1 The word apostle is the title given to “one who is sent” by Christ especially to preach the GOSPEL and to plant churches. The title was first given to Jesus’ original twelve disciples (Mark 3:13-19). Later on Paul3 also, after meeting the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, was appointed by Christ to be an apostle (Acts 9:3-16; 26:15-18). Therefore, by calling himself an apostle right in the beginning of his letter, Paul is reminding the Romans (and all readers) that he is writing with the full authority of Christ. Paul was a true apostle appointed directly by Jesus Himself (see Galatians 1:1).
The gospel of God is the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, which Paul explains during the course of this letter to the Romans.
Paul here calls himself a servant of Christ Jesus. A servant does not live for himself, but for his master. This is how Paul lived his life, and it is the way all Christians should live theirs. In Paul’s day a servant was bought by his master; his master owned him. The servant’s life was not his own, but belonged to his master. In the same way, we believers have been bought by Jesus, and the price He paid for us was His own blood (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and comment).
2 The Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is foretold in the Holy Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament. (The New Testament, of course, was not yet completed when Paul wrote this letter.) The Old Testament prophets wrote many prophecies about the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ. That is why Paul says here that the Gospel of Christ was promised beforehand by God.
3-4 Who is Jesus Christ? There is no more important question a person can ask than this. Was He a man, or was He God? In these two verses Paul gives us the answer to this crucial question: Jesus was both fully man and fully God. As to His human nature, Jesus was descended from Israel’s famous King DAVID (verse 3); as to His spiritual nature, Jesus was the Son of God, born directly of God’s HOLY SPIRIT (verse 4). Jesus was born of a human mother, but His father was the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 1:18-21 and comment; General Article: Jesus Christ).
Christ gave proof that He was the Son of God by His RESURRECTION from the dead. No ordinary man can rise from the dead by himself. Paul knew with certainty that Christ had risen from the dead because he himself had met Him! (see Romans: Introduction).
5 Here Paul describes how he was appointed by Christ to be an apostle in order to call people from among all the Gentiles4 to the obedience that comes from faith. To do this work Paul received grace and apostleship—that is, Christ’s strength and authority. In the Bible the word grace usually means the free mercy of God shown to undeserving and sinful men (see verse 7). But here in this verse the word “grace” has a different meaning; here it means the strength given by God to do a special work (see Romans 15:15-16; Ephesians 3:7).
Notice that Paul’s purpose is not only to bring people to faith, but also to call them to the obedience that comes from faith. Faith must always give rise to obedience, or it is not true faith (see James 2:17 and comment). It is not enough only to bring people to Christ; they must also be made into obedient disciples.
6-7 Paul writes this letter to all in ROME who are loved by God (verse 7)—that is, to all the Christians in Rome. God loves all men and women, but He especially loves those who have become His children through faith in Christ (see 1 Timothy 4:9-10 and comment).
All Christians are called to be SAINTS, that is, they are called to lead a holy life. True Christians are “holy” in God’s eyes, not through their own merit but through faith in Christ, who died on the cross to take away their sins (see Philippians 1:1).
In the greetings of most of his letters, Paul expresses the wish that his readers might experience the “grace” and “peace” of God. GRACE is the freely given favor, love, and mercy of God, which we sinful men do not deserve and cannot earn. Through grace we then obtain PEACE, or reconciliation, with God and with each other. These two great gifts, grace and peace, are always given to us from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father and Jesus Christ (and the Holy Spirit) always do all things together, because they are one God.
Paul here calls Jesus the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is a man’s name, because Jesus was a man. Christ is the name of the Savior of the world, and it means “anointed one” (Psalm 2:2; Acts 4:26). Jesus’ third name is Lord, which in the Greek5 language means “God” (see James 1:1 and comment).
Paul’s Longing to Visit Rome (1:8-15)
8 In Paul’s time, Rome was the most important city in the Western world; it was the capital of the Roman Empire. Therefore, people from all over the world were constantly coming to Rome for one reason or another. Because of this, any news concerning the Roman Christians would naturally spread far and wide. Thus Paul could truthfully say that their faith was being reported all over the world. In the same way, the Gospel itself was spreading throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, the number of Christians was growing so rapidly that, in reaction, the Romans had begun to persecute them with increasing severity.6
Therefore, Paul is thankful because the Roman believers have stood firm in their faith in spite of such terrible persecution. Notice how Paul praises and values the Christians of Rome. Let us also, taking Paul’s example, always consider all of our fellow Christians important and valuable, because so they are in the eyes of God. Therefore, instead of complaining about each other, let us, like Paul, gives thanks to God for each other.
9-10 At the time Paul wrote this letter, he had not yet been to Rome. But even though he had never met the Roman Christians, Paul cared for them and had been praying faithfully for them.
