Introduction: In the opening verses of chapter one, Paul affirmed the primary subject matter of the letter this way, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16-17). Before he proves that obedient faith in the gospel of Christ is the basis of salvation from sin, Paul will prove that everyone – Jew and Gentile – stands in need of salvation.
I. The Gentiles Need the Gospel (1:18-32)
A. The wrath of God is decreed on all who suppress the truth and live ungodly and unrighteous lives, which is the natural result of rejecting truth (1:18).
B. Though God had revealed himself to Gentiles, they had largely rejected him – an action for which there was no excuse (1:19-32).
1. God’s eternal power and divine nature can be perceived through the created world (1:20; Psa. 19:1-4; Acts 14:17). But the Gentiles refused that evidence and chose the path of idolatry (1:21-25).
2. As a result of rejecting God, they slid further into immorality. Specifically, Paul calls attention to homosexuality and uses strong words of condemnation for it (1:26-27).
3. In quick fashion, Paul lists several additional sins that characterized the Gentile world (1:28-32).
C. Take special note of the connection between what a person thinks about God and how that person acts (cf. Prov. 4:23; 23:7).
1. It was because the Gentiles “exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25) that they gave themselves over to the grossest immorality.
2. It is easy to see the same thing in our day. The more people reject the truth about Jehovah, the more they embrace depravity (Rom. 1:28). Look at the list of sins in this section and note how many of them are not just excused, but praised and promoted in our culture.
II. The Jews Need the Gospel (2:1 – 3:8)
A. Beginning in chapter two, Paul switches from addressing “they/them” to addressing “you” – one indication that he is now addressing the Jews.
B. The Jewish people had become adept at condemning the sinfulness of the Gentiles; but Paul makes it clear that both Jew and Gentile occupy the same spiritual real estate (2:1-16).
1. The judgment of God against such sinfulness is right (2:2) and he deals with each person fairly and impartially (2:11).
2. While it’s true that Gentiles deserve censure for their ungodliness (2:2), the Jews should not think that they are squeaky clean. To the contrary, they were “storing up wrath” for themselves, too (2:5).
3. Each person – whether Jew or Gentile – will be judged “according to his works” (2:6). Eternal life will be the lot of those who do well (2:7), and punishment will find those who do evil (2:9). God shows no racial or ethnic partiality (2:10-11).
4. The Gentiles stood condemned because they violated the law to which they were accountable – moral law; the Jews stood condemned because they violated the law to which they were accountable – the Law of Moses (2:12-16).
C. The primary condemnation of the Jews was hypocrisy (2:18-29; Matt. 23:1-7). Though they boasted of their connection to God and viewed themselves as leaders of the blind, they were guilty of the same sins that they condemned in others. As a result, the name of God was slandered.
III. There is None Righteous (3:9-20)
A. To bolster his case that Jew and Gentile are in need of the saving gospel, Paul combines quotations from several Old Testament texts in 3:10-18 – Psalm 14:1-3; 5:9; 10:7; Isaiah 59:7-8; Psalm 36:1.
B. Since the only thing that mere law can do is condemn – it cannot justify – there is no other conclusion to draw except that there is none righteous (3:19-20).
1. This is a major theme in Romans, and Paul will return to it later (3:27-28; 4:13-16; 9:30-32).
2. It is also a major point in Galatians (2:16; 3:10-13; 5:4).
Conclusion: Having established a universal need for the gospel, Paul will move on in the next chapter to explain the necessity of approaching God in a spirit of faith and trust, grateful that he will declare us righteous for so doing.