1Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
Paul refers to himself very humbly as a bond-servant of God, having chosen to submit himself willingly to the purposes of God. He was called by God as an apostle when Christ visited him on the road to Damascus. Paul did indeed make the choice to respond in faith and take up the call to apostleship, but ultimately it was God who bought His soul from hell, having directly intervened in Paul’s life when he was still Saul. Paul was qualified to be an apostle because he saw the risen Christ in the vision on the Damascus road. He shares of how God set him apart as a chosen vessel to bring the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). This was the purpose of His life and calling, and he did it with great perseverance and steadfast labor, despite vast difficulties and persecution.
2which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures,
God promised in the Old Testament Scriptures to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. The gospel in its fullness was still a mystery that even the prophets who foretold of it didn’t fully understand, though they desperately wanted to (1 Peter 1:10-11). Yet now in Paul’s time, the mystery of the fullness of the gospel which fulfilled numerous Old Testament prophecies has been made manifest.
3concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh,
Many prophecies foretold of the Son of God who would come in the likeness of man, being born in the Davidic line. God’s promise to David was that he would always have an heir on the throne. This has been made possible through Christ who has been given all power and all authority. Seeing that a lot of Paul’s purpose in this letter to the Romans is to show that man is justified apart from the law through grace and by faith whether Jew or Gentile, it makes sense that he would begin by showing how the Old Testament points to the revelation and coming of Christ.
4who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
Christ proved Himself God and victor over sin and death in His resurrection from the dead. We see that the Holy Spirit was involved in the resurrection process. Only one who had lived a perfectly holy life without having been born in any corrupting influence of sin could be the One who could rise from the dead and not have the penalty of the curse to pay. The One who has been raised from the dead is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The picture given repeatedly throughout the New Testament is that Jesus is received through simple faith and according to repentance from sin. This is why He is called both Savior and Lord.
5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake,
Paul emphasizes that his ministry is by grace and because of grace. He would have finished the duration of his life murdering Christians if God had not graciously intervened in his life to transform his heart and mind. His call to be an apostle is one of the best illustrations of grace, considering that he had no merits deserving of apostleship whatsoever. He was the hypocrite of hypocrites and the villain of villains. Yet God chose to use Him, calling Him to testify about the gospel to the Gentiles for the sake of the name of Christ who said that he came to save the sick, no matter whether they were Jew or Gentile. All that God does in His grace for us is ultimately for His own glory. It is always for the honor of the Name.
6among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
The church at Rome obviously had both Jews and Gentiles. It was a portrait of the message of Paul, that Jesus Christ invites all men to Himself, no matter what race, nation, or status.
7to 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.
He identifies his audience, the church at Rome, those beloved of God who are called as saints. The definition of the church is a group of saints. Saints are not some special group of believers to whom we must pay homage and to whom we must pray. All believers are saints because a saint simply means “a holy one.” We are holy and justified in Christ. We have no merit apart from His work on our behalf. Thus, we are no longer sinners but saints in God’s eyes. Judicially and legally before God, our record is clean. We have the perfection of Christ positionally, though we don’t always manifest it conditionally and practically. Like Paul, we can be ministers of grace and peace to one another because we all have the same Lord and Father. Our peace and grace is found only in Him.
8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.
Paul thanks his God (notice the personal emphasis of his relationship with God) through Christ (for it is only the blood of Christ which allows any believer to approach God in prayer), giving thanks for all who have come to Christ. He is thankful particularly because of the faithful testimony of these believers. To some churches he has to write harsh rebukes. To Rome, he begins to instruct the believers in the meat of the Word, bypassing the milk. These believers are faithful and mature, needing to grow in their knowledge of God. The testimony of the church at Rome is so excellent that their faith is being proclaimed throughout the entire known world. There are a few churches in every generation, it seems, which have an impact nationally and even internationally. They are faithful to the Scriptures, studying them through and through, and being faithful to follow God by faith to take the gospel message to the world. If only there could be more such churches.
