealed the expectancy of the coming saving righteousness of God (Romans 1:17). The coming of this righteousness was a prominent theme of Isaiah where it is closely related to salvation. Compare Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:5; Isaiah 51:8; Isaiah 56:1; etc. Note especially that in Isaiah 51:5 righteousness is to go out to the peoples who as a result will trust in Him. The coming of His righteousness would therefore bring salvation in a way that was compatible with what He is.
· In the Scriptures is revealed the sinfulness of man (Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:23). Having ignored the message given by the majesty of the heavens (Romans 1:20; compare Psalms 19:1-4) man indulged in every kind of sin and idolatry, something of which the Old Testament is a continual record.
· In the Scriptures is revealed God’s method of atonement through the shedding of blood (Romans 3:24-31; compare Isaiah 53:0, and all references in the Old Testament to sacrifice and atonement). All these offerings and sacrifices have now been fulfilled through Christ’s offering of Himself once for all.
· In the Scriptures is revealed God’s method of accounting men as righteous by faith as revealed in the life of Abraham (Romans 4:1-25; compare especiallyGenesis 15:6; Genesis 15:6). Through faith we too can be accounted righteous.
· In the Scriptures is revealed the very source of man’s sinfulness in the first man, and the fact that God would provide a remedy through Another (Romans 5:12-21; Genesis 3:0; Isaiah 42:1-6; Isaiah 49:1-6; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12 and often). As we are naturally a part of Adam, so must we become a part of Christ by being united with Him by believing in Him.
· In the Scriptures is revealed the Law, the purpose of which was originally good, but which ended up condemning men, from whose condemnation we have now been delivered (Romans 7:1-25; compare Exodus 21:1-18; etc)
· In the Scriptures is revealed God’s way of salvation for His true people (9-11 against the background of the Old Testament).
· As the Scriptures foretold in the beginning, God will now bruise Satan under their feet (Romans 16:20; compare Genesis 3:15).
Thus the whole of the letter to the Romans is undergirded by the Holy Scriptures.
The Good News Of God (1:2-6).
What that ‘Good News of God’ was is now made clear, as is the fact that it had been promised beforetime through God’s prophets in the Holy Scriptures. In other words Paul was stressing that this Good News was not some novelty like many of the ideas that were spreading about. Rather it had been well prepared for through the centuries that had passed. It was founded in sacred history. And it was Good News concerning God’s Son, Who was humanly speaking a son of David, but Who was also powerfully declared to be the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead.
‘Concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh,’
This message was ‘concerning His Son’. The phrase ‘His own Son’ contains within it the certainty of Christ’s Godhood. Compare John 5:17-18 where Jesus, speaking of God as ‘His own Father’, was seen as having thereby made a claim to be equal with God. This was thus no ordinary Good News. It was Good News concerning God’s only co-equal Son.
And this Son was ‘born of the seed of David according to the flesh.’ In other words He was born into the world as the promised, truly human, long anticipated, coming King of the house of David. That was His status humanwise. In Him the hopes of the nation of Israel were coming to fruition. In inter-testamental terms He was the Messiah, the Christ. The importance of this lay in the fact that it connected Him with all the promises concerning the coming Davidic king contained in the Scriptures, commencing with the promises first made to David himself (2 Samuel 7:16), and continuing throughout the prophets (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-5; Isaiah 55:3; Jeremiah 30:9; Jeremiah 33:14-26; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24-28; Micah 5:2; and so on).
But the addition of ‘according to the flesh’ (it would normally have been enough to say ‘born of the seed of David’) immediately draws our attention to the fact that a greater announcement is coming. For while the Gospel of God certainly reveals that He was truly human (‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us - John 1:14), that He was ‘born according to the flesh’, it also prepares us for something more outstanding. He was not only just a human being. In His human nature He was born of the seed of David, but He is now to be revealed as a greater than David, and as having pre-existed David.
‘Who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord,’
For His greater manifestation came in that He was powerfully declared (or, more strongly, ‘appointed’ - see the use in Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31) to be the Son of God, in an act of power which revealed His own power. He was declared to be ‘the Son of God with power’, the Son of God powerful enough to bring about the resurrection. And His true divine Sonship was therefore made known by His immensely powerful resurrection from the dead, a resurrection in which He proclaimed the death of death, having triumphed over it once for all (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). Through it He also declared the defeat of the spiritual powers of darkness (Colossians 2:15). Satan would be bruised under their feet shortly (Romans 16:20). All that could prevent the salvation of His people was dealt with through His resurrection, and what had preceded it, something which demonstrated Who He really was, the Saviour of the world (1 John 4:14).
‘According to the spirit of holiness.’ This stands in apposition to ‘according to the flesh.’ In His flesh He was revealed as the son of David. In His spirit, a ‘spirit of holiness’, He was revealed as the only Son of God. (Compare how Paul describes himself as acting in a spirit of servitude - Romans 1:9). That being so, as the former refers to His essential humanity we must surely see the latter as referring to the divine element in His make-up. It was ‘the spirit of holiness’, that unique spirit which was manifested in Him, totally pure and totally righteous and totally powerful over death (‘death could not keep its prey, He tore the bars away’), that revealed Him to be the Son of God. For in Himself He had the power to lay down His life, and He had the power to take it again (John 10:18). He was in other words the Lord of life (John 11:25). This was what revealed Him to be the only, unique Son of God. This was what revealed Him to be ‘our LORD’, a title that constantly parallels ‘God’ in the New Testament and indicates the same thing. There is One God and one LORD. It is, equally with ‘God’, the title of deity (e.g. 1 Corinthians 8:8. And note also Philippians 2:11 where it is announced of Him in His manhood by the resurrection). He is the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8; James 2:1).
We do not necessarily by this have to exclude from our reckoning the power and working of the Holy Spirit, indeed we must not. ‘The Spirit of holiness’ could have been seen as a Hebraism for ‘the Holy Spirit’ (and is so seen by many), although the distinction of expression maintained by Paul (he never uses the term ‘Spirit of holiness’ elsewhere) confirms that we are to view it uniquely. Thus we may certainly see the Holy Spirit as acting alongside Christ’s Spirit (and with the Father) in the resurrection of Christ (see Romans 8:9-11 where Christ and Spirit inter-react). But that it is Christ’s Spirit which is primary comes out in the contrast with His flesh. The association of Jesus’ ‘spirit of holiness’ with the Holy Spirit would not be a blurring of distinctions, but a bringing out of the mystery of the Godhead, for where One acts, all act (e.g. Romans 8:8-9). The Spirit of Christ and the Holy Spirit (and the Father - John 5:17; John 5:19) act as One, and their working cannot be differentiated. It is we who, in our technical way, sometimes unwisely seek to over-emphasise the distinctions (although to make the distinction is necessary). But it is because of His ‘Spirit of holiness’ that Jesus can drench men with ‘the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 3:11), while Himself coming to dwell within them (John 14:15-18; John 14:23).
‘By the resurrection from/of the dead ones.’ (For so it can be more literally translated). Acts 26:23 uses this phrase in such a way as to demonstrate that it refers primarily to the resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:23). He was the firstfruits of the resurrection, the One Who arose from among the dead. But it is also a reminder that when Jesus rose it was not only Him Who was to be seen as rising. Intrinsically it guaranteed the resurrection of all who would become His, of all who truly believed in Him, who then partook in His resurrection spiritually (John 5:24; Ephesians 2:1-10), awaiting the day of physical resurrection (Romans 6:4-11). All who would belong to Him in essence rose with Him (Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:23). Thus every spiritually resurrected saint (see Romans 6:4; Romans 6:11, and compare Ephesians 2:1-10) reveals the Lordship of Christ. His resurrection encompassed them all. In other words His deity is equally revealed by His own resurrection and by the resurrection of those whom He came to save.
So the resurrection of Christ is seen as having introduced a new era. By it He has been manifested as, and declared to be, God’s only Son, and by it He has broken the powers of death and Hell, those elements which stood in the way of our enjoyment of an eternal inheritance. Because He lives we can live also (John 14:19). Indeed, as we shall see, this is what the letter is all about, for whilst our acceptability with God (our ‘justification’) is undoubtedly something which is at the heart of the letter, it is the final result of that justification in our transformation and glorification which is its final goal (chapter 8).
And Who is this unique and powerful Son of God? He is ‘Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Firstly He is ‘Jesus’, Who will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He is true man and true Saviour. Secondly He is ‘the Christ’, promised and prepared for by God’s word and by the prophets, and now manifested to the world. And above all He is ‘our LORD’, Lord of the Universe, co-equal with God the Father (John 5:19-23; John 14:7-9; Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9), Creator of all things (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2-3), and of us, and the One Who has bought us with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
‘Through whom we received grace and apostleship, unto obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name’s sake, among whom are you also called to be Jesus Christ’s.’
And, says Paul, it is through ‘Jesus Christ our LORD’ that ‘we’ (the Apostles) received ‘grace and Apostleship’ with the aim in view of ‘obedience springing from faith’ occurring among all the Gentiles. Having been raised in power Jesus had commissioned His Apostles, and sent on them the promised Holy Spirit, so as to prepare them for the task ahead, the bringing of men to the obedience which springs from faith ‘in Jerusalem, and in Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).
‘We received grace and Apostleship’. The word ‘grace’ (charis) here signifies the undeserved gift arising from God’s favour which was bestowed on them, in other words the gift of the Holy Spirit. They experienced God acting in ‘grace’ (unmerited favour). It was through His enlightening that they were being led into all truth (John 14:26; John 16:13). It was through His power that the Apostles were empowered and given the ability to proclaim His word effectively (Acts 1:8). Again we remember that Paul received this power later than the rest of the Apostles (Acts 9:17). But as Paul would say of his opponents later, ‘we will know not the word of those who are puffed up but the power, for the Kingly Rule of God is not in word but in power’ (1 Corinthians 4:19-20). To him the gift of God’s grace, the Holy Spirit, was the One Who gave him power. The word ‘Apostleship’ indicates the unique authority that the Apostles were given to act and make decisions in Jesus’ Name (John 1:22-23; Matthew 18:18), and to oversee the establishment of the new ‘assemblies’ that were being set up (see e.g. Acts 8:14-15).
