The Book of Romans
The first chapter of the book of Romans contains Paul’s salutation to the church at Rome. He further expresses his long-held wish to visit it for a number of purposes and then provides three great “I am” declarations, which reveal his character, his ministry, and his overwhelming conviction and message. Finally, he provides a discourse on the depravity of man, which is the reason he needs God’s grace-based-faith-alone salvation.
Text & Commentary
Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God, which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
The opening verse specifies that the apostle Paul is the author this epistle. The name Paul stems from the Latin word Paulus, meaning “little.” He was a circumcised Israelite, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee and strict observer of the requirements of the Torah who advanced in Judaism beyond many of his colleagues, but first and foremost a Jew (Philippians 3:5, 6; Galatians 1:14). He was born in Tarsus of Cilicia; a place that he called “no mean [insignificant] city” (Acts 21:39). He was also a Roman citizen, who apparently inherited this citizenship from his father (Acts 16:37-39; 22:25-28). His conversion to Christ is chronicled in his own words in the twenty-second chapter of the book of Acts.
Paul describes himself as a “bondservant” of Jesus Christ. The Greek word for “bondservant” (doulos) actually means “slave” (from a root word meaning literally “to bind”) and speaks of one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another, his will altogether consumed in the will of the other. But Paul’s slavery was one of choice, undertaken voluntarily out of love, such as is depicted in Exodus 21:5, 6, and unlike the forced slavery well known in the Roman Empire. In this, his self-classification, Paul is emphasizing his personal subjection to Jesus Christ.
Paul next indicates his Christian “calling” (Gk. kletos—to call, to appoint) as an apostle of Christ. The Greek word for “apostle” is apostolos and means one who is empowered by and sent to represent another, i.e., an ambassador. As such, the apostle or ambassador is not greater than the one who sends him (John 13:16). The qualifications of an apostle included (1) seeing the Lord and being an eyewitness to His resurrection (Acts 1:22; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8), (2) being invested with miraculous sign-gifts (Acts 5:15, 16; Hebrews 2:3, 4), and (3) being chosen by the Lord or the Holy Spirit (Matthew 10:1, 2; Acts 1:26; 22:10, 14, 15).
Having stated emphatically that he was a slave and an ambassador of Jesus Christ (a special emissary of the Savior), Paul then makes clear the ambassadorial message that is under his charge, which he calls the “gospel of God.” He states that he has been separated unto (or set apart for) the purpose of proclaiming this gospel, which is the good news that the (spiritual) death of Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary provides the full payment for the penalty of man’s sin and that anyone who places his genuine faith (trust) in the living Christ is permanently forgiven of all sin and permanently has eternal life.
Paul uses a similar word, which emphasizes the representative role of an apostle. The word in Greek is proskarteresis and is translated “ambassador.” In Ephesians 6:19, 20, in reference to God’s gospel message, he states, “and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” But nowhere does Paul make it clearer than in the 5th chapter of 2 Corinthians that not only is it his role as an ambassador to be a minister of reconciliation (the reestablishment of the relationship between God and man), but that this ambassadorship duty applies to all Christians:
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
Yet Paul did not wish any of his Jewish readers to think that God’s gospel was completely new and unrelated to their spiritual heritage. He specifically stated that this gospel had been “promised before through His [God’s] prophets in the Holy Scriptures.” This was accomplished both in clear-cut statements (Deuteronomy 18:15; Isaiah 7:14; Habakkuk 2:4) and in types and symbols (e.g., Noah’s ark, the serpent of brass, and the sacrificial system). The phrase “Holy Scriptures” refers to the Old Testament and occurs only here in the New Testament (2 Timothy 3:15 uses different Greek words for “holy” and “Scriptures”). Here the emphasis is on the Scriptures as being holy and their established authority whose purpose produces holiness, separation from sin and unto God. No person can long read the Scriptures without a change taking place in his life. Either he will change in a supernatural way or the Scriptures will not be read for long. In brief, the Scriptures are an authoritative document of God that produces holiness.
In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul uses languages that refers to the sacred writings that were sacred for religious training versus mundane learning. The use of the language in this passage indicates that Timothy was not only taught but that he actually learned.
