Second Wednesday in Lent
Text: Romans 1:16-32
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Apostle Paul wrote the most books of the New Testament. Of the 27 books 13 are written by St. Paul. Two more are written by Paul’s associate St. Luke. Mark was also at times associated with Paul, though at other times, worked with Peter. And the anonymous writer to the Hebrews likewise frames his discourse in the same manner as Paul, though with a much more scholarly tone. So 17 of the 27 books are connected to St. Paul. St. Paul was a convert to Christianity about year after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He had earlier persecuted Christianity. Paul was a disciple of the great Rabbi Gamaliel who is mentioned prominently in many Jewish sources, as the greatest disciple of the greatest of all Jewish Rabbis, Hillel. Within the Pauline corpus, no book stands above the Epistle to the Romans. It was a letter sent by Paul to prepare for a future trip to Rome, and to ask support from the Roman Christians for a journey to preach the Gospel in Spain. The Roman congregation is a bit of a mystery. For Paul writes to it at a time when, as yet, none of the Apostles had been to Rome. Paul and Peter would both later make it to Rome, but neither were involved with its founding. One can only guess at its origins. But it would seem likely that some of those converted on Pentecost carried the Gospel back to Rome. Unlike most of Paul’s other letters, Romans is simply a discourse on the nature of the Christian faith. He is not addressing a particular problem. The letter is like a catechism. He is speaking in general terms about the things that are to be taught and believed about Jesus Christ.
After Paul’s initial greetings, He makes a brief but profound statement. He explains the nature of the Gospel and establishes this as the center of His message. Everything that follows is intended explain this brief introduction. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” This by the way is my confirmation verse. Paul does not give a full definition of the Gospel at this point. He somewhat assumes that his readers will know this - though he does develop this at some length later on. But three clues are given here. First, the Gospel brings salvation to all who believe it. Second it reveals the righteousness of God. Third, the new life that comes from the Gospel is received by means of faith. Paul, right out of the gate is rejecting any works that we do. It is faith in Christ that saves. And the rest of our text will begin to offer an explanation of why that is.
Paul now warns that the wrath or anger of God is active against all ungodliness. Paul will first explain why God can do this, and then he will explain what he means by ungodliness.
How can God punish mankind? After all only a small portion of mankind had the Word of God, that is the Bible. Paul does not believe in what we call today natural law. Rather, Paul believed in a natural knowledge of the law. And with this comes a natural knowledge of the existence of God. Human reason can determine that God exists. How? It is really quite simple. Everything we see was made in some way. Either an artisan fashioned it, or biological parents produced it by procreation or some such thing. Thus it is reasonable to assume that there is a creator god simply by looking at the world. For if the world exists someone must have created it. We can delude ourselves and say this is not so, as the evolutionists do. That doesn’t change the fact that God has presented this evidence to us. God will still hold us accountable. While modern man has created the god of science, ancient man created the idols in all manner of images. The gods of the idols were not the creator of the world. They were either demons or the wild imaginings of mankind. In either case, the idols are part of the creation rather than the creator.
What happens when mankind rejects the true God, Jesus Christ? God hands them over to their sin. God lets them sink deeper and deeper until they create their own hell on earth. Either it leads to repentance, or more often, they die in their sins. Paul’s list is graphic and blunt. He pulls no punches. Homosexuality, both male and female is a mark of their rejection of God. These sins in particular, mark not only a rejection of God but also of God’s created order. It does not take a genius to figure out that human beings were made to function, biologically, in certain ways. Homosexuality violates God’s command as well as God’s created order, often with catastrophic consequences both here and in eternity. Why does Paul spend extra time on homosexuality? Because it was widely accepted in the Greek world and at that time, increasingly, in the Roman world. Originally Roman culture had not adopted the sins of the Greeks. But by this time, that was changing. Nero and his public homosexual antics were yet to come, but the Emperor Caligula would have been in recent memory at the time. Paul then goes on to offer a whole laundry list of sins. The most ironic thing on the list is that men are “inventors of evil.” We keep finding new sins to commit, as if the old ones aren’t bad enough.
Why does Paul offer this discourse on sin? Well, first he is establishing what sin is. He makes it clear that these things displease God. Those who do them will die and God is just in punishing in this way. He is just because man knew this was wrong and did it anyway. The only remedy to sin is the Gospel. The Gospel, that Christ died for our sins, in our place offers the only escape from sin. That’s why Paul started with that. But Paul is not done. He will continue to hammer on sin. His point is to convict everyone. He wants to show that its not just those guys over there, but rather it is us. We are the debauched sinners. We are guilty of all the things listed in our text, either by action or by approval of others. How many Christian parents cannot bring themselves to tell their homosexual children that they are sinning? And by refusing to speak up, they give approval and become guilty themselves. In end we all need that salvation that comes in the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, Who died for us and our salvation.