This letter was written by the apostle Paul under the anointing of the Spirit of God. Though it was written to the various groups of people living in Rome, it is also for us! It is a comprehensive exposition of the gospel, and is the longest and most systematic of Paul's writings. It has been suggested that the body of the work may have been composed by the apostle earlier in his ministry, and circulated among his Gentile churches as a resume' of his message. It is thought that he supplemented it with some personal elements when he sent it to Rome, and added chapters 15 and 16.
It's good to know some historical facts, as well as the culture of the people of that time, but we don't want to be caught up in intellectual discussions and waste our time on that. This letter was written when Paul was at Corinth on his third missionary journey. It apparently was sent with Phoebe, a deaconess (from the Greek DIAKONAS) and leader in a church in Cenchrea, a suburb of Corinth. (Rom. 16:1-2) Paul had a great desire to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome.
This letter is a very complete and concise presentation of the foundation upon which we rest our faith and upon which the body of Christ is built. Because of its organized pattern, and its completeness in presenting the gospel, some call it the constitution of the church. We need to look at the whole New Testament in that light.
Regardless of how much time we spend reading the scriptures, we can't exhaust them. There are always new depths and heights to which we can attain. The New Testament gives us our foundation. In it God has promised to produce for Himself a people with His laws written on their hearts and His ways in their minds. These are new people; they are no longer in Adam; they have been born of the Spirit and put into Christ; they have new hearts and clean consciences. God does this through our high priest, Jesus Christ.
The letter to the Hebrews brings us the same message from a different approach. The two epistles really go together; they are a pair. In Hebrews the same topic is called the new covenant, or the better covenant. It is an agreement which God has made with Himself - not with us! He is producing for Himself a new nation, a new priesthood! This is difficult for us to understand, because we tend to think that it depends on us and our self-effort. However, the book of Hebrews makes it very clear that it depends on God.
In the first 5 verses of Romans 1, Paul introduces himself and gives his credentials. "Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant (the seed) of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake."
Paul does not mention his academic achievements: the fact that he had been taught by Gamaliel, his past positions and experience, and of having been a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He said, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ." (Phil. 3:8) Everything he had received in the natural was rubbish in comparison to what he had gained in Christ! His credentials now came from a higher source.
His first credential consisted of being a bond-servant of Christ Jesus. Exodus 21:1-6 explains the meaning of bond-servant. According to the law, a Hebrew slave had to be freed after 6 years of slavery. On the 7th year he could go out as a free man. No payment was required. If he had become a slave as a single man, he was to go out alone. If he had become a slave as a married man, then his wife was to accompany him in his freedom. But if his master had given him a wife, and she had borne him children, the wife and her children would belong to her master, and the husband could go out alone. But if the slave plainly said, "I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man," then his master was to bring him to the door or doorpost, and pierce his ear with an awl. This meant that he would serve his master permanently out of love. This is the meaning of bond-slave - the type of servant the Lord wants us to be.
The only permanent slavery among God's people is a slavery of love. Paul was a free man, but out of love he freely offered himself to his Master. His service for the Lord flowed out of a heart of love! He had willingly become a bond-servant of Christ Jesus! This is the only kind of servanthood that the Lord has in mind in the New Testament. Jesus said, "The truth shall make you free." The truth frees us from our slavery to the lies and deception of the carnal mind.
Paul's next credential was his apostleship. This calling was from God. The Greek word for apostle is APOSTOLOS - literally, one sent forth. This word is also used of Jesus Christ in reference to Himself. "...whom You have sent (APOSTOLOS)." (John 17:3) Paul knew that he was commissioned by God to bring the gospel not only to the Jews, but especially to the Gentiles. He emphasized this in many of his letters. For example, in 1 Tim. 1:1 he wrote, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope." In 2 Tim. 1:1 he wrote, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus."
Paul was sent out by God - not by a church. However the Lord also spoke through a group of prophets and teachers in Antioch, and said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." (Acts 13:2) The initiative came from God! This calling from God was Paul's credential, and he was committed to this calling. God separated Paul for the work of the gospel, and Paul did it willingly! His life had a single purpose. If there was anyone who had a single eye, it was Paul! Although he himself didn't get to all the nations, his letters are still getting to the nations!
