RECOVERING THE ORIGINAL GOSPEL
This work is dedicated to the memory of
This well-known Holocaust survivor, Messianic leader and father of many saints passed on to glory just as this book was being finished. It was from Eliezer long ago that I got my introduction to Israel and the Jewish people. I will be eternally grateful for him.
I am deeply indebted to my wife Betsy who read and reread every portion of this manuscript. Also I am indebted to my former pastor Ken Moore who provided me with a goodly supply of research materials. Many thanks go out to others who have helped make this work possible, especially to Lynn and Cecile Lantz, and to Randy and Lin Swier. At last I am indebted to Judy Stone who eagerly and faithfully proofed every page before publication.
All scripture quotations in this publication are from the Holy Bible, New International Version, except where noted (published by Zondervan Corporation, copyright, 1985).
Cover: the modern city of Rome
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Copyright © 2009 Jim Gerrish
Many have regarded the Book of Romans as among the most important of all theological documents. John Stott speaks of it in this wise: “It is the fullest, plainest and grandest statement of the gospel in the New Testament.” 1 James Edwards remarks, “Of all the books of the Bible, none has left its mark on the theology and language of the Christian faith like this magisterial epistle.” 2
The great reformer Calvin says about it, “When any one gains a knowledge of this epistle, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture.” 3 Other great reformers also made statements in praise of Romans. Martin Luther said: “It is the chief part of the New Testament and the perfect gospel… the absolute epitome of the gospel.” Philip Melancthon called Romans “the compendium of Christian doctrine.” 4
When individuals or when the church as a whole has experienced awakening and revival, the likelihood is that the Book of Romans played a large part in these events. Many are the stories of great men in the past whose lives have been changed by this book. One such person, in AD 386, was Aurelius Augustinus, who later became known as the great church father Saint Augustine. One day Augustine was seated in the garden as he wrestled with his evil conscience. Suddenly he heard a voice like the voice of a child repeating this phrase in a sing-song manner, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” With this, Augustine hastily took up the Bible and his eyes fell on Romans 13:13-14: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Augustine remarked, “No further would I read, nor was there cause why I should; for instantly with the end of the sentence, as by a clear and constant light infused into my heart, the darkness of all former doubts was driven away.” 5
Over a thousand years later a young German monk of the Augustinian order was sent to lecture on the Book of Romans at the University of Wittenberg. His discovery of Romans 1:17, “The righteous will live by faith,” caused Martin Luther to launch what has been called the greatest reform in the history of the church.
It was Martin Luther’s later commentary on Romans that played a big part in the life changes that occurred in a twenty-one-year old Oxford graduate and failed missionary to the new world. Here is his own account: “In the evening [of May 24, 1738] I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He has taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” 6 With these words John Wesley began the great Methodist revival that shook two continents and changed the course of history.
As we look at the Book of Romans we need to be forewarned that this is a life-changing book. A serious study of this book has the potential to bring forth a changed life, a changed family or even a changed nation.
Romans Chapter 1
PAUL INTRODUCES HIMSELF
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God
As Paul wrote his great letter to the Romans it was important for him to first introduce himself. He does this in some detail, making this the most formal and lengthy introduction of any Pauline epistle. 1 Although he was now famous as the Apostle to the Gentiles, he had not yet visited the capital city of Rome and was unacquainted with the many house churches at the world’s greatest Gentile center. There was a real need for him to establish his credentials with the Roman believers.
We see that Paul was called to the very special task of being an apostle to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 9:15). The word “apostle” means one sent out as a special messenger or envoy. In Paul’s case we see that he was set apart by God for this apostolic work. In Galatians 1:1 he reveals that his call was not from men or through the agency of man (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-8; Eph. 3:1-3). In Galatians 1:15-17, he notes that God had actually set him apart from his birth and called him into the apostolic ministry. In much the same way, the prophet Jeremiah of old was also set apart from his birth (Jer. 1:5).
Paul lists himself as a “servant” or “slave” of God. This sounds like rather severe imagery today but the idea is quite common in scripture. This same terminology is used of Moses (Num. 12:7), of David (Psa. 78:70) and even of Jesus (Rom. 15:8). It became the normal language to describe Christians in the first century as “servants” or “slaves” of Christ.
