Questions and Answers on Romans 1-2
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/08/2003
The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama
City, California, By John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape,
GC 45-21, titled "Questions and Answers on Romans 1-2." A copy of the tape
can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA
91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.
I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the
original tape was made. Please note that at times sentence structure may
appear to vary from accepted English conventions. This is due primarily to
the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in
placing the correct punctuation in the article.
It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription
of the sermon to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Questions and Answers on Romans 1-2
One of the things that I love to do is answer questions about Scripture
because I get excited to know what you really want to know. We've done this
through all the years that I have been here, now we do it regularly, about
every month on Wednesday night. So if you don't get your question answered
tonight, soon there will be a time on a Wednesday evening when you can come
and ask the question there. And if you do have questions, let me also
emphasize that you should feel very free to write to us and express your
questions in a letter, and that way we be able to answer you personally,
which we will be glad to do [address at the beginning of this file].
I think that we ought to begin with our questions on the Book of Romans,
since Romans has been our study. You might open your Bible to chapters 1 and
2. For several months we have been studying Romans 1 and 2, and I know many
folks have had questions in their minds, and I wanted specifically to answer
some of those related to the Book of Romans.
The first question comes out of chapter one, verse seven. It says in 1:7,
"To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called saints."
"What did Paul mean in Romans 1:7, concerning 'To all that be in
Rome . . . called saints?'"
I think probably, the confusion comes that so many people are raised in a
Roman Catholic background where they are used to hearing the term "saint" in
reference to some very unique individual who has been "canonized" by the
Catholic church. You think of Saint So-and-So or Saint So-and-So and that's
your identification. If you go into a Catholic Church and you go down what
is known as the "Apes (sp.) of the Church" as opposed to the "Nave," all the
way down the "Apes" of a large Catholic church, you will see along the sides
"stations" occupied by certain saints.
I'll never forget the story of Dr. Kiper (sp.) who expressed that he took his
friend into the great cathedral in New York (Saint Paul's Cathedral) and his
friend wanted to visit that, he was a Roman Catholic visiting in the city
while Dr. Kiper was attending Columbia University, and he had particular
interest in Saint Joseph who was his own private saint (if you can have one)
and he wanted to go and worship at the shrine of Saint Joseph, and they both
went there together, only to find a sign hanging around the neck of Saint
Joseph which said, "Do not worship here, this Saint is out of order."
Apparently, there was something wrong with the mechanics of the lighting and
other things that went on there. Dr. Kiper said that was the greatest
opening to witness about who really is always "in order" that he ever had in
So I don't think we want to be confused about who is a saint. The simple
answer will come to you if you simply open your Bible to 1 Corinthians,
chapter 1, and look at verse 2, and then you will know for all time what a
saint or who a saint really is.
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul identifies himself as the author, and he identifies
the recipients as "The church of God, which is at Corinth, to them that are
sanctified in Christ Jesus (or set apart), called saints, with all that in
every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord." Now, there you
have a definition of a saint: one who is sanctified in Christ Jesus and who
calls upon the name of Jesus Christ. In any place, in any city, anyone who
has been sanctified in Christ Jesus, through salvation, who calls upon His
name as Lord--is a saint! The word means "set apart," or "holy" (hagios is
the Greek word). Anyone who is a Christian is a saint--anyone! You find
that, that term is used in many, many places to address Christians.
In 2 Corinthians 1:1, there is a greeting with "all the saints who are in
Achaia" and this is a typical Pauline expression, as it was throughout the
life of the early church. Ephesians chapter 1, "to the saints who are at
Ephesus." It is simply a term used to describe any Christian. So I hope
"You've explained that Romans 1 deals with God's righteous judgment
concerning the unsaved, degenerate man, who are given over to a depraved
mind. You have explained that Romans 2 concerns the basically religious or
moral man, but who is still without Christ. How does, or how will God deal
with the back-slidden carnal Christian?"
