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ROMANS 1 - 4

CHRISTIANITY IN THE COURTROOM

by LARRY CORY

 

A SUMMARY OF THE MESSAGE OF
ROMANS

 

Introduction and theme: The gospel of God (1:1-17)

The need for the gospel: Man's sin deserves God's righteous wrath (1:18-3:20)

The need met by the gospel of God (3:21-8:39)

A problem caused by the gospel of God (9-11)

Practical responses to the gospel of God (12-16)

Conclusion (15:14-16:27)

 

Introductory Information about the Book of
Romans

1. The book of Romans:  In Paul's time, Rome was the central city of the world and of the Roman Empire.  Nevertheless, Paul, who was God's chosen Apostle to the Gentiles, had not yet, as an Apostle, gone to and personally ministered to this most important of Gentile cities.  See Romans 1:5-13, 15:22-24  In his letter to the Roman Christians, Paul provides a summary of Christianity to the Christians of the key city in his world.  In Paul's letter to the Romans, we find him dealing with the most crucial of issues -- that all men, Gentiles and Jews alike, can be saved from God's wrath by faith in the gospel of God.  Then, Paul explains to the early Christians of Rome (and to us) how belief in the gospel of God will lead, by the power of God, to the complete transformation of a person's life.

2. The church at Rome:  Though Paul had not traveled to Rome to minister to the Christians there, the church in Rome was thriving.  "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world." (1:8)  Though the church at Rome was strong, there were also strong attacks on the basic message of the gospel.  Paul wrote this letter to them to strengthen them, so that they could resist the attacks that they were facing and would face.  See 15:14,15, 16:17-20  This letter to the church at Rome is the basic message for the church of our time, as well.  Each Christian should be thoroughly familiar with the message of this book.

 

THE MESSAGE OF ROMANS

The book of Romans, probably more than any other book in the Bible, gives

us the facts on how we each stand before God.  The facts presented to us in this book determine our legal standing before God.  In a court of law, it makes no difference whether we feel that we are innocent or guilty.  What is important is, are we actually innocent or guilty?  Also, it makes no difference whether or not we feel innocent or guilty before God; what is of supreme importance is whether or not we are innocent or guilty before God.  In the book of Romans, Paul clearly presents to us the facts about our standing before God and how that should affect our lives.

In Romans there is a legal battle between Paul, who represents the Christian

position that we can only get right with God through faith, and an imaginary Jewish religious legalist, who argues against the Christian position and says we must earn our standing before God as he believes he has.  Paul handles each charge with the same type of skill that Perry Mason handled a court case in his famous television series.  Paul successfully argues that the Jewish religious legalist needs God's grace as much as the lowliest pagan!

 

INTRODUCTION AND THEME: THE GOSPEL OF GOD
(1:1-17)

1. The author's name and qualifications (1:1)

"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God---"

Thought Question #1:  Why do you think that Paul starts out his letter in this way?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do we learn about Paul from this verse?

 

 

Paul had not started the church at Rome, nor had he ever visited with the church there.  So, it was important for him to establish immediately his personal qualifications to be able to write a letter like this authoritative letter to the Christians in Rome.  We can be confident that there were those in Rome who would say, "Who is Paul to say that he is right and we are wrong?"  It is not surprising, then, that in the very first verse of Paul's letter we find three qualifications that gave him a right to write a letter to them as a spokesman for God.

a. He was "a servant of Christ Jesus."

Paul was not writing to them in his own name or for any purpose of his own.  He was writing to them because he was a servant or a slave of Jesus Christ.  It was as if a slave wrote a letter to someone in the name of his master.  Paul was writing to them in name of his master Jesus Christ.

b. He was "called to be an apostle."

He was not only a servant of Jesus Christ, but Jesus had personally sent Paul out as His representative.  When our President sends someone out to another country as his personal representative or ambassador, that person does not just carry his own authority, but the authority of the United States.  And so Paul was not just speaking with his own authority, he was speaking with the authority of one who was sent out by God.  He was an apostle of Jesus Christ.  The Greek word for apostle means "sent-out one."  Paul was sent out and carried the authority of Jesus Christ!  Paul also speaks of his qualifications to be an Apostle in I Corinthians 9:1, 15:8-10 and II Corinthians 12:12.

c. He was "set apart for the gospel of God."

In Galatians 1:15, Paul says he was "set apart from birth" to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. See Galatians 1:13-17  God told the prophet Jeremiah that he was set apart from birth:  "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5).  Paul, like Jeremiah and others, had the unique privilege to have been set apart from birth for a specific God-given task.  Paul, therefore, begins his letter to the Roman Christians by giving his qualifications for writing this totally authoritative letter on Christian doctrine.  He is a servant of God, sent out by God, and set apart by God for this very purpose.  He was God's spokesman and he was about to share with them the full meaning and purpose in their lives of the gospel of God!

2. The theme is the "gospel of God." (1:2-5)

Paul will successfully argue that the gospel of God was not just a figment of his imagination or a clever hoax, but he will show that there is more than sufficient evidence to support that it is exactly what it is called.  It is God's gospel (the evidence that Paul will provide will, incidentally, stand up in a court of law).

"the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.  Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes through faith. 

Thought Question #1:  What can we learn about the gospel from these verses?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Does not the Bible say that we are saved by faith and not by works?  Why does Paul talk about the "obedience that comes through faith"?

 

 

a. The prophets (1:2) predicted the gospel.

"the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures" Some think that in Old Testament times one needed to obey the Ten Commandments to get right with God, and that we now get right with God through the Blood of Jesus Christ.  But, Paul argues in this letter that the only way for one ever to get right with God, in Old and New Testament times, is through the blood of Christ.  The people of Israel were required to obey God's commands, but when they failed or sinned, they were to offer sacrifices at the Tabernacle and later at the Temple.  These sacrifices were a prediction of Christ's future sacrifice.  In other words, the sacrifices were a prediction of the gospel of God.  Isaiah the prophet predicted in Isaiah 53 how Jesus would take our sins on Himself to open the way to God for us.  Notice how many times in Isaiah 53 it is predicted that our sins would be placed on Someone else.  Psalm 22, written 1000 years before Jesus died on the cross, describes in graphic and emotional detail what it was like when Jesus took our place on the cross.  The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel predict the gospel of God when they talk about a new covenant and when they talk about God giving people a new heart.  See Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Ezekiel 36:25-27  In this brief verse, Paul is arguing that the gospel of God is not something new that Paul invented for the church, but it has always been the message that God has given to us through His spokesmen.  Those in New Testament times look back to Jesus Christ dying for our sins; those in the Old Testament looked forward to Someone who would offer Himself as a sacrificial Lamb for man's sins.

b. The gospel is about God's Son. (1:3a)

"regarding his Son"  What is the gospel of God or the good news of God?  The good news we proclaim is God's Son.   The first four books of the New Testament are called the Gospels.  Why are they given this name?  It is because they are about the life of Jesus Christ, God's Son.  The Gospel of Mark, begins with these words:  "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God."  So, the gospel or the good news of God is Jesus Christ, God's Son!

c. The gospel is about a man of David's royal line. (1:3b)

"who as to his human nature was a descendant of David,"  Now, we begin to learn about this One who is God's Son.  First of all, He became one of us!  He became flesh---He took on human nature.  Each of us can find ourselves in a genealogical tree.  We come from the Brown family, the Clark family, or another family.  We are somewhere there on a family tree in a human family.  God's Son can also be found in a family tree as a member of a human family.  God's Son became a man.  And he was not just partially a man, but fully a man.  When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He began to be something that He had not been before; He began to be a man.  As it says in Luke 2:52, he "grew in wisdom and stature," just as we grow up in these ways.  But, not only did he become a man like each of us and become part of a human family, He was specifically part of David's family.  The Bible predicts the very family from which the Promised One would come.  He was to be from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), He was to come from the tribe of David's father Jesse (Isaiah 11:11-5), and He was to come from the tribe of David (Isaiah 9:6-7; Psalm 89:35-36).  Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of these promises; He is the Promised One who was to be a descendent of David.  In the genealogy of Jesus Christ, found in Matthew chapter one, you will find the names Judah, Jesse, and David included in this list of Jesus' descendants.

d. The gospel is about God's Son whom God Himself raised from the dead.

(1:4)
"and who through the spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead:"  A former president of Harvard law school wrote a book presenting the factual evidence for Jesus' resurrection that could be legally presented in a court of law.  Here Paul says that Jesus "was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead."  In Corinthians 15:1-8, Paul marches out the witnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus Christ.  Once there were more than 500 witnesses at the same time.  Most of those witnesses were still alive and could give testimony about it when Paul wrote the letter of I Corinthians.

But, notice that He was declared to be the Son of God (1) "with power," (2) by "the Spirit of holiness," and (3) "by his resurrection from the dead."  Why could not people have recognized that He was God's Son before His resurrection from the dead?  Certainly there was much evidence that He was God's Son from the miracles He performed, His wisdom, and His sinless life.  But, there were also signs of human weakness, for He grew tired and hungry like other men.  Most of all, men were able to arrest Him, torture Him and crucify Him.  And so the reality that He was God's Son was veiled somewhat by His human flesh.  He was like a king who was masquerading as a pauper.  But, the final and most dramatic proof of all that He was God's Son was His powerful resurrection from the dead.  After His resurrection, there no longer remained any question as to Who He was and Who He is.  His resurrection powerfully and undeniably declared that He is the Son of God.

But, what is meant by, He was declared to be the Son of God by "the Spirit of holiness"?  Notice, Paul did not choose to say Holy Spirit but "the Spirit of holiness."  Martyn Lloyd-Jones uses a number of sections in the Bible to support his belief that Paul is not talking about the Holy Spirit here, but is contrasting Jesus' human flesh that descended from David with the Divine side of Him.  In Acts 2:22-32, Peter argues using Psalm 16 that "it was impossible for death to keep its hold" on Jesus Christ because of His holiness.  Paul used the same argument in Acts 13:35-36  Also, in I Peter 3:18, we find these words:  "He was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spirit."  Here, like in this verse in Romans, we have a contrast between the weakness of the flesh that can die, and the power of Jesus' Spirit that cannot die.  And, then in I Timothy 3:16:  "Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit."  Finally, in I Corinthians 15:45:  "The first man Adam became a living being, the last Adam, a life-giving spirit."  So, we are speaking here of a great mystery.  Jesus was totally man, but He was also totally God.  When He resurrected from the dead, His divine and holy side burst forth from the grave with great power declaring that He is the Son of God!  And Paul exclaims with every Christian as he contemplates the One who could conquer the grave, "Jesus Christ our Lord"!

e. It is through Him (the One Who was predicted and resurrected) that Paul

received his authority to call the Gentiles to the obedience that comes through faith. (1:5)
"Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes through faith."  There are those who claim that you can receive Jesus Christ as your Savior when you first become a Christian, and then years later you can receive Him as your Lord.  That is not what is taught by Paul in verse four and verse five.  He concludes verse four by describing Jesus as "our Lord."  Had every Christian at Rome, then, already gone through the process of first receiving Jesus as Savior and then later had they also chosen to receive Him as their Lord?  No, the only reasonable conclusion is that each of those in Rome who were Christians had received salvation from Jesus Christ, and they were also those who had acknowledged Jesus Christ as their Lord.  In this verse Paul says that the Apostles' purpose was to call men to the "obedience that comes from faith."

When we turned to Jesus Christ in faith, we turned away from the voluntary unbelief that Paul will talk about in the second half of this chapter; and we turned to a belief in God who is and always has been the Ruler of the universe.  We turned from purposely ignoring and disobeying God to purposely acknowledging Him.  Can we in faith, having stopped our sinful, disobedient ignoring of God, now face God in all of His glory without seeing the need to obey Him?  No, we have turned in faith to the One who is our Savior and to the One Who is Lord of all.  And as Paul says, He is our Lord also!  Paul spends chapters two and half of chapter three pointing out to his Jewish countrymen that saying that we are God's people without obedience does not make any sense.

In II Thessalonians 1:8, Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians that when Jesus returns "He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."  When we become Christians, it is an act of obedience to the gospel:  (1) When we become Christians, we turn from purposely ignoring God and living our lives by our own rules. As the popular song says, each of us was doing it "My Way" (our own way). (2) When we become Christians, we choose to turn from purposely ignoring God and doing it our way, to purposely facing God and His ways.  That was an act of obedience, the opposite of our former disobedience.  It is obedience to the gospel.  It is the obedience that comes from faith.

3. The addressees: the saints in Rome (1:6-8)

a. God's saints at Rome (1:6-7)

"And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.  To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints." 

Thought Question:  Are you called to be a saint?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

The letter is addressed to those in Rome who are "called to belong to Jesus Christ," who are "loved by God," and who are "called to be saints."  When we think of the term "saints," we may think of those few who have struggled to attain to the highest level of holiness that is possible to man.  But, we have here in God's Word a very different definition of sainthood.  It, first of all, is those who have been "called to belong to Jesus Christ."  When we were children, we may have heard our mother calling in the evening, "It is time for dinner!"  Later, we were sitting at the dinner table eating because we were called to come to dinner.  Each of us who has been called to belong to Jesus Christ can remember what happened to us before we became a Christian.  We may have begun to sense a need in our lives for something more or we might have felt guilty about the type of life that we were living.  Next, we may have had someone explain the gospel to us in a way that made sense.  Finally, our heart was drawn to God and we, from the heart, turned to Him and away from our old way of life.  All of this took place because we were "called to belong to Jesus Christ."  We chose Him because He called us to belong to Him.  We were at the dinner table because our mother called us to dinner.  We are now fellowshipping with Christians on Sunday mornings because God called us to belong to Him.

And why did He call us?  Because we are "loved by God."  It is God's love for us that motivated Him to call us.  The Christians at Rome, and we, live in a world where people care very much about themselves and most often care very little about us.  But, the Christians at Rome, and we, can be continually comforted with the truth that we were called by God to be His saints because He does love us!  So, are we saints because we have climbed up the ladder of holiness to a higher level than others?  No, we are saints because of God's love and grace.  As Paul said to these Christians in Rome so many years ago:  "Grace and peace to you from God our father and from the Lord Jesus Christ."  God has made us His saints, made us His chosen ones, not because we even slightly deserve it, but because He loves us and has given us what we completely do not deserve.  We can be at peace before a holy God, not because we are holy, but because He loves us, has been gracious to us, and has called us to be His children.

To get an idea of how those Christians in Rome might have felt when they received this letter; imagine that Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in your town or city.  Replace the word Rome with the name of your city.  How do you feel as you hear Paul's words?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones has this to say about what will take place when we have this peace that Paul talks about in verse 7.  "And what does this mean?  Well it means an absence of restlessness within.  How restless we all are by nature!  How restless as the result of sin!  Look at our frowns, our puckered brows.  Look at the faces of men and women full of anxiety.  They are anxious, they are disturbed and troubled, they are restless, uncertain, and unhappy -- Supposing this happens?  What if that doesn't take place?  What is going to happen to me? -- That is restlessness.  We are not at peace with ourselves."  "Taken from Romans Exposition of Chapter I by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Copyright 1985 by Zondervan Publishing House."

b. God's people of faith (1:8)

"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world." 

Thought Question:  What was necessary before the Roman Christians' faith could be "reported all over the world"?

 

 

Paul thanks God for the Christians at Rome because their "faith is being reported all over the world."  Why do you think that their faith was being reported all over the world?  It had to be because of the way they were living.  Faith in God had changed their whole way of living.  For example, where they once had participated in immorality, they now sought to do that which was morally pure.  Where they had once been full of fear, now they were able to trust God.  And also, possibly they now forgave where they had once held grudges.  It had become obvious to the whole Christian world (and certainly to some of the non-Christian world as well) that there were genuine Christians in Rome.

And notice also that he does not thank them for their faith.  Who does he thank?  He thanks God!  God had given them this faith that was being reported all over the world.  Later, in verse 11, he tells them he wants to impart to them "some spiritual gift to make …[them]… strong."  Then, in verse 12 he says, "that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith."   God had given faith to Paul as a gift, and he wanted to give to them this faith that had been given to him.  But, he also wanted to receive the faith that God had given to them. As a result, they would benefit from each other's faith.  They would all become stronger in the mutual faith that God had given to all of them.

4. The author's reason for writing the letter: his love and concern for them.

(1:9-13)
As Paul states in these verses, he was always praying for them and desiring to come to them.  But, because he had not visited them, some were apparently saying that he was not concerned about them.  Paul answers that charge in these verses.  He could not have been more concerned for them.

a. He showed his love and concern by constantly praying for them. (1:9,10a)

"God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times;"

Thought Question:  What can we learn from Paul's example about what our Christian life should be like?

 

 

How often do we pray for others?  God knows how often we pray.  God knew how often Paul prayed for those at Rome, and he could say before God that he prayed for them constantly.  True prayer before God with no one listening or watching is certainly one of the most selfless acts of concern that we can do.  Someone tells us of a prayer need.  We might hear of it in a church service.  Then, in various parts of our private world, we take that prayer need before God and God alone.  Only He knows the purity of our concern for that person's need; only He knows the degree of the passion of our prayers; and only He knows how often we pray for that need.  Paul says that God knows that he prays for them constantly.  Paul does not tell them about his constant prayer for them to build himself up in their eyes, but so that they would know that he loves them even though he has not been able to come to them.

He also speaks of his wholeheartedness in service and in preaching the gospel to the lost.  Jesus said that the commandments are summed up as follows:  "Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-40)  If we love God with all our heart, and we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we will do what Paul does here.  We will serve, evangelize, and pray for others with our whole hearts into it.

b. He showed his love and concern for them by praying that God would open

the way so that he could come to them. (1:10b)
"and I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you."

Thought Question:  What do we learn about seeking God's will from Paul's attitude toward God's will in this verse?

