This post is available in Word format: Romans 1 verse by verse
Romans 1:1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
1:2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 1:3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 1:4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 1:6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
Promised beforehand – For Paul it was important to explain that his gospel was promised in the Old Testament (3:21).
Concerning His Son – The gospel is about His Son. Romans say relatively little about His Son and His sacrifice. The main focus of Romans is not to explain His Son, but to explain justification by faith. The link between these two concepts is discussed below.
Son of God – In a sense, Jesus had two fathers; David (Romans 1:3) and God (1:4).
Obedience of faith – as opposed to the obedience of work;
All the Gentiles – In the previous dispensation, God was seen as the God of the Jews. In their view Gentiles, to be accepted by God, had to become part of Israel through circumcision. In the first few decades after Christ, most of the believers were converted Jews, and they brought with them this concept. But Paul preached that Gentiles do not have to become part of Israel to become acceptable before God. In fact, he vehemently opposed this persistent error, for instance in the letter to the Galatians. He taught that all that is required, for Gentiles, is the “obedience of faith”, which means that they do not have to “live like Jews” (Gal. 2:14). In those early days, while the church was still dominated by converted Jews, this was the most important controversy in the church (Acts 15:1).
Romans 1:7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. 1:9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 1:10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. 1:11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 1:12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. 1:13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.
God, whom I serve in my spirit – This is a key point in chapters 7 and 8, where Paul explains that he (Paul) consists of two parts; his mind and his body. His body continues to sin (7:15-19), but he is no longer held accountable for the sins of the body (7:17, 20) because in his mind he serves the law of God (7:25; 8:2). The difference between the saved and the lost is not in their bodies, because both groups continue to sin. The difference between them is in their minds (or spirit):
“Those who are according to the flesh
set their minds on the things of the flesh,
but those who are according to the Spirit,
the things of the Spirit” (8:5).
Romans 1:14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
Under obligation – in terms of his calling (see 1:1, 5)
Greeks and barbarians – Why does Paul distinguish between Greeks and barbarians? The reason is that the Romans also spoke Greek. As a result of the influence of the previous Greek Empire, the entire civilized world spoke Greek. The “barbarians” are the “foolish” (v14) people that did not speak Greek and did not share in the sophisticated Greek systems of learning.
1:15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
The power of God for salvation to everyone who believes – This statement must be understood against the background of the controversy in the church in Paul’s day, namely whether one is saved by works or by faith. Paul, in fact, was the cause of that controversy, for he was the only one that really argued that justification is by faith.
But the question then arises, what right does God have to save people that do not deserve to be saved? Paul’s answer is that the gospel gives God that right. As we have seen above, the gospel is about “His Son” (Romans 1:1-3). In Galatians, where Paul more pertinently defends justification by faith against justification by the works of the law (Gal. 2:16), he similarly explains that
“we … receive the promise of the Spirit through faith”
because “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law”
by becoming “a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13-14).
In other words, the death of Christ gave God the right to save people that do not deserve to be saved. This will be discussed further in Romans 3:25-26 below.
The Jew first and also to the Greek – Jews have the first right to salvation by faith (Romans 3:1-2; 9:1-5), but Greeks, and by implication all other peoples, have an equal right.
In it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith – The NIV translates this as ‘a righteousness that is by faith from first to last’. Luther struggled fiercely with the concept of the “righteousness of God”. He was taught, and he at first believed, that the “righteousness of God” was something that God was obliged to maintain, and therefore that people had to live up to it. His breakthrough came when he realized that the “righteousness of God” is something that God freely gives to people. All they have to do is to believe.
Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
This revealed “the wrath of God” is directly linked to the statement in the previous verse that “the righteous man shall live by faith” (1:17):
- Firstly, it follows immediately after that statement.
- Secondly, the two verses are connected by the word “for” and
- Thirdly, note the contrast between the words “righteous” in Romans 1:17 and “unrighteousness” (twice) in 1:18.
This means that the wrath of God, which is revealed against unrighteous men, explains what is meant by “live by faith” (1:17). This is explained further in the verses that follow.
1:19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
Here we are given the first part of the reason for God’s wrath. They are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20), which means that God has given to them adequate evidence of “His invisible attributes” (1:20). Notice that God is the One who actively makes Himself known: “God made it evident to them” (1:19) through the miracles of creation (1:19-20).
1:21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 1:22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
This is the second part of the reason for God’s wrath, namely that they do not respond to God’s revelation of Himself. In fact, they positively reject Him by worshiping idols.
In Paul’s day, idol worship (Romans 1:23) was a common indication of rejection of God. Today it takes different forms, such as worshiping sport or music or film stars or worshiping one’s own possessions. One’s idol is whatever has the highest place of admiration in the mind.
