Sermon: Guilty as Charged! Romans 1:17-23

Guilty as Charged!

Romans 1:17-23


Truth Taught- Everyone who believes the Gospel receives salvation and everyone who does not believe the Gospel receives God’s wrath.

Introduction

As we venture further in this magnum opus of Paul’s epistles we come to a shift. He has spoken about his calling and about the Gospel of God. We looked briefly last time at the theme of the Epistle that’s found in 1:16-17.

Romans 1:16–17 (ESV)

16 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The Apostle tells us that the Gospel of God, the one true Gospel, the Gospel he will expound throughout the Book of Romans is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. This Gospel is currently being revealed. This Gospel has the power to save all people. This Gospel will save all who come open handed to God through His Son, Jesus Christ by faith.

Today, Lord willing, we will get to verses 18-23 which declare all people guilty of sin and justly deserving of God’s wrath. I want us to take these verses very personal. The reason is because it is our sin Paul is writing about, not someone else’s. He has us in mind just as much as the murderer on death row who had a dozen bodies buried in his backyard. We cannot, at this point, transfer God’s wrath to other sinners and think we are not included. To do so is to forfeit the cure for sin.

1:18-3:20 will, in fact, explain just how bad things are.

The first section (1:18-32) explains how all Gentiles deserve the wrath of God. All Gentiles are sinful and lack any required righteousness (right-wise-ness) when it comes to uphold God’s Law.

The second section (2:1-3:8) shows how all Jews deserve the wrath of God. All Jews lack any required righteousness as well.

Romans 3:9–12 (ESV)

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

       “None is righteous, no, not one;

11        no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

12    All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

The third section (3:9-20) Paul concludes, All people everywhere are sinful and therefore deserve judgment. None will be justified in God’s sight on their own. By the works of the Law shall no one be justified…the reason, no one has kept it.

Human Need

 

Father, You have Gathered Your people that You may let us hear Your words, so that we may learn to fear You all the days that we live on the earth, and that we may also teach our children…amen

 

Romans 1:16–23 (ESV)

16 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

It’s important to see the distinction made in these verses. Everyone who believes the Gospel receives salvation and everyone who does not believe the Gospel receives God’s wrath.

  1. The Righteousness of God is Being Revealed Through the Gospel

17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

We briefly covered verse 17 last time but my great desire is that we all get this verse and understand it correctly before we make the shift into verse 18 and following.

There have been misunderstandings concerning verse 17 because of the difference between moving from Greek to English. In our English Bibles the meaning is somewhat obscured by English grammar and proper sentence structure. Our Bibles translate it properly but its an issue of going from one language to another…ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV translate it properly. I’m afraid the NIV doesn’t in this case.

The issue is this…

Paul explains that God is currently revealing His righteousness through the Gospel. It’s being revealed primarily in the salvation of sinners. It was first revealed in the life of Jesus Christ who kept God’s Law perfectly all the time, making the Gospel possible. He displayed God’s righteousness. God’s Law is the standard for being viewed as acceptable by God and Jesus kept all of God’s Law. So then He revealed God’s righteousness as He conformed perfectly to God’s standard, namely, His Law, He showed righteousness to us through His life.

Now, While God’s Law is also our standard for right-wise-ness with God, His Law shows us His righteousness and because we have failed to keep it, our sin. So, to try to keep God’s Law to achieve right standing with God is futile for humans and the only thing that happens is that we dig our grave deeper and deeper by working to keep an impossible standard, the only way we can have the righteousness God requires is if it is given to us freely from another source. So, we must come to God empty handed not come to God with false merits of our own.

Now, there is a second way God reveals His righteousness in the Gospel. When a sinner believes God’s Word and trusts Christ and His righteousness then God gives us as a gift the righteousness of Jesus. He shows us what righteousness looks like as He gives us the righteousness of Christ…all this comes to us freely as a gift and all we do is believe. So faith is the means by which God gives us the righteousness of Christ and once we receive this gift our faith increases. That’s what Paul means when he writes from faith for faith. His righteousness comes to us from faith and once engaged produces even more faith.

