Three ways to live

Which is your way?

Summary of Bible Study – Romans 1:18-3:20

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:31 pm on Monday, January 21, 2008

The main idea of this section is summarized on 3:9-11,20:

Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.

10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. “

Let’s trace this theme throughout the section.

Whom does Paul address in vv. 1:18-32?

Gentiles. It is clear because all their revelation about God comes from nature.

What is the state of gentiles, according to Paul?

Not so good:

a. They are under the wrath of God (v.18)
b. Though they knew about God from creation – they didn’t honor him, worshipping idols instead (v. 19-23)
c. They are given up by God to pursue all the evil things they want – homosexuality, depraved mind (v.26-28)
d. They are filled with evil, jealousy, murder, strife, deceit, and many, many other bad things (v.29-32)

Whom does Paul address in 2-3:8?

Jews, see 2:17. It is interesting also that instead of using plural language on gentiles, Paul switches to personal address to a Jew. This was a standard rhetoric tactic designed to carry a higher impact on readers.

Well, Gentiles don’t seem do be fairing well. Are Jews any better?

Not at all – they do exactly the same things! And they deserve the same condemnation from God as the Gentiles, despite their greater revelation about God.

So what is the difference between the Jews and Gentiles?

There appears to be no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles with respect to sinful nature and God’s judgment. God does not show favoritism (v. 2:11). He applies the same standard of judgment to everyone, the standard that is compatible with what is revealed to them. Those under the law (i.e. Jews) will be judged based on the requirements of the Law. Those who are not given the written law (i.e. Gentiles) will be judged based on the law written on their hearts (i.e. their conscience).

There is, however, one quite a big difference. While both Jews and Gentiles are guilty of sin, the Jews may believe that they are not condemned by God because they are favoured as a “chosen race”, have undergone physical circumcision and given the law to obey. Some Rabbis even used preach that no Jews who are circumcised will go down to Hell. And Paul agrees with this statement, except for definition of the circumcision; the real circumcision is not physical, it is spiritual, and any person who openly sins undoes his physical circumcision and hence is not a part of covenant. The real circumcision is the circumcision of the heart, accomplished by the Spirit, and is not limited to Jews alone.

Application point 1. The right relationship with God is not only about how much you know. Yes, Jews knew much more than Gentiles. Yet this didn’t stop them from sinning. In fact, it made it worse in some sense. John 9:41 – Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains”.

Do we think we are better Christians because we regularly study the bible? Think again. It is not the knowledge that pleases God, it is the obedience. What value is then in studying the Bible? Much in every way, but only if your gained knowledge leads you to better obedience.

Application point 2. From 1:1-12 it appears that God’s salvation standard is based on performance. But what about salvation by faith alone, which is what Paul is driving at?

There is no contradiction here. God’s last and final standard is our works. Yet, we are simply unable to do them. When we try, we fail. When we start doing good works to make ourselves right with God, to make God owe us, we sin and distance ourselves from Him even more. Salvation, our making right with God is only possible by faith alone. Yet good works will follow, if we properly understood our salvation and will be a basis for our final judgment.

To put it in other words, in v.3:20, by saying “No one will be declared righteous by observing the law”, Paul means that everyone can be declared righteous by observing the law, but never will be, as obeying it simply impossible. In other words, God says, run 100m in 5 sec and you will be right with me. It is theoretically possible to accomplish that, but very likely will never happen. In the words of Jonah, “Salvation is of the Lord”, it is not of our making.

Some tried to interpret these verses as saying that it is possible to achieve salvation without the gospel. Yet, this is not what Paul is trying to say. It is only theoretically possible, but practically impossible. This is how one commentator puts it:

Salvation for both Jew and Gentile is available only by doing good (2:6, 11, 13)
The power of sin prevents both Jew and Gentile from doing good (3:9 – 19)
Therefore: No one can be saved by doing good (3:20)

Application point 3. Jews seemed to believe they were superior because they belonged to God’s chosen people. Wisdom of Solomon 12-15 talk about Jews being sure that God will love them despite their sin. Are we any different?

Not really. This attitude that you can do whatever you like as soon as you become a Christian is quite widespread today. Paraphrasing Paul’s words, it is not the hearing of the gospel and professing the belief which makes one Christian, just as it was not being born a Jew that makes one a Jew. What makes one Christian is the circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit.



Comment by Bible-Touchstone

January 3, 2009 @ 7:26 am

Clear summary. You said:

“Whom does Paul address in vv. 1:18-32?

Gentiles. It is clear because all their revelation about God comes from nature.”

I disagree.

The people from Romans 1:18-36, for example, refer specifically to the Jews alone, and not the Gentiles.

First, in Romans chapter 1:18-2:25, Paul explains why the Jews were without excuse. They alone had what may be known of God manifest to them, and God only showed the Jews through His Law (Romans 3:1-2). Not the gentiles (Psalms 147:19-20). He compares those who had the Law, but suppressed it in unrighteousness and did not glorify Him or thank Him because there foolish hearts were darkened. This portrait of the Jews in Romans 1 alludes to Old Testament depictions of the covenant breaking people (Daniel 5:23, Jeremiah 3:17, 7:24, 9:14, 11:8, 13:10, 16:12, 18:12, Jeremiah 4:22, 5:4, 5:21, 10:8, Lamentations 2:14, Isaiah 5:20-21, Jeremiah 8:8-9, Ezekiel 8:10, Psalms 106:12-40, Isaiah 2:8, Ezekiel 16, Jeremiah 6:19, 6:28-30, 31:32, etc.).

