1:16-19 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one 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.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
In prior verses, Paul makes it clear that he is ready to proclaim the Gospel to those in Rome, regardless of their background or the persecution that may face him.
Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; which, let it be known, seemed like foolishness to many, but Paul was convinced of its power (1 Corinthians 1:18; 23). The Gospel is power. It was the power of God that emboldened Paul to be unashamed.
Once again, he reaffirms that power is only possible upon passing the threshold of belief. In believing the finished work of Christ where He was crucified, buried, and rose again! Salvation was first only accessible by the Jews, but upon the unveiling of God’s grand mystery, Gentiles were offered salvation and a part of the Body of Christ (Matthew 10:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
The righteousness of God is exemplified and applied by faith and always has been, although the Gospel as delivered by Paul proclaimed faith plus nothing as a means of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9; Hebrews 11:7-9). Dispensation to dispensation, faith is the catalyst and sustainer that moved men of faith such as Abraham to obedience and the Israelites to uphold their covenant. This is faith plus work in order to maintain a covenant relationship with God.
But now, in the Dispensation of the Age of Grace, our faith is ascertained by faith plus nothing. We believe, and therefore Christ’s righteousness is imputed upon us (2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9).
All of humanity is born with the seed of depravity and has a charge of sinfulness against them. God’s holiness will not allow such unrighteousness to enter His Heavenly dwelling and His wrath is against unholiness. Despite this, He provided a way for such wrath to be appeased and that by which humanity can be seen as righteous- By His Son Jesus.
We must allow the Gospel to also bear witness to all of humanity’s unrighteousness as God had to pay the ultimate price to correct our dreadfully fallen state. For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
In the same breath, the Good News also bears witness to God’s righteous love and grace which was willing to pay such a price to illustrate His unmerited favor to us, therefore.
Regarding the “truth” discussed in 18 and 19, this attack on the wisdom of men by Paul must have been startling at first glance to Romans, as Roman culture was commonly regarded as the standard in truth. This is indisputable as Paul addresses the contrast between Greek and Barbarian in verse 14.
But never mind cultural views, for me must simply acknowledge that God is true, and every man is a liar (Romans 3:4). God calls us to level our understanding of each other’s status in this, and from this point, be edified in God’s Word which is truth.
Furthermore, God will reveal Himself. It is impossible for God in His holiness to not be revealed. Not every way that God reveals Himself is salvific, yet to how God is made manifest, humanity is held accountable.
1:20-23 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
Generally, theologians acknowledge two categories of revelation from God: General and Special Revelation. One particular portion of Scripture where these two types of revelation can be seen, side by side, is in Psalm 19.
In Psalm 19, we see that general revelation is revelation broadly dispensed unto all humanity. Within a Scriptural context, this is often notable in the Bible’s reference to nature (e.g., Psalm 19:1-6).
Special revelation is revelation that was given to a specific person or group of people. This does not mean that, hypothetically, such a person cannot record it in a way that becomes accessible to other people. Special revelation is commonly referenced to as the Holy Scriptures (e.g., Psalm 19:7-14).
Paul here, is not expressly referring to special or salvific revelation. This type of revelation is general, as God’s character and “handywork” is evident in nature (Psalm 19:1). The “invisible things” of God have described things that cannot be perceived or digested with our senses. This could be God’s attributes such as love, holiness, or omnipresence. These are things that although cannot be digested with any of our 5 senses, can be known, even if in elementary ways, about God.
Therefore, people are without excuse. This truth has become hard to grasp as we wrestle with questions regarding unreached people groups, but also magnifies the need in the world for evangelism of the Gospel. God revealed Himself from the earliest periods of human history, which is “from the creation” .
In light of God’s revelation, Paul addresses a large group of people who are surrounded by God’s creation and expression of Himself yet remain undiscerning and void of understanding. Thanklessness is a component of this hardened heart. As Christians, the target of our thankfulness should be God by which all blessings have been given. Nonetheless, outside of the Body of Christ, rejection of God signifies a lack of thanksgiving. Simply put, they reject God’s revealing power. Despite this rejection, it is a Biblical fact that no one is “too far” from grace. If anyone was, then grace truly would be work-based and grace would no longer be grace, which is the unmerited favor of God (Romans 11:6).
Any wisdom that is self-assumed at the expense of rejecting Godly truth is foolishness, and therefore you assume the identity of a fool. Christ has come and is the Truth, when you believe in His Gospel, your identity is transferred from that of a depraved fool, to a wise son of God (John 14:6; Ephesians 1:5). But to remain a fool, ultimately has eternal judicial consequences.
Nonetheless, Paul addresses individuals and groups who remain in a state of rejection of the true creator of Heaven and Earth. They turn to religious anthropomorphism in order to bring God down to an object or being more like the life and attributes that they desire and are accustomed to.
