Romans 1: A Sermon in a Greeting

Introduction to Romans

Romans is a very important epistle in the New Testament. The word “epistle” means letter, and the apostle Paul’s letter to the group of Christians meeting in Rome contains many, many principles of the Christian faith that have persuaded men and women to become children of God since it was written.

At the time of Paul writing this letter, he had not yet been to Rome. It is estimated that the book was written in the autumn of 57 A.D. The guidance and theological content of the letter suggests that Roman Christians would benefit from both the general and the specific tenets of Christianity that Paul elaborates on in this letter. Chapters 14 and 15 suggest that the Romans also would benefit from lessons in living harmoniously with one another. As is the case today, the gospel of Jesus Christ brought many people of differing backgrounds and faiths together. The subjugation to one another in love that Paul compels will have helped these early Christians living in the huge city of Rome.

However great the impact was on the Christians in Rome that received this letter, the impact of the letter on the whole of the world since is much greater.

. . .

In a feat common for Paul that we will revisit as this book wears on, he compacts information into statements that would take some other men volumes to organize. In the first six verses, Paul orders a sequence that calls attention to his own apostleship, specifies the divinity of Jesus Christ, and explains in short order how God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus created an environment that provides grace for all of sinful man.

The saints in Rome most likely had returned there after the events of the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Their faith was widely known throughout the world. Verses 8-15 show us how deeply Paul cares for the Christians in Rome. Although he has not yet visited them there, he intends to so that he can shore up their faith with preaching and instruction. Paul’s prayer for the Romans is that he can come to them, as he considers it his responsibility to educate them on the gospel of Jesus Christ. His commitment to the truth, and to having faithful believers properly understand the nature of God and Jesus Christ is apparent in his messaging throughout.

In fact, as much as Paul stands on and believes in the gospel, he confirms to them that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This statement suggests that some had reason to be ashamed of the gospel. Likely this was due to the political and cultural events surrounding the death of Jesus. Many Romans would have thought it too fantastical or ridiculous, many Jews thought it sacrilegious, and other pagan worshippers might have thought the “new” Christian ideology foolish. Despite this environment, Paul sets a stellar example for the Romans by speaking out strongly: “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.” The quote, “The just shall live by faith” is from Habakkuk 2:4, where it says in kind: “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.” The contrast of pride and living by faith is an interesting choice for Paul to give to the Romans. The new Christians, with the very fresh knowledge of Jesus, needed guidance on how to think about and model their new faith. They were surely zealous and inspired by the knowledge of Jesus, but outside cultural pressure and judgment can bring a heavy load. Paul, by modeling a life lived by faith, instills confidence in their perspective on Christ while also bringing to light that the gospel is free for all people, Jew and Greek alike.

Although we are just getting started in Romans, verses 18-32 present a powerhouse of clarity on the gospel and how to live as a believer. He begins by dispelling the notion that knowledge of God’s presence and power are unknown to His creation. From verse 18-23, Paul explains how God’s existence is plain in His creation, “even His eternal power and Godhead.” He is explaining to the Roman Christians that even people that have not heard from others about God still have knowledge of God. The reason that people do not submit to God is due to their own foolish notions. They exchange obedience and their obligation to glorify God for their own faulty wisdom and for a belief in the corruptible creation of God. Paul’s primary point here is that it is obvious to discern that this world was created by an all-powerful creator, but people selfishly pursue their own desires instead of properly glorifying God. Also, in lieu of glorifying God, people glorify His fallible, temporary, and corruptible creation.

Because people have substituted God’s creation for God, God leaves the people to dwell in their sin, and in fact allows that sin to spiral into yet more deplorable conditions. The sin of homosexuality is called out in particular here. Make no mistake, this is not Paul’s opinion, nor is it presented as a viable alternative lifestyle. Homosexuality among men and women is not only a sin, but serves as a punishment for those that have dwelled long without honoring their Creator.

Barring this deplorable condition, Paul explains how God allows people to experience yet more depths of alienation. As long as people do not keep God in mind and at least honor Him properly, He will give them up to additional punishments, filling them with:

  • Unrighteousness
  • Sexual immorality
  • Wickedness
  • Covetousness
  • Maliciousness
  • Envy
  • Murder
  • Strife
  • Deceit
  • Evil-mindedness

None of these characteristics serve to fill the mind, heart, and soul with joy and happiness. God’s creation, which is meant to glorify Him in righteousness, instead is transformed through their arrogance and negligence into “whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful…”

The irony for man is that by leaving God and seeking himself, man thinks that He has obtained freedom, but in fact He has only created his own shackles. The newly Christian Romans, living in a debased and corrupt society, would have benefitted from these frank descriptions of how God punishes those that choose to ignore Him.

Sadly, these concepts are all too apparent in the society we live in today. Homosexuality, which was once publicly abhorrent is now spread far and wide as a virtuous right. The values of humility and honoring parents are difficult to find and people that invent evil things are treasured and lifted up.

The good news is that as Christians, these current cultural mores are neither our spiritual reality nor our spiritual legacy. We stand firm in the knowledge of Holy and Almighty God and we hold righteousness as our value, pursuing holy and pure minds and hearts as we do our best to live for eternity.  

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