The “gospel of God” is mentioned here. David Guzik relates that the most important word in this whole epistle is “God.” He notes how the word is mentioned 153 times in Romans, an average of once every 46 words, and more so than in any other New Testament book. He claims that Romans is therefore a book about God. 2
The apostle continues to describe the “gospel” or “good news” of God which had been proclaimed with these words: “the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures…” (1:2). It is clear that Paul spoke nothing in his gospel except that which had been spoken already by Moses and the prophets (Acts 26:22-23). We remember that the gospel message was first announced concerning Eve and her offspring in Genesis 3:15. It was made especially clear centuries later in Isaiah’s
chapters 52 and 53.
The gospel is specifically “regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:3-4). Several commentators have remarked how this unusually compact section of scripture sounds very much like Paul is repeating an early Christian creedal statement or Christological formula. Perhaps this is the case.
We know from scripture that Jesus came to earth as the Son of David. He was designated by the title in Matthew 1:1. He allowed himself to be called by this title on numerous occasions (Matt. 9:27; 15:22; and 21:9). Obviously, the gospel is also the good news about the divine Son of God and of his coming to earth as the Redeemer. The reformer Calvin remarks about the expression “regarding his Son” with these words: “This is a remarkable passage, by which we are taught that the whole gospel is included in Christ, so that if any removes one step from Christ, he withdraws himself from the gospel.” 3
This passage shows clearly the two distinct natures of Jesus the Messiah. According to his human nature he was from the line of King David (cf. Isa. 9:7), but according to his spiritual nature he was and is the Son of God (cf. Psa. 2:7). This latter fact was clearly established by his resurrection from the dead. The resurrection didn’t make him the Son of God or even designate him as such, but declared him to be what he already was. The theologian Larry Hart says, “The resurrection also sets Jesus apart from every other religious figure (and, for that matter, from every other person) who has ever lived.” 4
“Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (1:5). Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles has the specific task of preaching this gospel or good news of the Son of God to all Gentile nations, which ultimately would reach to the ends of the earth. Paul’s task includes the work of bringing Gentiles into “the obedience that comes from faith.” This reminds us of the Lord’s own words in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20. He not only told his followers to go and make disciples of all nations, but he instructed them to also teach the nations that they might observe everything he has commanded. It seems that while we have gone to preach in all the nations, somehow we have forgotten the second part of the Lord’s commandment.
There is a great deal of discussion in the commentaries concerning the exact meaning of the words “the obedience that comes from faith.” The Greek scholar A.T. Robertson sees this structure as the subjective genitive, as it also appears in Romans 16:26. That would make the statement read “the obedience which springs from faith.” 5 James Edwards sees this idea as both beginning and concluding Paul’s epistle. He quotes the famous martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his book, The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer sums it up by saying: “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.” 6
Paul says of the Roman Christians, “And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (1:6). As Gentile believers in Jesus we must always remember to give thanks that the gospel reached even to us. We must also take great care that that same pure and saving gospel can continue on through us to reach others.
THE SAINTS AT ROME
To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:7
There is a fairly general agreement among scholars that this letter of Paul to the Romans was written around AD 57, while the apostle was spending three months at Corinth (Acts 20:3). There have been many speculations as to why Paul would write to Rome, a city he had never visited. As we have mentioned, there was a real need for the chief apostle to the Gentiles to somehow contact the greatest of all Gentile cities. We also know from scripture that Paul had a burning desire to evangelize in the far west, even as far as Spain (Rom. 15:28). William Barclay states regarding this desire, “If he was to launch a campaign in the west, he needed a base of operations. There was only one such base possible—and that was Rome.” 7
In addition to these things, there was probably a third and perhaps a most compelling reason for Paul to write to the Roman Christians. This reason had to do with the very founding and makeup of the Roman church. We do not know from history when this church was founded. Several commentators have suggested that it had its beginning soon after the Pentecost event of Acts chapter 2. We know from Acts that a number of Roman Jews and proselytes were present to witness this event (Acts 2:10-11). The distinguished biblical scholar F.F. Bruce notes how strange it is that this contingent is the only one from Europe to receive express mention. 8
It is certain that Jews had lived in Rome for a long period and that at an early date Jewish believers in Christ were present in the city. In opposition to what many in the church have believed, there is absolutely no evidence that the church in Rome was founded by Peter. Had Peter been there—Paul—who was always meticulous in greeting people would certainly have greeted him. Or at least he would have made mention of him somehow in this epistle.
