THE APOSTLE'S FIRST STEP: THE BELIEVER'S ASSURANCE (1:1-17)
In Paul's wonderful letter to the Roman Christians and to 21st century Christians as well, he of necessity paints those without Christ in a picture of damnation and God's wrath. Paul's theology reveals the necessity of giving the bad news in order that the good news might be understood. His foundational verses laid out before the Roman believers (1:1-17) are designed to emphasize the mercy of God our Father, His grace given to the saints in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of holiness, the God-given authority of the apostle himself, the purpose of that God-given call and authority, and the call of the saints in Rome. In this way Paul assures the Roman Christians that they are "saints" and that people everywhere are speaking of their faith and witness (this witness by other believers is a testimony to the true faith of the Romans as it was to the Thessalonians also [1Thess.1:6-10]). At the same time, Paul begins to equip the Roman believers with the tools of evangelism that the body of Christ needs in order to proclaim why the bad news is so very bad and why the good news is so very good, for even the elect (the target audience of evangelism) as the Romans were, must hear and be persuaded (1:16-17;10:17;2Tim.2:10).
THE APOSTLE'S SECOND STEP: THE NECESSARY PROCLAMATION OF THE REALITY OF THE NATURE OF FALLEN MAN (1:18-3:23)
While 21st century scientists and physicians and psychologists and psychiatrists and homosexuals and perverts of all manner are desparately trying to prove and persuade that homosexuality as well as other disorders are "in their genes," the Word of God in fact agrees with them; they are born this way (Ps.51:5;Rom.5:12-14). We are all, without exception, born in sin and permeated by sin; it is our nature. We are "dead in trespasses and sins" and by our very nature with which we are born rebel against the holiness of God and seek to live our way and not His. His ways are not our ways because we are dead and He is life; because He is God and we are not.
All humans are born with the inherited fallen, Adamic nature and that is why sin has been the common denominator since Adam and Eve fell in the garden (Rom.5). We do not all sin in the same way but we do all sin (3:23;1Cor.6:11). The differences in our sins are completely irrelevant, the sin nature that gives birth to these many kinds of sins is the identifying and condemning factor that unites us and identifies us as Adam's children. And in God's system of justice and fair play, we are all guilty of and accountable for our inherited sins yet He provides forgivenness for the sins of His elect. This is fair and just because holy and Almighty God says so; it is the way God has ordained it to be (Rom.9:19-24). Our guilt, accountability, and culpability for inherited sin are all met and paid for in full by the substitutionary death of God's Son. There is certainly more to it than that simplified statement and I hope to address that briefly later. The point at this time is that all of humanity is by nature utterly sinful and necessarily separated from holy God.
There are those who believe that God has a "wonderful plan" for this world that will eventually bring "the" solution to this troubled planet and that this plan includes the saving of everyone; but He doesn't. Oh, He has a "plan" all right and it was planned before the world was created and before time began (Eph.1:3-10;2Tim.1:9;Tit.1:1-3;Isa.46:10-11). God's plan is not a "universalistic" plan whereby everyone in the world throughout all time will be forgiven, but is a plan planned in eternity to bring glory to Himself and good to His elect (Jn.17:9-26). Our Creator God has never said that He is going to solve the world's problems. Christianity doesn't teach this, Judaism doesn't teach this, and neither does the false religion of Islam propose such a thing. Solving the world's problems and bringing an end to all wars and poverty while keeping the earth intact (and "green") is not and has never been God's plan (2Pet.3:1-7). For our Creator, the holy Trinity, to overlook justice is not just as some would teach; and God is indeed just (Mic.6:8-16;Rom.12:19). Those who redefine God into their own likeness thereby make their god an unjust and unfair god who is liberal in his justice and gives no more than a "slap on the wrist" to the most vile and wicked offenders.