 

 

Here, we do not see Paul demanding that God do this or God do that, as some television preachers would have us to do.  Instead, we see the humble prayer of one who wants very deeply to go to Rome, but he does not want to go unless or until it is God's will for him to go there.  Each of us has been where Paul was when he wrote this letter.  We have desired with all our heart that something would happen, and we have prayed to God about it.  Then, we can become uncertain about how to pray, especially when what we desire to happen does not happen immediately or does not happen even after a period of time.  We want God's will, but we also hope that what we are praying for is God's will.  Why, then, does God not answer our prayer?  Yet, we do want God's will, and deep down we know that God's will is best even if it is not what we are praying for and hoping will happen.  Paul desired to go to Rome, but above all he desired God's will.  We need also to have this type of submissive spirit to God when we are longing for God to do something or to open a door for us.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones has rich words for us on how to know God's will:  "Christians are more frequently perplexed by this problem of guidance than perhaps by any other single question or problem...  We think that the great Apostle had such intimacy with God, and was so in tune with God and the Spirit, that he never knew what it was to desire something intensely and yet not have it for a number of years; but he tells us that that was exactly his position......He was waiting for God to make the way clear for him.....the meaning here is perfectly clear: that what the Apostle is waiting for is that God will make it possible for him to have a good journey - so to 'prosper' him that at long last he can make this journey to Rome.  Though it is his intense desire, though he has a plan in his mind to go to Spain, and to break his journey at Rome, he is not going to move until he is certain that it is God's will....Let me put it to you in this way: how does one decide to do anything?  Well, God has given us minds: he has given us understanding, and we are meant to use them, even as the great Apostle had planned to go to Spain.  That is the right thing to do.  You can, if you like draw up a profit and loss account, here are the things in favor; here are things against.  You arrive at your total.  You work it out.  You use reason, common sense, understanding.  You may consult other people.  You can take others' opinions.  All that is perfectly legitimate.  Then, you say, 'Yes, but God will open a door and God will shut a door.'  Quite right!  He does just that.  And we pay great attention to it.  When God wants us to do something He does deal with circumstances.  We should never force a door open.  Yet I am asserting strongly that over and above both of these tests, the most important and the most crucial of all is the 'witness of the Holy Spirit' in our spirits...if there is a sense of uncertainty or unhappiness within, then do not move, do not act...Though all this is true, the Apostle still went on praying, and he still went on making his request.....Oh, beloved Christian people, let us learn a lesson from this great man of God.  You may have been praying for something for years.  There may have been times when you felt at last that it was about to be granted, then it did not come.  Were you grieved?  Were you irritated?  Did you begin to feel that God was against you?  Did you say, 'There is no point in going on praying?'  Oh, let us look at this mighty servant of God, and see that though he had been hindered, though he had been held back, he still went on making his requests known unto God, expressing his heart's desire.  Yes, still saying, "If it be Thy will', but still he goes on praying.  That, I take it, was the ultimate secret of this man's life and of his great usefulness in the kingdom of God.....It is right to have desires, intense desires and wishes and longings, but always in all things it is right that we ourselves should be entirely and completely submissive to the will of God."  "Taken from Romans Exposition of Chapter I by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Copyright 1985 by Zondervan Publishing house."

c. He showed his love and concern for them by his longing to minister to

them. (1:11-13)
"I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong---that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.  I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles." 

Thought Question #1:  What does Paul mean when he says, "so that I might impart to you some spiritual gift"?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do you think prevented Paul from coming to them?  Why do you believe he tells them he was being prevented from coming to them?

 

 

In verse 9, Paul says that he serves God with his whole heart.  Paul was not lukewarm in service to God, he was what we might call today a "red-hot."  Paul could not have had a greater desire than he already had to come to them and minister to them.  In chapter 12, verse 11, of this letter, he urges them to also be whole-hearted:  "Never lacking in zeal, but keeping your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."  Paul "longed" with his whole heart to come and to minister to them.  Paul did not have a half-hearted concern for any Christians or for any church.  And his concern for them was no different.  He longed to come to them so that he could "impart to (them) some spiritual gift to make (them) strong."

What does he mean by imparting to them a spiritual gift?  We can determine the answer to this question by the context.  In verse 12 he says, "that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each others' faith."  The gift that Paul would give to them would be some insight, teaching, wisdom, or truth that God's Spirit had first made real to him.  God's Spirit has used insight into His ways to encourage, enlighten, and strengthen Paul.  Paul wanted them to also be strengthened, enlightened, and encouraged by this gift from God to him.  He wanted them to be helped in the same way he had been helped.

Paul was confident that if he came to them, God would use what He had taught Paul to build up the Roman Christians in their faith.  Their faith would become stronger because of what God had used in Paul's life to make his faith stronger.  Also, Paul knew that what God had used to build up their faith would also strengthen and encourage him.  Paul, like all who encourage those who are new in their Christian faith, had learned that he would be strengthened in his faith by being with them, as well as them being strengthened by him.

Paul was not someone who depended on his own intellectual powers in his ministry to others.  He was, on the contrary, dependent on God's power for his ministry.  Listen to his words to the Corinthian Christians:  "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."  (I Corinthians 2:1-5)

Paul desired to go to Rome where he believed that God would give him insight on where they needed to be built up.  Then, in the power of God's Spirit, he would teach them and minister to them in those areas where they were weak-to strengthen them in their walk with God.  Paul was very eager to go there and get started in this ministry.  This very letter to these Roman Christians is an example of what Paul would do when he was able to visit with them.  This letter and the other letters that he wrote to the early churches were spiritual gifts from Paul to the churches to build them up.

Notice that Paul's ministry was not a sacramental-garbed-in-holy-attire type of ministry that has developed in some branches of our churches today.  He ministered to Christians and they ministered to him.  The church of Paul's times was built and based on relationships, not on sacred liturgy.  So often, through the years and today, the church is seen as a building where people come to be ministered to by one man.  That is not what Paul's ministry was like.  Even the great Apostle was ministered to when he was with the church.  The church is to be like a church softball game where everybody plays, rather than like a professional ball game where we pay to sit and watch the professionals do it.

Paul longed to go to them and he was confident that he would have a harvest among them, just as he had had among the other Gentiles.  But, he had been hindered from coming to them.  In chapter 15 we will learn how he was hindered and prevented from coming to them.  In short, there were needs that he needed to minister to before he could come to them.  See 15:23-33

5. His motive for preaching the gospel (1:14-17)

John Stott makes the observation that many Christians tend to feel that if they share the gospel with someone that they are doing God a favor.  What was it that motivated the Apostle Paul to go into one pagan city after another to share the gospel even though he had met every kind of resistance in these cities, including beatings and imprisonments?  We will find that he did not feel that he was doing God a favor.  Quite the opposite!

"I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.  That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.  I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'"

Thought Question #1:  What do these verses tell us about what motivated the great Apostle to the Gentiles in his tireless and fearless work for God?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Verse seventeen was used by God to lead Martin Luther, who at the time was an Augustinian monk in the Roman Catholic Church, to receive salvation through faith, rather than to seek it by works.  What is there in this verse that taught him that salvation is not by works, but by faith?  Is this verse in conflict with verse 5?

 

 

a. His own complete indebtedness and obligation to God (1:14)

"I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish."  Paul's motivation for sharing the gospel was that of someone who knew and truly believed that he deserved the very worst from God, but had gotten the very best.  His sharing of the gospel came from his great appreciation for what God had done for him.  And the One to whom he owed so great a debt had entrusted him with reaching the Gentiles with the gospel message.  Paul had a full understanding of reality.  He believed that he justly deserved eternal damnation (as we will see in his arguments in chapter one through three).  He also believed that every person justly deserves eternal damnation.  He had found the one and only answer, the gospel of God.  Now, he was obligated to share what had delivered him from damnation to those who had not yet heard about it.

He felt a complete obligation to every person in his world, to the educated and cultured Greeks and to the barbarians or non-Greeks, to the wise and to the foolish.  Each person needed the gospel and could be saved by the gospel.  Do you and I have a full understanding of reality?  Do we believe that apart from the gospel we would now be heading for eternal damnation?  Do we believe that every person who has not heard and embraced the gospel is also heading for eternal damnation?  If we understand the full significance of these realities as Paul did, we also will have the same sense of obligation to share the gospel as Paul had; and we will have his type of desire to share the gospel with every member of our society and our world.

Today, we may feel that there are those in our world who are not worthy of our making an effort to reach them with the gospel.  There are those who live in the inner city, the alcoholics, the gang members, the unwed mothers, those perpetually on welfare, the homosexual, and others.  In Paul's world, it was the barbarian who many thought was not worthy of having the gospel shared with them.  But, Paul the Apostle of God tells us that the gospel is for everybody; and he was and we are obligated out of a sense of debt to God and love for others to share the gospel with everyone.  That was Paul's motive for sharing the gospel.  If we understand what Paul understood, we will also feel the same sense of obligation to share the gospel as Paul did.  We also will be obligated to share the gospel with those who are respected in society and those who are not.

b. His unrestrained eagerness to share the gospel (1:15)

"That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome."  Each of us has something that we would eagerly do no matter what time we were asked to do it.  We would eagerly jump out of bed at 3 A.M. to do this activity.  Many men would get up at an early morning hour to go fishing or hunting or to play golf.  And women also have those activities that they would eagerly get involved with no matter when they were asked to do them. (I am more aware of what men are eager to do.)  Each of us has something that we eagerly do!  Paul had this type of eagerness and even more eagerness to share the gospel.  When a door was opened to share the gospel, he was on his way like a sprinter who had just heard the sound of the starting gun!  If we understand both the excitement of an opportunity to share the gospel and the importance and meaning of a person's destiny being eternally changed, we also will have this same type of eagerness to share the gospel.

c. His total unashamedness of the gospel (1:16)

"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."  Paul was totally unashamed of the gospel.  In I Corinthians 1:18, Paul says the following:  "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."  Even Timothy was tempted to be ashamed of the gospel.  In II Timothy 1:8, Paul had this to say to Timothy:  "So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God."  The gospel is a simple story of a man who was born in a manger to a virgin, was a carpenter's son, lived a few short years on this earth, performed miracles, said great things, died on a cross, and rose from the dead.  To many this is a childish myth.  Also, there is the ultimate offense of the cross that apart from Jesus the Son of God dying for us, we are totally condemned and helpless before God and his righteous wrath.  So, the gospel will either seem like so much non-intellectual childishness to many in our world or it will be looked upon as moralizing, guilt-producing, hell-fire intimidation.  That was true in Paul's time and it is true in our time.

But, Paul was not ashamed of the gospel.  Why was it that he had no concern about what people might think when he shared the gospel?  It was because he knew the gospel contained the very power of God to totally change people's lives.  Alcohol and addictive drugs also have the power to change people's lives.  Young people who get hooked on chemicals are transformed into thieves, gang-members, and prostitutes.  Drugs and alcohol can turn adult men and women into those who lie to, steal from, manipulate, and even beat up their own family members.  Drugs and alcohol have the power to change lives.  But with addictive chemicals the change is toward all types of ugliness and death.  The gospel also has the power (Greek word dunamis) to totally change people's lives.  But, the change is toward life and beauty.

It was this section of verses that dynamited Martin Luther into the man God used to start the Protestant Reformation.  He came to learn from the next verse that God's righteousness comes through faith and not through obeying the requirements of the Roman Catholic Church of his time (he was an Augustan monk).  The gospel first transformed him, and then through his influence and the influence of others in the Protestant Reformation, the simple gospel message has dynamically and completely changed thousands upon thousands of lives, right up to our present time.

It was the gospel in the Roman Empire that eliminated slavery in the western world.  It was the gospel that produced civilization in our western world (though we see civilization breaking down in our own country during these days).  And it is the power of God through the gospel that has transformed each of us who are Christians.  The gospel is not a lot of power, it is God's power.  It is the full power of Almighty God totally changing a person's life.  For this reason Paul was not ashamed of the gospel.  We who are Christians have a message that has the power to change a person from an eternally condemned sinner to an eternal member of God's family.  Should we be ashamed of such a message?  Should we not share it with whoever will listen; and whenever someone will listen, should we not talk about what God has done for us?

Some marvel that so much can be written about this book of Romans or other books in the Bible which can be read in a very short time.  Why, they say, is the length of what is written about the book longer than the book itself?  But, do you think that if Paul had later visited the Roman Christians he would have read his letter to them, made a few short comments, and stopped there?  He taught and discussed with his disciples in Ephesus daily for two years.  Do we do justice to Paul's statement that the gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, by just making a few short comments and being careful that we do not say more than the length of the Bible's words?  Certainly, the comments here only begin to explain what these great and most significant words mean.

See the following verses for additional insight into the meaning of the gospel being the power of God for salvation:  II Corinthian 3:6; I Thessalonians 1:5; II Thessalonians 2:13; James 1:18; I Peter 1:23

d. His full joy in offering to men a way to righteousness that is free and

available to all who believe (1:17)
"For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written:  'The righteous will live by faith.'"  This verse starts out in the following way:  "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed."  When Martin Luther heard "righteousness of God," he was terrified, for to him it only meant the justice of God, and he knew that he stood horribly condemned before God's justice.  When many of us have thought of God's justice we often have thought of the Ten Commandments.  And each of us knows that we have broken them.  So, we, like Martin Luther, do not like thinking of having to face God and His righteous justice.  Martin Luther had difficulty getting past the fearsome term---the righteousness of God---and hearing this verse as good news.  To him it was the bad news.  But, in these verses is found how we who are unrighteous before God can become righteous, even though we each continually disobey God's righteous requirements.  The gospel describes how we who are displeasing to God in so many ways can become pleasing to God and totally acceptable to Him.

 Does this sound too good to be true?  That is why it is called the gospel!  The gospel means "good news."  Yes, in the gospel the righteousness from God is revealed!  It has been said that the whole letter to the Romans was written to defend this verse; that we can become righteous before God through faith.  Or, in other words, it is righteous (fair, legal, consistent, just) for God to accept us guilty sinners through faith in the gospel.  The key issue of Romans is how can you and I be confident that we can face God on the Day of Judgment and know that we are righteous before Him?  Paul argues that this righteousness comes through faith!  We can stand righteous before God because when we believe in Jesus Christ, God dresses us in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  He took the penalty for our sin and gave us His righteousness.  This righteousness of Jesus Christ is acceptable to God the Father and He can now justly and righteously accept us.

And, again, how do we receive this righteousness?  There is only one way, through faith-through believing that Jesus died for us and has given us His righteousness.  Now, because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we can turn from ignoring God to facing God.  For now, through faith in Jesus Christ's death for us, we are no longer sinners who deserve His wrath, but Christians who by faith are pleasing in His sight.

Now, what is meant by faith?  Some, today, see it as something we do to get God to do something for us.  If we believe that God will heal us, then God is obligated to heal us.  If we are not healed, it is because we did not work up enough faith.  But that turns faith into something we do so we can earn something from God.  Certainly, faith is the very opposite of you and me earning something from God.  Saving faith occurs when we trust that God has given us out of His love what we totally do not deserve.  Faith is crying out for mercy like the tax-collector in Luke 18, "God be merciful to me a sinner."  Faith is facing God, admitting our sin and then receiving His mercy through understanding that Jesus took the penalty for our sin.  Faith is God giving you and me the ability as guilty, condemned sinners to face Him and believe that we are now accepted by Him!

That is what happened to Martin Luther.  He felt condemned, filthy, and eternally condemned before God.  But, then, God mercifully revealed to him that he could be righteous before Him by believing that Jesus had already paid the penalty for his sins.  For Martin Luther it was as if he had fallen back into the arms of God.  His legalistic works ended and his faith in God began.  From that time on, Martin Luther lived and was righteous before God by faith; by believing in what God had done for him through Jesus Christ's sacrifice for him.

"The righteous will live by faith" is a quote from Habakkuk 2:4.  There God contrasts the righteous living by faith with the Babylonians who were "puffed up" and arrogant.  Living by faith is the opposite of putting our faith in ourselves.  Faith in God is very much like humility.  It is humbly acknowledging the truth about our sinfulness and that we deserve God's wrath.  It is realizing and acknowledging that we have no hope apart from God being merciful.  It is putting our total trust in God's mercy and faithfulness.  In Hebrews 11:6, found in the faith chapter of the Bible, we find these words:  “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”  The righteousness of God is received by faith.  It is by faith "from first to last."  God gives us the ability to believe; we put our trust in Him; and our entire life becomes based on faith in Him.  Paul lived this type of life; Martin Luther lived this type of life; and every true Christian lives this type of life from the time of his initial repentance and faith to the day he takes his last breath.

THE NEED FOR THE GOSPEL - MAN'S SIN DESERVES GOD'S RIGHTEOUS WRATH. (1:18-3:20)
When does water taste best?  When our thirst is at its greatest!  When does God's Word taste best?  When we see our great need for it!  Beginning in these verses, Paul begins to establish the great need that we all have for God's grace!

1. All men voluntarily reject God and deserve God's judgment. (1:18-32)

(...Man’s wicked unrighteousness...)
As was stated in the introduction, Paul in Romans states the facts about how we stand before God.  And the primary and beginning fact about how all men stand before God is that we have all voluntarily and sinfully rejected God and as a result justly deserve God's wrath.  Paul, with the skill of the most expert of lawyers, makes his case in the following verses that we are all justly condemned sinners and deserve God's holy wrath.

a. We presently see mankind receiving God's wrath because they reject God

by their godlessness and wickedness. (1:18)
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,"

Thought Question #1:  According to this verse, how do you believe men begin to fall away from God?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How do you believe the wrath of God is revealed from heaven?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  What does this verse tell us about how men suppress the truth about God?

 

 

As we will see in the two verses following this verse, all men know God.  But, all men also reject Him whom they know.  This verse explains how each of us has rejected God.  We reject him with our voluntary godlessness and wickedness.  First, we reject Him with our godlessness.  John Stott gives the following definition of godlessness:  "It is the attempt to get rid of God and, since that is impossible, the determination to live as though one had succeeded in doing so."  "Taken from Romans by John Stott.   Copyright 1994 by Intervarsity Press."

What is godlessness?  It is choosing to eliminate God from our lives.  It is purposely ignoring God: it is defying God, it is living in total rebellion against Him and defying Him to do anything to us; it is living as if there will be no consequences for disobeying God.  This is godlessness.

Second, godlessness leads to wickedness.  Wickedness is the very same type of attitude toward men.  It is doing wrong to our fellow human beings and choosing to believe that there will be no consequences for our lying, gossiping, cheating, stealing, robbing, violence, and abuse.  When we choose godlessness and wickedness over honoring God, our minds become morally darkened until at last we become totally blind to God and His ways.  We have suppressed the truth about God by our godlessness and wickedness.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out that the first tablet of the Ten Commandments were commands not to be ungodly, and the second tablet prohibited wickedness.

The rest of chapter one describes how this process takes place; how all mankind has suppressed the truth by their wickedness and godlessness.  In short, we each choose sin over God and as we make this choice, we darken our minds to God.  And, as Paul says, we begin also immediately to experience God's wrath for our godless and wicked rejection of God.  What does Paul mean here by God's wrath?  In simple terms, God's wrath is His complete hatred of sin and evil.