‘Unto obedience of faith.’ Christ’s purpose in giving this grace and Apostleship was so that by them ‘obedience of faith --- for His Name’s sake’ should be aroused in men and women as they responded to Christ. Through the preaching of the Apostles men would come to faith in Jesus Christ with the consequence being that they would begin to obey Him because He had become their LORD (‘for His Name’s sake’). They would come under ‘the Kingly Rule of God’. Note how even so early in the letter Paul establishes the fact that obedience must spring from faith. A faith which did not produce obedience was to be seen as a useless and ineffective faith. And this in preparation for teaching ‘justification by faith’, a phrase which indicates that getting right with God results wholly from faith, and is apart from works.
Finally this was to be ‘among all nations’. The aim was a worldwide spread of the Gospel. No limit was put on what the Apostles would achieve. And all this was ‘for His Name’s sake’. It was in order that men might honour His Name and demonstrate it by their submissive response, so that His Lordship was revealed openly. Representing the true Israel the Apostles were being called on to fulfil the task that had once been Israel’s, to so walk and teach among men that men would truly respond to God. The light was going out to the Gentiles from Israel (Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6).
‘Among whom are you also called Jesus Christ’s.’ Prominent among those of the nations who would come to Jesus Christ are the Roman believers to whom he is writing. They, along with all who believe in Christ, are ‘called Jesus Christ’s’, because He has put His hand and seal upon them.
The Recipients Of The Letter (1:7).
After the long but important description of the purpose of the letter, we now learn who are to be its recipients. It is addressed to the church in 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.’
Having established what the Gospel of God was, and what its effectiveness was expected to be, Paul now makes clear to whom he is writing. It is to all who are in Rome who are ‘beloved of God’ and ‘called to be saints (holy ones)’. Note how ‘being beloved by God’ results in ‘being called to be holy ones’. Those whom He foreknew, setting His love upon them, He destined to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29)
‘Beloved of God.’ Compare Deuteronomy 33:12; Colossians 3:12 What a privilege was theirs (and is ours). They are those on whom God has set His love. There in the midst of that great city, with its emphasis on the worship of Roma, and on the divine honours due to the emperor, and on the many pagan religions which were practised there, were the small pockets of believers who kept themselves unspotted from the world and were ‘beloved of God’, and were ‘chosen and precious’ (1 Peter 2:4). As he will say later, ‘God commended His own love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). They were thus those who were sinners who had been redeemed by the blood of Christ.
‘Called to be saints.’ And as a consequence of God setting His love on them, and their being called to be Jesus Christ’s, they were called on to be separated totally to Him. They were called on to ‘be holy like God is holy in all manner of living’ (1 Peter 1:15-16). The word ‘saints’ means those who are set apart to God, ‘sanctified ones’. This was something that was expected of all believers. That was why God had set His love on them, in order to make them His sanctified ones. It is why in Colossians 3:12 the Christians are called ‘holy (sanctified) and beloved’.
So having been ‘called to be Jesus Christ’s’ (Romans 1:6) they are now ‘called to be sanctified ones’ of God. To belong to Jesus Christ is to belong to God.
Note On Sanctification.
The basic idea behind ‘sanctification’ is that of ‘setting apart as holy to God’. The Bible speaks of a ‘sanctification’ which is positional, (the initial setting apart which makes the object ‘holy’ from then on), and a ‘sanctification’ which is life-changing, transforming the one so set apart so that he becomes truly God-like. To sanctify means ‘to set apart for a holy purpose, to make holy’ and from the Christian point of view that means to "make God-like in purity, goodness and love". This is clearly something that only God can do for us. First He sets us apart as His own (2 Timothy 2:19). Then He works in us to make us pleasing to Him (Philippians 2:13). Thus the Bible tells us that once He has made us His Own, once we truly believe in Jesus Christ, we are put in the position of ‘having been sanctified’ (aorist tense, once for all - 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Corinthians 6:11), and therefore as having been ‘set apart’ for God once for all by the birth of the Spirit (John 1:12-13; John 3:1-6; 2Co 5:17 ; 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18; 1 John 2:27). This is because we are made holy ‘in Christ’ with Christ’s holiness, by being made one with Him and thus covered with His purity (1 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 5:25-27; Colossians 3:3). He is our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). This is why we can approach God so confidently. It has put us in a state whereby we ‘are sanctified’ and accepted as holy in His presence (Acts 20:32; Acts 26:18; Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Hebrews 10:10 which are all in the perfect tense - ‘having been sanctified and therefore now are sanctified’ - past happening which continues to the present).
But the result of being put in this position is that we will now be ‘in process of being sanctified’ (set apart by being made holy) by Christ Jesus and the Spirit. The purity of Christ, which has been set to our account, must now become an actuality. We must therefore go through the process of ‘being set apart for God’ by being constantly changed by the Spirit (present tense - Hebrews 2:11; Hebrews 10:14; compare Romans 6:19; Rom 6:22 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and see 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13). If we are His He will carry out this work in us. This is the same process as ‘salvation’ although from a slightly different point of view. We are saved through God’s work of sanctification, which like salvation is ours by faith. And this will finally be brought to completion when we are finally ‘sanctified’ at the coming of Jesus Christ, when we will be presented perfect before Him (Ephesians 5:25-27).
End of note.
‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Having defined to whom he is writing Paul now gives them his usual greeting wishing them ‘grace and peace’ from ‘GOD our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ’. ‘Grace’ (charis) was very similar to the normal Gentile greeting (chairein). ‘Peace’ (shalom - peace, well-being) was the usual Jewish greeting. He wants both sections of the church to be aware of his love and concern for them. But these initial words have here been taken up and given a full Christian meaning. They cease to be mundane. ‘Grace’ is an indication of God’s positive undeserved favour, offered in Christ and bringing rest to the soul. ‘Peace’ is a reminder of the availability of peace with God (Romans 5:1) and peace from God, available in Christ.
Note the close association of ‘GOD our Father’, and ‘the LORD Jesus Christ’. They are ‘one GOD and one LORD’ (1 Corinthians 8:6), the combined divine source of grace and peace, an idea already previously expressed in his earliest letter (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:3). Note also how ‘our Father’ echoes the teaching of Jesus about ‘your Father’, a phrase found in Matthew’s Gospel twenty times.
‘First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world.’
He wants them first of all to know that he thanks ‘my God’ through Jesus Christ for all of them, because he is aware that their faith is spoken of throughout the world. ‘My God’ brings out the very personal feeling that Paul had for God. It also occurs in 1 Corinthians 1:4; Philippians 1:3. He saw Him as ‘my God’, not because he was excessively possessive, but because his heart was so warmed towards Him. He felt in close association with Him.
And he thanked Him ‘through Jesus Christ’. This use here in Romans of the idea of Christ’s mediatorship as related to his thanksgiving is unique. It is not introduced in his thanksgivings elsewhere. It probably arises in this case because of the nature of the introduction above, with its emphasis on ‘the Son’. He is continuing the emphasis on the Father’s association with the Son, and on the fact that the Gospel of God is concerning His Son.
What he thanks God for is that ‘their faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world.’ Whilst the words may contain a little flattery (he was trying to win their hearts so that they would give his words a fair hearing), they do also indicate the fact that the church in Rome was well known and well spoken of throughout the world with which Paul was familiar.
‘Your faith.’ What is being spoken about is the strength of their trust in Jesus Christ. All knew of the vibrant faith of those in the church at Rome. And it had to be vibrant in order to survive what was brought against it.
It is important to note the phrase ‘throughout the whole world’. It is, of course, not literally true. There were many parts of the world where the Gospel had not reached. It was speaking rather of the world known to Paul. We can compare how ‘all the earth’ came to hear the wisdom of Solomon’ (1 Kings 10:24), that is all the world as known to the people of Jerusalem. The same proviso applies there. It means the world as known to the writer. This should always be borne in mind when we come across the word ‘world’ in the New Testament and especially in Revelation. It is referring to the world known to the writer.
Paul Explains To The Roman Christians His Desire To See Them And The Reason For It (1:8-12).
Paul stresses to the Roman Christians that he thanks God for the effectiveness of their testimony and unceasingly prays for them, desiring to meet up with them so that he can share with them in discussions about their mutual faith, their faith and his. He is conscious that he has been given a unique understanding of the Gospel, but he is humble enough to recognise that he can learn from them too.
‘For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers,’
The use of this minor oath, calling on God as his witness, confirms how desirous Paul was to win the hearts of the Roman church. He was aware that many voices came to Rome and he was concerned that his voice should be heard above them. So he stresses before God that he ‘serves God in his spirit in the Gospel of His Son’. There is an echo here of the words of the introduction. Just as Jesus Christ was revealed as acting ‘according to the spirit of holiness’ (Romans 1:4), so Paul acts ‘in his spirit’ which is a spirit of servitude to God. He is the servant of the Holy One. And He is so in ‘the Gospel of His Son’, that is in the Gospel of God, the Good News whose source is God, which is concerning His Son (Romans 1:1; Romans 1:3).
And it is because of his spirit’s servitude to God that he unceasingly makes mention of them always in his prayers in order that he might at some stage be able to come and see them. He acts under divine compulsion as God’s hired servant. Note how his prayers are ‘unceasing’ (they occur day by day) and ‘always’ (he never misses a day). Assuming it to be true, and the oath confirms it, we have an indication here of the depth of Paul’ prayer life even in the midst of a busy schedule which included arranging the details of the Collection for the saints in Judea and planning the journey to Jerusalem.
‘Making request, if by any means now at length I may at some time be prospered by the will of God to come to you.’
And his continuing request to God is with a view to at last being able to visit them ‘by any means’. It is quite clear that he has a real sense of the urgent need that there is for him to assist the Roman church. He is, however, also aware that it is not going to be easy for him to fit it in. He has much to do. ‘Now at length -- at some time’ (ede pote) brings this out.
