All Ungodliness and Unrighteousness – Romans 1:18-20

Corduroy skirts are a sinFoundational for the preaching of the Gospel is a proper view of the pervasive effects of sin on the human race. Paul therefore begins with the “pagan world,” people which everyone would agree are not living in a way that pleases God (or any god for that matter). Paul then moves on to Gentiles who do live a morally exemplary life (2:1-15) and Jews who ought to live moral lives but do not (2:16-29). He will conclude there is no one who is righteous before God and no one who even seeks God (3:1-20).

Who is this passage talking about? It is possible Paul has an earlier period of history in mind in Romans 1:18-32. Morna Hooker pointed out the rabbinic tradition that Adam’s sin was failing to give glory to God (therefore losing his own glory) and listening to the word of a creature (the serpent) rather than God’s word. A serious problem with this view is the late date of the Genesis Rabbah and the Babylonian Talmud, Hooker’s sources for this tradition.

It is tempting to see the section as describing the period from Adam to the flood, a time when humans lived by their conscience and, by the end of the period, they were wholly evil all of the time (Gen 6:5). But there is little reason to think Paul would be thinking only of the pre-flood world since his point is humans have fallen short of the glory of God at the present time.

Most commentators on Romans think Paul has the Gentile world in mind in this opening chapter. For the most part his description in this section is not unlike any other Jewish polemic against the pagan world. The Wisdom of Solomon 13-14 makes a remarkably similar to Paul’s in Romans 1. Wisdom is a Second Temple text which

Wisdom of Solomon 14:22 (NRSV) Then it was not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God, but though living in great strife due to ignorance, they call such great evils peace.

But as Cranfield points out, the practices listed in this chapter are true for all people, both Jew and Greek (Romans, 1:105). It is not as though the Jews avoided idolatry in the Old Testament, nor can it be said the Jewish people do not commit the sins listed in this chapter.

Paul may have expected his Jewish readers to be in complete agreement with this condemnation on the Gentiles, and the Gentiles were in a position to know he is telling the truth about the pagan world. This is a “rhetorical trap.” The Roman Christians who first heard this read in their congregations may have nodded in agreement and added a hearty “amen”!  In the next chapter Paul will then argue even those who think they have righteousness have “fallen short of the glory of God.”

I wonder if this chapter gets the same reaction in contemporary culture. Some churches would likely agree with Paul that “those people out there” are sinners and deserve to be in the hands of an angry God. But for those who are outside of traditional, mainstream churches this passage sounds judgmental, they do not like the idea of an angry, wrathful God justly judging sinners. How should Christians approach the theological idea of sin in a world which is deeply offended by Christians who call their lifestyle “sin”?

10 thoughts on “All Ungodliness and Unrighteousness – Romans 1:18-20

  1. On the topic of sin, on which Paul writes about in Romans 1:18-20, and how Christians ought to deal with those offended by the Christian faith stating that they live sinful lifestyles is a difficult topic. In his blog P. Long touches upon to whom and why Paul is writing stating that Paul writes a “rhetorical trap” in which the Jews and Gentiles fall into. Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still write on this same topic in their book, Thinking Through Paul: A Survey of His Life, Letters, and Theology, writing that Paul points to the fact that all peoples are under this power of sin (Longenecker, Pg. 179). Through my experiences in evangelism, it is not at all difficult to convince people that the world is broken and most often people will also admit the fact that they themselves are also to, an extent, broken. Sinfulness and its impacts on the world are not hard for people to agree with, once it comes to the point where Christ-followers call out specific sins of an un-believer that people tend to be offended. The way I would suggest Christians to deal with this concept is not to rebuke or call out specific sins to non-believers. The concept of rebuking and accountability in the Bible, as found in 1 Timothy 5:20, is among believers as the body of Christ. When dealing with non-believers I suggest we uses passages such as Romans 3:23 that include all people, including ourselves as Christians. Without the life, work, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we are all under sin, it is only through Christ that we break our sinful nature. I would suggest a method and theology of coming alongside non-believers to show them the truth that all humanity is sinful, including yourself and them, and that there is mercy and salvation through Jesus. This method may be much more successful in evangelism than the attitude of specifically rebuking a non-believer’s sinfulness from a high pedestal.

    • Justice, good job on your discussion post this week. You made some interesting points. I especially liked how you thought it is important for accountability to only be within the church. This is seen by Paul when he explains a list of sins to the Gentiles (1:18-32) and Jews (2:21-24) (Longenecker, pg. 179). Or when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-36. This is acceptable because those who are in the faith should keep each other accountable for their actions and try to help them along their journey. However, this type of ministry could backfire if a believer tries to do this to a non-believer. Although non-believers may not know this verse they may see it as Matthew 7:4, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”, and think we are hypocritical in our faith. Instead, I really liked the idea you made of coming alongside them and telling them about your own personal struggles. Telling them stories in the Bible about how even the most righteous struggled, such as King David, Moses, etc., could be helpful, however, I think by telling your own story you would be gaining that personal connection that allows them to accept the truth more. I think sometimes all it takes is one personal realizing they are not alone in their fight to make a change in their life for the better. Because in the end, deep down everyone knows there is a God by looking at the trees, stars, and moon (Romans 1:19-20), therefore, hopefully with that knowing and the personal connection one will turn from their sin and follow God.