Today, if you bring up the topic of God's wrath, particularly in a liberal church, you will often immediately be told that God is a God of love not a God of anger and wrath.  But, the Bible tells us that the true God both completely loves people and completely hates sin and evil.  When we choose sin over God, we immediately begin to experience the consequences of our choice.  We see the consequences all around us of those who choose sin over God: broken marriages and families, addiction, hate, gossip, disorder and disunity, crime, perversion, emotional problems, and many more.  We see God's wrath against sin and evil being revealed from heaven in our world being experienced by those who have chosen sin over honoring and thanking God.  We see before our eyes how much God hates sin by the ugly consequences of sin that continually pollutes our world; we are seeing God's wrath being revealed from heaven!

Although there is an immediate reaction against anyone mentioning anything about hell except as a cuss word, there is much support in our country that there be strong consequences for crimes.  For example, there was strong agreement in our country that the infamous Ted Bundy should receive the death penalty for his horrible murders.  We understand that there should be consequences for breaking the laws of our country.  If someone drinks a large amount of alcohol, drives too fast, loses control of his car, and gets into an accident, there is agreement that he must accept the consequences of his actions. There are also just consequences for breaking God's moral laws and for doing what is evil in God's eyes.  The consequences are that we will experience God's wrath for defying Him and His holy ways.

As has been mentioned, we will learn more about how we suppress the truth by our wickedness, and we will also learn more about how God's wrath is revealed from heaven in the remaining verses of this chapter.  See also 3:5, 4:15, 5:9, 9:22, 12:19, 13:4,5 for other references to God's wrath in the book of Romans.  See also John 3:36; Ephesians 2:3; Colossians 3:6

b. All men know the truth about God. (1:19-20)

"since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities---his eternal power and divine nature---have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

Thought Question #1:  Is anyone truly an atheist?  Explain your answer.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  According to these verses, why is it obvious that there is a God?  Give some examples of the evidence.

 

 

Thought Question #3:  According to these verses, is unbelief primarily an intellectual problem or a moral problem?

 

 

On the old Dinah Shore show, a group of honor students were given the opportunity to interview Billy Graham (something that would be very unlikely to happen in our modern "separation of church and state" world).  One of the students asked Billy, "Why does anyone need to believe in God anyway?"  Billy's answer was immediate and calm.  He told the young man that everyone already knew there was a God, from the most intelligent of scientists to the most primitive of peoples.  Each person is already aware that there is a God.  After a jog with the next door neighbor in the 1970s, the next door neighbor was asked about his belief in God.  He responded that he was an atheist. "No, you are not, you know there is a God," I responded.   He at first admitted that he did know there was a God, but then caught himself and went back to his original position that he was an atheist.  What Paul is declaring in these two verses is very clear: everyone knows there is a God!  God has made it plain that He made us by His creative works, which continually surround each of us.  It is obvious to us that there was an All-powerful, infinitely intelligent God Who made all that we continually see around us.  We cannot miss seeing that there is a God.

The previous verse said that men suppress the truth.  To suppress the truth, you must first know the truth.  These two verses declare that all men know the truth.  In fact, it is plain to them.  In other words, it is obvious to everybody that there is a God.  Hebrews 3:4 makes a very clear statement:  "For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything."  We are driving on a long vacation trip.  We are far from our home.  On a lonely stretch far out in a wilderness area, we see a house.  We were not there when it was built.  We have no idea how it was built.  But, we know that someone built it.  We do not even consider that random forces of nature constructed it over millions of years and put it in its present orderly state.  Every house has a builder.  Also, we look at our world and we know that the order we see all around us did not just randomly happen; it was designed and planned by Someone with great power and intelligence.  "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 14:1)

Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God."  Today, the pure in heart can enjoy the glory of God's creative genius, which is all around us.  One astute observer noticed how perfectly our noses are designed so that we can breath completely unhindered even when it is raining.  We have slanted roofs on our houses so that the rain will run off harmlessly.  We have slanted noses and the rain runs off them harmlessly; instead of filling our nostrils with water each time it rains.  Evolutionists would need to explain that those with noses that were pointed up must have drowned during rainstorms, leaving only those with noses like our present rain-repellent noses to survive.  But, there is so much obvious evidence of design all around us, that it is infinitely easier to just admit that what we see all around was designed; it is the work of a Master Designer and Creator.

 We are just the right distance from the sun so that we do not freeze or melt.  There is just the right amount of oxygen in the air---enough so we do not suffocate, but not so much that it will ignite the whole earth on fire.  The moon is just the right distance from the earth and just the right size so that we have tides and not massive tidal waves.  Water is such a wonderful material.  It dissolves dirt; we can float and swim in it; and it turns to water vapor to water the earth.  How could there be life without it?  Is water as we know it just some wonderful accident?  Animals and plants of infinite types live and propagate themselves without any help from man.  Tiny birds and all kinds of animals survive even the most severe winters.  All around us is a wealth of variety of colors and shapes.  Whether we look through a telescope or a microscope, we see design and order.  Men, with our amazing scientific advancements, have not been able to duplicate the human brain.  A scientific expert said that even our most advanced computers are comparable only to the nervous system of a snail.  Thousands of years of man's intelligence have not been able to design anything near our human brain.  How, then, could the incredibly complex human brain be the result of mindless and unintelligent chance?  For we who really look, we can see amazing examples of design under every microscope, through every telescope, and as a result of every turn of our heads.

In the movie "Hemo The Magnificent" there is dramatic description of how the blood in our bodies is moved around to various parts of our circulatory system by little circular muscles that encircle the tiny capillaries in our bodies.  These sphincter muscles allow just the right number of red blood cells to pass through each capillary so that these blood cells will supply that part of the body with just the right amount of oxygen as is needed at that time.  Because we do not have enough blood in our body to supply the whole body at all times, the blood must be moved around continuously.  If these little muscles in our capillaries were not functioning properly, our blood pressure would go down and we would die.  And, yet, all this oversight of our blood is happening to us right now without our having any awareness that it is taking place.  When we need to use our muscles, blood goes to our muscles.  When we are digesting food, blood goes to our digestive system.  It is all part of God's design.  We all benefit from God's design and plan even if we do not thank him and acknowledge Him as our Creator.

Each time we eat, it is very helpful that we have fingers, which are able to hold something small and large.  Though the fingers on our hand are different sizes, they come together perfectly so that we can hold various sizes and types of objects. Our forearms are exactly the right length so that our food goes easily to our mouths.  Our teeth chew up the food so that we do not need to crush the food before we swallow it.  Our tongue moves the food around in our mouths so that we can easily chew it.  The saliva lubricates our well-chewed food so that it will easily go down our throats.  And then peristalsis moves the food down our throats to our stomachs without our even having to think about it.  And some tell us that all these bodily conveniences are just a product of blind chance over billions of years.

Then there is life itself.  We, with all our intelligence, have been unable to create life or resurrect life.  We cannot create even a tiny plant seed.  How then can we say that all the marvels of design, order, and complexity came about without any intelligence and through blind luck?  Why do men not acknowledge God, the God who has made Himself so plain and obvious to us?  The answer is simple.  We do not like this truth that we were created.  We prefer to be our own God, our own ruler.  And so we purposely push this truth out of our thinking and our lives.  The remaining part of the chapter describes how men push what they know about God out of their lives.

c. All men suppress the truth about God. (1:21-23, 25)

"For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles."  "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator---who is forever praised.  Amen."

Thought Question:  What do these verses tell us about how someone can have a very high IQ and still reject God?

 

 

It is much easier to believe in God than not to believe in God.  Not to believe in God takes a concerted effort.  It is something like trying to convince yourself and others that the sun is not in the sky.  Because it is totally obvious to everyone that there is a sun in the sky, it would take a supreme intellectual effort to come up with a persuasive rationale, which would convince people that there is no sun in the sky.  It also has taken a supreme intellectual effort to come up with a somewhat convincing sounding argument to explain away God as our Creator.  But, man has worked hard at accomplishing this mental maneuver for one simple reason.  We do not wantto believe in God.  And so we have purposely replaced the truth about God with a lie.  There are many lies that we have used to replace the truth about God: evolution, New Age philosophy, idolatry and witchcraft, and many more.  It does not matter which lie is used, as long as God is sufficiently removed from our thinking and our lives.

We see here that the method that we use in deceiving ourselves is to take our focus off the One who created us and to worship instead what He has created.  We choose to worship the created rather than the Creator.

And so, as is said in these verses, mankind's thinking has become futile; we have chosen thinking that does not make any sense and does not describe reality, over what does make sense and does describe reality.  And our hearts, as a result, have become darkened.  We, like someone in a dark room, can no longer see what was obvious to us when the lights were turned on; we no longer have any idea what is true and real in our world.  And, as is also stated in these verses, men become proud of their ignorance.  "Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools."

Mankind's greatest intellectual achievement has been to eradicate from our minds and thinking the truth about God and to replace Him and His truth with our own mental concoctions.  If you study the lives of the greatest intellectuals, you will discover that in the end they were fools.  The philosophers who have been given such a prestigious place in our society were often rebelling against the description of the world given in the Bible.  And so they put their great intelligences to the task of putting together a worldview that was more in keeping with what they wanted the world to be like.  From all their intellectual efforts, they did not come up with what the world is really like, a belief in God; but instead they came up with a view of life that was not real.  These intellectual giants concocted a fantasy version of life.  They created a world in their image.

We claim to be wise, but actually we have become fools.  In the end, modern civilized man is no different than those who worship idols.  For idolaters conclude that we should worship created things like crocodiles and trees instead of God.  Our modern day world has concluded that we should worship an evolutionary process or the cosmos instead of God.  We also worship some part of creation rather than the Creator.

Ray Stedman makes the following interesting observation about idolatry:  "When idolatry begins, it begins first with men making images of men.  Then it degenerates to likenesses of birds, animals, and finally reptiles.  Man is at one end and a snake at the other!  I believe it's no accident how we tend to name our cars.  We once named them after men: Lincoln, Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, DeSoto, Edsel.  Since then, birds and animals have become more popular as names: Thunderbirds, Firebird, Impala, Cougar, Mustang, Pinto, Jaguar, Rabbit, Panther, and even a Greyhound bus!  Reptiles may be in fashion next:  We already have a Cobra, and we may soon have the Python, the Viper, and (a larger, slower model) the Crocodile!"  Taken from From Guilt to Glory Volume I by Ray C. Stedman.  Copyright 1978 by Multnomah Press."  Since Ray wrote this, we now have a Viper!

d. God allows men to have their own way, which leads to every type of

perversion (1:24-27)
"Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator---who is forever praised.  Amen.  Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.  Even their women exchanged natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.  Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."

Thought Question:  What do these verses tell us about the cause of homosexuality?

 

 

When men and women choose to darken their minds to God and his pure ways, when they choose to not be controlled by their consciences before God, they become controlled instead by their fleshly desires.  God's judgment on those who purposely reject Him and His ways is to let them find out for themselves the full consequences of sin.  He allows them to run all the way down the road of sin and to find out all that is on this road.  And what is on this road is ever increasing perversion and wickedness.  Paul, as a judgment against some who had defiantly chosen to disobey God, turned them over to Satan.  See I Corinthians 5:5; I Timothy 1:20  God does the same with any who defiantly choose sin over Him.

And what is it like for those who have chosen to rush headlong down the road of sin?  It is not a holy road, but a road with every kind of unholiness.  It is a road where everything that is beautiful becomes something that is perverted and ugly.  Sex, which was created to be a beautiful physical expression of the life-long union of a married couple, becomes ugly and distorted.  There is sex with different partners night after night or with many partners on the same night, and sex between men and sex between women.

God has clearly given our country over to "sexual impurity" and to "shameful lusts."  Our media tends to portray gay rights marches in a favorable light by only showing what is somewhat orderly and tasteful.  But, others have videotaped what actually takes place in these marches.  What we see on the uncut videotapes is an unashamed glorifying of the ugly and perverted before God and men.  "they parade their sin like Sodom, they do not hide it.  Woe to them!  They have brought disaster upon themselves."  (Isaiah 3:9)  Paul tells us that those who have given themselves over to these "indecent acts" receive "in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."  What is this penalty?  Or, in other words, what is the wrath of God that they receive?  It is the perversion itself!

We can easily determine the consequences of their sin.  First of all, there are sexually transmitted diseases that primarily only afflict those who practice sexual promiscuity.  Homosexuality leads to a loss or a confusion of identity as a male or a female.  The perversions themselves are a part of God's judgment, as people are driven by their desires to do that which is distasteful and ugly.  And, also, sadly, they are deprived from and miss out on the beauty of what God intended us to enjoy from His gift of sex.

e. Men reach the final step down the staircase to Sodom and God's judgment:

total bestiality and wickedness! (1:28-32)
"Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them."

Thought Question:  What do we learn from these verses about the final stages of man's rebellion against God?

 

 

Verse twenty-eight sums up what Paul has been saying: "Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done."  This is godlessness.  It was not worth it to them to hold on to the knowledge of God.  Knowing God has no value to them.  We see this type of attitude all around us.  God has no value to the university professor who mocks God and Christianity in his lectures.  God has no value to the comedian who mocks God in his monologues.  God has no value to the fellow-workers who regularly use God's name as a swear word.  God has no value to the liberal pastor who treats the Bible as a primitive book containing myths.  God has no value to the ACLU lawyer who is seeking to eradicate the mention of God from every part of our society.  We could go on with many other examples of those who do not value God in our society.

When men and women do not value God, what we see is people with a "depraved mind."  That is a definition of the mind that does not approve of God.  It is depraved; it is a twisted mind.  When we who are Christians listen, for example, to a hardened feminist atheist spew her venom against God and His ways, we are listening to what comes from a depraved and twisted mind.  They all do not approve of God.  They have left Him and are pursuing life in their own twisted way.  The result is that they are doing what "ought not to be done."

The final verses (29-32) describe in a summary fashion all that "ought not to be done."  These verses describe the very worst that can happen among people.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones believes that this is what hell will be like, people will receive their choice.  They will experience what it is like to be forever separated from God and His holy ways.  They will experience every form of wickedness for eternity.  The final steps down the staircase to Sodom are not the vilest sexual impurity, but the vilest sins of the spirit.  It is the very worst that can come from an impure heart.  "They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity."

It would appear that Paul is using these words to summarize all that is the very worst that men can do.  This is the direction that our society is moving today.  Our entertainment industry is seeking to gain and hold an audience by providing greater degrees of "wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity" for their customers.  James Dobson, while on a government committee investigating the pornography industry, discovered that we had already become about as depraved as we can be.  He said that there are only a few more degrees of depravity that the pornography business can sink to before it is at rock bottom.  Tragically, what was yesterday's pornography can become today's public fare.

Paul goes on to describe the very worst in what can happen in human relationships: "They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice."  This describes a complete breakdown in civilization.  Instead of an orderly, open, honest, giving, and loving society, we have here a disorderly, lying, taking, hateful and murderous society.

He follows with a description of the very worst in pride: "They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents."  In their pride-inflamed minds they each have taken God off His throne and crowned themselves as God over all.  They make arrogant judgments of others ("gossips, slanders"); they challenge authority ("they disobey their parents" and are "insolent"); they defy God's authority ("God-haters"); they exalt themselves ("arrogant and boastful"); and they become creators themselves, but creators of evil ("they invent ways of doing evil").

"They are senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless."  They are completely devoid of what is good in man.  They lose all concern for others.  The greatest love is to seek the other person's best no matter what it costs you, even if it cost you your life.  The greatest selfishness is to pursue your best no matter what it costs others, even if it costs others their lives.  The greatest selfishness is what is being described here.  It is the cold-hearted ruler, businessman, salesman, and others who pursue what he wants for himself, no matter what it costs others.  Here we have described the heartlessness of a lion crushing the life out of a tiny gazelle without any sensitivity or concern for that helpless little creature.  It is a ruthless ruler like Saddam Hussein taking the lives of those who get in his way without any feeling for them or for their families, and even enjoying the suffering.  Can man sink this low?  Yes, for he has done it many times.  The further we move away from God, the more the beast in us takes over; until in our bestial passions, we lose all sense of concern for others or any sense of right and wrong and seek after our own selfish desires no matter what it costs others.

And then the final verse.  The very last step down the staircase to Sodom.  "Although they know God's righteous decrees that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them."  They know that God's judgment for their sin is coming.  But, even knowing that hell is coming, they continue in their evil.  And they applaud those who are also doing evil.  This is total and complete irreverence towards God.  We know we are living on Your world, that we are Your creatures, and that You are going to punish us for what we are doing; but we just plain do not care!  And our heroes are those who are being as defiant or more defiant than we are.  It is a blasphemous rock concert, a movie that purposely mocks God, and a society that openly hates and defies God.  It is society joining with the crowd that surrounded Jesus while He was on the cross, and shouting, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

God allows men and women to go down the full road of sin and to get as far away from Him as they choose to go.  But Revelation 14:14-20 describes a time when wickedness will reach a stage in our world when it will be ripe and ready to be harvested.  Then, our world will experience the full fury of God's wrath! See also II Timothy 3:1-9

2. Even the very religious voluntarily reject God and deserve God's

judgment. (2:1-3:20) (...Man’s wicked self-righteousness..)
At this point, the religious person is saying, "Yes, they are like that!"  The religious person who listens today to what Paul says in these verses about the ungodliness of non-religious people will immediately agree that there is ungodliness and wickedness like that out there in the world.  But, Paul has not finished his argument yet.  He is about to say just as strongly that not only is there godlessness and wickedness like that out there, there is also godlessness and wickedness like that in the Jewish and religious community; in the heart of each Jewish religious person and in the heart of each religious person.  Paul is about to prove that it is not only the worldly person who is a sinner who deserves God's judgment, but it is also the religious man who is equally a sinner.

Paul's goal is to get the religious Jew or any religious person to see that not only is there ungodliness and wickedness like that out there in the world, but there is also ungodliness and wickedness like that right here in each of our hearts.  Ray Stedman titles the first section of these verses in chapter two, "Sinful Morality."  It is a description of the religious sinner.  In these verses, Paul deals with the very human arguments that we all use to avoid seeing the ungodliness and wickedness that is in our very own hearts.  These arguments come to us very easily, for they are the very same arguments we used as small children when we wanted to avoid admitting to our parents that we had done anything wrong.

a. Our self-righteous blindness to our sin and God's judgment will not enable

us to escape God's judgment. (2:1-6)
In Proverbs 16:2 we find these words: "all a man's ways seems innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord."  And in Proverbs 21:2 we also find, "All a man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart."  Although we are able to see the faults of others clearly, we see our own faults through rose-colored glasses.  Others gossip, we share what we have learned about people.  Others hold grudges and are bitter, we are justly angry about those who have wronged us.  Others are worried and anxious, we are concerned about our future.  Others are impatient, we are having a pressured day.  We do not see our sin as sin.  Others are stubborn; we are determined.  Others are selfish; we are standing up for ourselves.  They lose their temper; we are upset about what others do.  When others do it, it is sin.  When we do it, it is acceptable and not sinful.  But, it is the very same attitude and action that we easily condemn in others.  We are strangely blind to the sin in our lives.  Paul knew the religious Jews (and other religious moralists) would clearly see the faults in others, but not see that they had the very same faults.  But, our voluntary blindness to our sin will not save us from God's judgment for our sin.

