We have finally made it to the book of Romans which is one of the epistles, or letters written by the apostles to the different planted churches in those early days of the Christian church, of the New Testament. Before we jump into Chapter 1, I thought we should get some background on the city of Rome and the church there.
Romans was written by the Apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul, while he was on his 3rd missionary journey in 57 A.D. The setting of the Roman church was in the city of Rome and with that brought many challenges for the church. First, the church was made up of both Roman Jews and Gentiles, but in 49 A.D. Emperor Claudius had expelled Jews from Rome over the strife caused by the Christian movement there. Still this edict was weak, and most Jews came back to Rome and went back to the church. Another challenge was the issue of Jewish Old Testament law making its way into the church by Jewish law-abiding Christians. It became a fight between the law-observing Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians who were free of the restrictions under Mosaic law. So, Paul writes to the church to bring them in unity under the Gospel and share some words from God that will help them as they are living in a place of wickedness, which brings us to the theme of Romans which can be summed up into one word – righteousness. This word is used countless times throughout this book. Righteousness is defined as “acting in accord with divine or moral law” and the definition is tagged with this: “Free from guilt or sin.” In this book we will learn that through the Gospel we see God’s righteousness as a Savior and a judge.
We begin chapter one with a greeting from Paul to the people in the Roman church as he usually does in his other letters with encouragement and love and wastes no time in moving into his theme of the righteousness of God in the gospel. One of the most quoted verses of Romans is found in verse 16 where he mentions “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 Gentile.” Right here we see that Paul is already coaching this church into unity and shows that the Gospel is for everyone, not just the Jews.
Paul then moves on in verse 17 speaking about the righteousness of God as being both our Savior on the cross and Judge. When we accept the Gospel, we become one with the Father and we are made right. And, according to Paul in the same verse, the righteous live by faith. So far Paul has given us the beautiful and encouraging letter from verses 1-17 but come verse 18 he begins to lay down the hammer which will point to his last words in verse 17 - that the righteous live by faith. In some Bibles you will have sections with titles throughout the chapter and, if you do, you may have glanced over this chapter and thought “Wow!” The main part of this chapter is clearly “God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness.” And if you are like me and read the Bible in the mornings you may think to yourself “Yay! I get to read about God’s wrath first thing in the morning.” But when you really get into it you will see that this next section is truly encouraging, in that it teaches and shows why God has wrath towards unrighteousness.
Paul begins in verse 18 talking about how the wrath of God is against all those that are ungodly as well as the unrighteous who, through their unrighteousness, suppress the truth about God. He then goes on to write in verses 19-20, which happens to be one of my favorite passages in scripture, that “They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So, they have no excuse for not knowing God.”
I remember when I was in college and had the opportunity to stand in the middle of Redwood National Park in California and got to see these beautiful and massive trees standing before me. I couldn’t help but think that God created these beautiful things and that His fingerprint is evident in His very own creation. Paul plainly states that the evidence of God is all around us but the unrighteous take the idea of an immortal God and put him into resembling man or animals. If you look throughout history, mankind has definitely seen the creation of God and, for the most part, acknowledges the creator, but at the same time man wants to fit Him into our understanding or human ways.
The Egyptians worshiped the gods of the Nile - the Sun God Ra and Rain called Tefnut. The Greeks worshiped Zeus, who is known for being god of the storms, and Poseidon of the Sea. And even the Romans named the planets, which were created by God, after their manufactured gods, going as far as to create images or idols out of them. They wanted the creation but suppressed the Creator. Paul begins writing in the rest of the chapter about how this suppression of God leads to idolatry and to even more sin, but he writes that God will let the unrighteous fall into these sins of gossip, homosexuality, murder and envy and He will punish them. A few things that I am often asked is, “Why would God punish me if He is a God of love?” and “Why does He allow us to fall into sin in the first place?” Funny enough, these types of questions remind me of this plant I have at home. If I keep the shade shut the plant will die without the sun. And that is the same way with sin, it separates us from the life that is found in God. He is a righteous God, and He cannot accept sin, and in simple terms His light and the darkness of sin do not mix. Still, He will let us choose whom we will serve because that is what a righteous and loving God would do.
For us today we may not be worshiping the Idols of nature as was common in those days, but we worship or put things above God like our careers, families, or even get so caught up in doing God’s work without acknowledging the one who gave all these things to us in the first place. That is what leads us into idolatry where our Creator is no longer God but a checklist. Going back to the theme of Romans, the righteous shall live by faith, we must remember as we go about today and throughout our lives, that living in faith is trusting the creator. Not just acknowledging Him but really letting Him have all your life. Trusting that He knows best, and His plan is perfect. For He is a righteous God, our loving Savior and just Judge.