Been reading the Eric Metaxas biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer this week and as I read this passage from Romans, my attention shoots back to Bonhoeffer and his life especially as the Third Reich came to power and his part in the conspiracy against Hitler intensified. The struggles of doing what is good and right in the face of true evil. The inner turmoil that filled the hearts and minds of all involved in the assassination attempts. All of it required human judgment of the evil of Hitler. In the face of evil, it seems almost sinful to take the stance of the modern sentiment, “thou shall not judge.”
Yet we come to the beginning of chapter 2 of Romans where it states, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, everyone of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice such things.” This seems on the surface to back the modern sentiment from above. That the only one who can judge is God. Though, I, wholeheartedly, think this is true, I don’t think it means what postmoderns would claim to be the meaning of judgment. The ESV Study Bible note for this part states: “God does not condemn them merely because they judged others but because they practiced the same sins they condemned in others (the very same things, esp. those mentioned in 1:29-31). All people are without excuse because all, without exception, have sinned against God.” So it seems, at least the ESV translators, that God does not stand for those who judge while doing those very same sins that they are judging others for. The narrowest version of hypocrisy.
However, ultimately, we are all hypocrites because just as soon as we judge, we know that we, too, will be judged by God for our sins, whether they are the same as our brother’s or not. So what does this mean? Don’t judge at all? I don’t think so. If that were the case then we would all be impotent in the face of real evil. Bonhoeffer would have had his hands tied. He couldn’t have judged Hitler for his actions. But he did, and, I too, think it was the will of God that he judge Hitler for his actions. But, as Bonhoeffer constantly showed, it was key to constantly be in repentance and under the divine forgiveness of God so that our wills may be in line with His will, so that we may hate what God hates and love what God loves. However, those who do not constantly seek repentance, are practicing the most hypocritical of all religious activity. They are judging while ignoring their very own judgment before God.
Paul continues by basically addressing the implication of these moralists, do you wish to try and escape the judgment of God or do you intend to presume upon (take for granted) the Lord’s kindness and grace? The reason why obedience so closely follows salvation is because the hugeness and cost of love that is shown to the sinner is so much that it overwhelms us with thankfulness for the gift that has been given. To take that grace and love for granted is to deny the incredible cost of that gift, to, in effect, continue to nail Christ to the cross. All of it is cheap grace if we think we can work our way into salvation or do whatever we want because we are covered by grace after salvation.
God’s action in our lives is always leading us towards repentance like it says in vs. 4. We, too, in our judgment, love, kindness, anger, etc. should model ourselves after God in that we should do nothing unless our response is directing the other towards and repentance and fear of the Lord. If any of our actions betray that result then we are outside the work of God. Oh, how often we do this too!
Verses 6-11 deal with the ultimate judgment of God. Those who seek for “glory and honor and immortality,” or real obedience, to the one true Triune God will be given eternal life in the presence of their King. Those who seek themselves and only what they want will be storing up wrath and fury. We are given an option. Obedience to God and His will, or obedience to ourselves and creation. One leads to a life eternal and one leads to the inevitable works of evil and finally condemnation. Hitler didn’t live in obedience to God and look at his works because of it. Matter of fact, he may have been one of the historical figures that was farthest from the obedience of God, intentionally undoing all goodness and reconciliation. That is why people like Bonhoeffer decided to act in opposition. It was a special grace for Hitler to be taken out at that point, because the fury and wrath of God must have been overbearing for him. That is my mere speculation on the nature of dictators in general.
Paul, once again, places Jews in a prominent spot in the redemptive history, but all who live in obedience to God will have eternal life, because “God shows no partiality.”