1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
While 1:19-23 give the reasons for God’s wrath, the current verses explain what God’s wrath is, namely, as stated three times, that God gave them over (v24, 26, 28) to:
- “the lusts of their hearts” (v24);
- “to degrading passions” (v26), including homosexuality (v26-27) and
- “to a depraved mind” (v28), as further elaborated in verses 28 to 31.
The “wrath of God” is that God gives people over to the things they desire (1:24, 26, 28). Their impure lifestyle, including their homosexuality, is evidence of God’s wrath (1:18). The horrible things that people commit on this earth today indicate that God already gave them over.
God’s wrath is therefore not limited to ”the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (2:5). The “wrath of God” is revealed on earth today in the lives of people (1:18).
Notice that the current verses repeat the reasons for God giving them over, as given in verses 19 to 23.
For instance, 1:25-26 reads “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. For this reason God gave them over …” Consistent with 1:19-20, the “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie” implies that they had the truth. And as already stated in 1:21-23, they rejected that truth by worshiping “the creature rather than the Creator”.
1:28 reads “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to …”. This does not mention idol-worship, but it confirms that the people first make a decision to reject God before God gives them over.
1:32 reads “and although they know the ordinance of God … they not only do the same, but …”. This ties in with the concept in 1:19-20 that God has given to them adequate evidence of “His invisible attributes” (1:20), and confirms that they cannot claim they did not know.
We, therefore, discover a three-phase process:
- God made His invisible attributes evident to them (1:19-20). “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them”.
- “Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks” (1:21). They rejected His self-revelation and “did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer” (v28), as evidenced by their idol worship (1:21-23, 25).
- Therefore God gave them over to themselves (1:24-32). He let them do what they want. He let them be.
We should also appreciate how this description of the “wrath of God” (1:18) relates to salvation by faith (1:18). We should understand that the “wrath of God” (1:18), that is “revealed from heaven against” (1:18) the “unrighteousness” man, and which is three times defined as God giving such people over “in the lusts of their hearts” (1:24), “to degrading passions” (1:26) and “to a depraved mind” (1:28), must be read with the description on the “righteous man” in 1:16-17. The description of the “wrath of God” on the “unrighteousness” man, by describing the opposite, explains what is meant by “live by faith” and by “salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16). The following is a rewrite of the text, staying as close as possible to the text, but integrating the descriptions of the two men to show the overall thought:
The gospel is God’s power to save all who believe (1:16), for the gospel reveals a ‘righteousness’ which God credits to man simply on the basis of faith (1:17, read with 3:22; 4:3-6). This means that “the righteous man shall live by faith” (1:17). To explain what living by faith means, consider how the “unrighteousness” (1:18) man reacts:
God made “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature” (1:20) “evident” (1:19) to all, ever “since the creation of the world” (1:20). This revelation of God must be accepted by faith, because it can never be proven beyond a shadow of doubt. And then man must “live by faith”, which means that he must live out that faith. It means putting your trust in God, and consequently to honor Him and live according to His principles. Although atheists will disagree, the “unrighteousness” man knows God and His law (1:32). But the “unrighteousness” man suppresses the knowledge of God and does “not see fit to acknowledge God” (1:28). He elects not to live according to the adequate evidence which God gave of Himself. He refuses to honor Him as God or giving Him thanks (1:21). In other words, he does not “live by faith”.
Consequently “the wrath of God is revealed … against” (1:18) the “unrighteousness” man. This “wrath of God” is that God “gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (1:24). God let them be. He no longer restrains them. His Holy Spirit no longer pleads with them.
In contrast, “the righteous man shall live by faith” (1:17). He accepts the knowledge of God as revealed in the miracles of nature (1:20), submits to the pleading of the Holy Spirit and decides to “live by faith”, which means to live according to that knowledge.
In this way, a distinction is made, already in this life, between the righteous and the unrighteous. This distinction has eternal consequences. If God gives up on a person, that person is lost eternally. But the person that lives by faith is credited with righteousness on the basis of what Christ did. The gospel is the good news of the salvation made possible by Christ, so that God ”would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:25-26). (God can forgive and still be just on the basis of what Christ did.) This good news is God’s power to save everyone who believes (1:16).
The three-phase process can, therefore, be stated somewhat differently:
- God gave adequate evidence of His invisible attributes (1:19-20). Therefore “they knew God” (v21).
- But they did not “live by faith”.
- Therefore God gave them over to themselves (1:24-32) to their own desires. (Some people say this is a good description of hell; everybody just doing what they like, without an ounce of restraining power from God.)
