Pastor David B. Curtis


Highlights in Romans 1-6

Delivered 03/17/2013

I told you last week’s message was our final message in Romans...maybe. Well I want to spend a couple of weeks hitting the highlights of Romans. I want to go over the texts that changed my thinking in one way or another. I want to hit the highlights and hopefully wet your appetite to study these things further.

Romans chapter 1, verse 19 through verse 23, is known among theologians as the classic passage on natural theology. But is Paul teaching that all men are without excuse before God because God is revealed in creation?:

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for 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. Romans 1:19-21 NASB

Now let me ask you something: Can man come to know God through nature? As man looks at the creation, the earth and heavens, does he realize there is a God and therefore become without excuse before Him? Is this what these verses teach? That is the common interpretation of them.

Tertullian, the early church father said:

“It was not the pen of Moses that initiated the knowledge of the creator. The vast majority of mankind, though they have never heard the name of Moses—to say nothing of his book—know the God of Moses nonetheless. Nature is the teacher; the soul is the pupil.”

Do men come to know God through looking at nature? What about the scientists who look at the universe through the Hubble Telescope? When they see those awesome sites of God's creation, do they fall down and worship God? They do if they are Christians. But if they are not Christians, what they worship is the big bang theory.

The late author and astronomer, Carl Sagan, said, "The universe is all that ever was and ever will be." As an astronomer who studied the heavens, he didn’t see the glory of God, he didn’t see God at all. Julian Huxley, who was an English evolutionary biologist, said, "It is all accident, all a matter of chance. No reason, no end, no purpose at all." These men studied God’s creation, and they never saw Him or His glory. Natural man says that the matter of which the universe is made somehow over billions of years organized itself into all that we see without any outside assistance or intelligence.

What is called natural or general revelation will not bring anybody to God; just like special revelation won't bring anybody to God. The only way man comes to God is if God draws him to Himself:

"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 NASB

Can natural men, using natural means, derive truth from nature? No, they can’t ,so what are these verses in Romans talking about?:

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. Romans 1:19 NASB

“God made it evident to them”—who is the “them”? Who did God make Himself visible or known to? In the first 17 verses Paul says, “you” and then in verse 19 he says, “them”, and in verse 20 he says, “they.” Who are these people that are presently holding the truth in unrighteousness? They had to know the truth to suppress it. This can only be referring to Israel! The nations had never heard of God:

"I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Isaiah 66:19 NASB

Paul is not talking about the physical creation in Romans 1:20. The context here leads me to believe that he is talking about Israel:

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. Romans 1:20 NASB

Israel is the “creation.” The Greek word used here for “creation” is ktisis, which is at times used for the physical creation, but it is also used for mankind.His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen”—when was His eternal power clearly seen? What is the standard of power in the First Testament? It is the exodus! Israel, and only Israel, had seen His power and received His ordinances:

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. Romans 1:21 NASB

"For even though they knew God"—this verse has always bothered me. I always thought: How did lost mankind know God? Who is this referring to? Is it all men? Do all men know God? No they do not!:

not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 1 Thessalonians 4:5 NASB

Paul says the Gentiles do not know God. So who is he talking about in Romans 1:21? Who was it that knew God? It was Israel, and only Israel:

He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel. 20 He has not dealt thus with any nation; And as for His ordinances, they have not known them. Praise the LORD! Psalms 147:19-20 NASB

Israel knew God, being in covenant with Him.

“They did not honor Him as God or give thanks”—the word “honor” here is the Greek doxazo, which means: “glory.” They knew God, but they did not glorify Him. This is why God created man, to give Him glory. The nation Israel was created to give God glory, and they refused to do it. Israel exchanged the Glory of God for idols:

They made a calf in Horeb, And worshiped a molten image. 20 Thus they exchanged their glory For the image of an ox that eats grass. 21 They forgot God their Savior, Who had done great things in Egypt, Psalms 106:19-21 NASB

This speaks of Israel in the wilderness swapping the living God for the golden calf.

