Notes by David Guzig and others.
Why man must be justified by faith: the guilt of the human race in general.
1. (Rom_1:18 a) The greatest peril facing the human race: the wrath of God.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven
The idea is simple but sobering - God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against the human race, and the human race deserves the wrath of God.
We sometimes object to the idea of the wrath of God because we equate it with human anger, which is motivated by selfish personal reasons or by a desire for revenge. We must not forget that the wrath of God is completely righteous in character.
“It is unnecessary, and it weakens the biblical concept of the wrath of God, to deprive it of its emotional and affective character . . . to construe God’s wrath as simply in his purpose to punish sin or to secure the connection between sin and misery is to equate wrath with its effects and virtually eliminate wrath as a movement within the mind of God. Wrath is the holy revulsion of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of his holiness.” (Murrary)
In Rom_1:16, Paul spoke of salvation - but what are we saved from? First and foremost, we are saved from the wrath of God that we righteously deserve.
“Unless there is something to be saved from, there is no point in talking about salvation.” (Morris)
In this portion of the letter (Rom_1:18 to Rom_3:20), Paul’s goal is not to proclaim the good news, but to demonstrate the absolute necessity of the good news of salvation from God’s righteous wrath.
The wrath of God is not revealed in the gospel, but in the facts of human experience.
(Rom_1:18-23) Why the human race is guilty before God: demonstrations of our ungodliness and unrighteousness.
Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
Rom 1:19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
Rom 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,
Rom 1:21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Rom 1:22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
Rom 1:23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
a. Ungodliness refers to man’s offenses against God; unrighteousness to the sins of man against man.
b. Who suppress the truth in unrighteousness: Mankind does in fact suppress the truth of God. Every truth revealed to man by God has been fought against, disregarded, and deliberately obscured.
c. His invisible attributes are clearly seen: God has shown us something of His eternal power and divine nature through creation, by the things that are made. He has given a general revelation that is obvious both in creation and within the mind and heart of man.
i. Clearly seen: The universal character of this revelation and the clarity of it leave man without excuse for rejecting it. “Men cannot charge God with hiding himself from them and thus excuse their religion and their immorality.” (Lenski)
d. Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God: The problem is not that man did not know God, but that he did know Him - yet we refused to glorify Him as God. Therefore, mankind is without excuse. We didn’t glorify God; we transformed our conception of Him into forms and images more comfortable to our corrupt and darkened hearts.
“They knew God.” It was no good to them to know God, for “they glorified him not as God.” So my theological friend over there, who knows so much that he can split hairs over doctrines, it does not matter what you think, or what you know, unless it leads you to glorify God, and to be thankful.” (Spurgeon)
ii. We can’t seem to resist the temptation to create God into his own corrupt image, or even in an image beneath us. One great tragedy in this is that we inescapably become like the God we serve.
iii. It is absolutely essential that we constantly compare our own conception of God against the reality of who God is as revealed in His Word. We can also be guilty of worshipping a self-made God.
iv. Image in Rom_1:23 is the ancient Greek word eikon. It is a dangerous thing to change the glory of the incorruptible God into an eikon (image) of your own choosing.
e. Nor were thankful: Man’s simple ingratitude against God is shocking. “I cannot say anything much worse of a man than that he is not thankful to those who have been his benefactors; and when you say that he is not thankful to God, you have said about the worst thing you can say of him.” (Spurgeon)
i. “But when you glorify God as God, and are thankful for everything - when you can take up a bit of bread and a cup of cold water, and say with the poor Puritan, ‘What, all this, and Christ too?’ - then are you happy, and you make others happy. A godly preacher, finding that all that there was for dinner was a potato and a herring, thanked God that he had ransacked sea and land to find food for his children. Such a sweet spirit breeds love to everybody, and makes a man go through the world cheerfully.” (Spurgeon)
f. Professing to be wise, they became fools: Our rejection of God’s general revelation has not made us smarter or better. Instead, it makes mankind futile in their thoughts, and makes our foolish hearts darkened - and we become fools.
i. The fact is once a man rejects the truth of God in Jesus, he will fall for anything foolish, and trust far more feeble and fanciful systems that what he rejects from God.
ii. This futility of thinking, darkening of the heart, and folly must be seen as one example of God’s righteous wrath against those who have rejected His revelation. Part of His judgment against us is allowing us to suffer the damage our sinful course leads to.
Rom 1:24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,
Rom 1:25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Rom 1:26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.
Rom 1:27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
Rom 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;
Rom 1:29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers,
Rom 1:30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Rom 1:31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful;
Rom 1:32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
a. Therefore God also gave them up: In His righteous wrath and judgment, God gives man up to the sin our evil hearts desire, allowing us to experience the self-destructive result of sin. This phrase is so important Paul repeats it three times in this passage.
i. Hos_4:17 expresses the judgmental aspects of God “giving us up,” leaving us to our own sin: Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.
ii. We err when we think that it is God’s mercy or kindness that allows man to continue in sin. It is actually His wrath that allows us to go on destroying ourselves with sin.
b. Who exchanged the truth of God for the lie: In every rebellion and disobedience against God we exchange the truth of God for the lie of our own choosing, and set the creature before the Creator.