Paul then makes an emphatic statement regarding the gospel of God. He says that it concerns “His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” The name “Jesus” is from the Greek (and Latin) for the Hebrew Jeshua (Joshua), which mean “the Lord is salvation.” “Christ” is from the Greek for the Hebrew Meshiah (Messiah), meaning “anointed one.” The Greek preposition translated “concerning” is peri, which is used also in “periscope” and “perimeter”—and means “that which encircles.” The point is that the gospel is all about Jesus Christ, who is to be recognized as “Lord” (Gk. kurios—lord, master, owner—also the New Testament Greek equivalent for the Old Testament Hebrew word for Jehovah). He is essentially saying that the entire focus of God’s good news for mankind revolves totally around the Messiah, the Savior—Jesus Christ who is in fact God. That Jesus Christ was and is God incarnate is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. All systems of thought that do not recognize this critical issue of doctrine are heretical and satanic in origin. In fact, one of the primary means in which a Christian may recognize a “cult” is by its refusal to recognize Jesus Christ as deity. And the Bible is quite clear in that Jesus Christ is the absolute only way any person my gain access to Almighty God.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
Paul states next that Jesus was of the “seed of David according to the flesh.” This brings up two very important issues regarding Jesus Christ, as follows:
Paul then solidifies this concept by stating that Jesus Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power according to [lit., “in accord with”] the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” The word translated “declared” (Gk: hurizo) means to be “marked out” or “designated” definitely. Jesus did not become the Son of God “by the resurrection.” Instead, the resurrection proved or verified that He was the Son of God and that His salvation message was true. Not only this, but because He was resurrected and now lives at the right hand of God the Father making intercession for all saints (Hebrews 4:15; 7:25; 8:1), He will soon return to judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:30, 31) and will reign upon the earth for one thousand years (Revelation 20:4). The phrase “Spirit of holiness” is another way of referring to the Holy Spirit, who participated with Christ in His earthly sojourn, His death, and His resurrection. As the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit was and is involved in all transactions between God and man.
Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was only through Jesus Christ that Paul and all believers received grace (God’s unmerited favor) to not only obey the gospel message, i.e., to accept Christ by faith, but to also take the gospel message to all the lost throughout the world. But there is more to this grace than only believing in Jesus Christ. There is the matter of being obedient to God’s will, which then will translate into divine good works. Both issues are considered in Paul’s statement in Ephesians, as follows:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Faith alone in Christ alone brings salvation of the spirit (justification and freedom from an eternity in hell); but divine good works brings salvation of the soul (life), which materializes not only in this life but at the Judgment Seat of Christ with the possibility of rewards (or lack thereof) that extend into the Millennial Kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:4).
But understand that human good works, i.e., works performed in the power of the flesh, will never be recognized by God as anything but filth; it is only divine good works, which are performed by the Spirit of God through the believer and strictly for the glory of God (Isaiah 64:6; Colossians 2:6; Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 2:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:19), that contribute to the believer’s spiritual life and eventual reward.
Paul confirms that it is God’s grace that has established the calling of those to whom he is writing in Rome. This is a matter of their “election,” which is a co-element of God’s foreknowledge, a doctrine that will be discussed when this commentary considers chapter 8 and verses 29 and 30.
He says that they are “beloved of God” (John 3:16) and called to be “saints,” which are terms that apply to all believers—all because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Contrary to the Roman Catholic tradition of teaching that sainthood is something special and must be conferred upon select individuals within the church, the Bible teaches that all believers in Jesus Christ instantly become saints upon their exercise of saving-faith in Christ. Paul makes certain that his letter is addressed to all believers in Rome, and not (as other epistles) to a single local church, for the final chapter of this letter indicates that there were other gatherings of believers in the city and this salutation embraces them all. Paul concludes this passage by praying that even more grace and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ be extended to those in Rome. Here he combines “grace” (Gk: charis), which is a Greek emphasis, and “peace” (Gk: eirene—the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word shalom), which is the traditional Jewish greeting—appropriate since later in the epistle he will stress that both the Greek and the Jew are one in Christ.