The most compelling reason for Paul’s writing may have centered on the Jewish/Gentile makeup of the Roman church. We may suspect from Acts that the original Christians in Rome were mostly Jewish. Although Rome originally had a large Jewish colony, about AD 50, Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from the city. We see evidence of this expulsion in Aquila and Priscilla, who had come from Italy and who began working as tentmakers in Corinth with Paul (Acts 18:1-3). Apparently, once Claudius died the expulsion order was lifted. Now we see Aquila and Priscilla once more in Rome when this letter to the Romans was written (Rom.16:3).
Many scholars suspect that once the Jewish Christians returned to Rome, there began to be some sharp doctrinal disputes between them and the Gentile Christians, who were obviously by then in the majority. 9 These disputes would have surely centered upon the law and the relationship of the believer to the law. Perhaps this is why Bruce mentions that Romans, of all the epistles, has the closest affinity to the Book of Galatians. 10 Of course, in Galatians Paul had dealt decisively with the problem posed by the law. Paul possessed great qualifications in this whole area. “Paul was a veteran of two decades of the Jewish/Gentile tug-of-war.” 11
We cannot at all minimize the Jewish/Gentile struggle in Romans. If we look carefully we will note that twenty-three percent of Romans has to do with the Jews either directly or indirectly. So we see that this element looms large before us throughout the epistle, and especially in chapters 9-11. Some years later, as Paul wrote Ephesians, he would focus upon the coming together of Jew and Gentile into one new man. Paul would describe this as a great mystery hidden from the ages but finally revealed (Eph. 3:6). Thus we can see that the Jewish/Gentile relationship was at the heart of Paul’s gospel and therefore at the heart of Romans.
In recent times, as Israel has been resettled and the Jewish nation reborn, this Jewish/Gentile question is once again coming into the forefront. Since 1948, thousands of evangelical Christians have become interested in the land of Israel and many thousands now live there permanently. There is therefore an increasing struggle between Jews and Christians in the land. This struggle is also manifested to some degree even in Messianic Jewish congregations and their relations with Gentile Christians the world over. Paul makes plain, especially in Ephesians, that the Jewish/Gentile relationship is a most important element in the working out of the overall plan of God. Obviously, this is a vital part of the gospel that has been lost almost entirely in recent centuries of Christianity.
We see that the believers in Rome were “loved of God and called to be saints” (1:7). Throughout the New Testament the believers in Christ are called “saints.” This designation today is one that evokes memories of stained glass figures portraying great Christians in the past with their halos glowing around their heads. Such imagery is entirely false. The word “saint” in the Bible applies to folks like you and me, to average Christians. It applies to those who are set apart by God and who are being sanctified in their walk by the daily working of the Holy Spirit within them.
Romans is obviously not a book we would choose for leisurely reading. Almost every sentence in the book is packed with theological significance. Even the greeting here, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7), is likewise packed with meaning. Edwards says of this verse: “Grace is the intersection where unconditional love meets human unworthiness.” 12
Paul continues: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world” (1:8). Having active Christian churches at the hub of the great Roman Empire was no small matter. Paul expresses his thankfulness for their effectiveness. Some years later, as we see in Philippians 4:22, the vigorous Church of Rome had made inroads and conversions even into the very household of Caesar.
Paul, as he does in other of his epistles, speaks of apostolic prayer for the people: “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you” (1:9-10).
We get the clear impression from Paul’s epistles that he really prayed for people and that he prayed for them a lot (cf. Eph. 1:15-16; Phil. 1:3-4; Col. 1:3). This was even true of Christians he had never met. The idea in this verse is that Paul prayed always and constantly for the Roman Christians. It was the burden of his prayers. Perhaps Paul was concerned that the Romans would not take him seriously about the claim of his many prayer endeavors on their behalf. He thus takes the unusual step of bringing God in as his witness regarding his constant prayer activity.
We wonder how someone could pray for other people constantly and at all times. William Barclay comments: “After nearly 2000 years, the warm affection of this passage still breathes through it, and we can feel Paul’s great heart for the church that he had never seen.” 13 Ray Stedman, the pastor and author, adds: “The first mark of the Spirit’s work in our lives is that [we begin] to create a concern for someone else.” 14 Of course, Paul was also praying earnestly that he himself would at last make it to Rome.
