Title: How to Live Before God
Text: Romans 1:1-23
Date: October 4-5, 2014
All right. As we left Paul last week, he had just arrived in Rome. You might remember when we were going through the Book of Acts that he has been wanting to get to Rome for some time. Actually what he said was, “I want to go to Jerusalem first. I want to share the Gospel with my brother, and then I want to go to Rome.” Actually he had then intended to go on to Spain. He didn’t know of course that he would be taken to Rome as a prisoner, but now he’s in Rome, and Roman government actually paid for his journeys.
You know, there’s a positive way to look at everything. Although they didn’t listen to his advice, which could have saved the ship and the ship’s cargo, and then they ended up going through a raging storm for two weeks, and finally was shipwrecked on the island of Malta. Other than that, he had a pretty good journey. Then it tells us that he’s in Rome of course and he’s glad to be in Rome. He’s in his rented quarters. He has a home. He can welcome visitors which he does freely. He is of course still a prisoner. He has a guard with him all the time, but he has his own house.
There’s a lot of freedom and it tells us when we read the Book of Acts that he welcomed any and all who would come and visit, preaching the kingdom of God, teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered and I love that. So here he is. He’s excited to be in Rome. Partly, I think, because the Lord told him that he was going to stand before Caesar. I think in his mind this is the opportunity of opportunities. You know they share the Gospel with Caesar.
He’s also excited because two years before this, he had written a letter to the church or churches in the city of Rome. It was a lengthy letter telling them about how God loves them, how to live before God and great insight into God’s Word for them. That letter that he wrote two years earlier is the very Book of Romans that we are now studying.
I mean just imagine for a moment that here they received this letter which was so powerful. In fact, it is one of the most powerful books that we have in the New Testament. They got this letter from Paul and now Paul himself is in Rome, and he is going to teach them all the things that are in this book. I don’t know about you, but having Paul teach the Book of Romans is an exciting thought.
It tells us that this book is really about the deepest issues of faith and our relationship to God and it is one of the most, perhaps the most, powerful book in the New Testament. In fact, the modern church movement, the modern Protestant Evangelical Church movement has its roots in this book and especially in this first chapter. Paul begins the letter with his name. When we write a letter we typically put our name at the end of a letter. But they put theirs at the beginning of the letter which is, I think, helpful. In fact, I wish people would put their name at the front of their text. That would be helpful as well.
But Paul begins with his name and he says that he is the servant of Christ Jesus set apart for the Gospel of God. That’s his whole life. He’s filled with zeal now about the Gospel. Imagine the amazing transformation that’s happened in Paul’s life. He was absolutely against the Gospel. I mean he was the number one enemy of the church and now here he is full of zeal, eager to teach about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Why is this so important? It’s so important because this is what God is about. It’s important to God. It’s always been about the Gospel for the Lord from all the way back to the beginning. Through the prophets in the Old Testament he has been speaking about the Gospels, speaking of God’s Son who was born a descendant of David, declared to be a Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.
So what do these verses have to do with really the biggest questions of life: Why are we here? Does it matter how we live? What happens when we die? Does it matter if we’re righteous or unrighteous? What does God think about this world, the mess that this world is in? How does God want us to live? Some of the most important issues of our faith, he speaks to. Let’s read it.
Chapter 1 beginning in verse 1: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an Apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” And that’s just the introduction.
He just brings it. He steps up and he’s going to knock it out of the park with the very first chapter. He says, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all. Because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” There was a strong church in the city of Rome. It was becoming well known about the strength of their faith for God. Verse 9, “Whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the Gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you”. As I’ve said, he’s been wanting to come for the last two years.
“For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you might be established. That is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine.” I love that aspect. Let’s encourage one another in our faith. I see the importance of faith that it affects all of those around us. Your faith has a direct impact on the people around you, your family, your children, your spouse. He said, “Let’s encourage one another in our faith.”
Then verse 13, “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (have been prevented thus far), in order that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles”. He has been receiving an offering, a financial gift that he wanted to give to the church at Jerusalem. They were really going through a struggle and Paul saw this as an opportunity for the church to be unified, standing together in each other’s needs.
He goes on, verse 14, “I’m under obligation both to Greeks and the barbarians, both the wise and to the foolish. Thus for my part, I am eager to preach the Gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Here are some of the famous verses in the New Testament. “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.” And then this famous verse: “It is in the Gospel that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, the righteous man shall live by faith. Now the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Because that which is known about God is evident within them. God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
“Professing to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore, God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. In their hearts they knew the truth.” They exchanged the truth of God for a lie. “And worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”
“For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions. For their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” As you can imagine, these are famous verses or perhaps infamous in some circles.