Paul was set apart for the gospel of God. The gospel means good news, and it is good news, for it tells us that our salvation does not depend on our self-effort. This is what the new covenant is all about! The gospel is the glad news that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ..." (2 Cor.5:19-20) Paul was an ambassador for Christ, and we too are to be ambassadors - in Christ's stead, entreating people to be reconciled to God.
It is the world that needs to be reconciled to God; God did not need to be reconciled, for He has always loved us! This is illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. The father did not need to be reconciled; it was the son who needed it!
God provided a way to remove this heavy burden of death and sin. We need more than forgiveness! Unless the source of sin is removed, sin will keep flowing out. Both the sin and the source of sin need to be removed! This is what the Lord has in mind. How can we become the righteousness of God if He doesn't remove the source of our sin? By taking us out of the Adam man and putting us into Christ, He removes that source! This is the glad news of the gospel of Jesus Christ! It is the fulfillment of God's promise that came through the prophets. It is God doing for us what we couldn't do for ourselves!
At some time we've all been entangled in wrong thinking, wrong teaching, and a misunderstanding of the gospel - maybe some areas still need correction! We may have been taught that accepting the Lord depends on us, and our spiritual growth depends on our doing instead of on our feeding. God draws us to Himself by His love! His love and the gift of His Son are the magnet. Just as a dog will let go of the dry bone in his mouth if it is handed some meat, so we will let go of our own ideas and dogmas when we see that the gospel of God is life. Life is the only way out of the death we were in.
Paul emphasizes the fact that our salvation was promised beforehand through the prophets. It was not a new plan, but a very old one. God did not press an emergency panic button because the law did not work. In Gal. 3:8 it says that God "preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, `All the nations will be blessed in you.'" That was a long time before Jesus was born. Titus 1:2 says that it was promised "long ages ago." The gospel, which is really justification by faith, had already been preached to Abraham, for it was God's plan all along!
Notice in vv. 3-4 that the theme of the gospel is Christ Jesus. "...concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant (seed) of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord." The name JESUS is a transliteration of the Hebrew JOSHUA, meaning Jehovah is salvation, i.e., "is the Savior". Jesus is our Joshua, the One who brings deliverance to us, and gives us the promised land like Joshua gave the people of God in the Old Testament. He is our Savior, deliverer and conqueror!
He is the seed of David, the Word made flesh, the Christ, the anointed One, the Messiah! Because the seed of David was a human seed, it gives Him an identification with humanity, and makes Him the rightful heir to the throne of David. The title, Messiah, refers to His anointing by the Holy Spirit. This anointing endued Him with power from on high, and He was declared to be the Son of God - the offspring of God - by the resurrection from the dead. He was also the Son of Man - the spiritual corporate man whose identity is with man and with God. So He was the Son of God and the Son of Man! He is Lord - the same yesterday, today and forever. He is Master of all, and the ruler of the universe. He is the theme of the gospel.
"Through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake." (v.5) God gave Paul an understanding of the gospel, and equipped and commissioned him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Everything we receive from God has its root in grace. Grace speaks of that supply, the provision of God that includes everything that He is! The Greek word for grace is CHARIS, and for gift, CHARISMA. A gift has its root in grace. All the gifts of God, including the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are rooted in CHARIS - the grace of God. It was God's provision for Paul, and it is His provision for us!
Apostleship is a ministry, and with it comes spiritual authority from the Lord. This enabled Paul to preach the gospel, and explains why people responded both positively and negatively to his ministry. The negative response and rejection come from those who are blind and do not want to see.
In response to some objections from the Corinthian church, Paul explained that the purpose of spiritual authority is to build up people. "For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame." (2 Cor. 10:8) Spiritual authority is not meant for lording it over people, nor for destroying them. Paul did not want wolves (false teachers) to destroy what the Lord had done through him.
This is reiterated in 2 Cor. 13:10. "For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down." The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone. (Eph. 2:20) These were supernatural ministries, and the Lord continues to build on them. God spoke through the apostles and gave us the scriptures.
Paul knew that the Lord had equipped him supernaturally, so his confidence was not in his natural talents and education. The only way he could fulfill his ministry was by the supernatural endowment of God, the grace and gifts of God, and the authority which the Lord gave him!