(1) God judges by His standards, not ours. (2:1-3)

"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment?"

Thought Question:  What do these verses tell us about the difference between how we judge others, how we judge ourselves, and how God judges us?  Can you come up with an example of how you judge yourself differently than you judge others?

 

 

We tend to judge ourselves less harshly than we judge others.  God judges fairly.  We judge others harshly; we judge ourselves laxly.  We are upset when others tailgate us; but when we believe others are going too slowly, we can feel guiltless as we tailgate them.  We are right in both cases and the others are wrong.  We see others' wrongs very clearly, but look at our wrongs through rose-colored glasses.

Argument #1:  I DO NOT SEE ANYTHING THAT I DID THAT WAS WRONG. At God's judgment of us, He will not ask how we think we did in our lives.  For, if He did, we would all think that we did pretty well.  No, He will judge us on the basis of His truth.  We may think that we did not gossip.  But, if we did gossip, we will be judged as one who gossiped.  Paul here is dealing with those who "pass judgment on someone else," while doing the very same things themselves.  He is speaking to every human being.  We are all self-appointed critics of others, but we soften our criticism when it comes to criticizing ourselves.  We are impatient with the slow driver in front of us, but were not there times when you and I were the slow driver?  Are we as impatient or critical of our driving, as we were impatient and critical of the other slow driver?  We want God to judge others and to give them what they deserve, but we do not see that we also deserve to be judged by God for the very same sins.

Ray Stedman asks the question that many ask.  Why did God allow evil tyrants like Hitler and Stalin to "murder millions of innocent people?"  He answers this question, by asking some questions of us.  "Why didn't he judge me yesterday, when I said that sharp, caustic word that plunged like an arrow into a loved one's heart and hurt her badly?  Why didn't he shrivel my hand when I took a pencil and cheated on my income tax?  Why didn't he strike me dumb when I gossiped on the phone this morning, sharing a tidbit that made someone look bad in someone else's eyes?  Why didn't God judge that?  The God of truth and justice sees all of this; so how, Paul asks, do we think we can escape the judgment of God?"  "Taken from From Guilt to Glory Volume I by Ray C. Stedman.  Copyright 1978 by Multnomah Press."

Paul's argument in these verses is that we see clearly the sins of others, and we are able to pass judgment on their sins and condemn them.  If we mere men can judge others, will not God who judges totally on truth also judge us and condemn us when we do the very same things?  Because we are just as sinful as the worldly sinners described in chapter one, we also will not escape the wrath of God!  We deserve judgment.  But why are we not being immediately judged and condemned?  Paul answers this question in the next two verses.

(2) God's judgment is delayed, but inevitable. (2:4-5)

"Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?  But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed."

Thought Question:  What do these verses tell us about why evil acts of men are not punished immediately by God?

 

 

Argument #2: GOD IS KIND AND WILL NOT PUNISH MY SIN.  The second way to deal with our sin is to feel that because nothing bad has been happening when we sin, we are getting by with the bad that we are doing.  A child may lie or steal something and then feel that because nothing bad happened that God is letting him or her get by with what was done.  We may ignore paying traffic tickets or filling out our income tax forms.  And nothing may happen to us for a while.  That, however, does not mean that nothing will happen to us.  Just as the courts and the IRS do not ignore what we ignore, so God is not ignoring our sin.  As Paul states here, we are not getting by with the wrong that we do.  Instead, God is giving us time to turn to Him and to ask for His forgiveness.  He has delayed His judgment to provide us an opportunity to take advantage of His mercy and grace.  He is not judging and punishing us right now, so that we might be moved by His "kindness, tolerance and patience" and repent---turn from our sin---and seek His mercy and grace.

When we do not seek his forgiveness, we are showing contempt for his kindness to us.  We are like a high school student who has been forgiven by a teacher and is not thrown out of class for being unruly.  But, who instead of taking advantage of the gracious second chance the teacher gave to him, concludes that the teacher is soft and that he can be even more unruly and get by with it once again.  This student is showing contempt for this teacher's kindness.  He sees no value in it at all.  He mocks and despises this soft and weak teacher.  You and I can conclude that God is so good and kind that we can sin all we want and we will get by with it.  If we have this type of attitude, we are showing contempt for the "riches" of God's kindness.  "We are in the age of grace.  I can sin all I want."  Instead of seeing God's kindness as a rich treasure that can be of infinitely great benefit to them, they despise it and go on sinning.

But the truth is that though God is not punishing us right now, He will punish us in the end.  In the meantime, we are building up a judgment account toward the Day of Judgment.  Instead of building up a savings account that we will someday be able to cash in, we are building up a judgment account that will be charged to us at the Judgment Seat of God!  We can sin, and when nothing happens, we might think that nothing will happen.  But something will happen if we do not seek out God's mercy before that time.  The longer we wait, the more penalty and punishment we are storing up for that time when we will all face God's judgment and His anger and wrath for all the wrong which we have done.  We may be able to convince ourselves that we are getting by with what we are doing, but we are not getting by with anything!

In these two verses, we see that part of God's plan for drawing men to Him is His goodness directed toward even those who hate and reject Him.  We, as His people, are also to be good to those who hate and reject us. We are to love our enemies.  "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even tax-collectors doing that?"  (Matthew 5:43-46)

We are drawn to those who treat us with kindness when we treat them rotten.  God's goodness, kindness, long-suffering, and love increases God's attractiveness to us, and it is the reason why we and all men should be moving toward Him and not away from him.  So, it is even more obvious that man is totally responsible when he continues to harden himself and moves farther away from God's kindness and patience.  See II Peter 3:8,9

(3) God will judge each man impartially according to his deeds. (2:6-11)

"God 'will give to each person according to what he has done.'  To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.  There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For God does not show favoritism."

Thought Question #1:  How does Paul show in these verses that God does not show favoritism to any man?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Compare these verses with Romans 3:10 where Paul says, there is "no one who seeks God."  How can these verses which talk about people seeking God be reconciled with 3:10 that says, "no one seeks God"?

 

 

Argument #3: I DESERVE SPECIAL TREATMENT.  One of the methods that we use to avoid facing that we deserve God's judgment for our sins is our ability to believe that we should be treated with some form of favoritism.  We can conclude that we are unique and, for some reason, should receive special treatment.  We become like the speeder who believes that he should not get a traffic ticket because he knows the mayor or because he is from a long-respected family in town.  We can feel that we will not be judged for our sins because we were born in a Christian nation or born into a Christian home.  The Jews of Paul's time probably felt that they would not be judged because they were God's chosen nation.  But the truth is that no one will receive a favored position before God on the Day of Judgment.  As it says in the last of these verses, "For God does not show favoritism."  How then will we be judged?  "God will give to each person according to what he has done."

Paul contrasts those who will receive eternal life with those who will receive God's wrath.  Paul says here that the people will be judged by whether or not they are truly seeking God and good or are greedily only seeking selfish and evil goals.  Ultimately, each person is either going toward God and His glory or away from God and toward evil and darkness.  He says that those who are seeking after God and His ways will receive eternal life; those who are seeking after evil will receive God's wrath.  As Jesus said:  "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those have done evil will rise to be condemned."  John 5:28-29

And so the most important question that each of us must ask ourselves is, "What do we want?"  Do we want God, His glory, and His ways above all else or do we in our heart of hearts really have personal and selfish goals?  The religious person can give every appearance that he or she is seeking God, but his or her religion can be just a thin veneer that covers a selfish heart.  Also, our religion can be just a thin veneer that covers a selfish heart.  As Jesus said to the Pharisees:  "You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matthew 23:27,28)  The Jewish person and the modern-day religionist who is not truly seeking God can feel that because he is a Jew or goes to church that he or she will receive favored treatment; that God will overlook his or her faults.  But, Paul declares here, using their own Scriptures, that God is going to judge each person based on what he does.  We desire that there be this kind of justice.  There are so many who are cruel and so much that is unfair.  We desire that somewhere there will finally be justice.  We just do not want it to happen to us.  The Bible says that it will happen!  It will happen to us!

Paul's quote in verse six, "God will give to each person according to what he has done" is a direct quote from the Jewish Old Testament, Psalms 62:12 and Proverbs 24:12.  And, so from their own Scriptures, Paul confronts them with the reality that they will not receive favored treatment.  Instead, they will each be judged based on their works just like every other man, be he Jew or Gentile.

The critical issue, then, is what each of us is seeking in our own hearts.  Paul states that those who will receive eternal life are seeking "glory, honor, and immortality."  What is glory?  There can only be one answer to that question.  True glory is that which is like God, for He is the only One who is perfectly glorious.  So, those who are seeking glory are seeking God or seeking His type of life!  Then, what is honor?  Again, there can only be one answer to that question.  Honor is that which God gives to those who are becoming like Him.  Jesus asked the Jews of His time:  "How can you believe if you accept praise [or honor] from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise [or honor] that comes from the only God?"  (John 5:44)  Then, finally, what is immortality?  Again, there can only be one answer.  Immortality or eternal life is enjoying God forever.  If you do not really desire to be close to God, to be like God and to enjoy Him forever, then you are not in your heart seeking eternal life.  Instead, you have selfish goals and will ultimately receive God's wrath.  He emphasizes that those who will receive eternal life will be only those who have persisted in seeking glory, honor, and immortality.

In the book of Hebrews, chapter 11, there is a list of the heroes of the faith.  They were those who persisted in seeking God and eternal life right up to the end of their days; even though they never received in this life what they were seeking.  In Hebrews 3:14 we are told the following:  "We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first."  And in Hebrews 3:6:  "And we are his house if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast."

Later in Romans, Paul will conclude that there is no one who seeks God (3:10-12).  So, those who do persevere in seeking God can only be those whom God has sought after, drawn to Himself, and supernaturally changed on the inside.  They are those who have been transformed by God from being those who did not seek God to those who do truly seek God.  He has changed them from those who love sin to those who hate sin; from those who hate God to those who love God. See John 6:44

But for those who persist in self-seeking and pursue evil there will not be eternal joy, but eternal anguish, for they will experience God's wrath and be in torment forever; they will experience eternal "weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 8:12)  These verses are primarily an argument that the religious person who is not truly seeking God will not avoid being judged by God for his or her sin.  At God's judgment seat, there will be no favoritism; each man will receive what he justly deserves for what he has done.  Those religious persons who have not really been seeking God will not receive God.  They will not receive an eternal relationship with God, but instead they will receive "trouble and distress."

(4) God's judgment will be based on how men obey the truth they know,

not on how much they know. (2:12-16)
"All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.  For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.  (Indeed , when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)  This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares."

Thought Question #1:  We all have the ability to justify what we do wrong.  What type of false justification for sin is Paul arguing against in these verses?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do these verses tell us about how God will judge those throughout time who have never heard about the Bible and the Ten Commandments?

 

 

Argument #4:  BUT I KNOW THE LAW!  If a state patrolman stopped us for going 65-mph in a 55-mph zone, would we be able to get out of receiving a ticket because we knew that the speed limit is 55 mph much better than those who are from out of town?  But, our state patrolman would tell us that because we know the speed limit better than others do, that is all the more reason why we should not have been speeding.  Yet, we can think that we will be acceptable to God just because we know the Bible well or that we know it better than others.  Also, the Jews felt that they would receive favorable treatment from God on Judgment Day because they knew God's Law better than the Gentiles ("Gentiles" was a derogatory name the Jews gave to everyone who are not Jews). 

We who know the Bible better than others do have that much more reason why we should obey its teachings.  We are more accountable to God to obey the Bible than those who do not know the Bible.  That is what Paul is saying in verse twelve when he says, "those who sin under the law will be judged by the law."  We who know the Bible and know clearly what is wrong and right will be judged as those who are more accountable to do right than those who do not have the Bible.  Jesus' parable in Luke 12:35-48 emphasizes that those who know God's will and do not obey it will be more severely judged by God than those who do not know God's Law and do not obey it.

But, Paul also goes on to point out that there are Gentiles or, in our times, those who do not know the Bible, who live better lives than those who know the Law or the Bible.  Paul reveals in these verses that those who do not know about God's laws from the Bible do know about God's laws from their own hearts and consciences.  God has revealed His laws to every man through his or her own conscience.  In this parenthesis in Paul's argument, he stops and explains that the Gentile or non-religious person also has access to God's laws and also will be accountable to God for whether he obeys or disobeys God's laws, for God writes His laws on the heart of every man.  We are born into this world knowing in our consciences what is right and what is wrong.

Our consciences act like a highway patrolman inside us when we do wrong.  When we pass a highway patrolman, we can immediately feel guilty.  We may not be speeding at the time, but we know that we have driven faster than the speed limit at other times; and we might be speeding right now.  The conscience acts like this type of monitor on the inside of us.  It gives us immediate feedback about whether or not we are doing something that we know is wrong.  This is where our thoughts kick into action and act as judge and jury for us.  They accuse us when we do wrong and say we are doing okay when we are doing what is right.  It is much like when we see the patrolmen and then immediately look at our speedometer to see if we are speeding or are not speeding.  We quickly either think, "I am speeding, I had better slow down quick"; or, "Phew, I am going the speed limit."  Paul says that some Gentiles or non-religious persons who operate only based on this law inside themselves do better at obeying God's law than do many who know God's law that is written in the Bible.

It cannot be denied that there are those who are not Christians who do much that is right.  They are respectable husbands and wives, are good parents, are respectful toward their parents, are honest, are helpful in their community, and in many ways are upright people.  In fact, there are many non-Christians who put Christians to shame in many areas of their lives.  So, both Jews and Gentiles and all men will be judged on how we obey the law-whether it is written in the Bible or written in our hearts.

 "This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares."  God will judge each man based on how well we do in obeying what we know is right.  He knows the secrets of our hearts.  Nothing escapes Him.  He will judge us with complete fairness.  Someone once said if there were a tape recording of everything that we said, there would be enough from our own words to judge and condemn us as those who do not even live up to our own standards.  God will judge us on the basis of how we have disobeyed what we knew in our own hearts was wrong.  Also, as Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount, we secretly sin in our hearts as well.  And Jesus who knows our hearts will judge every sinful secret sin of our hearts at the Day of Judgment.  See Matthew 12:36; Hebrews 4:12,13

Paul concludes, with these words, "as my gospel declares."  His gospel declares that we are sinners deserving God's judgment.  Jesus' death on the cross is only good news to us if we clearly see that we justly deserve the punishment that He received.  The blood of Jesus Christ is only good news to us when we recognize that because of the darkness of our sin, we justly deserve God's judgment and not God's grace.  It is the good news when we see that the cross rescues us eternally from what we justly deserve, hell's fire!

b. No one can save himself (2:17-3:20)

We can think that there is something that we can do to save ourselves.  The Jews believed that they were saving themselves.  But, they are not unique.  We often hear men explaining to us how they are saving themselves.  They may state to us that they are sure that God will accept them for they are trying to live a good life.  One young father of two boys who was attending a church program exclaimed, in seeking to justify his lack of church attendance, "If everyone was like me, there would be no problems in this world."  But we will learn from these verses that the Bible clearly states that no one can justify or save himself or herself!

(1) Our belief that we are spiritually superior will not save us. (2:17-24)

"Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, and an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth---you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?  You who preach against stealing, do you steal?  You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?  You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?  As it is written:  'God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'"

Thought Question:  Religion can actually lead us away from God rather than to Him.  According to Paul's words in these verses, how can religion lead us away from God?

 

 

Argument #5:  BUT I HAVE BEEN TAUGHT ABOUT THE BIBLE SINCE I WAS IN SUNDAY SCHOOL.  CERTAINLY THAT MAKES ME SUPERIOR TO OTHERS WHO DO NOT KNOW THE BIBLE.  The Jews of Paul's time felt that they were superior in God's eyes to the Gentiles, because of their knowledge of God and His Law; they saw the Gentiles as blind, foolish, and mere infants!  And they would have thought:  "How can God not save us?  We are high and holy Jews, who because of all our knowledge of God and His Law are far superior to the lowly Gentiles."  But, as was mentioned earlier, just as the knowledge of a speed limit does not help us when we are stopped for speeding by a policeman, so their knowledge of the Law did not help them if they did not obey it!  Just as a policeman is not interested in whether or not we know the law, but in whether or not we obey it; so God is not impressed by the fact that we know His Law, but He is concerned about whether or not we obey it.

The Jews were arrogant because of what they knew, but they should have been humbled by how far they fell short of what they knew.  Knowing the Bible does not make us better people.  It is not what we know that is primarily important.  The Bible was not given to us for us to gain knowledge about it.  It was given to us to guide us in living our lives.  As Paul says in I Corinthians 8:1:  "Knowledge puffs us, but love builds up."  In fact, the Jews who were arrogant because of their knowledge of the Law should have been humbled because they were disobeying the Law they knew so well!  Sadly, as Paul said to them, "God's name is being blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."

Each of us should, at this point consider, is there anyone that is blaspheming the name of God because of the way that you and I have lived in front of them?  We also should be humbled at how many times we have done that which is contrary to what we know the Bible teaches.  Have we grumbled when the Bible says we are to be lights by not grumbling (Philippians 2:14,15)?  Have we slandered other people when the Bible says clearly that we are not to slander others (Ephesians 4:29)?  And have we failed in other ways to obey what we know the Bible teaches?

We in the church can also fall into the very same type of pride that was characteristic of the Jews of Paul's time.  The Jews were proud because they approved "of what is superior."  They could proudly talk about having the best and highest moral type of life.  We as Christians can also feel that we are superior to the world because we are knowledgeable about what is right and wrong, while the lowly non-Christians are blind to what we know.  And we can be proud because we do not do what the world does; for example, we don't go to movies, play cards, or swear.  We can even find reasons to feel superior to other Christians.  We have the best doctrine, the best worship service, the best pastor, the best church building in town, etc.  We can have the very same type of attitudes about ourselves that these Jews had about themselves.  We can believe that we are a "guide to the blind" and so forth.  Instead of being proud of our Bible knowledge and our Christian status, we need to be humbled by how far we all fall short of what the Bible teaches are God's standards for Christian living.  We need to ask ourselves, are we like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:9-14 who cries, "God be merciful to me a sinner" or are we like the Pharisee who is glad that he is superior to other men?