Now we know how God will deal with the unregenerate, whether they are immoral
or moral, whether they are irreligious or religious. Right? Judgment! But
how does God deal with back-slidden carnal Christians? I think that there
are four Scriptures that answer that for us, and I am going to give them to
1. I believe God "chastens." 1 Corinthians 5, provides an illustration for
us. It says there in verse 1, that there is an individual in the church who
is having a sexual relationship with his father's wife. That probably is a
term that refers to his stepmother, or it would say "his mother," so it was
his stepmother, and it nonetheless would be considered not only immoral in
the general sense, but in the specific sense of incest. And not only was
this going on, but you are puffed up (verse 2), and haven't mourned over such
sin, but rather you look at it as if it was a notch in your belt.
And so, because of this, he tells the church (verse 4), "In the name of our
Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, and my spirit, with the
power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the
destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord
Now, the text says that this is a saved individual because in the end, in the
"day of the Lord" the spirit is going to be--what? saved. So, this is a
believing person, but for the time he is to be delivered to Satan for the
destruction of his flesh, and this is to be done by the church (verse 4),
"When you are gathered together, and my spirit is present with you, and the
authority of the Lord Jesus Christ (power and authority are the same thing),"
when you are gathered together and you have the authority of Christ, as the
duly constituted church and you come across a sinful member--put him out of
the church. That's the first way God deals with a back-slidden carnal
believer. The church is to turn that individual over to Satan and there will
be a chastening in the physical dimension, ultimately the spirit, or the soul
being saved because it is a believer.
2. Now there is a second factor that we need to talk about, relative to
chastening, and that's in Hebrews 12:5. This is the element of chastening
that is not so much the design of the corporate body of the church, but is
the individual attention of the Spirit of God Himself, in a personal
chastening. It says, in the middle of verse 5,
My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint
when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he
chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If you
endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what
son is he whom the father chasteneth not? And if He doesn't
chasten you, then you are a bastard, and not a son at all. It
is like a father Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh
which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not
much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and
And he goes on to talk about it. So there is, in the life of a carnal and
disobedient Christian (and carnal may not be the best term to use. The
disobedient Christian I think fits better biblically), but when you have a
disobedient, back-slidden (is the word Jeremiah used, so that's a good word)
Christian, you have
1. The responsibility of the Church to put that person out, if in fact they
will not repent of such sin.
2. The Spirit of God personally gets involved in the life of that individual
in a chastening manner.
Now, turn for a moment to 2 John 8, I want to show you a third thing that can
occur in the life of a back-slidden, disobedient Christian. Verse 8, 2 John,
"Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be
rewarded fully." What this indicates, is that a believer could come to
the point in his life where his disobedience caused the forfeiture of that
which he had already gained as a reward, previous to his disobedience. The
Lord has given you a promise that there will be a reward for faithfulness.
If you are faithful He has given the reward, but He reserves the right to
take it back, in light of unfaithfulness. So there definitely will be
chastening by the Lord. There should be chastening by the Church. There
will be a loss of reward; an empty-handedness if you will at the time of
rewards at the Bema Seat.
Under those things we could talk about a lot of other things: of course, you
forfeit blessings, and joy, and assurance, and all kinds of things that
occur. But I guess we could sum it all up by saying, there is a loss of the
meaning and the meaningfulness of salvation. When a person is back-slidden,
and disobedient, and sinful, they not only lose the sense of their salvation
and their assurance (that's why 2 Peter 1 talks about making your calling and
election sure by adding certain things to your life). They not only lose the
sense of their salvation, but they lose the meaningfulness of it, that is,
the blessedness of it.
Now, I have to add another thing, after those four, the one other thing that
happens, that God does to a back-slidden, disobedient Christian (are you
ready for this one?), is to forgive them in spite of their sin. Aren't you
glad to hear that? And the text is 1 John 2:1, "My little children, these
things write I unto you, that ye sin not." And of course, we know
that he is referring to believers whom he calls his dear children. Don't
sin! Obviously, don't be disobedient or back-slidden, "But if anybody does
sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the
Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice (the propitiation, the covering,
the mercy seat), the "hilasterion" (Greek) for our sins, and not only for ours
but also for the sins of the whole world." So that if we do sin, Jesus
Christ as our Savior is our covering for our sins, and He has forgiven us all
of our trespasses, Ephesians one tells us.