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. Romans 1:32 NASB

Do all men know the ordinance or requirements of God? Israel “knew” the ordinance of God, they knew that their actions were worthy of death, and they not only did them anyway, but they approved of others who practiced them. Israel knew God, turned from God to idols, and God gave them over to sin. What we see clearly in this text is God’s judgment on men from turning from Him is sin. This should tell you something of the destructiveness of sin.

Romans 1 is not talking about all of us having general revelation, it is talking about Israel, who alone had special revelation, but turned away from the truth they knew. And because they turned from God, His wrath was about to be poured out on them.

Let’s go to chapter two and a couple of verses that are used with chapter 1 to prove that all men have a knowledge of God:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, Romans 2:14 NASB

The misinterpretation of this verse has led to great misunderstanding. Many see this verse as saying that God has written on the heart of every man a basic moral code. That code is similar to the things contained in the Ten Commandments. This universal moral code consists of things like “Do not steal,” “Do not cheat,” “Tell the truth,” “Honor your parents,” “Keep your word,” “Help the poor,” “Do not kill,” and so on.

John Piper writes:

“All human beings have the moral law of God stamped on their hearts. Paul is teaching something enormously important here about human nature. The ‘instinctively’ is literally ‘by nature.’ In other words, Paul is telling us something fundamental here about human nature.” Then to reinforce his point, Piper says, “We have seen this teaching before in 1:21 (‘They knew God’). Every human soul, as it comes to consciousness, knows that it is created by God, and dependent on God, and should honor and thank God (1:20-21).”

Another commentator writes, “He has written His moral standards into the human DNA so that even remote tribal groups understand something of God's Law.” Is that true? Do all men know God’s Law? I sure don’t see this. From what I understand, this verse in Romans is the proof verse for this teaching. Many take this verse to mean that the Gentiles “by nature” do some things the Law requires. They take it to mean that there is something inside the heart of man which compels him to keep the moral standards that God laid down in the Ten Commandments.

The key to understanding this verse is translation. All the major translations have missed it here and their mistake has led to a faulty view of innate knowledge of God.

N.T. Wright says:

“The phrase ‘by nature’ goes with the possession of the Law, not with the doing of the Law.” That is, those who do not have the Law by nature—in other words, Gentiles. Paul is here distinguishing between Jews who are born with Torah, and Gentiles who by nature or birth do not have the Law, yet these Gentiles are doing the things of the Law.

The NASB’s “instinctively” and the KJV’s and NIV’s “by nature” are from the Greek word phusis. That Paul uses this word to refer to the possession of the Law is clear from his use of phusis in:

And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? Romans 2:27 NASB

The word “physically” here is phusis (fo-zees). This is almost identical to the point that Paul makes in verse 14. Here the “physically uncircumcised” who keep the Torah refers to Gentiles. This cannot refer to people who are “naturally” or “innately” uncircumcised, that would be everybody! But to those who don’t physically have the Law. And in verse 14 we could translate it, “To those who do not physically have the Law, do the things of the Law.”

Who are these Gentile Law keepers? They are Gentile Christians! We could translate it, “For when Gentiles who by nature do not have the Law, do what the Law requires, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves.” They don’t have the Law, but they do the things of the Law. How is that possible? They are Christian Gentiles, they have trusted Christ, and the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in them. How? The next verse tells us:

in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, Romans 2:15 NASB

“Work of the Law written in their hearts”—the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in them because it has been written on their hearts. Where do we find the promise of the Law being written on the hearts? Jeremiah 31:31-34. This is the promise of the New Covenant.

Those holding to the Old Covenant once the New had arrived are transgressors of the Law. Paul goes on in chapter 2 to define true Judaism:

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. Romans 2:28 NASB

Here Paul makes a distinction between the outward/physical and the inward/spiritual.

The “outward Jew” is a transgressor of Torah since he is not honoring Torah of the heart, which is only done by having faith in the Gospel of Yeshua and receiving the promised Spirit.