The grace mentioned here is not the grace that saves (Paul’s readers were already saved) but the grace that equips and empowers for Christian life and service. Peace is not so much peace with God (the saints already had that because they were justified by faith) but rather the peace of God reigning in their hearts while they were in the midst of a turbulent society. Grace and peace came from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, strongly implying the equality of the Son with the Father. If Jesus were only a man, it would be absurd to list Him as equal with the Father in bestowing grace and peace. It would be like saying, “Grace and peace from God the Father and from Abraham Lincoln.” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, William MacDonald, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995)
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established— that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles.
It is important to note that Paul gave thanks to God the Father through (or in the name of) Jesus Christ, for it is the will of God that a person approach and/or address Him through His Son (John 14:6; Colossians 3:17; Ephesians 5:20; Hebrews 13:15). He is thankful that they have a sound and prolific testimony of faith in Christ, one which is well-known throughout the Roman Empire (then recognized as the “whole world”). He wants them to know that he prays for them without ceasing (very frequently), which frequency of prayer is the charge to all believers (1 Thessalonians 5:17, 18). Furthermore he wishes them to know that he serves God in his “spirit” in the gospel of His Son. This is to say that his service to God is both ardent (passionate, zealous, fervent) and genuine—to his very core. He also calls what he first mentioned as the “gospel of God” in verse 1, as the “gospel of His Son,” thereby again showing an equivalency between the Father and the Son.
The apostle’s impelling desire was to help the saints spiritually so that they might be further “established” in the faith . . . a matter of helping their “spiritual” growth through the ministry of the word. He goes on to explain that there would be mutual blessing. He would be encouraged by their faith, and they by his. In an edifying society there is spiritual enrichment. “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). Note Paul’s humility and graciousness—he was not above being helped by other saints. (Believer’s Bible Commentary, William MacDonald, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995)
Paul indicates that he often planned to visit Rome but had been hindered. Prior to his writing to them he made his intended visit a matter of prayer, making certain that he prayed in the “will of God”—another biblical attitude regarding prayer and the spiritual life (James 4:15; 1 Corinthians 4:19; Hebrews 6:3)—but apparently it was not God’s will.
And the last reason expressed by Paul for wanting to visit the believers in Rome was so that he “might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles.” Here he is not speaking about bringing other lost persons to Christ. He is talking about fruit among the believers in Rome. Such fruit comes from the spiritual maturity imparted to believers by the feeding of “meat” (not “milk”) of God’s Word.
Spiritual fruit in Scripture rarely if ever refers to persons being saved. It usually refers to the produce of the Holy Spirit, which becomes evident in believers who properly assimilate God’s Word.
But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the Word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. (Matthew 13:23)
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. . . . Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:2, 4, 5)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22, 23)
For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. (Ephesians 5:9)
Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:11)
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)
Paul was seeking the fruit of true holiness that may only come from believers who feed upon and digest the “meat” of God’s Word. Paul was eager to feed (teach) these believers in Rome so that they might produce divine good works, which can come only when the believer abides in Christ. Abiding in Christ is a relationship that permits Christ to live out righteous acts through the believer by means of the fullness of the Holy Spirit (John 15:1-8). And this relationship always correlates with the absorption of God’s Word (John 17:17).
It is regrettable that most ministers today seek only numbers of constituents (church membership) and emotional displays as evidence of their spiritual service, i.e., spiritual fruit. They usually attempt to achieve this not by teaching the “meat” (the doctrine of the salvation of the soul and the prophetic teachings contained in the Word) of God’s Word, but by preaching inoffensive homilies taken from the “milk” of God’s Word.
Consequently, today’s churches are filled with spiritual infants who live primarily in the “flesh” and have no understanding or fear of their impending judgment at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Romans 2:6; 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7; Colossians 3:24, 25; Revelation 22:12). They are like those to whom the author of Hebrews (5:12-14) exclaimed, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” But should such ministers who fail to emphasize the doctrinal teachings of God’s Word think they will have it any easier than their church-members when they stand before their Lord, they should know that their judgment will be even greater (James 3:1).
I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
In this passage the readers receive Paul’s three “I am” declarations. Paul continues his comments regarding the gospel of God (vs. 1), also called the gospel of His Son (vs. 9), and here called the gospel of Christ—all one and the same.