In contrast to Paul's attitude, many leaders try to build up their own authority by drawing attention to their degrees, the institution from which they received them, their achievements, etc. Our dependence should not be on people, nor on education and attainment; it should be on the Lord! Only His favor counts! The Lord was with Moses and Joshua, and He magnified them before the people, but they still had to deal with problems. Our ministry has to be God-given and God-maintained.
The purpose of Paul's ministry was to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations. An accurate translation reads, "To bring about obedience of the faith." This is very significant for all who desire to obey God. The Holy Spirit knows how obedience is produced, and He calls it the obedience of faith - the obedience that comes out of faith. If it does not comes out of faith, it is not obedience; it is self-effort - a pretence of faith.
Our faith is in what the Lord says He has done. Paul spent his time declaring what God had done in Christ Jesus. God in Christ Jesus has reconciled the world to Himself, not counting their sins against them! Therefore we can be reconciled! Therefore be reconciled - receive the reconciliation! That's faith, isn't it? Since God in Christ has done it all, we have only Christ to glory in. We act out of the faith we have received! Out of that faith in the work of Christ comes obedience.
Obedience is the fruit of faith. Faith is the tree, obedience is the fruit. As our faith grows, the fruit of obedience will be evident. Faith and obedience belong together. We don't begin with faith, and then come to obedience. Many think that obedience comes out of choice - that we have to choose to obey Him. If this were the case, we would be back to relying upon ourselves. How can man's depraved mind make a right choice? Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit because they believed a voice other than God's! Obedience can only come out of the faith given us by God.
Paul was commissioned to put people on the road of faith and obedience. This is the commission given to every minister and every Christian. If this were practiced, it would eliminate a lot of counselling and dependence on people.
Through faith we become new creatures in Christ Jesus. Obedience is inherently a part of this faith, and causes us to live by faith. If we say we have faith, but live by self-effort, we do not have faith. The obedience of faith results in spiritual growth, and in good works which have their source in God. The power of God which produces salvation is available to everyone who will receive it. Yet only those who hear what the Spirit is saying, will receive Christ!
This epistle, given to Paul through the Holy Spirit, is a letter from God for each of us personally. It was addressed to all who were loved of God and living in Rome at that particular time - yet it is for everyone and for all ages. It was to be passed from person to person, and from group to group in Rome and throughout the whole world. It will only bless us as we read it and personalize it.
It is addressed to saints - not sinners. (v.7) Can we be saints before we die? Death has nothing to do with our sainthood. We are saints because we have been set apart for God! This is God's declaration of who we are! The Greek word HAGIOS means holy ones. We are holy because we have become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus! (2 Cor. 5:21)
As in all of his letters, Paul begins his message with "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." For example, 1 Cor. 1:3, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." 2 Cor. 1:2, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Eph. 1:2, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Phil.1:2, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." As you check out the other epistles, you will find the same pattern.
The Holy Spirit speaks grace and peace to us. What a wonderful message! These words enable us to recognize the voice of the Lord! Before giving instruction, exhortation, rebuke, or whatever, comes the message of "Grace to you and peace..." Even though the church in Corinth needed exhortation, rebuke and teaching, Paul had the same message of grace and peace for them as He has for us. The Lord is at peace with us and therefore we can be at peace with Him! In Col. 3:15 it says, "Let the peace of Christ rule (or be arbiter) in your heart." The peace of Christ helps us to discern the voice of the Lord. When the peace of Christ arbitrates, we can discern from whom the message is coming.
Paul rejoiced and thanked God for their faith! It was well-known and proclaimed throughout the whole world. (v.8) Their faith was not a direct result of his ministry! Paul rejoiced when the work of the Lord flourished. Since Paul had not been to Rome at that time, he rejoiced in someone else's ministry and prayed for them continually! This is a healthy attitude. By praying for them he had a share in the ministry of others.
He also longed to impart some spiritual gift to them. (v.11) The Concordant Literal translates this correctly, "that I may be sharing some spiritual grace with you." The Greek word used here is CHARIS, meaning grace. This was to help them to be established! Wanting them to be established is a sign of true apostleship. This cannot take place if we do not know the grace of God. Without grace we rely on our works, ever seeking for forgiveness or honor.