11-13 Paul wanted to go to Rome in order to impart to the Roman believers some spiritual gift to make [them] strong (verse 11). It is not enough only to preach; it is not enough only to plant churches. It is also necessary to make [the believers] strong. If they are not strong, how will they be able to withstand trouble and persecution? That’s why Paul’s work of establishing churches was usually so successful: his constant desire was to strengthen the believers wherever he went (see Acts 14:21-22).
Paul writes that he hopes to have a harvest among the Romans (verse 13); that is, he hopes to find in Rome many Christians who are being strengthened in their faith. Paul also hopes that new Romans converts will result from his visit.
14-15 Here Paul says he is obligated to both Greeks and non-Greeks and to both the wise and the foolish (verse 14). In what way was Paul obligated? He was obligated to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to all people—especially to the Gentiles. Paul had been appointed to preach the Gospel and had received grace to do so; therefore, just as a debtor is obligated to return the money he owes, so Paul was obligated to fulfill his duty both to God and to those who had not yet heard the Gospel.
In the same way, we too are obligated to God because of the grace, mercy, and love He has shown to us who believe. To the extent we have been blessed by God, to that extent we are obligated to Him.
If we who have received salvation do not tell the good news of salvation to others, we will be like a man who borrows money but then refuses to pay it back. God is not pleased with such aman (Psalm 37:21). That is why Paul wrote elsewhere: I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16).
The Greeks were the residents of Greece, an important country of south-eastern Europe located on the Mediterranean Sea between Italy and Turkey. In Paul’s time, the Greeks were the most civilized and cultured people in the Western world—even more so than the Romans. Therefore, by the expression Greeks and non-Greeks,7 Paul means “civilized people and uncivilized people.”
In Rome there were many kinds of Christians: Jewish Christians, Gentile Christians, Greeks, non-Greeks, wise, and foolish. The Gospel of Christ is for all people—whether high or low, educated or uneducated, rich or poor; our outward condition makes no difference to God (see Gal-atians 3:28 and comment).
The Power of the Gospel (1:16-17)
16 The gospel is no ordinary news; it is the power of God for … SALVATION. The Gospel is contained in the Bible, which is God’s word. The Bible, therefore, is no ordinary book; it is God’s powerful word. The person who reads it and believes it will receive salvation together with the power to live eternally. And to live eternally one needs eternal power!
To receive this power we must believe in Christ. This power for salvation is given to everyone who believes—whether Greek or non-Greek, wise or foolish (verse 14). However, the Gospel was proclaimed first to the Jew. The Jews were God’s specially chosen people; from the beginning they worshiped the one true God. In the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament) there were many prophecies written about the coming of Christ, the Savior. Therefore, when Jesus came, being Himself a Jew, He first preached the Gospel to His own nation, the Jews.
However, most of the Jews rejected Jesus; and in the end they had Him put to death on a cross.8 Therefore, God appointed preachers like Paul to go and preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, that is, to all the other people in the world. That’s why Paul says here that the Gospel was first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
Paul was not ashamed to preach the Gospel. In Paul’s time, to be a Christian was difficult. Christians were despised and persecuted. Christ Himselfhad been hung on a cross as a criminal. In the beginning, most Christians belonged to the poorer classes. Many were slaves; many others were in trouble of one kind or another. In the eyes of the world, to be a Christian was a shameful thing.
But Paul was not ashamed, nor were the Roman Christians ashamed—even under the most severe persecution. Why should they be ashamed? They had received the power of God for … salvation.
Are we ashamed of the Gospel of Christ? Are we afraid of what men will say and do to us? Do we hide our faith? Why should we? The Gospel is the power of God, the power to live eternally. But if we hide our faith and deny the Gospel, that power, that eternal life, will go out like a candle (see Matthew 10:32-33 and comment).
17 God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS has been revealed in His Son Jesus. Jesus never sinned; He was in every way pure and righteous (Hebrews 4:15).
We too, by FAITH, can share in that righteousness. There is no righteousness naturally in us (Romans 3:10-12); but through faith we can obtain the righteousness of God (of Christ). If we do not obtain that righteousness, God, being righteous Himself, cannot accept us (see Hebrews 12:14 and comment). Without having obtained that righteousness through faith in Christ, we cannot be saved. That’s why the Gospel is so important: It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; because when we believe it, we are considered righteous by God and are accepted into His kingdom.
The righteousness of God is not given to us only so that we might obtain salvation; it is also given that we might daily lead righteous lives here on earth. We must lead righteous lives by faith. That is, having become followers of Christ through faith, we must now live like Christ through faith. Faith is essential, not only at the beginning of our Christian lives but every day thereafter. To confirm this, Paul quotes from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk: “The righteous will live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
God’s Wrath Against Mankind (1:18-32)
18 Just as the righteousness of God has been revealed in the Gospel of Christ, so also is God’s wrath against all godlessness and wickedness of men revealed clearly to all men. The first and greatest sin of all is godlessness, that is, a refusal to acknowledge and worship the one true God. “Godlessness” is putting man in first place instead of God. It is trusting in man, in oneself, rather than in God. All the sin and unrighteousness of man springs from this one source: namely, godlessness—that is, the refusal to believe in God (see verses 29-31).
