Romans 1:16–25comment (0)
January 30, 2014
By Thomas L. Fuller
Related Scripture: Romans 1:16–25
Bible Studies for Life
Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
What About People Who’ve Never Heard About Jesus?
Jesus said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). That “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” is a staple of historic Christian orthodoxy (Acts 4:12). And so, as Jesus’ disciples, we are commissioned to “make disciples of all nations” and to be His witnesses “to the end of the earth” (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8). Sadly, however, we know that there are those who have never heard of Jesus or the good news of God’s marvelous gift of salvation in Him. Is it fair that they should suffer eternal separation from God?
In the early chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans, the apostle makes the case for the sinfulness and guilt of all people. He prefaces the argument in 1:16–17, declaring that in the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed.” This statement raises obvious questions, such as: From what do we need to be made right? And how were we to know about God and His righteous standard? It is to these questions that Paul writes in the remaining verses of chapter 1.
One way to approach these verses would be as if you were a reporter conducting an interview. In each verse, Paul makes a point that raises a question addressed in the following verse.
Q: For what purpose has God revealed His righteousness in the gospel? A: Because “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (18). God hates evil. While the popular conception of evil typically entails heinous acts intentionally committed against others, the true essence of evil is rejection of God and His righteousness (Gen. 3).
Q: And what is the truth they suppress? A: It is the truth “about God” — truth that is “plain to them,” truth that “God has shown to them” (19). It is the knowledge of God.
Q: How has God made Himself plain to all people? A: He has clearly revealed His attributes, His power and His nature in the visible elements of His creation (20a). This is what we refer to as God’s general revelation of Himself. Scripture attests to this in other places and ways (Job 37–42; Ps. 19; Isa. 6:3; Acts 14:14–17).
Q: And how did they suppress this plainly revealed truth? A: Having “clearly perceived” the truth of God, they chose not to honor Him or give thanks to Him but to live according to their own wisdom and desires, to worship and serve the created rather than the Creator (21–23). This is not rejection of the truth of the gospel — which is God’s special revelation through Christ and the Scriptures — but a willful rejection of the God who is Creator and Righteous King.
Q: So what are the consequences of this? A: In short, the wrath of God (18). While we typically think of God’s wrath in the future tense, as a coming day of God’s judgment (Rom. 2:5, 8; 1 Thess. 1:10), there also is a present-day manifestation of it: God “gives them over” to their pursuits; He leaves them to their own devices (24).
God has revealed Himself plainly to all, such that we are “without excuse” (20b). While it may offend sensibilities to assert that those who have never heard the gospel are nonetheless subject to God’s wrath, we place our trust ultimately in God, in His perfect justice and mercy and in His trustworthy word. And, like Paul, we keep our singular focus on the gospel.
While God has revealed Himself in general ways to all people, He has revealed Himself perfectly in the gospel of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The good news of Jesus Christ isn’t just informative but has the power to save and to change lives. Sharing the gospel with others should be our focus and passion, for it is our hope and our mission.