In his first “I am” declaration he states that he has a continuing debt to pay to both the Greeks and to the “barbarians” (the Greek word meaning a person who speaks a foreign or strange language, i.e., a foreigner—in this case the non-Greek, those who did not speak Greek and who had not adopted Hellenistic culture).
In his second “I am” declaration he confirms his readiness to proclaim or publish (Gk: euaggelizo) God’s good news (gospel) to everyone, and he was ready to preach it to those who were in Rome.
In his third “I am” declaration, and even though the gospel had proved to be a stumbling block to the Jews, foolishness to the Greeks, and an offence to both (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23; 2:14; 1 Peter 2:8); Paul states that he is not ashamed of it because it was the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
It is interesting that there are approximately 150 verses in the New Testament that stipulate faith or belief in Christ as the only way to apprehend (obtain) salvation, and yet so many well-intentioned evangelical preachers insist that more is required before a person may be saved. They coach the “plan of salvation,” usually presented as a procedure of steps, in words such as “repent,” “confess,” and “ask for forgiveness.” And they neatly package it in what they call “the sinner’s prayer.”
They claim foundation for this practice in a handful of misinterpreted passages of Scripture (e.g., Matthew 9:13; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20; Romans 10:9, 10; Hebrews 6:1; Revelation 3:20), while completely ignoring (1) the only book of the New Testament—the gospel of John (20:31)—specifically written to present God’s salvation plan and in which there is never any mention of any “step” or “means” to apprehend salvation other than by faith; and (2) the only time and place within the New Testament where the question is advanced: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” and to which a complete answer is given: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
Nowhere in the Bible is anyone asked to say a “sinner’s prayer.” Instead, they are advised to make a decision of faith in Christ. It is beyond this commentator why so many Christians insist on adding to the marvelous truth that salvation is truly free to all who need only to place their faith (trust, complete confidence) alone in Christ alone. To add to this clear biblical message is to make salvation not of “grace through faith,” but of “works.”
And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
When Paul called the gospel the “power of God to salvation,” he was essentially saying that only by hearing the gospel can one make an informed decision of faith in Jesus Christ for one’s personal salvation, a position that he would later re-state in Romans 10:17 (So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God).
The Greek word for “salvation” (soteria) used by Paul literally means “deliverance” or “preservation.” In a spiritual context, the idea is to rescue from the consequence, the power, and the dominion of sin. Unfortunately it is a term that is often subject to what is called an “illegitimate totality transfer,” which is the error that arises when the meaning of a word is always understood as the same regardless of the context in which it is found. Paul is here speaking of “salvation” in its whole meaning. It is a tripartite doctrine involving the three distinct parts of a human being—spirit, soul (life), and body as defined in Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12):
The salvation of the spirit deals with the part of man that is able to link with God. Because of the disobedience (sin) of Adam, man inherits a “sin nature” and his spirit is dead at birth. But upon faith alone in Christ alone a person’s spirit is regenerated (made alive from above—“born again”) and he is permanently and legally justified before God, which means that he will never experience an eternity in hell. Traditionally, “spirit salvation” is usually referred to as “justification” and is the deliverance of the person from the eternal penalty of sin, which is solely achieved by a one-time decision of faith in Christ.
(John 3:14-18; 20:31; Acts 16:30, 31; Ephesians 2:8, 9; Ephesians 2:8, 9)
The Greek word translated “soul” in the New Testament is also frequently translated “life.” The translation as “life” is more accurate as to its meaning. The soul or life of a person deals with that part of man that links with the physical realm, i.e., his self-awareness, senses, conscience, and intelligence. This portion of a believer in Christ continues its connection with the “sin nature” (up until physical death or the Rapture, whichever comes first) and will always experience spiritual warfare from the influence of the “sin nature” and the influence of the regenerated spirit (which contains the Holy Spirit).
Traditionally, “soul salvation” is usually referred to as “sanctification” and is the deliverance of the person from the power of sin during this life, which is achieved by his inculcation of God’s Word and oft-repeated decisions of surrender to the control of the Holy Spirit. Soul salvation will culminate at the Judgment Seat of Christ where the believer may (or may not) be rewarded and may (or may not) be allowed to reign with Christ during the coming Millennial Kingdom upon earth.
