Exposition of Romans 2:14–16 Conscience-judged behavior sometimes pleases God

The fact that all people are sinners does not mean they are as bad as they could possibly be. Sometimes conscience — given by God in creation — may guide even the unsaved to meet God’s requirements in limited situations.

It is a mistake to elevate ourselves by demonizing others. Sometimes they get it right and we do not.

(ESV) Romans 2:14–16  For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Romans 2:14 clearly says one thing: Gentiles sometimes do what the law requires. What is less clear is how to position the phrase “by nature.” English translations all agree with ESV that by nature modifies the verb “do.” Other authorities think Paul is saying that “Gentiles do not have the law by nature,” letting by nature modify the verb “have.” While the former view seems more likely, the real point is not lost either way: Gentiles sometimes do what the law requires.

Douglas Moo correctly summarizes: “Paul pursues his policy of putting the Jews and Gentiles on the same footing. The Jew does not have in the law a decisive advantage when it comes to knowing and doing the will of God, Paul suggests; for Gentiles have some of the same benefits.”[1]

Looking at the Gentiles, Paul says (2:15) that “the work of the law,” the conscience and the thoughts mix in a complex way that often accuses and sometimes excuses them. Grant Osborne says, “Their minds form a type of law court in which actions are judged.”[2] But it is vital to realize that even within the court of their own minds the Gentiles are not exonerated; so, they will certainly stand guilty before a holy God.

C.E.B. Cranfield discusses the concept of conscience by saying, “The basic idea conveyed is that of knowledge shared with oneself.”[3] Sometimes this information is shared after the behavior and sometimes before; the verdict reached is by no means guaranteed to be the same that God would reach!

In Romans 2:16, Osborne correctly points out that “Paul elsewhere uses ‘the day’ for the Day of the Lord at the end of history (e.g., Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Eph. 4:30; Phil. 1:6, 10).”[4] No matter what Jews and Gentiles think about their own behavior, God has set a day when he will judge “the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (2:16).

Romans 2:16b closely resembles Paul’s speech in Athens: “he [God] has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31, NET).

Humanity’s good is not good enough

The Jews have been busy justifying their own righteousness by wrongly relying on their possession of the law. The Gentiles have sometimes managed to meet God’s requirements as evaluated by their own conscience, but they too fall short.

1. Why do you think people spend so much effort justifying themselves and their group by comparison with other groups, races, classes, genders or ethnicities? How do people try the same thing with God?

2. If you were convinced that self-justification was futile, what would you do next to become acceptable to God?

Perhaps these questions seem contrived, but they are not. Various cultures have spent millennia trying to figure out how human works relate to acceptance before God. The sad thing is that our culture does not even want to know. By God’s grace, you can prove to be an exception!

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas). Used by permission.



[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 151.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 70.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 159-160.

[4] Osborne, Romans, 70.

Exposition of Romans 2:6–11 God does not play any favorites

When the kids chose up teams in your school, did they choose you first? In my school it was always the favorites who were chosen first, and certain people got left for last every time. If you were one of the fastest, smartest, best looking, most sociable, life was good. The alternative was painful — a lesson learned from a distance.

Playing favorites is also common among adults. How about with God? Does he play that way too?

(ESV) Romans 2:6–11  He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

Keep in mind that Paul is still in the midst of addressing the argument of the Jews that their special status as children of Abraham and recipients of the Law ensures the salvation of every Jew. Paul is tearing away that illusion. In today’s Scripture he does so using a literary arrangement known as chiasm, as shown below:

A   God will judge everyone equitably    verse 6

B          Those who do good will attain eternal life   verse 7

C         Those who do evil will suffer wrath   verse 8

C’        Wrath for those to do evil     verse 9

B’         Glory for those who do good    verse 10

A’  God judges impartially    verse 11[1]

Grant Osborne points out that Paul is trying to “demonstrate divine justice by showing how God judges fairly with both Gentiles and Jews.”[2] This accounts for the phrase “the Jew first and also to Greek” (2:10), which overtly shows that both Jew and Gentile stand in the same relationship of responsibility to God.

