by Bruce Hillman
YC19: Romans 1
Q1) In verse 1:16 Paul says that, “He is not ashamed of the Gospel.” Why do you think Paul feels he has to tell his listeners that he is not ashamed? What could be embarrassing about the Gospel?
A: The Bible calls the Gospel, “foolishness” (I Cor. 1:18) and a “scandal” ( I Cor. 1:23) and those listening to Paul would have known that. Why? Because the Gospel is accomplished through the cross. The most important think to know about Jesus is that he went to the cross for us (I Cor. 2:2). Jesus on the cross is central to the Christian faith and story not just because of the atonement (how Jesus’s death accomplished salvation) but also because the cross is a tool of shame and death.
The cross shows that God’s power is often displayed through weakness. When people see Jesus on the cross they see a criminal defeated by the Roman Empire. When a Christian sees Jesus on the cross they see God’s most powerful act in all history. Another way to think about the cross is camouflage. Camouflage hides something from being seen—until you see it, then you can’t unsee it! On the cross Jesus is camouflaged in shame and defeat—he appears to be a failure and a loser. But actually he is the Savior who is a winner.
When Paul says he is not ashamed of the Gospel what he is saying is that the Christian love of Jesus on the Cross isn’t something to be embarrassed about. It’s not what it appears at first. God works through the low things to show just how powerful he is. God doesn’t need lots of flash and bling to save the world. He can take the lowest of all things and make it the most powerful.
Q2) In 1:18 Paul says that the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. What does it mean to be ungodly and unrighteous?
A: These are churchy words, and we don’t use them much at all anymore. But they are still important. These words tell a story that it takes many other words to tell. To be ungodly means to be “against-God”. And if you read carefully you’ll see the people in Romans 1 are ungodly because they “suppress the truth” about God. That is, that God has given them all sorts of reasons to pay attention to him and worship him. But they choose not to, because they like their independence. They don’t want anyone telling them what to do, including God! So they are ungodly—against God.
They are also “unrighteous”; “righteous” means “perfection.” But when used in this case it has the added meaning of “rebellious.” These ungodly people not just anti-God they are also happy to disobey him. They call things that are evil and good and good things evil. They think that human brains are smart enough to determine what is best for everyone. And they hate the idea that God has any say in what they should or shouldn’t do.
Q3) Paul says that God’s wrath is directed at the ungodly and unrighteous. So what is God’s wrath and who are these people?
A: God’s wrath is hopelessness. Let me explain. Because God is perfect and always good, God can never say, “never mind” to sin. Imagine you have a baby in a hospital and you are a doctor. A person approaches the baby and tries to give it an injection. You run up to the person yelling for them to stop and grab their arm, “What are you doing! Stop that immediately!” you yell as your heart pounds rapidly!” The person looks at you a bit surprised and says, “Why are you so worried, I was only going to inject a little bit of poison into the baby.” … Who wouldn’t be horrified at this?
We have a habit of thinking that our sins are “little” and that God should just ignore that. “Yeah, we think, I told a little lie, but its not a big deal, God should just forgive me.” But that’s like saying, “Yeah, its ok if I poison the baby a little bit. The doctor shouldn’t make a big deal about it.” What kind of doctor could do that? Certainty not a good one.
God is good and that means he can’t let anyone “poison” the world a little bit without sin. He has to run up, grab their hand and say “no!” But what if the person refuses to think they are doing anything wrong and insists on living by their own rules? Should God just say, “OK?” Not at all! Not if he is to be a good God! So we learn that God has to be wrathful to those who poison others and reject God’s authority. We call those poisoners, “sinners” and that means you and me. We’re skipping a bit but if you go to Romans 3 you’ll that Paul says EVERYONE is ungodly and unrighteous—and that means chapter 1 is about YOU and ME!
Q4) Does it bother you that God gives all this talk about wrath?
A: It should because we are the guilty people who deserve God’s wrath. One of the ways to handle complex topic is to understand that no one be independent from God. Like it or not, we are part of God’s world and He governs it so that it is being made new. God wants to end suffering, pain and death. That’s his mission. To do that he has deal with sin and sinners. And God has a really big problem: God’s justice demands that he punish sin. But here’s the big problem God has: God loves the objects of his wrath! God loves sinners and doesn’t want to hurt them. And at the same time, God can never say “never mind!” So what is God to do? How can God hurt those he loves? And at the same time how can he accomplish justice so that he remains good and can make the world a better place? The answer is Jesus. But that’s getting too far ahead. For now, lets focus on the problem: We are sinners and God has to be against us. But God also loves sinners and wants to be for them. So God has to work something out. He has to deal with sin and forgive sinners—and all this without ever saying, “never mind.”
Q5) Look at 1:17, we get a clue as to where Paul is going and how he will solve the problem listed above. He says, “the righteous shall live by faith.” What do you think he means?
A: First off, we’re going to lean that no one is righteous. So these perfect people obviously aren’t perfect because they behave better, are born special, or do all the right things. In fact, all we know about these “righteous”, that is “perfect” people right now, is that they live by faith. That’s important and its going to be a major key that unlocks the story later on. I won’t spoil it for you, but you should get familiar with it.
Whoever these perfect people are they are not going to live be behavior, they are going to live by faith. “Faith’ means “trust.” So these people are going to live relationally not legally. That is, their perfection will step from who they trust and not what they do. That may not make much sense yet, but just know more is coming. The take-home point now is that there is this weird group or righteous people and their righteousness (perfection) doesn’t come from who they are or what they do. Where it does come from is why you should keep reading!