So where there is sin and disobedience in the life of a believer there will
be chastening by the Lord, there should be chastening by the Church, there
will be a loss of reward, and a certain empty-handedness at the time of
rewards, there will be a loss of the sense of being saved, and the
blessedness of being saved, and that's why you see John says "We write these
things unto you that your joy may be. . . ." what? "full." But on top of all
of those things, we also have the promise that God will, in spite of our sin,
forgive us, because Jesus Christ has already paid the price even for the sin
we haven't committed. And since the price is paid, His death for us becomes
a covering. Isn't that a great grace that God has given us? That's why it
is so important to affirm what we call eternal security, because the lack of
eternal security strikes a blow against the efficacy of the death of Christ.
We will say more about that in a little while.
"What is God's purpose for judgment and wrath?"
I think that I can just answer that just very simply.
1. It is to punish those who reject Him, and that is simply what the Bible
says. God's wrath is set to punish. Romans 1:18, "The wrath of God is
revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men
who hold the truth in unrighteousness." God will punish them for that.
There is a price to pay for the rejection of the truth. So, the first
purpose of God's judgment and wrath is punishment.
2. I would add a second purpose. I really believe that secondly (and this
is in a large theological framework) I believe that God's purpose for
punishment is the ultimate elimination of evil from His kingdom, once and for
all, and forever. In other words, I think God, throughout the history of
man, in allowing sin, allowed it in order that He might destroy it. Do you
understand what I am saying?
If there is an up--there is a down, and if there is an in--there is an out,
if there is a left--there is a right. In other words, we live in a world of
opposites. And if there is a good--there was always potentially an evil, and
eventually that evil was made manifest. It was as if God had allowed it to
happen so that He could once and for all destroy it. He allowed it to run
its full course, with its full power, and its full impact, and shows in the
end that He can utterly destroy and eliminate it from His eternal kingdom.
All of this is happening in a brief span, in the mists of eternity. Once
evil has finally run it course and God has finally set it aside, it will
never again exist throughout all of forever. And so I believe that there is
a sense in which there is an individual perspective that God is angry because
He is punishing individuals for rejection, and on a broader scale God is
exhibiting His wrath for the purpose of ultimately destroying evil and
setting it in the place it belongs--outside His kingdom forever and ever.
"Who is judged at the Great White Throne?"
Turn in your Bible to the 20th chapter of Revelation, and I really haven't
put these in any other order than just to throw them in the Romans pile. I
got a little pile here from Matthew, and some about prophecy (I always get a
few of those), and some over here on dating. All of those of you who would
like a date, see our college pastor, Allan Adidian (sp.), he may have another
list of people who are waiting for someone like you, and we can match you all
up, or our singles group might too.
But this question comes out Revelation 20, and it has to do, of course, what
we studied about Romans--the judgment of the evil. In verse 11 of Revelation
20, "I saw a great white throne and Him that sat on it, from whose face the
earth and heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them." Of
course, this is God sitting on His throne in ultimate judgment. Christ is
there as well because all judgment is committed unto Him. He sits in the
Father's throne and so forth, from earlier in Revelation, and we know that as
well from the Gospel of John.
"And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God." "Small and great"
doesn't mean short and tall, it means insignificant and significant.
"And the books were opened." And people often ask the question, "Well,
doesn't God know who's save and who's not saved? What does He have to have
Because, God is just, and God will not judge a person without manifesting the
objective criteria for that judgment. So there is no question in the mind of
anyone. God has kept the records. He knows every thought, and every word,
and every deed ever done by every human being who ever lived, and it is all
down so that judgment is on the basis of their works. He'll have the record
and He will also have the Book of Life.
"And the dead were judged out of those things written in the books, according
to their works." You see, works are the objective criteria which God uses.
"And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; death and Hades delivered up
the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their
works." And there you are again, you shouldn't have a problem with that,
judgment is on the basis of works--ultimately.