In short, verses 7 and 10 refer to those who are justified by faith and prove it through a life of obedient works before God. C. E. B. Cranfield says, “Paul was probably actually thinking only of Christians; but there is little doubt that, had he been asked whether what he was saying also applied to OT believers, his answer would have been affirmative.”[3] There is more than one way to reach this conclusion. Douglas Moo holds that Paul is teaching here (2:6–11) that God will impartially judge all men by their works; later Paul will show that no one can reach a positive verdict in that way (3:9; 3:19–20); later still Paul will show that faith in Christ enables the believer to have good works “as the fruit of faith.”[4] So, Moo effectively arrives at a similar conclusion by a different thought process.

Verses 8 and 9 refer to those who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1:18) and prove it by doing those evil deeds outlined in Romans 1:18–32. The nature of the works depends upon the human heart behind them; the works provide an image of the heart. Be sure to notice the chilling vocabulary of Romans 2:8–9. God’s wrath is bad enough; his fury is worse than unthinkable!

Critical to Paul’s argument is the fact that God impartially judges the works ? and thus the heart behind them ? without regard to whether a person is a Jew or a Gentile. God does not play any favorites.

The verb used in 2:11 confirms what has been said above about God showing no partiality in judging the works of Christians. That is exactly how the same verb is used in Eph. 6:9, Col. 3:25, and James 2:1.

Only one name to know: Jesus

Think carefully about God’s impartiality! This means that the rich have no advantage over the poor; the powerful have no edge on the weak, and the socially-connected have no insider pull. Jesus said the same thing in these words: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31).

1. Read Matt. 7:1–2. How do these commands guide you in the same direction as Paul’s words in Rom. 2:6–11?

2. Since every human is judged on the same basis before God, how does this influence the way you make choices and behave?

During Prohibition the only way to get into many private clubs was to know the right name to give at the door. Heaven is the most exclusive club of them all, and the only name to know at that door is Jesus. If Jesus knows you, you enter without question. If not, there is another door ? you do not want to see what goes on in there!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 135, citing K. Grobel.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 63.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 152.

[4] Moo, Romans, 142.

Exposition of Romans 2:4–5 Do not waste God’s patient forbearance

There is little that is worse than self-deception. I know that from bitter, personal experience!

Imagine the shock when a Jew who thinks that relationship with Abraham has sealed heaven finds out he can expect God’s wrath. Nor should Christians take a complacent attitude about their salvation either!

(ESV) Romans 2:4–5 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

While Paul is still talking to his opponents of Jewish background, the principles he cites apply to all of us. Every human being has received abundant “kindness and forbearance and patience” (2:4) from God, who would have been fully justified in putting us to death the first time we rebelled against him and many times afterward!

If we offered a starving beggar $50 for food only to find our money thrown back in our faces with a demand for $100 instead, there is little doubt that the outcome would not be pretty. Yet Paul’s rhetorical question in 2:4 implies the Jews have done far worse. By denying that their own sin deserves God’s judgment, they are scorning his “kindness and forbearance and patience.” Instead, the appropriate response would be “repentance” (2:4).

Note that we who have trusted in Christ did roughly the same thing as the Jews up to the moment we surrendered our lives to the Lord. We too abused God’s kindness, though we did not hide behind Abraham or possession of the Law of Moses.

The Greek verb kataphrone? here (2:4) means “to look down on someone or something with contempt or aversion, with implication that one considers the object of little value, look down on, despise, scorn, treat with contempt.[1] ESV says, “presume on”; NET and NIV say, “have contempt for”; NLT paraphrases with “Does this mean nothing to you?” The idea — deeply flawed — is that if I already have salvation by being a descendant of Abraham, then I do not need God’s kindness!

Grant Osborne clarifies “forbearance and patience” (2:4):

The second area of abundance is God’s tolerance, referring to God’s postponing his judgment and giving people time to repent (so also 3:26). The third area is quite similar, God’s patience or “longsuffering” as he puts up with sinners, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).[2]

In a letter devoted to explaining the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must face the fact that repentance occurs only in 2:4. Douglas Moo observes, “Repentance plays a surprisingly small part in Paul’s teaching, considering its importance in contemporary Judaism.”[3] C.E.B. Cranfield speculates that the reason for this low level of usage may be that Paul considers repentance to be an integral element of faith.[4] Perhaps, but our task is to understand Romans rather than to bring Paul’s theology nearer to our own thoughts.

