Both the contemporary secular culture and the world’s many religions offer an array of options on how people view the world around them. They all offer their own way of seeing how life ought to be lived. In the midst of this culture Christians need to know how God has purposed for His creatures to see the world and to live in obedience to Him. The Word of God in general and the letter to the Romans in particular reveals the foundation to the worldview that God’s people are to possess. Romans addresses the main issues that stand in stark contrast to the worldview of this secular age and the world’s religions. Such issues include how the world was created, sin, salvation, eschatology, ethics, and theology.
The letter to the Romans, a letter that focuses on the gospel, begins by informing us about the foundational event that is necessary for our understanding of the gospel: creation.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20 ESV)
Couched within the language of God’s wrath upon man’s unrighteousness, Paul reveals the reason for God’s wrath, namely the fact that people have failed to see Him as their Creator and sovereign Lord. Paul Achtemeier says, “To imagine that God is something other than he is, the sovereign Lord and sole Creator of all that exists, brings in its train terrible consequences…to refuse to acknowledge him as divine Creator and Lord is to remove oneself from any possibility of fellowship with him.”
In these verses we see that natural creation reveals to all men clearly that God not only exists, but also reveals His “eternal power and divine nature” (v. 19). This agrees with Psalm 19:1 which states, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (ESV). This knowledge of God is not a saving knowledge, but leaves people without excuse for their unrighteousness. “Paul’s purpose is to show that the knowledge of God that all people have through observing the created order is suppressed (v.18) and distorted (vv. 21-23), so that all without exception have no excuse.”
Paul goes on to show that humanity is wholly turned against God. He says in 1:21 that “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (ESV). He then proceeds to list in 1:22-32 an overview of their sinful lifestyles that reveals a Godless worldview. This is seen also in 3:18 which declares, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is a condition which is clearly seen in today’s culture through the continual increase and boldness of people’s sinful lifestyles.
What does Romans reveal to us that lets us know the consequences of such a lifestyle? Since God is Creator, and since His creatures have sinned against Him, there is a penalty for that sin, and yet people continue to live in unbelief as if they answer only to themselves. Beginning in chapter 2, Paul tells of God’s righteous judgment on mankind’s sin. Being a Jew doesn’t get one off the hook, either, since even the Jews have shown that they are unable to keep God’s righteous laws (2:17-29). The consequences of this sin is God’s wrath (1:18; 2:5-11).
Since the problem for man is their being “under sin” and because of that sin they are unable to live according to God’s righteous standards, man is in need of rescue. Paul declares boldly in 3:21 that God has made a way for mankind to be made right with God apart from the law. Verse 22 reveals this way as being through faith in Jesus Christ. Why is this so? Paul unfolds the details in verses 23-26. All people have sinned (v. 23), but God brought about the justification of all who place their faith in Jesus Christ, and this is by grace which is a gift (v. 24). Through His death and the shedding of His blood, Jesus became our propitiation (v. 25) which was God’s way of justly being able to turn away His wrath from sinners who place their faith in Jesus Christ (v. 26) and to declare them righteous. This was the mission that Jesus Christ came to fulfill. In Christ, believers, then, have peace with God (5:1).
While justification is a judicial declaration whereby God counts a sinner righteous by faith in Christ, sanctification is a process whereby we become more like Christ. It is the process by which we realize and work out the truth that we have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (6:18). But this process still is not something we do on our own. We are given the Holy Spirit to give us the power to walk according to His ways and not the ways of the flesh. Through the Spirit we are to “put to death” the deeds of the flesh (8:5-13). As Moo points out, “We must recognize that the grace and power of God that justified us continue to be at work to sanctify us. God expects us to obey him, but our very obedience is the product of his grace.” Our part in this is to “present our members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (6:19 ESV).
Although we may see our current journey of sanctification as a struggle, we are given assurance that one day our struggle will cease. In Romans 8, Paul begins to delineate between the present age and the age to come. In light of all that Christ has done for us, and in light of the fact that we now are radically identified with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:5-11), we look forward to a day when we will be resurrected like Christ. Romans 8:18-30 talks about the present suffering which will one day give way to a future glory. Verse 19 states that the creation itself even groans, as it were, eagerly awaiting for the revealing of the sons of God. Here we see Paul revealing God’s plan not only to redeem people, but also the whole of God’s creation. Paul spells this out clearly in 8:29-31 with what is commonly called “the golden chain” of redemption – believers are foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. This brings assurance of final salvation as is laid out in 8:31-39, namely that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39 ESV).
Our eschatology, then, should affect our ethics. Since “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (13:11), our ethical conduct should reflect that belief. As Christians, we are to live in obedience to God and not walk in the lusts of our flesh (8:5). We are not to be conformed to this world (12:2). We are called to love one another, show honor to one another, pray, and show hospitality toward one another (12:9-13; 13:8-10). We are commanded to do what is honorable in the sight of all, and to live at peace with everyone so long as it depends on us (12:17-18). We are to live properly and make no provision for the flesh (13:13-14).
Romans also addresses ethical worldview issues that speak to the current culture. A true ethical worldview must be based on some standard. It cannot arbitrarily exist. As we have seen in Romans 1:18-20, that standard is God. We also see in 2:15 that all people have the moral law of God written on their hearts and in their conscience. “The conscience in Gentiles proves that they are keenly aware of moral norms that accord with the Mosaic law.” Schreiner continues, “Here the purpose is to show that Gentiles who do not have the written law have a twofold witness to the moral norms of the law. First, the commands of the law are written in their hearts, and second, the conscience also testifies to the validity of those norms, in that it condemns or approves of the behavior practiced.” Paul also tells us that all people know God’s decree and that those who practice unrighteousness know that what they do is wrong (1:32). It is the Mosaic law of God, however, that gives mankind special revelation of what God’s standard of morality is (2:12-24; 12:1-2).
This all leads us to an overarching subject that is part of every person’s worldview, and one which affects all the other parts. Everyone has some view of God (1:21). Even atheists have a view of God, albeit one that believes that He doesn’t exist. This means that theology is a part of everyone’s worldview.
Throughout the letter to the Romans we see God’s nature and many of His attributes on full display. God is powerful and holy (1:4), and He is a God of grace and peace (1:7). He is a righteous God and a God of wrath (1:17-18), an eternal and all-powerful God who created all things (1:20), a God who decrees (1:32), and a God of judgment (2:1-24), yet He is a God who shows no partiality (2:11). God’s righteousness also reveals that He is a God of mercy and grace (3:21 – 11:36).
In chapter 5 we see God’s great love on full display, while chapters 6 and 7 remind us again of God’s holiness. From there we see God as a great liberator (8:1-25), and we also see God’s great providence in the lives of His people (8:26-30). This all comes together to show a God of matchless love who ably keeps His children in His care until the very end (8:31-39).
God is a completely sovereign God who does whatever He wills (9:1-29), and unfolds His perfect plan of redemption throughout all of history, a plan which includes people from the whole world (9:30 – 11:32).
Finally, we get a glimpse of God’s perfect knowledge and wisdom (11:34; 16:27) and the God who holds all riches (11:35). All this is summed up in acknowledging God as a God who is supreme in glory (11:35; 16:27).