Reading this passage, it is hard to imagine how this aspect of the gospel could be any less offensive to Christians as it is to non-Christians. “God” and “wrath” hardly ever appear in the vernacular of contemporary Christianity where we would rather concentrate on the “rainbows and puppy dogs” of the faith and turn a blind eye to the hard, offensive truth of what the gospel tells us about ourselves. We are people “who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” We all deny God in our deeds, actions and worship, but once the gift of grace and regeneration has been given to us by God through the work of Christ and we have the indwelling Spirit, then we are given the power to deny, nay, mortify, the flesh. The non-Christians, according to Scripture, outside of grace are given over to their idols which are directed toward the creation instead of the Creator. God gives us over to that which we replace Him with, namely our idol(s) of choice. The natural consequence of that being condemnation under the nature of the Law.
Now, literally, who in the world wants to hear that? I sure don’t. I would love to think that I am set on a path of personal progress, that with the right mindset, the right lists, the right friends, the right job, the right wife, the right kids, etc. I can give meaning to my own life and ultimately save myself. I would love to think that what I find to be the desires of my heart and mind are the proper and true desires that I should have. And then along comes Romans and says, “You fool.” It comes along and tells me a hard truth and it forces me to confront myself. It states that we are “filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” If what the Bible tells me is true then repentance is the only proper response and grace is able to give me an assurance of my salvation apart from my own deeds. If non-Christians view what it says in Romans 1:18-32 as false and non-truth then no matter how certain they may be, there will always be that “what if” in the back of their mind. What if it is true? What if I die without acknowledging this truth and the mighty God that it declares? What then? They will be given completely over to what they truly worship, themselves.
Christians are not free from this behavior either. We reject and replace God daily. But we have the assurance of grace, that Christ’s atonement was sufficient to make null the penalties that my sins, past, present, and future, have accrued. We have the assurance that we are forgiven for our sins and that it was nothing but a loving gift of God, because no one deserves to be brought out from under the condemnation of the Law. We deserve to die the death of a sinner who rejected God.
The other thing I think is absolutely essential about this passage is that it addresses both actions and desires. If we desire some evil, but don’t give in to it, we are still just as guilty as if we had done it. Verses 26-27, though dealing exclusively with human sexuality, deals with both actions and desires. If both did not bring guilt upon us then there would be no reason to even mention that they were “consumed with passion for one another” and then go on to say directly afterwards that they were “committing shameless acts with men.” If all that was in view here was actions alone then this would be mere useless repetition, but Paul is never pointlessly repetitious. They are consumed by passion and they act. Both are equally deserving of guilt.
And against all of this ungodliness and unrighteousness, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” Christ, in his work on the cross and subsequent resurrection, took upon himself the wrath of God, the righteous anger of a loving God who sees His creatures destroying themselves and destroying his creation and must act according to his holiness and righteousness. This is the God worthy of worship. The thing about Romans is that it puts all of the cards on the table, it shakes the unrepentant sleeper. It does not allow anyone to come to it with a nonchalant attitude of picking and choosing what we keep and what we throw away. It demands a verdict from whoever reads it. Either we are as it says and are destined to death and condemnation or we can deny its description and go on our way with our self-salvation projects, even though there is a lengthy (since the beginning of humanity) history of people who failed to save themselves and had nothing to show for themselves at the end of their lives except emptiness and material possessions. Even Sartre and Camus understood the revolution of Christ’s work, but they chose to deny its truth. At least they were honest with themselves and said that they would rather serve themselves than God. This passage deserves a verdict and the rest of your life will be affected by whichever way to decide..
For I am not ashamed of the gospel,…
This has been such a failure in my own life. Being courageous in sharing the transforming, identity-altering news of the gospel. There are real concerns for me about sharing the gospel with people, chief among them being that I do not want to add any offense to a gospel that is already offensive to the non-believer. I am too worried that I will present my own distorted view of the gospel, which is no gospel at all (according to Paul in Galatians). However, I shouldn’t allow this fear to make me impotent in expressing the power of the Word of God and the Spirit that can work in the hearts of those who hear. Lord, give me the courage, strength and wisdom to confront evil and preach your good news to those who don’t know you.
