THE POWER OF GOD Romans 1
“I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16).The power of God is displayed in those who believe. And the need for God’s power in those who do not.
Paul greeted his Roman readers (1:1–7), and shared his longing to see them (vv. 8–13). He shared too his sense of obligation to bring to all a Gospel that revealed God’s righteousness even as it brought salvation (vv. 14–17). Paul then began his exposition: all mankind is wicked, and under God’s wrath (vv. 15–32).
Understanding the Text
“Set apart for the Gospel of God” Rom. 1:1–2. Paul first of all identified himself as a “servant” of Jesus Christ. The Greek word is doulos, and means a bondslave. Paul also identified himself as an apostle, a role that placed him at the top of the early church’s hierarchy. But in Paul’s thinking, being a slave of Jesus was a far greater honor than the high office he filled. What an antidote to any jealousy that may appear among us today. What does it matter if I or someone else has a high church or secular office? The greatest honor you or I can have is to be a bondslave of Jesus Christ, and to serve Him with all our hearts. “Regarding His Son” Rom. 1:3–5. In the ancient world a slave’s status was determined not just by his position in a household, but by whose slave he was. Paul was proud to serve Jesus, because no greater master can be conceived of. Just think who Jesus is. He is the fulfillment of the prophets’ dreams, the subject of Old Testament revelation (v. 2). In His humanity He is royalty; a Descendant of David (v. 3). At the same time He is the Son of God (v. 4), and was so declared by His resurrection from the dead (v. 4). He is the ever-living source of grace, the Lord who called Paul to his apostleship (v. 5). In short, Jesus Christ is the focus of God’s eternal plan, the heart and center of the believer’s life. Compare this with some of the masters men choose to serve. Some are slaves of drink or drugs. Some are slaves of their passion for political power. Some are slaves of a passion for wealth. Some are slaves of sex. Some sell themselves for popularity. As Paul points out later, each of us is the slave of whatever we choose to serve in life. How wise then to choose to be slaves of Jesus Christ, the highest position to which we can aspire. How foolish to serve a lesser master. “Who are loved by God and called to be saints” Rom. 1:7. Paul knew that we believers have other identities besides that of being slaves of Jesus Christ. He mentioned two here. We are God’s loved ones. And we are His saints. The word “saints” (hagiois) means “holy ones.” The core meaning of “holy” is “set aside or apart for God.” In the New Testament “saints” frequently has the ordinary meaning of “Christian” or “believer.” But its significance is far from ordinary. God has set you and me apart as His precious possessions. He has chosen us, and marked us as His own. If we understand how precious we are to the Lord and how greatly we are loved, the “grace and peace” Paul wished for the Romans will surely be ours. “I thank my God . . . for all of you” Rom. 1:8–10. One of the most impressive features of Paul’s letters was his frequent affirmation that he prayed “constantly” for others. When Paul wrote this letter he had never been to Rome. He did know several individuals who were part of the Roman church (cf. Rom. 16). But most he had only heard of. Yet Paul was excited about them, and he cared enough to “remember you in my prayers at all times.” I confess that one of my own needs is for a greater involvement in prayer for others. I pray for folks when I think of them. But I don’t think of them often enough. Paul’s vision for others was worldwide. We need to maintain that worldwide vision too. “That you and I may be mutually encouraged” Rom. 1:11–13. Paul’s humble attitude is a model for modern ministry. All too often the person who is called and trained for “full-time Christian service” goes out, assuming that he or she will give out—and that others will passively receive. After all, the professional has the knowledge and the training in such esoteric skills as public speaking and counseling. Or at least that’s what many assume. The problem with this view is that God’s Holy Spirit resides in every believer. Each of us has some spiritual gift that enables us to contribute to others. Ministry is a mutual, not a professional, undertaking. No one is simply a “giver.” Each of us gives to others, and receives from others. Only the full-time minister with this attitude toward ministry will build a strong church or mission. See how sensitively Paul approached the Romans. He yearned to be with them to “impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.” He wanted to use his spiritual gifts to help them. But the exercise of his gift would not be one-way, him to them. He expected to receive as well as give. He sought a mutual relationship which would enable each to be encouraged by the other’s faith. How we need this perspective in our own ministry to others. And in Christ’s superstar-studded church. “I am obligated” Rom. 1:14–15. I was once challenged as to why I shared the Gospel with some non-Christian friends. “Why do you try to impose your faith on us?” was the rather hostile question. I answered by asking another question. “If you were out on the highway on a stormy night, and discovered that a bridge across a deep ravine had been washed away, would you stand there with a flashlight and try to warn oncoming traffic, or not?” Paul had a deep sense of obligation that grew out of his awareness that both Jew and Greek, apart from Jesus Christ, rushed headlong toward eternal disaster. The Christian doesn’t try to “impose his faith” on others. The Christian warns others that the bridge has been washed away, in an honest effort to save them from disaster. “It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” Rom. 