It is really difficult for us in this “all about me” generation to appreciate the concern Paul continues to express for these Christians in Rome. He says: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (1:11-12). This statement of Paul seems a bit awkward at first. It is as if Paul realized in mid-sentence that his words might be sounding a bit inappropriate, indicating that he had everything to give and nothing to receive from the Roman Christians. He quickly changes the tone, indicating that indeed there would be a mutual benefit between them. That is most often the case when Christians get together.
There might be a question about what kind of spiritual gift Paul had in mind to share with the Romans. The noted Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest remarks how such a gift (pneumatikon charisma) could be an ordinary one, or how it could be one denoting special extraordinary powers, which were granted to individuals by the Holy Spirit. These could be gifts like healing, tongues or prophecy. 15
It is obvious from these passages that Paul had long intended to visit Rome (cf. Acts 19:21). He says: “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles” (1:13). For certain, Paul had suffered many hindrances in his efforts at getting to Rome. We see some evidence of this also mentioned in Acts 23:11. Paul relates how the Lord stood near and said to him “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” David Brown mentions that nearly a quarter of a century elapsed after his conversion before he was finally able to venture to Rome. Even then, he had to arrive as a prisoner. 16
Paul’s wish for a harvest among the Roman Christians, just as he had experienced among the “other Gentiles,” is clear evidence that the Roman church at this time was largely made up of Gentile believers. 17
The apostle declares: “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome” (1:14-15). William Barclay remarks how it might seem strange that Paul speaks of “Greeks” when he is in fact writing to the Romans. Barclay mentions that from the time of Alexander the Great, the Greek language had been spread over the known world. By the time of Paul’s writing “Greek” had totally lost its racial sense. 18 The Greek people as well as Greek speakers often looked at themselves as “the civilized people” in the world. They looked at all others as barbarians or barbarov, the term used by Paul in
THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. Romans 1:16
Paul knew his message contained the power of God for salvation of all people. There was no way he would be ashamed of such a message. We might wonder how many people today actually believe that the gospel alone can totally change a person’s life. Today, we have many additives to the gospel message. These are things like good works, education, proper counseling, receiving therapy or joining a counseling group. It seems we no longer believe that the gospel alone can instantly and totally change a life. The theologian John Hannah says, “The greatest need in the contemporary church is to rediscover the gospel, its glory and its power.” 19
It has long been noted in the church how the Greek word “dunamis” is the root for our words like dynamite and dynamo. Many are the believers over the centuries who have found that the dynamic power of the gospel was able to permanently change their lives. One such person was the former slave trader, John Newton (1725-1807), who because of the gospel became an Anglican priest and author of some of Christendom’s most precious hymns, like Amazing Grace. The lyrics of this old and beloved hymn well describe Newton’s spiritual change: “Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) That sav’d a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.”
We have previously mentioned the Jewish/Gentile theme that is so prevalent in Romans. Here for the first time in the epistle the “Jew” is mentioned by name. It is clear here and in many other places that the gospel had to first be preached to the Jews (Matt. 10:5-6; Acts 13:46). Paul in his preaching made a special effort to speak to Jews before he would take the gospel to others (Acts 17:1-2). We forget in our mission efforts today that there is a plan by which the gospel is spread throughout the world. It must first go from Jerusalem and then out to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Christendom’s many large and affluent denominations send gospel workers to countries all over the world. However, very few of these denominations are represented in Israel today. How tragic that we still do not understand God’s mission program. Not only did we not take the gospel to Israel first, we neglected Israel and we still do. Not only did we not give them the gospel, we even persecuted them with the gospel for almost
In Ephesians 2:12–3:6, Paul speaks of the great mystery of God which has been kept secret for ages but is now revealed. The mystery is that Jew and Gentile must come together in Christ into “one new man” or “one body.” Together Jews and Gentiles through the gospel are to become “heirs together,” “members together,” and “sharers together” in Christ’s great kingdom. We simply do not understand God’s program and how indispensable the Jews are to his program. Our Gentile churches will never be complete without them.
