Romans 1 – 4
1:18 – 3:20It is important to look at these verses in context. I have known for a long time that the Romans 1 chapter was the “homosexuality” chapter, and many point to this as the confirmation that God sees this as sin even in the New Testament. But I noticed a few insights today:
- God gave them over to their wickedness. The phrase “God gave” is in vs. 24, 26, and 28. God is still in sovereign control here, but this is also a great picture of the free will He has given us: the will to choose Him or not (whether we have knowledge of Him or not—vs. 21).
- That said, the point of Paul’s introduction was not to condemn those practicing sexual immorality (among other sins). They are not his audience. His audience is born-again believers in Rome, primarily Jews.
- So, Paul begins by painting the worst picture of sin (sexual immorality) (Ch. 1) only to bring to light that the Jews are as guilty as the Gentiles (Ch. 2). He is setting the scene for Ch. 3—that all fall short of the glory of God.
- The statement “There is no partiality with God” (2:11) becomes key here. Both that Jews and Gentiles are equal, but also that the sins of each group—those who do not know the law and break it, and those who know the law and break it—are likewise equally judged by a just God.
- And finally, to set up the fullness of the impact of Chapter 3, Paul again raises the point both that God is not partial and that their Jewish traditions were not what would save them or exempt them from judgment. We already know they have broken the law, but then Paul goes one step further—now their circumcision likewise will not save them.
In other words, the message for Chapter 1 and 2, for Jews and Gentiles, for circumcised and uncircumcised, is that all are equally condemned under the law. In short, all have failed—all are under sin.
The law provides knowledge of sin (3:20). But the law does not provide righteousness.
3:21 – 4:25Only God is righteous, apart from the law. And through faith, His righteousness is revealed to those who believe. Paul notes, “There is no difference” (3:22).
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23)!
Here is the key, though, to the Jews who think they have followed the law (but are equally guilty):
- God sent His son to justify us to demonstrate His righteousness, to show the gap that had existed all this time (v. 25-26).
- In the past, God had passed over the sins that were committed, in his forbearance (v. 25). This word suggests not just His patience or His longsuffering, but also His tolerance. And even if we think of the picture that the first Passover creates whereby the Jews put blood over their doorposts so the Angel of Death would pass over—even then, this is a picture of tolerance, of excused sins. This is not justification; this is not an impartation of righteousness.
- In the present, now, God sent His son to justify and redeem our sins to demonstrate His righteousness, “that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26).
These words are so contrary to what the Jews likely knew and believed. Paul is telling them that even though they have the law, even though they are circumcised, they are guilty under the law. They are not righteous; they are not justified on judgment day.
And if they think they were or are righteous under the law, they are wrong. They have fallen short—and all this time in the past, God was merely tolerant to “pass over” their sins and unrighteousness—as God’s chosen people.
But Paul’s words are not to condemn but to speak truth that only through faith in Jesus can we be justified; only then is God’s righteousness revealed; only then do we receive His righteousness through faith.
His righteousness must be through faith because if it were not, not only would we be in the past phase where God was merely tolerant of our sins (and passed over them) according to our obedience to the law, but also it would mean righteousness comes through the law and thus, through works.
Abraham’s faith was accounted to Him as righteous (Ch. 4) not because of his works or the law—but because of his faith to believe in the unseen, to believe in the promise of God, to believe despite his circumstances that God would do what He said He would do (4:18-22).
God’s promise to Abraham was through the righteousness of faith, not the law, because again, if our heir-ship is of the law, then “faith is made void and the promise has no effect” (4:14).
So—again—the law provides knowledge of sin, but the law does not impart righteousness.
How then could we be made righteous? Only by faith are we made righteous; only by faith are we justified.
Paul’s purpose in Chapters 1 – 4 is not to condemn but to make the Jews (and Gentiles) understand that their righteousness is only through faith, not the law, not circumcision. I believe God wanted to humble them, which is why Romans begins by recognizing the sins of the people in that particular culture and that particular time—so that they might know apart from faith in Jesus, they are not justified; they are not righteous; and as such, they, too, are as guilty as those they judge.
For the Church today, we live in a culture and among a people where sin is rampant. And like the Jews Paul addresses, we seem to judge those sins as if we were sin-less. We, too, seem to forget that under the law—which provides knowledge of sin—we, too, are guilty, we who think we are righteous, according to the law.
And in our judgment, we have forgotten that all fall short; our justification, our righteousness is only through faith. It is not through the law, it is not according to our deeds, it is not by works.
How then can we boast? In what can we be proud? From what of ourselves do we have the right to judge if we, too, are guilty under the same law?
It is “the goodness of God that leads us to repentance” (2:4)—in other words, it is the revelation of all that He’s done despite all that we deserve (His mercy that doesn't punish us for what we deserve; His grace that offers us what we don’t deserve). Let us, in our humility, remember this, lest we boast or pridefully believe ourselves to be better than they who have not yet received the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ, our redeemer in whom alone we are justified.