9For 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,
Paul has a reborn spirit now that he is a believer. Having persecuted the church and Christ (as Jesus asked Him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”), now he is serving the church and Christ by preaching the gospel. Paul thinks about and prays for the believers always. He sets an example of praying unceasingly, even acknowledging the burden of thinking about the needs of the churches every day.
10always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.
Paul’s hope is that by God’s grace he will be able to at last succeed in going to Rome, which he does. But it is all dependent upon the will of God. Sometimes the Holy Spirit would open a door, and other times the door would be closed. He was waiting to see how God would move in his heart and what opportunities God would provide. Paul didn’t presume upon the will of God, making God do his will. He rather waited for God to lead Him so that he could be sure that his work would be successful spiritually.
11For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established;
Paul’s burden is to encourage the church by imparting some spiritual gift to them, whether faith, teaching, exhortation, knowledge, wisdom, or some other gift. The end goal would be that he would leave the church strengthened, edified, and established in their faith even beyond where they are now. The farther someone is entrenched in truth, the harder it is to trick them and pull them to fall away.
12that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine.
The neat thing about when we impart encouragement to our brothers and sisters is that we ourselves are also encouraged. We need the fellowship of one another’s faith to encourage us. When we see God at work and when we see change and growth in others that we know is humanly impossible, we praise God and are pushed and moved to follow God more intently ourselves. Satan wants us isolated so that we begin to doubt the reality of God and spiritual things, even questioning the necessity of our contribution to the body. Yet our faithfulness and seeing one another’s faithfulness spurs the church as a whole on to further love and good deeds.
13I 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.
Paul has wanted and has even planned to come to visit the church at Rome on several different occasions. Yet he has had to alter his plans because he has been prevented from doing so. It has not been God’s will. This teaches us the value and at the same time the limitation of godly planning. We order our lives so that we can minister to others and encourage them, but we can only do particular things as God allows and in the timing which God ordains. Thus, everything is if God wills, and not necessarily because we have planned it. Much of the effective ministry in Paul’s life was unplanned, like the jailer asking to receive Christ and meeting Lydia, the first convert at Ephesus. The reality of the Christian life is that we must be constantly listening to what God is saying and watching to see how He wants us to participate in His work. Paul’s goal is also to be imitated. He desires to have fruit to be credited to his account in Rome as he has had elsewhere among the Gentiles. Ultimately, of course he wants to present his life as a faithful and holy offering to God in Christ. Yet it is not selfish to want to have spiritual fruit; it is godly.
14I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
Paul has been commissioned by God to preach the gospel indiscriminately, as we have as well. Of course the gospel was for Jews, but Paul’s particular calling was to get it to the Gentiles. The Roman empire had absorbed the Persian empire which had itself been absorbed by the Greek empire. Even Rome itself had strong Greek Hellenistic influences in its culture. Thus, Paul refers to getting the gospel to the particular Gentiles in Rome, the Greeks and the barbarians, who are those who do not speak the Greek language and who were generally known as being more rude and harsh. Yet even to such was Paul commissioned to preach the gospel. If the gospel had power in such an environment, certainly it has power in any environment.
15So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
Paul sums up the attitude of his own heart by sharing that he is eager to preach the gospel to those who are at Rome. His time spent encouraging the church there will also be used evangelistically. Likely, the Christians will invite unsaved friends and family to hear Paul speak. Likely, Paul will go out into the marketplaces and synagogues to preach the gospel. Paul always thought evangelistically.
16For 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.
Paul didn’t try to wax eloquent, but he did preach and proclaim the gospel as revealed in the Word of God. This he did with boldness and no shame whatsoever. Those who dance around the issue are ashamed of Christ and His message. The message needs to be declared with utter forthrightness and completeness. It can’t be altered, manipulated, or messed with in any way. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. No one can believe apart from hearing the gospel (Romans 10:16). There is inherent power in the Word of God. God has made us to understand reason, logic, and propositional truth. He has contained the message leading to eternal life by faith in words. Jesus Christ Himself was referred to by John as the “logos,” or the “word.” We cannot shrink away from the word of truth and message of truth, which is the gospel. The gospel has power in all places and in all times no matter who the listening audience is. Some things never change. God never changes and His Word never changes. Anyone who alters and tinkers with the gospel ought to be accursed (Galatians 1:8), says Paul. And God will curse anyone who adds or takes away from the words of His book. God is serious about His Word because the power is in the Word.
