Meditations on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans: Continued

ROM 1—3:20  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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He who believes partakes of this redemption through faith, because every revelation of God can only be made our own through faith. But it gives, as we shall see further on, a special reason why the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation.”
In the gospel is revealed the righteousness of God—that righteousness which is already satisfied in Christ, and which justifies instead of condemns. Man has no righteousness; he has only sin, and when he must appear before God as a sinner, then judgment will meet him. God declares now in the gospel a positive righteousness—a righteousness which is due to what Christ wrought in our stead, and which can be given to us through His death and resurrection. It is the righteousness of God, perfect as He Himself, according to His own heart. And this righteousness is revealed from faith, i. e., upon the ground of faith (v. 17).
In the Old Testament God declared His righteousness in the law, or upon the ground of works; but all who were under law, and sought to obtain this righteousness through the works of the law, came under the curse and death. The righteousness of the law found no fulfillment in man, and therefore it sentenced and killed him. But the righteousness of God, declared upon the ground of faith, has found in Christ a perfect fulfillment; it is in Him, the second Adam, fully satisfied and glorified. Therefore this righteousness does neither condemn nor kill the one that believeth, but it preserves him and is his portion. He has no need to work for it in order to gain it, but he receives it as a free gift.
Were righteousness proclaimed upon the ground of works, then only the righteous would have part therein; but now, as it is upon the ground of faith, it belongs to him that believeth; “... revealed from faith to faith.” Faith is the beginning and the end of this righteousness. It is without the least aid on man’s part—from beginning to end the work of God—and is revealed to faith, wheresoever it may be found. The Jew is nothing more than the Gentile; both stand upon the same level, and the obtaining of this righteousness is open to both, by means of faith, that is, upon the ground of faith; only faith is to both the only way of obtaining this blessing, which is entirely of God. This even strengthens and confirms the Jewish prophet, in that he says, “The just shall live by faith,” (Habukkuk 2:4) i.e., the righteous possess life upon the ground of faith. The law says, “Do this, and thou shalt live;” but the gospel says, “He that believeth hath eternal life.”
At the close of this introduction the apostle has arrived at the right point in order to begin with his explanation of the great truths of salvation. In v. 17 he has laid down a foundation truth which contains the whole doctrine of salvation in a few words, and which he now attempts to prove. But his explanation of justification by faith by all means must precede the proof of its necessity and of man’s deserving punishment before God, and with this he commences in v. 18.
In this verse, which, as it were, forms the heading of that which follows, is briefly expressed the condition both of Jews and Gentiles. “Ungodliness” characterizes the Gentiles, or nations which regard not the presence of God; “and the unrighteousness of man, who hold the truth in unrighteousness,” characterizes the Jews. These confessed the truth, in that they had the knowledge of God according to the law, but they dishonored God through their works. The same may be said of all professors of Christianity, if they in their profession walk in things which God hates.
Against all these things “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (v. 18); and therefore all who walk therein have to expect nothing else but this wrath. Though this wrath is not yet seen in the execution of divine judgment, neither is it revealed in the gospel—then this is the revelation of the righteousness of God for the redemption of those that are in this condition—yet nevertheless this wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, against all that dishonoureth the presence of God, and against all unrighteousness of those who hold the truth and yet dishonor God. God is holy, and therefore He can but reveal His wrath against sin.
From v. 19 the apostle describes next the sad condition of the Gentiles, their undervaluing and contempt of the witness of God, and thence the ensuing deep immorality which shows their solemn responsibility. That man has sinned every one indeed discerns, but that he is guilty is admitted by only a few. The apostle proves this in verses 19 and 20. At first God has by the works of creation borne witness, and placed before their eyes proofs of His own power and Godhead. This alone would have left them without excuse; but apart from this they had acknowledged God in the beginning. The descendants of Noah were, no doubt, not without the knowledge of God; then after God had destroyed the old world by a terrible judgment, He began the present one with one family, which He placed for the preservation of the knowledge of Himself. But man did not preserve this knowledge, and sank into deep darkness. We find here three degrees of deep immorality conceit, darkness, and holding darkness for light (vs. 21, 22). In their want of judgment they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the image of corruptible man and to beasts, and changed the truth into a lie, worshipping the creature, and left the Creator to whom all honor is due (vs. 21-25). Therefore God gave them up, and in just recompense turned their own wickedness against themselves. Because they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the image of an unclean beast, God gave them up to uncleanness, through the lust of their own heart (vs. 23, 24); because they did not serve God their Creator, He has given them to serve their vile affections (vs. 24-27); and because they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient. The same mind that ought to retain the knowledge of God, retains now all unrighteousness (vs. 28-31). They were altogether left to themselves. Deprived of every moral sense of distinction, they walked in the most abominable lusts; the most intimate bonds and relations manifested most their reprobation (vs. 26, 27). They lowered themselves even beneath the beast, and received thus in themselves the well-deserved reward of their error and rejection of God. In that they gave away the honor of God on this wise, they dishonored themselves.
Their natural conscience was now convinced, as we see from verse 32, that God did judge such things, and that the doers of the same, according to the just claims of His nature, were guilty of death, and in spite of this they not only committed those things, but had also pleasure in them that did them; they manifested in this manner their sympathy with the vileness of others,