“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness and wickedness, greed, evil, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they’re gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful.” That seems to be a pretty complete list there. “And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
I. God Expects a Response
Very famous verses as you can see. Let’s go back over it. Because there’s a lot for us to take hold of. These verses are to be understood and to be lived and applied. One of the things that we’re going to see right away is this: God expects a response. God expects a response to who He is. You know last week I quoted a report put out by the Minnesota Crime Commission. Very powerful. It describes the condition of man better than almost anything I’ve ever read. And I want to read it again because I think it sets the stage for what this chapter is really about.
So let me just read it again. It starts this way: “Every baby starts life as a little savage.” I love that accurate statement. “Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered and we all know this is true. He wants what he wants when he wants it. Deny him his wants and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He has no morals, no knowledge and no skills. This means that all children, not just certain children, but all children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free rein to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, a rapist.”
This is the condition we were all born into and all of us look at that and understand we were born into it. All of us can relate. We’re basically born selfish and self-centered in nature, and the end result in our lives and the world is ungodliness and unrighteousness. But then you compare it to God. God is completely holy and completely righteous. So there’s a great chasm between the holiness and the righteousness of God and the unrighteousness and ungodliness of men; what’s a sinner to do? That’s the question. What is the sinner to do?
A. No excuses allowed
This is where we need to look at what God is speaking to us because there’s hope in His Word. This is what we’re going to start with. First of all, he says there’s no excuses allowed. No excuses. He says that which is known about God is evident. God has made it evident to all people. It’s all around you. Just open your eyes and see it, it’s everywhere around you. I want to quote some lines from a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning because it’s two pointed and she writes it this way. “Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush aflame with God. But only those who see, take off their shoes; the rest just sit around and pluck blackberries.”
I love that. It’s accurate. Because it says look, He shows it all around. It’s evident. He said since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made. Therefore, there is no excuse. In other words, let’s put it perhaps this way. No one is going to be able to stand before the throne of God and use this as an excuse. You didn’t make it plain enough for me, God. I didn’t understand that You actually existed and that’s why I lived the way I did. Lord, I’m not trying to throw You under the bus or anything. I’m just saying that if You had just tried a little harder to make Yourself known, I wouldn’t have been such a sinner. You know what, I actually think there’s a lot of people who have that perspective. That means a lot of people who are going to actually blame God Himself for it.
You know the famous preacher Billy Sunday once said, “An excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” The whole idea behind an excuse is to suppress the truth. What is the classic of all classic excuses? The dog ate my homework. I didn’t actually do my homework. I didn’t want you to know that I didn’t do my homework, so I came up with an excuse. Although a funny story, apparently excuses aren’t limited to humans. You might have read about Coco who is this famous gorilla who has amassed more than a thousand signs of American Sign Language, and she is able to communicate with researchers. One day they discovered in her enclosure that there was a steel sink that had been torn from its moorings. They confronted Coco and asked what happened to the sink. She used her sign language and said, “The cat did it.”
B. If Jehovah is God, then serve Him
Apparently excuses are not just a human thing. But here’s what follows. Here’s what we need to understand. If Jehovah is God, then serve Him. This is the straight forward thinking that God is putting forth here. Verse 21 says: “They knew God but they did not honor Him as God nor give thanks. But listen, if the Lord is God, if Jehovah is God, then He should be followed; He should be served; He should be honored.” So that’s the problem right there. They knew God. In their heart of hearts, they knew. They knew He created the heavens and the earth, and that He gave them life. He knew, they knew, but they wouldn’t honor Him as God and they wouldn’t give thanks.
This last week I just happened upon a sports radio talk show that was talking about the Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson. You might know that Russell Wilson is a Christian, actually a very strong Christian, and he’s not ashamed of that. In fact, he makes it quite known. Well so the talk show host was criticizing Russell Wilson for being so open with his faith. And so he said it this way, “You know, if you’re doing the whole God thing and it’s working for you, that’s great for you”. And then he added, to my shock, he said, “But now, don’t get me wrong. I believe in God.” What? He said, “I believe in God, I’m not just into the whole God thing.”
Wait a minute! If God is God, then He should be served. If Jehovah is God, then He should be followed. If Jehovah is Lord, then it follows that we should honor Him with our lives. In fact, it’s interesting, in 1 King Chapter 18 Verse 21: “Elijah drew the nation of Israel together and confronted them this way. Elijah came near to all the people and he said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, if Jehovah is God, follow Him. If Baal is God, follow him.’ And the people did not answer him a word.”
Nor it says did they give thanks. Verse 21. Nor were they thankful. Simple gratitude toward God will change your entire perspective. We need a theology of thanksgiving. Simple gratitude is a very important part of our faith, of our relationship to the Lord. When you give thanks, you honor Him. It reminds me of when I was in grade school, and many of you know of course we grew up quite poor, and going through the lunch line. We had the lunch programs. I was really, really thankful for the lunch program because I loved that lunch. In fact, I will never forget dear Millie Coleman. She was the head of the kitchen back in grade school. I don’t know why I remember Millie after all these years. Probably because I loved her lunch. But I’d go through the lunch line and she was always standing at the end and she put the last thing on which was the milk and I would say, “Thank you.”