  2. I think, as Christians, we should approach the theological idea of sin, in a world that is easily offended, as a parent teaching their child. For example, a parent will instruct their child to not go in the road because they love them but if the child continues to play in the road they will put them in time out. It is seen throughout the Bible that parents should teach their children how to live righteous (Matthew 19:13-14, Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4), therefore, I think we can take that same idea and explain how God is our father and only gets angry at unrighteousness because He loves us. This parental love is a better way to approach the theological idea of sin because we do live in a world that gets easily offended and then turned off when we tell them their lifestyle is sinful. I know some individuals would say, “Who cares if we offend someone? That shouldn’t matter as long as we are telling them the truth about the gospel.” To a certain extent, this is true. We should not be afraid to speak the truth about God because it would offend someone, however, if we can reveal the truth to someone without offending them we should take that path. More than likely, this will be a better direction to go because an individual will be more willing to accept and believe what they are told. Going back to the parent example, when trying to explain to someone they are living a life of sin we could start by telling them how much they are loved by God (John 3:16) and how the wrath of God is anger towards sin and not them (ESV, pg. 2158). “God’s anger is not selfish or arbitrary but represents his holy and loving response to human wickedness (ESV, pg. 2158).” Also, we could explain how everyone falls to sin because it is like a cosmic power, doing everything it can to work it’s way into God’s plan (Longenecker, pg. 179). After learning more about sin if the person continues to live in it, one should show them there are consequences. For example, if it’s your friend, stop hanging out with them when they are out partying. This type of tough, parental love with hopefully show them you care in a non-offending way but also how you do not agree with their lifestyle.

  3. In Romans 1:18-20, it is evident that Paul is calling out not only the gentiles who are sinning greatly, but also the members of the church who are hypocritical in their sins as well. In verse 20 Paul states that God has clearly showed his attributes and have clearly been perceived, ever since the creation of the world and that they (believers) have no excuse for not following the law. I think this message from Paul very greatly compares to today. We know that non-believers need to repent for their sins and accept Christ, so they have a reason for not following God’s law. In our churches today we have an epidemic of hypocrisy – there are many so-called believers who preach about tackling sin, yet those same people go out each night, on their own accords, and commit sin that is just as bad if not worse than what they have been preaching. With all of that being said, Paul makes it clear that God will judge ANYONE who doesn’t follow his commandments, saved or not.

  4. i believe Paul is speaking to the people that are away from God weather it be the Jews that don’t live up to there name or the gentiles that could be away from God. its clear that someone is no upright with God in that time. and Paul was there to call them out and yes this can be for our generation today because so many people are away from God even ones who have followed God at one point in there life or seen the goodness of God. God is righteous but he is also a righteous Judge and when the time comes he has to judge accordingly if someone is in the wrong then need ot be punished, just as if a judge in a court room sees fit for the person on trial to receive a life sentence. God can see the heart of someone so if the heart produces good friut and the person is saved and follows God with there life, they can be seen as a child of God. but someone who hates the name of God and is far away from him as possible living there own life will not be a child of God. its so simple yet so complex, but God is a right and Just God and will do what his Word says.

  5. I do believe Paul was referring to the sinners of his time and also the sinners of the past. Because his message is true no matter what part of history he is talking about. All humans fall short of the glory of God no matter what unless they are saved through Jesus Christ. And I believe that Christians today shouldn’t worry about the reaction that people of today have when they are trying to show them the way they live is a sin. Especially with all the evil going on in the world today it is more important than ever to stand on the words of the bible and let Gods word be known. Even if it does offend someone its something they need to hear. Also while doing so you should be mindful of your audience and know of a way to reach them so they can be more understanding to the message and not turn away from God.

  6. I think this is a great illustration of we can think we are doing all the right things by studying the Bible and going to church, but till not one of us is truly righteous, just like the gentiles that thought they had it all figured out Paul said, We all have fallen short of the glory of God.” we can study all we want but we need to apply the scriptures to our life, knowing we are not worthy and fallen short of the glory of God give’s us that reason to strive for perfection just like followers of Christ back then needed to see to pick up there cross “daily” it wasn’t juts a Sabbath thing or a one day thing Paul is saying this is a everyday battle against sin. todays culture always loves to point the finger but never like getting called out on there own sin, so if someone like Paul came around i don’t think it would go well. but ,maybe in all honesty that’s what this generation needs is someone to bring a wake up call.

  7. It annoys me when people make that statement of “those people out there are sinners” because their mentality has to be that they were never “those people out there.” It’s frustrated because unlike the Romans, who were hearing the letter for the first time and didn’t know Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” whereas today that verse is probably imprinted onto every Christians’ brains. I can only imagine the Greek translation emphasized this too, but it’s interesting that is “all have sinned,” meaning past tense, meaning all of us have already sinned. Grammatically, it would make sense for the verse to then say, “and fallen short of the glory of God,” but it is not. It is “fall short” meaning present tense, meaning we always are short of the glory of God. Tangent aside, and to answer your question, the best example we can look to is Jesus. In all my limited knowledge of the Gospels, not once does Jesus, upon meeting someone who is a tax collector, prostitute, or any other terrible occupation or lifestyle of the ancient times, immediately say, ‘you filthy sinner, get away from me.” And proceed to outcast them, holding pitchforks and signs condemning them to Hell. Rather, Jesus fellowshipped with them. Went to their house to eat a meal with them—Zacchaeus, a tax collector. He talked to a women despite her marriage status and being a Samaritan. How should we approach the theological idea sin? Like Jesus did, full of mercy and compassion, He is finding His lost sheep after all.

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