Salvation of the “soul” then, is dependent on the quality of life a believer chooses while on earth. If he allows his old nature to rule his life, he will produce works of wood, hay, and stubble. These will be burned up at the Judgment Seat of Christ, with the results being loss of his “soul” (future life quality without rewards). If however, through the Word of God, he permits his new nature (the Holy Spirit in him) to rule over his life, he will produce works of gold, silver, and precious stones (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Since these works cannot be burned up, the results of this testing will be the saving of his “soul” (future life quality with rewards). When one fails to learn the difference between the new birth (salvation of the spirit) and life in the coming kingdom (salvation of the soul), he will become confused over many passages of scripture that speak of these two salvations. As an example: Whereas, salvation of the spirit is mostly taught in the epistle to the Romans, salvation of the soul is taught in Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Hebrews, James, and First and Second Peter. (Shock & Surprise Beyond the Rapture by Gary T. Whipple, Th.M., Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 1992)
(Matthew 16:24-27; 25:281; Corinthians 1:18; 15:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 2:15)
This salvation is speaking of the transformation of the believer’s corrupted physical body into his eternal glorified body, which will take place at the person’s resurrection. Traditionally, this is referred to as “glorification” and is the deliverance of the person from the presence of sin.
(1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 49; Philippians 3:20, 21; 1 Thessalonians 13-17; 1 John 3:2)
Paul states that salvation is first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, a chronological priority that Paul followed in his ministry (Acts 13:5; 14:1; 17:2; 18:4) but that when Jewish rejection abrogated it, he and others turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46; 18:6; 28:25-28), but only locally and never nationally or permanently. God, after having dealt in a special way with the Jew in Old Testament days and having followed this by sending His Son to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24), will not pass by His chosen people. To them was given the first opportunity to receive the Lord Jesus, both during His ministry (John 1:11) and in the Christian era (Acts 13:45, 46; 28:25, 28). It is a case of historical and essential priority. The Jews who were the first to hear the Gospel were also the first to reject it and be judged for this rejection (Romans 2:9). Christians have an enduring obligation to God’s chosen people, the Jews, and their obligation to evangelize them has never changed.
It is suggested by some commentators that Paul was commissioned by Christ to proclaim the gospel of grace only to the Gentiles, but this is far from the truth. Paul’s original commission was expressed by the Lord in a vision to Ananias (Acts 9:15), which is as follows: “Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” When Paul was set aside to be an apostle to the Gentiles, he was also set aside to go to the children of Israel.
Not only was Paul also an apostle to the Jews, but when one follows his missionary journey throughout the book of Acts he will find that Paul always went to the Jews first. And even when the gospel of grace was rejected by the Jews in a particular local and Paul makes the statement that “he will then turn to the Gentiles,” which he did a total of three times (Acts 13:46; 18:6; 28:28), he is always speaking about doing this locally, never nationally or permanently. The reason this is known is that the first two times Paul makes such a statement and then afterwards travels to another city, he always goes to the Jews first. And the reason it can be safely assumed that his modus operandi was no different the third time is that he had established a pattern of always going to the Jews first.
Today Christians live in the same dispensation in which the Apostle Paul lived and ministered. And if the gospel is still the power of God unto salvation, as Romans 1:16 says, it is still to the Jew first. This priority as given by God is still as binding on Christians today as it was on Paul in his day.
A brief summary of the Apostle Paul’s ministry, as recorded in Acts, is our criterion for accepting his statement that that it is to the Jew first. In Acts 9:15 we see that Paul was a chosen vessel to the Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel. He began his ministry (9:20) going into the synagogues of the Jews first to preach Christ. In 9:22, arriving in Damascus he preached to the Jews. In 9:29, back in Jerusalem he preached first to the Grecian Jews. In 13:2-5, at Salamis he preached to the Jews first. In 13:14-16, at Antioch he preached to the Jews first. In 13:46 Paul spoke of turning to the Gentiles, but in 14:1, when he came to Iconium he went to the Jews first. These two experiences show us that when he had gone first to the Jews in a certain city and they refused to hear him, he then turned to the Gentiles in that city, but going into another city he went to the Jews first. In 16:12, 13 he went on the Sabbath (Jewish day of worship) to the riverside where prayer was made (plenty of water for Jewish ablutions), where a group of women had gathered (it takes ten men for a synagogue). The above experiences make it very plain that this was a group of Jewish ladies meeting for worship, and here Paul again went to the Jews first.