Everyday she’d give me lunch and I would say thank you. One day I’m out in the cafeteria and she comes out there next to the table and she says, “Can I say something to you?” “Oh sure.” And she said, “You know every day you come through and you say thank you. And I just want you to know I notice that and I think that’s really special. You just keep that up the rest of your life.” It did mark me; I’ll never forget it. To be thankful is very important. In fact, in Psalm 50:23, it says: “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me.” Or Psalm 100:4: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.”
C. Acknowledge God by how you live
That’s a theology of thanksgiving right there. But then we need to see it this way. Acknowledge God by how you live. See verse 28, it says: “They did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer.” The result was disaster. In other words, if the Lord is God, He should be followed. If the Lord is God, then He should be acknowledged in how we live. We need to honor Him in how we live. It says they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, verse 25. In other words, they live as though God does not exist. They live as though God did not exist. Actually that’s an important insight. Meaning people who believe in God nevertheless live as though He did not exist. If God is God, then He should be honored in how we live. See that’s our problem right there. Our problem with sin is that it gets out of control and it becomes the master.
One time, someone gave a great illustration for that. It says, “Sin is like a pet tiger.” I love that.
Sin is like a pet tiger. So cute. Have you ever seen a tiger kitten? They’re the cutest things in the world. Wow look at that tiger kitten. I would love to take that tiger kitten home with me. Sin is like that. The problem with a pet tiger is it grows more dangerous every hour. And that’s just like sin, it grows more dangerous every hour.
Reminds me of our daughter Victoria, she was serving in an orphanage in Mexico for a year. She had an opportunity to take a break. So they went out, visited this farm and there is this bull out there, and they said you can go out and pet it. She actually went out there. She was so excited to be petting this bull. She’s just rubbing her hand up and down his forehead and he was absolutely loving it. She can tell he was loving it because as soon as she stopped, he pushed his head against her hand like, “You are not stopping.” She realized, “I got myself more than I can handle.”
It’s just like that with sin. For this reason it says, God gave them over to degrading passion. He was speaking of course about degrading sexual passions. And He used this illustration as an example; women with women, men with men, sexually. Now Paul’s words have straight forward directness. One of the things that you’ve got to appreciate about Paul, he is straight forwardly direct in his words. Those were not politically correct words to say in Paul’s day. In Paul’s day in Rome, that was not a politically correct thing to say. That was happening in Rome in ways that will be shocking. The Caesars themselves had boys on the side, sometime straight forwardly out in the open.
They’re not politically correct today either. But you’ve got to love Paul’s straight forward directness. By the way, if there’s ever a reason why Bibles would be banned or burned in the future, it’s because of that chapter in the Book of Romans right there. Because Paul is so straight forwardly direct. But he’s trying to point out what God’s heart is. It says in Galatians Chapter 6 Verses 7-8: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption”, but then He always gives this hope, “but the one who sows in the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” There’s the hope.
II. Live by Faith
Now let’s go back and see because God has an answer and it says: Live by faith. Live by faith. This is actually found in the verses before verses 16-17. Paul is eager to preach the Gospel to those in Rome because he knows that God has an answer. What’s a sinner to do? You look at the holiness and righteousness of God, you look at what’s happening in the world. What is a sinner to do? God has an answer. God has made a way for sinners to have a relationship to our holy God. Rome was the center of the known world at that time. Great power in Rome but it did not have the power to change lives.
Some writers of the time, the philosophers of Seneca, called it “the great cesspool of iniquity”. Speaking of Rome, the writer Juvenal called it a "filthy sewer into which the dregs of the empire flood.” What’s a sinner to do? You know we can look at the condition of things then and the things that are happening now, and we can relate. There’s a lot of similarities actually. But here’s what we’ve got to see. The power of God saves those who believe. God has an answer. God’s doing something about it. Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel; why should he be ashamed? Why should I be ashamed of the Gospel? It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.
A. The power of God saves those who believe
See, the power of God is the only way that man can be saved. Our part; simply believing. Taking God at His word. That’s our part. What’s a sinner to do? God has made a way. Our part is simply believing and taking God at His word. John 14:6, “Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man, no one comes to the Father but through Me.” When we used that word “saved”, what are we saved from? What does it mean to be saved? We’re saved from the wrath of God. That’s what he said from in verse 18: “The wrath of God is against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men were saved from it”. 1 Thessalonians Chapter 1:9-10, “They report to us how you turned to God to serve a living and true God. And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come”.