Now Paul does something very important. He quotes from Habakkuk 2:4.

as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

One commentator on the Habakkuk passage says this, Three elements stand out in these verses: (1) the proud cannot be upright, (2) the justified (by faith) shall live by his steadfast trust, (3) yet the wicked continue in their boastful ways.[1]

Now in the context of Habakkuk vision we can understand more clearly what Paul means. The wrath of God has always come to the proud, self-confident, and self-righteous. In the context of Habakkuk, the proud cannot be righteous because in their self-righteousness they are puffed up with pride. Here is the picture of all of humanity that does not come to God by faith, they think they have achieved right standing with God through some set of rules or laws they have devised, which are simply imaginary. Then, they become proud because they’ve kept their imaginary laws. So, in both cases they are rightly condemned.

The flip side, which is also found in Habakkuk is that it is faith that brings life to the believer. So, when Paul writes the righteous shall live by faith, he does not mean that the righteous lives everyday by faith. What he means is (much like the original Greek), that by faith the righteous have life. Life comes to us through faith; wrath comes to us through works. Faith comes to God empty handed, works come to God with imagined merit. One receives life and the other receives death.

Ok, now lets look at verse 18…

Remember, verse 18-32 contains specifically the reasons God’s wrath is coming to the unsaved Gentiles. A word of warning…we might begin to think that because we are Christians that these verses do not pertain to us. Here is the real danger of human nature. We often think we are better spiritually than others. The sin described here in these verses is our sin as well. God’s wrath is poured out on all humanity because of sin. The only difference at all is that when God poured out His wrath on us who believe, Christ absorbed it all on the cross.

  1. The Wrath of God is Being Revealed Because of Sin

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

All people are under the power of sin and consequently are without any righteousness of their own; therefore, no one can be justified by works of the law for no one has kept it. [2]

It may seem like after we spend a few weeks covering 1:18-3:20 that its all bad news. We must think of it like this: A superficial diagnosis will lead to a false remedy[3]

If we do not understand the nature and effects of sin we might come away thinking things are alright. Things are not alright. Knowing sin correctly will help us see the cure and cause us to cherish the Gospel in a greater way.

It is impossible for the Gentiles to be in a right standing with God because they are sinful. When judged based on their works they will be found unacceptable to God, because it’s only by way of God’s righteousness will God accept anyone. So, without God’s righteousness all people will experience God’s wrath. No one can attain the righteousness need to escape God’s wrath on his or her own. Praise God! We can receive it through faith in Christ alone! Paul doesn’t tell us that yet but he will later on in the Book.

  1. God’s Wrath is Just Because All People Know the Truth and Yet Suppress It

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

            Exhibit A…We have truth about God but suppress it.

All people everywhere, even those who claim to be atheists, know some plain undeniable truths concerning God. The reason we know this is as Paul writes, God has shown it to us.

We know there is a God, that He is powerful, and Our Creator.

20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

All people everywhere know there is a God and some things about Him. Through creation God has shown all people things about Himself. It is through creation that man goes from just knowing there is a God to knowing some things about His nature, attributes, and eternal power.

Acts 14:16–18 (ESV)

16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.

The reality seen in our world is that rather than receiving these gifts and knowing where they came from we do not honor God and give Him thanks but instead suppress the truth and turn to and worship idols.

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools

While we know that it’s God who gives us all things and it’s God who should be praised and honored we instead turn away from truth and embrace lies and become fools.

The way this happens is found in the dynamic of idolatry.

Humanity is…hearts are darkened, necks are stiff, ears can’t hear, eyes can’t see, lips speak perverse lies, hands are busy building idols and feet run swift into sin.

This is a picture of all people. This is our condition. This is Paul’s condition.

God knows how utterly hopeless things are and with man things are impossible but with God all things are possible…

God takes us from hopelessness and despair to great love making us alive with Christ. The picture Paul gives us in Romans is extremely bleak but God being rich in mercy and grace and saves us for Himself, a people for His own, a Kingdom for His glory!

Ephesians 2:1–10 (ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

 

[1] NICOT, Habakkuk by Robertson 174

[2] Romans: An Interpretive Outline by Steele and Thomas 15

[3] John Piper

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