The book of Romans has been called "the cathedral of the Christian faith." And for good reason. It is the most profound and complete exposition of Christianity ever given. The Holy Spirit gave it to the church through the apostle Paul, while being specifically addressed almost 2000 years ago "to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints." (1:7) Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer said, "There is no more complete compendium of the Christian doctrine in the sixty-six books of the Bible than the Epistle to the Romans." Dr. Lloyd-Jones called it "a colossal and incomparable statement of Christian truth." Believers who are grounded in the book of Romans are rooted in the Christian faith.
Romans not only spells out the chief doctrine of justification through faith, but also "the obedience that comes from faith." (1:5) And this is why Paul was "so eager to preach the Gospel to you who are in Rome." (1:15) The apostle had been "set apart for the Gospel of God - the Gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures." (1:1,2) Paul knew from personal experience that the Gospel delivers people out from under the power of Satan. When Paul was converted, the Lord told him: "I am sending you to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (Acts 26:17,18)
This spiritual reality enabled Paul to boldly proclaim: "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." (Rom. 1:16) Prior to Paul's conversion, he sought to establish his own righteousness by his religious deeds. But now Paul "considered them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." (Phil. 3:8,9) Paul wrote to those in Rome: "For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'" (1:17)
Those who seek to be accepted by God based on works fall flat on their face. In fact, "all who rely on observing the law are under a curse." (Gal. 3:10) The foundation must be laid correctly, and "no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 3:11) "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin." (Romans 3:20) "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." (Rom. 3:28)
Paul described how "the godlessness and wickedness of men suppress the truth by their wickedness." (1:18) (I addressed this issue five years ago in an article titled, "Moral Resistance Resides Deeper Than Intellectual Reasoning.") Paul also made it clear that man has no legitimate excuse for his sinful behavior and his unbelief. The apostle wrote, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (1:20)
Ever since the Garden of Eden, man has chosen to give into temptation and go his own way. "For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles." (1:22)
What was the result of their idol worship? "Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator - who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion." (1:24-27)
These choices thousands of years ago made man's situation even worse. In addition to a lust for adultery, this rebellion on man's part brought same-sex lust into the equation as well. Since man chose to worship and serve created things, God allowed man to experience the shameful lust of same-sex attraction. God essentially removed the protective barrier that had prevented man from having these unnatural desires. I traced the pathology of same-sex desire in an article titled, "Idol Worship Spawned the Same-Sex Revolution." And this raises a very important question, especially in our day: "Is it a Sin to Be Gay?"
While providing a history lesson on same-sex attraction in the first chapter of Romans, Paul doesn't single out one sin above the rest. Instead, he describes how people "have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (1:28-32)
There is no way we could ever atone for our wicked deeds and our wayward hearts. We are all guilty of sin. In fact, "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (James 2:10) And it is only "the blood of Jesus Christ" that "cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)
Paul goes on to explain in the second chapter of Romans why no one has the right to judge someone else for their sin. "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things." (2:1) Ouch! This indictment applies to all of us. You and I are just as guilty of sin, if not more so, than any person we attempt to judge, criticize, or look down upon.
Paul wanted the saints in Rome to understand just how serious a violation it is to judge another person. "So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment?" (2:3) Paul's question here echoes what James wrote: "Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!" (James 2:13) And our Lord Himself said, "If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14,15)
Make no mistake about it: judging others is a sign that a person does not know God. A refusal to love and forgive others reflects a dark heart and a dead spirit within man. This is one reason Jesus said, "You must be born again." (John 3:7) You see, a new nature is required in order to love God and love others with the love of Christ. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Cor. 5:17,18)
Those who refuse to be reconciled to others are demonstrating by their actions why they remain lost in their sin. They refuse to forgive others, and thereby forfeit God's grace in their own life. They need to repent and turn away from their judgmental spirit and their "holier-than-thou" attitude. The deceitfulness of sin produces a hard heart that looks down on others. And for those who refuse to repent of their sin, Paul writes, "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed. God 'will give to each person according to what he has done.'" (2:5,6) Christians are not saved by works, but our good works are evidence that we are saved. An apple tree produces apples, and a Christian bears good fruit.
In other words, "a man reaps what he sows." (Gal. 6:7) "To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger." (Rom. 2:8) Followers of Christ live for what is righteous, whereas unbelievers remain bound to their sinful nature. The moment a person turns to the Lord in repentance and faith, a new life bursts forth in thanksgiving to God. "Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." (2 Cor. 3:16) I addressed the miracle of conversion in the article, "Turning to the Lord Lifts the Veil."
Turning to the Lord in repentance and faith also brings about a circumcision of the heart. Paul wrote, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code." (Rom. 2:28,29) A believer's body becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion. (1 Cor. 6:19) As Paul reminded those in Galatia: "Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" (Gal. 3:2,3)
The miracle of the Christian life begins the moment the supernatural power of God converts your soul. And good fruit always follows faith. Paul's epistle to the believers in Rome provides a systematic explanation of what it means to believe the Gospel and to then walk in "the obedience that comes from faith." (Rom. 1:5) Catholics, Protestants and every Christian can benefit greatly from the inspired words the Lord has provided in the book of Romans.
Other articles in this series: