We’re going to start into the text of Romans today, looking briefly at Chapter 1.
I’m going to drop a series of discussion questions. Some of these will have very straightforward answers that you can find in the text. Some of them will be less clear-cut, but it’s very important that you understand what you believe and why you believe it. So talk about these things together.
Verses 1-7 – Paul’s Greeting
Paul begins the letter by showing his authority and his purpose. He is:
a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good NewsWe will look in one of the later studies at what an apostle is, but he is clearly saying that he has been specifically sent by God to preach the Good news—the Gospel.
In v.5 he says that through Christ, he—and the other apostles—have been commissioned to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him.
- This letter is addressed to the early Christians in Rome. How do you know that it is relevant to you?
Paul’s Introduction (verses 8-15)Paul encourages them that they are doing okay! Their faith is being talked about ‘all over the world’—at least in the other Christian churches. He wants to encourage them in person—and to be encouraged by them
He wants to visit them—going to Rome is one of Paul’s ambitions, and he did have the opportunity to go there, though perhaps not in the way he would have wanted.
We might be a bit surprised by the number of times Paul says ‘I’. He writes very much from his own perspective. I think there are a couple of reasons for this.
One, everything Paul writes comes from his own personal sense of calling. He is a scholar, an intellectual, but his call from Jesus is personal. He is passionate about it. Sometimes Paul’s teaching gets deep—but it’s always coming right from his heart. We must remember this.
The other thing is that Paul is a bit different from the other apostles. He wasn’t with Jesus during his ministry, like Peter and John—in fact he was aggressively against the church at first. This is why his conversion and his passion for Jesus is so personal, but he also goes out of his way to stress his authority as an apostle to those who might not be ready accept him as a leader.
- How does Paul show his leadership qualities in the opening section of this letter?
Verses 16 and 17
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. 17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.
Here Paul summarises the argument of the whole letter: the Good News—the gospel—has the power of God to save those who believe, both Jews and non-Jews. He links this to a verse in the Old Testament (he does this a lot): Habbakuk 2: 4
Look at the proud!This idea that faith is linked to righteousness is one of the themes in the first half of the book.
They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked.
But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.
So now we’ll start getting into the meat of Paul’s message. Keep in mind that idea he has planted that righteousness—being ‘right’ with God—comes through faith, that is, through putting a belief into action.
The next few chapters are set out a bit like a court case. First, Paul brings the case for the prosecution.
(A slight digression: In Greek law courts, the person who brought the case for the Prosecution was called the Diabolos. It means, ‘a person who throws an accusation across someone.’ In English Diabolos becomes ‘Devil’. It is the same word.
What does the Devil do? Well, it’s a job title: he makes accusations. If you find yourself making accusations … be careful.
The Case for the Prosecution (verses 18-32)It’s a long bit, but we’ll break it down.
Following on from the previous verse…
Verses 17 and 18-20
As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”…
But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
But God is angry with people who ‘suppress the truth by their wickedness’.
If you’re looking at the ESV or the New King James here, it uses the word wrath, which is perhaps a better word than ‘anger’. We’ll look at that in a moment.
- Why does Paul say that no one has any excuse not to worship God?
Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
Paul doesn’t beat about the bush here. He wants us to understand why God is angry with sin and what the consequences are for us—and they are severe.
If you want to understand the holiness of God, it’s worth reading the Book of Leviticus. The best way to get into that is probably by looking at the Bible Project’s short videos on the subject.
The Jewish Christians would have been very familiar with these ideas (they probably had Leviticus off by heart)—the non-Jews, not so much. Like us, they had very little idea of what holiness means.
Paul is saying that people knew God, because everything in nature points to him, but refused to worship him. And, in fact, they created false religions—idols and images—deliberately to distract away from God.
Is he talking about the Jews here? Or the Gentiles? In fact, both. This is the sad state of the whole of humankind.
That is a big accusation—but Paul goes ahead and makes it anyway.
- What was the consequence of people refusing to acknowledge God?