‘By the will of God.’ He assures them that he does nothing of his own will. He is only concerned for the will of God. His future is heavily committed into God’s hands, and he recognises that God’s will may not be the same as his own. Compare James 4:13-15. So he is submissive to the will of God. He recognises that God might step in and alter his plans.
‘For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, to the end you may be established,’
And we now learn why he wants to go to Rome. It is because he wants to ensure that they are established as a result of the impartation to them by him of ‘some spiritual gift’, that is, a gift coming from the Spirit and wrought by the Spirit. Such gifts are outlined in Romans 12:6-8. They include gifts of ministry and service, prophesying, serving, teaching, liberal giving, administering, showing cheerful compassion. And he wants to impart such gifts to them, one here and one there. He wants every one of them, as a result of his coming, to be exercising at least one of these spiritual gifts so that they might go forward with confidence, useful and established firmly in the way of Christ. Whether they were to be conveyed through his ministry, or by some other means, he did not say.
‘That is, that I with you may be comforted in you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.’
But lest they misunderstand him and feel that he is being arrogant, he immediately qualifies his words by pointing out that he does not just see himself as the giver, and they as the recipients. He also wants to receive from them. He and they are to comfort and strengthen each other by each other’s faith. It is, indeed, often the faith of the one who appears least which is the greatest encouragement.
‘And I would not have you ignorant, brothers and sisters (brethren), that many times I purposed to come to you (and was up until now hindered), that I might have some fruit in you also, even as in the rest of the Gentiles.’
Lest they feel that his protestations about his wanting to visit them are rather weak (if he did why hadn’t he done so already?), he assures them that he had purposed to come to them many times in the past, but had each time been prevented from doing so by something unavoidable, something arising from his responsibility to care for the churches for which he was primarily responsible. He does not want them to be in any doubt about the matter (‘I would not have you ignorant’). For as the Apostle to the Gentiles he is eager to have some fruit in Rome, as he has had among the rest of the Gentiles. Rome was the hub of the empire. It was natural that he should want to have his part in planting seed there, and seeing the church firmly established. It was important for the whole worldwide church.
Paul Describes How He Feels A Sense Of Indebtedness To Proclaim The Good News To All, Including Those In Rome, And Gives The Essence Of That Good News. It Is The Power Of God Unto Salvation To All Who Believe (1:13-17).
The burden that Paul has to proclaim the Gospel is well brought out here. He feels under a great burden of debt to all men of whatever kind to bring to them the Good News of salvation, and that includes those in Rome. He is a debtor because he has God’s commission. He owes it to them because that is the purpose for which God has called him. And he is not only indebted, he is also ready. Indebtedness is accompanied by readiness and eager willingness. For he wants to assure them that he is not ashamed of that Good News which is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. And that is because it reveals ‘a righteousness of God available through faith which is given to those who believe’.
‘I am debtor both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.’
Indeed he feels under a great burden of debt to all men. He has received such a wonderful revelation and commission from God that he recognises that it has put him under an obligation to share it with others. It is a debt owed to all, whether sophisticated or unsophisticated, wise or less wise. None are exempt. And it is a debt owed by all who receive salvation to those who have not yet received it. Having been saved we come under an obligation to bring others to Christ.
When he speaks of the Greeks he is not simply speaking of people who came from Greece. Through the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek influence and Greek culture had permeated the known world, and especially the great cities. Greek was spoken everywhere. And when Alexander’s empire broke up the Greek culture and language remained. It was something men treasured and were proud of, to such an extent that they looked down on people who could only say, ‘bar-bar-bar’ (Barbarians), which was what the non-Greek languages sounded like to them. So Paul is here speaking of both the sophisticated and educated of ‘Greek’ culture, and the unsophisticated Barbarians.
There was also a class of people within the empire who saw themselves as ‘wise. They enjoyed the works and teaching of the philosophers, and looked down on those who neither read them nor understood them, seeing them as ‘foolish’ (compareActs 17:21; Acts 17:21). In their own way they were as separatist as the Pharisees, although for different reasons. But Paul wanted to stress that the foolish had as much right to the Good News as the wise, and in 1 Corinthians 1-2 he makes clear that it tended in fact to be the foolish who responded to the Good News (although not exclusively) for the wise were too self-satisfied with their own supposed wisdom.
‘So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.’
And it was this great burden of indebtedness that made him ready, and even eager, to proclaim the Good News to those who were at the heart of the empire in Rome. This was, however, subject to divine permission. He would not put his own desires before the will of God. He would eventually receive that permission, but it would be in a way that was totally unexpected (Acts 23:11).
‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.’
That readiness to proclaim the Gospel was in no way diminished by the thought that Rome might mock his Good News, and see him as ridiculous. Indeed he probably saw it as inevitable. For who in Rome would see the crucifixion of an unknown Judean prophet as of any significance? But this in no way made him ashamed of his message, for he knew that his Good News was ‘the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes’. He knew that in the death of that unknown Jewish prophet, and through His resurrection life, lay the hopes of mankind, for He was no mere prophet but the LORD Jesus Christ Himself, the only Son of God (Romans 1:4), Who had within Himself the ‘Spirit of Holiness’ (the truly divine spirit), and he was aware that through His immense power revealed in His resurrection, the very power of God to give life and deliver from death, men could find eternal salvation by truly believing in Him.
‘The gospel -- is the power of God unto salvation.’ What is meant by the Gospel has already been described in Romans 1:2-4. It concerns the One Who was born humanly speaking of the seed of David, but Who was declared to be God’s powerful only Son through ‘the spirit of holiness’ within Him, as revealed in His resurrection from the dead. He had come with all the operative and explosive power (dunamis - dynamite) of God in order, by the exercise of that power, to die and rise again, thereby making it possible for those who unite with Him to also rise, firstly in terms of a newness of life received in this life (Romans 6:3-11), and then in new resurrection bodies, which are holy as He is holy, at the last day (Romans 8:10-11). And this power unto salvation was revealed by preaching concerning the crucified One. ‘It is ‘the word of the cross’ which is the power of God ‘unto salvation’ to those who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18).
‘Unto salvation.’ It was the power of God ‘unto salvation’. It is important to recognise that salvation means far more than just being sure that we will ‘go to Heaven’ when we die. It involves divine deliverance and transformation, and in the end glorification (Romans 8:29-30). It involves radical change within. We must not see salvation as something passive, as a ‘thing’ simply accepted and stored up for when it is needed. It is rather speaking ‘of God acting powerfully to save men and women’, of God ‘coming in salvation’. And His purpose is to save men from both the penalty and the power of sin. He comes in order to make men acceptable to Him judicially, and in order to transform their lives. It is a transformation that must begin in this life, when we are made ‘new creations’ by Him (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10; John 3:1-6) and receive newness of life (Romans 6:4) and it will finally result in our being presented perfect before God, ‘holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight’ (Colossians 1:22; Ephesians 5:27; Philippians 3:20-21). We should note in this regard Ephesians 5:25-27. ‘Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it in order that He might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present it to Himself --- holy and without blemish’. We should note that the work is Christ’s not ours. Jesus is the physician who has come to heal those who are sick (Mark 2:17), and His salvation through His saving activity results in our being fitted to live together with Him through all eternity (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
Brief Note On Salvation.
In the New Testament salvation is a mighty activity of God which does not fail in its purpose in each individual involved. It is true that it saves us from Hell, but that is merely the negative side. Its aim is mainly in order to save us out of the degradation into which sin has brought us. Its purpose is to save us from ourselves so that we might become like He is (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2). Thus the New Testament teaches different aspects of 'salvation'.
1). It speaks of those who have been saved once and for all, ‘the ‘having been saved ones’ (aorist tense). This refers to one act of Christ which is complete for ever, embracing salvation from start to finish. And as it signifies that their Saviour Christ has chosen them and called them to Himself, and has made them one with Himself, it means that they are now safe in Him. Their lives are 'hid with Christ in God' (Colossians 3:3). Verses which refer to such an experience of salvation are Titus 3:5; 2 Timothy 1:9, in which the aorist tense is used, indicating something that has happened once for all.
2). It speaks of those who ‘have been saved and are therefore now saved’ (perfect tense). Here there is the twofold thought of what Christ has done in the past (He has saved them) and of what is true now, (they are consequently saved). They are safe in His hands and He will never let them go. Verses which speak of ‘having been saved and therefore now being saved’ include Ephesians 2:5; Ephesians 2:8 (perfect tense, something that has happened in the past the benefit of which continues to the present time). It is a result of being incorporated into Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). This is what is in mind when we say a person ‘is saved’.
3). It speaks of those who ‘are being saved’ (present tense). This is because when Christ reaches out and saves someone it is with the purpose of their being fully saved. Having provided them with overall forgiveness and justification He now carries out the process of making them totally free from sin. This is a lifelong work as they are ‘changed from glory into glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18) and it is only completed when they are finally presented perfect before Him, not only in status but in reality. Verses which speak of those who "are being saved" include 1Co 1:18 ; 2 Corinthians 2:15. They are expressed in the present tense describing a process going on.
4). It speaks of those who will be saved (future tense). This is looking forward to that day when they will be presented perfect before Him ‘without spot, or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and without blemish’ (Ephesians 5:25-27). See for example 1 Corinthians 3:15; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 1Th 5:9 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
Thus in one sense salvation can be seen as one overall experience commencing from the moment of believing and not ceasing until the person is presented before God holy and without blemish, a process guaranteed from start to finish in those whom the Father has given to His Son (John 6:37; John 6:39; John 6:44; John 10:27-28), and in another sense it can be seen as an experience that is being undergone which will not cease until it is completed. For it should be noted that salvation is God’s work and not ours (Hebrews 13:20-21). And He does not fail in His purpose. See especially John 10:27-29; 1 Corinthians 1:8; Philippians 2:6; Jude 1:24-25.
End of Note.