Grace causes us to be dependent on God. Everything we have and are comes to us through the grace of God. "Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." (Jn. 1:17) Grace and truth belong together. Grace and truth give us the ability to discern truth and error, to understand the love of God, to have faith that God is who He says He is! Paul wanted them to be established in the Lord; he did not want them to be dependent on the ministry of people. He wanted them to know that they were complete in Christ, and that in Christ (the truth) they could stand against all the deceitfulness and craftiness of the devil!
"That is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine." (v.12) Paul wanted to be encouraged by their faith as well as having them be encouraged by his faith. That is a healthy attitude for all who serve the Lord. Paul recognized that members of a healthy body have to receive from one another. Building dependence on a hierarchy does not make for a healthy New Testament church.
Paul's eagerness to preach the gospel came from the Lord. Whatever the Lord gives us to do, let's do it with eagerness and enthusiasm. It is very discouraging to be under the ministry of someone who doesn't really want to be there. To him, everything is just one big trial. Jonah is a classic example of this. Paul had a burning desire to preach the gospel and to see the fruit of the Spirit in the believers.
He had an inner compulsion, an obligation, to minister both to Greeks and to barbarians, to the wise and to the foolish. (v.14) The Greek word ETHNOS is sometimes translated Gentiles and sometimes nations. In the plural, it refers to the nations other than Israel. Paul's compulsion to preach was not a bondage from the devil. There is a difference between a compulsion from the devil, and a compulsion from the Lord. A compulsion from the devil tends to bind us up and put us under condemnation. A compulsion from the Lord spreads us out, brings joy, and increases our fruit!
Paul talks about this compulsion in 1 Cor. 9:16. "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel." This almost sounds as though Paul is coming under condemnation, but that is not the case. He had been given a stewardship. When we have a compulsion from the Lord, nothing else seems worthwhile! Other things do not bring us joy. Paul had been set apart for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he was committed to that.
This helps us to understand what Paul meant when he said, "Be followers of me, as I am of Christ." He demonstrated what following Christ means! Paul's faithfulness in doing the work that had been entrusted to him, his willingness to endure persecution and ill-treatment for the sake of the gospel, his attitude toward others and their work, and his prayer life, are a model for all of us! This was the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in him.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, `But the righteous man shall live by faith.'" (vv.16-17) This grand announcement about the gospel is the key thought in Romans.
The gospel is the power of God. The Greek word for power is DUNAMIS - from it we get the word dynamite. This word means power, strength, ability, energy, mighty means. The gospel is the dynamite of God. It blows up and destroys everything that is not of God. It is the mighty means of God. It does not only consist of words and communication; it's the power of God!
Humanity likes power; it likes to lord it over others. Power makes us feel as though we are somebody, so we look for power - often at the expense of others. Unless the power of God has changed us, we are the same as the rest of humanity. Religiosity wants power over people, but this desire is hidden in a cloak of super holiness. Religiosity desires to cast out demons and to heal people to feed their self-centeredness and to receive glory from people. They thrive on shouting and self-effort.
The power of the gospel should not feed our lusting, but release us from it! It is the power for salvation, the power to overcome the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life! Wow! In ministering to people, we don't wait for the power of God to descend; instead, we preach the gospel! Let's announce the good news because that is where the power of God for salvation is!
The Greek word for salvation is SOTERIA, and it denotes deliverance, preservation, salvation. It includes all the blessings bestowed on us by God through the Holy Spirit. It means complete freedom, complete health, complete restoration of spirit, soul and body. So salvation is much more than having our sins forgiven and going to heaven.
Paul explains this beautifully in 1 Thess. 5:23. "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming (in the presence) of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is what the gospel does for us! It is the energy of God which results in deliverance, freedom, restoration, preservation, and the health of our spirit, soul and body!
The gospel is for everyone! If we say it is for everyone who believes, we limit it to Christians. Then it is not for the world. But God in Christ has reconciled the world to Himself! So it is to be preached to everyone. Those who believe can enjoy the power of the gospel. If the gospel would only be preached to Christians, the world would not be saved.