…for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
The historical prominence of the Jewish people is shown here in Paul’s expression of saving grace. They were the original people of God, but once Christ came, the full scope of salvation was revealed to include Gentiles (everyone else, in other words) as well. This was always in the scope of redemptive history but the Israelites never could look beyond the law to see what it was ultimately pointing to. Instead, their laws and guidelines abound and legalism took over to where none outside the covenant were considered worthy of salvation, if even as human.
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
It was written in Habakkuk 2:4, “…but the righteous shall live by his faith.” This was spoken to Babylon, and maybe specifically to the king of Babylon, as a warning that those who have pride rely on themselves, but those who are righteous will have faith, or a constant trust of God’s will and promises. Habakkuk’s word here was to encourage those who were the faithful that it would, indeed, take faith to wait for the plan of God to unfold, but that it was certain. Placed within the context of Romans 1, however, it shows the importance and the all-encompassing aspects of faith for the believer. Not only is it by faith through grace that we are saved, but it is also by faith through grace that we live the Christian life day to day, hence the phrase “from faith for faith.” The gospel reveals the righteousness of God which produces the seed of faith within those who hear its word and repent.
The simple fact that we are assisting in the ushering in of people unto the beauty and kingdom of God should be reason enough to proclaim the good news from the edges of the earth for His glory and so that all people shall be known by Him.
Paul here is pouring out his heart to his brothers and sisters in Rome and expressing his deep desire to come and be in fellowship and be encouraged by them and they by him. As I read vs. 11-12, I thought about the nature of Christian faith and the strength that comes from the encouragement of other brothers and sisters faith. I think a central problem in this day and age is the disunity found in the church, some divisions being made from legitimate issues and others by rather ridiculous squabbles. What does unity look like for the church in a pluralistic culture, a pluralism that finds itself deeply embedded in the culture of the church, especially in America? I am reformed theologically, but I have friends from just about every denomination of Christianity that can be found. There are several areas that we don’t agree on, but the central tenets, the “mere Christianity,” is still present. Christ is still central. That is not to downplay some serious doctrinal differences, but at what point do we become strengthened by the faith of other Christians who may or may not be in the same theological or church community as we are?
I think back to George Whitefield and Charles Wesley. You could not have found to more opposing perspectives, theologically, than these two. They were the quintessential faces of Calvinism and Arminianism. However, when Wesley died, Whitefield is famously known for what he said about the death of his friend and theological opponent. He said, in no uncertain terms, that he expected to find Wesley at the front of the line in Heaven. And these to had seriously differing views and hardly ever agreed! Whitefield’s, and what I can only suppose was Wesley’s, as well, humility was shown toward those whom disagreed with him. Their faith was encouraging and strengthening to him. Does this mean giving up ground on those doctrines that we hold so dear? By no means, but instead to hold them strongly with a humble spirit and with love for our brothers and sisters who may or may not agree with us and to look to Scripture as our only standard of comparison and not to each other. This is unity with its object in the Word of God, not in purely “being right.”
Another thing that struck me about this passage was v. 15 where Paul talks about preaching the gospel to his brothers and sisters in Rome. Why would he need to preach the gospel to those who already believed? This is where the true brilliance of Paul shows in that his view of the gospel was not so narrow as to only include the justification of sinners, but also the work of the Spirit in the sanctification of sinners toward their glorification. We ALL need the gospel, every day, every minute of our lives. It would do us good to read the gospel story everyday of our lives. Just because we are saved by the grace of God does not mean that we are perfect, but that the recognition of God’s continual work in our lives and the remembrance of what Christ did on the cross and the recognition of the righteousness he gave to us on his resurrection should prod us along in our Christian life. The race is on a certain path, but it is not won yet.
A community of believers is just another aspect of the grace that God shows us. That we can be strengthened and encouraged by fellow brothers and sisters in Christ during our race is something that Paul recognized in this passage and something that we, even in this day and age of social networking and fewer barriers, should take note of. This is not just surface acquaintance but deep sharing and growing together in the body of Christ.