‘To everyone who believes.’ What is meant by believing is best gathered from John 2:23-25. There we learn that Jesus did not ‘believe Himself unto them’. He was not willing to entrust Himself into their hands. And that is what saving faith involves, an entrusting of ourselves into the hands of our Saviour so that He might carry out His work of forgiveness and restoration. It is handing ourselves over to His Saviourhood and Lordship. We do not ‘do’ anything. The doing is by Him. We are saved by putting our trust in the LORD Jesus Christ and what He has promised to do for us, in expectant faith.
In the New Testament the difference between intellectual assent and true saving faith is often (although not always) depicted by means of a preposition following the verb. Thus pisteuo epi (to believe on) or pisteuo eis (to believe into). And intellectual assent is seen as insufficient to save. We can believe a host of things about Jesus Christ and what He has done, but until there is in some way a personal commitment of ourselves to Him, a commitment to Him in His saving power, it is unavailing. The faith that saves is a faith that produces transformation, and this not because the faith itself transforms, but because it commits itself into the hands of the One Who does the transforming work, the ‘Saviour’.
There is a tendency among some people to speak of Jesus Christ as being ‘my Saviour but not my Lord’. That is a completely untenable position. We come to Jesus as our LORD Jesus Christ. Anything less is impossible. What they mean, of course, is that they have not yet allowed His Lordship to exercise influence over their lives. But that is a dangerous position to be in. If they are truly His then they can be sure that Christ will have begun His work within them, and if He has then they will soon discover its impact and respond to His Lordship, and if He has not done so their position is perilous indeed. They are not ‘being saved’.
‘To the Jew first, and also to the Greek.’ Here the ‘first’ refers to a precedence in time, not in importance. Paul is emphasising here that God’s purpose of salvation extended firstly to the people whom He chose out to be the vehicles of His truth. That it came to them first is apparent from Scripture, for the Old Testament is primarily about God offering ‘salvation’ to the Jews. But because of this the Jews were the natural ones to approach with the saving message of Christ, for they had already been basically prepared and were knowledgeable in the Scriptures. That is why Jesus initially went to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10:6; Matthew 15:24). It was not until after His experience with the Syro-phoenician woman that He extended His ministry to Gentiles who must have formed part of the crowds who gathered to hear Him as He operated in what was mainly Gentile territory. The Apostles also initially restricted their ministry to Jews and proselytes. Thus for the first few years the church was wholly Jewish. It was the true Israel being established by the Messiah and arising out of the old. They saw themselves as the true Israel in contrast to the rejected Israel which had become as ‘one of the nations’ (Acts 4:25-27). And this situation continued until Peter’s experience with Cornelius in Acts 10:0. In the same way Paul went initially to the Jews until he too found himself rejected by them and turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:14-15; Acts 13:43; Acts 13:46-49).
And the reason for this is clear, it was because Jesus had come to establish a new, renewed Israel. He was establishing in Himself ‘the true vine’ (John 15:1-6) as against the false vine (Isaiah 5:1-7). They were to be His new congregation, replacing the old, founded on His Messiahship (Matthew 16:18). The ‘church’ (ekklesia - ‘congregation’) of ‘called together ones’ was seen as the true Israel, the remnant chosen by God, with those who refused to believe in their Messiah being rejected and ‘cut off’ (Romans 11:17-28). The church were the ‘Israel of God’ where neither circumcision nor uncircumcision meant anything, because what mattered was the new creation (Galatians 6:15-16). (See also Galatians 3:29; Ephesians 2:11-21; 1 Peter 3:9). But as the prophets had forecast, the light was eventually to go out to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6), who would be incorporated into Israel. They also became part of the true Israel. Thus Peter could write to the whole church as ‘the Dispersion’ (a term which normally indicated Israel spread worldwide) and James could speak of them as ‘the twelve tribes’ (1 Peter 1:1; James 1:1). Both letters show quite clearly that they were not written only to Jewish Christians, which indicates that these terms referred to the whole church.
As we go through the letter the emphasis on salvation will continue. Thus:
· a). The letter will reveal that through His offering of Himself on the cross (Romans 3:24-25) as sealed by His resurrection (Romans 4:24) we can receive forgiveness for our sins (Romans 4:7-8) and can be ‘reckoned as righteous’ (justified) in His sight (Romans 3:24; Romans 3:26; Romans 3:28; Romans 4:6; Romans 4:8; Romans 4:24-25).
b). It will reveal that, having received that ‘justification’, from that time on God will be at work on us through life’s experiences and the working of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:1-5), in connection with His risen life (Romans 5:10). And all this will be on the basis of our having been accounted as righteous (justified) in Christ, with the result that we are delivered from His wrath (God’s aversion to sin which brings judgment), and reconciled to Him (Romans 5:9-10).
· c). It will reveal that as in Adam all die as a result of his sin, so in Christ can all be made alive, as a result of His justifying work and His resurrection life (Romans 5:12-21).
· d). It will reveal that as a result of the cross and resurrection of Jesus being applied to our lives we can learn to reign in life through Christ, with the end being eternal life (Romans 6:1-23).
· e). It will reveal the battle taking place in our lives as sin fights against the new life within us, a battle in which we can gain victory by being delivered by the working within us of Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:1-25).
· f). It will reveal the working of the powerful Holy Spirit, Who, through what Christ has accomplished on the cross, will set us free from the grip of sin, and bring us through to eternal life because we are now true children of God and are led by His Spirit (Romans 8:1-17).
· g). It will reveal the struggle of creation, including ourselves, a struggle resulting from the effects of sin. And it is a struggle from which we will be delivered, along with the whole of creation, as we look forward to the redemption of our bodies, a hope that yet lies in the future (Romans 8:18-25).
· h). It will reveal the mighty working and even the groaning of the Holy Spirit, as God carries forward His predetermined purposes in His people to their destined end, while at the same time vindicating them because they are held safe in the love of God through the effectiveness of the cross (Romans 8:26-39).
· i). It will reveal how God’s original, destined purpose for His people will be carried through to the end, resulting in the salvation of all His true people of whatever race (9-11).
· j). It will reveal the present consequence of all that He has done, in the calling of us to give ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God and to live in accordance therewith (12-16).
· j). It will reveal that Satan will be will be bruised under our feet shortly by the God of peace (Romans 16:20).
And it will do all this because in it is revealed the effective powerful working of the saving righteousness of God which is experienced by faith, and imputes and applies righteousness, to all who believe (Romans 1:17 a). For it is through faith that those given His righteousness, and taken up into the righteous working of God, will ‘live’ (Romans 1:17 b).
‘For within it is revealed a righteousness of God from faith, unto faith, as it is written, “But the righteous will live by faith.” ’
We should note immediately here the co-relation between ‘salvation’ and ‘the righteousness of God’. The Good News is ‘the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16) - for therein is the righteousness of God revealed (Romans 1:17)’. Salvation and God’s righteousness go hand in hand. This immediately turns our minds to Scriptural passages which equate the two as God comes to His people in salvation and in His righteousness (e.g. Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:12; etc). The stress is not only on the fact that God saves, but also on the fact that He does so righteously in accordance with what He is. Paul then interprets that as signifying that if God had not brought us righteousness as a gift to be set to our account there could have been no salvation. For what is being underlined is that God is righteous, and that there could therefore be no salvation without righteousness. In other words, when thinking in terms of a righteous God salvation and divine righteousness, are ‘soul-mates’. If we are to be saved it must be in righteousness, and God must in some way bring to us righteousness, because God, being God, must save righteously.
So the content of the Good News is now made clear. It reveals a righteousness of God resulting from faith (out of faith), which is offered to those who believe (unto faith). Or alternately a righteousness of God which is the consequence of ‘ever-increasing faith’ (‘out of faith unto faith’). But what is this ‘righteousness of God’ to which Paul refers? It clearly has in mind that God is truly righteous, that is, is fully ‘right’ in all that He is and does. But equally clearly there is more to it than that. For this ‘righteousness of God’ here referred to is not simply seen by Paul as an attribute of God, but as something which God actually applies to believers. This comes out in that it is immediately applied in terms of Scripture to believing man as a consequence of his faith. For Paul directly connects it with the Old Testament dictum that ‘the righteous by faith will live’ (Romans 1:17; compare Habakkuk 2:4). And as he will bring out later he sees this righteousness as a gift from God associated with the grace of God (Romans 5:17). It is a righteousness which is applied to man without him having to do anything towards it, while he is still ungodly (Romans 4:6). Yet that it is somehow God’s righteousness is equally very important, for only that righteousness could be truly acceptable to God. It is in no way the righteousness of men, or indicative of or resulting from, man’s actions, for if it were it would be defiled. It would come short of what God requires. Man’s only part in it is to receive it.
Nor, we will learn later, does it signify a righteousness indicative of man’s behaviour, a righteousness which he builds up with God’s help. It is not ‘of works’ (Romans 3:28; Romans 4:4-5). This comes out very specifically in Paul’s use of the term in Romans (see note below), and in the fact that it would be contrary to the intrinsic meaning of the verb dikaio-o, together with its related nouns and adjectives, which imply a righteousness which is in some way reckoned to a man’s account (see Romans 4:3), making him legally acceptable in the eye’s of God’s justice, not a righteousness which is wrought within him. The dikaio-o group are forensic terms speaking of how a man is looked on by his Judge, not of how he actually is in himself. Indeed the verb dikaio-o, which like all o-o verbs in the moral dimension signifies ‘to deem, to account, to reckon’, can regularly be translated as ‘deem as righteous’, ‘reckon as righteous’ (Romans 4:5). It is describing a judicially declared righteousness, not an actual state (thus similarly ‘the wicked can be justified for a reward’, they can be declared righteous by a judge even when they are not). For man’s need is to be ‘put in the right with God’ legally, in the eyes of the Judge of all men. And that is what this righteousness achieves.