Once the New Covenant arrived, the only true Jews were those who trusted in the Christ. All other Jews were covenant breakers, no matter what rites they held to:

But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. Romans 2:29 NASB

In this context, Paul uses “Jew” as the people of God, those chosen by Him, those shown God’s favor, and those in covenant with God;

The point of verse 29 is that the Holy Spirit is the one who makes uncircumcised Gentiles into circumcised Jews, namely, by circumcising their hearts. Circumcision, Paul says, is, in essence, an internal change of heart, not an external change of the sexual organ.

The Jews outwardly sought to receive praise from men, but a true Jew receives praise from God. The word "Jew" comes from Judah, and Judah means: "praised." "His praise is not from men, but from God"— is a play on words. He is a true Jew for he lives up to his name. He is praised by God. That is a true Jew.

Every Jew and Gentile who has trusted in the Lord Yeshua the Christ can say, “I am a Jew. These are my promises. This is my story. This is my Messiah. This is my God” (Jeremiah 31:33).

In Chapter 3, Paul talks about redemption. We need to understand that at the end of verse 22 through verse 23, Paul is adding a parenthetical reminder of the plight of depravity so that verse 24 actually is a continuing explanation of what he had stated in verse 22, then it makes much better sense grammatically. Let’s read it that way:

even the righteousness of God through faith in Yeshua the Christ for all those who believe... being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Yeshua; Romans 3:22 & 24 NASB

What is so great about these verses is that they are all about what God has done to save us, NOT what we do to save ourselves. Some great event has happened that manifests the righteousness of God—What is that great event? What happened in history that makes Paul say, "NOW, the righteousness of God has been manifested"? Verse 24 tells us what that great event is and what the effects of it are.

"Being Justified"—who is being justified? Back up to verse 22, “all those who believe.” The verb here is passive; it says "being justified," not "justifying." They are not doing this; it is being done to them. Justifying is something that God does, not something that we do. They are "being justified." God is justifying. He is the actor here. They are the ones acted upon. This is the way salvation is. It is finally and decisively the act of God the Father.

Now notice how they have been justified. "As a gift by His grace"—“gift” is from the Greek word dorean, which means: "for nothing, gratuitously, or gift-wise."

Now watch what Paul does, “Being justified as a gift by His grace”—the word "grace" is the Greek word charis, which means: "unmerited favor, or kindness shown to one who is utterly undeserving." In the phrase "as a gift by His grace," the idea of "free" is redoubled to show that our justification is all of God.

How can God declare a sinner to be righteous? If we don't pay for it, and we don't work for it, then what's the basis of it? How can it be just to justify the ungodly? “Through the Redemption which is in Christ Yeshua"—we need to pause here and focus on the word redemption. What does redemption mean? The word "redemption" here is apolutrosis, which means: "a releasing effected by payment of ransom." It means: "deliverance at a cost" or "release by payment of a price." In redemption, someone's release or deliverance is accomplished at the cost of a ransom payment. Yeshua paid it all! Every bit of it.

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Romans 3:28 NASB

In Luther’s translation of this verse he added the word “alone.” I agree with that, it is faith ALONE that saves us. Christ plus anything equals nothing!:

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, Romans 4:5 NASB

The Jews believed that God justified the godly. Religion believes that. That if you want to be right with God, you have to be good, you have to do good works, you have to merit salvation. But God is in the business of justifying the ungodly. That is an absolutely stunning statement. In fact, He only justifies the ungodly, because that's the only kind of people there are. There are no people who earned their standing with God. All are ungodly sinners. Aren't you thankful that Paul did not say that God justifies the godly? If that were the case, then none of us would ever be justified.

In the first 11 verses of chapter 5 we saw the security of the believer:

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Romans 5:10 NASB

Now, if when we were enemies, when we hated God, He came to us and reconciled us to Himself; now that we have been reconciled and thus have become friends with God, “we shall be saved by His life.” It's one of the most magnificent statements of the security of the believer in Yeshua Christ that we have in all of the Bible. If anyone has any question about whether having believed in the Lord Yeshua you're safe and secure, if you'll just think of this text, that should ease all of your problems forever, because if He saved us when we were enemies, now that we are His friends, He surely will do something that is less; keep us in the salvation that we enjoy.

