Through the Bible in a Year: Romans 1-3

This Week’s Reading Schedule

Monday, May 7: Romans Overview
Tuesday, May 8: Romans 1-3
Wednesday, May 9: Romans 4-6
Thursday, May 10: Romans 7-8
Friday, May 11: Romans 9-11

Next week we will return to the Hebrew Scriptures to begin the histories with 1 and 2 Samuel.

The overall year’s plan is here.

Romans 1

If you’re trying to follow Paul’s argument in Romans, then Romans 1:16-17 is a crucial passage. After he has concluded all his greetings, he begins his argument with these two verses:

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 to faith. (NASB)

Paul is confident of his Gospel, the Gospel of faith, because it produces the righteousness of God. There is a real power in his Gospel, and that power is the power to produce salvation. That salvation can be seen ("is revealed") as each person believes.

Paul follows this up by saying the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

Romans 2:1-4

Having distinguished in chapter one between those who walk in the righteousness of God by faith and those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, he continues that thought in Romans 2 in a way that applies to much of modern Christianity.

Paul is writing to Christians, but the hypocrisy he describes here was a problem among Jews as well. They considered themselves keepers of the Law, in solid covenant with God, because they were circumcised, kept the Sabbath and food laws, and offered sacrifices. Outside of those religious activities, they lived much like the outside world, being greedy, practicing adultery, etc.

Before I get slammed for anti-semitism, I’m not talking about all first century Jews! However, this was a big enough problem that Paul feels free to accuse his brother Jews in 2:17-24. Justin Martyr accuses Jews of the same thing in his Dialogue with Trypho.

Today, we have Christians in much the same boat. They live just like the world, but they’ve "accepted Jesus," so they think they have a free ticket to heaven. Paul is appalled by such thinking:

Do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (Rom. 2:3, NASB)

Yes, Paul. Today many Christians suppose that they can practice what non-Christians practice and escape the judgment of God. In fact, it’s a central doctrine of many Protestant churches that Christians will not be judged impartially like the world! They believe they will be shown partiality because they "accepted Jesus"!

Paul doesn’t just address this here, but also in Ephesians:

For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. (Eph. 5:5-7, NASB)

You can’t miss the import of these words. God’s wrath comes upon the sons of disobedience because of immorality, impurity, and greed. So don’t do those things, or God’s wrath will come on you, too! You should know "with certainty" that such people have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Romans 2:5-8: Judgment

Most Protestants don’t believe this passage applies to them. They don’t believe they will be judged according to their works, and if they do, they certainly don’t believe that eternal life is at stake!

But Paul describes the judgment in exactly that way. God is going to give eternal life to those who pursued glory, honor, and immortality by patiently continuing to do good.

That’s not an interpretation; that’s what Paul said.

We discussed a similar passage in Galatians yesterday.

He who sows to the flesh will reap corruption from the flesh. He who sows to the Spirit will reap everlasting life from the Spirit. Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not lose heart. (Gal. 6:8-9)

In Galatians, writing to Christians, Paul tells them that by not growing weary in doing good, they will reap eternal life. He is not talking about reaping rewards, and you don’t reap both eternal life and corruption. You reap one or the other.

There’s not much difference between "not growing weary in doing good" and "patiently continuing in doing good," so Paul has told us twice, in the great faith books of Romans and Galatians that we will inherit eternal life by doing good.

This should not surprise us! Protestants don’t like what the apostles’ writings have to say about the judgment, but there are a lot of passages, and they are very consistent:

  • Matt. 7:21: Only those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • Matt. 25:31-46: The sheep and goats are judged according to their care for the needy. The sheep receive eternal life, and the goats are consigned to everlasting punishment.
  • Jn. 5:26-29: Jesus is the Judge, and he will raise up those who have done good to life and those who have done evil to condemnation.
  • Rom. 2:5-8: We looked at that here.
  • Rom. 8:13: If we put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit, we will live.
  • 1 Cor. 9:27: Paul has to discipline his body, or he will be disqualified.
  • 2 Cor. 5:10-11: Christians will be judged according to their works, whether good or bad, and the terror of this judgment compels Paul to persuade men.
  • 1 Pet. 1:17: God will judge impartially according to everyone’s work, something we should always fear.
  • Rev. 20:11-15: At the resurrection, everyone will be judged according to their works.

There is just nothing to the contrary anywhere in the New Testament.

Because most theologians are after a goal, an interpretation that they want, rather than reading the Scriptures for what they say, 1 Corinthians 3:5-15 is often cited as an example of someone having no good works, but being saved at the judgment anyway.

I don’t think it takes a lot of insight to see that 1 Corinthians 3:5-15 is talking about ministry, not the works in a person’s life. If you teach, you will receive a stricter judgment (Jam. 3:1), but you won’t go to hell for being a lousy teacher.

Romans 2:14-16

Does this passage say that non-Christians (and non-Jews) can be justified at the judgment for living their lives in good conscience? That seems to defy what Paul says about concluding all men under sin (the whole point of Romans 3). It seems to defy what Jesus said about being the only way to the Father.

I don’t have answers for you. I find Christians all over the place on this subject. I like to think that God, as a merciful Judge, offers hope to those that have never heard the Gospel, but I can’t confidently say this passage assures me of that.

There is the statement by Peter in Acts that says:

In every nation, the one that fears [God] and works righteousness is accepted by him. (Acts 10:35)

So I lean toward thinking that God has a merciful judgment even for those that have not heard the Gospel of Christ, but I don’t think my case is inarguable.

Romans 2:28-29

I need to point out here that the early churches considered themselves spiritual Israel. Paul says here that those who are circumcised only outwardly are not Jews.

It’s hard to know the purposes of God with the earthly nation of Israel. Their return to their land after over 18 centuries was amazing. But we must not lose sight of the Gospel. God is not going to raise up a new Old Covenant people. The Old Covenant is gone; it has vanished away (Heb. 8:13). Jews, like Gentiles, need to receive a spiritual circumcision by faith if they want to be grafted back into the tree that is the Israel of God.

Romans 3

This chapter emphasizes that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (v. 23). Much of the chapter builds up to that one verse. Every one of us is in desperate need of some alternative to the Law, which cannot bring us to life, righteousness, and justification before God.

By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in his sight (v. 20, NASB)

So what is the alternative to the Law?

Now, apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been revealed. (v. 21)

The alternative is faith in Christ. The alternative involves both mercy and grace, and though those are used interchangeably often in modern Christianity, they are very different.

Faith in Christ brings forgiveness for our former weakness and our violation of the Law and our consciences. That is mercy:

In the forbearance of God, he passed over the sins previously committed. (v. 25, NASB)

It also brings the righteousness of God, lived out in those of us who walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. That is grace:

Being justified (lit. "rendered righteous") as a gift by his grace through the redemption (i.e., purchase out of slavery [to sin]) which is in Christ Jesus. (v. 24, NASB)

Paul will explain all of this more fully as we go through the next five chapters.

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