"And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second
death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into
the lake of fire." Now, I believe that this is a judgment of unbelievers. I
do not believe that we see here believing people. People then say, "Then,
why is the Book of Life here?" Simply because that is another criteria by
which God judges. One, He will open all the books, which give all the
records of all the deeds of all the ungodly. And then He will open up the
Book of Life, and not only will all their deeds manifest their ungodliness,
but their absence in the Book of Life will be the subjective criteria added
to the objective of the list of the works of their life, that will condemn
Now the reason that I don't see believers here is because believers have
already been judged, by this time. The judgment of works, that we know as
the "Bema Judgment" (2 Corinthians 5, Romans 14:10-11). That judgment has
already occurred before the Millennial period began--1,000 years prior to
this. But this is the resurrection of the ungodly of all time. Now you say,
"Does that mean that it is a literal resurrection?" Yes, John 5, Jesus said
that there will be a resurrection, not only for those who will be raised to
life, but those who will be raised to death as well. All people who have
ever lived will be resurrected. They will receive a new body. Ours will be
fit for heaven and God's eternal kingdom; theirs will be fit for hell.
People have said, "Is hell literal fire?" That's a very difficult question
to answer. Jesus used that expression many, many times. I don't know how
literal the fire is. I tend to think there will be some kind of very literal
torment because there will be a real resurrection, and whatever kind of body
they have it will be a body that can exist forever, and it can exist in a
tormented state forever and never perish. I believe that this is the
judgment of those unrighteous dead who will all be gathered at one moment in
time, in the Great White Throne, and the record will be laid out and they
will not have the works to make it, and they will not be in the Book of Life.
If you are not in the Book of Life the only way you could get in is to have a
perfect works record. Right? And nobody can do that, "For by the deeds of
the law shall no flesh be justified."
So, I believe that this is the unrighteous dead, who are then cast into the
Lake of Fire. Believers have already had their judgment.
Now let's go back to Romans 1, and we will get back to the believers judgment
in a moment.
In Romans 1 and 2 we talked about homosexuality, the sin that is mentioned in
verse 26 and 27 of Romans 1. And this question is:
"I agree that homosexuality is a sin, but is it the most heinous sin, as you
have said? How can a physical sin be worse than the sin of Romans 1:21 of
not honoring God? Isn't not honoring God a worse sin than homosexuality?"
Well, let me just say this, not honoring God is the worse sin of all.
Homosexuality is simply a result of that. In other words, you can't line
them up because they are not equivalent--they are sequential. Do you
understand what I am saying? First, you make the determination in your life
that you are not going to honor God, and then you move into sinful living and
the epitome of the expression of a life that doesn't honor God is
homosexuality. I believe that is what Paul is saying here. He goes through
all of these things: the ultimate thing that a man can do is to totally
invert the created intention of God. I mean to totally invert it, as
homosexuality does is the worst physical sin, and it is an expression of a
life that does not honor God because it doesn't just pervert--it inverts the
created order. I think that's why Paul uses it as the illustration of the
utter sinfulness of man, when he says this is how far he has gone--he has
gone to homosexuality, that is the limit of Paul's conception of sinfulness.
Now, also in Romans 1 and 2, I have a very interesting question. This
gentleman says that, "I am a Japanese national and my country is atheistic
and materialistic. Most of our population has very little understanding of
Jesus. After World War II Japan was in great need, there were many children
without parents. Fortunately some very caring people arose to start homes
for these children. One woman I knew of was very selfless, giving, and
loving--she spent her whole life caring for these children. Many people
didn't respect her for doing this, but because of the love in her heart she
continued helping. I don't believe she was a Christian. Here's my
"There are many Christians who don't ever spend their life as she did. If
one looked at their deeds, this woman would look like the Christian! They
simply had the opportunity to hear the message of Christ and she didn't. How
will God judge her? And how will God judge these 'Christians'? This deeply
Well, I don't blame him, that concerns me--doesn't it you? It is true that
some of the philanthropy and the selflessness, and the generosity, and the
sacrifice, of the unregenerate outstrips Christians. There is no question
about that. Some of the most caring people in the world aren't Christians.
Some people who have totally given themselves to assist the hurting and the
needful people of this world are not Christians. On the other hand, some
Christians do not manifest that kind of care at all.
But listen, the basis of salvation is not how you treat children, it is
whether you believe in Jesus Christ or not, and that is the substance of the
gospel. You will be saved not on the basis of your philanthropy or on the
basis of your good deeds, and you will not commend yourself to God with those
either, because whatsoever is not of faith towards God is sin no matter what
it is. But the basis of salvation is faith in Jesus Christ, that's why Acts
4:12 is the key verse, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is
none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." The
plan of salvation says, "It is not your good deeds, it is not your good works
that save you." Now, keep that in your mind, because I think some of you
misunderstood what I have been saying.