Of what then does this ‘righteousness of God’ consist? It is revealed to be the righteousness made available through Christ’s sacrifice of Himself (Romans 3:24-28). It is in essence His righteousness. It is ‘through the one act of righteousness (of Jesus Christ)’ that the free gift comes to all unto justification of life’ (Romans 5:18). It is ‘through the obedience of the One’ that the many can be ‘made’ (constituted, designated, appointed) righteous (Romans 5:19). ‘Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to all who believe’ (Romans 10:4). It is ‘the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all who believe’ which results in men being freely accounted as righteous through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:22; Romans 3:24). Indeed, ‘If Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, and the Spirit is life because of righteousness’ (Romans 8:10). In the words of Paul elsewhere, ‘Christ is made unto us righteousness’ (1 Corinthians 1:30). We are ‘made the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). And it is apparent from the latter that we are ‘made the righteousness of God in Him’ by being incorporated into Him in all His righteousness, in the same way as He is united with our sin. Thus to put it in the simplest of terms, it is the righteousness of Christ set to our account.
Note On The Righteousness of God.
In the light of Old Testament usage we are justified in seeing in the phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ more than simply a description of one of God’s attributes (His rightness in all that He purposes and does in accordance with the righteous requirements of His own nature), even though that must always be seen as present in the background. For in both the Psalms and in Isaiah ‘His righteousness’ often parallels ‘His salvation’ and appears to signify ‘righteous deliverance’ with the idea probably being that He acts righteously on His people’s behalf, and upon His people, in fulfilling His covenant promises of deliverance and bringing them in line with His covenant.
Consider, for example, in the Psalms:
· ‘My mouth will show forth your righteousness, and your salvation all the day’ (Psalms 71:15).
· ‘The LORD has made known His salvation, His righteousness has He openly shown in the sight of the nations’ (Psalms 98:2).
· ‘My eyes fail for your salvation, and for the word of your righteousness’ (Psalms 119:23).
It will be observed in each case that righteousness (righteous deliverance?) and salvation are almost synonymous ideas, with the possible reservation that ‘righteousness’ includes the added extra of the fulfilling of His covenant faithfulness.
Again in Isaiah we find:
o ‘Drop down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness (rain as provided in accordance with His covenant promises). Let the earth open and bring forth salvation (fruitfulness) and let righteousness (righteous provision in accordance with His promises) spring up together, I the LORD have created it’ (Isaiah 45:8). Here ‘righteousness’ is describing the fruit of God’s faithfulness provided in accordance with His righteous promises. They are seen as God-produced and God-given. But as in Isaiah 44:3-4 we must also see this in terms of a spiritual application, with the ‘pouring down of righteousness’ referring to the Spirit being poured down (Isaiah 44:3), and ‘righteousness springing up’ referring to spiritual fruitfulness (Isaiah 44:4). These are the ways in which He brings about His righteous deliverance.
o ‘I will bring near My righteousness, it will not be far off, and my salvation will not linger, and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory’ (Isaiah 46:13). Here the idea of covenant deliverance on behalf of His people is central.
o ‘My righteousness is near, My salvation is gone forth, and My arms will judge the people, the isles will wait on Me, and on My arm will they trust’ (Isaiah 51:5). Here God’s righteous deliverance comes forth and results in ‘faith in God’s arm’ in those who benefit by that deliverance.
o ‘My salvation will be for ever, and my righteousness will not be abolished’ (Isaiah 51:6). ‘My righteousness will be for ever, and My salvation from generation to generation’ (Isaiah 51:8). Note here how the two ideas of salvation and righteousness (righteous deliverance) can be interchanged in the two verses. And both are eternal in effect.
o ‘Thus says the LORD, Maintain justice and do righteousness, for My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed’ (Isaiah 56:1). Here we have an important distinction between men doing righteousness and God’s righteousness being revealed. The ‘revealing of the righteousness of God’ is clearly a distinct idea from that of ‘men doing righteousness’. It is describing God acting in righteous deliverance in accordance with His covenant responsibility.
o ‘And He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head, and He put on garments of vengeance for clothing --- and a Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who return from transgression in Jacob, says the LORD’ (Isaiah 59:17; Isaiah 59:20), and He then goes on to speak of His Spirit being upon them and His words being in their mouths (Isaiah 59:21). Here we have a linking of God’s coming in righteousness with God’s coming in vengeance (wrath), an idea prominent in Romans 1:17-18, and here linked also with the coming of a Redeemer (Romans 3:24) and of the Spirit (Romans 5:5; Romans 8:1-16).
o ‘I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul will be joyful in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and a bride adorns herself with her jewels’ (Isaiah 61:10) with the result that ‘the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations’ (Isaiah 61:11). Here righteousness and salvation are depicted as very much outward adornments with which God adorns His own as He acts in saving deliverance, and they result in righteousness springing forth. The act of clothing and covering do, however, presumably include the idea of the application of His salvation and righteousness to His people.
The central thought in all these verses is of God’s righteousness being revealed in that He acts righteously in deliverance, although the detail is never specified. As we can see this is also linked with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the coming of a Redeemer, and the inculcation of faith in men’s hearts in response to His activity. These are all ideas which are prominent in Romans. And it is contrasted with God revealing Himself in vengeance, again an idea found in Romans. This presents a strong case for seeing ‘the revealing of the righteousness of God’ as indicating the revealing of His covenant faithfulness in His saving activity as He acts to save and vindicate His people.
On the other hand the final verse in the series does add a new dimension in terms of the thought of His people being ‘clothed with the garments of salvation’ and ‘covered with a robe of righteousness’, with the idea of this being that they are adornments which reveal celebration because of their new relationship.
To these verses may then be added the following:
· ‘In the LORD will all the seed of Israel be declared (or accounted) righteous, and will glory’ (Isaiah 45:25).
· ‘Their righteousness which is of Me’ (Isaiah 54:17).
· ‘From the travail of His soul He will see (light) and will be satisfied. By His knowledge (or humiliation) will My Righteous Servant make many to be accounted righteous, for He will bear their iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:11 MT). The addition of ‘light’ is found in LXX and in the Isaianic Hebrew scrolls at Qumran, although LXX differs from MT in other ways.
In these verses we have specific reference to the ‘accounting as righteous’ of His people, rather than to their specifically being delivered, although no doubt as a part of their deliverance.
At first sight the idea of ‘God’s righteous deliverance’ might appear to fit excellently with the words, ‘therein (in the Gospel) is the righteousness of God revealed out of faith unto faith’ (Romans 1:17). For Paul is about to outline aspects of that deliverance. But we must immediately enter a caveat. For in Romans 1:17 Paul immediately defines his meaning in terms of the Scriptural citation, ‘the righteous out of faith will live’ (or ‘the righteous will live by faith’), and this fairly and squarely equates ‘the righteousness of God out of faith’ with a righteousness which is bestowed in some way on those who believe. Thus he is incorporating the ideas in Isaiah 45:25; Isaiah 54:17; Isaiah 53:11.
What is more this distinction continues to be made throughout Romans. For this ‘righteousness of God’ which is shown forth is stated to be ‘the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all those who believe’ (Romans 3:22) as a result of their being ‘accounted righteous freely through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through His blood’ (Romans 3:24). It is thus a bestowed righteousness. And by it God reveals His own righteousness in passing over ‘sins done aforetime’, and in accounting as righteous those (of the ungodly) who believe in Jesus whilst Himself still being seen as righteous (Romans 3:26).
This idea of men being ‘accounted righteous’ or as having ‘righteousness imputed to them’, is then illustrated in the life of Abraham and in the words of David, and is prominent in the verses that follow. See Romans 4:3; Romans 4:5-6; Romans 4:9; Romans 4:22. That this righteousness is ‘from faith’ comes out in Romans 3:22; Romans 3:26; Romans 4:3; Romans 4:9; Romans 4:11; Romans 4:13. That it is apart from works comes out in Romans 4:5-6. It is ‘accounted’ by grace, not merited. Thus what is prominent in Romans is a bestowed righteousness which is received by faith and apart from works, in line with the Hebrew text of Isaiah 53:11. This is doubly emphasised by the fact that those who are accounted as righteous are ‘the ungodly’ whose faith is counted for righteousness (Romans 4:6). They can be accounted as righteous even while they are ungodly, because it is on the basis of the sacrificial death of Christ (Romans 3:24-25). For ‘while we were yet weak --- Christ died for the ungodly’ (Romans 5:6).
This idea of the bestowal of righteousness is further emphasised in Romans 5:17 where Paul speaks of ‘receiving the gift of righteousness’, something amplified by the words, ‘even so by the righteousness of One the free gift came on all men unto justification of life’ (Romans 5:18). which is further amplified by the words, ‘so by the obedience of One will many be made righteous’ (Romans 5:19; reflecting Isaiah 53:11). The righteousness that is gifted and received is the righteousness of ‘the One’, and it is the righteousness of One Who was fully obedient, the One clearly being the Lord Jesus Christ. And it should be noted further that what parallels ‘reigning sin’ in Romans 1:21 is NOT ‘reigning righteousness’, but ‘reigning grace through righteousness’, the righteousness of the One previously described.
In this regard it should be noted that the main verb rendered as ‘account as righteous’ is dikaio-o, which in all its uses is a forensic term and refers to how a man is seen in the eyes of a court when pronouncing judgment. It says nothing about whether he actually is ‘righteous’ and nowhere means ‘to make righteous’. It signifies rather being seen as righteous from a legal point of view (whether righteous or not). And it is significant in this regard that men can be ‘justified’ (‘accounted as righteous’) by the wicked for a reward (Isaiah 5:23 LXX; Proverbs 17:15 LXX), just as God Himself can account as righteous those who are ungodly (Romans 4:5; Romans 5:6), although in His case on the righteous grounds of the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
So what is primarily in Paul’s mind when he speaks of the righteousness of God is the means by which men can be accounted as righteous and seen as judicially acceptable to God when they receive from Him the gift of righteousness, which is received by faith (Romans 1:17; Romans 3:22; Romans 3:25-26; Romans 3:28; Romans 3:30; Romans 4:3; Romans 4:5; Romans 4:9; Romans 4:11; Romans 4:13, Romans 5:1), and bought for them through the shedding of His blood (Romans 3:24-25; Romans 5:9). And he underlines the fact that it has nothing to do with how a man behaves (Romans 3:28; Romans 4:2; Romans 4:4-6). It has nothing to do with his ‘works’. To seek to distinguish between ‘faith works’ and ‘law works’ has no support in Romans 1-5. It has in mind all works. All works are excluded. In Romans 1-5 a man can be accounted righteous solely on the basis of the work and righteousness of Christ, appropriated through faith, and not in any other way.