17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."
Just how powerful are the Word of God and the gospel message? The gospel message reveals the righteousness of God from faith to faith, or from faith for faith. In other words, the gospel must be believed upon and received by faith, and its result will be a person who lives by faith. The righteous man is the one who has been justified as Abraham was when he believed God. God takes our faith in the gospel message and credits righteousness to our account. We receive truth in faith, and we live according to truth by faith. We never stop living according to faith. We must keep walking by faith, believing the promises of God and understanding and remembering that without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith pleases God in salvation and in sanctification for both happen through faith.
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
Now the reality is that some receive and believe in faith while others do not. All men are guilty based upon responding to the revelation that they are given. All men know at least some truth about God, whether they have the Mosaic Law or our Bible of today. The reason that they are guilty is because God has given them truth through the created order and in their conscience. Thus, those who suppress the truth (note that there are no true atheists because God says that they suppress the truth, implying that they have adequate evidence of God’s existence; the agnostic is also indicted because he is accusing God of being a liar, saying that there isn’t enough truth when God says that there is adequate revelation) are deserving of the wrath of God. God is totally just and fair to punish liars and rebels. Hell is just because it is chosen by men who refuse the knowledge and grace of God by faith.
19because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
The truth of God is evident within each and every person. They know that God exists. God has set eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11). They know inherently that there is life after death and that this cannot possibly be all that there is. They have a sense of morality, whether they listen to it or not. They have expectations for others morally whether or not they live up to them themselves. They have a mind that thinks and reasons and is self-aware. It dreams, it hopes, it longs, and it aspires. The spirit groans, aches, and awaits its eternal state. There is something within every person that they know cannot be mere atoms interacting with other atoms. There is a spiritual dimension behind the physical. This is why most of the world acknowledges a god or gods of some kind. This is why we make idols of something because we are made to worship something outside of ourselves. The idol may be ourselves or our jobs but we all worship something. Within the conscience of man, there is clear evidence of God, sufficient enough to damn a soul.
20For 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.
Before creation, there was no man and no matter. Thus, no one was guilty. But since the foundation of the world and the creation of man, all are held responsible to the revelation that is given in creation which gives clear testimony to not just the existence of God, but of what He is like. His power, that He exists outside of time, that He is supernatural and divine, that He is over all things, and that He is a God of love and care can all be seen in the creation. The vastness of the universe, the way that all things somehow coexist, the balance of the planets and the forces of nature, the smallness of created objects even tinier than an atom, and the diversity and beauty of creation all pointto a Creator. Man knows that there is a God because God has given Him sufficient evidence to believe. Yet man rejects God and any accountability to a God.
21For 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.
All men know God, and thus they fear death or call out to Him when they are in great distress. Our nation blasphemes God day in and day out in many ways but then calls upon God when we are attacked or under duress. Sometimes that is the only time people call out to God, and even some of those calls are curses. Yet there is an acknowledgement that there is a God behind all things. Even God’s justice and judgment are evidences of His existence. Denying the revelation of God in conscience and in creation, man turns his own way and does not honor God or give Him thanks. Turning from God who is the source of all wisdom and knowledge, man comes up with wild fantasies like evolution, naturalism, and hedonism. His endless speculations are destined to be wrong and in vain. Yet the culture considers them wise and understanding when the reality is that their wisdom is taken from them. Their hearts are darkened in foolishness, not seeing any light, for it is only in the Light of God that we see light (Psalm 36:9).
