PAUL: READY TO REACH ROME
The Epistle of Paul to the Romans has been called The Gospel According to Paul. Throughout the centuries it has been praised as “the most profound book in existence,” the “Cathedral of the Christian faith,” and the “Constitution of Universal Christianity.” Martin Luther remarked that it was “the chief part of the New Testament and the perfect Gospel.” Calvin stated, “If a man understands it, he has a sure road open to him to the understanding of the whole Scripture.” The lives of Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley were all forever changed by the message of Romans.
The Apostle Paul wrote Romans to the believers in Rome sometime between the years A.D. 56-58 from the city of Corinth. A woman named Phoebe delivered the letter. The church in Rome was probably established through the evangelistic witness of early converts who went to Rome after their conversion. These were people who were either converted in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost or people who had been converted through the itinerant ministries of Paul and Peter. Paul wrote to the Romans for at least three reasons. First, to introduce himself to the Romans and inform them of his intentions to visit them. Second, to present to them the ABC’s of the gospel of salvation in Christ. Third, to enlist some economic support from them for his missionary trip to Spain. In Romans 1:1-17, Paul introduced himself to the believers in Rome, expressed his concern for and interest in them, and proclaimed his unbounded confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s Credentials: Romans 1:1-7
Paul’s letter to the Romans begins in the customary style of ancient Greek letters: the name of the sender and recipient followed by a brief greeting. Paul immediately identified himself as the sender and presented his credentials. First, Paul identified himself as “a bond-servant of Christ Jesus.” As a Roman citizen, Paul understood the meaning of freedom and enjoyed its many privileges, yet he felt it an honor to be known as “a bond-servant of Christ Jesus.” The word “bond-servant” identified Paul as belonging to Christ. Second, Paul identified himself as “an apostle.” The word “apostle” means “one who is sent.” As an apostle, Paul was authorized to represent Christ and proclaim His message. Third, Paul identified himself as one who had been “set apart for the gospel of God.” Paul had been set apart for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel. This was his single aim and purpose in life.
In Romans 1:2-6, Paul briefly digressed from his greeting to discuss the good news he had been set apart to proclaim. Paul stated that the gospel, which he proclaimed, was actually not a new thing but had its roots deep in the Old Testament (see verse 2). Paul also declared that Jesus Christ was the center of the gospel (see verse 3). He stated that Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead (see verse 4). The resurrection distinguished Jesus as being who He claimed to be, namely the Son of God, Lord. Paul received his apostolic commission from the risen Christ (see verse 5). Paul described the Roman believers as “saints” (those separated from sin unto God) who were loved by God and then wrote his usual salutation: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 7).
Paul’s Concern: Romans 1:8-15
In Romans 1:8-15, Paul expressed his concern for and interest in the believers in Rome. He was thankful to God because their faith was being proclaimed throughout the whole world (see verse 8). The testimony of the church was spreading throughout the known world. We should ask ourselves how well known our faith is. Do the people we associate with know that we are Christians? Paul also told the Roman believers that they were constantly in his prayers and that whenever he prayed he asked God for the opportunity to visit them (see verses 9-10). Paul wanted to visit the Roman believers to both encourage them and to be encouraged by them (see verses 11-12). He informed them that he had often planned to visit them (see verse 13) but had thus far been prevented (probably by his busy missionary activities).
In Romans 1:14 we find the first of three consecutive “I am” expressions. Paul stated, “I am under obligation (debtor).” Paul felt that he had a debt to pay to all mankind. He possessed the treasure of the gospel and felt morally obligated to share it with all men regardless of whether they were Greeks (civilized) or barbarians (uncivilized), wise (educated) or foolish (uneducated). In Romans 1:15, Paul stated, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Because Paul felt he had a debt to pay, he was ready, willing, and eager to go to Rome to preach the gospel. We should ask ourselves how eager we are to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s Confidence: Romans 1:16-17
In Romans 1:16 we find the third of Paul’s “I am” expressions. Paul stated, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Paul was stating that he was proud of the gospel and would not give in to any pressure or temptation to be ashamed of the gospel. Paul was unashamed of the gospel because of its supremacy. He knew that it was far superior to any religion or philosophy known to man. He was unashamed of the gospel because of its sufficiency. Paul knew that it was the “dynamite” (power) of God unto salvation. Paul knew that the message of the gospel was powerful enough to transform lives. Paul was unashamed of the gospel because of its simplicity. He knew that it was the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. God put salvation on the lower shelf where it is within the reach of anyone who believes. Paul was unashamed of the gospel because of its substance. He knew that the righteousness of God was revealed in the gospel. He knew that the gospel showed how the righteousness of God could be imparted to sinful man. Paul was ready to reach Rome with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
Like Paul, we should declare ourselves Christ’s bondservants.