What, however, must be accepted, and is positively stated by Paul, is that once a man has been accounted as righteous by faith in Jesus Christ, it must result in a life of righteousness, as chapter 6 makes clear. And we may call these ‘faith works’ if we wish. But what is equally made clear by Paul is that this righteousness of life follows on from ‘justification’, and is not a part of it. It comes to us ‘having been justified by faith’ (Romans 5:1). It is a consequence of justification not a grounds for it. Thus in Paul’s argument from chapter 1 to chapter 8 the idea of justification (being accounted as righteous) and of ‘the righteousness of God’ does not appear after chapter 5 (except in the concluding remarks in Romans 8:30; Romans 8:33) simply because what he is describing in terms of the righteousness of God is the way of being ‘justified’ (fully acceptable as ‘in the right’) in the sight of God. With regard to what is described in chapter 6 onwards other terminology is used.
So we may conclude this note by stressing that while the idea of ‘His righteousness’ (the righteousness of God) in Isaiah was possibly of wider scope, probably on the whole including within it not only the making acceptable of Israel before God, but also their final actual transformation resulting from it, in Romans the idea is mainly restricted to the idea of the ‘justification by faith’ (Romans 5:1) which takes place at the beginning stage in the salvation process (Romans 8:29-30) prior to that transformation. Paul’s concern is with how the righteousness of God can bring about our acceptability with God now, in the light of the judgment to come. What follows that in sanctification and glorification he deals with using different terminology. This can only be seen as deliberate.
End of Note.
This righteousness of God is ‘from faith -- to faith.’ Many interpret this as signifying ‘the righteousness of God out of faith (resulting from faith)’ which is ‘revealed to faith’. For the phrase ‘the righteousness of God out of faith’ compare Romans 9:30. However the closest parallel to the whole phrase is found in 2 Corinthians 2:16 where ‘from death unto death’ and ‘from life unto life’ may be seen as presenting the repetition of the words ‘death’ and ‘life’ as indicating a growth in intensity. If we apply that here we have the meaning, ‘from an evergrowing faith’. It makes little difference to the overall meaning. On the other hand, the uses in 2 Corinthians are not exact parallels with here. In ‘the savour of death’ the emphasis is on death as explaining savour, whilst in ‘the righteousness --- of faith’ the emphasis is on righteousness, not on faith as explaining righteousness. Thus we may well feel that the first interpretation fits the context better. What is of vital importance is that we see the connection between the righteousness of God and its reception by faith.
The Righteousness Of God And The Wrath Of God.
In the movement from Romans 1:17, dealing with the righteousness of God, to Romans 1:18, dealing with the wrath of God, we are faced with the starkest of contrasts. We move from brilliant light on the one hand into awful darkness on the other. In Romans 1:17 all is light. Those who believe partake in and experience the righteousness of God. They are seen as righteous in His sight. Their future is bright and secure. And this partaking in His righteousness will form the basis of Romans 3:24 to Romans 5:21. In contrast those who do not believe are guilty of ungodliness and unrighteousness, and they are subject to the wrath of God. They walk in darkness. They have no light. Their future is bleak indeed. And this is because God has not come to them in righteousness. A description of their state forms the basis of Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:23.
We have already seen that in the Old Testament the righteousness of God is constantly placed in parallel with the salvation of God (e.g. Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:5; Isaiah 51:8; Isaiah 56:1; Isaiah 61:10). As He comes to save He also comes to ‘rightify in His sight’, if we may coin a word. And this righteousness is something that God applies to the believer (which is necessary, unless they are seen as righteous He cannot have dealings with them), and implants in the believer as He comes to save, for they become ‘trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord’ (Isaiah 61:3), and that not as a result of their own activity, but of God’s. It is all of God. We can compare the idea in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where Jesus is ‘made sin for us’ so that we might be ‘made the righteousness of God in Him’. We cannot define how Jesus could be ‘made sin’. It is beyond our conception. Certainly it did not mean that He had sinned. But it did mean that He was made deserving of punishment (even though we must accept that it was in our place). It suggests that it was more than imputed. It became a part of Him to such an extent that God had to treat Him as though He was sinful. And in the same way God’s righteousness becomes a part of us when we believe. It is not our righteousness that is in mind, and it does not mean that we can say that we are wholly righteous in practical terms, for we are not. But it does mean that God sees us in every way as righteous, because He sees us in terms of the righteousness of Christ (Romans 5:18-19), and that He then commences the work of making us righteous. This was the significance of the Old Testament ‘righteousness of God’. But it must be stressed that Paul never applies the term ‘the righteousness of God’ to God’s work of making us righteous. He limits it to God accounting us as righteous. God’s work of making us righteous is explained in terms of our dying with Christ and living in Him and of the work of the Holy Spirit (6-8), not in terms of justification and the righteousness of God.
In contrast to the righteousness of God is man in ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). As ungodly and unrighteous man is subject to the wrath of God (i.e. God’s response to sin as a result of His total aversion to sin), and Paul then goes on to detail how man’s state of ungodliness and unrighteousness came about. It came about because they did not believe, and it had awful consequences, for it resulted in God giving them up to uncleanness (Romans 1:24) and to an unfit mind (Romans 1:28). Yet in spite of this man did not see himself as unrighteous, and so Paul sets about demonstrating that he is.
The theme of ungodliness is especially apparent in Romans 1:21-27, and is taken up in Romans 4:5; Romans 5:6 where we learn that it was while we were ungodly that Christ died for us. The theme of unrighteousness is taken up in Romans 1:29, where it is specifically amplified in terms of a long list of sins; in Romans 2:8 where it is contrasted with truth; and in Romans 3:5 where man in his unrighteousness is compared to God in His righteousness. But we must not differentiate the terms too specifically. Ungodliness includes unrighteousness, and unrighteousness includes ungodliness. They are different sides of the same coin.
‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness,’
‘For --.’ This connecting word immediately lets us know why God has revealed His salvation and His righteousness. It is because of what man had become in his ungodliness and unrighteousness.
In contrast to those who have ‘experienced the righteousness of God’ by faith, and have thus enjoyed the experience of God-given righteousness, are those who are still languishing in ‘ungodliness and unrighteousness’. They are both religiously and morally bankrupt (even though they may outwardly be highly religious or highly moral). They are both ungodly and disobedient to His truth. They have not become participants in God’s grace. They have not experienced His righteousness. And indeed it can be their own unrighteousness which is for them a hindrance to the truth.
We should note here that what hinders men receiving the truth is not lack of knowledge, or difficulty of understanding, or the absence of ‘proof’. The hindrance lies in their unrighteousness. For it is a consequence of their unrighteousness that they ‘hold down (keep suppressed, render inoperative) the truth’. They refuse to listen to the voice within. Unrighteousness causes blindness in the hearts of men because it makes them close their eyes. Man does not will to see. As Jesus Himself said, ‘If any man wills to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself’ (John 7:17). And the corollary is that those who are in blindness are those who do not ‘will to do His will’. They may protest that they want to do God’s will. But what they mean is that they want to do their own will which they see as God’s will. And because of this they close their eyes to God. They are not willing to ‘see God’. Against this deliberate unrighteousness ‘the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven’, in other words, He makes a response which is due to His total antipathy to sin. ‘The wrath of God’ is Scriptural terminology for God’s abhorrence of, and antipathy towards, sin, an antipathy which results in Him having to act against it in condemnation and judgment, because it is contrary to His very nature. It does not necessarily indicate what we mean by anger. It is a sense that is unique to a holy God.
But we may ask, ‘how is the wrath of God revealed from Heaven? It is revealed in a number of different ways:
· 1). It is firstly revealed in the Scriptures. The Scriptures continually point to the fact of God’s anger against sin and sinners (e.g. Lamentations 2:1; Lamentations 2:3-4; Lamentations 2:6; Lamentations 3:1; Lamentations 4:11; Lamentations 5:22 and often in the prophets).
· 2). It is revealed in man’s conscience as God illuminates the inner man and fills a man with the fear of God. Conscience makes cowards of us all.
· 3). It is revealed in everyday living. Those who worship the beasts of the earth will themselves become beastly (Romans 1:23-27). Those who refuse to have God in their knowledge will become more and more unrighteous (Romans 1:28-32). They will become ‘children of wrath’ (Ephesians 2:3). This is evidence of the wrath of God.
· 4). It will be revealed on the day of Judgment on those who are ‘under wrath’ (Romans 2:5; Romans 5:9; John 3:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:9), when our Lord Jesus Christ is ‘revealed from Heaven’ (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8), ‘taking vengeance on those who do not know God and those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
So the wrath of God is both present and future. Men live under and experience His wrath now, and they will come under His wrath in the day of judgment.
The Wrath of God Is Revealed From Heaven Because Of Man’s Ungodliness And Unrighteousness (1:18-21).
In stark contrast to the righteousness of God being revealed (Romans 1:17), we have the wrath of God revealed from Heaven (Romans 1:18). The point is that those who fail to respond and receive the righteousness of God will face the wrath of God. And there will be no excuses,. Indeed all are seen to be totally without excuse because ‘what God is’ is revealed in such a way that man has no excuse for not believing. It is thus not lack of evidence that is the problem but the lack of a heart open to the truth.
‘Because that which is known of God is manifest in them, for God manifested it to them.’
