This is a in depth look at Romans chapter 1-3 I believe in these three chapters contains a Bible in microcosm.
The review will begin with chapter 1 verse 16, 17 as it states the premise of the book:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith.
The coming chapter with be an explanation of this premise. The outline of the coming theological review will be as follows:
- Premise 1:16, 17
- Unrighteousness of Men and the Righteousness of God 1:18-3:20
- The depravity of the Gentiles 1:18-32
- The hypocrisy of the Jews 2:1-3:8
- Universal Unrighteousness 3:9-20
III. Justification of God 3:21-5:21
- Source 3:21-31
- Examples 4:1-25
Paul, reminiscent of I Corinthians 1:17-18, sets forth his mission as to preach the gospel of Christ. The best manuscripts omit the phrase “of Christ”. The power of God lies in the gospel. The gospel’s power effects only those that believe. The Greek for power, dunimas should be well noted. It is not dynamite power as in the picture of gunpowder. The Greeks did not have any idea about gunpowder at this time. The power is the Holy Spirit in sovereign grace regenerating the heart of the sinner to faith in the gospel. The power lies in the change of heart, the regenerating aspect of the Gospel. This power is only experienced by the elect, unto belief and justification. The gospel is to be preached to the Jew first and then to the gentile.
The righteousness of God is an all-important theme in this book. The noun is dikaiosune, the adjective is, dikaios. The definition given by Wuest comes from Cremer in his Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek. The definition is: “what is right, conformable to right, pertaining to right”. Wuest adds the note, “In other words, that which is righteous in the biblical sense is not determined by man nor by external consideration but by God, and that by divine fiat (Wuest 25). The last phrase by Wuest is especially important, by divine fiat. This is to say that what is right comes only by God. It does not exist by itself and does not come from the mind or action of anyone outside of God. Here is the righteousness of God that all is in harmony with the nature and character of God. Anything that is contrary to the nature of God is unrighteousness. Again, it is important to socket the meaning of righteousness in the person of God. To define it outside of God is to trivialize and secularize the meaning to an ever changing social standard or preference held by the majority, or a subjective rule that varies from person to person. It does not carry the importance as it would having an objective origin in God.
It is this righteousness that Paul uses in this epistle. No doubt this must have been a shock to the secular and profane Romans. Just the definition of God’s Righteousness is enough to drastically set apart the doctrine to a high and lofty state in the mind of the reader.
In the present usage, this righteousness is revealed from heaven in the gospel. The use is not righteousness as an attribute of God, but rather a righteousness that is imputed to man. We are only saved one way: through righteousness. Our righteousness is so heinous it is out of the question. God imputed His righteousness to us through faith in the Gospel. God’s righteousness is Christ’s righteousness and work on the cross. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us on the grounds of faith. This is the gospel. Hence the gospel is good news of salvation through God’s righteousness. This is what is being revealed in verse 17.
Faith to faith, simply means that the principle of imputation is faith. Those that have imputed righteousness, a believer, are those that live by this principle of faith. Faith is more than an intellectual agreement with certain premises, but a living principle of life. This faith is given by the Holy Spirit lest it is made a work (Ephesians 2:8, 9 and John 1:12, 13). Vincent seems to think that this phrase shows the evolution of faith from Old Testament types unto New Testament reality. Also, this phrase may show the progressive nature of faith in one’s life, the just shall live by his faith.
It is by the righteousness of God a person is saved or condemned. The righteousness of God keeps from heaven. Just like the temple veil, clean and white, keeps the human from the holy of holies. Yet the righteousness of God also is the means to heaven, as the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us through faith. This is typified through the blood that occasions entrance to the tabernacle. And, the righteousness of God keeps us. Just as the temple veil keeps the unjustified out, it also keeps the just in.
The positive/redemptive righteousness of God is revealed by faith. Paul then takes the Old Testament passage in Habakkuk as his thesis, “The just shall live by faith.” The Old Testament meaning and the usage by Paul is in agreement. Those that manifest a Godly life are those that have faith as a driving principle. Paul sets forth this principle of faith. It is developed into what we call the great doctrine of justification by faith.