It is difficult to select a favorite translation for Romans 2:5. Each of the following two has a small flaw:

(NET) But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed!

(ESV) But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

NET correctly translates “your stubbornness” and thus preserves the emphatic, singular personal pronoun; Paul is still in his argument-with-single-opponent mode. But ESV does better with “storing up wrath for yourself because it has preserved the Greek singular while NET has employed the English plural “yourselves.”[5]

Instead of storing up merit and waiting for assured salvation, Jewish stubbornness is simply storing up wrath, a very ironic use of this verb! Moo refers to biblical references (Ps. 110:5; Zeph. 1:14–15; Rev. 6:17) in adding, “’Day of wrath’ is quasi-technical biblical language for the time of final judgment.”[6]

What are you storing up?

God’s patience has a limit; his forbearance will not last forever. Paul told the philosophers of Athens that God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).

1. Like the Jews of Paul’s day, it is easy for someone with Christian parents or who attends church to think they have it made with God. What is the flaw in their thinking?

2. Even if we have trusted in Christ, we may still squander our opportunity to store up something positive for the day of judgment. Read Eph. 2:8–9 and Phil. 2:12–13 and then write down what God expects of you as a Christian.

Our opportunity to live for Christ is brief, and we must make the most of it. Give praise to our gracious God who allows us to serve in his kingdom.

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] BDAG-3, kataphrone?, treat with contempt, q.v.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 61.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 133-134.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 144, footnote 2, extending to page 145.

[5] HCSB probably has the most accurate overall translation of Romans 2:5.

[6] Moo, Romans, 134.

Exposition of Romans 2:1–3 Don’t try to condemn those others!

A woman in authority once said, “Nobody likes to be told their baby is ugly.” In like manner, nobody likes to be told that their conduct brings them before God’s judgment seat without any reasonable defense. But there is incredible value in knowing that fatal weakness in advance when we may seek the one remedy that can put us on God’s side.

(ESV) Romans 2:1–3 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God?

A natural reaction to what Paul has said in Romans 1 is: “You are right, Paul, that those bad people — not me of course! — are just as wicked as you say they are.” Paul was not born at night, so he is prepared for that counter to his argument. In short, his statement is: each of you does the very same thing (2:1). Jesus spoke similarly in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1–5).

Paul was likely writing from Corinth to people whom he has never met, but he knows that among these Christians in Rome is a strong contingent of Jewish-Christians. Most scholars think this not-me type of pushback will come chiefly from these Jews. The Jews had argued for centuries that they were superior to the godless Gentiles because God had chosen them as his own people, Abraham’s children. Of course, there will also be some Gentiles who jump on the bandwagon to condemn someone else. In this game, everyone plays.

In Romans 2, Paul ramps up his rhetorical power in several ways. Douglas Moo describes one element: “Paul utilizes here, and sporadically throughout the letter, a literary style called diatribe. Diatribe style . . . uses the literary device of an imaginary dialogue with a student or opponent.”[1] In keeping with this device, Paul addresses his argument to you (second-person singular). That is more forceful. The third device is the “O man” (2:1; 2:3) direct address, which Daniel Wallace says “is used in contexts where deep emotion is to be found.”[2] Clearly the verbal intensity is increasing.

In saying the objectors “have no excuse” (2:1), we have the same Greek adjective used in 1:20 for those who have knowledge of God but suppress it. This adjective is part of a serious change in vocabulary that begins in 2:1. In Romans 1, Paul spoke of God’s wrath (1:18), but now we begin to see the verb krin? (“to judge”), used seven times in Romans 2:1–16, and the noun krima (“judgment”), used in 2:2 and 2:3 to refer to God’s verdict of guilt. In 2:1 we have one person judging another, but Paul says in 2:1–2 that we all stand under God’s judgment because of our individual guilt.

(NET Bible) Romans 2:2 “Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things.”