Paul lists eight accomplishments of which the Jews were proud (17-20); then he points to at least four ways that the Jewish people had failed to obey the very Law in which they took such great pride.  They stole, committed adultery, and robbed temples.  We know that the Pharisees of Jesus' time were involved in robbing people by their sale of the Temple sacrifices.  Jesus implied in John 8, that the woman caught in adultery was not the only one who had committed adultery.  There were those who were condemning her who had also committed adultery.  Today, we in the church are sadly often as guilty of sinning in attitude and action as those who sin in the world around us.

Paul asks these Jews who teach others, whether they have first taught themselves.  What a message this is to the modern-day pastor and teacher.  Before you give your message or your lesson, have you first taught yourself?  How well are you doing in the area about which you so confidently teach?  Do you fail in these areas?  Have you as strongly applied the teaching in this area to your own life as you are asking others to apply it to their lives?

(2) Our self-righteous pride in our rituals will not save us. (2:25-29)

"Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.  If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?  The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a law breaker.  A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly, and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.  Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God."

 

 

Thought Question:  What do these verses teach us about the proper attitude to have toward rituals in the church?

 

 

Argument #6: BUT I ATTEND CHURCH EVERY SUNDAY AND PARTICIPATE REGULARLY IN ALL OF OUR CHURCH'S RITUALS. Paul teaches in these verses that religious rituals and ceremonies do not save us.  Ceremonies and rituals are totally meaningless if they do not represent what is in our hearts.  Isaiah said, "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."  (Isaiah 29:13)  The Jews that Paul was speaking to thought that because they had obeyed God's instructions to Abraham given in Genesis 17 and had become circumcised, that they were right with God.  Circumcision, though, was not meant to be a way to get right with God, instead, it was supposed to be a sign that they had chosen from the heart to be God's people.  If they were not God's people in their hearts, it was a meaningless sign.  Sadly, those who were not circumcised but obeyed God were more God's people than they were.  Also, if someone comes to church each Sunday, but has no real love for God and His ways in his heart, his church attendance is completely meaningless.

Here, the circumcised Jew looked forward to judging the uncircumcised on the day of God's judgment.  But, Paul states that if they disobey the Law, and an uncircumcised Gentile keeps the Law, the uncircumcised Gentile will be judging them.

In the last two verses of this section, Paul explains who is really a Jew.  A Jew in God's eyes is not an Israelite who merely fulfills all the outward ritualistic requirements given to the Jews in the Old Testament.  That does not make one a member of God's family.  God gave them the ritual as an outward expression of their inward desire to fellowship with God as members of His chosen people.  The rituals they performed described how God would make it possible for them (and us) to fellowship with Him.  In particular, the rituals symbolized how they could come to Him through a sacrifice.   The sacrifices they offered before the Temple pointed to Jesus' future sacrifice on the cross for them.  But, they thought that they could become His people by just adhering to the ceremonies without a real and heart-felt desire to draw near to Him.  They were like some who live like hell on Saturday night (even Mafia members), and then go to Roman Catholic mass each Sunday.  What they were doing is also like anyone who ignores God as a regular part of their lives, but then regularly attends church on Sundays.

But, circumcision was a symbol that pointed to God's Spirit coming into our hearts and cutting away the old dead man who we once were when Jesus Christ was not in us.  These Jews would not become God's people until God's Spirit circumcised them in their hearts.  And, as Paul says in closing this chapter:  "Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God."  Men are primarily concerned with outward appearance, but God is primarily concerned with our hearts.  If these Jews wanted praise from God rather than praise from men, they should seek it by being circumcised in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.

The need to have circumcised hearts, and even hearts circumcised by the Holy Spirit, is not new with Paul for we find it also in the Old Testament.  See Leviticus 26:40,41; Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4 9:25; Ezekiel 36:26-32; 44:9  So, the Jewish people Paul was speaking to could not justly say that what he was saying to them was not based on their Scriptures.

(3) Our self-righteous pride in our nationality will not save us. (3:1-2)

"What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?  Much in every way!  First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God."

Thought Question:  What do you learn from these verses about the advantages you have because you were born in a Christian country?

 

 

Argument #7: BUT I WAS RAISED IN A CHRISTIAN COUNTRY.  At this point, the Jewish religious person would ask what Paul asks here, "What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew or what value is there in circumcision?"  They had come to believe that because they were God's chosen people; they were already part of God's eternal family.  It appears to them, however, that Paul is saying that everything in the Bible about God choosing Abraham and the Jewish race was of no importance.  They thought that because they were God's chosen people, they were forever God's people.  But, Paul appeared to be saying that they were no better off than the Gentiles.

Of course, there are many in our country whose thinking is very similar to the thinking of the Jews of Paul's time (though, we thought like this more in the past than we think this way now).  They think that because they were born in a Christian country they are Christians.

So, the Jewish religious person asks-if being a Jew does not save me from God's anger and judgment, then what good is it for me to have been born a Jew?  Also, if being born in a Christian nation does not save me, what good is it for me to have been born an American?  In both cases, it is very good, for we have a great advantage over others who are not Jews or who were not born in this country.  We have been exposed to the Bible; whereas, people who are not Jews or not Americans have not had the same opportunity or privilege.  As Paul says in verse two, they had “been entrusted with the very words of God.”

We, as Americans, also have a great privilege.  In almost every city or town in America, there are churches, Christian radio, and Christian bookstores.  There are Christians and Bibles everywhere.  How many countries in our world have this type of opportunity available to them?  Maybe no other country is as privileged as our nation.  But, greater opportunity and privilege also means greater responsibility before God.

The Jewish people had received the very words of God.  Also, we read in the Bible that God breathed out every word of the Bible, so all the words in the Bible are the very words of God.  But, the Jews in a unique way had received the very words of God.  Of all the nations on Earth, it was the Jewish people alone whom God had chosen to speak to and through.  God spoke directly to their nation and to individuals of their nation.  Even the church began with Jewish Apostles.  Is there any nation on earth that is as privileged as the nation of Israel?

Paul has more to say about Israel's great privileges in chapter 9 verses 4 and 5:  "Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ who is God over all, forever praised!  Amen."

What did they do with this great privilege?  We know, for example, that they used the Bible to nit-pick about such things as exactly when is someone working on the Sabbath and when are they not working.  Instead of seeking to understand God's message to mankind so that they could teach the nations God's ways, they used the Bible to develop an unending list of legalistic rules and regulations to burden down their fellow Jews.  They imposed rules and regulations on others-rules which in their hearts and lives they themselves did not obey.  Instead of being God's light to the world, they took God's words and created their own religious darkness.

We also are to be a light to our world, and not just another group of religious legalists.  The world needs to know what Paul is communicating in this letter to the Romans.  His message is that the whole world and we are all in darkness and sin.  This is not a pleasant message for people to hear, but we need to first see our need before we are ready to hear about what will meet our need.  When people in our world know about all of our need for God's grace, then the world will be ready to know through us that God has paid an infinite price to pay the righteous penalty for all of our darkness and sin.  It is not being part of a privileged nation that saves us.  It is only the blood of Jesus Christ that can save us from God's righteous judgment.

Paul, in these verses, is answering an argument from an imaginary religious legalist.  He probably did not have a specific person in mind.  Instead, he is probably responding to arguments by Jewish legalists that he had heard many times in his debates with his fellow Jews in the synagogues.  Today, we have scientists who are Christians who go to university campuses and present the creation view of the origin of the earth.  They become used to being challenged by university students and professors.  After a while the challenges and questions that they hear begin to sound familiar to them, for they have heard the same arguments over and over again.  They get used to answering these questions and meeting these challenges.

So, Paul was used to the types of challenges that the Jewish religious persons would make.  As Paul wrote this letter to the Roman Christians, he gives the challenges to his reasoning that he was confident that the Jewish religious legalists in Rome would make.  Then, he follows each of their challenges with his response.  Also, they are much the same type of arguments that are used today by those who seek to justify themselves rather than receive by faith the blood-bought justification that comes through Jesus Christ.

(4) Our last ditch arguments will not save us. (3:3-8)

There have been many books written that attempt to answer questions that non-Christians ask.  The questions that non-Christians ask are familiar to all of us, for we have either heard them being asked or we at one time asked them ourselves.  The following is an example of this type of question:  "How can a loving God allow all the suffering that takes place in the world?"  Sometimes those who ask these questions are sincerely confused and are looking for answers that make sense to them.  At other times, however, these questions are what have been called "smoke screens."  They are asked so that those who are asking these questions can avoid facing their own neediness and their own guilt before God.  Paul is not dealing with those who have sincere questions in these verses, but he is dealing with the questions of those who are seeking to avoid facing their guilt before God.  The questions that they ask are last ditch attempts to side-track Paul from getting to his final conclusion. They are trying to avoid hearing that they are sinners just like the Gentiles and just like the irreligious person.

(a) Last ditch argument #1 (3:3-4)

"What if some did lack faith?  Will their lack of faith nullify God's faithfulness?  Not at all!  Let God be true, and every man a liar.  As it is written:  'So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.'"

Thought Question:  These verses start with a tactic that anyone can use when he or she is attempting to escape responsibility for his or her sin.  Give one example of how we can use a similar argument to try to escape responsibility for our sin.

 

 

GOD IS GOING TO BE FAITHFUL TO US EVEN IF WE FAIL HIM!  The argument is as follows:  "What if some did lack faith?  Will their lack of faith nullify God's faithfulness?"  In other words, God promised to save us.  Will He break His promise to us just because we do not obey Him?  Those who work with juvenile offenders in detention facilities and state institutions know that these young people prefer to use various types of evasive arguments rather than change their behavior.  Some of the typical arguments which they use are these:  "The other staff all let us do it, why don't you?"  "The reason you are disciplining us is because you are prejudice against my race."  The reason that they use these types of arguments is because it has helped them before to avoid facing responsibility for their actions.  Those who work with juvenile offenders would, of course, prefer to just talk with them in a reasonable way, but they need to continuously deal with these types of side-tracking arguments.

Paul would rather not have had to deal with the arguments given in this section of verses.  But, he needed to deal with them.  For he knew, from his many debates in the synagogues and his own experience as a Pharisee, the arguments that the Jews would come up with to enable themselves to avoid taking responsibility for their own sinfulness.

And, so, once again the argument: "Even if a few are unfaithful, God still has to keep his promise to Israel."  Paul's answer:  "Not at all!  Let God be true, and every man a liar."  In other words, God will continue to be true, righteous, and faithful to His promises even if every person is a liar and is unfaithful.  God is still righteous and you are still sinners.  Your argument did not change anything.  You are still back to where you were before the argument.  The staff at a juvenile facility might say, "Your arguments do not work, you are still getting the discipline that you deserve."  Also, God continues to be righteous no matter how sinful man becomes.  By your arguments you cannot make God wrong and you right.  Do not we as human beings often feel that we can put God on trial?  But that will never be true, instead, we will always be on trial, and God will always be true.

Paul quotes from Psalm 51:4:  "So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge."  The full verse is as follows:  "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge."  It is David's heart-broken confession of his sin before God after his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband.  David is acknowledging that he is sinful and God is totally righteous and fair.  David is admitting his sinfulness before a holy God.  The Jews, whom Paul is describing here, were trying to put God on trial rather than doing what David did, admitting their sin before God!

We all must admit that there are many times when we put God on trial.  He is wrong to have done this or that to us.  David had concluded that, "No, God is not wrong in what He has done to me; instead, it is only I that have been wrong."  In some situation we now find ourselves, we may be concluding that God was wrong by allowing it to happen to us.  But, the truth is that God is never wrong.  He is always right and just.  If we actually did receive what we do deserve, what would we get?

(b) Last ditch argument #2 - "Man can see God's righteousness more

clearly as they see it in contrast with our sin, so how can He judge us when we are helping Him out?" (3:5-8)
"But if our unrighteousness brings out God's righteousness more clearly, what shall we say?  That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us?  (I am using a human argument.)  Certainly not!  If that were so, how could God judge the world?  Someone might argue, 'If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?'  Why not say---as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say---'Let us do evil that good may result'?  Their condemnation is deserved."

Thought Question:  What we have here is an example of a last-ditch argument that is used, so that we do not have to face the truth about our sin before a righteous God.  Put this last-ditch argument into your own words.

 

 

MAN CAN SEE GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS MORE CLEARLY AS THEY SEE IT IN CONTRAST WITH OUR SIN, SO HOW CAN HE JUDGE US WHEN WE ARE HELPING HIM OUT?

The blacker our sin, the better God's holiness looks!  So, we are helping God out by doing what is wrong.  Does not this argument sound logical?  We have all heard people rationalize just about every wrong they have ever done.  And others have heard us do it.  Our pattern is to do wrong and then use arguments to turn what is wrong into what is right.  We put our spin on it.  We always have a logical reason for doing what is wrong.  This argument that our doing what is wrong is helping people to see God's holiness shows how ridiculous and infuriating to others our arguments can get.

Paul says here that he is using a human argument.  All of these last-ditch arguments are very human.  They are examples of the way that we humans typically seek to rationalize and argue away our guilt for the sins that we commit.

Paul's answer: "if this argument is used, then God would not be able to judge anyone."  God would not even be able to judge the Gentiles that Paul described in chapter one.  For the ugly darkness of the sins of the Gentiles would help people to see the whiteness of God's righteousness!  Paul skillfully destroys this argument of the religious Jews.  If you want God not to judge you, it will also be necessary for God not to judge the Gentiles.  The Jews could not stand to have the Gentiles not judged for their sins.  And, so, as Jesus often put the Pharisees who challenged Him between a rock and a hard place with his short answers, so Paul's answer also leaves his imaginary opponent with no route of escape.

We see in verse eight, that Paul was actually being accused of saying something similar to this last-ditch argument.  They accused him of saying that men could do evil so that good will result.  Later Paul will explain that God gave mankind the Law to provoke us to greater sin, so that we can see how sinful we are.  He also says that God's grace is greater than all our sins. See 5:20   But, Paul never taught that God desires that men do evil.  Men had twisted the gospel that Paul presented and were saying that Paul was encouraging men to do evil so that good would come.  Paul says here that the judgment they will receive for twisting and misrepresenting his words will be deserved.

(5) Our works will not save us. (3:9-20)

The final conclusion of Paul's arguments is presented in these verses: all have sinned and deserve God's judgment!  "What shall we conclude then?  Are we any better?  Not at all!  We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles are all under sin."  People who are raised in the church often think that the world is divided into two groups, the sinners who do not attend church and the non-sinners who are raised in the church.  Paul states here quite clearly that we are all in just one group.  We are all under sin or, in other words, we are all sinners.  As he says in verse 20:  "no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law" (or by church attendance or by being raised in the church or by being raised in a Christian family).  Paul will show in these verses that we are all sinners in our hearts, our words, and our actions!  And he quotes from the Jewish Old Testament books of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Isaiah to make his point.

There is no better section of verses in the Bible to use to prove that the Bible teaches that we are all sinners and that no one can earn their way into a relationship with God, than these verses.

(a) Our rejection of God begins in our hearts. (3:9-12)

"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."  (from Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20)

Thought Question:  What do these verses tell us about every man and woman (including you and me) who has ever walked on this planet?

 

 

Why is mankind unable to find God?  It is because in our hearts we really do not want to find Him!  In our hearts we are ungodly.  We prefer that God not butt Himself into our lives.  "It's our life, not His life."  We did not ask to be created, but now that we are here, we will do with our lives whatever we choose to do.  And we do not choose to be under any obligation to God or accountable to Him.  As it says in the Four Spiritual Laws booklet, we are either actively rebelling against God or passively choosing to ignore Him.  Paul uses the conclusions of David and Solomon to make his point, and his point is that all men are under sin.

First of all, there is no one who is righteous.  This statement of fact is presented authoritatively in God's Word.  There is not now, nor has there ever been, one man apart from the God-man Jesus Christ who has been or is righteous.  Notice, Paul is not saying that there is no man who has lived a righteous life.  He does say that, but he also goes beyond that and says that there is no one who is righteous.  There is no one who has a righteous heart.  Or another way of putting it is that there is no one who is blameless in his heart.  No, there has not been one person (other than the God-man Jesus Christ) who has ever lived who is or has been pure in his or her heart and motives!  There are some that may feel that they are the one exception and that they are pure in their motives.  But, Jeremiah gives us God's point of view on every human being:  "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure." (Jeremiah 17:9)

Then, Paul says that there is no one who understands about God or understands what life is really all about.  Our universities are filled with very intelligent men and women who spend their whole lives seeking to learn.  But, apart from them being enlightened by God's Spirit, not one of them or any person really understands why we are on this planet.  They are intelligently in the dark about the meaning of their very own lives.  They were meant to live in a spiritual relationship with God, but they have no understanding about even their need for a relationship with God.  Without God giving us understanding, each person who has ever lived in this world has no understanding that it is in a relationship with God that he or she will find real meaning in life, real joy, real peace, and real hope.  They simply have no understanding!  If they had understanding, they would seek Him in whom they would find life. 

Then, Paul goes on to say that there is no one that seeks for God.  Our world is full of religious people.  But, according to God's Word, in spite of all men's religious quests, apart from God's Spirit not one of them is really seeking for God.  Now, you might say at this point that there are many who are religious, pray to God, and attend various types of church or religious services.  But seeking God means more than a half-hearted ritual performed mechanically at traditional times.  Seeking God means seeking to get to know Him, and seeking to be close to Him as the premiere desire of one's heart.  In fact, instead of seeking God, as Paul says, men seek to be free from God and seek to move away from Him.  Paul says that all have turned away from God and not toward Him.

Until God opens our hearts, we all have our cars pointed away from God and are busy driving away from Him and not toward Him.  So, mankind who is not seeking after God will obviously never arrive at a relationship with God.  We are not on the narrow road that leads to life, but the broad road that leads to destruction.

As Paul says, "we have together become worthless."  Paul, before he was a Christian, thought that his religious life as a Pharisee was of great worth.  But after he became a Christian, he said that the life he had lived was completely worthless.  See Philippians 3:1-9   People all over the world who are running down a godless path are also living completely worthless lives!

 And, finally, Paul says that there is no one who is doing good.  The Bible tells us that even the people who believe that they are seeking to do good are really not doing what is good.  As the repentant person in Isaiah 64:6 had come to realize, even "our righteous acts are like filthy rags" to God.  We may be doing what appears to be good, but we are doing our good for selfish reasons.  And so, we are born into this world with hearts that do not seek God.  We are born hostile to God and His ways.