So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. 26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
Paul gets really specific about sex here. People did weird stuff back in the day too—and he links this with the people turning away from God. Remember, in the beginning God made men and women in his own likeness; he told them to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth (Genesis 1: 27, 28). God isn’t anti-sex, in fact he’s all in favour, but it should be mainly about making babies and populating the beautiful world he has made with beautiful people who reflect him.
When we take our eyes off God and his truth and focus instead on self-gratification—and for most people, most of the time sex is about self-gratification—we get into a mess.
Now, look at what Paul is saying. It’s not so much the behaviour itself that God condemns. He abandons them or ‘gives them up’ to do whatever they want because of their horrible attitude towards him. And this has its own punishment: as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
- What is God’s response to people refusing to acknowledge him?
Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarrelling, deception, malicious behaviour, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
- What are the five (at least) specific things that follow from this…
… so it isn’t just about sex. The whole world is out of whack.
You might be thinking… ‘Hold on, Paul, you can’t just say these things. I’ve never had a same-sex relationship; I’ve never deliberately hurt anyone—and I don’t go around making up new ways to sin!
That might be true, but take a step back.
I reckon everyone has a pretty good sense of right and wrong. More or less—we might quibble about some things, but broadly, we would agree on a common morality. You—all of us—have a moral code. Yet we break it anyway. We have all done things that we regret and that we’re not proud of. Despite our best intentions, we have hurt people.
And look around. People—lots of people—are living off the suffering and exploitation of others. This is the way the world is and how it has always been.
We can’t cast ourselves as victims, because even before we knew Christ, we went against our own moral code. We ‘knew God’ (in Paul’s words) but rejected his way.
So God abandons the whole of humankind to their foolish thinking (v.28). ‘Stinking thinking’, someone called it.
- Why does God ‘abandon them’ ?
Paul tells us three times that God ‘abandons’ sinful people who ‘suppress the truth’ (the old version says that he ‘gave them up’). In Hebrew thought, repeating something three times like this magnifies it – for example ‘Holy, holy, holy’ in Isaiah 6: 3 and Revelation 4: 8 means that God is ‘really, really,really’ holy.
In this case, it means that because mankind has rejected him so emphatically and extremely, God has completely rejected them. He has really, really, really rejected them.
Think about that.
What follows is the natural result of people living without care for God and being left to get on with it.
Remember Paul’s own background here. He was a religious Jew by upbringing and education. He really and sincerely wanted to serve God (really, really, really), yet he finished up being responsible for the death of the first Christian martyr.
Paul has no doubt at all that mankind without God is thoroughly evil even where the intentions are sound.
- In your experience, is it true that people have rejected God?
- Is God ‘just’?
Thanks for listening and following this study, I look forward to seeing you again next time.
A bit of an encore.
Let’s think for a moment about God’s anger—his wrath.
Think of God’s characteristics, for example, his:
- Justice = Righteousness
- Omnipotence (all-power)
- Onmiscience (all knowing)
His ‘wrath’ comes out of these things. Try not to think of it as anger. We think of anger as an emotion—a barely-controlled emotion—that lashes out and might cause harm or damage.
God’s wrath is the flip-side of his love and his righteousness.
We’ve just made the argument with Paul that people are basically evil. But we can still see wrath working.
Say you have a daughter who you love and someone rapes her. You are filled with rage—a powerful anger that knows almost no limits. If you get your hands on the offender, you will probably kill him
Some of that anger is coming from you feeling hurt. There is a personal offence against you. Let’s put that aside, because God doesn’t respond in self-defence.
Another part of that anger comes because you love your daughter and were unable to keep her from harm. You want to defend her, to fight for her. To restore her.
That is the engine that drives God’s wrath. Because he loves the people he created, he will respond vehemently when they are threatened.
The third part, which is the most powerful part, comes from his righteousness, and therefore his justice,
Where evil has been done and where the innocent have been harmed, God is implacable and it will not stop until his holiness and righteousness are re-established. Therefore God often appears as a fire. Hebrews 12: 29 says Our God is a consuming fire. What does he consume? Unrighteousness.
Romans 1: 18 in the New King James:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
That, in a nutshell, is the wrath of God.