Then in 5:12-21, we have a doctrinal section on being in Adam or in Christ. This is one of the most theologically important texts in all of the Bible. It is a comparison of two men—Adam & Christ. The comparison is very simple; there are two men, who each performed a single act that brought forth a single result, and the result is experienced by every member in their respective races.

I did three messages on this text; this is so important, please review this material. Adam is the type and Christ is the anti-type. Paul calls Yeshua the “last Adam” in 1 Corinthians 15:45. Christ, the last Adam as representative head of the New Covenant community, reconciles His people to God whom Adam had separated from God. In order to understand this text, we must understand the corporate nature of it. For those of you who are Preterists, you know how grasping an understanding of “audience relevance” changed your view of the Scriptures; well I want to propose that grasping an understanding of the “corporate nature” of the Scriptures will have the same effect.

Everybody in this room, everyone in the world is seen by God corporately as either in Adam or Christ. If God sees you in Adam, then you stand before Him condemned. If God sees you in Christ, then you stand before Him as righteous. All of us were born in Adam. The only way a person moves out of Adam’s headship and comes under Christ’s headship is by believing in the Lord Yeshua the Christ. We were born in Adam; we must be born again to be in Christ.

This is a marvelous text that is worthy of our study, but for now, let’s just look at my favorite verse:

For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19 NASB

Just one act of righteousness, just the obedience of the One—that’s what all of our salvation rests upon. How does that affect assurance? In a major way! It is not my performance, but Christ’s “one act of righteousness” that saves. My sin cannot undo what “the obedience of the One” accomplished on my behalf.

The sixth chapter of Romans is a chapter that is very important for us to understand. Traditionally, this text is used to teach that Christians should live a holy life; we have been set free from sin and should therefore no longer live in it. Many see this text as dealing with sanctification:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? Romans 6:1 NASB

Most people look at this verse as saying that we should not personally go on sinning once we are saved. This interpretation is fueled by the NIV, which says:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? Romans 6:1 NIV

“What shall we say then?”—Paul is again talking to the Jewish interlocutor. Who is the “we” here? In this text it seems like Paul is particularly addressing the Jews because of his focus is on the Law.

“What shall we say than”—about what? What is Paul talking about? He is talking about what he just said in chapter 5. If we are going to understand this verse, we must keep it in context. Paul closes chapter 5 with these words:

The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Yeshua Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20-21 NASB

God gave the Law, the Mosaic Law, so that the sin of Adam would increase. Just like Adam was given law and broke it, so also Israel was given Law and broke it. So Adam’s sin was duplicated by Israel and thus increased. And where sin increased the grace increased all the more. This is a bad place for a chapter division because the question of 6:1 comes from the end of chapter 5. We must keep chapter 6 in context! Let’s look at this in Young’s translation:

What, then, shall we say? shall we continue in the sin that the grace may abound? Romans 6:1 YLT

“The sin” is the sin of Adam. If sin increases the grace of God, shouldn’t we continue to live in the sin? To put it another way, shouldn’t we continue to live under the Law? It increases sin which increases grace. The question is, Shall we continue in the sin of Adam, shall we stay under the bondage of the Law? “The sin” is Adam’s sin in breaking “the law.” So we could ask: Shall we continue to live under the Law? We could say: Shall we continue to live under the Old Covenant? The Old Covenant Law increases the sin of Adam. The Law brings sin and death. The sin and the grace in 6:1 are the sin and the grace of 5:20-21. The question is primarily about status, not behavior.