It is difficult for Paul to underestimate the gospel’s power. He goes on: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (1:17). When Paul brings up the subject of the “righteousness from God,” some feel that he is bringing up the actual theme of his letter. Stuart Briscoe says: “The righteousness of God which the gospel reveals is an expression so full of meaning that it would be true to say that the rest of the epistle is designed to explain it.”20 Moo calls it “the central motif” of Romans. He describes it as the “gift of right standing” or “the activity by which God saves people.” 21 Wuest states that the gospel offers a sinner “God’s own righteousness in which he will stand in right relation to Him forever.” 22
The verse makes clear that righteousness of God is received through faith. Of course, this theme comes directly from the Old Testament, in Habakkuk 2:4. It is also prominent in the New Testament in Galatians 3:11 and in Hebrews 10:38. There is some question as to how verse 17 is to be translated. Some have translated it “by faith from beginning to end,” or “faith the starting point and faith the goal.” 23 The New Jerusalem Bible translates it, “Anyone who is upright through faith will live.” John Stott quips: “The only question is whether the righteous by faith will live, or the righteous will live by faith.” 24
This righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel, and that gospel comes to us by faith. This process will be dealt with in detail in Romans chapters 3 and 4. It is without a doubt one of the most astounding breakthroughs in all the history of religion. By faith, God’s very own righteousness is imputed to us sinners. It is in no sense our righteousness which is accredited to us because of our own good works. God says that our good works are like filthy rags (Isa. 64:6) before him.
GOD’S WRATH UPON THE GENTILES
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. Romans 1:18-19
The wrath of God was revealed then and it is still being revealed. Humanity does not understand how serious it is to have God’s wrath turned upon it. David Guzik sees that the wrath of God is the greatest peril facing the human race today. 25 It is surely greater than the nuclear bomb or even having the earth struck by a gigantic asteroid.
We see that the first and primary reason for God’s wrath is that men have suppressed or held down the truth by their wickedness. It is impossible to suppress the truth unless people at some point have actually possessed the truth to one degree or another. The truth they possessed was not the special revelation made to Israel or the glorious revelation of the gospel, but it was the general revelation of God that is evident in the creation itself. The starry heavens above and the wonders of the earth beneath display knowledge of the Creator that is constantly made plain to all humanity. Some theologians add, as another aspect of general revelation, the conscience that God has placed within each of us as will be seen later in Romans 2:14-15. 26
The human race has had access to this universal knowledge of God for a long time. Paul says: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (1:20). This reminds us of the Psalmist’s beautiful words: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard” (Psa. 19:1-3). Therefore, there is enough revelation in the creation itself that people must stand without excuse
But we see that this universal knowledge of God was rejected: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). Human beings did not glorify God and neither did they give thanks. Thanklessness is like a small hole in the dam. Eventually, if left untended, it will create a great catastrophe. The end result for those long ago was that their thinking became futile.
What a mess the human race has become! Today many claim that mankind through evolution is moving to greater and more glorious heights, but the sad truth is that man is moving lower through devolution, even sinking to a point lower than the beasts.
We see that “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (1:22). Wuest brings out how the Greek word used here for “fools” or “foolish” (mōrainō) is defined “to be silly, play the fool, or be stupefied.” He notes how our word “moron” comes from mōros, the noun form of this word. 27 The commentator Wiersbe sums it up: “Man the worshiper became man the philosopher, but his empty wisdom only revealed his foolishness.” He remarks how Paul, in Acts 17:30, summarized all of Greek history with its greatest philosophers in one dramatic statement: “the times of this ignorance.” 28
Because of their foolishness, Paul says that they “…exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (1:23). It is almost unbelievable the kinds of things man worships. And let us make clear that man will always worship something because it is within his nature to worship. Satan, who really desires to steal away the worship of God, likes to focus the attention away from God. He deceitfully tries to set up man himself as an object of worship. We see this so much in the New Age religions of today. His words of temptation to Eve are repeated countless times, “…you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). We also see it in our pop culture where millions of westerners have come to worship and adore their many pop stars. They have no shame and openly acclaim them as their “idols.” When these idols die it almost plunges us into a time of national mourning.