God’s wrath is revealed against such people because they have no real excuse for not seeing the truth. For what is known of God is manifest (made clear) in them, because God has manifested it (made it clear) in them. They have the voice of conscience within, the law written in the heart (Romans 2:15). That makes clear the difference between moral good and bad. They have the testimony of creation around them which God makes clear in their hearts, testifying to His eternal power and Godhead. Note the assumption that what is known of God is made clear within them. God has put His witness within man. Then why do they not accept? It is not because of their intellectual superiority, but because their unrighteousness ‘holds down, suppresses’ the truth. That is why some are aware of it and respond wholly to God, whilst others fail to see it and respond. It is not science properly so called which produces unbelief. Science is neutral with regard to God. It is man’s interpretation of that science, resulting from the unbelief that is the consequence of a sinful heart, that leads him astray.
‘For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things which are made, even his everlasting power and divinity, that they may be without excuse,’
For what makes man totally inexcusable is that ‘the things that are made’ reveal to the open mind the invisible things of God (His goodness, wisdom, power, majesty, creativity, providential care) and have done so from the beginning. For in combination with man’s spiritual nature they make known His eternal power and Godhead. As we look at the wonders of creation, the evidence of ‘design’ in nature, its beauty, its diverse colours, its radiance, the scene from the mountain top, the wonder of men’s inexplicable bodies and minds (made even more inexplicable by the discoveries of micro-biology and the discovery of the human genome), and the wonders of outer space, we can only recognise that it is God Who has done this, a God Who is rational, interested in beauty, powerful, intricate, and yet Who brings comfort to the heart. As the Psalmist said, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork, day unto day utters speech, and the night-time is not silent’ (Psalms 19:1-2). And Jesus added, ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not neither do they spin, and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these’ (Matthew 6:28-29). These ideas of design, magnificence and beauty should therefore fill us with awe and point our hearts towards God, and would in fact do so were we not blinded by sin. But the problem is that men do not want to know God. So instead men philosophise them away.
‘Because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, nor gave thanks, but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened.’
Note that it was not that men did not ‘know’ God. There was something within them which made them aware of Him. That is why there is so much religion in the world. But what they did not want was to be controlled by Him in their activities and behaviour. Thus they closed their minds to the knowledge of God as He is, and refused to glorify Him as God. Note that it is seen as deliberate. True knowledge of God was not seen as convenient. Nor did they render Him thanks. Note the emphasis on the fact that they were ungrateful. They took what He provided for granted, but would not acknowledge it. So instead they became vain and empty in their thinking and in their reasonings as they sought to find ways to satisfy the emptiness within, without recourse to God. But the result of rejecting the light was that their senseless heart was darkened. They found themselves struggling in the dark and sought to come up with a solution which would satisfy their desires and the desires of the masses, without having to face up to the truth.
The word for ‘vain’ is used elsewhere to indicate a ‘corrupt’ manner of living (1 Peter 1:18), while ‘vanity of mind’ results in men being hardened and giving themselves up to various types of sin (Ephesians 4:17-19). So their vain reasonings were not just empty or futile reasonings, they were positively sinful. A related word is constantly used in the Old Testament in connection with idolatry. Such sin led to idolatry.
Man’s Rebellion Against God Comes To Its Inevitable Fruition (1:21-25).
Paul now demonstrates how man’s refusal to know God results in man’s fall into gross sin. We have already been told about the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men in Romans 1:18. Paul now expands on that, dealing firstly with man’s ungodliness as manifested by his turning to idols, with its inevitable consequences, in Romans 1:21-27. He will then move on to deal with man’s unrighteousness as manifested by a list of gross sins (28-30).
One consequence of man’s turning away from the true God is that men have to seek an alternative which will satisfy their inner cravings, which will fill ‘the God-shaped blank in every man’s life’. And for long centuries they did this by associating the supernatural with human and animal forms. They saw these humans and animals as in some way a representation of the divine. Today we tend to do it by exalting celebrities and giving them a form of worship. In either case they lead on to the debasement of men and women.
‘Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,’
Consequently they began to associate the divine with the world around and above them and set up images of earthly things, over which they could keep control and which they could manipulate, and they did it in order that men might worship these things. They sought to give an impression of wisdom. But in giving the impression of wisdom they became fools, something that was already recognised in Paul’s day. Men had been carried away by their own cleverness with the consequence that they had invented folly. Few philosophers encouraged idolatry, and thinking men laughed it to scorn. They saw the world as full of fools. See also Isaiah’s mocking remarks (Isaiah 40:18-20; Isaiah 41:6-7; Isaiah 42:17; Isaiah 44:9-17). .
‘And changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.’
So by setting up his idols man changed the invisible glory of the God Who could not suffer corruption, something revealed for example through His invisibility in the Tabernacle, and replaced it with the likeness of images in human and beastly form. Note the emphasis on the downward path. ‘The glory of the incorruptible God’ was changed into ‘an image’ which represented corruptible things. Then in many cases, in order to make these images impressive they had to make them huge. But it was all deceit. Priests even had secret ways into the Temples so that they could remove the food offerings and pretend that the gods had eaten them. They did not see themselves as deceptive, but as trying to inculcate faith. However, now at least they had gods whom they could control and who were not concerned about their moral behaviour.
It is very possible that here Paul had Genesis 1:0 in mind. There God, having created birds, beasts and creeping things, created man in the image and likeness of God, exalting him above all creation, in order that man might look off to Him. Here man has reversed the situation. He has created gods in the image and likeness of himself, and of the birds, four-footed beasts and creeping things which God had created, debasing everything including himself, so that he might not have to look off to God. Paul’s thought is probably also loosely based on Psalms 106:20, where, speaking of the incident of the molten calf in the wilderness, it says, ‘they changed their glory into the likeness of an ox which eats grass.’ They had replaced the glory of God for something that sustained itself on grass. This was typical of the actions of fallen man.
‘The glory of the incorruptible God.’ There were many times when God’s glory descended on the Tabernacle, leaving a firm impression of His glory, majesty and holiness, and of His ‘otherness’, something which was then recorded so that others might appreciate it too. At other times the people were awed at the thought of His invisibility, or at the thought that He was alone in majesty behind the curtain in the Holy Place, among them and yet remote and unique. But all knew that He did not wear out or grow old. It was very different with the images that they introduced into the Temple in the days of disobedience. They had to be replaced and disposed of. It was in the days of disobedience that the idea of the glory of God, and of His incorruptibility, were lost in nominal Yahwism, with all the focus being on the grotesque idols.
‘For which reason God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonoured among themselves,’
And the consequence was that God gave them up, in the lusts (passionate desires for pleasure) of their hearts (minds, wills and emotions), to beastliness. They became what their gods were. And that involved them in uncleanness and dishonouring their bodies among themselves. The filthiness in man’s nature became unrestricted, and it soon became apparent in their ways of life. Sexual perversion and immorality became commonplace, and it could all be justified as ‘worship’ because it was regularly connected with the Temple. Sacred prostitutes were called ‘holy ones’. Today it is on the internet where men and women can satisfy their perverted lusts in a similar way.
Investigations into the beginnings of religion have indeed established this picture as true. Man initially believed in the equivalent of a spiritual ‘all-father’, and worshipped in a simple way. It was only later that this became embellished with idolatry and magic.
‘God gave them up --- to uncleanness.’ There can be no more chilling words than these, that God ‘gave them up’ (see also Romans 1:28). He had had enough of their refusal to listen to Him, and so He allowed them to follow the desires of their own debased minds. He no longer intervened. But they did, of course, still have the testimony of nature, and of conscience, and of their own inner heart. It was just that they did not want to listen.
‘In that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.’
And all this happened because man by his own choice exchanged the truth of God manifest in his heart for what was only a lie, a deceit, a pretence, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, the One Who is blessed for ever. When he became aware of God speaking within he quashed it, and found a substitute. The addition of ‘Who is blessed for ever’ is typically rabbinic, but emphasises the difference between the gods which will not last on the one hand, and the God Who is everlasting on the other. Only One is deserving of praise.
‘For this reason God gave them up to vile passions, for their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature,’
Thus it was as a result of idolatrous worship, and what accompanied it, that men and women were given up by God to vile passions. There is a chilling note to this. God ‘gave them up’. They were so deep in sin that He no longer strove with them (compare Genesis 6:3). So the women changed the natural use into that which is against nature. We will not go into the vile practises which this signifies, save to say that they indulged in all kinds of perversions which can be found in picture and verbal form on some internet sites as men and women today indulge in similar activities, and they are then carried into practise as they meet together by arrangement. Man has not changed.
The Consequences Of Knowing God But Refusing To Countenance Him As God (1:26-27).
As a result of worshipping ‘suggestive’ images which over-exaggerated the sexual parts, and indulging in nature worship where copulation was seen as stirring the gods into similar action, men became more and more depraved in their sexuality. Temple adultery was commonplace, and homosexuality became rampant. Man was reaping the consequences of his actions.
‘And in the same way also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was due.’
And in the same way men, ‘leaving the natural use of women’, indulged in sex with one another, burning with lust for one another, with men ‘working unseemliness with men’, by indulging in practising homosexuality. We have here a clear Biblical condemnation of practising homosexuality. Those who indulge in it are seen as walking in disobedience to God and as ‘unseemly’. The receiving ‘in themselves’ of the recompense which was their due may refer to sexually transmitted diseases and other problems, or may have the final day of judgment in mind. But either way the emphasis is on the fact that judgment inevitably follows. That this is an indictment of homosexuality cannot be denied, although it is paralleled by the sexual sins of the women. Both are equally sinful (as are the practises that follow in Romans 1:28-32).
We must remember that in Paul’s days such homosexual practices were nothing new. They were widespread and not necessarily disapproved of by a society which was very liberal in its tendencies. It was a society which was as ‘sexually liberated’ as the Western world is today. Paul was not thus following the norms of his time. He was rather very much condemning the norms of his time. Although, of course, as is true today, there were many in the society who did disapprove. It was only among people like the Jews, however, that such things were frowned on by the whole of society. Paul’s indictment of these practises is therefore to be seen as all the more significant, for we must remember that Paul did not see himself as bound by Jewish practises. Yet he clearly saw any sex outside Biblical marriage (that is, outside of marriage of a man to a woman) as exceedingly sinful, and as basically disgusting (‘vile passions’, ‘changed their natural use’, ‘burned in lust’, ‘working unseemliness’), and this in words which typically of Scripture sought not to be too blatant.
