Secular psychologists, liberal theologians, and mankind in general erroneously tell us that man is basically good. So Paul, by the Holy Spirit, begins the good news of the gospel by telling us the bad news, that man is desperately wicked and apart from God’s saving and redeeming work, hates God and rebels against His authority. And they only go from bad to worse. “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Tim. 3:13) And a superficial diagnosis of the problem (the blame game, I’m depraved because I was deprived) leads to an insufficient treatment/cure and (eternal) death of the patient (all unsaved people).
Paul speaks as a prosecuting attorney for three chapters, indicting both the Gentiles and the Jews. In other words, the good news of the gospel must begin with the bad news of man’s sin and God’s righteous anger and judgment. People are not interested in a cure until they hear that they have a disease. And Paul says all mankind is sick with an incurable disease – sin – which only God can cure. “On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Matt. 9:12) And the Bible says all are sick. (Rom. 3:23) Let’s listen to Paul’s (God’s) verdict of man in Romans 1:18-32. The Scripture is in italics with my comments in non-italics. (Note these passages are addressed to the unsaved Gentiles and unsaved religious Jews. God’s wrath does not apply to believers who are lovingly chastened by God. (John 3:36; 5:24; Heb. 12:5-11) Yet sin has it enslaving power even for believers if we walk in the flesh. (1 Cor. 6:12)
18 For the wrath of God is revealed – is being revealed – there is a present and constant wrath of God being revealed against sin beginning with the curse in Genesis 3 until the ultimate and future wrath of God which is coming at the end of this age (the day of the Lord – the Tribulation; e.g., see Rom. 2:5). This includes, death (Gen. 2:17, Rom. 6:23), futility (Gen. 3:14-24; Eccl. 2:14; Rom. 8:18-25) and the enslaving power of sin (Psalm 51:5 Rom. 1:18-32).
from heaven against all ungodliness (no fear or reverence for God) and unrighteousness(that leads to injustice and sinful deeds among man) of men who suppress the truth (about God) in unrighteousness. (“There was the true Light (Jesus)which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” John 1:9 “The light came into the world but man loved the darkness rather than the light for their deeds were evil.” John 3:19) When sin entered man at the Fall, we did not stop being lovers, but we began to love ourselves and created things more than God. (Rom. 1:22, 25)
19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; (an internal revelation, the conscience; see Romans 2:14-16) for God made it evident to them; (an external revelation through the creation, the beautiful, ordered cosmos; Psalm 19, etc., as seen in the next verse.) 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks. When unbelievers do good things but don’t give glory to God or don’t give thanks to God for His blessings it is by definition from Scripture not good. Good is defined as that which ultimately gives God glory. (1 Cor. 10:31) Everyone has enough light/revelation to know that there is a God and a conscience that convicts them that they’re not right with God. (Rom. 2:14-16) When mankind refuses to glorify and honor God and give Him thanks for His beneficence, (for every good and perfect gift comes from Him – James 1:17), this is what happens:
but they became futile in their speculations (human reasoning apart from God’s revelation of what is true), and their foolish heart was darkened. When man rejects the light from creation and from conscience, it creates a vacuum and the darkness comes in.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Thus when man rejects God’s revelation/light and the darkness comes in he becomes a fool, a moral fool. And since man by nature is a worshiper he must have something else to worship which is seen in every false religion and there are literally thousands. Even the Israelites who had a great revelation of God became idolaters and worshipped golden calves and carved images like the neighboring pagan nations. The Greeks and Romans created their own gods, Zeus and Jupiter, etc., and worshiped them. Fallen man also worships other people, rock stars, athletes, the rich and powerful, cult leaders, etc., as well as money, sex, and power. Solomon is a good bad example of the emptiness and meaninglessness of putting anything in the created order above the Uncreated God.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity (lust, profligate living, impure motives) so that their bodies would be dishonored (sinful treatment of others) among them. So the decline began with the spiritual (man’s rebellion toward God – v. 18) then moves to the intellectual (human reasoning apart from God – vv.21-22) and then to the moral or immoral – vv. 24-32). God gave them over means that God judged them by letting their own sins serve as punishment; like giving an alcoholic more alcohol. For example in Hosea God says to the northern kingdom, “Ephraim is joined to idols; Let him alone.” (Hosea 4:17) God removes His restraint against sin and sin delivers its own consequences.