This analysis of the text makes us aware of a number of very important principles:
Life on this earth is a test to decide who will inherit eternal life. God tests people by providing adequate evidence of Himself and by urging them to respond. But if a person persistently (2:4) refuse to respond to that evidence, God gives that person over to himself. His Holy Spirit stops pleading. He allows them to fulfill their desires, resulting in degrading passions (1:24-32). This is a very important and very dangerous principle: If you know what the truth is, but persistently refuse to live according to that truth, at some point God is going to give up and leave you alone to do what you want.
If God gives up on a person, that person is eternally lost. In “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (2:5) they will not receive “eternal life” (2:7), but “wrath and indignation” (2:8). That “day” (2:5) will confirm God’s decision, but the decision is already made while the person is alive.
The fact that God gives up some people means that He protects others from becoming slaves to their desires. They continue to sin (7:15-19), but God restrains them from giving themselves over to sin. He is the Force for good that is active in our daily existence to keep us from becoming comfortable in a life of sin. He keeps the believers’ consciousness alive. He makes us aware of the sins in our lives and urges us to resist these evil tendencies. As stated in 2:4: “the kindness of God leads you to repentance”.
The statement “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (1:17) means that man is credited with righteousness on the basis of faith and faith alone (1:17; 3:22; 4:3-6). The entire remainder of the chapter explains this very important statement. But that explanation focusses not on what people think, but on what they do. It describes not what the “unrighteousness” man thinks, but how he lives. In contrast, “the righteous man shall live by faith”. This statement also focusses not on what the righteous man thinks, but on what he does. The word “faith” in the statement “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (1:17) is therefore explained not only as what people think, but what they do; how a man lives. The word “faith” therefore includes one’s deeds. Faith is not merely s state of mind. To be real faith it must find expression in a life lived by faith (1:17). “Faith, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17).
Why does God give up on people while they are still alive? Why does He not keep their options open until they die?
“Faith” implies freedom. “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (1:20), but we are free to choose how to live. To “live by faith” (1:17) means to accept the evidence of “His invisible attributes” (1:20), and to willingly and freely honor God and to live according to His principles. because we trust Him.
Eternal life to come will also be a life of faith in the sense that created beings can never fully understand the infinite God. God is the One that is without cause. Everything that exists, exists because He gave existence to it. In the eternal life to come, He will continue to give His creation evidence of Himself, and it will be a much clearer revelation than we have today, but much must always remain that we simply cannot understand about God, purely because He has no end. He is without end in space and time and wisdom and whatever other dimensions we might think of.
Eternal life will, therefore, remain a life of freedom. Sin (rebellion against God) will always remain an option. Eternal life will not be a life of forced obedience. We will be able to do exactly what we want. People will always have to freedom to choose for or against God. God’s kingdom never compels people to behave in a certain way. Compelling people is a characteristic of the enemy’s kingdom. Like us today, people will have to accept the evidence of God that He reveals. They will, in complete freedom, choose to live according to this evidence. Stated differently, they will “live by faith”. To say that man will have to accept God’s “invisible attributes” (1:20) by faith, and in complete freedom have to choose whether he will honor God, is the same as saying that eternal life will be lived “by faith”.
They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea (Isa 11:9).
God will not override human freedom. God cannot force people in this life because He will not force people in the life to come. God gives us evidence of “His invisible attributes.” If we reject this evidence, there is nothing else that He can or will do, and He gives us up to our lusts.
God gives people up in this life when, by refusing to “live by faith”, they have proved that they will also be disloyal to God in the next life. There is nothing else that God can do.
… but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy (2Ch 36:16).
God will not and does not overpower the freedom of human beings with His authority or power. God does not and will not scare people into obedience. Both in this life and eternal life, He gives us evidence. If we do not accept that evidence, there is nothing else that He will or can do, and He gives us up. God cannot force people in this life because he will not force people in the life to come. If He would keep people in a prison in this life, He will receive prisoners into eternal life, and that cannot be.
The idol worshipers “are without excuse” (1:20). This means that God gave them adequate evidence of “His invisible attributes” (1:20). “God made it evident to them” (1:19). God is also kind, tolerant and patient (2:4). It is fair to conclude that God will not give up on a person until that person had adequate evidence and an adequate opportunity to change. This will be revealed “on the day when … God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (2:16).
ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES
ROMANS 9 AND 11
- 1-4 – The dispute in Rome was not over the Law of Moses.
- The meaning of the word “unclean” (koinos)
- Why new Christians feared eating meat sacrificed to idols.
- 5-6 – Is the Sabbath is optional?
- 7-13 – God will judge all people by their deeds.
- 13-23 – Rather abstain from meat than causing a brother to stumble.
For a more complete description of these articles, see the List of available articles on Romans. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.