Notice the downward progression.  First, no one is righteous.  But, not only are we not righteous, we do not even understand about God and His ways.  And not only do we not understand, we are not even seeking to be righteous or to understand!

(b) Our rejection of God is expressed in our words. (3:13-14)

"Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit" (from Psalm 5:9).  "The poison of vipers in on their lips" (from Psalm 140:3).  "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness" (from Psalm 10:7).

Thought Question:  Is Paul saying that his description applies to all men (apart from the new birth)?  How do these verses apply to you?

 

 

Paul traces our words from our throats ("open graves"), to our tongues ("practice deceit"), to our lips ("poison of vipers"), and then to our whole mouths ("full of cursing and bitterness").  He does not leave much out.  Everything in us that produces words is totally rotten.  First of all, what is it that does come from our mouths?  What comes naturally from the mouths of children and young people?  Moms used to say to their children, "I am going to wash your mouth out with soap."  Why did their mouths need to be washed out with soap?  Rottenness easily comes out of the mouths of children.  Just think of all that comes out of our mouths: gossip, lies, put downs, critical words, self-justification, sarcasm, racial bigotry, profanity, and complaining.  As Jesus said, all of this is in our hearts, and then comes out of our mouths.  And what comes out is rotten.   "'Are you still so dull?'  Jesus asked them.  'Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?  But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things make a man 'unclean.'  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'" (Matthew 15:16-19)

Our throats are like "open graves."  We do not have to think very hard to figure out what Paul meant by an open grave.  If we open up a grave what will it be like?  Not a pretty sight.  What are our throats like to God? They are like this open grave!  God does not see our sin through rose-colored glasses as we do.  He sees it in all its ugliness.  As we mentioned earlier, he sees even our righteous works as filthy rags.  Paul saw his legalistic works as dung.  Revivals take place when we see our sin as God sees it and begin to hate it as He does!

Our tongues "practice deceit."  Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes clearly what Paul means by deceit:  "In the original, this means that their tongues are very smooth---speaking falsehoods and flatteries and lies, pretending that which is not true, pretending to be delighted to meet people when they wish they had not seen them, pretending they think the world of them, when they are always criticizing them."  "Taken from Romans Exposition of Chapters 2:1-3:20 by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Copyright 1989 by Zondervan Publishing House."

The "poison of vipers is on their lips."  A person can be sweet and still be very deceitful.  He has the poison of a rattlesnake smeared all over his or her lips.  The used car salesman who flatters you about your wonderful judgment in choosing the best car on the lot is hiding the truth that he has not been able to sell that car for weeks.  He is also hiding from you the fact that it has major engine problems; and that he is using a high density oil to cover up the engine sounds that will reveal that it has engine problems.  He flatters you, but there is poison smeared all over his lips.  But, it is not just the used car salesman.  For what we hate in that salesman is present in every man and woman.  For Paul is not describing here what some people are like, but what all people are like!

Our "mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."  In polite society, you may not hear cursing and bitterness coming out of people's mouths.  You do not usually hear it in the local supermarket.  There, people are on their best behavior.  But in the unguarded moments, we do hear it-at home, at the bar, at the ball game, at work, and in private conversations.  We may not curse or express bitterness in its very worst degree, but it is there in all of us apart from our being filled by God's Spirit.  It comes out when we believe that we are wronged, when we do not get what we want, when we are kept waiting, when someone else is chosen instead of us, when we are irritated, and at many other times.  And because these types of things happen all the time to us, it is quite common for our mouths to be full of cursing and bitterness.

(c) Our rejection of God is expressed in our actions. (3:15-17)

"Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know" (from Isaiah 59:7,8 and Proverbs 1:16).

Thought Question:  Do you believe these verses apply to all men or to just a few wicked people?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

God did not create feet so that they could be swift to shed blood.  But, when we look at the history of the human race, what do we see?  Our feet are swift to shed blood.  Our history is a history of wars!  And what are wars, but people who are swift to shed blood.  Only now, with our rockets and jets, we are much swifter at shedding blood than we once were.  Our young people have also gotten into the act with their gang wars on our streets, and they are even doing it in our residential neighborhoods.  Paul sums up the whole history of the world: "the way of peace they do not know."  Ray Stedman thinks that this would be a good slogan for the United Nations!

At this point, you may be saying, "I am not that bad.  My feet are not swift to kill somebody."  No, none of us is as bad as we could be.  We are not utterly and completely depraved.  But, what Paul describes in these and the previous verses is there in each of us.  Apart from the new birth, we are rotten to the core.  We are not utterly depraved, but we are born into this world with every part of us corrupted by sin.

In World War II Germany, many normal up-standing citizens became ugly monsters under Hitler's reign.  How could this happen?  It happened because apart from God changing us at our core, we are all capable of being monsters just like those who lived in Germany and said nothing about the Holocaust or actually participated in it.  Few of us have ever had the opportunity to be cruel to others without fearing any consequences!  But, if we are honest, we can remember those times when we were cruel because we had a safe opportunity to be cruel and to get by with it.  We may have been in a group of people who were all united against someone.  At that time we may have seen a side of us come out that we did not know was there.

(d) The cause of our sin (3:18)

"There is no fear of God before their eyes." (from Psalm 36:1)

Thought Question:  Here is a basic cause of man's problem.  Why do you believe that having no fear of God is a major reason for man's sinfulness?

 

 

Here, Paul sums up everything he has been saying from all the way back in chapter 1 verse 18 up to these verses: "There is no fear of God before their eyes."  The cause of our sin is godlessness.  And to put it another way, as he does here, we do not fear God!  In the book of Proverbs, we are told that the beginning of knowledge is the fear of God.  See Proverbs 1:7  The opposite is also true.  The end of knowledge comes when we do not fear God.  The pagans knew about God, but they chose to exclude Him from their lives and God gave them over to animal passions.  We saw in Romans 1:18-32 how hardened toward God the pagans become: "Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (Romans 1:32)

The religious person deceives himself into thinking that he is better than the pagan, but his religious veneer covers up the very same sinful heart as is possessed by the pagan.  Both the pagan and the religious person do not fear God.  When, for example, you trace the history of the Roman Catholic Church you find every atrocity that is found outside of religion.  And sadly, within the Protestant Church, we find the very same ugly atrocities.

Paul has forcefully made his point: that both the pagan and the religious person are hardened rebels against God.  So, we now come to Paul's conclusion in verses 19 and 20!

(e) Paul's conclusion (3:19-20):

"Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God."

Thought Question:  This is Paul's conclusion.  What is his conclusion and why is it so important?

 

 

What is the purpose of the Law?  Its purpose is to shut our mouths before God.  When someone is caught doing something wrong, they often begin to talk.  They give excuses; they blame others.  That is what Adam and Eve did.  Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent.  We keep our mouths going, when we should just shut our mouths and admit our guilt.  God gave us the Law so that it would shut our mouths and so that we would admit that we are guilty and totally accountable before God for our sins and sinfulness.

Our constant disobedience to God's Law should cause us to see that there is an overwhelming case against us that we are justly guilty before a holy God for breaking His commands and rebelling against Him over and over again.  The only choice that we are left with is to wait until we receive our just punishment from God.  We are silenced because we see that we stand justly condemned before God.  After a man's tongue has been silenced and he has come to recognize that he is justly accountable to God for all the sins that he has committed, he immediately sees that his greatest need is for God's mercy!

Ray Stedman observes that you can always tell when someone is ready to become a Christian, for they stop arguing, asking questions, and defending themselves.  Have you come to that point where you are speechless before God?  You know that no argument or defense will change anything and that you are justly condemned before God.  Are you at the very same place as the tax-collector who could only say, "God be merciful to me a sinner"?  The good news for you comes in the final verses of chapter three!

Paul has just given the Jewish religious person a list of verses from the Old Testament books, their own book of laws.  And what do these verses state?  It silences the Jews.  The Old Testament is a record of God's dealing with His chosen people.  And what do we learn from the Jews?  We learn that they were sinners.  Even the heroes of the Old Testament were liars (Abraham and Jacob for example) and adulterers and murderers (David for example).  In the Old Testament, God chose a group of people who are just like us; and they failed miserably just as we would have failed if we had the very same opportunity.  Paul's quotes are Old Testament verses that sum up the sinfulness of the Jewish people!  They were as sinful as the pagans!

It is only when we stop talking that we can begin to experience what God wants to give us.  Job talked until he saw God's glory and then his mouth was stopped.  See Job 42:1-6   Peter declared that he would never deny Jesus, but his mouth was stopped.  Paul's mouth was stopped on the road to Damascus.  In our sinfulness and before God's holiness, we need to be slow to speak and quick to hear!

"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin."  Some, even most, believe that the Ten Commandments were given as a way to get to Heaven.  There is great scale in the sky and if you do more good works than bad works you will go to Heaven.  But, the law was not given to us as a way to salvation, but to show us that we are sinful.  Absolutely no one will get right with God through obeying the Law!  You can't and I can't!  There is not a person on this earth that has not broken God's commandments over and over again.  Mother Teresa has; the Pope has; Billy Graham has.  The Law was given to show us that we are all in the very same group.  We are all sinners!  But there is an answer.  And the answer is found in the remaining verses of chapter three!

It is interesting that Paul starts out in chapter 1 verse 18 by summing up the sinfulness of the pagans, but he does not sum up the sin of the Jewish person and the religious person until the very last two verses of his argument.  Someone has said that you do not need to convince a person in jail that he is a sinner.  But, you do need to convince a religious person that he is sinner.  Paul in this section convinces all who will listen and all who will finally shut their mouths before God, that we are all sinners and all justly deserve to receive God's anger and punishment.  Now we learn about God's grace!

THE NEEDS MET BY THE GOSPEL OF GOD (3:21-8:39)

1. Salvation from the penalty of sin (3:21-4:25)

Paul would not fit into our world today, where there is such a great emphasis on self-esteem.  For Paul's total purpose in 1:18-3:20 was not to build up our self-esteem, but to show us that we have no esteem before God whatsoever.  Instead, his purpose is to convince his readers that every person, apart from God's grace, is sinful, justly and eternally condemned, and without hope before God.  What is the value in Paul's arguing that all men are sinful and deserve God's wrath?  His purpose is clear.  It is not until we understand and accept our infinite need for God's mercy that we will desire and can fully appreciate God's infinite gift to us.  When a person is in denial about having cancer, he or she has no desire to seek treatment.  But when someone becomes convinced that without treatment that they will die a horrible death, then they will seek any treatment that will help.  It is only when we realize how sinful we are and how God in His righteousness and justice must pour out His righteous wrath on us for all that we deserve, that we are ready for a solution, any solution!  In Romans 3:21-4:25 Paul gives God's solution!

a. Salvation from the penalty of sin (after the Cross) (3:21-31)

In these few verses is a richness of words to help us understand what God has done for us through Jesus Christ's death on the cross.  Dr. Leon Morris believes that this is "possibly the most important single paragraph ever written."  "Quoted in Romans by John Stott.  Copyright 1994 by Intervarsity Press."  We will be looking at words like "righteousness," "faith," "justified," "redemption," and "sacrifice of atonement."  Each of these words is critically important in understanding the salvation from sin and judgment that is available through Jesus’ death on the cross for us.  As my introduction to Romans pointed out, Paul is like an attorney in a court of law arguing about our legal status before God.  In these verses, he will argue that because of Jesus' death for us, we through faith can be legally and justly free from the guilt and punishment for our sins that we justly deserve.  There is not a more important eleven verses in the Bible than these verses that we are about to seek to understand.

(1) Salvation is a free gift. (3:21-24)

"But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

Thought Question #1:  What does Paul mean by "a righteousness . . . apart from the law"?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What is meant by the word "righteousness"?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  What is meant by the word justification?

 

 

Thought Question #4:  What is meant by the word "redemption"?

 

 

Thought Question #5:  How do we receive God's righteousness "through faith"?

 

 

Thought Question #6:  What is "sin"?

 

 

As Paul states at the first of verse 21, salvation from the punishment for sin that we all deserve must be provided apart from the Law; for if the Law judges us, we all fall short and deserve punishment.  As Paul says in the very well-known Romans 3:23, we "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."   When measured by the Law' requirements, which is the glory of God, we all do not measure up.  Our only hope is that there is something available to us apart from the Law.  When a person is on death row for committing a murder, he can first try every means that is available to him through the law.  But, when he has exhausted everything available to him through the law, he has no hope.  But, in our country there is still hope apart from the law.  The governor can still pardon him.

Under the Law, we all have no hope.  For we all fall short of God's requirements.  No matter how much effort we put into trying to please God, we will never be able to earn forgiveness or acceptance with God.  So, because getting right with God can never be earned, our only hope is that we can get right with God through a gift!  If we really understand and believe what Paul has been saying up to this point in Romans, we can say Hallelujah (Praise the Lord)!  For there is hope for us apart from the Law!  There is a free gift available!

But, first of all, to help us to understand God's gift to us, we need to understand some of the words that Paul uses in these verses:

1. "righteousness"-It is not right or fair for God to allow us to go free without the just penalty for our sins being paid.

2. "justified"-We are justified only when the legally required penalty is fully paid.  Then, and only then, are we completely free from guilt before God.  If we get a ticket, we are not justified until we are legally right with the courts.  And we are only legally right with the courts when we pay the fine that we deserve for getting the ticket.  Consider all that we have done against God.  And, unlike traffic policemen, He catches us every time that we do wrong.  He even catches all that we do in our hearts.  We are not justified until our punishment is fully paid before Him. 

Justification is a legal term and is the opposite of condemnation.  As we stand before God, our righteous and totally just Judge, we either deserve for Him to ring down the gavel and declare that we are "condemned" or ring down the gavel and declare that we are "justified!"  Justification means that He has rung down the gavel and declared that you and I are justified, completely free from any just condemnation.  We, as a characteristic trait of being a human, tend to try to justify ourselves.  After this defensive maneuver, we still remain guilty.  When God says that we are justified, though, it means that we are totally free of guilt before Him.  Can you think of a more important word to you and me in all of the English language?  For it means that nothing now prevents you and me from enjoying a relationship with God as a member of His eternal family!

Justification does not mean that you are pure and righteous in what you do, but it does mean that God has declared that you are now righteous in His court of Law.  Jesus completely paid the penalty for your sin, and you now start with clean record before Him.  Justification makes it possible for you now to begin the process of becoming righteous in your practices, which is called sanctification.

3. "redemption"-When one is set free from slavery by a ransom payment.  The ransom payment that sets us free is the blood of Christ.

So, let us put all this together.  "But now a righteousness from God apart from the Law, has been made known."  A way has been made available by God for you and me to get right with God in another way rather than by the Law.  That is wonderful, for Paul has just shown us that if we try to get right with God by the Law, we will all miserably fail.  Religion is man trying somehow through our own efforts to climb up to God and become like Him or become acceptable to Him.  Since God is holy, we can never be acceptable to God through our own efforts.  We will always fall short and always be condemned.  So, the most wonderful news that is possible for one to know is that there is a way to get right with God apart from the Law and apart from religion.  Instead of us reaching up to God, God has reached down to us.  We could never earn righteousness before God through our works; but, now, through this new way, we receive God's righteousness as a wonderful gift from Him.

"which the Law and the Prophets testify." (The Law and the Prophets was the name given by the Jews to what we today call the Old Testament.)  That there is a way to get right with God other than by the Law is not new.  As we will see in chapter four, the way that we get right with God today is the same way that people in the Old Testament got right with God.  In fact, it is the only way that a fallen man could ever have gotten right with God.  Jesus' death to pay the penalty for our sins was promised and predicted to the people who lived before Jesus by the whole sacrificial system.  Jesus is the Lamb of God who came to take away our sins is predicted in numerous prophecies -- Isaiah 53 and Psalms 22 are the most obvious examples.  The people of the Old Testament and we today can only get right with God through the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins on the cross.

"This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe."  How can you and I receive this righteousness from God?  Or, in other words, how can you and I become right with God?  God's gift is not immediately given to the whole world.  It is available to all, but the way that we receive His gift is through faith.  What is faith?  First of all, it is the opposite of trusting in ourselves.  When we are seeking to earn our standing before God by our own efforts, we are trusting in ourselves.  Faith comes when we have reached the end of our pride, self-reliance and trusting in ourselves.  It is the tax-collector in Luke 18 who cries out, "God be merciful to me a sinner."  It is the jailer in Acts 16, after he has totally failed as a jailer when God opened the jail doors to release all his prisoners, crying out, "What must I do to be saved?"

These men were ready to stop trusting only in themselves.  Faith is putting our total faith in God for our righteousness.  In particular, it is putting our faith in Jesus Christ and what He did as a man on our behalf.  It is putting our trust in His life of perfect obedience to the Law and His death on the cross to pay the penalty for our disobedience of the Law, rather than trusting in our own righteousness.  He came as our representative.  He came to succeed where we failed.  He came to offer us a new start and a new life; He came to offer us His life.  Faith is when we stop putting our trust in ourselves for righteousness and life and put our trust in Him alone.  It is a wonderful gift that we totally do not deserve.  But, it is ours if we now put our trust in another, if we put our trust in Jesus Christ.

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,"  What is sin and when have we sinned?  Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives this thorough definition of sin:  "What does sin mean?  Let me give you some definitions of sin.  It means 'missing the mark'; instead of hitting the mark, you are on one side or the other.  It means that -- failure to hit or to come up to the divine standard.  Secondly, it means 'lawlessness'.  Thirdly, it means 'unrighteousness' -- a failure to be right, to be straight, to be upright, to be true.  Fourthly, it means 'a trespass'.  These are terms that you will find scattered about the Bible to bring out the meaning of sin.  A trespass means that you follow your will instead of the will of God.  Sin also means 'iniquity'; and iniquity means anything that is wrong in and of itself, something that is patently, inherently and essentially wrong.  And then, lastly, sin, as John reminds us in his First Epistle, is 'the transgression of the law', a breaking of the law (I John 3:4).  Now the Apostle says that all of us are guilty of all that."  "Taken from Romans Exposition of Chapters 3:20-4:25 by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Copyright 1970 by Zondervan Publishing House."

We have all sinned and then Paul says we all "fall short."  In Genesis 1:26, we find these words of God:  "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image.'"  We were meant to be an expression of God's glory.  But, now because of Adam's sin, we fall short of God's glory.  Sin and God's glory can never mix.  Apart from God doing something, we will always fall short!