‘And even as they did not think it worthwhile to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up to an unfit mind, to do those things which are not fitting,’
Not only did mankind ‘know God’ but refuse to own His worth (Romans 1:21), turning instead to idols (Romans 1:23), they also considered that to keep the true God in their knowledge (epignosis - spiritual knowledge) at all was not worthwhile. Thus they not only blasphemed against Him with their false worship (Romans 1:21-23), but also despised Him at the same time, by forgetting Him in their daily lives. As a result God once again ‘gave them up’ to the consequences of their sins, allowing them to develop unfit minds, minds which would be rejected after testing (adokimos). Note the play on the words dokimazo (did not approve, think it worthwhile) and adokimos (disapproved, rejected after testing). They did not approve and so, having tested them, He did not approve them.
The verb dokimazo means ‘to approve, to regard as worthy, to think of as worthwhile’. Thus they did not ‘approve’ of having God in their knowledge, which was why God did not ‘approve’ of them. The choice is open to us all. Either we retain God in our knowledge and commit ourselves to His ways, or we put Him out of our minds and are given up by Him to unfitness and disapproval. We cannot be neutral.
And the end result of God’s disapproval was that their minds became unfit, and they began to do what was not fitting. Not all followed the way of sexual perversion. But all became involved in at least one of the sins in the long catalogue of sins that follows. Many a person has come to the crossroads where they had to choose whether they wanted to retain God in their knowledge or not, and having rejected the opportunity have sunk into deep sin. Judas is the prime example.
The Consequences Of Refusing To Have God In Their Knowledge (1:28-32).
Paul now moves on from the results of ungodliness to the results of unrighteousness (compare Romans 1:18). Men refused to have God in their knowledge. They ‘did not want to know’ because they did not want to submit to His demands. As a consequence God gave them up to an unfit mind so that they would do those things which were not fitting. In Romans 1:24 He had given them up to the lust of their hearts. Now He gives them up to a reprobate (rejected after testing, unfit, spurious) mind. There is a clear intention of bringing out that God is active in punishing ungodliness and unrighteousness by disposing men and women to greater ungodliness and unrighteousness, so that in the end some at least will get sick of it.
This will be confirmed by what follows, a long list of the sins that reveal the bestiality of men’s minds. Regularly in Scripture the natural man is likened to a wild beast, while in contrast those who keep God’s covenant are described in terms of ‘a son of man’ (see for this especially Daniel 7:0). Here man’s beastliness is seen as coming out. It is only the man who obeys God, who retains the true image of God. It will be noted that no sexual sins are listed in Romans 1:28-31, those having already been dealt with in Romans 1:24-27 as especially heinous, because they replace the true worship of God. What follows are the kind of sins common to mankind, and they cover all aspects of human behaviour leaving none of us untouched. The point that Paul is bringing out is that without exception all have sinned in one way or another.
‘Being filled with all unrighteousness: wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, breakers of agreements, without natural affection, unmerciful,’
The consequence of their being given up to an unfit mind was that they were ‘filled with all unrighteousness’, the unrighteousness of Romans 1:18. Instead of coming to God in faith and experiencing the righteousness of God they were ‘filled with all unrighteousness’. the unrighteousness of man. And we are now given a long list of the sins into which their unfitness took them. Such lists were a typical feature of the times in the philosophical world.
The first in the list is ‘wickedness’ (poneria). This word refers to those whose waywardness expresses itself in deliberately hurting others. It has in mind the desire to do harm to people, either by corrupting them or by doing violence to them. Next in the list is ‘covetousness - the lust to obtain’ (pleonexia). The Greek word is built up of two words which mean to ‘have more’. Such people are out to get what they can for themselves, often without regard for the rights of others. ‘Maliciousness’ (kakia). Kakia is the common Greek word for general ‘badness’. It describes the case of a man who is destitute of every quality which would make him good. It has in mind ‘the degeneracy out of which all sins grow and in which all sins flourish’. ‘Full of envy’ (phthonos). This kind of envy grudges everything to everyone. Such a person resents those who achieve what he cannot. He resents those who work hard and build up wealth, while he cannot be bothered to stir himself. So the emphasis in the first four words is very much on man’s behaviour and attitude towards his fellow-man.
‘Murder’ (phonos). We must remember that Jesus gave this word new meaning. It refers not only to the murderer, but also to the hater, and to the one who rages in his mind. ‘Strife’ (eris). What is in mind here is the contention which is born of envy, of ambition, of a desire for prestige and prominence. It always wants the best for itself and fights for what it wants regardless of others. ‘Deceit’ (dolos). The verb from which this comes is used of debasing precious metals and adulterating wines. It refers to the person who will happily use deceit to get his own way, the confidence trickster, the rogue builder, the dishonest salesman, the cheat. ‘Malignity’ (kakoetheia) has in mind having the spirit which puts the worst construction on everything. It means literally being evil-natured, having the spirit which always sees the worst in other people and interprets things in the worst way. It is the prime sin of the gossiper who destroys people behind their backs. ‘Whisperers and backbiters’ (psithuristes, and katalalos). These two words both describe people with slanderous tongues, but there is a difference between them. Psithuristes describes the man who whispers his malicious stories in the ear of anyone who will listen, who takes someone into a corner and passes on a character-destroying story. Katalalos, on the other hand, describes the man who shouts his slanders abroad, making his accusations quite openly. Again the emphasis in these words is on tendencies within man which make him behave as he does.
‘Haters of God’ (theostugeis). This describes the man who hates God because he is aware that he himself is living in defiance of Him. He sees God as interfering between himself and his pleasures, as the One Who wants to prevent him from doing what he wants. He would gladly eliminate God if he could, for to him the best world would be a godless one where everyone could do what they wanted (although he does not think of what the consequences of that would be). ‘Insolent’ (hubristes). Hubris refers to the pride that defies God, and to thoughtless arrogance. It has in mind the person who is sadistically cruel, and enjoys hurting just for the sake of hurting. It refers to the person who is so sure of himself that he has little regard for others. ‘Haughty, arrogant’ (huperephanos). This is the word which is used when we read that ‘God resists the proud’ ( Jas 4:6 ; 1 Peter 5:5; Proverbs 3:34). Such a person has a contempt for everyone except himself. His whole life is lived in an atmosphere of contempt for others and he delights to make others feel small. ‘Boastful.’ (alazon). Alazon literally means ‘one who wanders about’. It then became the stock word for wandering quacks who boasted of cures that they had achieved, and for salesmen who boasted that their wares had an excellence which they were far from possessing. The Greeks defined alazoneia as the spirit which pretends to have what it has not. It has in mind the kind of man who boasts of deals which exist only in his imagination, of connections with influential people which do not exist at all, and of gifts to charities which he never actually gave. He constantly says that his house is really too small for him, and that he must buy a bigger one. His sole aim is to impress others.
‘Inventors of evil things’ (epheuretes kakon). This phrase describes the man who is not content with the usual, ordinary ways of sinning, but seeks out new vices because he has grown blase and is looking for a new thrill from some new sin. He continues to sink lower and lower. ‘Disobedient to parents (goneusin apeitheis). Both Jews and Romans set obedience to parents very high on the scale of virtues. Parents were seen very much as the first level of authority, controlling the waywardness of mankind. The honouring of the authority of parents was one of the Ten Commandments, whilst in the early days of the Roman Republic, the patria potestas, the father's power, was seen as so absolute that he had the power of life and death over his family. It was important because once the bonds of the family are loosened, wholesale degeneracy necessarily follows. ‘Without understanding’ (asunetos). This word has in mind the man who is unwise, who never learns the lesson of experience, and who will not use the mind and brain that God has given to him. ‘Breakers of agreements’ (asunthetos). Here the idea is of someone whose word cannot be trusted. Whatever agreement you come to with them you can never be sure that they will fulfil their obligations.
‘Without natural affection’ (astorgos). Storge was the special Greek word for family love. In Paul’s day family love was on the wane. Children were often considered a misfortune. When a child was born, it was taken to its father and laid at his feet. If the father picked it up it meant that he acknowledged it. If he turned away and deserted it, the child was literally thrown out. No night passed without there being thirty or forty abandoned children left in the Roman forum. The natural bonds of human affection were being destroyed. And even in our society today children are regularly treated inhumanely. ‘Unmerciful’ (aneleemon). At the time when Paul was writing human life was cheap. A slave could be killed or tortured by his master, for he was seen only as a piece of property and the law gave his master unlimited power over him. It was the age in which people found their delight in watching men kill each other at the gladiatorial games. Compassion was in short supply. In some parts of our country the same applies today. People are afraid to go out because of the gangs who roam the streets looking for trouble.
A perusal of this list will soon bring home to us sins of which each one of us is guilty to at least some extent. It is Paul’s deliberate attempt to bring out the horror of sin in the world, and to establish that all men are sinners.
‘Who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they who practise such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with those who practise them.’
Paul then draws out that man’s sinfulness has indeed reached such a state that men not only do such things but also consent to them as a general practise. They are not only pulled down by sin, but they also in their minds consent to it. They even encourage others in similar sins. They live in a world of sin and treat it as commonplace. This is in complete contrast with the one who ‘with the mind serves the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin’ (Romans 7:25), who longs to be righteous even when he is behaving unrighteously.
This is also a reminder that if we know what God requires, and know that what others practise is sinful and therefore ‘worthy of death’, but do nothing about it, we share equal blame. Consenting to another doing something means that we are equally involved in it and are equally guilty. Indeed, we are more guilty. For consenting to such things in cold blood is more blameworthy than doing them under the control of passion.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Romans 1". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26