In 17:1-3, at Thessalonica Paul went to the Jews first AS WAS HIS MANNER. This explicitly states that it was Paul’s practice and procedure to go always to the Jews first. In 17:10, in Berea Paul went to the Jews first. In 17:17, in Athens Paul went to the Jews first. In 18:1-4, at Corinth Paul went to the Jews first. In 18:19, at Ephesus Paul went to the Jews first. In 19:8, again in Ephesus Paul went to the Jews first. In 20:21, visiting the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem, Paul called attention to the fact that he gave his witness to the Jews first and also to the Greeks. In 26:20, in his defense before Agrippa, Paul explained that he went to the Jews first at Damascus, Jerusalem, and all the costs of Judea, and then to the Gentiles. In 28:17, arriving in Rome and being imprisoned, Paul first of all called the chief Jews together. This brief summary of Paul’s missionary journey shows unmistakably and irrevocably that Paul went ALWAYS TO THE JEW FIRST. (Selected Writings of A. Edwin Wilson, Third Edition, Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 1996)
God’s missionary plan and program as unfolded by Christ’s ministry and teaching was to the Jew first. At His first advent Christ went only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He sent His disciples only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Admittedly, he and they were then preaching the gospel of the kingdom (different from the gospel of grace), but the priority was established. He of course would also share the gospel of grace with Gentiles as noted in John 4 with the Samarian women at the well. It is in Acts 10 that the door was opened to the Gentiles corporately regarding the gospel of grace, but it was to the Jews and also to the Gentiles, rather than to the Gentiles instead of to the Jews.
In Romans 11:17 one should understand God’s truth concerning Israel, to the effect that the Gentiles are grafted in among the Jews; and if any Gentile bears any fruit at all to the honor and glory of the Lord, it is because of the sap that flows from the Jewish roots, up through the Jewish trunk, and out through the Gentile branch.
An argument could even be made that the “in part” in Romans 11:25, which refers to Israel’s blindness “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in,” applies to only a portion and not to all of the Jews. Today there are many Jews in Israel and around the world who understand the gospel of grace and have accepted Christ by faith as the Messiah and their personal Savior. To be certain Israel’s blindness is only temporary, to be lifted when God completes His work of taking out of the Gentiles a people for His name and to be united with that remnant of the election according to grace from Israel. Such will comprise the body of Christ in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile.
Today, and in accordance with ample prophecy, the nation of Israel has been reestablished nationally. This occurred on May 14, 1948. And since then world events have been rushing toward that final day when; after the Rapture, the Tribulation, the witness by the 144,000 Jews throughout the entire world, and the second advent of Christ in all His power to earth; Christ will establish His theocratic kingdom upon earth, in which the Jews will have a prominent place, for one thousand years.
The Jews have been uniquely a blessing to all the Gentiles upon earth in the following:
The Gentile should never forget that the Jew is precious in the sight of God, and that soon Israel as a nation will return to the Messiah Jesus Christ their one true God.
And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:26-29)
In verse 17 Paul introduces the main theme of the epistle: For in it [the gospel of grace] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” This expression has two meanings: (1) One becomes righteous by means of faith and (2) One who is righteous will live by faith. Paul is speaking about the righteous character of God that may only be imparted to a person who has placed his sole faith in His Son, Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). But not just that, by using the phrase “from faith to faith,” which means “from first to last,” and the quotation from Habakkuk 2:4 (“The just shall live by faith”), Paul is speaking about both spirit and soul salvation. Not only is salvation (righteousness) “entered” by faith (Galatians 3:11), but it is also “lived” or “experienced” by faith (Hebrews 10:38) and not by any self-effort in keeping the law.
As [by faith] you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so [in the same manner, by faith] walk [live] in Him. (Colossians 2:6)
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
(Note: Paul certainly knew the difference between the pseudo-righteousness secured by keeping the law and the true righteousness of God through faith in Christ—Philippians 3:9).