Paul so loved the Lord Jesus Christ that he chose a lifetime of obedience to Him. Paul was a bondservant of Christ because he had consecrated himself to Christ. He had come to the point of separating himself from all other masters to serve only the living Christ. His attitude was, “O Lord, being loved, what else can I do than to separate myself from everything that I may serve you?” (Nee)
Like Paul, we are authorized to represent Christ.
Paul referred to himself as “an apostle,” which means “one who is sent.” As an apostle, Paul was authorized to act as Christ’s representative and to share Christ’s message. According to II Corinthians 5:20, “we are ambassadors for Christ.” We have been authorized to represent Christ and to share his message with others.
Like Paul, we have been set apart for the gospel of God.
Paul recognized that God had set him apart for the proclamation of the gospel. We too, have been set apart for the proclamation of the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. According to II Corinthians 5:18, God has given to each of us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, the ministry of telling men how to enter into a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Like the Roman believers, we should live in a manner that our faith might be known.
Paul gave thanks to God because the faith of the Roman believers was being proclaimed throughout the known world. Their faith in Jesus Christ had become famous. We too, should live our lives in such a manner that those with whom we associate know we are Christians. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Like Paul, we should realize that we are under obligation to make Christ known.
Paul was cognizant of the fact that the good news was for sharing with all mankind. Paul felt a great responsibility to share the gospel with all men, regardless of rank, race, or riches. We too must realize that if we possess the treasure of the gospel, we are under obligation to share it with others. We were not given this great treasure that we might hoard it or hide it, but rather that we might herald it. We are morally obligated to share the gospel.
Like Paul, we should be eager to share the gospel.
Paul was always ready and willing to share the gospel. We too should be ready and willing to share the gospel with others. I Peter 3:15 states, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” Charles Finney was one of the great preachers of the Second Great Awakening, a movement of revival that shook America for God. Prior to his conversion, Finney was a lawyer and, by his own testimony, a sinful and worldly man. Prior to his conversion in 1821, Finney did not think that Christians were really sincere, for how could they believe that people “were on the verge of hell and yet be so indifferent in regard to this terrific fact?” Finney said that if he were ever converted he would be a Christian in earnest and “pull men out of the fire.” Are we convinced that people need the Lord? Are we eager to earnestly share Christ with others?
Like Paul, we should not be ashamed of the gospel.
The gospel message is without equal. It is the greatest message that has ever been proclaimed. It is good news because it contains the message that all men need to know, namely, how to enter into a right relationship with God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. No message can so change the lives of men like the gospel. A story is told of a conversation between a Christian and a Communist. While standing on a street corner, the Communist noticed a man in a tattered and torn suit of clothes on the opposite street corner. The Communist turned to the Christian and said, “Do you see that man in the tattered and torn suit? I want you to know that Communism can put a new suit on that man!” The Christian then looked at the Communist and replied; “Ah, but Christianity can put a new man in that suit!” Like Paul, we should purpose that we would not yield to any pressure or temptation to be ashamed of the gospel.
THE DESCENT OF MAN
Lord of the Flies is the fictional account of the calamitous adventures of a group of English boys who found themselves stranded on a coral island following a plane crash. To the initial delight of the boys, they found themselves on the island without the presence of any adults. They were prepared to have a wonderful time. But it was not long before they became increasingly savage in their attitude and behavior toward one another. The boys continued to revert to savagery until two of the boys were killed and they had set their island ablaze before their rescue. At their rescue, one of the boys stood shaking with emotion and “wept for the end of innocence [and] the darkness of man’s heart.” William Golding’s classic story of what happened to a group of boys when left on their own somewhat parallels Paul’s account of what happens to men when they choose to ignore and leave God out of their lives. They do not become nobler in character, wiser in intelligence, or moral in behavior. Instead, they continue on a downward spiral of sin and depravity that accentuates their need for “the righteousness of God.”
In Romans 1:18-3:20, Paul shows why men urgently need to hear and embrace the message of the gospel. These verses can be viewed as the account of a dramatic and damning courtroom case against mankind, with Paul serving as the prosecuting attorney, mankind as the defendants, and God as the judge. The charge against mankind is that he is unrighteous because he is without Christ. In these verses Paul builds a case against the heathen (Romans 1:18-32), the hypocrite (Romans 2:1-16), the Hebrew (Romans 2:17-3:8), and all humanity (Romans 3:9-20). In our lesson today, we will examine the evidence against the heathen in Romans 1:18-32. These verses clearly show that man is not moving upward but rather downward. These verses outline not the ascent of man, but the descent of man.
