You know how there are some passages of the Bible people seem to reject quicker than others?
Romans 1 is one of those.
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to preach on this text, one of the most divisive chapters of the Bible. Much like Genesis 1, which presents God as the authority over all creation, Romans 1 reminds us that, despite our best efforts, we cannot deny His existence, for He has made it plain to us in the things that are seen.
And yet, people do deny Him. Thousands of people die every day clinging to this rejection of God… Thousands live every day clinging to it, and embracing its fruit with abandon. Idolatry, foolish thinking, sexual immorality, gossip and slander, disobedience to parents—evil of all sorts and kinds. For these, who are haters and enemies of God, only one thing awaits them at the end: the unrestrained wrath of God.
And even as we know this truth, that punishment awaits, we are also called to love the lost, to love our enemies. So what is one of the most important ways for us to love them?
The answer is, for many, something that seems so counterintuitive, and yet it is the one thing that can turn away the wrath of God from those who are perishing: the gospel.
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). This is the only hope those any of us have. And so loving our enemies, loving those who mock and jeer, who treat us as intellectually incompetent because we believe such silly things, means telling them this truth—stuffing our pride and often our hurts so that they might also be saved.
We plead with them, knowing that they might reject us. But we do it because God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked. Think back to Ezekiel 33:11, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and life,” God says. “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?”
There is no act of righteousness committed by man that will satisfy God’s anger. We need the righteousness of another to save us, a perfect righteousness. And so God, in love for His people, provided. God loved the world in this way, by sending His only Son so that whosever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. And at the cross, Jesus took the full force of God’s fury against sin, bearing the burden for every sinful thought, word and deed ever committed by those who would believe in Him. And then He rose from the grave as proof that sin had been defeated, that forgiveness had been achieved, and could be found in Jesus.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” Paul wrote in Romans 1:16-17. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
And so we must go and we must plead with those around us, “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?” We must plead with them to repent and believe the good news. We must offer them the grace God has so richly provided in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because those who have rejected God’s authority are perishing, we must plead with them to repent. We must show great love to the lost. Great affection toward those trapped in the worst of sins. But most of all, the most loving act we can possibly do is tell them that their only hope is to repent and believe.