From the beginning as recorded in Genesis 3 God has informed us that there will be a source of trouble for humanity in the form of spiritual oppostion ("enmity") that will not cease until the last day. This enmity will be between the "seed" of the woman and the "seed" of the serpent (3:15). This "seed" of the woman is singular and is the first prophecy or promise of the Messiah as we see in the use of the pronoun "He." The Messiah will be victorious over Satan in His coming but only for the elect and the victory will not be finalized until all strife has been ceased. The "seed" of the serpent is singular as well, however, with a plural application. The seed of the woman will come through another woman, Mary, and will be the "God-Man." The seed of the serpent cannot be an actual seed of physical human birth resulting from sexual intercourse between Satan and a human female, but one of spiritual birth, birthed by deception and seduction, birthed in the garden by the serpent's deception of Eve and Adam, producing spiritual death and physical death. The seed of the serpent is replicated and manifested in man's willing rebellion against God's revealed will and Word which takes many different forms including the form of the "good" and "religious." Remember that Jesus said "to the Jews who believed Him...you are of your father the devil" (Jn.8:31-47). The seed of the serpent is manifested today as it has always been in his servants who gladly and willingly preach a perverted word and appear as "ministers of light" (2Cor.11:3-4, 13-15).
The devil is real and continues to this day after thousands of years to harass all of humanity (Rev.12:10;20:1-3;1Pet.5:8). God's plan is wonderful for them that by His grace "call upon the name of the Lord" (Rom.10:9-13;Eph.1:7-12). But for those who remain in the state in which they are born, the plan is horrifying. The Christian must have a Biblical understanding of the nature of man as well as a Biblical understanding of the plan of God for the salvation of His own. This Biblical understanding will hopefully prevent the mixing of humanistic ear-scratching heresies with the uncompromising and God-pleasing truth of the gospel of Christ (Gal.1:6-10).
In the first 3 chapters as we have the Word of God divided in this book, Paul has proved the sinful nature of man beyond any reasonable doubt or question. He will continue to refer to that nature throughout the letter off and on but he has made his case as a theological and foundational necessity in these first 3 chapters. This is the "bad news;" now he presents the truth of the "good news" and why it is good news and how this good news is delivered and applied and received by God's elect.
THE APOSTLE'S THIRD STEP: THE NEED OF FALLEN MAN AND THE PROVISION OF GOD
In verses 16 and 17 of chapter 1 we find the secret to eternal life and that secret is "revealed from faith to faith." The secret is "righteousness." And not just any righteousness but "the righteousness of God." And furthermore, Paul tells us that that particular righteousness, the righteousness of God, is revealed in "the gospel of Christ." And we see also that it is by this righteousness, the righteousness of God, that "the just shall live." The "just shall live by faith" which comes only through the hearing of the gospel wherein is revealed the necessary righteousness that will bring one to life. The "just" are the ones who have been declared righteous through their faith in Jesus Christ who is revealed in the gospel. So we can put these truths together based on these two verses;
1. The need of fallen man is righteousness
2. This righteousness is God's righteousness, meaning that this is the kind of righteousness required for entrance into eternal life.
3. This righteousness of God that is absolutely necessary for eternal life is revealed in "the gospel of Christ."
4. This revealed need for righteousness and its means of being revealed and the One who reveals God's righteousness and is God's righteousness are "the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes."
5. Then we conclude that we can have this righteousness by believing in Jesus Christ; and that is why the good news is so very good. "The gospel of Christ...is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes." The righteousness of God that is revealed through the gospel is also transferred through the gospel to those who believe; not making us righteous, but declaring us righteous (the word "justified" means to be declared right with God by God). The righteousness of God which is Jesus Christ is then "reckoned" to us, it is written down on our account just as though we had done all the things that Christ did in our stead. This is "the power of God," only He can make His enemies and the ungodly His children and His friends. And this power is in the gospel of Christ.
THE APOSTLE'S FOURTH STEP: HE ELABORATES ON THE BAD NEWS OF FALLEN MAN'S NATURE AND HOPELESS CONDITION
This is the foundation laid by the apostle as he begins his letter to the Roman Christians. Now, what about those who are outside the church, the unbelievers, and especially those who are so recalcitrant that they not only refuse the power of the gospel but also "suppress the truth in unrighteousness?" Now that we know what their need is (God's righteousness) and how they might attain God's righteousness (through the preaching of the gospel), we need to also understand what their problem is. Beginning in v.18, Paul begins laying out before all the church the underlying problem in the human race. Without this essential knowledge of the nature of lost humanity, well-intentioned Christians dilute the gospel, removing its power and reducing it to no more than a philosophical, psychological, and emotional persuasion. Lost human beings might be persuaded to change some bad habits through such reasoning, thinking that that is their worse problem and miss the severity of their true spiritual condition. "I am a Christian because I quit smoking and drinking and running around with wild women (or wild men)." Self-righteousness is light-years away from God's righteousness. Fallen man's condition is more than the sum total of his sinful acts; fallen man's condition is that fallen man is sin and of necessity separated from Holy God.