God wants believers! He wants people to believe that His words are true! The gospel reveals the righteousness of God! How? Since God subjected man to vanity, it is only right that He takes man out of it. The gospel reveals that God has taken the responsibility for man's sin and has reconciled humanity to Himself.
This reconciliation operates by faith - from faith to faith. It begins with faith, and continues in faith. The literal translation from the Greek is, "out of faith and into faith". Revelation begins with faith and it leads you into greater faith. Faith comes with the persuasion that whatever God says is true! It does not rest on our understanding, but on the essence of God! As we receive greater light about God, we receive greater faith.
"But the righteous will live by his faith" is a quote from Habakkuk 2:4. This did not originate with Martin Luther, but with God! Rotherham's translation reads, "But he that is righteous by faith shall live."
On the heels of this wonderful and grand pronouncement of what the gospel of Jesus Christ is, comes the revelation of humanity's hopeless condition - humanity doing its own thing! Understanding our true condition is a necessary prerequisite for realizing our need for the gospel. Everyone needs the gospel - both Jew and Gentile! In verses 18-32 we see the hopeless condition of all mankind - the universal need for salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The mighty power of the gospel in Christ Jesus does away with all of man's depravity and brings him into life!
The revelation of God's righteousness brings forth the revelation of "the wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." (v.18) This wrath is against all of man's sin - not against humanity, but against the sins it commits. Truth reveals the lies and deception of humanity's thinking. We need truth to reveal the counterfeit, the lie.
The wrath of God allows man to continue in his own deception without any interference by God. Man needs to acknowledge that his own ideas do not work. He cannot experience peace and happiness without God. Only then will he accept God's wonderful salvation.
God's wrath is against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. Ungodliness is everything which is unlike God's own character, and unrighteousness is everything that is not His righteousness, everything that is not right in His eyes. Godliness has to do with who God is, righteousness has to do with what God does. Ungodliness pertains to what humanity is; unrighteousness pertains to what they do. Everything that is against the nature of God is sin. He is the One who declares what is right. Only what is right in God's eyes counts - not what is right in our eyes! This is basic to understanding the gospel.
We do not have the ability to decide what righteousness is; we can only agree with God's definition of righteousness. If we disagree with Him, we are not believing God. God's definition does not compute with our natural mind. That is why humanity suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. The Greek word for suppress literally means to hold down, to restrain or to hinder. If we do not receive truth, we are suppressing it! It's as simple as that. We then remain in the lie and the deception of the natural mind.
This scripture states that God's wrath is revealed against the unrighteousness in men - it's not talking about the devil and evil spirits. Blaming the devil is a copout. When Adam and Eve acted on the devil's advice, they received his lies and deception. Eve was deceived, but Adam was not. By acting on Eve's deception instead of obeying God, Adam suppressed truth. Disobedience is a suppression of truth. When God's righteousness is revealed to us, but we refuse to receive it, we suppress truth. This is the devil's opportunity to present us with more lies. The natural mind receives them, and follows in more ungodliness and unrighteousness. This pictures the heart of unregenerate man throughout history.
Verses 19-20 explain how God has revealed Himself to man. "Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen..." The Greek word for divine means His divine majesty, or His godhead. He showed His own head, His own godhead.
When we see a painting with a signature on it, we instantly recognize who the artist is. Creation is God's work of art, and He has put His signature on it. He has revealed His wisdom, love, care, and ability in it. Just as an artist needs to get credit for his painting, so God needs to get credit for His creation.
It's a crime to give credit to someone who had nothing to do with it. Yet this is what people are continually doing! They are committing the crime of giving honor to creation instead of to the Creator. They are refusing to acknowledge that He is the artist, the Creator; thus they are refusing to give Him His due honor! Instead of submitting to God, they are accepting the lie. They have lost contact with reality because they put their own thinking above the truth!
The scriptures declare that God has made Himself clearly seen. But how can we see the invisible? How can humanity see God's invisibility, His divine nature or divinity? God showed us His invisible, spiritual nature in His physical creation. The unseen realm is revealed in the things that are made. Humanity has been blinded to what creation teaches. God had a reason and a plan for creating the world the way He did, for He planned a creation which would illustrate His divinity and His invisible attributes.
