Paul’s primary purpose in writing Romans was to teach the great truths of the gospel of grace to believers who had never received apostolic instruction. Unlike with some of Paul’s other epistles, his purpose for writing Romans was not to correct detestable theology or rebuke ungodly living. The Roman church was doctrinally sound, but, like all churches, it was in need of the rich doctrinal and practical instruction this letter provides.
The overarching theme of Romans is the righteousness that comes from God: the glorious truth that God justifies guilty, condemned sinners by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.
Last week in Session 1 talked about the beginning of Paul's letter in verses 1-17. Paul started by announcing good news that a righteous God is able to make sinners righteous through faith. The good news that he brought is that in Christ sin can be forgiven, selfishness can be overcome, guilt can be removed, anxiety can be alleviated, and people can, indeed, have hope and eternal glory.
In this Session we start talking about the bad news. Paul expounds on the wretchedness of the human heart, and the divine wrath that is God's response to it. Paul was determined that they understand the reality of being under God’s wrath before he offered them the way of escape from it. For Paul, fear of eternal condemnation was the first motivation he offered for coming to Christ, This bad news is the necessary first part of the good news called the Gospel.
Click below to read my notes. For an audio recording of the entire Session click on the YouTube link at the end of the notes.
The good news that he brought is that in Christ sin can be forgiven, selfishness can be overcome, guilt can be removed, anxiety can be alleviated, and people can, indeed, have hope and eternal glory.
Romans 1:1-6, 16-17 NKJV Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
For the rest of this chapter all the way to chapter 3 Paul now brings the bad news.
Paul expounds on the wretchedness of the human heart, and the divine wrath that is God's response to it.
Paul was determined that they understand the reality of being under God’s wrath before he offered them the way of escape from it. This approach makes both logical and theological sense. A person cannot appreciate the wonder of God’s grace until he or she knows about the perfect demands of God’s law, and that person cannot appreciate the fullness of God’s love until he or she knows something about the fierceness of God’s anger against his or her sinful failure to perfectly obey that law. The person cannot appreciate God’s forgiveness until he or she knows about the eternal consequences of the sins that require a penalty and need forgiving.
Everyone—Gentiles and Jews, indeed all of humankind—stands guilty before a holy God. Human nature is corrupt. Human thoughts and actions are vile. Human motives are impure. We are without excuse. By the time Paul is finished with his divine indictment, every mouth has been shut. We realize that we are incapable of saving ourselves.
For Paul, fear of eternal condemnation was the first motivation he offered for coming to Christ, This bad news is the necessary first part of the good news called the Gospel.
People Are Guilty
Romans 1:18-25 NKJV For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Romans 1:26-32 NKJV For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
wrath of God (v. 18)—not a capricious, impulsive, arbitrary outburst of anger, but the settled determined response of a holy God against sin
because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
Romans 1:19 NKJV
manifest in them (v. 19)—God has implanted evidence of His existence in the heart of every person
1:21-32: In these verses we can identify repeated reference to (1) knowledge of God, (2) rejection of that knowledge, and (3) the results of that rejection.
1:21 their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened
1:22 they became fools
1:24 desire in their hearts for sexual impurity, self-degradation
1:26 sinful lusts, abandonment of natural relations, homosexual perversions
1:28 depraved minds
1:29 filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity
1:30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful
1:30 invent ways of doing evil
1:30 disobedient to parents
1:31 senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless
1:32 continue to do the things that deserve death, and approve of those who do them.
Romans 2:1-11 NKJV Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.
In this passage Paul is directly addressing the Jews. The connection of thought is this. In the previous passage Paul had painted a grim and terrible picture of the heathen world, a world which was under the condemnation of God. With every word of that condemnation the Jew would have thoroughly agreed. But he never for a moment dreamed that he was under the same condemnation. The Jewa thought that they had a privileged position. God might be the judge of the heathen, but he was the special protector of the Jews. However as Paul is pointing out forcibly to the Jew he is just as much a sinner as the Gentile is and that when the Jew is condemning the Gentile he is condemning himself. He will be judged, not on his racial heritage, but by the kind of life that he lives.