i. Paul uses the definite article; it is not a lie, but the lie. The lie is essentially idolatry - which puts us in the place of God; it is the lie you will be like God. (Gen_3:5)
c. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions: Paul wrote this letter from the city of Corinth, were every sort of sexual immorality and ritualistic prostitution was practiced freely. The terminology of Rom_1:24 refers to this combination of sexual immorality and idolatrous worship.
i. This begins a passage where Paul describes the sin and corruption of the pagan world with an amazing directness - so direct that Spurgeon thought this passage unfit for public reading. “This first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a dreadful portion of the Word of God. I should hardly like to read it all through aloud; it is not intended to be so used. Read it at home, and be startled at the awful vices of the Gentile world.” (Spurgeon)
d. Paul uses homosexuality - both female and male - as an example of God giving them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.
i. Some say that the Bible nowhere condemns lesbian homosexuality, but the likewise of Rom_1:27 makes it clear that the sin of homosexuality condemned in Rom_1:27 is connected to the sin of women mentioned in Rom_1:26.
ii. Paul doesn’t even use the normal words for men and women here; he uses the words for male and female, using categories that describe sexuality outside of human terms, because the type of sexual sin he describes is outside of human dignity.
iii. Paul categorizes the whole section under the idea of vile passions - unhealthy, unholy. Nevertheless, Paul lived in a culture that openly approved of homosexuality. Paul didn’t write this to a culture that agreed with him.
iv. Paul wrote to a culture where homosexuality was accepted as a part of life for both men and women. For some 200 years, men who openly practiced homosexuality, often with young boys, ruled the Roman Empire.
v. At times, the Roman Empire specifically taxed approved homosexual prostitution and gave boy prostitutes a legal holiday. Legal marriage between same gender couples was recognized, and even some of the emperors married other men. At the very time Paul was writing, Nero was emperor. He took a boy named Sporus and had him castrated, then married him (with a full ceremony), brought him to the palace with a great procession, and made the boy his “wife.” Later, Nero lived with another man, and Nero was the “wife.”
vi. Homosexual practice truly is an abomination in our present culture. Statistics tell us that on average 43% of homosexuals say that they have had 500 or more sexual partners in their lifetime, and only 1% of homosexuals say they have had four or less sexual partners in their lifetime.
vii. According the Unites States Department of Health and Human Services, 77% of homosexuals say they have met sexual partners in a city park; 62% in a homosexual bar, 61% in a theater, 31% in a public restroom. Only 28% of homosexuals said that they had known their partners for at least a week before participating in homosexual sex.
viii. Homosexuals often seem to specialize in anonymous sex with no emotional commitment. At one time, London AIDS clinics defined a woman as promiscuous if she had more than six partners in her lifetime. They gave up trying to apply a workable definition to male homosexuals when it became clear that they saw almost no homosexual men who had less than six sexual partners a year.
e. Receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due: Paul speaks of a penalty for homosexual conduct; Homosexuality has within itself a penalty. This speaks of the self-destructive nature of sin; it often carries within itself it’s own penalty.
i. Sometimes it is the penalty of disease, which is the consequence of violating nature’s order.
ii. Sometimes it is the penalty of rebellion, resulting in spiritual emptiness and all it’s ramifications. The term “gay” is wishful thinking; it sends a message that there is something essentially happy and carefree about the homosexual lifestyle - which there is not.
f. Again, this “freedom” to disobey should be seen as God’s judgment, not His kindness; those who engage in such acts are receiving in themselves the penalty of their error.
g. As further judgment, God gives man over to a debased mind, so that things that are disgraceful and sickening are readily accepted and approved.
i. The word debased (or, reprobate in the KJV) meant originally ‘that which has not stood the test’. It was used of coins that were substandard and therefore rejected. The idea is that since man did not “approve” to know God, men came to have an “unapproved” mind.
ii. “The human race put God to the test for the purpose of approving Him should He meet the specifications which it laid down for a God who would be to its liking, and finding that He did not meet those specifications, it refused to approve Him as the God to be worshiped, or have Him in its knowledge.” (Wuest)
iii. A debased mind: Our rebellion against God is not only displayed in our actions, but in our thinking. We are genuinely “spiritually insane” in our rebellion against God.
h. The list in Rom_1:29-31 gives concrete examples of the kind of things which are not fitting. Notice how “socially acceptable” sins (such as covetousness, envy and pride) are included right along with “socially unacceptable” sins (such as murder and being unloving).
i. Covetousness is literally the itch for more.
ii. Whisperers: “Secret detractors; those who, under pretended secrecy, carry about accusations against their neighbours, whether true or false; blasting their reputation by clandestine tittle-tattle.” (Clarke)
iii. Is envy a small sin? Envy put Jesus on the cross. Pilate knew that they had handed Him over because of envy. (Mat_27:18)
iv. Proud: “They who are continually exalting themselves and depressing others; magnifying themselves at the expense of their neighbours; and wishing all men to receive their sayings as oracles.” (Clarke)
i. Those who either practice or approve of these things are worthy of death; they are the worth objects of the wrath of God.
j. Where does all this violence, immorality, cruelty and degradation come from? Men have abandoned the true knowledge of God, and the state of society is a reflection of God’s judgment upon them for this.