That is why Jesus could use natural things to illustrate spiritual truth. He could teach from them because He had put these truths into them. For example, He said, "I am the vine and you are the branches." Jesus did not have to look for a good illustration, because God had designed the vine to teach about the relationship He has with His people. He designed His creation to show us His goodness and infinite wisdom!
"For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks..." (v.21) They knew God through His creation! Creation teaches us that an invisible Creator must exist. He must be very wise and all-powerful in order to plan it so wonderfully. This is very clear, but people do not want to believe this because if they acknowledge the existence of God, they become accountable to Him. They would rather create their own gods, for they can manipulate them!
God declares that men do not have any legitimate excuse for being ignorant of the existence of God. In Acts 17 it says that in times past God overlooked this ignorance, but now in the coming of Christ Jesus, all are commanded to repent of their ignorance. None of our excuses hold water, because there are things in creation that God expects us to understand. This knowledge is lost when people do not want truth and therefore suppress it.
"They did not honor Him as God or give thanks..." In the garden of Eden God spoke to Adam, so Adam knew that God existed. Adam dishonored God by disobeying Him - to disobey is to dishonor. He exchanged the truth of God for the lie of Satan. Notice that God did not chide Adam for having made a wrong choice, but for his disobedience. He said, "Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" (Gen. 3:11) We blame everything on wrong choices, when the real problem is disobedience. In our disobedience we suppress the truth, and refuse to worship and serve God! This is also happening today.
Rebellion is the best word to describe that condition of the heart. Rebellion against God comes from a foolish heart. Allowing our natural reasonings and speculations to rule us, brings darkness and foolishness instead of light and wisdom. It exchanges the glory of the invisible, incorruptible God for corruptible four-footed creatures, etc., and brings us into bankruptcy!
Exchanging the truth for a lie is rebellion against the Lord! We cannot see truth while we are in rebellion. Getting rid of truth does not leave a hole or vacuum, for immediately the lie takes its place. The forces or powers of darkness are right there. Suppression of truth makes room for the lie. We cannot reject truth without getting the lie! That is why we need to be led by the Holy Spirit of truth!
A hardened mind does not receive truth because a veil lies over the heart. (2 Cor. 3:14-15) Christ is the only one who can remove the veil. In v.16 it says, "But whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." Notice that we first have to turn to the Lord. We think that the veil has to be taken away so that we can understand the Lord, but it doesn't work that way. Since we have to turn to Him, it means we were turning away from Him; we were in rebellion. Therefore, turning to the Lord requires repentance and submission. This removes the veil, the light begins to shine, and the darkness has to go.
To know God requires humility. We need to recognize that our natural mind cannot understand who He is, and that we have to receive God's revelation of Himself. Pride craves honor for self; it may superficially honor others, but this is done in order to achieve its own ends. Being thankful and honoring God by our obedience brings us into more light. To worship and praise God, and to be thankful in everything is more than lip service - it is an attitude of heart. It acknowledges that God is on the throne and that He is our Lord! Obeying the Holy Spirit takes rebellion out of us.
To know God we have to believe what He says about Himself! He is the Creator of the universe and of the new creation that we are in Christ Jesus! We need to live in the reality that the Creator is Lord over his creation by submitting to Him, obeying Him and receiving His Lordship!
What was the result of disobedience? The light in them turned into darkness and their hearts and minds were darkened. Their reasoning capacity was now based on false premises, and therefore futile. (v.21) It takes us a long time to learn that, doesn't it? It often takes some hard lessons before we learn that our own reasonings end up in futility, and all we have purposed comes to nothing. The wisdom of the natural mind is foolishness.
Exchanging "the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures" has tragic consequences. (v.23) People have come up with the most amazing gods. Horrible looking images are worshiped; saints are worshiped; people are worshiped; creation is worshiped; ideas are worshiped; pleasure is worshiped, self is worshiped - anything except the Lord! Exchanging the truth for the lie brings man under the grossest kind of deceptions.
"Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their heart to impurity..." (v.24) Why? They glorified themselves - their own corruptible selves! Corruptible means that it is subject to decay and in the process of decay. They worshiped their own decayed self and birds and animals! They had all kinds of gods. So God gave them over to impurity. This is stated three times - vv.24,26,28.
