Scripture taken from the NRSV translation
Now we return to the beginning of Paul’s letter on righteousness, beginning with his theme statement
Romans 1: 16-17
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’
Paul was saying he was not ashamed to preach the gospel anywhere because it was the power of God for salvation. Then Paul gives his theme statement which is referred to in Habakkuk 2:4
4 Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
The righteous live by faith, the righteousness of God. But what does Paul mean by this phrase? It’s meaning in the New Testament comes mostly from the Old Testament Hebrew understanding of the word:
1. It means being declared innocent in a law of court – justified
2. It describes an attribute of God
3. It means God’s faithfulness to His promise.
So salvation is found in the righteousness of God. So Paul says he preaches the gospel because it was the means of revealing God’s righteousness through the faith of men.
Are we a good person?
Luke 18: 18-19
18 A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
19 Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
Here Paul is ready to give us his best explanation of men reaching for heaven, how the righteousness of God is revealed in them. Man is not always good and they are not 100% bad, only God alone is good. So Paul sets about proving that God’s righteousness is revealed through the gospel by pointing out our needs first.
Romans 1: 18-23
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse;
21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools;
23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Paul is now talking about how wrath is revealed, rather than righteousness. Paul isn’t speaking to just one section of society but is speaking to all men, God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness in men. God’s wrath is revealed against them because mankind can generally understand God is evident yet nevertheless reject him. His invisible attributes are visible in the creation itself.
Psalm 19: 1-4
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
We can understand a lot about God by examining what has been made, Paul says in verse 20. A God of power, a God of order not chaos, a God of mercy, a God of purpose, and a God of wrath against rebellion. Not only did God reveal Himself in the creation but to certain men once knew God personally verse 21. That verse further tells us that they knew God, they didn’t honor Him as God or give-thanks, they rebelled, their hearts were darkened.
The second step in rebellion was idolatry.
25 Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him.’
26 To Seth also a son was born, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to invoke the name of the Lord.
Genesis 6: 5-8
5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.
6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
7 So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’
8 But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.
When Noah’s father was alive, Adam was still alive. In other words, the wickedness of earth was great, and yet the first man was still alive on earth. That’s why Paul can say that men knew God.
Now let’s look at what did God do?
Romans 1: 24-32
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves,
25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural,
27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done.
29 They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips,
30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents,
31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
32 They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
Third and final stage of rebellion: impurity. God gave them over to their lust. Looking again at verse 17-18, God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel being received in faith. The negative is also true, God reveals His wrath for unrighteousness by giving men over to their lust. Verse 28, as they disapproved of God in their minds, so He also gave them over to depraved minds. Their minds led them to all manner of greed, envy, murder, strife, and malice. All the sin we see in the world today, all the bad things that mark our world is the result of disobedient men and women.
What conclusion can we make from Paul’s opening?
Romans 2: 1-2
1 Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.
2 You say, ‘We know that God’s judgement on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.’
All men are guilty and we are all under the same sentence of condemnation.