The ESV gets unusually metaphorical in saying “the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things” (2:2), but NET has the better translation here by replacing the italicized phrase with “in accordance with truth.” God is not confused by arguments over which humans are more sinful; they all are! C.E.B. Cranfield explains, “What is being said of the divine judgment is not that it truly is (that there truly is such a thing), but that it is in accordance with the facts (i.e., is just).”[3]

In Romans 2:3 an important Greek verb makes its first appearance: logizomai, here meaning “to hold a view about something, think, believe, be of the opinion.[4] Since the verb primarily is used for calculating costs and debts, it involves a serious kind of thinking. Even though Paul is asking a rhetorical question, he effectively states that no one is going to be a special exception when it comes to sin, guilt and judgment before God.

In relation to Paul’s question in 2:3, Moo says: “Such a question is legitimately put to the Gentile moralist or philosopher who thinks he or she can please God by his or her good life, but it is particularly the Jew who would be likely to make such an assumption.”[5] None will escape!

Denial is futile

God is saying through Paul that every human being is guilty of acts that put us under his judgment; we are all without excuse.

1. World history is replete with those who fought for high status as proof they were better than others. But such denial of the truth about humanity does not work before God. What role has self-justification played in your own spiritual journey?

2. How does admitting our guilt before God free us to seek God’s solution to the problem?

In itself our sin and guilt before God cannot be considered good news, yet it forms a critical pillar of the gospel. Just as accurate diagnosis must precede effective medical treatment, so our spiritual condition must be accurately described so that God’s mercy in Jesus Christ is all the more clear.

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas). Used by permission.



[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 125.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 68.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 143.

[4] BDAG-3, logizomai, be of the opinion, q.v.

[5] Moo, Romans, 132.

Exposition of Romans 1:29–32 Inventors of evil devise their death

History does not support those who think human nature is basically good. At this writing, one major wars, four middle-sized wars and numerous smaller conflicts rage in various parts of the world. In relation to global conflicts, roughly seventy-three million people died as a direct consequence of World War II alone. Humanity’s inhumanity is both historic and contemporary.

It is sad to speak about contemporary levels of crime, addiction, exploitation and oppression. Safe in the suburbs of the West, it is hard to imagine that well over twenty-five million people in democratic India are currently known as “untouchables.” In the United States, three percent of the population is in prison, jail, on parole or probation; that level exceeds any other on the planet!

Though what is recorded above is merely the tip of an ugly iceberg, it puts in perspective Paul’s description of the behavioral consequences flowing from humanity’s suppression of the truth that God made plain to them (1:18). Sin hurts many others along with the one sinning.

(ESV) Romans 1:29–32  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Paul does not hesitate to declare his litany of sins alleged against those who have rejected God and set their own course. Douglas Moo puts the list into excellent perspective:

Throughout the list, Paul focuses on social ills, leaving out sins relating to sexual conduct and, for the most part, sins against God directly. The purpose of this recital . . . is to show the general scope of social evils produced by the ‘unqualified mind’ to which God has handed sinners over. The harm done by people to other people is thus added to idolatry and sexual perversion to complete Paul’s sketch of the world outside Christ.[1]

No effort will be made here to elucidate each type of sin. We will focus instead on two phrases: “inventors of evil, disobedient to parents” (1:30). When God created man in his image, this meant a capacity for creativity along with many other things. Instead of using this God-given talent for the good of humanity, those who reject God turn their creativity toward devising new forms of evil. Think, for example, of those who dream up scams to defraud the elderly out of their life savings or who take pictures of their toddlers using illegal drugs. Who invented such evils?

In saying “disobedient to parents” (1:30), Paul demonstrates that even children may compromise the order created by God to restrain sin and promote the common good. A society whose children are out of control sees its own rebellion against God come to life in plain terms.

(ESV) Romans 1:32  Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

Romans 1:32 presents two difficulties: (1) the nature of what “they know” and (2) the implication that the encouragement of sin is worse than the sin itself. We will deal with each in turn.

The words “God’s decree” (1:32) is an over-translation because it gives the impression of a formal, possibly written, public pronouncement. Paul is speaking of no such thing! Instead, he presents the matter as common knowledge among humanity. The Greek noun underlying the translation “decree” is dikai?ma, which means “a regulation relating to just or right action, regulation, requirement, commandment.[2] The right choice here is “requirement.”