Suppressing the Truth: Romans 1:18-20
The first negative note of Paul’s letter is found in Romans 1:18. “For the wrath of God [i.e., God’s anger against sin] is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” The word “ungodliness” refers to irreverence toward God and the word “unrighteousness” refers to injustice toward men. Ungodliness and unrighteousness result whenever and wherever men “suppress the truth.” To “suppress the truth” means to hold down, hinder, stifle, repress, or hold back the truth about God. Men suppress the truth because they do not want to be convicted or governed by it. According to Romans 1:19 and 20, God’s wrath is justified because He has made His existence evident to man both within and without. God has made His existence known to man within [that is, in his conscience. See Romans 2:15] and without [that is, in creation. See Psalms 8 and 19]. Abraham Lincoln once remarked, “I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.” Yet, even with what God has made evident to man both within and without, men still try to suppress the truth. And if men suppress the truth long enough, they will soon exchange the truth.
Exchanging the Truth: Romans 1:21-23
Romans 1:21-23 detail what happens when men suppress the truth. First, men ignore and are indifferent to God: “For even though they knew God [i.e., possessed a knowledge of God through conscience and creation], they did not honor Him as God, or give Him thanks.” When men suppress the truth they ignore God and do not give Him the thanks that the creature owes the Creator. Second, men become ignorant. Men who suppress the truth soon become “futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart [becomes] darkened.” This means that men go astray in their thinking and turn their thoughts to worthless things. In addition, their heart becomes darkened. The farther away a man gets from God, the darker life becomes. There is no light apart from God, only spiritual darkness. Third, men become insolent. When men suppress the truth they become increasingly ignorant until they foolishly exchange the truth of God for a lie. They fashion and worship idols of every kind. And once men conceive an idol, it is not long before they are deceived by that idol. That is why Paul wrote, “Professing to be wise, they became fools [i.e., morons].
Abandoning the Truth: Romans 1:24-32
The final step in the descent of man is the abandoning of the truth. When men willfully suppress the truth and foolishly exchange the truth, it is not long before they cast off all restraint and abandon the truth. Paul introduces the final steps away from God with the thrice-repeated phrase, “God gave them over.”
Notice the first use of this phrase in verse 24: “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them.” The phrase “God gave them over” means that God let them do what they wanted to do, He let them go their own way that they might discover the futility of life away from God.
Notice “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.” This describes the moral condition in which they were already living, namely, sexual immorality. Notice the second use of the phrase in verse 26: “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions.”
In verses 24 and 25 God gave them over to an excess of natural passions (sexual immorality). In verses 26 and 27, we read that God gave them over to an excess of unnatural passions (sexual perversion). Unrestrained by the truth of God, men went from idolatry to immorality to sexual perversion expressed in homosexual behavior.
Notice the third use of the phrase in verse 28: “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.” The Greek play on words in this verse render it, “As they found God worthless in their knowledge…God gave them over to a worthless [depraved] mind.” A “depraved mind” is one that can no longer distinguish between right and wrong or good and evil. It is a mind incapable of forming right moral judgments. According to Romans 1:29-32, a depraved mind results in depraved and exploitive behavior and practices.
These verses show that wickedness is without bounds when unrestrained. Tragically, those with a depraved mind encourage, approve, and applaud those who engage in harmful practices. Thus we see the descent of man. These verses accentuate the fact that the only hope for man is to be found in a right relationship with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
God hates sin!
Paul referred to “the wrath of God” in Romans 1:18. While it is important to proclaim God’s love, mercy, and grace, we must not neglect to mention His wrath. God’s wrath is His holy aversion to all that is evil. Schaeffer notes, “There is no real preaching of the Christian gospel except in light of the fact that man is under the wrath of God.”
God has not left Himself without a witness.
God has made His existence evident to man in his conscience as well as in creation. Phillips comments, “It is significant that the Bible makes no attempt to prove that there is a God…The fact of God’s existence is self-evident and taken for granted. The person who says differently is bluntly called a fool (Ps. 14:1; 53:1). The root cause of atheism is traced in both these psalms to moral rather than to intellectual sources. It is not that a man cannot believe so much as that he will not.”
There is no light apart from God.
Men who suppress the truth about God and are indifferent to God plunge themselves into darkness. They plunge themselves into intellectual darkness and try to explain life and the cosmos without any reference to God. They plunge themselves into spiritual darkness and give their worship to things and ideas in the place of God. They plunge themselves into moral darkness and abuse and exploit their fellow man. They learn to live in darkness and avoid the light lest their evil deeds be exposed (see John 3:19-21). There is no light apart from God, only deep darkness!
Man does not improve apart from God.
The evolutionist is wrong! Man is not getting better. Man is not progressing. Apart from God man is in danger and becomes dangerous, both to himself and others. Men who cast off the restraints of God’s truth are only capable of walking deeper into the darkness. The deeds of those who try to live life apart from God, willfully suppressing the truth, only serve to accentuate the fact that men desperately need God.