B. By faith a sinner becomes righteous
Then we see it this way. By faith, a sinner becomes righteous. What’s a sinner to do? He gives the answer; by faith a sinner becomes righteous. That’s when it applies to us. We can relate. We understand. They lived in the cesspool of iniquity. You look at what’s happening in the world today. There’s so many similarities. We grew up in this world. We know what unrighteousness looks like, many of us have been there and done that. We’ve been in the world, we understand unrighteousness, we’ve done it ourselves. Isn’t that true? We all understand it.
But this is the Gospel. How does the sinner become righteous? That’s the good news. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him, Jesus Christ, who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Right there it is. What does it mean to become the righteousness of God? It means that He has taken our sins and placed them on His son. He’s removed our sins from us, placed them on the cross of Calvary when Jesus died so that the wrath of God does not fall on us. The wrath of God falls on him. Our sins were removed, placed on Him and therefore the wrath of God falls on Him, not on us. That is the good news.
Not only that. Not only has He taken our sins away but it goes on to say the very righteousness of God and Christ Jesus is given to us so that the moment you receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you stand before God as righteous. In fact, you will never be more righteous before God than the day you received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He gives you the righteousness of God. How are you going to improve on that? The righteousness of God it says is revealed from faith to faith. As it is written, it says, the righteous man shall live by faith. Nothing you can add to it. Nothing you can do to deserve it. Nothing you can do to earn it.
And in fact, that one verse, verse 17, is what brought about the modern Christian movement. The entire modern Christian movement has its roots right there in that one verse. How so? Martin Luther, Catholic at the time, was reading the Book of Romans and he came upon this verse. But he didn’t know what it meant. And it just stayed with him, he kept pondering it, considering it. What does this mean? Well one day, Martin Luther, took a journey to Rome. Excited to see the glory of Rome. And when he got there he wanted to go to what is called the “Holy Stairs”. There are 28 white marble steps called the Holy Stairs. According to tradition, these are the steps that used to lead up the Praetorium in Jerusalem in which Pontius Pilate had his judgement seat. These are the steps presumably that Jesus looked up to then to be tried by Pontius Pilate. They were brought to Rome during the 4th century. And it became a famous place for pilgrims to come and visit.
But the Catholic Church granted indulgence for anyone who would climb the stairs on their knees. They placed wood over the marble to protect them and so the Catholic Church granted indulgence for anyone who would climb these stairs on their knees. So Martin Luther is in Rome. And he’s climbing these stairs on his knees. As he’s doing this, this verse is in his mind. The righteous shall live by faith. As he’s continuing up the steps, his knees began to bleed. But the righteous will live by faith. He continues up the steps and then it dawns on him. It’s like a bolt of light that just came to him. What am I doing? What am I doing? The righteous will live by faith not by this. He got up and ran down the stairs to flee from that and never return ever again.
Thus, the whole movement, the Protestant movement started as he began to challenge and say, “Listen, it’s the righteousness of God that’s revealed from faith. So that the righteous man shall live by faith.” But what does it mean to become righteous? Maybe it would be good to define both holiness and righteousness. What is holiness? I used to teach a class called “What a Christian Believes”. In that class we say, God is holy. But then we ask, well what is holiness? Can anybody define holiness? And verbally most people will say, “Well holiness is the, not doing of sins.” That’s what holiness is. It’s not sinning. To which I would then say, “Well wait a minute. We’ve got to be able to define holiness without comparing it to sin.” After all holiness has been around long before sin has been around. We’ve got to be able to define it.
What is holiness? Holiness is the character of God. Whatever God is, that is holiness. God is love. That’s part of holiness. There is joy in the Lord, that’s part of holiness. God is patient, that’s part of holiness. God is kind, that’s part of holiness. And on and on. Jesus Christ was obedient to the Father, that’s part of holiness. In fact, in Galatians 5:22 it says: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” etc. All of these things are part of righteousness. Because they’re the doing of holiness.
So when you are patient, when you demonstrate patience because of what God is doing in your life, you are being transformed. You’re being more righteous. He’s transforming you. Not only does He give you the righteousness of God, but then He begins to work in your life and transform you and me so that we become more like Him. When you’re kind, when you’re growing in kindness because of your relationship to the Lord, you’re growing in righteousness. Love, joy, you’re growing.
But we are a work in progress. Isn’t that true? We have a long way to go. You can be driving down the road, worship playing in the car, of course you have it turned up because worship should be loud. You’re worshipping, you have it turned up. It is a holy moment because you were driving down the road in the presence of the living God and worship is just loud and it is awesome. Then someone cuts you off on the freeway. We are a work in progress. But the truth is he sent the presence of the living God to transform us so that day by day, hour by hour, we begin to grow in our relationship to the living God.