19-20 God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly revealed through the things that He has created. All men can see these qualities of God. With their own eyes they can see the mountains, the stars. Who made all these things? Without God, how could all these things have been created? Only God could have done this (Psalm 19:1-4). Yet men suppress the truth by their wickedness (verse 18), and deny the existence of God. For this reason men are without excuse (verse 20).
21 For although they knew God, men rejected Him. All men, even though they deny God, have some natural knowledge that He exists. All men have the knowledge that if there is a creation, there has to be a creator. But that knowledge has been suppressed; men’s hearts have been hardened and their understanding has been darkened (see Ephesians 4:17-18). Men prefer to deny God, because then they can do what they please.
22-23 Therefore, instead of worshiping God, men worship idols. Men worship the creation instead of the Creator. Some men even worship stones. Such is the wisdom of the world!
Yet men of the world consider themselves wise! They call the Gospel of Christ foolishness. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: For the message of the cross (that is, the Gospel of Christ) is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-21 and comment).
24 Therefore, what did God do to these ungodly men? He gave them over. In other words, He left them alone; He let them remain in their sins (see Ephesians 4:19). God let them fulfill the sinful desires of their hearts.
Three times Paul writes: God gave them over (verses 24,26,28). From our own experience we know that small sins give rise to big sins, and that soon these turn into ever bigger and bigger sins. The more we sin, the farther we get from God. And when, through sin, we draw away from God, He draws away from us—that is, He “gives us over.” If we confess our sins and draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:8).
25 Idol worship is the chief sign of god-lessness. To worship idols is to worship created things rather than the Creator. To worship an idol is to worship a false god, a demon (see 1 Corinthians 10:19-20). Idol worship is the number one sin against the true God. The first two of the ten great commandments in the Old Testament concern idol worship: You shall have no other gods before me. … You shall not make yourself an idol (Exodus 20:3-6).
One further thing: An idol is not only something made out of metal or stone or wood. An idol is anything we love more than God—whether it be money, possessions, fame, power, honor, or family. When we love these things more than we love God, then we are guilty °f idol worship. These things—though good in themselves—have become for us idols.
26-27 Paul here talks about homosexuality. According to Paul’s teaching, for women to lust for other women, and for men to lust for other men is a sin.9 It is unnatural; it is against God’s plan for men and women. And to satisfy such lust by committing unnatural acts with members of the same sex is even a worse sin. When men, in particular, commit indecent acts with other men, they are liable to get a number of serious, even fatal, diseases, such as AIDS. (of course, promiscuous behavior between the sexes can result in such diseases as well.) Such diseases are the due penalty for their perversion (verse 27).
28 Notice that man’s first sin is to worship and serve created things rather than God (verse 25). Since they do not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, God “gives them over,” and they fall into various bodily sins (verses 26-27). Now, in verse 28, God “gives them over” to a depraved mind. The mind is the source of evil in a man. All of our evil thoughts and desires arise in our mind. Therefore, when any man’s mind becomes depraved, then all of his thoughts and desires become depraved also. One can’t get worse of f than that!
God never causes a man to do evil. But when a man denies God and begins to worship idols, then God has to let him go. Man is free either to accept God or to reject Him; God has given man that freedom.10 But once a man completely and deliberately rejects God, there is no way left for him to be reconciled with God; that man has taken himself out of the reach of God’s grace and mercy.
29-31 Paul here gives some examples of various sins. It is easy to see such sins in other people, but it is not so easy to recognize them in ourselves. We don’t like to see ourselves as being wicked or evil. But if we examine ourselves closely, we will likely find in ourselves some of these same sins: greed? envy? deceit? Are we gossips? slanderers? Are we arrogant? boastful? Are we full of murder? “No, no, not murder!” we say at once. But look again. Jesus taught that to get angry with our brother is like murdering him! (see Matthew 5:21-22 and comment). Do we not get angry with our brother from time to time? Or our sister?
Therefore, let us examine ourselves. These sinful works are not just in people whom we like to call “evil.” These sins are in ourselves. And only the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross can cleanse us from these sins.
32 In Romans 6:23, Paul says: For the wages of sin is death. Sin, in one way, is a kind of work—a work that we do for Satan. And Satan pays us a wage for that work—and the wage is death. But even knowing that, men continue to sin. Take, as two small examples, the excessive drinking of alcohol and the smoking of cigarettes. Both of these activities do great harm to one’s body, and can lead to fatal illnesses. But even knowing that, people continue to smoke and drink. They will certainly receive the “wages” of their sinful habits!
It is bad to commit these sins. But it is even worse to approve of those who commit them. The reason is this: it is possible for a man himself to fall into sin unknowingly; but when one “approves” of sin in others, it is always done knowingly. The man who does this is depraved indeed.