1 Jan 2002

Is Romans addressed to believers or unbelievers?

Submitted by theshovel
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Can you clear this scripture up for me and my brother? RO 1:28 “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” I believe that first of all we need to read a some scripture before and after this one passage. My brother doesn’t see it that way. 2nd-Paul’s audience was to nonbelievers. 3rd- This audience was bombarded with truth and just refused to believe. 4th- If my brother goes around telling people this … where would the unbelievers ever have any hope in salvation-the good news. 5th- Even if the passage were referring to Christians just because God gave them over to a depraved mind wouldn’t they still be saved because he gave them a new nature regardless if their minds were never renewed. It would be a matter of choice on the Christian to still do the things listed Romans 1: 29-31 which states “every kind…..” What Christian is doing every kind of evil as stated? I see it as we are Gods children who don’t listen sometimes to the spirit of truth and gets in trouble…but we are driven by His spirit to do good and by flesh tend to make bad choices.
My question is who is Paul talking to Believers or Nonbelievers?
Does this scripture apply to a Believer who has struggled with the same behavior for years upon years and then God just turns them over to a depraved mind?
I think I know the answers but I need confirmation.
Thanks, Mark

Hello my brother Mark!

Good to hear from you. Thanks for taking the time to give some background thoughts to the question you asked. You are absolutely right about needing to examine the context surrounding the verse in question, otherwise we would only read it in view of our already predetermined perspectives and assumptions. The most common reason we hesitate to check out the surrounding context is that we are aware how shaky our interpretation is. I can still remember the resistance I felt when some of my favorite verses got changed by reading them in context. I didn’t like it, and was often reluctant to pursue viewing them outside my understanding of them.

Now, I’m going to suggest that we not only need to consider the closest verses, but also the letter as a whole. Don’t worry, I’m not going to cover the whole letter in my answer to you!  :) But I am going to touch on factors about the overall structure. The letter to Romans WAS written to believers … BUT Paul obviously wasn’t necessarily talking ABOUT the believers with every word he wrote. The prime example in this regard is found in the verse you’re asking about.

Furthermore, since THEY did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave THEM over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. Romans 1:28

Now, if I wrote you a letter and addressed you as you, and then I said something about they or them wouldn’t you automatically catch on that I’m referring to somebody else? Here’s how Paul addressed the Roman believers:

among whom YOU also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called (as) saints: Grace to YOU and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:6-7

Realize that this letter was different from the other letters Paul wrote because of the fact that he had never visited the Roman believers. Apparently though, he did know some of the same people they knew since he personally mentions their names. Maybe he knew OF them through others, or maybe through correspondence … or possibly even some of these people had been WITH Paul and ended up going to Rome ahead of him, or maybe some had come and visited Paul. However it was, this letter was addressed to believers in general without being prompted by specific issues, and though some issues are covered, they are done so in a logical progression. And I mean logical as in an orderly establishing of fact. As a matter of fact, law schools used to use the letter of Romans as a training tool because of the thoroughly precise manner in which Paul built his case.

So what case was he establishing? The rationale of the good news of Christ — not man’s, but God’s.

Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. Romans 1:15

And in this progression, Paul was revealing the rationale of man … and the desperate condition of mankind apart from God (ESPECIALLY those who had been given the law), and the NEED for the miracle brought by Christ’s work.

So, who was the “they”? It was humanity in general, and in a TOTAL sense — for his case is built up to the point where he states:

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that EVERY MOUTH may be closed, and ALL THE WORLD may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of SIN. Romans 3:19-20

So in Romans 1, Paul was speaking about the downward condition of men in general. Very probably he was using the patterns of civilization as they would have been familiar for he spoke very specifically about the downward spiral away from God. In other words, he didn’t use a hypothetical they as if he had to speculate as to whether it was an accurate representation, but he wrote of actual known (and probably recorded) historical facts of the falling apart of a society. The Greeks, perhaps? Maybe even recent Roman history.

But don’t miss this. This is OUR COMMON history in the world. We’ve all been there, done that! Paul didn’t use a they so that these Roman believers would think of themselves as being somehow better … for there is no such thing! No, he declared their own history as part of humanity. You see, religion keeps pushing the bogus idea that we must have been a different kind of human, or maybe a special kind of person, and that was why we are now included in the fellowship of God Himself. No, no, God took us from among the defiled of the world, not from a supposed better group.