"and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."  Again, I must quote Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  For his definition of justification is superb:  People "say that because they are conscious of sin within they cannot be in a justified state; but anyone who speaks like that shows immediately that he has no understanding of this great and crucial doctrine of justification.  Justification makes no actual change in us; it is a declaration by God concerning us.  It is not something that results from what we do but rather something that is done to us.  We have only been made righteous in the sense that God regards us as righteous, and pronounces us to be righteous."  "Taken from Romans Exposition of 3:20-4:25.  Copyright 1970 by Zondervan Publishing House."

So, from the moment we put our trust in Jesus Christ and no longer put our trust in ourselves, we are declared righteous by God.  Whether we feel righteous or do not feel righteous, we are now justified and righteous before God!

All of this is a wonderful gift; it is not what we deserve, it is grace or what we do not deserve!  If we understand what this verse means, we will immediately have the sense of it being too good to be true.  We are okay with God.  He accepts us.  How can this be?  Yet, He says it is true.  It is for this reason that music is so much a part of the Christian life.  We need to have an avenue to express our joy and appreciation to God for what He has done for us.  "Amazing Grace, how can it be?"  The God we have rebelled against and sinned against, now accepts us fully; everything is now all right between Him and us.  It is amazing!

Redemption explains how it has all been made possible.  A slave was redeemed when someone paid a ransom price and he was set free.  In Matthew 20:28 Jesus explains how all we who have trusted in Jesus Christ alone have been set free from our guilt and have become right before God.  "Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many."  Now, listen to Peter's words in I Peter 1:18,19:  "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."  God did not just say, "Oh that is okay, let's just forget all you did."  He could not have done that and still have been righteous.  But, in history and on a wooden cross the payment was made for our sins.  We can look at the cross and know that we are now righteous before God.  We are free because Somebody paid a great price.

(2) Jesus paid for the free gift with His blood. (3:25a)

"God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood."

Thought Question #1:  What is a "sacrifice of atonement" or "propitiation"?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What part do you believe the "blood" of Jesus Christ plays in the atonement of our sins? 

 

 

Thought Question #3:  What does the blood of Jesus Christ mean to you?

 

 

What is a "sacrifice of atonement"?  In other translations we find here "propitiation" rather than "sacrifice of atonement."  Let's look first at the meaning of "propitiation.”  Propitiation is necessary when someone is offended.  You buy a car that you have been told is a completely new car.  After you buy it, however, a mechanic tells you that while doing some basic maintenance work, he has noticed that your new car was in a head-on collision.  He shows you the characteristic wrinkles in the metal and the evidence that there has been repair work done.  At this point you have been wronged and you are understandably offended.  What will appease, pacify or propitiate your anger and sense of justice?  Probably, what would satisfy you is to be given an authentically new car, maybe some extra warranty, and an apology from those who sold you the car.  What will appease, satisfy, pacify and propitiate God's anger for all the many ways and times which we have wronged Him?

Few of us have a very good idea of how we have wronged an infinite and holy God who has given us life and all that comes with it.  But, it is no small matter.  "Sacrifice of atonement" and "propitiate" means that a sacrifice that sufficiently satisfies what God's justice and righteous anger requires has been made on our behalf.  What will provide propitiation or atonement for our sins?  The answer is found in this verse, the blood of Jesus Christ alone will satisfy God's righteous anger toward us for our sins.

A story has been told many times about a family in pioneering times that was caught in a prairie fire.  Because the fire completely surrounded the family, there was no way out of danger.  The father, though, had a solution.  He set fire to the grass right next to them.  Then, after there was a large section of land that had already burned, his family moved over on to the land that was already burned.  The fire would not reach them because they were standing on land that had already been burned.  When Jesus died on the cross, the wrath and anger for our sins was poured out on Him.  Now, by faith, we can move over on to the spot that is already burned.  So, when God's anger for the sins of all mankind is poured out, it will not burn us, for we are standing on the spot that has already been burned.  Jesus is the propitiation for our sin.  He was burned, so we do not have to be burned!

There are some who may find the idea of God being angry and wrathful as being inconsistent with God being a God of love.  In fact, this is very characteristic of liberal churches.  If you say anything about God's justice or anger, they will immediately tell you that God is not an angry God, He is a loving God.  It is true that God is a perfectly loving God.  It is also true, though, that He perfectly hates sin.  Listen to what Martyn Lloyd-Jones has to say about this subject:  "In the Old Testament alone more than twenty different words are used to describe the wrath of God, and these words in various forms are used 580 times in the Old Testament... You have it also in the New Testament.  Our Lord Himself talks about it, about the wrath of God.  It is found repeatedly in the Gospel according to St. John, known as the 'Gospel of love,' as, for instance, 'the wrath of God abideth on him' (John 3:36)......It is in the book of Acts of the Apostles:  'He had appointed a day in which he will judge the whole world in righteousness,' says the Apostle Paul in Athens (Acts 17).... In this Epistle to the Romans this doctrine of the wrath of God is mentioned ten times.  In the book of Revelation you are confronted by it from the very beginning to the very end: 'The wrath of the Lamb' and how 'every eye shall see him'.   In other words, if you go through the Bible without theories and preconceived notions, you will see at once that this notion that God is angry against sin, that God hates sin, that the wrath of God is upon sin is taught everywhere and is a basic proposition." "Taken from Romans Exposition of Chapters 3:20-4:25 by Martyn-Lloyd Jones.  Copyright 1970 by Zondervan Publishing House." And because it is we who sin, God is angry and justly wrathful toward us.

Paul has clearly demonstrated in the verses leading up to these verses that we have all sinned, and that we are all sinners by nature.  We have sinned over and over again, and have done our sinning before our totally holy Maker. We have chosen to ignore His holiness and have chosen to defy His authority over us.  Even one such sin committed before a completely Holy and infinite God would justify Him to condemn us to an eternity in Hell.  But, we have sinned these types of sins over and over again!

We might want to believe that God can overlook our sin, but the Bible clearly states over and over again that God hates our sin and must take action against our sin and against us.  The action that He chose to take for all who believe is found in John 3:16:  "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." 

Why does Paul say that the "sacrifice of atonement" or propitiation comes through Jesus' "blood"?   Why doesn't he just say it comes through Jesus' death?  There are some that ridicule Christianity because of the blood sacrifices in the Old Testament and because of all the emphasis on the blood of Jesus Christ.  They call it a "slaughterhouse religion."   Certainly, the blood did pour during the Old Testament sacrifices, particularly during the Sabbaths and Festival days.  It is God who directed Israel to offer the sacrifices.  It is a graphic picture of the cost for our sin that God would one day pay.  As Paul says in Romans 6:23, "the wages of sin is death."  Blood is a tangible picture for us of the cost that needed to be paid for our sin.  "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."  (I Peter 1:18)  And as the author of the book of Hebrews says, "and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."  (Hebrews 9:22)

Listen to what God's Word has to say about the importance of the blood of Christ in our Christian lives:  "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus."  (Hebrews 10:19)  In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the High Priest entered once a year into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant.  This was a picture of Jesus entering into the Father's presence and presenting His blood as a sacrifice for our sins.  Now, because His blood has propitiated God, we can now boldly enter into God's presence.

For the Christian, this blood is not a sacrifice demanded by a pagan God, but it is a sacrifice provided by a loving God.  The blood is how much God loves us.  Again, when we understand the full meaning of the blood of Jesus, we need a way of expressing our gratitude to God for the price that He was willing to pay for us.  We find that means of expression in the many hymns and songs about the blood of Jesus.  "What can wash away my sins?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!"

(3) God's righteousness is the reason for the price that Jesus paid

(3:25b-26)
"He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he left the sins committed before hand unpunished--he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus."

Thought Question:  According to these verses, why was God able to save people in Old Testament times like Abraham, Moses, and David?

 

 

God did not pour out His righteous anger on those who sinned before the Cross, because He had decided from before the world began to one day pour out His full anger on Jesus instead of on them.  As we look back on the Cross as the way in which our sins have been forgiven (and as the way through which we have become right with God); the Old Testament saints looked forward to a sacrifice that would one day pay the penalty for their sins.  When those in the Old Testament system offered their animal sacrifices, they were not forgiven because of these sacrifices.  Rather, the punishment that they deserved for their sins was passed over.  It was passed over until Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for their sins.  It was not until Jesus died that their sins were fully forgiven.

When Jesus died on the cross, God demonstrated to all peoples of all times that He is just and righteous.  For it became abundantly obvious to us when God's only Son took the punishment on Himself for our sin, that God cannot overlook our sin.  If God could have overlooked our sin, there would have been no need for God's only Son to die for us.  But, someone had to pay for all the wrong that has been done and will be done, and Someone did pay that price at a specific time in history.  It is there for all mankind and the angelic world to see.  God is righteous and has not overlooked even one sin.  In our country we know that there are many who break the law and even commit murder who are not punished for their crimes.  We, however, can see by what happened at the cross that no sin will go unpunished.  For Jesus took the punishment for all sin--for each and every sin that man has ever committed.  He took the punishment.  This payment for our sins is received by faith.

(4) This salvation is freely received through faith and not on any basis of

merit. (3:27-30)
"Where, then, is boasting?  It is excluded.  On what principle?  On that of observing the law?  No, but on that of faith.  For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.  Is God the God of the Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles too?  Yes, of Gentiles, too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and uncircumcised through the same faith."

Thought Question:  What is there in these verses that will help to deal with the pride in us?

 

 

If salvation comes from any sense of personal achievement or from any sense of superiority over others, the result will always be boasting.  And Paul is clear in these verses; there is no place whatsoever for boasting in the Christian life or for the Christian.  Why not?  Paul answers this question in these verses.

In these verses, Paul is also summing up all that he has been saying up to this point in the book of Romans.  Listen to Paul's words about the Jew's attitude towards themselves in chapter two.  "Now, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind; a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and the truth."  (Romans 2:17-20)  Paul was a Jew and he had once bragged himself that he had been a "Hebrew of the Hebrews."  Although Paul was a Christian when he described himself as a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" in Philippians 3:5, he was certainly also referring to the attitude he once had toward himself before he was a Christian.  At that time, because he was a Jew and because of his religious accomplishments, he had felt that he was superior to other men.

It is not only Jews, however, who can feel that they are superior to other people.  It is the polluted water that comes from the well within each human, self-centered heart.  Each of us, if we are honest, knows that evil, perverted attitude of feeling that we are superior to others or to someone else.  We have all heard someone else boasting about their accomplishments or putting down others for not measuring up to them.  We may even have heard ourselves doing the very same thing.   Paul says in the strongest language, however, that if we understand salvation by faith in the Cross, boasting will be excluded.  Would we not like to be rid of that ugly part of ourselves?  A well-known Christian of the past, Charles Spurgeon, once said that pride is the last of the sins that leaves us.

Paul tells us here that the law or principle of faith excludes boasting.  If we understand what faith in the Cross means, it will exclude boasting from our lives.  For, all that we can boast about is Jesus' cross!  All our human accomplishments have accomplished was Jesus needing to die on a cross for our sins.  Now, who can boast about that?  Yes, we in a twisted way can come up with some reason to boast even in that.  The truth is that we have absolutely nothing to boast about.  Nothing!  The more that we come to understand this reality in our heart of hearts, the more boasting and pride will be excluded from our lives.  For as Paul said in those famous two verses:  "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Why can we not in any way boast in our salvation?  It is because we can only be saved when we learn that there is absolutely nothing in ourselves that earns us anything toward our salvation.  When we come to Christ, we come with nothing and receive everything from Him!  There is a total non-self focus, and a total focus on Jesus Christ and what He did for us.

Some would find their faith as something to glory in or boast about.  For example, there are those who would glory in their great faith that produced a miracle.  Faith, however, does nothing but receive what we do not deserve.  It is not putting our faith in anything from ourselves, but putting our total faith and reliance in another-in what He has done for us or what He will do for us.  How can we boast about that?  There is, though, a way we can boast or glory.  We can boast and glory in God and in Jesus Christ.  As Paul says in I Corinthians 1:28-31:  "He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  "Therefore, as it is written:  'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'"  Paul was quoting the classic verse on proper boasting, Jeremiah 9:23,24.  "This is what the Lord says:  'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the Lord."

What is characteristic of our human natures is that we can take something that provides us with absolutely no basis for our boasting in it and turn it into something to boast about.  The Jews had done that with God choosing them and giving them His law.  The Old Testament Law was actually a picture of grace and not a system of works by which they could earn their relationship with God.  The sacrifices pictured that they could get right with God through God's sacrifice Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.  But, the Jewish people turned it into a reason to boast.  Our becoming a Christian through Jesus' death on the cross for us provides absolutely no basis for us to boast.  There is also within us that sinful ability to think that we are somehow superior to those who have not become Christians.  What is it appropriate for us to do?  It is appropriate for us to do the very opposite of boasting in ourselves.  It is appropriate for us, instead, to praise God for what He has done for us.  For we know that we do not deserve to be His children.  We should do what Paul does in the first chapter of Ephesians: "to the praise of his glorious grace which he has freely given us in the One he loves."

Another reason that the Jewish people thought that there was a reason for them to boast was that they had been born Jews.  Paul has this to say to them about their national pride and national boasting:  "Is God the God of Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles too?  Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith."  They did not like to see themselves as being in the same category as the non-Jew, the Gentile.  They were God's chosen people!  Paul, however, says that there is only one God and He is also the God of the Gentiles, and that both Jew and Gentile come into a relationship with God by the very same faith.

Does God have a "most favored nation" status for some nations?  Is the United States, for example, more favored than Japan?  If this is true, then we could boast that we are more special to God than the Japanese.  National pride is very human.  We can feel that we are superior to the Japanese.  I have heard that the Japanese feel that they are superior to the Koreans, for example.  But, Paul's simple point is this:  Did not God create both the Japanese and the Koreans?  We are all equally His creation.  Also, there is only one way to come to God, and that is through the same faith in Jesus Christ.  In fact, the reason that God chose Israel was for them to be a light to draw the whole world to Him.  If God has blessed the United States, it is so that we who are Christians in this country will reach out with the gospel message to the whole world.  There is no reason for boasting in any of this.  Instead, we should thank God for any privilege we might have; but realize with Israel that with any privilege we have, comes extra responsibility.

(5) Though salvation is free, it does not nullify the Law. (3:31)

"Do we then nullify the law by this faith?  Not at all!  Rather we uphold the law."

Thought Question:  If we are not saved by the Law, why did God give us the Law?  Has it been done away with by faith?

 

 

Paul now answers the question that the Jewish religious person was sure to ask:  "If men are saved by grace, what about the Law?"  Was it completely unimportant?  Has it been completely done away with?  Before we can look at Paul's answer to this imaginary Jewish person's question, we need to know what "Law" Paul is talking about here?  Sometimes the "Law" referred to is the whole Old Testament.  But, here he appears to be talking about the Law of Moses that contained the Ceremonial Law and the Moral Law.  He appears to be talking in this verse particularly about the Moral Law-God's moral requirements for man.

When Jesus died on the cross did he "nullify the law"?  No, actually He showed the absolute central importance of God's "Law."  For if it were not for the "Law," Jesus Christ would not have needed to die.  God could have just said to us, "I forgive you," and that would have been that.  But, God's Law says that we must be holy.  God has not forgotten His requirements of us.  Instead, in love, He sent Someone in our place, a man who fully obeyed the "Law."  Jesus came as a man and lived under the "Law":  "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law." (Galatians 4:4-5)  Jesus lived under the requirements of the "Law" and was the one and only man who ever fully obeyed the "Law."  He also paid the penalty for our disobedience of the "Law."

The Ceremonial Law required that a sacrifice was needed for sin.  Jesus was that sacrifice.  John the Baptist knew that He was going to fulfill the Law's requirements.  When he saw Him coming, he said: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"  See John 1:29  God's grace through Jesus Christ does not replace the "Law," instead, it fulfills the "Law" completely.  Listen to Jesus' own words in Matthew 5:17,18:  "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."

Jesus did not do away with the "Law."  All that He did while He was on this earth was because of the "Law."  He fulfilled it completely.  He fulfilled the requirements of the "Law" in our place.  And by faith, His fulfillment of the "Law" is placed in our account.

b. Salvation from the penalty of sin (before the Cross) (4:1-25)

The question is often asked, "How were men and women saved before Christ's death on the cross?"  The answer is given in Romans 4.  Many believe that God accepted the great people in the Bible such as Abraham, Moses, and David because they obeyed the Ten Commandments better than other men.  But, this is not the message of the Bible.  In this chapter, Paul shows that even Abraham and David did not get right with God through the Law.  And, so, even they had absolutely nothing to boast about before God or men.  For, they also were sinners who had to get right with God through believing that God offered them a salvation that they did not deserve.  Paul shows us in this chapter that the gospel message that he preached and we also preach was not just the message of the church.  People in the Old Testament were also saved by grace and not by works.

In Romans four, Paul chooses two of the most important people in all of the Old Testament -- (1) Abraham, the father of Israel and (1) David, the one through whom the Messiah was promised, to make it clear to his readers and to us that even they were saved by grace and not by works.

(1) Abraham received righteousness through faith apart from works (4:1-5)

"What then shall we say that Abraham our forefather discovered in this matter?  If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about---but not from God.  What does the Scripture say?  'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'  Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.  However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness."

Thought Question:  What do you see in these verses that show that Abraham was saved in the very same way as we are saved?

 

 

How did Abraham the Father of the nation of Israel get right with God?  Was it because he had been such a good man that God was, then, obligated to choose him to start His nation?  Absolutely not; God chose Abraham a man with an idolatrous background from the city of Ur (which is located in what is now modern-day Iraq) and offered him something he totally did not deserve.  He offered to make him the father of God's nation.  All Abraham did was believe in God's promise to do something for him.  This is the issue presented by Paul in these verses.  If Abraham earned his salvation, God would have been obligated to give it to him.  Like when we work all month at a job, we have every right to expect our employer to pay us.  Also, if Abraham had earned his salvation, he would have had the right to boast about what he had accomplished.  But, in Genesis 15:6, we learn that it was not because of Abraham's works, but because of his faith that he was made righteous.  So, because he did not earn his salvation but received it by believing in what God would do for him, God was not obligated to him and Abraham could not boast.

We read in the book of Genesis that because Abram (whose name was changed to Abraham) was still childless some time after God's promise to him, he struggled with whether or not God was going to fulfill His promise to him.  In Genesis 15:1-6 we find this account of what took place between God and Abraham:  "...the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:  'Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.'  But Abram said, 'O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?'  And Abram said, 'You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.'  Then the word of the Lord came to him:  'This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.'  He took him outside and said, 'Look up at the heavens and count the stars--if indeed you can count them.'  Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.'  Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness."  Abraham looked at the countless stars and believed that the God who had created them would also fulfill His promise to him.  He believed God and it was through his faith in what God would do, that righteousness was "credited" to his account.

