We begin the book of Romans today, starting with chapter 1.
Paul, author of this letter to the Romans, provided his credentials so they would know specifically who it was that was writing to them. He began by identifying himself a servant of Jesus Christ. Then he said that he had been called by God to be an apostle – one who was sent – to share the good news of salvation to everyone. He reminded them that the Messiah was promised in the Holy Scriptures through the prophets, naming Jesus as both a descendant of David and as Son of God through the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead offered grace for salvation to all who believed. Paul was also set apart to be a missionary to the Gentiles, who were loved by God and now called His holy people. He then blessed them with this greeting, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul was concerned for the church in Rome, and wanted them to know it. He offered his blessing to them at the onset of his writing, to let them see his care for them, which would compel them to take to heart what he was writing about. Establishing our credibility before we say hard things is a good way to validate our message. When someone knows who we are and the authority by which we speak, they will listen with open ears because they know we are speaking from a place of knowledge, experience and truth. Paul wanted to establish himself upfront, so that the Roman churches would see his words were believable and his motive was love and care for them.
Verse 8 must have been a great encouragement to these young churches. Paul thanked God for them, and reported that he had heard about their great faith, for it had been talked about all over the world. Is anyone talking about the great faith of our churches today? This is something to think about, as we face lower attendance and lagging devotion to our local church bodies.
Paul prayed for these churches, and wanted them to know that he wanted to come and see them for himself. His purpose in visiting them was to help them grow, by strengthening them with his spiritual gifts and so they could mutually bolster one another’s faith in the love of Christ. Leadership is lonely, and Paul needed others to pray for him and spur him on as much as anyone else. We can let our leaders know we appreciate them and pray for them on a regular basis. A quick note or email can brighten the day for a weary saint on the front lines of ministry.
Paul reiterated his desire to visit them, and let them know he had been prevented from coming to them up to that time. His mission was first to the Jew, and then the Gentile. He was to talk to both the wise and to the foolish. He was eager to preach to those in Rome now, and was not ashamed of the Gospel message. This letter told this message over and over again. In the Gospel, the righteousness of God was revealed, by faith, and this was his encouragement to them on how to live. Paul felt an obligation to all men, just as we need to feel a burden for the whole world. Paul was under orders from the Lord, and he would not be free from his debt until he had told as many people as possible the good news of salvation in Christ. Paul had confidence in his message, and nothing was going to stop him from doing what God asked of him. What stops us from bring the good news to those we encounter each day? Where does our confidence come from, and if we feel unsure, what does that say about our faith? Like Paul, we can boldly declare our beliefs, and be assured that God is with us and will walk beside us as we take His message to all the world.
The last section of this first chapter contrasted the righteousness of God with the unrighteousness of humankind. Until we know and recognize ourselves as sinners, we cannot appreciate the gracious salvation God offers in Jesus Christ. In this denouncement of human behavior, Paul paints an ugly picture. He stated that the wrath of God was and is being revealed against the godless and wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. He pointed out that God had made Himself very plain to us through His creation, and if we clearly saw this, and understood His eternal power and divine nature in evidence all around us, we were without excuse for our unbelief and bad behavior. All of us are sinful people, and that is a fact. Those who don’t believe in God turn from His wisdom to foolish thinking and give in to the sinful desires and temptations from their darkened hearts. We don’t like these kinds of conversations, pointing out our flaws, because we all think we are doing ok, and selfishly try to justify our behaviors. We like our sin and enjoy ourselves to the point of believing the lie that we aren’t hurting anyone by our actions. We do not thank God for what He has done for us, or give Him the glory He deserves. We are too busy seeking glory and pleasure for ourselves. We worship money, success, and the pursuit of happiness instead of the God of the Universe. We indulge in idolatry, and then move to immorality, and think that if man is his own god, there can be no fear of judgment. Satan used this lie to tempt Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.
Because of their sin, “God gave them up” meaning He permitted them to go their own way and they would eventually reap the consequences of their bad behavior. Paul named twenty-four specific sins of that day, and we still see these same sins at work in our present world. People commit these atrocious acts in open defiance of God, and encourage and applaud others who do the same things. Those who were raised in the church and were taught about God have left in our congregations in large numbers today. Our technology lures people to all the different philosophies and intellectual real estate that is available on this planet. When we are not grounded in our faith, spending time with God in prayer and growing in our knowledge and understanding of His Word, then we are easily swayed and drawn away by the father of lies. We are given free will to make choices – either for or against God, and Paul wants us to know, just as he shared with his Roman audience, that God’s wrath is real, and our righteousness comes only by faith. Will we ever be fully without sin. Not in this world. But we are promised forgiveness and hope for eternal life through Jesus, and our obedience to Him will reap His rewards and blessings.