Natural theology- Some posit that God reveals Himself to all of humanity universally (see Matthew 11:25-27, Luke 10:21-24, John 14:17, 2 Thessalonians 2:10-15) by nature (see Matthew 16:16-17, 1 Corinthians 2:12, Galatians 1:16). They often implicate that the Scriptural revelation is unnecessary, inadequate, or insufficient. The routinely deist theology often presumes humans have the free-will propensity to choose their own destinies (see Job 14:5, John 1:13, 6:44-45, 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, Ephesians 1:11, 2:5, 2:8-9). This variety of deism would seem to imply that the Gospel has not been adequately revealed and is rivaled by material creation (see 1 Corinthians 2:12-13). They sloppily induct that God probably offers to some a substitute for the Scriptural Revelation of the Gospel to guide mankind (see Romans 16:25-26).

God revealed Himself first to the Jews of the Old Testament
Psalms 147
19 He declares His word to Jacob,
His statutes and His judgments to Israel.
20 He has not dealt thus with any nation;
And as for His judgments, they have not known them.

Deuteronomy 4, 31:11-13, Nehemiah 9:13-17, Psalms 78:3-7, Isaiah 8:20, Ezekiel 3:4-6, 20:9-28, 36:22-33, Amos 3:1-2, Luke 16:29-31, Romans 2:18, 3:2, 9:4.

-Gentiles were in darkness
Ephesians 2:12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Ephesians 5:8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

Psalms 10:16, 79:6, 147:19-20, Proverbs 29:18, Isaiah 5:1-7, 45:20, Acts 14:16, 26:17-18, Ephesians 4:17-19, 1 Peter 2:9-10.

Grace to you,


Comment by Bible-Touchstone

January 5, 2009 @ 1:15 am

The Jews are judged by the Law given to them, and the gentiles without the Law are still despondently dead without the Law, because all are under sin (Acts 17:26-31, Romans 3:9-20).
Romans 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse…

Those without excuse must only refer to the Jews (Jeremiah 11:20) from the “creation of the world”, which is covenantal cant, since the promise was committed to them first (also see John 1:16-18). Also see John 1:11-12, 10:24-27, Romans 11:28-36, Luke 19:9-10, etc. Unto them were committed the oracles of God (Deuteronomy 29, Romans 3:2). Paul summarizes his arguments in a retort in Romans 3.

Notice Romans 1:20 is an obvious allusion to the Old Testament:

Isaiah 64:4 For since the beginning of the world, men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.

The things were invisible until the Gospel was revealed (Isaiah 40:1-21, 45:3, 48:3-8, 53:1-3, 56, 64:4, Jeremiah 33:6, Habakkuk 2:2-4, Matthew 11:25-27, 13:35, Luke 10:21-24, Romans 1:16-17, 1 Corinthians 2:7-9, 2 Corinthians 4:3-7, Galatians 3:23-25, Ephesians 3:2-9, Colossians 1:16, 1 Peter 1:9-12, 1:20). The judgment is within the context of the Gospel’s effectual delivery (1 Kings 18:10, Psalms 19:4-6, 22:27-28, 98, Isaiah 49:6, 52:9-10, Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:20, Acts 26:20, Romans 1:8, 10:18, 15:19, Colossians 1:6, 1:23) and the particular implications for Jews and Gentiles (John 10:16) into a single dispensation (Ephesians 2:13-22, 3:6). The single dispensation is out of a single judgment by the same universal terms (Jeremiah 9:25, Acts 7:30-31, Hebrews 9:27).

The Central Theme
Paul concludes that all are justified by faith alone. To make this argument, he has to make the practical application that the Jews cannot be justified by the Law. The premise is that the righteousness of God is revealed by God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ unto Salvation. If the Jews cannot abide by the Law, then only by faith (and not the works of the Law) can any be justified. If a gentile has faith, and if the Law (exclusive to the Jews) is not by which any are to be saved (but faith alone), then we must conclude God justifies them too (Romans 2:25-29).

The error liberals fall into is the assumption that Paul needs to make a case for why the gentiles are without excuse.
Gentiles are dead already without the Law (Romans 3:12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law…). See Ephesians 2:11-12.
Paul makes his case for this in Romans 5:12-14.

God established His standard of judgment in the Law to the Jews, and the consequence of this is that the whole world and not only the Jews are become guilty before God (Jeremiah 9:25, Romans 3:19, Hebrews 9:26).

The Law alone is the standard (Romans 2:2) by which the whole world be judged (Romans 3:19). Regardless of whether they hear the Law or not, it is only the doers of the Law are justified (Galatians 3:12). Since none are capable of keeping the whole (Deuteronomy 27:26, James 2:10) Law, Scripture concludes that none are justified by the works of the Law (Galatians 2:16, 3:10-11). Yet liberals have a trend to delegitimize the standard of the Law by excusing those who do not hear the Law. Nevertheless, it is not the hearers of the Law that are justified, but those who have Faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 2:13, Galatians 2:16).

Evidence from Romans 3:19-20

That is, the Jews are judged by the Law given to them, and the gentiles without the Law are still despondently dead without the Law, because all are under sin (Acts 17:26-31, Romans 3:9-20).


Comment by Bible-Touchstone

January 5, 2009 @ 2:26 am

None need any knowledge of God to be culpable to God (Job 36:12, Isaiah 27:11, Jeremiah 4:22-28, 5:4-17, Hosea 4:1-6, Matthew 15:13-14, John 8:19-21, 8:55, Romans 1:28, 14:23, 1 Corinthians 15:34)

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