There are two ways in which money can be credited to our bank accounts.  Money that we (1) earn can be credited to our account and money that we (2) receive as a gift can also be credited to our account.  The righteousness that was credited to Abraham's account was not earned, but he received righteousness with God by believing in what God had promised to give him as a gift.  If he had earned his righteousness, God would have been obligated to credit it to his account and Abraham would have had something to boast about.  But, according to Genesis 15:6, how did Abraham become righteous?  In the writings of the Jewish people's own Law (the first five books of the Bible), it says that Abraham became righteous by faith and not by works!

We learn from Jesus' words in John 8:56 that Abraham saw by faith that God would provide a Savior.  "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad."  He saw by faith that God would some day provide a Savior.  The time when Abraham realized that God would provide a Savior was probably when God provided a sacrifice to replace the sacrifice of his own son Isaac.  See Genesis 22 (22:12-14 in particular).  So, Abraham did not just trust God, but he trusted God to provide a sacrifice to pay for our sins.

(2) David's sins were also covered through faith apart from works (4:6-8)

"David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:  'Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.'"

Thought Question:  What do you see in these verses that show that David was saved in the same way as we are saved?

 

 

Everyone has heard of David and Goliath.  How did David, the hero of the Old Testament, get right with God?  Paul quotes David's words in Psalm 32:  "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven."  In the two verses that Paul quotes, David says nothing about the good which he had done which, therefore, obligated God to save him.  Instead, he talks about his guilt before God.  And because David was both an adulterer and a murder; he knew about great guilt before God.  If you wish, see II Samuel 11-12 for a description of David's adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah.  See also Psalms 32, 38, and 51 for David's description of his own guilt before God

Now, once more consider David's words that Paul quotes here:  "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven."  Did David earn his salvation?  Obviously he did not, for he certainly did not live a sinless life.  Just as we receive salvation as a gift, so He received forgiveness as a gift from God.  A gift which David greatly appreciated!  Like you and me, David admitted his guilt and received God's forgiveness.  David recognized that his sins were "covered" and would "never count against him."   As Paul explained in 3:25-26, the Old Testament believers' sins and David's sins were left unpunished until the time of Jesus. God left David's sins unpunished because Jesus Christ, a human descendant of his, would die to pay the penalty for his sins.  In faith, David believed that God would provide for his forgiveness, and because of his faith, God pardoned him.

(3) Abraham did not receive his righteousness through outward ritual.

(4:9-12)
"Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?  We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness.  Under what circumstances was it credited?  Was it after he was circumcised, or before?  It was not after, but before!  And he received the sign of circumcision, the seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.  So, then, he is the father of all who believe, but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.  And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised."

Thought Question:  How does Paul prove in these verses that Abraham was not saved through being circumcised?

 

 

The Jewish people thought that they were right with God because their men had been circumcised.  But, as Paul points out here, Abraham became right with God at least 13 years beforehe was circumcised.  The time when He believed and was made righteous is described in Genesis 15:6.  In Genesis 16:15 he was 86 years old.  Then, we read in Genesis 17:24 these words:  "Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised."  So, it was at least 13 years after he was declared righteous by God that he was circumcised.  The simple conclusion that Paul comes to is that even Abraham did not become righteous through being circumcised, for he became righteous by faith 13 years before he was circumcised.

So, we do not become righteous with God through a ritual or a ceremony.  Does baptism make us right with God?  No, similar to circumcision, baptism is a symbol or a sign of our faith in what God did for us through Jesus' death and resurrection. (Paul deals with this very subject in chapter 6.)

Paul's conclusion in these verses is that Abraham is the father of all who believe.  He is the father of the circumcised Jewish person who believes and he is the father of the uncircumcised Gentile who believes.  Why?  It was his faith in God that was preeminent.  It was his faith that saved him.  The circumcision was secondary.  It was a sign that symbolized his faith.  So, he is not primarily the father only of those who are circumcised, but he is the father of all those who have faith!  For it was faith that made him right with God, and it is faith that makes us right with God.  Abraham is a model for all mankind of how to get right with God.  It is not by circumcision, for he was circumcised years after he was made right with God.  It was his faith that made him right with God; and his faith is still the pattern for how one gets right with God today.  See also Romans 2:28,29 and Galatians 5:6

(4) Abraham did not receive his righteousness through the Law. (4:13-16)

"It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.  For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath.  And where there is no law there is no transgression.  Therefore the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring---not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all."

Thought Question:  Why can we be certain that God's promise to Abraham was not dependent on him obeying the Law?  And why can we also be certain that God's promise to us is not dependent on our obeying God's Law?

 

 

It was mentioned earlier that there are many who believe that the Old Testament heroes such as Abraham and David got right with God by obeying God's Ten Commandments---by obeying the Law.  Paul explains in these verses that the promise made to Abraham could not have required that Abraham and Israel obey the Law to receive the promise.

The following story points out why the promise could not have been based on the Law.  A father promises his two young children that they are going on a vacation trip to beautiful Yellowstone National Park.  But, a week before they are to leave on vacation, he says that they will not be going on the vacation unless they have the house painted by that time.  And not only that, if they do not have the house painted, they will also be restricted to the house for two weeks.  Their situation is nearly impossible for they do not know how to paint a house, and even if they did have painting skills, there is too little time left for them to fully paint their large house.  What would they think about their father's promise to them?  Certainly, they would say that their father's promise to them was worthless!

It also is true if God makes a promise to Abraham and then says that Abraham and his descendants need to obey the law to receive the promise, that the promise is worthless to them.  Just as the two children would be unable to paint the house in a week, so Abraham and his descendants are unable to obey the Law.  So, just as the two children would never go to Yellowstone, so Abraham and his family would never receive God's promise. 

But, even worse, because we all are unable to obey God's Law (as Paul pointed out strongly in chapter three), instead of receiving what God has promised, we would receive God's wrath.  As Paul says in verse fifteen, "because law brings wrath."

Because Abraham could not earn what God desired him to have, God made a promise to Abraham, a gift that was to be received by faith.  Faith and Law are complete opposites.  Either we must earn what God has for us, or it is a gift.  The vacation trip to Yellowstone either was a gift or it had to be earned.  The promise to Abraham either was a gift or it had to be earned.  We sinners cannot earn anything from a holy God, so what we receive from God must be a gift that we receive by faith.

We can be certain, though, that the promise was not based on the Law. For, as we are told in Galatians 3:17, 430 years before God made the Law covenant that He gave to Moses, God made the covenant that He made with Abraham.  As Paul says in verse fifteen, "where there is no law there is no transgression."  If there was no Law in Abraham's time, he could not have broken the Law.  Abraham could not have earned the promise by obeying the Law nor could he have lost the promise by failing to obey the Law, for the Law did not even exist in his lifetime.

Paul's conclusion is as follows:  "Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring--not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all."  If the promise came to mankind by way of the Law, God could not have guaranteed that any man would receive the promise.  He could not have guaranteed the promise to Abraham's children, nor could He have guaranteed the promise to us.  When God made His promise to Abraham, He did not point to the Ten Commandments; but He pointed Abraham to the stars.  Did Abraham need to earn the stars?  Abraham believed that God who put the multitude of stars in place could also give him a multitude of descendants.

Before we leave these verses, we need to consider what Paul said was God's actual promise to Abraham.  In verse thirteen Paul says that God's promise to Abraham and his offspring was "that he would be the heir of the world." Then, in verse sixteen we learn that those who are the heirs of God's promise to Abraham will only be those who share in the same type of faith that he had. In other words, His promise does not include everyone in the whole world, but only those who have Abraham's type of faith. Also, the promise to Abraham was that he would receive the Promised Land of Israel, not the whole earth. See Genesis 15:18-21, 7:8  Yet, in these verses Paul says that God's promise is that Abraham would be "heir of the world."  What is he to be heir of, the Promised Land or the world?  How can the promise be that Abraham would receive a nation in the world and also be heir to the whole world?  There can only be one answer to this question.  Through Abraham's descendants came the birth of Jesus Christ the Messiah who will, as predicted in the Bible, rule the world from the Promised Land of Israel. See Zechariah 14:9,16,17; Revelation 20:4  Jesus predicted a day when those who believe in Him with Abraham's type of faith will be heir of the world.  One of those predictions by Jesus is found in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:6) (see also I Corinthians 6:1,2; Romans 8:17)

(5) The faith that saves; a description of Abraham's faith (4:17-25)

"As it is written:  'I have made you a father of many nations.'  He is our father in the sight of God, in whom He believed---the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.  Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.'  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead---since he was about one hundred years old---and that Sarah's womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  This is why 'it was credited to him as righteousness.'  These words 'it was credited to him' were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness---for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised for our justification." 

Thought Question #1:  What do these verses tell us about the difference between a faith that saves us and a faith that does not save us?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What is meant by He "was raised to life for our justification"?

 

 

In the 1950s, nearly everyone said that they believed in God.  Did they all have the type of faith that saves someone and gives them eternal life?  Were they all Christians?  Abraham, the father of faith (see 4:16), provides for us a way that we can measure our faith so that we can see if our faith is the type of faith in God that will save us.  We will see what real faith in the all-powerful God of the Bible will always look like.

Verse seventeen describes the object of Abraham's faith:  "the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were."  Jesus said, ". . . if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move."  What is of primary importance is not how much faith we have, but in what and in whom we put our faith.  We can put every ounce of our faith into believing that a rope that is tied to a piece of balsa wood will hold up our weight, but the balsa wood will still break when we try to swing on the rope.  We can have very little faith, though, that a rope tied to the limb of a very solid oak tree will hold our weight, but it will still hold us up when we swing from the rope.  What is of most importance is not the amount of our faith, but the trustworthiness of the object of our faith.

Abraham put his faith in God who could do anything.  We are told in Hebrews 11:17-19 that Abraham was willing to obey God and sacrifice his son Isaac because he believed that God could even bring him back to life if Isaac did die as a sacrifice.  He believed in a God who was able to raise the dead!  As we are told here, he also believed that God could create something out of nothing.  He believed that God could speak something into existence.  Is anything ever hopeless when we are trusting in a God who can do anything at any time He wants to do it?

Because Abraham was trusting in a God who could do anything, he was able to continue to trust even when he faced very difficult challenges to his faith.  As we see in verse eighteen, "against all hope" he continued to believe.  God told him that Sarah and he would have a child.  There was a problem, though; Sarah and he were well beyond the child-bearing stage in their lives.  At one point, Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 years old.  See Genesis 17:17-18   Abraham and Sarah both did have times when they struggled in their faith.  For example, they laughed when God told them that they could give birth to a child; and they also tried to help God out by Abraham having a child by a maidservant.   They did, nevertheless, stay as nomads in the Promised Land for 25 years (some 9000 days) until Sarah give birth to the promised Isaac.  If they had really given up on God, they could have gone back home to Ur.  Instead, they continued to trust God, even though, at times, it was very difficult to keep trusting in His promise to them.

In these verses we can discover what true faith is always like.  First of all, he was able to face the impossible "without weakening in his faith." Faith in God does not require us to ignore reality, but it will result in our facing two different areas of reality at the same time.  Abraham's type of faith led him first of all to face the reality that he and Sarah were too old to have children.  Some think that faith believes that reality is not reality.  For example, they believe that the way to receive healing from God is to believe that you are already healed or that you are not sick, even though all the physical evidence indicates that you are still sick.  That is not faith; that is idiocy.   If someone said to you that you do not exist, even though you are pretty certain that you do, you would question his sanity.  A person who has cancer does have cancer.

The type of faith described in the Bible faces reality.  Abraham faced the reality that Sarah and he were too old to have a child.  But, God said they were going to have a child anyway.  The second reality is that the God who can raise the dead and call things into existence can do what is impossible.

Abraham is like the twelve spies who went into the Promised Land.  Ten of the spies only saw the first area of reality.  They saw the fortified cities, the armies, and the giants in the land.  Joshua and Caleb faced these realities, but they also looked at the second area of reality-the reality that God who can do the impossible said that they could conquer this land!  See Numbers 13 

Peter's experience in walking on the water was like this.  At first, he looked at two realities.  First of all, he realized that it was not possible for him to walk on the water.  But, he was captured by the reality that Jesus Christ had the power to enable him to walk on the water.  Alas, he took his eyes off the second reality, and only focused on the first reality (that it was impossible for him to walk on the water, especially the wind-troubled waters), and immediately he began to sink.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones has this to say about faith:  "There are some people who think that, because they are assailed by doubts, they have no faith.  That is a complete fallacy.  To be entirely free from doubts does not always signify faith, it may mean presumption or the kind of psychological state that cults often practice.  There is a sense in which we can define faith as that which enables a man to overcome his doubts and to answer them.  Some of the greatest saints that the church has ever known have testified to the fact that they have been attacked and assailed by doubts to the end of their lives.  But they were not weakened, they did not give in; they mastered their doubts, they conquered them, they overcame them.  This is the most important aspect of faith; it considers the difficulties but it overcomes them.  Though it considers the difficulties it is not weakened, it still remains strong."  "Taken from Romans Chapters 3:20-4:25 by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Copyright 1970 by Zondervan Publishing House."

How does Abraham's example of faith apply to us?  There is a very easy answer to that question.  The Bible says we who have trusted God are going to live forever.  But, to have genuine faith in God's promise, we each must face the reality of our death.  We, with the exception of those who will be raptured in the last days, will die at some time in the future.  That is the first reality.  It is human for us to deny that reality.  But, there are times when we all think about it.  But, the second reality is that God is all-powerful and raised Jesus from the dead.  Genuine Abraham-type of faith looks at both realities and believes that we will also rise from the dead.  This type of faith will change how we live between now and the time of each of our deaths.  This type of faith will result in our choosing to live our lives in such a way that we will make the most impact for eternity!

Secondly, Abraham did not "waver in unbelief regarding the promise of God."  Though the promise that God gave him was hard to believe, Abraham simply continued to believe it.  There are number of reasons we might waver in believing God's promises.  For example, we might waver because we are not sure if believing and seeking what God promises us is worth it to us.  Demas was one who wavered: "for Demas, because he loved this present world, has deserted me." (II Timothy 4:10) He wavered because he gave in to the allurement of what this present world had to offer him.  He stopped focusing on the reality presented in God's word and focused primarily on this world.  Also, the Israelites with Moses wavered when it got too tough for them in the wilderness---they wanted to go back to Egypt.

Abraham did not waver.  We are told in Hebrews 11:10 that "he was looking forward to the city without foundations, whose architect and builder is God."  Abraham did not waver because he believed that what he was looking forward to was better than what he would be leaving behind.  Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow Him.  We can follow Him on the path of the cross---because on the other side of the cross is the resurrection, the ascension and an eternal home in Heaven; .....if we are like Abraham and do not waver in unbelief, all this will be ours.

Thirdly, Abraham "was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God by being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised."  As Abraham reflected on who God is, his faith strengthened.  God showed Abraham the stars in the sky and Abraham believed God.  See Genesis 15:5-6  Did looking at the stars strengthen Abraham's faith?  Does looking at the stars ever help you and me to believe that God is powerful and that He can do anything?  In Psalm 19, David tells us that that "The heavens declare the glory of God." See Psalm 19:1-4

How can we be strengthened in our faith?  We can learn from His Word and from His universe about His great power and strength, and of His great mercy and love.  As we learn of Who He is, our faith in Him will be strengthened.  And we, like Abraham, will give glory to God.

Notice, if we can strengthen our faith, it is also possible for us to have weak faith.  So, it is of no small importance that we seek to strengthen our faith!  Jesus said to some that they had "little faith."  See Matthew 6:30, 8:26, 16:8  Still others he commended for their great faith.  See Matthew 15:28; Luke 7:9

Now, let us look at what is meant by Abraham being "fully persuaded."  Martyn Llloyd-Jones make this very interesting point about the meaning of "fully persuaded":   Faith "leads to a quiet confidence in God and a quiet resting upon God.  There is no strain, there is no tension where there is faith...Abraham was certain, he was sure.  This element is always present in faith.  If there is strain or tension, or if you are just trying, or having to keep yourself to it and trying to persuade yourself, you can be quite sure it is not faith."  "Taken from Romans Chapter 3:20-4:25.  Copyright 1970 by Zondervan Publishing."  Martyn Lloyd-Jones made the point, just previously to this quote, that true faith is not something we work up, but it is something given to us by God.

What type of faith did Abraham have?  He faced reality.  He believed in God even though what God said would happen was humanly impossible to happen.  He was not weakened by this reality.  He did not waver in his belief that God would fulfill His promise to him.  He was strengthened in his faith through his knowledge of God's glory and power.  And his faith was a calm assurance that God was able and would do what He promised to do.

Reread this last paragraph asking, "Is my faith in God like Abraham's faith in God?"  If it is, you have saving faith and you are a child of Abraham for you have the same type of faith as Abraham.  As it says in verse twenty-two, his faith was credited to him as righteousness.  God put righteousness in Abraham's account for trusting that he would fulfill His promise to him.  So, as Paul says in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, He will put righteousness in our account for trusting Him to fulfill His promise to us of eternal life!

What Jesus did to provide eternal life to us is summarized for us in the final two verses of chapter four.  First, "He was delivered over to death for our sins."  What is meant by "delivered over"?  It is as if Jesus Christ was delivered to us from Heaven by the Father to take the penalty for our sins.

Next, Paul tells us that Jesus "was raised to life for our justification."  What is meant by these words?  It does not mean that His rising from the dead paid the penalty for our sins, for He did that for us when He died on the cross.  (He said, "It is finished" while he was on the cross.)  But, what it does mean is that His rising from the dead is "for our justification" in that it shows us that the penalty for our sins has been fully paid.  For if there were still a need for us to receive more punishment for our sins, Jesus would still be paying that punishment until our judgment was complete.  But, he rose triumphantly from the dead dramatically showing us that He had finished the job on our behalf and in our place.  His resurrection shows us that He no longer needs to die and that we no longer need to die.  As He rose from the dead, so we who believe in Him with Abraham's type of faith, will also rise from the dead, righteous and holy.  Jesus entered the true Holy of Holies with His blood.  His resurrection shows us that the Father accepted His blood as full payment for our sins!

 

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. ®   NIV ®   Copyright ©  1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.  All Rights reserved.

Studies in Romans