Unrighteousness of Men and the Righteousness of God
The depravity of the Gentile v 18-32
Here the apostle sets forth a charge against all of mankind. He systematically shows the guilt of all men beginning with the gentiles. He notes that God’s wrath is upon all unrighteousness and ungodliness. An interesting note is that men suppress truth. What is this truth that men are suppressing, or holding down? I believe the truth is that there is a creator and he is Lord over all. The truth here spoken of is his revelation in natural theology. First, the creation that declares his glory. Secondly, the moral law that demands a lawgiver. Men tend to avoid the issue of a creator, rather attributing the creation to random happenings. Also, reduce morality to a subjective choice that is fueled by an animalistic desire for self-preservation. The text state three things explicitly, 1. That there is a fact of God’s revelation in the natural world. 2. That all men have knowledge of this revelation. 3. That because of this knowledge they have a duty to worship him as creator. Also there is a specific revelation given to man through the Word of God but this section deals with the general revelation of God given in creation. It is to this general revelation that Paul says men repress; therefore, deserve the wrath of God. This knowledge of God given here does not represent a saving knowledge of God, for that comes with the knowledge of the gospel through the word. So this is the substance of verse 19-21.
Verse 21 is important in that it is the source or foundation of the sins of depraved humanity. Depraved humanity is an idol factory once said John Calvin. I believe that sentiment comes from this verse. The word vain is the Jewish word for Idol (Vincent 16). So depraved understanding can only process in terms of idols, which is futile and meaningless. Further the apostle says their foolish heart was darkened. This means that the knowable facts surrounding them in nature concerning God, they could not see. So without acknowledging God human reasoning is self-serving and vain. Resulting in perceiving themselves wise, they are really fools. Interesting that depraved man boasts in his intelligence and ability. Yet, he is only exalting the most impotent of his attributes.
The darkened heart changed the glory of God. An old notion found in the fall of man in Eden. Notice now what the idol factory of the darkened human heart has produced in place of God: man, birds, quadrupeds, and snakes. What is striking about this list is 1. The descending order from man who is upright descending down to snakes who crawl. 2. The moral/spiritual decline. Man or self-worship descends into the most vile satanic worship. I wonder if the use of snake here does not have theological implications that refer to man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Man chose to worship himself at the beckoning of the snake.
God then gives men up to their own lusts. In unpacking the statement, one notices that God is not unjust and that man is well deserving of his own judgment. God allows man to pursue his own depraved desires, and appropriately judges them for their sins. Alford, says that delivering men to their own depravity was not only permissive but in a judicial sense (Wuest 34). This giving up resulted in further degradation of men between themselves in a sexual way. The conclusion of their lust is worshipping and serving the creature, not the Creator.
In the next section Paul sets forth his charge that depraved man goes against the natural course of nature. Men and women leaving the natural sexual use for each other turn to homosexuality. Paul points out this is due penalty for their error. That is to say this is the end result in a rejection of God in their thinking as stated in verse 19 and 20. The apostle goes on further with his charge against the gentiles in listing their sins, which flow from a rejection of God. The list is not meant to be an all-inclusive one, but a sampling of the depraved gentile. The judgment upon sinful men is death.
The Hypocrisy of the Jew
The section transitions to the Jew for it was the Jew who placed Judgment upon the gentiles. Paul immediately condemns them in saying they have no excuse. In fact, he notes because they judged the gentiles so vehemently, they condemned themselves. The principle that condemns both is they both practice unrighteousness in spite of having better knowledge. This principle is magnified in the Jew since they have the knowledge of the Law, a greater revelation of the nature of God. Paul states the judgment of God is different than that of man. We judge based upon externals. God judges the whole matter, from the heart then outward to the actions. This represents a complete and truthful judgment. This is a most frightening proposition.
In what way did the Jews condemn the gentiles? And how were they incorrect in this assumption. First, the Jews felt that through their natural birth, as Israelites, lead to an advantage and privilege of covenant people. Secondly, they felt that through external keeping of the law they would be accepted by God. Paul points out that they have no room for boasting. They stand in judgment of God just as the gentiles. The reason is that natural birth does not allow entrance into the kingdom, but only a spiritual birth does (John 3:3). Next, the Jews were in error because God judges according to the thoughts and intents of the heart, not only through externals. When judged in this light, the Jews, in spite of their boasting, stood as guilty as the gentiles.