Anthropomorphism is a psychological action that humans are familiar with in secular and religious settings. It is exactly as Paul describes where humanity bestows their traits and attributes on non-human beings, very much like personification.
The Apostle Paul speaks to specific practices of the day and culture here, which is exemplified through Barbarian and Greek/Roman culture.
Despite the specific references, I would caution against leaving such verses in that culture as today, secular culture consists of the same action where the domineering focus of worship becomes self, money, and moral corruption. Humanity is no different today, as it was in the time of the Early Church (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Only by accepting Christ’s plan of salvation can we escape a fallen nature (1 Corinthians 15:45).
1:24-25 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
The word, “wherefore,” signifies retribution for a course of action taken, whether it be good or bad. It means, “for that reason,” (the reason being rejection) God gave them over their desires. God, being the gracious Father He is, is not going to force cooperation and allows free will. But God being completely holy also will not compete with wickedness. An example of this aspect of God’s nature could be found as He gave humanity to themselves prior to the flood (Genesis 6:3).
He therefore allows them to their evil demise. Even so, there’s beauty in this seemingly despairing situation. Trials and separation from God often sufficiently act as an agent to draw humanity to Himself, as they come to the end of themself. This action is something done by God for people within and outside of the Faith and is crucial for their salvation and perfecting (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 3:14; 1 Timothy 1:20).
Satanic opposition works against God yet can only be successful by altering and corrupting His Truth. The very first example of this is when the Serpent assaulted the Word of God in order to persuade Eve to sin against the Lord (Genesis 3:1-7). We ought to hide the Word of God in our heart so that we might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).
But in the same way, the Devil appeals to the corrupt flesh of humanity and “changes the truth of God into a lie.” The “lie” is represented by the idol installed which is purposed to carry the role of a god. Anthropomorphizing anything with Godly attributes is a lie, similar to that of an actor on a stage, which simply plays the identity of another person, although could never live up to the character. Therefore, Satanic forces alter the truth of God by persuading humanity that the creation is greater than the Creator.
One prominent example of this today is the rise of Humanism. Humanism essentially leads to and or places humanity as the center of the worship, and esteems human agency, reason, and science as the way of understanding the World, instead of God’s being the subject of worship and sustainer of all that which is created. Humanism is simply an alteration of truth.
1:26-27 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
Stemming from Humanism is a focus on self-gratification and degradation of God’s moral influence. This can be seen with rise of homosexual cultural which Paul states is a “vile affection.” These verses may parallel the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah by which homosexuality also derives its alternate, yet entirely accurate title of Sodomy.
The corruption of God’s ordained plan for sexuality is simply an evil modification of truth, or more simply put, a lie. The Apostle Paul addresses this corrupt practice as although taboo, was acceptable under certain circumstances and customs within Roman culture. Therefore, we see an intersection of God’s will for sexuality and marriage with cultural standards. A conflict that contemporary Christians must still address today.
The Greek term for nature in these verses is physikos and physis which carry denotations such as, “agreeable to nature,” “governed by nature,” and “order of nature.” God did place a natural order by which even sexuality was to adhere, yet all throughout history there have been deviant men and women who moved away from how God intended it, and so God allows it. Paul speaks within the Dispensation of the Age of Grace. We are still within this age, making it unarguable that God has not, nor will not, change His mind on the repercussions of this sin, or any other sin that He has expressed disdain for.
Without accepting the grace of God offered through Jesus Christ, they build wrath upon themselves. As explained prior, wrath is just as much an attribute of God as His love, and to underscore one or the other as a lesser attribute is a dangerous perspective and not edifying. These two attributes work together mysteriously, sewn together by His righteousness (Psalm 119:160).
1:28-32 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
In addition to these vile affections, Paul addresses those who do not retain God within their mind. The Greek word for “retain” is echō and it indicates a “possession of the mind,” and the term is closely related as to wearing something.
So, considering this, Paul is addressing people who do not possess God in their knowledge. The result of such negligence is a reprobate mind. Being reprobate means to “not stand the test,” “unfit,” and or “unproved.” This suggests that God gives these individuals to an “unfit mind” which is characterized by things contrary to righteousness.
Holding verse 28 in limbo with 32 indicates that those which are given over to mindset, know “the judgment of God” yet continue to seek “pleasure in them” that do such things worthy of judgment.
If one desires to understand the grave condition of the world, we must understand that God has revealed Himself to all, but increasingly people choose not to retain Him in their knowledge.
This is manifested in a number of ways, by which Paul illustrates as doing “those things which are not convenient.” This may be some of the unseemly things prior listed, but also could include any sin, which is an offense unto God.
These offenses abound in our prior state of unrighteousness, now replaced by the imputed righteousness of Christ. Following Paul addressing unrighteousness, he illuminates fruits of unrighteousness.