Through the centuries, humankind has worshipped a great variety of things. Indeed, people have worshipped all kinds of birds, animals and reptiles. In ancient Egypt, for instance, the hawk, ibis, serpent and crocodile were worshipped. The Egyptians even stooped to worship the dung beetle (Scarabaeus sacer). Supposedly this beetle was the embodiment of the god Khepri. This must have been a very popular worship because the beetle-like scarabs remaining from this worship are commonly found in archaeological excavations all over the Middle East. Egyptians also worshipped the dog, the monkey and especially the apis bull. It was probably from the latter that the Children of Israel got their idea of a golden calf.
Such foul and foolish worship takes a dreadful toll on the human race. Men and women who worship such things inevitably lower themselves away from the holy image of God toward the images of the vain things they adore. As Paul says, their thinking becomes darkened and futile. It seems that idolatry above all else causes people to lose the precious image of God. Everett Harrison even speculates that during the awful tribulation period, with the rise of Antichrist (the Beast of Revelation), the worship of man and beast will finally merge together. 29
One of the immediate results of idolatry is seen in Paul’s next statement: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (1:24). When we make God in the image of the lower created things or in our own image we also try to conform the holy God to our own sinful lusts, passions and pleasures. For instance, Stott remarks: “A false image of God leads to a false understanding of sex.” 30
Through history the usual outlet for all this has been in sexual license and perversion of one form or another. Ancient temples were commonly places where harlots and homosexuals congregated. This was an accepted part of ancient worship. We would probably not be able to imagine the depths of depravity reached by such worship.
Paul goes on with his gruesome description: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” (1:25). In regard to changing truth into a lie, the ancients had nothing on our generation. Through our postmodern philosophy today we are told that there is no such thing as universal truth. All truth is relative and can easily change with any situation. We can actually construct our own truth. Obviously, all such statements are false and philosophically self-defeating. With such nonsense our whole society has rushed to change truth into a lie. The whole emphasis today is upon the acquisition and enjoyment of created things while thoughts of a Creator are fleeting indeed. Peter Pett says that we also “bow down to the great gods of Science and Evolution, counting them as Creators, rather than recognizing in them the fruits of creation.” 31
We might describe our western world today in three words: pervasive postmodern paganism. Ancient paganism has been revived but in the postmodern format, where there is no concept of universal truth. The new paganism is everywhere, on the TV, in the movies, in the publications and in the schools. Even the churches seem to be
affected by it.
WHEN GOD GIVES UP ON PEOPLE
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.” Romans 1:26.
It is evident that homosexuality in all its various forms is cause enough for God to give up on humanity. The reason for this is that homosexuality is humankind’s way of seriously messing with the overall plan of God for the procreation and maintenance of the race. It is a way of actually reversing it. In fact, if homosexuality is allowed to go unchecked, it will likely bring an end to humanity. How tragic that we see so many different states and countries today rushing to pass laws that make homosexuality and even homosexual marriages lawful. With such things we can know that the end of the age is near.
Homosexuality is man’s way of shaking his fist at God’s words in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and increase in number…” It is a shaking of his fist at Genesis 2: 24: “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” It is especially tragic when the woman, who rocks the cradle of civilization, turns away from the gentle and godly role of wife and mother, from the role of nurturing young children, to the role of lesbian.
The apostle goes on with his tale of woe: “In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion” (1:27).
In Paul’s day there were many examples of that which he spoke. Even in the highly intellectual world of the Greeks, homosexuality was very prevalent. Albert Barnes relates how the practice of homosexuality was common among the poets, philosophers and great men of Greece. It was also very prevalent in the Roman Empire. He cites Seneca who says it was practiced openly and without shame in Rome, where troops of boys were trained for the detestable employment.32
Homosexuality reached the highest levels of Rome’s government. Guzik relates that “For some 200 years, men who openly practiced homosexuality, often with young boys, ruled the Roman Empire.” 33 He relates how Nero the emperor had a boy named Sporus castrated and then married him with full ceremony. The boy was brought to the palace with great procession and made the “wife” of Nero. 34 Paul says that for such things men receive in their persons their due penalty. We have all heard of the insane acts of Nero, like those of executing his mother and adopted brother, playing the fiddle or lyre while Rome burned and using Christians as human torches. Today we see plagues of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases sweeping over the thousands and millions of those who violate God’s sacred commands. They testify that people still receive in their persons the penalty of their sins.
