THE EPISTLE OF ROMANS - Part 5 of 15 – Romans 1:15 to 3:26
The Church Epistles are letters and should be read as such. The chapter and verse breaks are great for reference but can greatly hinder our understanding of the original intent of the message. A translation, such as the ASV or the RSV, which is in paragraph form instead of being broken up into segmented verses can help our minds read these letters in the format in which they were written.
The book of Romans is written like a lawyer who is building a case before a jury. It is extremely logical, developing and proving one point upon another by acute arguments. It is written in a time when the only recognized chosen people of God were the Israelites. The Israelite culture and religion were based upon the Law of Moses. It was assumed that the keeping of the Law of Moses was their ticket into eternal life (John 5:39). Paul, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, a messenger of the gospel, had to eradicate these erroneous ways of thinking. These points are strongly addressed throughout the book of Romans.
To understand the key points in the opening seventeen verses of Romans is to understand Romans (see parts 1-5 of this hub series). The remainder of the letter elaborates on these key points.
Romans 1:18-3:20 shows us the depravity of man apart from salvation through Christ. Immediately following this section is God’s salvation plan – CHRIST, in Romans 3:21-25.
Every individual must choose between believing on the Christ or not, between light and darkness.
“17 For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. 18 He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved.” (John 3:17-20 ASV)
Here we read that there is a judgment from God to mankind. So everyone faces the judgment of God. There are 2 ways to face this judgment: either through Christ or apart from him. On the one hand, those who have accepted Christ as their savior, are saved from the judgment because Jesus Christ already suffered the judgment in their place. He is their substitute. The other option is to bear your own judgment. The scripture tells us that people don’t accept Jesus as Lord and Savior because they won’t accept the love of the message (2Thessalonians 1:6-10). This latter point is handled in Romans 1:18-3:20. The former point is in Romans 3:21-26.
“So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17 For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous by faith shall live. 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness;” (Romans 1:15-18)
In this section of Romans we learn about the wrath of God. The wrath of God might be better understood as God’s just judgment against every ungodly and unrighteous act of men. See Hebrews 2:2. Not even one transgression or disobedient act will go unpunished because all men are accountable to God. Now consider Colossians 2:14-15 and Galatians 3:1.
The description of men being under the judgment of God’s justice system is found in Romans 1:18 through 3:20. The inevitable judgment day is “when… God shall judge the secrets of men’s hearts through Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:16).
The question is echoed throughout this section, “Do you suppose…that you will escape the just judgment of God? (Romans 2:3) “We know that the just judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things as are contrary to him” (Romans 2:2).
Romans 1:18 to 3:20 sections off into two general groups of people who don’t believe:
Group 1, Romans 1:18-32
This section is addressing those who:
- “even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give him thanks” (Romans 1:21),
- Don’t “think it worthwhile to have God in their knowledge” (Romans 1:28 HCSB).
- “Although they know full well God’s just sentence––that those who practice such things (every practice of unrighteousness) deserve to die ––they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them.” (Romans 1:32 HCSB)
Essentially, this section is addressing those who choose to reject God and who “do those things which are not proper” (Romans 1:28b) according to God’s standard.
Group 2, Romans 2:1-3:20
This section is addressing those of the circumcision (Israel). Although called as God’s elect, apparently these Jews felt that God had respect only to them as his chosen people. They did not believe that God’s will was for all men to be saved. In addition, they were preachers of the Law but weren’t keeping the same standard themselves. For us today, this would represent those people who think they are God’s “special” ones because they belong to a certain church group. They’re right and everyone else is wrong. Therefore, there is an air of smugness and arrogance among them. This type of group promotes standards apart from Christ’s work for being right to which they cannot adhere.
The similarity of groups 1 & 2 is that “they practice the same things” (Romans 1:32 & 2:1). The difference is that group 1 “not only does the same things, but gives hearty approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:32). Group 2 are those who “pass judgment on those who practice such things, and do the same things” themselves (Romans 2:3).
The summary of both these groups is addressed in Romans 3:9 & 23. They are all under sin. The problem is that apart from Christ “there is none righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10). See Romans 3:19 & 11:32. Everyone on their own merits falls short of the glory of God. What is God’s solution to this all-encompassing problem?... CHRIST’S atoning work.
Romans 3:21-26 (See “two kinds of righteousness” in the hub "JESUS CHRIST: The Fulfillment of the Promises of God Part 7 of 9: The Lord our Righteousness".)
“21 But now apart from the *law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 even the righteousness of God through faith concerning Jesus Christ unto all them that are believing; for there is no distinction (between Jew and Gentile); 23 for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; 24 being justified without a cause by his *grace through the *redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 whom God set forth [to be] a* propitiation (mercy seat), through faith, by his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance (toleration) of God; 26 for the showing, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that is of the faith of Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26)
The Apostle Paul is building a case concerning Christ’s redemptive work needing to be believed as if he were a lawyer trying to convince a jury. He uses logic and legal terminology to build and prove his case. Paul leaves neither the Jew nor the Gentile any way out of the sin problem by their own merit, for “all are under sin.” The only way for anyone to have a right standing with God is by way of God’s righteousness by faith through Jesus Christ. What makes the gospel the power of God unto our wholeness is that in it the righteousness of God is revealed (Romans 1:16, 17).
As ones who believe the gospel we accept Christ’s atoning work in our behalf. We have been redeemed from sin and all of its consequences. Christ’s work was not in vain. The gospel is reality for us. Therefore, we speak accordingly. We lead our thoughts captive to gospel realities. Our lives are being transformed into the very image of this glorious gospel as we practice thinking accordingly. We trust in the intrinsic power of the gospel. Once our eyes have been opened to gospel truth then we embrace it as if our lives depend upon it because they do.