The Jews always considered themselves in a specially privileged position with God. "God," they said, "loves Israel alone of all the nations of the earth." "God will judge the Gentiles with one measure and the Jews with another." "All Israelites will have part in the world to come."
The Jew believed that everyone was destined for judgment except himself. It would not be any special goodness which kept him immune from the wrath of God, but simply the fact that he was a Jew.
This passage describes God’s indictment of all hypocrites, regardless of race or religion, culture or creed. In Sunday's sermon I said that a hypocrite is a person who looks like a Christian and talks like a Christian but whose conduct is inconsistent. A person who believes in God but lives as if He doesn’t exist.
Both Jews and Gentiles are included in this discussion, but the Gentile often appears in a better light than the Jew.
Verse five points out the fact that the wrath of God increases in degree over time.
Romans 2:5 NKJV But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
If He waits to punish, and a man doesn't make some correction, then he has added to the cause of wrath. It is very important that we realize that God has a reason for His delay.
II Peter 3:8-9 NKJV But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
We also find out what the hypocrite faces, and that is certain judgment. When the judgment of God comes we can be sure that it will be righteous judgment. This judgment will be according to His works. On the surface these verses may seem to be teaching that salvation is by works, and that eternal life can be earned by doing good things. However, based on other Scripture we know this is not true.
Galatians 3:10-14 NKJV For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
We must bear in mind that this passage has to do with the basis of God’s judgment. Throughout the Bible we find that judgment is according to our works, while salvation is by faith. Paul is not discussing how a person is saved, but how he will be judged: “according to his deeds” (v. 6).
- The reasons for a person’s behavior (vv. 7-8).
Romans 2:7-8 NKJV eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,
2. The results of a person’s behavior (vv. 9-10).
Romans 2:9-10 NKJV tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
The expression “to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile” highlights the fact that the more we know, the more responsibility we have.
Romans 2:17-20 NKJV Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.
The hypocrite’s portion will be worse than the heathen’s, for the simple reason that his opportunities have been so much greater.
Romans 2:12-16 NKJV For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them ) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.
In this passage Paul turns to the Gentiles. He has dealt with the Jews and with their claims to special privilege. But one advantage the Jew did have, and that was the Law. A Gentile might well retaliate by saying, "It is only right that God should condemn the Jews, who had the Law and who ought to have known better; but we will surely escape judgment because we had no opportunity to know the Law and did not know any better." In answer Paul lays down two great principles.
(i) A man will be judged by what he had the opportunity to know. If he knew the Law, he will be judged as one who knew the Law. If he did not know the Law, he will be judged as one who did not know the Law. God is fair. And here is the answer to those who ask what is to happen to the people who lived in the world before Jesus came and who had no opportunity to hear the Christian message. A man will be judged by his fidelity to the highest that it was possible for him to know.
(ii) Paul goes on to say that even those who did not know the written Law had an unwritten law within their hearts. We would call it the instinctive knowledge of right and wrong. The Stoic Greek philosophers said that in the universe there were certain laws operative which a man broke at his peril--the laws of health, the moral laws which govern life and living.
It is Paul's argument that in the very nature of man there is an instinctive knowledge of what he ought to do. The Greeks would have agreed with that. Aristotle said: "The cultivated and free-minded man will so behave as being a law to himself".
Paul saw the world divided into two classes of people. He saw the Jews with their Law given to them direct from God and written down so that all could read it. He saw the other nations, without this written law, but nonetheless with a God-implanted knowledge of right and wrong within their hearts. Neither could claim exemption from the judgment of God. The Jew could not claim exemption on the ground that he had a special place in God's plan. The Gentile could not claim exemption on the ground that he had never received the written Law. The Jew would be judged as one who had known the Law; the Gentile as one who had a God-given conscience. God will judge a man according to what he knows and has the chance to know.