When a person first exercises faith in Christ, he is saved from the eternal penalty of sin and declared just or righteous in Christ. As the believer continues to live by faith, God continues to save (deliver) him from the power of sin. And at his resurrection, the believer is saved (delivered) from the presence of sin. Remember, the New Testament speaks of “salvation” in the past tense (Ephesians 2:8), the present tense (2 Corinthians 2:15), and the future tense (Romans 13:11); and unless one understands the context within which the term is used, he will be led astray doctrinally. This explains the different Christian denominations teaching opposing points-of-view while using the same scriptures to support them.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 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, 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. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
From here to 3:20 Paul addresses God’s indictment of the world, showing why man needs the righteousness of God. The four subsidiary questions considered by Paul in this section are:
In a “nutshell,” man is condemned because truth was given to him (19, 20) and because man rejected it (21-32). But at the foundation is God’s righteousness, which cannot condone (overlook or ignore) ungodliness (Gk: asebeia—lack of reverence toward God) and unrighteousness (Gk: adikia—injustice, or a person’s wickedness toward other human beings). And being that God is righteous, He must condemn (reveal His wrath against) man who intentionally suppresses (Gk: katecho—literally, to intentionally quash or forcibly hold down) the truth that God has manifested to him.
The wrath of God is being revealed “from heaven.” This phrase as used in the Gospels means “from God.” Some scholars object to the idea of the wrath of God, but such objection is often molded by human experience of anger as passion or desire for revenge. God’s wrath, however, is not temperamental; rather, it is righteous (cf. 13:4-5). (NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 2: New Testament, Hodder & Stoughton, 1994)
God’s wrath was revealed by allowing death, both physical and spiritual, to invade man’s realm. The moment Adam sinned, his body began to die or decay. But of a more serious note, Adam acquired a “bent to sin” or “sin nature,” which meant that his spirit died insuring that unless God in His mercy intervened, which God did at the cross of Calvary, Adam would spend an eternity in hell. This holds true for Adam’s progeny. God has occasionally revealed His wrath in special ways toward man because of particularly egregious sin, as evidenced by the flood in Genesis 7, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, and the punishment of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in Numbers 16:27-32. New Testament examples are Ananias in Acts 5:5 and the man who “had” his father’s wife in 1 Corinthians 5:5.
Are the heathen who have never heard the gospel lost? Paul shows that they are, not because of knowledge they don’t have, but due to the light that they do have, which they refuse! Those things that “may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” From creation, and in it, God has revealed to man “His invisible attributes,” “even His eternal power and Godhead.”
The creation bears clear witness to its Creator, and the evidence that may be easily and continuously seen is being revealed to all sentient (conscious, human) beings. Here Paul speaks of natural revelation in distinction from special revelation, which comes through Scripture. Such natural revelation has certain distinct aspects:
Not only are divine attributes clearly seen in humanity, but they can be seen in the material universe as well (see v. 20; 10:18; Ps. 19:1-4). Nature itself speaks eloquently of its Creator. From the intricate design of the human cell to the majestic strength of the Rocky Mountains, all of God’s works testify to His wisdom and power. God’s invisible attributes, such as his eternal power and Godhead, meaning His divine nature, can be clearly seen by contemplating His awesome works in all of creation. (The Nelson Study Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997)
(Note: Can one say “Intelligent Design”?)
Even though all men share an “internal” voice such that the Maker is “understood by the things that are made,” which is to say that they can understand that there is an eternal God, “they are without excuse, 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.” It is not that man is condemned for rejecting the Savior they have never heard of, but for being enlightened and then being unfaithful to what revelation they had.
Humans chose to be unthankful for this revelation and to purposely not glorify God by rejecting the knowledge in “nature” that God had provided to them, and by giving themselves over to futile philosophies and speculations about other gods. As a result they lost the capacity to see and think clearly. Light rejected is light denied. Those who don’t wish to see lose the capacity to see. Add to this man’s continued degeneration into the quagmire of conceit and self-styled knowledge, which then thrust him deeper into non-sense and stupidity. These two things always characterize those who reject the knowledge of God—they become insufferably conceited and abysmally stupid at the same time.
Instead of evolving from lower forms (“early man” was of a high moral order), by refusing to acknowledge the true, infinite, incorruptible God; he devolved to the stupidity and depravity that goes with idol worship. This whole passage gives the lie to evolution.