Paul is not talking about living a moral life in chapter 6. That is not what the context is about. Paul’s objector is asking, “Shall we stay under the Law so that sin will increase and grace will increase?” The sin of Adam is linked to the Law. To put it another way, shouldn’t we continue to live under The Law since Law increases sin, which increases grace? The question is, Shall we stay under the bondage of The Law? Shall we remain under the Old Covenant? Paul answers:

May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Romans 6:2 NASB

When the expression “May it never be” occurs in Romans, it is Paul’s vehement response to an improper conclusion based upon a proper premise. Here again, in order to understand this, we must have a correct interpretation:

let it not be! we who died to the sin--how shall we still live in it? Romans 6:2 YLT

Paul is not saying that all believers have died to sin, he says that we died to “the sin.” Again, this is the sin of Adam that brought in the death.

He says that we “died” (aorist tense) to the sin. That’s a past tense. It refers to something that has already happened, not to something that needs to happen. This is not a present tense—"We are dying to sin"—or a future tense—"We will die to sin"—or an imperative—"Die to sin!” Nor is it an exhortation—"You should die to sin.” This is a simple past tense—"You died to sin.” He is describing something that happened to them in the past.

knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; Romans 6:6 NASB

“Our old self was crucified with Him”—the words “old self” are from the Greek, palaios anthropos. The NASB translates anthrōpos as “old self.” The trouble with this translation is that it causes the reader to envision the individual’s old life. Anthrōpos is man, not self. The old self (anthrōpos) to whom the Romans have died is their relationship with Adam. They are no longer part of the Adamic community. They have died to the solidarity of Sin and are now alive in a new solidarity of righteousness, which has Christ as its head.

“Was crucified with Him”—the word “crucified” is a compound verb meaning: “was crucified with”—Christ. The aorist verb tells us that this is not a repeatable event, but a final, completed event. The passive voice shows us that this crucifixion is not something that we have done, but something done to us in Christ. That man that was joined to Adam was crucified together with Christ. Because of their union with Christ in His crucifiction, they are dead to the sin, they have been set free from its power. And are no longer slaves of the sin.

“Our body of the sin”—what is Paul referring to here? Has he switched from the corporate to the individual? I think not! “Our” is plural and “body” is singular. And also notice that it is “the sin,” which is the same “the sin” that he has been talking about since chapter 5. Most teachers see an individualistic interpretation and say that “the body of sin” is the human body under the control of sin.

There is no suggestion in the Tanakh that the body is in any way sinful or unclean. This is the very opposite to Greek understanding, which holds to a dualistic existence: spirit is pure and matter is evil. I think that much of the church has been influenced by Greek ideas and thinks that body is evil. This is not something a Hebrew would do.

When Paul speaks of the “body of sin,” he is not writing with an individualistic Greek understanding of the spirit of a man being polluted by his sinful body, but of the solidarity of mankind with Adam—the unredeemed members of the human race form the “body of Sin.” The picture is of a covenant community, which is outside of the kingdom of God. Conceptually, he thinks in corporate terms.

Paul calls the corporate community that is in Christ the “body of Christ,” it makes sense that his phrase “body of sin” would refer to the corporate community in Adam. The “body of sin” is not a reference to the human body, it is a corporate description referring to the unredeemed community, which has Adam as its head. The redeemed community has forever been removed from the body of Sin.

Christ temporally came under the power of sin, and it killed him. By rising from the dead, he broke its power, and when he came out of the grave, we came out with Him. Remember, what is true of Christ is true of us.

All that Yeshua Christ is and has, we are and have; we are one with Him—union. Let me give you an example: I take this envelope. It has an identity of its own, quite separate from this book. Let’s say I put it in the book. Now I do something with the book, say I mail it to Pennsylvania. I do not mail the envelope, but the envelope is “in” the book, so where is the envelope? It is in Pennsylvania! Why? Because it is in the book. Where the book goes, the envelope goes. If I drop the book in the water, the envelope gets wet also. If I recover the book, I recover the envelope also. Whatever experience the book goes through, the envelope goes through also because it is “in” the book. Where this illustration breaks down is that I can take the envelope out of the book, but we can never be taken out of Christ. Our union with Christ is everlasting.

The Lord God has put believers “in” Christ. Our destiny is bound up with His. What He has gone through, we have gone through. Where He is, we are.

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