Bible: What Does Romans 1 Teach Us About Righteousness, Revelation, and Reprobation?
The Apostle Paul
Romans 1: God's Righteousness, General Revelation/Mankind's Reprobation
Paul, A Called Apostle
The apostle Paul, in his greeting to the church at Rome, identifies himself in three ways:
(1) as a bondservant of Jesus Christ;
(2) as a called “sent-one”; and
(3) as one set apart to proclaim the gospel (v. 1).
A bondservant (literally, slave) “has no rights or will of his own” (Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 263); he or she must always do whatever the master commands.
Not only did Paul receive a “call” from God—a personal, verbally communicated commission (cf. Acts 9)—, but God also selected him from among other believers (Acts 13:2) to perform a special spiritual service: proclaim the good news (gospel) of Christ’s propitiatory death and bodily resurrection, first to the Jews and later to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 9:15).
This gospel proclamation fulfills OT prophetic promises God made concerning His Son—the One born a lineal descendant of King David (cf. Matt. 1:1; 2 Sam. 7:14) and powerfully proven to be the Son of God by His bodily resurrection from death—, truths to which the Holy Spirit testified (vv. 2-4).
Paul claims that God had gifted him with the power (“grace”) and calling (“apostleship”) to win to the Christian “faith” people from every nation on the Earth (v. 5); believers in Rome represent just a portion of those whom God called to salvation (v. 6).
Addressing these Romans as the “beloved of God” and as “called saints,” the apostle prays that God the Father and the Lord Jesus might grant them grace and peace (v. 7).
The Place Where the Church Meets for Worship
Paul Prays for and Desires to Visit the Roman Christians
Just as Paul thanked God for the Thessalonican believers’ influential faith, so he shows gratefulness to the Lord for the faithful witness of Roman Christians (v. 8; cf. 1 Thess. 1:8).
The apostle claims that God—Whom he serves in the gospel ministry—witnesses his habitual prayer for the Romans; Paul also professes his fervent desire to visit these saints if the Lord so willed (vv. 9-10).
Not only does he long to help them spiritually through the exercise of his many gifts, but he also expects their faith (or faithfulness?) to encourage him (vv. 11-12).
Before addressing the Romans as “brethren,” Paul prefaces his comments with his familiar “I do not want you to be unaware” clause (v. 13a; cf. substitution of “ignorant” for “unaware” in 1 Cor. 12:1; 1 Thess. 4:13 [same infinitive used: agnoein]).
He wants them to know that he planned to visit them, except that “circumstances” always prevented his coming (v. 13).
The apostle acknowledges his responsibility to evangelize both those who speak and live like Greeks and those who do not (v. 14), and reveals his eagerness to bring the gospel to Rome as well (v. 15).
[Paul writes this epistle in the mid to late 50s A.D.; he does not visit Rome for several years (early 60s)].
The Power of God Unto Salvation
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The Gospel is the Power of God Unto Salvation
Paul knows that the gospel is not only God’s power to save believers from eternal death, but that it also reveals God’s righteousness in them from the beginning to the end of their Christian lives (“from faith to faith”).
Therefore, he asserts that he is not ashamed to proclaim it to both the Jew and the Gentile (vv. 16-17a).
The apostle desires all types of people to obtain a right relationship with God by exercising faith in Christ and having God impute the Lord’s gift of righteousness to their spiritual account.
He also wishes that, after taking that initial step of trust, they would conduct the rest of their Christian lives by faith (v. 17b; cf. 3:21; Hab. 2:4).
Mankind's Suppression of God's Revelation
The Gentiles Are Lost
Rejection of General Revelation Makes the Pagan Inexcusable
Paul now launches out into a particularly profound theological section of his epistle.
He begins by asserting that God’s retributive justice proceeds from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteous deeds of human beings, because the latter actively suppress (hold down) the truth about God and about themselves and thus prevent it from making its proper impact upon their lives (v. 18).
When God created human beings, He imprinted them with His “image”—an attribute that includes the innate, spiritual ability to know the Creator (v. 19).
By observing the “general revelation” of God in nature, people of every age know intuitively that the invisible, omnipotent Deity exists.
Since they all possess this spiritual information, they are all inexcusable for their moral actions before their Creator (v. 20).
Instead of glorifying and giving thanks to God for this wonderful gift, they engage in vain thinking; consequently, the core of their being becomes “dark” (v. 21).
[Either the Lord Himself actively extinguishes their “light,” or their rejection of the truth naturally (and eventually) results in an acceptance of “darkness.”]
Thinking themselves wise, autonomous human beings become foolish and manifest their error first by making corruptible images of the eternal God of glory in the form of humanity and other creatures (vv. 22-23).
[They sought to worship God with visible, created representations of Him.
Cf. Yahweh’s reaction to this practice in Exodus 32.]
Attitude Toward Homosexuals
Are Christians "homophobic"?
Homosexuality: A Step in the Reprobation Process
The Reprobation Process
Thus the reprobation process begins, as God does not restrain these people from expressing their base hearts’ desire in socially “unclean” bodily activities by which they dishonor themselves as God’s image bearers (v. 24).
Rejecting their proper role as created beings who ought to worship the blessed Creator, they choose instead to worship the creation, especially other people (v. 25).
The second step in this “giving up” progression clearly refers to homosexuality (“vile passions”).
Another unrighteous exchange takes place: both Gentile females and males abandon “the natural use,” and opt for unnatural sexual activity (vv. 26-27a; cf. 1:23, 25).
Homosexual acts between males result in their receiving “internal penalties” as payment for their error (v. 27).
When people lock out of their minds any knowledge of God whatsoever, the Lord allows the completion of the reprobation process to take place in them.
Their “debased” or “depraved” mind motivates them to commit all kinds of improper behavior (v. 28).
Paul labels the entire parade of the following twenty-two sinful activities or attitudes as evidences of being “filled with all unrighteousness,” with sexual immorality heading the index (vv. 29-31).
[NU omits sexual immorality from its list.]
It describes sociopathic personalities who perpetrate all manner of destruction upon others.
The first three traits suggest states of mind (wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness) [v. 29a].
Paul writes that reprobates fully express the next five characteristics (envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness) [v. 29b].
[NASB records the word “malice” twice for two different words; the NKJV distinguishes between maliciousness and evil-mindedness.]
Becoming more specific in his depiction, the apostle places three types of verbal offenders in the same list (whisperers [gossips], backbiters [slanderers], and boasters), and two kinds of people who rebel against authority (haters of God, those disobedient to parents).
The sins of pride and being inventors of evil things resist categorization; violence, however, hearkens back to murder (v. 30; cf. v. 29b).
In verse thirty-one, Paul groups together five disgraceful actions, showing that reprobates present a character directly opposed to the behavior expected of Christians.
Although those who practice these activities know that they deserve God’s retribution, they not only continue to revel in their evil deeds, but they also encourage others to do the same (v. 32).
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