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Questions and Answers on Romans 1-2

Written by: MacArthur Jr., John    Posted on: 04/08/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

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                                     by                               John MacArthur

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."

Question #1

"What did Paul mean in Romans 1:7, concerning 'To all that be in Rome . . . called saints?'"

Answer #1

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 his life.

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 that helps.


Question #2

"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?"

Answer #2

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 you rapidly. 

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 Jesus."

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       live? 

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.


Question #3

"What is God's purpose for judgment and wrath?"

Answer #3

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.


Question #4

"Who is judged at the Great White Throne?"

Answer #4

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 books for?" 

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 them forever.

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:

Question #5

"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?"

Answer #5

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 question:"

Question #6

"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 concerns me."

Answer #6

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.

Question #7

Recently, you appear to teach that acceptable works will determine our eternal fate, that is, heaven or hell.  Do you really mean that?

Answer #7

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       Finest." 

      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       years." 

      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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