22Professing to be wise, they became fools,
The ironic thing is that the world thinks Christians are stupid and foolish for believing in God and in the gospel. They profess to be wise and feign understanding, having some advanced degree to prove it (which merely was given by others of like fallen minds and darkened hearts). Others rest their authority based upon popularity and the approval of men, both of which are temporal and changeable. Wisdom is found only in the absolute truth of God’s Word and in the immutability of God’s character and divine nature, which He has clearly seen fit to give to the world. Yet rejecting absolute truth, the world wanders in relativistic foolishness, “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). This is because they do not practice the truth but rather indulge their fleshly lusts. It is those who practice the truth that come to the light (John 3:21).
23and 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.
All men have to worship something. All men have their gods in the form of an idol of some kind. Man cannot become a “nonworshipper” but they can only exchange what they give glory to. Unsaved man denies God, exchanges the glory of the incorruptible God, and replaces God with some image of something within the creation. Man has worshipped images of animals and humans throughout history. We still do, but the more modern countries just do it in different ways. The ironic thing about man worshipping the creation is that it is the very thing that points to the Creator. It is like Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel and all who come to see it denying that anybody painted it. Rather, all of the visitors merely give glory to the painting itself rather than crediting the painter of it. The painting can do nothing of itself, but yet man chooses to worship that which has been created rather than the one behind it all. Man chooses to worship things that rust, rot, and degrade rather than the unchangeable and incorruptible God of the universe.
24Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.
Even though full judgment is yet to be meted out at the Great White Throne and through the lake of fire, God is not absent and fully delaying the effects of sin. The effects of sin are already having their effect. Furthermore, the unsaved are storing up more and more wrath as God removes any gracious barriers to sin as they deny the truth that He has put right in front of their faces. God gave them over to the lusts of their hearts to impurity so that they would defile and dishonor their bodies. This has happened throughout history to those nations and individuals who reject God. They get carried away into immorality of all kinds, and they are consumed and destroyed by it. They become spiritually stupider and stupider and more dishonored and filthy morally.
25For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Postmodern man tries to deny truth, saying that it doesn’t exist at least in an absolute form. Yet God says that they exchanged the truth for a lie. In other words, even though they deny truth, they are substituting an alternative “truth” by exchanging the Truth with some manmade lie propagated ultimately by the father of lies himself. They deny truth and invent their own truth which is an untruth and a lie. They worship the creatures and the creation rather than the Creator. Paul can’t even continue without giving glory to the Creator on the spot. He is blessed forever, no matter what His foolish creatures say about Him and do in spite of Him. He will have the final say, for God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7).
26For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,
Because mankind chose to worship the creation rather than the Creator, God gave them over to degrading passions. Basically, they hardened their heart against God, and since God’s respects our free will and ability to make choices, He let them indulge their desires. However, they will be judged for them. Thinking they have some new and innovative way of experiencing sexual pleasure and fulfillment, the women exchanged the truth which they had in loving a man and chose rather to desire an unnatural function with other women. The body parts don’t match, the true desires of the heart go unfelt, and the experiences defile the emotions and the morals, even the physical body with disease. Only a fool would believe that two women go together and two men go together. The conscience and created order of nature all tell us otherwise. Yet, having rejected the first source of wisdom and revelation, God gives people over to think something is right, normal, and healthy when it in fact destroys them, stealing from them the very joy that they want deep down.
27and 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.
Like Sodom and Gomorrah and other pagan cultures before us, the men likewise abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desires toward one another. The fact that they abandoned the natural function again indicates that they knew the right way but chose otherwise. They let go of truth and a nagging conscience, and were given over to a corrupt mind which would allow them to burn in passion and desire for something that otherwise wouldn’t naturally happen. Anybody can tell that it takes a male and female to reproduce and continue the existence of a species and the economic welfare of a nation, just to mention a couple of reasons for God’s created order. Men commit indecent acts, glorying in their shame and in that which is unseemly, and they receive in their own persons the due penalty of their error. The propagation of disease, bodily injury, and emotional distress are all related to disobedience to God’s created order and design.
God’s ways are best, and when we go against them we do ourselves damage in this life and certainly in the next. When we sin sexually we do it against our own body in addition to the others. All other sins are outside the body, but the sexual sins are inside (2 Corinthians 6:18). This means that it does damage so deep that it, in essence, slowly kills the soul and conscience.