Paul further states that the evil that the Jews were involved in were despising the riches of God’s goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering. This display of God’s goodness is in the person and work of Christ. In Him alone do we have an acceptable righteousness. The Jews in despising him, despises the goodness of God that would lead them to repentance. Judgement is sure upon such wickedness. Their sins, while not judged immediately, were being stored up. This is graphic language. Imaging the waters being reserved and stored on the pooling side of a dam. Imagine the dam bursting and the ensuing deluge of destruction. This is the wrath of God, pooling up. Paul warns that the day wrath is coming, the dam of God’s forbearance will burst. He warns, “tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile” (Romans 2:9).
Verse 11 is a marvelous verse in that it captures the idea of the section. Wuest says it is literally translated: “for there is not the receiving of face in the presence of God” (Wuest 43). The truth is that no one can present themselves before God’s face upon their own works, because all are unrighteous. This is Paul’s premise in the first few chapters. The Jews that have the law, shall be judged by the Law and be condemned. The gentiles that have not the law will perish as well for they will be judged for the totality of their sin. So all are condemned. Now arises the question, do those that have not the Law of Moses face a fair judgment? The apostle answers in v. 14, 15. God notes they have a moral law in their consciousness.
This is an interesting statement. The context is that the gentiles do “instinctively” those things written in the Law of Moses. They have the Law imprinted on their heart by conscience and reasoning. This serves as the standard of their judgment. Even though the mind and heart have the imprint of the law, they act contrary to the law. The law taken here in verse 15 is talking about a universal law in the conscious of men. So all men stand without excuse, even though they do not have the written Law of Moses.
The next section Paul pinpoints the Jew and tells how they have failed God. Paul asserts that the Jews have a confidence in relying upon having the Law of Moses, and being covenant people. They have heard teaching on the finer points of the Law and should know God’s will. They were confident in leading the blind and those that were in darkness. The apostle confronts them in their teaching. Do they steal? Do they commit adultery? He goes on to charge them with breaking the commands they preach making their covenant promises (identified through circumcision) null and void. He further adds they become a reproach among the gentiles.
I find this section interesting on 2 counts: 1. That Paul does not tell the Jew their sin, he simply asks three questions. Do you steal, commit adultery, or sacrilege? Paul anticipated the honest Jew knew the answer to these questions. Why such an important point left to assumption? I feel that the reason lies in that the honest person will come to the conclusion that they have sinned against all the commandments. Only those wishing to lie against the truth will defend their actions. And 2. That Paul does not specifically state the scripture he is referring to in v. 24. I take it that he is referring to the collection of Old Testament teaching that demonstrates that all men are guilty and impotent in keeping the law.
That last point he apostle points out is the true nature of circumcision. That is that circumcision does not avail anything, but rather the keeping of the law of God. If a person truly kept the law, then that is proof of circumcision. Yet, a person that breaks the law, and is circumcised, is not a covenant person. True circumcision is a matter of the heart. True law-keeping is a matter of the heart. This is the whole issue the apostle wants to bring out. He is the great iconoclast in that the Jews worshiped externals, Paul breaks their idol. True worship is keeping the Law from the heart.
Objects are now answered from the Jew. The apostle begins with pointing out the Jews were in an advantageous situation in having the Law of God. They also had responsibility in proclaiming the Law. Verses 3-8 speaks of the wrath of God must come upon the world. The reason is His holiness and righteousness v 4, 5. There were those whose argument was that sin only reveals the righteousness of God. They then reason in verse 8, “let us do evil that good may come?” Their estimation was that it takes evil to prove in the righteousness of God. Certainly not, only the righteousness of God stands out against the backdrop of unrighteousness. Paul answers that “their damnation is just” (Romans 3:8).
Verse 9-20 makes his final argument against the whole of humanity. Paul answers the question put forth in verse 1, that the Jew is not any better off in having the Law. He is just as guilty as the gentile with regard to sin. In verse 10 he states that “all are under sin”. This means as Mickelson points out, “the sinner has no means within himself to deal with sin. He is under sin, i.e., under the power, rule command, control of sin. He needs help from without” (Mickelson 1191).