Your works do not save you and that is basic, "For by the deeds of the law
there shall no flesh be justified." "Not of works, lest any man should. . . ."
what? "boast!" Then, if salvation is by works we have reason to boast and
God cannot get the glory, its us--we did it! But salvation is by faith in
Jesus Christ. That is why the most wretched individual, the most gross life
can come to Jesus Christ, put his faith in Jesus Christ, spend forever in
eternity. Whereas, the most philanthropic, charitable person in the world,
who turned their back on Jesus Christ will spend forever in Hell.
It is wrong to assume in the case of this woman, that she did not have the
opportunity to hear the message of Christ, because if there is anything that
we have learned in Romans 1 and 2, it is that she did. Right? She did! She
held the truth in unrighteousness. It was there as evidenced by her conduct.
Her very conduct towards these little children spoke of a law within her,
didn't it? It was there. She was doing by nature the things that God would
have wanted her to do. Her conscience, her thoughts, all reveal the inward
law of God written in her heart. She just did not accept that as from God
and live up to the light that she had.
Now let me take you a step further. There are Christians who do not manifest
the same level of human goodness, at least outwardly and visibly, that some
of these philanthropic, caring people have manifest. But listen carefully,
while it is true that there are people in the world who do deeds of human
goodness, it is not true that you can be a Christian and never do those
deeds! If you are a Christian there will be some manifestation in your good
deeds. Now listen to me, there will be some manifestation in your good
deeds. On the outside they may not look as magnanimous as the charities of
an individual like this, but they do truly manifest the work of God in your
life. That has to be the case, for "faith without works is. . . ." what?
"dead." Maybe, if God were to be the judge, even though the world might not
think your works were as significant, the most significant work of all is to
glorify God and to praise Him, and that is something that woman could not do
at all. I hope you understand.
Yes, there are human beings who show good (relatively speaking human good)
and that's commendable, but it can't save them. Yes, there are Christians
(all of us) who don't do everything that we ought to do, but there is going
to be something there to give evidence that we are truly regenerate--that is
without question the case. Now, let me see if I can keep going along this
line and follow it up.
Here's a question that came in a letter.
Recently, you appear to teach that acceptable works will determine our
eternal fate, that is, heaven or hell. Do you really mean that?
Now that has been the crux of what I have been hitting at. Let me see if I
can get it across another way.
I do believe (now listen carefully) that works "reveal" our eternal fate. I
do not believe they "determine" it. What determines it, is our faith in
Jesus Christ, but what proves that, that in fact has been determined is the
evidence in our life. Now, I said it last time and I will say it again, the
cause of salvation is faith in Jesus Christ plus nothing (no works). But the
consequence of that is works. Let's see if I can illustrate this.
I was riding with a man who was an executive in a seminary, and he said to
me, (we were talking about something and I saw a Liquor Store) and,
He said to me, "Oh yes."
I said, "That's an interesting thing, it's called the 'Finest
Liquor Store'. What a strange name for a Liquor Store--The
He said, "Oh, that's a chain, they are all over the place."
I said, "Really?"
He said, "Yeah, I know the man that owns them. He's in my
Sunday School class!"
I said, "He is?"
He said, "Yeah, he comes regularly. He's been coming for
I said, "Is he a Christian?"
He said, "Oh yes, he's received the Lord."
I said, "Well, is the rest of his life in order, or is this
something off. . . ?"
"Well, not really" he said, "He's been shacking up with a young
girl and he has left his wife and so forth."
I said, "How long has that been going on?"
"Well its been going on nearly a year now, and we have been
trying to work with him and so forth."
And then he said this to me, "You know, I just can't understand
how a Christian can live like that?"
And I looked over at him and I said, "Have you ever thought that
maybe the guy is not a Christian?"
And he said, "Well I remember when he prayed the prayer."
I said, "What prayer?"
"Well, the prayer that invited Christ into his life."
Is that what saves you? I mean, you say, "All right Lord. . . ." I know
that there is one theologian in America who says, "If you say that to God on
a dare, He has to save you, no matter what your life is after that!" Is that
true? That's not what James said, "Faith without works is. . . ." what?&nb
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