28And 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,
They suppressed the truth about God, they did not give God the glory and thanks due Him, and they didn’t even acknowledge God any longer. This is the bottom of the long slide into moral decay. They don’t even acknowledge God, they don’t feel any remorse in their conscience, and they love and glory in their dishonor and dysfunction. Their mind is so defiled that it is as if they live in an alternate universe and world. That is not to say that they do not function well in the world from a practical and social standpoint because they do. It is to say that they miss the true reality and the true kingdom. Indeed, they have no capacity any longer to even discern it because their mind is depraved. They love the improper things, sexual and nonsexual. All that is contrary to the nature and desire of God they do.
29being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips,
The unbeliever is not a good person with some sin here and there. They are defiled through and through, though they may selfishly do “loving” things. Some people have their flesh under control and well managed in that they are able to have a “successful” life and make a lot of money. Yet on the inside they are filled with all unrighteousness and wickedness. Sin, especially sexual sin, is often a package deal. Immorality, for example, is often accompanied by bitterness, discontentment, controlling, fear, anxiety, addiction, deceit, envy, and a whole other list of sins. When one sin comes in and is fully indulged, a lot of others accompany it. The unsaved are enslaved and mired in sin. The list of sin is rather self-explanatory. The important thing to note is that it is intending to be comprehensive, regardless of whether or not all of the particular sins imaginable are specifically listed. All wickedness, unrighteousness, and evil of any kind fill the one who has totally failed to acknowledge God. They seek selfish gain, not being satisfied with what they have but envying what others have. They are always chasing after the next person, trying to measure up with and even outdo their neighbor. Life is always a competition. There is disorder, a lack of peace, a lack of love, evil intent, hate, murder, cunning, evil speaking, evil intent, and evil actions.
30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
Having gossiped, they also slander. They talk behind people’s back and try to give others a bad name, all the while trying to advance themselves and their own cause. They not only fail to acknowledge God, but they outright hate Him. They are defiant toward Him, totally stubborn in their ways and sinful desires. They brag about themselves, devise new ways of evil in case one is not already listed, scheme while lying in bed, and disobey their parents, having no respect for authority. Christians must of all people pay specific attention to disobedient children because God takes it very seriously. We can’t view it as a lesser sin.
31without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;
Unbelievers do a good job at saying the nice things, but typically there is nothing that they would go out of their way to do for a hurting person, especially if it was somebody that they were “competing” against. They are unloving and unmerciful, seeking their own interest at the expense of others. They lack understanding because they have rejected the wisdom of God. They are untrustworthy because they are only concerned about their own well-being. They play off others, using them to gain a personal advantage. Another person’s worth is based only upon what they can do for them.
32and 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.
This is perhaps the most frightening and mind-boggling part of the whole reality of the heart of man. Paul says by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that although mankind knows the laws and expectations of God, they do not do them. Whether a person has the Mosaic Law or not, there is some inner mechanism that enables all men to know the difference between right and wrong. Since they know that there is a God and that God is perfectly just, they also know that those who break the law of God are worthy of death. They know in their heart of hearts that they deserve hell. It is the false teachers who try to undo hell by rewriting the Scriptures. Most of the people on the street who don’t know God think it reasonable that they would go to hell. They might assert that God wouldn’t send them there or that they are basically good people, but they generally will agree that it is reasonable for God to send a lawbreaker to hell. And whether they admit it or not they know that they are lawbreakers deserving of hell. Despite their understanding of their eternal fiery destiny, they continue to break God’s law, not caring about the realities that they know. They are too absorbed in their sinful pursuits to make the change that they know deep down is reasonable. Not only do they continue in their sinful pursuits, but they eagerly and gleefully approve and encourage others who break the law of God. Sinners find other sinners who will make them feel better about themselves. There is something comforting in journeying to hell together, though it won’t be comfortable upon arrival. God’s wrath is revealed and justly so. Man has plenty of indications to respond in faith, but they choose to reject God.