The apostle used a number of citations from the Old Testament to provide his scriptural basis for this total depravity and guilt of sin. I will list the passages as I think it is necessary that one be familiar with the scriptural basis for this teaching. Psalm 14:1-3; 3:13-17; 5:9; 36:1; 140:3; 10:7; Isa 59:7; 3:18 are the scripture sources. Notice the passages not only point out the sin but also the inability of men under sin. The list catalogues a wide spectrum of sin and their attitudes toward God. The list drives the point home that the writer has been making.
In light or the human condition and guilt before God the apostle concludes by rightly saying, “Every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19). Then he states that the law will not bring acquittal. What then will the law bring? This is a very important point that is restated in his other writing, especially Galatians. The purpose of the Law is to bring to our attention the knowledge of sin. Additionally, not only the knowledge of sin, but the inability of men under sin. This principle use of the law is the teacher leading us to Christ. Then the apostle goes into the jewel of the book: justification by faith.
Justification of God
In verse 21 through the end of the chapter the great doctrine of justification by faith is set forth. The theme of the book thus far has been the righteousness of God. The righteousness of God that saves has been revealed by the law and prophets. Notice in verse 21 how the writer makes a rightful discernment of the scriptures. He notes that the Law could not bring the righteousness of God that is God’s moral law. Next, he notes the prophetic aspect of scriptures that point to Christ. In these scriptures we find that Christ is the atonement and also something more. He is our righteousness. These images are seen in the sacrificial system and passages such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 32. He develops this scriptural basis further in examples in chapter 4. Notice the righteousness of God is not from works of the law. Important and cannot be overstated. We cannot produce the quality of works that meet the requirements of the law. Righteousness that avails with God must come another way.
Verse 22 gives the glorious truth that the very righteousness of God comes to us. This righteousness is not of ourselves but of Christ. Faith in Christ is the means by which we receive this righteousness. This righteousness is by faith only and come upon all that believe. There is not distinction of persons, no gender or racial qualifications for this gift. Everyone that believes receives the righteousness of God unto salvation!
After pointing out again our guilty condition, he goes right into a most important section. In my opinion, verse 24-26 is one of the most important scriptures in the Bible. We shall carefully look at these verses.
“Being justified freely by his grace” is the beginning statement. Justified is the heart of the Gospel. Up to this point we have been discussion the Righteousness of God that condemns. Justification is directly dealing with the righteousness of God, yet now we see this righteousness satisfied and not aggravated as in the previous chapters. Justified is a powerful word. A word that is used in respect to the believer. It is the wedding garment we must wear to appear before our King. Barnes says justified is, “ Being treated as if righteous; that is, being regarded and treated as if they had kept the Law” (Barnes). Acceptance with God only comes through righteousness, and that righteousness cannot be earned by man. This righteousness must be reckoned to man. The righteousness of Christ is reckoned to man through the instrument of faith; therefore, man is clothed with Christ’s righteousness before God. God is satisfied, man is justified. Notice the motive of justification is completely monergistic and according to God’s grace. God is responsible for the idea, means, and end of salvation.
“Through the redemption that is in Christ” is the next phrase. This is the means of salvation. Redemption here is an interesting concept that means to buy back or to rescue. This phrase is actually connected to the phrase next verse. In essence Christ’s work that is His sinless life, and vicarious death effected our redemption from the hold of sin.
Verse 25 begins with the same idea verse 24 ended with that “God hath set forth to be a propitiation…” The term, set forth, is a powerful thought. The idea is that God placed the issue of the Cross and work of Christ before him and everyone else as the grounds of justification. First, the act is set before Him. This is a public act. Remember back in Egypt when the Israelites placed the blood on the door posts and the Angel saw the blood set forth publicly and passed by. A heavenly view of the blood was the important view. Remember also the public sacrifices prescribed in the Law that represent the work of Christ. The blood was set before God in these sacrifices for an atoning work. The work of Christ has always been set before God. Christ’s work is an eternal fact in the mind of God. Therefore, God can justify those before Christ’s death and after His death based upon the death of Christ being an eternal fact. This setting forth of Christ by God is the grounds by which God justifies and is just.
