Key Thought: a lot of things can take our joy, peace, and hope, but the main problem is our alienation from God.
What is it that keeps us from joy, peace, and hope? Many things. We make many errors in our thinking that cause us to lose these things. We exaggerate threats, make outcomes too important, tie our happiness to the wrong things, don’t see the good that we have, etc.
But Paul saw all these things as rooted in one key problem: our failure to make God central to our thoughts and lives.
We do not do this because we do not know who God is. We do know. He has made Himself clearly known (Rom. 1:19–20). It is because we refuse to take this knowledge into account and give God the glory, praise, and place He deserves. We suppress the truth.
The result is that God gives us over to our own desires. One part of our error and sin is that we want things too much. Because we have given up on that which truly satisfies us (God), we have to try to find satisfaction elsewhere. We become obsessed with other things. We take whatever gives us pleasure and make life all about that.
When we make the pleasures or experiences of life the center of our lives, we will find other people blocking our way. That’s where wars, hatred, envy, jealousy, and rage come from. And that’s where we, as a human race, are stuck.
Into this failure to keep God in our hearts and thoughts as the supreme object of devotion, people offer religion as a way to get God back into our thoughts. God Himself gave a religious system to His people in the Old and New Testaments. However, oftentimes, those who possessed this religion used it to exalt and gratify themselves and clothed their injustice in the righteous claims of their religion. They knew the Words of God. They had them. But they didn’t obey them (see Romans 2).
People will use anything to exalt themselves and place themselves at the center. Ironically, religion can be a means of escaping God and exalting ourselves. We make ourselves bigger by identifying ourselves with the transcendent. This is not a problem simply of the Jewish people, though Paul addresses them. It is a human problem. There is no tool that we use to subdue pride that cannot become a tool of pride.
Why is this? Why do we take the best things and abuse them? Because humans are bent in the wrong direction. They have a sort of acquired allergy to God that keeps them from doing the right thing. Even the people who had the clearest instruction on God went the wrong way, including Paul himself! We cannot not establish righteousness and goodness on our own. We can’t get back to joy, peace, and hope without intervention.
At this point, it is important to remember that our problem is not simply that we cannot be what God has made us to be. God is opposed to what we have become. Sin is offensive to Him. The wrath of God is being revealed against all the bad things people do (Rom. 1:18).
Some people may be offended at this idea, but here is the problem. Would we really want a God who didn’t care that people did bad things? No. We would not want to worship a God like that. We would think He was unjust. The trouble is that we think all the bad things are outside us. Instead, we need to see that they are also inside us. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 and see Paul’s summary of this in Romans 3:1-20).
When we get that, we will understand our need for reconciliation with God and transformation into a new people.
So, what is needed? A righteousness from God. That is what is revealed in the Gospel, the good news. That is what we will explore in the next section.
Outline for Making Your Own Study of Romans 1–3
- Paul sees the basic problem as a failure to acknowledge God, think of God, and thank God.
- This failure leads us to try and illegitimately find our satisfaction in things that can’t satisfy us.
- This makes us mad at other people and causes all sorts of envy and evil thinking.
- Religion seemed to be a help to this, but human pride even used this as a tool to escape God and His claims and look down on others.
- The reason religion (even God-given religion) failed was because of human sinfulness, or our basic bent away from God.
Questions for Reflection
- Where are you in your relationship with God?
- What do you often seek to satisfy you? What happens when you don’t get there?
- What can you use to make you feel good about your relationship with God that might hide your real need?
- How do you feel about Paul’s evaluation of human beings as sinners?