1:16. I’ve heard the Gospel referred to as the “dynamite” of God. But the analogy really doesn’t work, or reflect the concept of this text. A better analogy is to an appliance with an electric cord. Push your vacuum as hard as you can, and if it’s not plugged in, it won’t pick up dirt. Or stir egg whites with your electric mixer, and if it’s not plugged in, no meringue. In the same way, work at saving yourself as hard as you want. But if you are not plugged into God’s source of power for salvation, nothing will be gained. The Gospel plugs us into the one and only source of salvation power. If you and I are plugged into Jesus, the power of God will save us for sure. Martin Luther and John Wesley, two of church history’s towering figures, came to Christ through Romans 1:17. Through this verse each realized that God’s righteousness is obtained by faith, not by human effort or merit. Through their influence millions have claimed God’s righteousness, and made it their own “by faith from first to last.” “The wrath of God is being revealed” Rom. 1:18. In the ancient world the familiar phrase, the “wrath of God,” indicated God’s indignant response to human impiety or transgression. In other New Testament passages God’s wrath is His righteous and necessary response to sinners, expressed in His condemnation of their acts. Here the emphasis is on moral corruption in society as the operation of a present divine judgment on sin. We need look no farther than today’s movies and newspapers to see what Paul meant. In our area the owner of a little restaurant was beaten and killed by a neighbor who stole frozen food. Just a few days before the owner had given the killer food for his hungry baby. In St. Petersburg a federal judge was arrested for drug use and committing sex acts with teenagers. The police found videos he had made. Every day seems to bring at least one story of child sexual or physical abuse. And every day TV or the movies advertise another feature glorifying sex and violence. With no anchor of commitment to God and His laws, society becomes more and more corrupt. The media’s “right” to corrupt and show corruption leads inexorably to the further breakdown of society. And no one understands what is happening or why. What is happening is just what Paul described. A society which has turned its back on God is seeing “the wrath of God . . . being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men.” “What may be known about God is plain to them” Rom. 1:18–20. Paul’s point is that the universe is like a radio station, which from creation has sent out its message about God. What’s more, God created human beings with a built-in radio receiver! We human beings actually hear the message. Only by “suppress[ing] the truth”—turning down our built-in radio till the message is only whisper loud—can man avoid the obvious truth that God exists, and that He is greater than the things He has made. No human being ever born has been without a witness to the truth of God. The only explanation for man’s failure to turn to God is sin (see DEVOTIONAL). “God gave them over . . . to sexual impurity” Rom. 1:18–32. Commentators debate whether Paul was giving us a historical or psychological profile of our race. Yet the pattern is clear. Those who abandon God turn to false objects of worship and their society becomes more and more corrupt morally. In time, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32). It’s significant that Paul devotes two of the eight verses describing moral corruption to homosexuality. Our society’s present drive to validate homosexual behavior as an acceptable “alternate lifestyle” places modern America squarely in Romans 1:32.
Holding Hands(Rom. 1:18–32)
I must admit that I grinned Monday night as I watched my youngest son coming up the walk toward Capio’s restaurant. He was holding hands with Liz, a 3rd-grade teacher he met at his church’s youth group. Not that Tim’s all that young. The occasion was his 27th birthday. It was just nice to see him, good-looking but very shy, walking hand-in-hand with an attractive and very nice girl. Actually, holding hands is a pretty good image of the response God wants when He reveals Himself to us. When we catch a glimpse of God, we should be attracted to Him, and reach out. In Paul’s words we should automatically find ourselves glorifying Him as God and being thankful. But Romans 1 describes a totally different reaction. Instead of reaching for God’s hand, as Tim did for Liz’s, mankind reacted as if God were a hot iron. When brushing up against God, the natural man jerks away! Again in Paul’s words, they supressed the truth. And rather than turn to God, they turned away, so that “their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21). What followed the rejection of God was idolatry, immorality, and wickedness of every kind. Why does Paul launch his exploration of righteousness with this description of our race? For a very simple but important reason. He doesn’t want anyone to think man lacks righteousness because God has been holding out on us, or even because of the wicked deeds men do. Mankind lacks righteousness because all men are sinners by nature. And the proof is that when God revealed Himself to man, man jerked his hand away. Tim and Liz reach out naturally for each other’s hand. They feel an affinity, a warmth of affection. Man’s rejection of a loving and righteous God is unmistakable proof that human beings are lost and in sin. If they felt any affinity with God, they would respond to Him with warmth. Only the power of God flowing through the Gospel can change man’s heart, and enable us to respond to God’s great love.
Reach out your heart’s hand to God today.
“By nature I was too blind to know Him, too proud to trust Him, too obstinate to serve Him, too base-minded to love Him.”—John Newton