Thomas Schreiner explains: “It follows, then, that Gentiles, without specifically having the Mosaic law, are aware of the moral requirements contained in that law . . . . They not only know that God disapproves of their behavior but they also know that it deserves the punishment of death (cf. 6:23).”[3]

As to the idea that encouraging others to rebel against God’s moral requirements is worse than rebelling alone, C.E.B. Cranfield says: “Those who condone and applaud the vicious actions of others are actually making a deliberate contribution to the setting up of a public opinion favorable to vice, and so to the corruption of an indefinite number of other people.”[4]

Jesus expressed a similar sentiment when he said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone tied around his neck and to be thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42, NET).

Grant Osborne ably expresses the summary of Romans 1:18-32 when he says: “The main point is that every human being has been given by God a deep awareness of two things: (1) the existence and power of God and (2) each person’s general guilt before God because of sin.”[5]

“Ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (1:18)

While the recital of sin’s grip on humanity produces no joy, it is essential to understand what we have been saved from in order to grasp what we have been saved for.

In what ways is Paul’s litany of sins apparent within your own community? How does the presence of these practices heighten the need to spread the gospel?

We who have trusted in Christ can look on these dark verses with praise for what God has done: “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col. 1:13, HCSB).

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 119.

[2] BDAG-3, dikai?ma, requirement, s.v.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 99.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 135.

[5] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 58.

Exposition of Romans 1:26–28 Having an unreliable mind is devastating

Few thoughts are more terrifying to older Americans than the threat of Alzheimer’s disease. The fear of memory loss, confusion, and other cognitive losses are sobering to say the least.

But there is a threat to mental function that is far worse and affects people of all ages: deliberate suppression of the truth about God results in a mind that is incapable of making reliable moral choices.

(ESV) Romans 1:26–28  For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

We discussed the Greek verb paradid?mi (“hand over” BDAG-3 lexicon) in Rom. 1:24, and that same verb occurs in 1:26 and 1:28 as well; the ESV has “gave them up” in all three verses. Since we know that an author’s repetition of a word is generally significant, this threefold repetition plays a strong role in the interpretation of this entire section. Since they recognize the importance of the verb’s repetition, all major English translations (NIV, ESV, NLT, NET, HCSB) maintain the parallelism in their translations of paradid?mi.

C.E.B. Cranfield points out that paradid?mi is also used in 8:32 for God giving up his Son to death for our sake, and he uses this fact to balance the argument of Romans 1:24–28:

It ought to put us on our guard against too readily assuming that God gave these men up forever. It seems more consistent with what is said elsewhere in the epistle (e.g. in chapter 11) to understand the meaning to be that God allowed them to go their own way in order that they might at last learn from their consequent wretchedness to hate the futility of a life turned away from the truth of God.[1]

Although many have tried to avoid the plain meaning of Romans 1:26–27, Douglas Moo puts the obvious conclusion like this: “It is clear that Paul depicts homosexual activity as a violation of God’s created order, another indication of the departure from true knowledge and worship of God.”[2] Actually, Paul spoke in a context similar to the twenty-first century. Cranfield notes the fact that both Greek and Roman societies were indulgent of homosexuality, and it was common in the Semitic world (including Israel) as well.[3] But Paul did not deviate from Old Testament norms.

Another parallel to the twenty-first century is stated by Osborne: “The issue is one of biblical authority. Even when the command runs counter to the current cultural norm, the true Christian must obey God’s command rather than the demands of political correctness.”[4]

The phrase “did not see fit” in 1:28 is a reasonable choice but it leaves out too much. In Romans 1:28, the Greek verb dokimaz? means “to draw a conclusion about worth on the basis of testing, prove, approve.[5] James Dunn explains: “The implication then is of a deliberate act of disqualification. It was not simply a case of humans being distracted by something else and losing sight of God; they gave God their consideration, and concluded that God was unnecessary to their living.”[6]

The immediate punishment fits the crime; the minds that tested God and found him not worthy of their commitment became incapable of rendering trustworthy moral decisions. Instead they approved “what ought not to be done” (1:28b).

One choice affects all choices

You must take steps to counter the flood of messages the world uses to assail a mind committed to Christ. After all, each of us commonly encounters those who have become morally insensitive or even evil by their suppression of the truth about God.