Homosexuality is rapidly gaining plague proportions in our postmodern world. Guzik in writing about the dangers of this, says that an average of 43 percent of homosexuals claim that they have had 500 or more sexual partners in their lifetimes, while only 1 percent claim four or less partners. Only 28 percent had known their partners for even a week before their homosexual acts. 35
Such practices today debase normal marriage and there is much evidence that they did so in ancient times. Barclay comments: “Roman women of the aristocracy dated the years by the names of their husbands and not by the names of the consuls.” 36 He goes on: “Children were considered a misfortune…There was never a night when there were not thirty or forty abandoned children left in the Roman forum.” 37 While this was the fate of healthy unwanted children, the ones born weakly or deformed were simply drowned or strangled. As tragic as all this is, it hardly compares to the calloused murder of forty million modern babies through the cruel practice of abortion.
Of course, the pagan world, and especially Rome, was plagued with many other problems because of its rejection of the true God. The ancient philosopher, Seneca, had referred to Rome as “a cesspool of iniquity” and the writer Juvenal had called it a “filthy sewer into which the dregs of the empire flood.” 38 Life had become so cheapened that people flocked to the coliseum to watch gladiators battle each other to the death. Barnes, quoting from Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, relates: “The fondness for this bloody spectacle continued till the reign of Constantine the Great… Several hundred, perhaps several thousand, victims were annually slaughtered in the great cities of the empire.” 39
We might think this was the end, but Paul goes on: “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done” (1:28). Since they did not wish to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them a reprobate mind, or as the Greek says, a base, unqualified and worthless mind. The sad epitaph reminds us of the ten northern tribes of Israel long ago. Because of their persistent idolatry and sin, God lamented concerning them: “Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone!” (Hos. 4:17). Today after more than 2500 years, Ephraim is still left alone and aimlessly wanders among the nations.
Now Paul goes on with a catalogue of wickedness that results from idolatry and from giving up on the one true God: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, (1:29). Barclay defines the “wickedness” (poneros) here as “destructive badness.” The Greek word defining the lust to get (pleonexia) is defined by Barclay as “predatory greed” or “the desire that knows no law.” 40 In our world of late we have seen much of this predatory greed. We have stood amazed as company CEOs have heartlessly bankrupted their organizations, even depleting retirement funds for faithful workers, while they themselves have received unspeakable salaries and shameful bonuses of millions and millions of dollars. The problem with this age is clear. We have become idolaters and all these things that we see are but symptoms. After all, the Bible does say that greed is idolatry (Col. 3:5).
There is still more. Paul says they are also “slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (1:30-31). Barnes says of “God-haters” that “there is no charge which can be brought against men more severe than this. It is the highest possible crime.” 41 They are also arrogant or insolent (hubristes). “Hubris, used here, was to the Greeks the vice which supremely courted destruction at the hand of the gods.” 42 It describes those who are wantonly and sadistically cruel and insulting of others. Hubris is described as “the sadism which finds delight in hurting others simply for the sake of hurting them.” 43
These people are also inventors of doing evil. Barclay says they are not content with the usual and ordinary ways of sinning but have to invent new and subtle ways. They have become bored with the old ways. 44
Last of all Paul adds: “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (1:32). These people knew that they wouldn’t get away with their evil. People know the same today and yet they continue on the evil course from bad to worse. They not only do these terrible things but applaud others who do them. Not only are they not repenting, they are, in fact, celebrating.
Briscoe adds: “Instead of acting as guardians of each other’s souls, people tend to function as encouragers of each other’s destruction.” 45 In recent years we hear more and more stories of crowds encouraging those who are attempting suicide, encouraging them to go ahead and jump off the building or the bridge. Brow continues, “The end of civilization is when such social behavior is applauded and made the norm in society.”46
Such was the ancient world and behold, such is our world today. We seem to have learned nothing from the past. Actually, as time goes on we seem less and less interested in the past. Instead we have a host of “new historians” who are busy re-writing the history of the past to suit themselves and to agree with their own depraved ideas.
Edwards in lamenting over the recent century has said: “One of the ironies of the twentieth century is that it has experienced greater evil than perhaps any previous century, and yet it has no category for sin.” 47 Briscoe also laments concerning this depraved age saying: “Modern man, so sophisticated in technology and skilled in managing the complexities of the modern world, is uncharacteristically content to live in self-imposed un-sophistication in the area of the spiritual.” 48
Continue reading – Chapter 2