Beginning in v.18 Paul makes us acutely aware of a present dilemma the unrighteous find themselves in: They are currently the objects of God's wrath and their lifestyles are evidence of God's wrath. In fact, their lifestyles are God's wrath. We see them everyday, people who are going about their daily lives living as they please and denying their Creator. We look upon these people as normal human beings and many of them we know personally. We know atheists and agnostics and homosexuals and idolators and know-it-alls who mock our faith. We know evolutionists and people who worship their bodies and people who want more and more material goods and would do almost anything to reach their goals. We know people who are capable of doing the most vile disgusting things one can imagine and some things we can't. We know people who believe in God or a god yet in such a way that their god is harmless and powerless and at their beck and call; he is what ever they want him or her to be. This is how the apostle describes mankind, leaving no one immune to the effects of the fall or God's wrath (3:9, 23).
But these people we see everyday are not "normal," they are abnormal. Apart from Christ we are all abnormal. Jesus Christ was the only normal person to ever walk this earth. Everyone we see who is not "in Christ" is spiritually dead and rotten in the sight of holy God. The restoration of true normal life is what is accomplished when by the grace of God one is united to Him by faith in Christ. When we were born again we were reconciled to our Father and restored to that position that was lost in the garden (Rom.5:10-11). This is the bad news as the Spirit-filled apostle lays it out in Romans:
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (3:23)
"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (5:12)
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of
men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (1:18)
"God gave them up to uncleanness...to vile passions...to a debased mind" (1:24,26,28),
"being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud,boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them" (29-32)
"Therefore you are inexcusable, O man" (2:1)
"But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God" (2:5)
"As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit; The poison of asps is under thier lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known. Their is no fear of God before their eyes" (3:9-18)
"that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (1.19)
"Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight" (.20)
Apart from God's saving grace every human being ever born on this earth is "ungodly" (4:5;5:6), God's enemies (5:10), dead in sin (5:12), slaves to sin and unrighteousness (6:17, 20), and unable to please God and unable to want to please God (8:5-8) . Every thing about the unregenerate man reeks of death and decay and apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ, he is hopeless. This is why the bad news is so bad. And this is why the good news is so good.
THE APOSTLE'S FIFTH STEP: HE ELABORATES ON WHY THE GOOD NEWS IS SO VERY GOOD
"it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes" (1:16)
"For in it the righteousness of God is revealed" (1:17)
"But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed...through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe...being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith...to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (3:21-26)
"But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness...to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works; Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin...that the promise might be sure to all the seed...it was imputed... to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification" (4:5-25)
"For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many...much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ...grace abounded much more...even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ" (5:15-21)
"as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death...we have been united together in the likeness of His death...that we should no longer be slaves to sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin...we shall also live with Him...Death no longer has dominion over Him...Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord...for you are not under law but under grace...For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (6).
"O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God-through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin...There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (7:24-8:1)
"And if Christ is in you...the spirit is alive because of righteousness...the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ...that we may also be glorified together...the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses...we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose...God is for us...we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us...For I am persuaded that (nothing) shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (8:10-39).
The gospel, the "good news," is so very good because the bad news is so very bad and has been edited out of the believer's life by the good news; Christ Jesus our Lord is that good news. The truth of the fallen, totally depraved nature of man is bad news that we try to either turn our ears away from or pay for on our own through works that we can only hope will be sufficient to please the Holy God who we know without a doubt is angry at fallen and rebellious humanity. The good news is that Jesus Christ paid for our sins in our place, He lived the perfect, sinless life in our place, He suffered in our place (but without removing the necessary suffering that each believer must endure for Him), and He was raised in our place from the dead giving us His life.
For an unbeliever to believe the good news, he or she must first know why it is good. For an unbeliever to want to be "saved," he or she must first understand what they are being saved from and what they are being saved for. Yes, those whom God foreknew, the elect, must hear and believe the gospel; it is the ordained plan of God. Our persuasion is only persuasive as far as it is the gospel; the gospel is only the gospel when the hearer sees his/her sinfulness, realizes by God's grace and granted repentance that they are worthy of God's wrath and judgment, and calls upon the name of the Lord and are saved. "Preach the word!" "Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry!"