Paul’s hitlist of sins that upset God most
Hello people of Rome1 From: Paul, who serves Christ Jesus as an official messenger. It’s my assignment to deliver God’s Good News. 2 God said the News was coming. His prophets delivered that promise, and the Holy Bible preserves it. 3 This Good News is about God’s Son, a descendant of King David. 4 The Holy Spirit made it clear that our leader, Jesus Christ, is God’s Son. The Spirit did that through the power that raised Jesus from the dead. 5 Jesus was kind enough to appoint me as his messenger. He told me to help people of all nations put their faith in him and obey him. 6 You, too, are invited to become the people of Jesus.
7 To: Everyone who lives in Rome. God loves you and invites you to become his people, devoted to him. May God our Father and our leader Jesus, the Messiah, send peace and grace your way.
I’m hoping to visit you soon8 Before I say anything else, let me say this on behalf of Jesus the Messiah. Thank God for every one of you. People all over the world are talking about your faith. 9 I never stop praying for you. God can back me up on that. He’s the one I serve with all my spirit, as I tell others the Good News of his Son. 10 I’m praying, too, that perhaps now God will let me come and see you. 11 I want to bring you a spiritual gift that will make you even stronger in your faith. 12 Actually, we can encourage each other. You can help me in my faith. I can do the same for you.
13 Dear friends, I’ve made plans many times to visit you. I’ve wanted to introduce some of your fellow Romans to Jesus, as I’ve done for non-Jews elsewhere. Sadly, every trip until now got roadblocked. 14 I have a responsibility to people of all kinds. From high society to countryfolk, and from educated to clueless. 15 I want you to know I’m eager to bring the Good News to those of you in Rome, too. 16 I’m not the least bit ashamed of the Good News. It’s the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes. This power came to the Jews first. But it spread. Now it’s available to everyone. 17 In the good news, we can see the goodness of God, as he welcomes people of faith. Remember what our Bible says: good people will live because of their faith.
Sinners in the hands of an angry God18 God’s anger is pouring out of heaven, drenching terrible and unjust people—those who are so corrupt that they cover up the truth. 19 Well you can be sure they know the truth about God. He made himself pretty doggone conspicuous.
20 His invisible, divine power has been on display since Creation. People can get to know him and begin to understand who he is by looking at what he made. They don’t have any excuse for ignoring him. 21 So let’s be clear, they knew God. But they didn’t honor him. They didn’t thank him. Instead, they came up with ridiculous theories about who he is or what he’s like. Their hearts went dark and their minds went blank. 22 They told everyone they were smart. But they were morons. 23 They were so stupid that they traded in the glorious, immortal God so they could buy into idols handcrafted to look like mortal humans, birds, four-footed critters, and creepy crawlers. 24 So God let them have it their way. Whatever their hearts desired—lusts and sin. They did shameful things with their bodies.
25 They traded in the truth about God so they could buy into a lie. Instead of worshiping the Creator who deserves praise forever, they worshiped the creature. 26 So God let them have it their way with their self-destructive passions. Women stopped having sex the natural way. The sex they started having is unnatural. 27 Men did the same thing. They stopped having sex with women. Other men lit the fire for them, flaming them with passion. Men did shameful things to each other. They’ll be getting what they deserve. 28 These people didn’t even bother to acknowledge the existence of God. So he let them run wild, and do mindless things that no one should ever do.
29 They are full of it.
• Haters of God
• Bad in new, creative ways
• Disobedience to parents
The more literal term is “apostle,” a messenger such as a delegate or an ambassador sent to deliver a message. The title “apostle” came to mean disciples hand-picked by Jesus to tell his story and spread his teachings. The title usually referred to the 12 original disciples of Jesus and to Paul, who met Jesus in a miraculous encounter while Paul was traveling to Damascus to arrest Christians (Acts 9:5).
The Greek word for “good news” is euangelion, from which we get words such as evangelize and evangelical.
The only Bible Jews or Christians had was the Old Testament. It would take another 300 years for church leaders to agree on which books belonged in the New Testament. In Paul’s day, those books were just being written, copied, and passed along from one church to another.
The Greek word is Christos. Messiah is the Hebrew version spoken by Jewish people. Christ is the Greek version, spoken as the international language of Jesus’ day. Both words mean “anointed one,” as in a prophet anointed by God, or a king anointed by a nation. Followers of Jesus became known as Christians, taking their name from “Christ,” a title that identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed One promised by the prophets. First-century Roman historian Tacitus (about AD 56-120) described Christians as “a class hated for their abominations… Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.”