The remainder of this chapter describes what happens when God gives people over to their deceptions because they will not receive truth. We need God's intervention in our lives! Those who are dead in their trespasses and sins are unable to make a choice. They need life; they need to be resurrected from their deadness! Their condition can only change when they receive truth - and that is Christ!
The fruit of suppression of truth is deception, sin and death. It is not a curse - it is the obvious result. When light is turned off, the result is darkness. When truth is suppressed, the lie takes over. Impurity follows; minds are darkened; emotions rule and are glorified. This is not a pretty picture!
"...so that their bodies would be dishonored among them." That is taking place today. People's bodies are being dishonored and they are glorying in it. Gays and lesbians glory in their sex orientation; they glory in their shame. Their bodies are being dishonored and their emotions have become degraded and destructive.
"For their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural." (v.26) Unnatural means that it is "against nature". Women used their emotions and bodies against nature. This comes in various forms - promiscuity, exhibitionism, financial gain, and lesbianism. Having sexual desires and relationships with each other is against nature - it's not according to how God designed them. This is the result of suppressing truth!
The same thing is true of men. "The men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another." (v.27) That is an obvious picture of homosexuality. The scriptures do not say that it is an alternate life style. It is the corruption that takes over when truth is suppressed. Because they refused to acknowledge the Lord, they receive in their persons, in their personalities, "the due penalty of their error."
Life styles that are not in accord with truth, will not bring peace and joy. People blame society or whatever for their unhappiness. They do not understand that their suppression of truth is the cause of their bondage, destruction and misery. They have a lot of bitterness and hostility against others and themselves. That is the penalty of a depraved mind.
V.28. "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper." (NASB) A literal translation from the Greek is, "Since they did not approve of having God in their knowledge." This is also true of our school system, isn't it? The knowledge and existence of God is not to be taught to children. Society does not approve of that. It thinks morals are scary. That is an invitation for depravity and every evil thing to take over.
A depraved mind does not approve of having God in its mind. It is depraved because it won't let God be in it. Since they did not want God to be in their minds, the Lord said, "I'll give you over to that kind of a mind which doesn't want God, and you will see and experience the result of that kind of a mind." The results are listed in the next verses.
They consist of doing "those things which are not proper, being filled with unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful." What an inventory! Their mind has become their lord and god!
This is the history and description of the natural man, that old self that we try to satisfy. It's not just a description of the people out there in the world, of slum districts and of heathen people. This is a portrait of human nature - our human nature! It is not any better or any worse in any one of us. It is totally depraved and corrupt! But it is not our nature in Christ!
"And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them." (v.32) What an indictment! They even give their stamp of approval to those who indulge in all these immoral practices. They say, "Go ahead, keep it up." They rejoice in all their iniquity. We can see that because It is being plastered in the headlines and on web sites. This agrees with God's catscan of the human heart!
The good news is "that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." (Rom. 6:6) That old self is the Adamic man - the flesh in which nothing good dwells. (Rom. 7:16) This does not refer to the physical body. Paul knew that he was not capable of doing the good he wanted to do. He knew this by experience and also by revelation. When he wrote this about the depraved mind, etc., his own flesh was not excluded.
The glorious good news of the gospel is that if the Spirit of God dwells in us, we are not in the flesh but in the Spirit. But those who do not have the Spirit of Christ, do not belong to Him. (Rom. 8:9) Jesus had to die to take away the problem - the corrupt Adamic man. He takes us out of that old nature completely, and puts us into Christ! Being born of the Spirit gives us His mind and nature.
Only when we believe that there is nothing good in our human heart, will we see our need of Christ. This is essential, so that we will receive the gospel and walk in it.
God's mercy put law in this world. Laws are a blessing because they hinder people (at least to a certain degree) from yielding to the evil that is in their hearts. Evil needs to be curbed; without laws, we give the enemy the opportunity to destroy us and others.
The flesh cannot serve God! We have probably tried to do that, and found that it didn't work. Our flesh will not honor God and will not give Him thanks. The good news of the gospel is that the old depraved nature was crucified with Christ! In Christ we are freed from it. Praise the Lord!