Man is instinctively religious. He must have some object to worship. When he refused to worship the living God, he made his own gods of wood and stone representing man, birds, animals, and creeping things, or reptiles. Notice the downward progression—man, birds, animals, creeping things. And remember that man becomes like what he worships. As his concept of deity degenerates, his morals degenerate also. If his god is a reptile, then he feels free to live as he pleases. Remember too that a worshipper generally considers himself inferior to the object of worship. Created in the image and after the likeness of God, man here takes a place lower than that of serpents! When man worships idols, he worships demons. Paul states clearly that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice to idols they sacrifice to demons and not to God (1 Cor. 10:20).
(Believer’s Bible Commentary, William MacDonald, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995)
Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 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. 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; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 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.
The opening word “therefore” connects this passage to something that has gone before, specifically, the wrath of God being revealed from above due to man’s rejection of God. This abandonment by God due to man’s insistence in rejecting God for human “religion” in its various cultic forms is in itself a portion of God’s punishment for spurning His sure and constant natural revelation. God did not give up on humanity, but He did allow it to go deeper into sin. This revealed and is revealing even more today how evil sin really is and how desperately wicked people, left to themselves, can become.
Because man refused to worship and serve the Creator, who is eternally worthy of honor and glory but instead (1) consciously exchanged God’s truth for a lie and (2) purposely chose to worship and serve the creation, God gave man over to the following vile (Gk: akatharsia—filthy, disgustingly obscene) list of passions and activities:
Although homosexuality today is passed off as a “sickness” or is socially acceptable as a “legitimate alternate lifestyle,” Christians must make no mistake that it is a product of the fallen nature of man and is most definitely abhorred by God. In the Old Testament this sin was punishable by death (Leviticus 18:29; 20:13), and later in Romans it is shown as worthy of death (1:32). It was a major factor in God’s dealing with (destruction of) Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:4-25).
Those “who exchanged the truth of God for the lie,” also “exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. They first exchanged the truth for a lie and then followed this by upsetting the normal course of nature in sexual relations, which practice meant “receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” Sexual perversion contains in itself a punishment for the abandonment of God and His ways. So in brief, what a person does with God has much to do with his personal character and lifestyle.
This should not be surprising to a Christian, since the fallen human nature is capable of just about any form of iniquity and perversion. And a Christian who continues to live in submission to the flesh is also capable of such filth. This gross sin is not so much the inclination toward it but in yielding to and practicing it. For the believer, the Holy Spirit gives the power to resist the temptation and to have lasting victory over it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
One thing is certain when it comes to “soul (life) salvation,” those Christians that practice such egregious sins will not “inherit the kingdom of God,” i.e., reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ and the ability to reign with Christ during the coming Millennial Kingdom upon earth (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Those who abuse sex (1:24), who pervert sex (1:26, 27), and who practice the other sins listed (1:29-31) have an innate knowledge not only that these things are wrong but also that they themselves are deserving of death. They know this is God’s verdict, however much they seek to rationalize or legalize these sins. But this does not deter them from indulging in them or uniting with others to promote them, for in so doing they feel a sense of camaraderie with their partners-in-sin.
THE UNREACHED HEATHEN
What then is God’s answer to the question “Are the heathen who have never heard the gospel lost?”. . . There are two schools of thought among evangelical believers on this subject.
Some believe that if a pagan lives up to the light of God in creation, God will send him the gospel light. Cornelius is cited as an example. He sought God. His prayers and alms came up as a memorial before God. Then God sent Peter to tell him how to be saved (Acts 11:14).
Others believe that if a man trusts the one true and living God as He is revealed in creation, but dies before he hears the gospel, God will save him on the basis of the work of Christ at Calvary. Though the man himself knew nothing about the work of Christ, God reckons the value of that work to his account when he trust God on the basis of the light he has received. Those who hold this view point out that this is how God saved people before Calvary and how He still saves morons, imbeciles, and also children who die before they reach the age of accountability.
The first view can be supported by the case of Cornelius. The second view lacks scriptural support for the era following the death and resurrection of Christ (our present era), and it also weakens the necessity for aggressive missionary activity. (Believer’s Bible Commentary, William MacDonald, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995)