As having been “given over to a depraved mind” our need for deliverance is established as being REAL. Here’s what I mean by that. We have been taught in many ways that what we need is a change of destiny, but this is far from the truth as it is built upon a fallacy. Why would God be concerned with preserving for eternity a humanity that continually goes its own destructive way? But this is the bottom-line to most of the popular teachings of our day (even though their doctrines try to paint a different Scriptural picture). We don’t need a new PLACE in which to spend and eternity, we need a totally new HISTORY! And that is exactly what Christ has brought: a new history in HIM. He didn’t come to fix us, but to destroy the old life.

This statement in 1:28 was not written so that the Roman believers would be afraid, or that they would use it to preach condemnation to others, but that they would come to realize how their OWN history as a part of the life of Adam cannot do anything other than as described. The more we understand this incurable condition of the flesh the less we are tempted to view ourselves in view of it. Plain and simple, we come to recognize that we cannot go there to justify ourselves or to prove how spiritual we are because we’ve been down that road and we know where it leads. There is nothing more pitiful than a believer who comes to view himself by his accomplishments in the flesh. And this is exactly where many, many believers are struggling right now!

But Christ brought with Him GOOD NEWS. This is the life from which we have been delivered for we are found in HIS righteousness. The thing that leads believers into a life of sin is the very thing they use to try to remove themselves from it. And that is a life built upon principles and laws and rules. It all sounds so wonderfully godly, but it is the very same life that has led humanity into its downward spiral - for the further one falls, the more one judges those around him as being worthy of condemnation.

Okay then, I think that’s enough for now. Thoughts? :)

Jim Minker

Wow! Jim, I thought you were going to write back with a one line explanation and I am so greatful you did not. That cleared things up for me for what I already knew to be true. You went into more detail which really confirms what I could not explain but in my spirit I knew that scripture was being misquoted. Wow we have an awesome Father…It just makes me want to jump up and praise him even more for what he has done. My brother has studied so many different religions and he even reads the Koran from time to time. I guess his mind is confused…I do not know but I have seen him grow over the year like us all have some growing to do. I wish I knew the bible that well that explain scripture like you did…Sometimes God allows explanation to just flow right through me and other times…I just get stumped for words. I thank GOD for you being available and explaining this to me. You will be in my prayers as this ministry continues to grow. I can’t thank you enough. I will print this out and reread it and keep it so when someone ask me about this scripture I will have a point of reference. Eternally, Mark

New Testament: 


I found this helpful to read. However, I would be interested in your thoughts on Paul’s statement: “….I am eager to preach the gospel to you also…”: if he’s writing to believers, it doesn’t seem correct that he thinks they NEED to have the gospel preached to them. My thoughts at the moment are that he wants to make them AWARE of the aspects of the gospel (which is pretty well the whole content of the book of Romans!) Andrew
theshovel's picture

From my former evangelical background, I had often wondered about why Paul would want to preach the gospel to believers. Yet after having dispensed with the religious straightjacket — the perception that the gospel is merely the entrance message to unbelievers — I have come to recognize the gospel as the declaration of Christ to all who believe. I have no doubt that Paul was preaching the gospel to the believers throughout the whole letter. Yes, as you suggest, making them aware of the fullness of the good news (aka, the gospel).

Jim :)

So what case was he establishing? The rationale of the good news of Christ — not man's, but God's.-Jim

Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. Romans 1:15

Jim, I think the thing is that we who have come through the Christian market place of our society have come up with thinking the idea that to "preach the Gospel" is the equivalent of savings souls and preaching the sometimes debated salvation scripture passages. What we must come to understand is, that Paul's WHOLE message WAS the Gospel he preached. It wasn't just the hand raising with eyes closed at the alter call moment at the conclusion of some great worship experience[ie: musical induced heart strings]but, rather it was all the wisdom from God that he spoke.

When we get away from that isolated sense of what "the Gospel" is, we get away from the threat that he was trying to convert that which was already new in Christ. He simply spoke to the religious mind and all of it's logic as part of his "preaching the Gospel". He wasn't attempting to save what was already saved. That would have just made them insecure.


theshovel's picture

This is so true, Adam! I remember the insanity of trying to get people “saved” … especially those who really just needed to find confidence in the salvation that was already theirs. I have come to realize that many people were looking to see if the confidence I preached was real to me.


..yeah there is allot to that. I suspect that is much of what people are thinking and watching for.

Jim, I am interested in hearing your comments on the video below.


theshovel's picture

As I watched the video, I was struck with these thoughts: Those who are of God were not breaking laws because of the love of God; those who were scared to death of violating any laws in view of an angry God were being careful to appear as if they were doing right or being godly. From a governmental stance, then, it would all seem the same because of the lesser need for law men and policemen.

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