Also, the work of Christ has been set before us. This setting forth is a testimony to the comfort and assurance that God will save. Additionally, the public display of Christ, in reality and through type, is a testimony of the just dealings of God. He cannot be accused of favoritism, or of condoning sin in any age. His Eternal Son died for sin, based upon this fact He can bestow grace upon his people freely always pointing to Christ as the basis. Perfect! Barnes has this note:
The design of the apostle is to showy the alone ground of a sinner‘s justification. That ground is “the righteousness of God.” To manifest this righteousness, Christ had been set forth in the beginning of the gospel age as a propitiatory sacrifice. But though at this time manifested or declared, it had in reality been the ground of justification all along. Believers in every past dispensation, looking forward to the period of its revelation, had built their hopes on it, and been admitted into glory.
The word propitiation alludes to the ancient Law of Moses. The idea is that His blood has covered the mercy seat as to make everlasting atonement before God for His people (Lev. 16:15-16). Again this is a public act that displays God’s dealing with sin. From the Mercy seat God declared that His people were forgiven based upon the blood. In the case of Christ, through His blood, God openly declares His people forgiven. This is the meaning of “to declare his righteousness through the remission of sins that are past.”
Notice the means by which this is applied to us: through faith in his blood. Faith is the instrument that renders the person justified. Faith has always been the principle means. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear that faith and grace are the instruments of salvation and also points out that those instruments are the gifts of God.
The term, through the forbearance of God, is to note that this entire plan of redemption is couched in the context of God’s patience and longsuffering. He could have justly executed judgment upon the whole of creation at any time. God chose to be patient with humanity while the plan of redemption unfolded.
The next verse caps off this great section of justification. The apostle states that through the previous actions (Christ being set forth and a propitiation for sin, His righteousness being appropriated through faith, and all this by the free grace of God) renders God just. Also the justifier of him that believes upon Christ. This is the conclusion of the matter and the Gospel in three chapters.
The remaining verses 28-31 sets us the scriptural illustrations for this great truth found in chapter 4. The elements that preface the illustrations in chapter 4 is: 1. That justification comes through faith and not through deeds of the law (v.28). 2. That Jews and gentiles are both can be justified (v. 29, 30). 3. That justification establishes the Law of God (v. 31).
We have showed in these first three chapters of Romans the plan of salvation. The highlight of the plan is the righteousness of God. This righteousness renders man helpless and guilty. He has no remedy or ability to escape the judgment of God. The only way of reprieve is through the righteousness of God. This righteousness that can save when appropriated. God’s plan is the appropriation of His righteousness and satisfaction of his wrath through the work of Christ. This is called justification. Faith is the instrument of justification, and that the gift of God. Blessed be the Father and the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus Christ forever!
On a personal note, I have always enjoyed and been fed though the book of Romans. I never tired of studying the simple truths. I plan on using this time of study and paper to minister in preaching to my church and through blog. If you will notice I used many resources in preparing this paper. I did not use the text from Ray Stedman for my study. I find his writings heavy on application and personal story. I feel the time it takes to wade through the personal stories to get to an application not an efficient use of my time.
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentary Volume XIX. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005.
Johnson, S. Lewis. The Judgement of God. The SLJ Institute. Transcript. N.p. n.d. Web. 10 March 2015.
Mickleson, A. Berkely. Romans: The Wycliff Bible Commentary. Chicago, Il: Moody Bible Institute, 1962.
Vincent, Marvin. Vincent Word Studies from the Greek New Testament Volume II. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, (no date).
Wuest, Kenneth. Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament. Volume I. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973.
1 thought on “Our Faith in 3 Chapters”
Even though the Paul didn’t know anything about “dynamite,” he did know about the “dunamis” of God, that it was “power to get the job done,” no matter how “big” that job might be. At the same time, is anything “big” when God is concerned with it? He spoke this whole universe into being in six days, though some of the early church fathers wondered why it took Him so long, created Adam out of a pile of dirt, and Eve out of one of his ribs.