“Grace” sounds like a vague word that’s hard to define. In fact, it’s a specific word that can be hard to define: charis. When Bible writers use it to describe God’s expression of grace to people, the word comes in different shades: mercy, kindness, love. We have to look for context clues if we want to understand how the writer used the word. One interpretation of God’s grace is this: “Grace is God accepting us the way we are and exactly where we are in our lives, yet it’s also his unwillingness to leave us there.” That may cover all the shades of “grace.” We should probably add that Paul says we can’t earn the right to any of it (Romans 9:16). In the Casual English Bible, we typically substitute “kindness” for “grace,” because the word “kindness” is more easily grasped and is a key feature of grace. But in Paul’s letter to Romans, we go back to “grace” because this is Paul’s greatest surviving work and the most theological. Some scholars describe this letter as the first thorough work of Christian theology. If you can handle Romans, you can wrap your welcoming arms around God’s grace.
“Goodness” comes from the Greek word dikaiosynē, often translated “righteousness.” Bible experts debate what Paul meant when he talked about the “righteousness of God.” Righteousness can refer to integrity, purity, and justice. Some scholars say it also describes God as someone we can trust to do what he said he would do. In this case, righteous might be “God’s way of righting wrong” (New English Bible). Or it might be described as his divine gift of power, which saves us. Whatever Paul had in mind, context clues from reading this whole letter suggest God’s goodness (righteousness) was good news.
Paul is paraphrasing Habakkuk 2:4. Bible experts debate what Paul meant by this cryptic phrase. German scholar Martin Luther (1483-1546), a Roman Catholic monk, eventually got himself excommunicated from the church partly because of what he read into this phrase. He saw an idea that inspired a Christian protest movement that became known as the Protestant Reformation. Luther, the father of Protestant churches, said Paul seemed to be teaching that we are saved through our faith, not through obeying religious laws or by observing rituals, such as confessing sins to a priest or taking communion in a church service. Another way some read the phrase: Good (righteous) people show their faith by the way they live. Another: Good people will live because of God’s faithfulness—meaning that we can trust God to save us as he promised to do.
Christians are so divided over how to understand what Paul says about homosexuality that church denominations have split over this very topic. Some say they believe Paul is speaking for God when Paul writes this letter and others like it. Other Christians say they doubt that God would want to be blamed for what Paul wrote, and that Paul was expressing his personal opinion rather than revealing something God told him to say. These Christians argue that Paul would have been surprised that his letters ended up in the Holy Bible, and that if he had known it would turn out that way, he might have made some changes in his letters.
Paul introduces himself to the church in Rome as someone who “serves Christ Jesus as an official messenger” (1:1). That’s a title often translated as “apostle.” During the early generations of the church, an apostle was the highest rank that people could attain in the leadership structure. How do you think people reacted to Paul describing himself as someone who was handpicked as an apostle by Jesus? “Jesus was kind enough to appoint me as his messenger” (1:5).
Most people in Paul’s day who worshiped God did not believe that Jesus was God’s Son. Yet Paul claimed, “The Holy Spirit made it clear that our leader, Jesus Christ, is God’s Son. The Spirit did that through the power that raised Jesus from the dead” (1:4). If Paul was right about that, why didn’t the resurrection convince more people? And why doesn’t the resurrection of Jesus convince people today that Jesus is God’s Son?
It’s one of Paul’s most famous statements: “I’m not the least bit ashamed of the Good News. It’s the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes. This power came to the Jews first. But it spread. Now it’s available to everyone” (1:16). Why do you think many people of his day would have said he should have been ashamed? And why do some people today say Christians should be ashamed to call themselves Christian?
Verse 17 helped launch the Protestant Reformation, which gave birth to all of the Protestant churches around the world. What is it about this particular verse that you think might have made a Roman Catholic monk like Martin Luther come to believe that people don’t even have to be affiliated with the church to please God?
The section called “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” borrows the title of perhaps the most famous sermon in American history. The sermon was by a Protestant minister in Massachusetts called Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). In his sermon, Edwards painted vivid pictures of what it will be like in hell. He terrified the people. Some of them interrupted his sermon by crying out, “What shall I do to be saved?” As you read this part of Paul’s letter, what statement is a standout for you? Maybe you find it intriguing, or shocking, or even disturbing.
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says he hopes to visit Rome so he can help the people grow in their faith. Then he adds, “Actually, we can encourage each other. You can help me in my faith. I can do the same for you” (1:12). Do you think it works that way? Do we really help each other grow stronger in our religious faith? If so, can you think of any examples?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul comes on strong about homosexuality. He’s against it. The question Christians face is this: Is God against it? As you understand the debate, why do some Christians say that Paul was not necessarily speaking for God? And why do other Christians say they feel uncomfortable with that take on the Holy Bible?