“The Gospel as presented by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans”
– Chapter 1
The Gospel according to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the theme of this series of expositions that I shall now undertake. Someone may ask why such a study is necessary. Whereas the Synoptic Gospels provide orderly accounts of the Lord Jesus Christ’s life, passion, death and resurrection, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans very clearly provides the reader with the content of the Gospel, in such a way that every Christian may be sure of the Gospel which he has heard, received and believed, and may be equipped to share the Gospel with those who do not yet believe in Christ. In an age when many Christians are unsure of the truths of their faith, or of the essential doctrines of their belief, this Epistle can be very useful in meeting their need to know their faith as well as equipping them to share it.
The Gospel which St. Paul proclaims is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who as a man on earth belonged to the house of King David by descent, but was designated Son of God in power according to the Holy Spirit on the basis of his resurrection from the dead (see Romans 1:3-4). This Gospel was promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures (Romans 1:2). The goal of preaching this Gospel is “the obedience of faith” ((Romans 1:5) among all the nations of the world. Therefore this Gospel is not something of which any Christian should be ashamed. Indeed, St. Paul was not ashamed of it (Romans 1:16), because the Gospel is the power of God leading to salvation for everyone who believes, whatever his race or nationality, for the Jew first, but then also for the Gentile. The Gospel is the power of God leading to salvation, since in it God’s righteousness is revealed that leads “from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17, NKJV). That is, God’s righteousness leads from the faithfulness of God to the faith that people show when they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, or it extends from the faith of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ to more faith wherever the Gospel is preached and believed. The Christian life also begins with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and continues with living by faith in Him. In any case, the righteousness that comes to one who believes the Gospel, and has put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, is the righteousness God gives to him on the basis of his faith, so that Habakkuk 2:4 is rendered in Romans 1:17c as “the just shall live by faith” (KJV, NKJV).
Whereas the Gospel is the power of God and reveals the righteousness of God, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18, NKJV). The Gospel is not an optional extra for a spiritually flourishing humanity. When God examines mankind, he is angry at all their ungodliness and sin. That is why there is such a need for the Gospel, and for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Mankind as a whole does not please God, but arouses his wrath and judgment. The judgment of God in Holy Scripture is not that man is generally good (as humanists would have us think), but that he is evil, and tends to do what is wrong. Now the wrath of God is not a baseless malevolence directed at all mankind, but anger at all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of all people. The reason for God’s wrath is man’s ungodliness and sin. The wrath of God is really his judgment on all sinful behavior. Karl Barth described the wrath of God referred to in this passage as “the judgment under which we stand in so far as we do not love the Judge; it is the ‘No’ which meets us when we do not affirm it; it is the protest pronounced always and everywhere against the course of the world in so far as we do not accept the protest as our own…” [p. 42, Edwyn Hoskins (translator): Karl Barth: The Epistle to the Romans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1933. Reprinted 1968.] Now the wrath of God is expressed in the eternal judgment of hell for the wicked, but also in judgments which occur in the present and in the future. In Romans 1:18, the emphasis is on the wrath of God being revealed from heaven in this age. The first reason people deserve the judgment of God is their ungodliness, and the second, their unrighteousness. A characteristic of the ungodly and of the unrighteous is to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18c, NKJV). The truth of God’s existence is one of the first truths to be suppressed. Atheism and agnosticism are examples of this suppression of truth. What may be known about God, God has shown all people through his creation of the universe. In his creation, God’s invisible attributes, his eternal power and deity, are clearly known from the things He has created (Romans 1:20). There are many aspects of God’s created world that continue to defy our intelligence, despite the many technological advances, and all the discoveries and inventions that have been made. This complexity of so much of the universe should lead people to discern the existence of God as its Creator.
Where does this leave mankind? St. Paul concludes that they are without defense or excuse, since they should have known of God’s existence from the things he has created. They are without excuse, because, knowing God, they have not glorified him as God, nor given him thanks (Romans 1:21). Instead, “they became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21b, NKJV). Futility, darkness and folly have gripped those who refuse to acknowledge God. Though claiming to be wise, they have become foolish (Romans 1:22), and have exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image of mortal man, or other creatures (Romans 1:23). Substituting anything for God is breaking the first two of the Ten Commandments. As a result of man’s willful choice not to worship God and honor him as God, God inflicts the judgments which St. Paul now describes.
The first act of judgment is that God handed people over in the desires of their hearts, to uncleanness, to dishonor their bodies among themselves (Romans 1:24). This was a result of their exchanging the truth of God for a lie, and worshipping and serving the creature instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever (Romans 1:25). All kinds of vile human behavior have resulted from people’s refusal to worship and serve God. Worship of creatures and created things leads man down the path of ever-growing corruption and wickedness, with no respect for human life, and addictions that destroy lives.
Secondly, God gives people over to vile passions (Romans 1:26), so that some men and women engage in homosexual behavior, which is unnatural, and they even receive in themselves the penalty for such behavior (Romans 1:27) – St. Paul could be referring to sexual diseases here. It is clear that according to this passage (Romans 1:26-27) in God’s word, homosexual behavior is not something people cannot avoid doing, nor is it something which God created them to do, but a judgment of God on unredeemed man on account of his choice of creature over Creator.
Thirdly, God gives the disobedient over to a debased mind, because they refuse to acknowledge and worship God. This leads to all kinds of wickedness and sins, as listed in Romans 1:29-31, including murder, envy, pride, gossip and slander, heartlessness, mercilessness, disobedience to parents, deceit, refusal to love or forgive, and hatred for God. Those who commit these sins know God’s just decree that those who do such things deserve to die, but they not only continue to do them, but even approve of those who do them (Romans 1:32).
The root of mankind’s sin is the refusal to acknowledge God, worship and serve him. God’s just judgment on such sin is to hand people over to their own desires, and let them experience the consequences of their actions. Sin pays a wage, and the wage is death (Romans 6:23a), but the free gift of God to those who repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23b). Romans 1 hints at mankind’s need for the Gospel by showing that people have chosen to worship the creature rather than God the Creator, and that they are receiving God’s judgments of consigning them to their own desires, and the sinful behavior issuing from their desires, as well as the consequences of that behavior. In the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul has in view the Gentiles that made up most of the Roman Empire, and he is concerned to prove that all fall under the judgment of God. In the second chapter, we shall see that the Jewish nation is also subject to God’s judgment on sin.
In proclaiming and sharing the Gospel today, Christians must not lose sight of why people so desperately need the salvation that the Lord Jesus Christ alone can give! If all people were innately good and spiritually healthy, and if this condition had prevailed since God created man, there would have been no need for the Gospel of our Lord. But as things are today, as history proves, as so many people’s lives demonstrate, man needs the Gospel of salvation, as much as he always has needed it. Therefore, we must not be afraid to testify to this part of the Gospel – that man is sinful because he refuses to worship and serve God, and that sin produces spiritual death, which leads to eternal death, unless one turns to Christ in repentance and faith for the forgiveness of sins.