The term for fornication is porneia and often references sexual immoral actions such as extra-marital sexual intercourse but can also be used in the metaphorical sense of idolatry depending on its Scripture reference. One may note, this root is central focus of illicit carnalities such as pornography. Biblically, this term juxtaposes desirable attributes such as faithfulness.
Likewise, wickedness broadly is anything contrary to that which is good, and that which is good is created by God (Isaiah 5:20).
Covetousness may be defined as an ungodly desire to obtain something outside of the parameters of godliness. It is closely associated with greed and avarice.
Maliciousness is a desire to injure or commit evil against someone. This is a dangerous state of mind, as God teaches that vengeance is His. Vengeance is a dangerous desire to have, as only God could commit vengeance, and be entirely just maintain perfect understanding as it is delivered (Romans 12:19; 1 Corinthians 14:20).
[As for envy, check notes on covetousness; for practical purposes they hold similar connotations]
Murder is a popular discussion within culture now with the continuous rise of the national violent crime rate and due to abortion. Murder is intriguing as certain characteristics are needed in order to label this sinful verdict. This usually is associated with a premeditated slaughter or killing. By this narrow definition, there is a broad number of things we must include in the category including: Abortion, needless war, and avoidable killing.
The Greek term utilized here for debate is eris. Paul is not referring to mere argument. Like many sins, the root can be tied to a matter of heart and selfishness. The sin of debate is associated with the maintenance of contention and strife (Proverbs 13:10).
As discussed, prior, deceit is associated with lies. It is a desire defined by dishonesty and deception. The idol worship mentioned within earlier verses is self-deceit promoted by negating the knowledge of God.
Malignity addresses human depravity itself and the things that are produced by it. These things include anger, poor character, and unrighteous deceit.
Whisperers is an inclusive term for someone who slanders another. I use the term slander, while many have opted for the term “gossip” which truly minimizes the terminology to something less than a verbal assault (1 Peter 3:16).
Backbiting is extremely similar to the sin of whisperers, however, is more so defined by public slander and evil speaking.
A hater of God could be, what is often immediately presumed, an atheist, although this definition is far too narrow. Satan himself is a hater of God, although he would openly admit God’s existence. A hater of God could characterize many of the sins and immoral actions spoken upon this portion. A hater of God knows God’s judgment against wickedness, but openly, privately, and hatefully rebels against God.
A hater of God is despiteful to God. They act against God, despite His infinite superiority and righteousness above that person. But a person may also be despiteful to other people, and act egregiously against a person despite their value to God.
Despitefulness is fueled by the sin of pride. Being proud was the first sin of the Devil himself and the resulting action was his fall (Ezekiel 28:13-19). So, it goes with an individual who stands conspicuous above another and to God (Proverbs 16:18). Paul often notes the sin of pride and warns of esteeming oneself higher than they ought to be (Romans 12:16).
Boasters are closely associated with those who practice pride. The Greek term for boaster is alazōn. A boaster is someone who is an “empty pretender.” This sin occurs when someone scaffolds themselves above others and lies through exaggeration.
An inventor of evil things is someone who utilizes evil intentions in order to create devices that can further advance evil purposes (Psalm 106:39).
For those who are disobedient to parents, this offense is a rather serious offense unto God for He is the creator of the family structure. God desires healthy families that work in unity to glorify Him (1 Timothy 5:8). Obedience unto parents pleases the Lord, and the contrary is a sin (Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20).
Being “without understanding” is a difficult position to be in, as it is hard to see past the veil of pride. This was the case in verse 22, as people professed themselves to be wise, they became fools. Although by the discerning work of the Holy Spirit and the God’s Word revealed, we can be cured of ignorance, being without understanding is a hard position to even recognize being in.
[For practical purposes, review notes on deceit alongside Romans 3:4]
Being without natural affection, as previously proposed could include Sodomy, although broadly can mean an unnatural affection for the things of the world, and a lack of emphasis on the things of God.
While a covenant breaker is someone who lies and breaks a promise or contract, someone who is implacable is someone who lives “without a treaty or covenant.” This innately causes someone to live in-contently, which is contrary to God’s desire because He wants us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
As for those who are unmerciful, we are to be weary of acting on our judgements for the same reason we should weary of taking vengeance. God is the righteous judge and avenger; therefore, He expects us to give mercy as it has been given to us.
In closing allow me to suggest this. Even under the characterization of a reprobate, there is still grace (2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Timothy 2:4). In fact, all are reprobates before believing in Christ and becoming a member of the Body of Christ, because sin made us unfit (Romans 3:23). The definition of reprobate should never be narrowed down to the common view from those within the Reformed tradition which claims a reprobate is someone not predestined unto glory or non-elect.