1. As the trend toward homosexual marriage continues to spread across America, Christians can become discouraged and adopt a gloomy outlook about the future. How does it help to realize that Paul’s entire ministry and the explosive spread of Christianity took place in a morally corrupt world?

2. In light of the fact that those who have not trusted Christ have minds which do not function reliably in moral decisions, how does that affect your patience with them and your approach in reaching them for Christ?

In time Paul will introduce the solution to the unreliable mind: the renewing of the mind by the Holy Spirit following personal faith in Jesus Christ (12:2). Only God’s grace can overcome this disability within the human mind. The grace of God is one of the greatest themes of Romans.

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas). Used by permission.



[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 121.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 115.

[3] Cranfield, Romans, 127.

[4] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 54.

[5] BDAG-3, dokimaz?, approve (as worthwhile), q.v.

[6] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 66.

Exposition of Romans 1:21–23 — Why exchange God for a scarecrow?

Pragmatism is very attractive to many Americans because they have had lessons in the hard school of experience. Pragmatism keys on what works, and in a society like ours that usually amounts to self-interest. If some activity returns sufficient personal benefit, Americans are likely to adopt that activity. We even have a slogan for this strategy: “That works for me!”

But, in the history of humanity, self-interest has not always been clear. The entry of sin into the human heart has brought the desire for self-rule as a short-term replacement for God’s rule. God has used the Bible to reveal that such a strategy will work out disastrously, but humanity has consistently chosen the wrong side of this exchange.

(ESV) Romans 1:21–23  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.

Romans 1:21 takes as given that all humanity has always known about God’s divinity and power and then moves on to describe what treatment that revelation received. They decided to ignore it! Concerning what they did not do, various translations express the verb differently: “did not honor him” (ESV), “did not glorify him” (NET and HCSB), and “wouldn’t worship him” (NLT). In addition they did not thank God even though “he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). No wonder Paul called such suppression of the truth “ungodliness and unrighteousness” (1:18).

Dunn accurately says: “Human behavior is marked by an irrational disjunction between what man knows to be the true state of affairs and a life at odds with that knowledge. This failure to give God his due and to receive life as God’s gift is Paul’s way of expressing the primal sin of humankind.”[1] Humanity knows the score and lives in denial.

The second half of 1:21 tells the internal consequence of turning aside from God: their thinking became futile and empty, and their hearts became dark. The Bible commonly speaks about the futility of life apart from God: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1); “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7); those who reject God lack reliable and adequate knowledge to continue their lives.

When humanity turns away from the light of the world, inner darkness is the logical result. Jesus said: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt. 6:22–23). This is the plight of many today.

It is in the above senses that Romans 1:22 says, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” Romans 1:23 uses the metaphor of an exchange to speak of what humankind gave up and what was received in return. Having rejected the living God, they turned to idolatry. We remember  the idolater who cut a log into two pieces, fashioning one half into his god and using the other half to cook his supper (Isaiah 44:14–17)! Of course, such a “god” makes no compelling demands on us. Is that not why he was fashioned into a “god”?

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God expressed his total scorn for idols: “Their gods are like helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field! They cannot speak, and they need to be carried because they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of such gods, for they can neither harm you nor do you any good.” (Jer. 10:5, NLT).

A bad bargain

While idolatry in its ancient form (stone or wooden images) has generally faded in the western world, it has only taken a different form. Now there is widespread trust in various ideas of human origin: we can solve our own problems through mutual cooperation, technological development, democracy and market economics. There is a naïve faith that the Internet will allow us to pool our wisdom and give birth to solutions for cancer, nuclear proliferation, war, poverty, resource scarcity and global warming. Nowhere in this picture is there a turn toward God.

1. What cultural forces do you see that promote the idea that God is irrelevant to human affairs? What forms do these forces take in your life?

2. As a Christian, you are betting your life and your destiny on the Lord’s assurance that he will reward you with heaven for trusting in Jesus Christ. How does that commitment make your life different from those who have exchanged God for something else?

Many of us who serve the Lord Jesus Christ are looking for solutions in another direction. Jeremiah said it well: “Who would not fear you, O King of nations? That title belongs to you alone! Among all the wise people of the earth and in all the kingdoms of the world, there is no one like you.” (Jer. 10:7, NLT). Amen!

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas), by permission.



[1] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 59.