Note: Paul warns believers about the addictive power of sin later in Romans 6 and again in his letter to the Corinthians. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Rom. 6:12-13) “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. So verse 25 again explains why God gave them over. The “lie” seems to be worshipping idols (created things – people included, rather than God). Idolatry breaks both the first of the Ten Commandments and the Great Commandment to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions (vile affections – KJV); for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. Again God allows the consequences of the sin itself to be its judgment; not just aids and other sexually transmitted diseases, but in the case of homosexuality it includes the relational sadness and misery of lesbians and gays (they are not really gay/happy) in this “unnatural” sexual lifestyle. (Read The Gay Gospel – How Pro-Gay Advocates Misread the Bible – by Joe Dallas)
28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind (unfit, unapproved, failing the test), to do those things which are not proper; In verses 28-32 we see a long list of sins that come as a result from ultimately rejecting God and His right to be worshiped, obeyed, loved and enjoyed as our highest good. As the catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving (without natural affection –hatred of family), unmerciful;32 and although they know the ordinance of God (who knowing the judgment of God – KJV), that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. Some commentators say verse 32 refers to the Jews who knew the ordinances (Scripture) of God. Yet Romans 2:14-16 says that even Gentiles who do not have the law (Scripture) know God’s moral law because it is written on their hearts.
What can we as believers learn from this? As we read the following Scriptures we see what may appear contradictory: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Gal. 6:7)
“My steps had almost slipped for I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence; for I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning. When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight.” (Psalm 73:2-3, 13-14, 16)
Galatians says that man reaps what he sows but the psalmist sees the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. How can this be just? Some unsaved people turn to Christ because of the painful consequences of sin (I certainly did) and some don’t. And some unrepentant sinners seem to sin with impunity. That is what God showed Habakkuk as he questioned God’s justice in allowing the Babylonians to defeat Israel and inspired Habakkuk to say, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Hab. 2:4) We also see this in Hebrews 11 as some who lived by faith saw victory in this life and some did not but none of them received the things promised. (See vv. 35-40) And Paul says the same in verse Romans 1:17 as he quotes Habakkuk: “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” Hebrews 10:34- 38 helps us understand this:
“For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
For yet in a very little while,
He who is coming will come, and will not delay.
But My righteous one shall live by faith;
And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.
The psalmist in Psalm 73 also came to this conclusion as to the prosperity of the wicked: “Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction.” (Psalm 73:18-19) Habakkuk, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews say that there is a one to one relationship to faithful obedience and reward and disobedience and loss but ultimately only in the end: for believers at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-15) and for unbelievers at the white throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). Thus we must live by faith in the ultimate and eternal blessing for obedience and this will inspire us to live righteously.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. People are not interested in a cure until they hear that they have a disease. And Paul says all mankind is sick with an incurable disease – sin, which only God can cure. When doctors tell their patients they have cancer (bad news) but it was found in time to hope that treatments will cure it (good news), their patient appreciates them. This is also true of the diagnosis of sin and the cure – the gospel. How does this differ from the approach of simply telling our friends that God loves them and wants them to go to heaven?
2. In Romans 1:21 what are two ways people need to respond to God? How can we model this for those who don’t do this? What happens to people who refuse to do this? See verses 23 and 25. How did this apply to you before you became a believer?
3. What three things did God give man “over to” seen in verses 24, 26 and 28? What does that mean to the people it happens to?
4. In verse 32 what are the two things these people know? How does this knowledge affect their behavior? How would you describe such behavior?
5. What are some things Americans give approval to that we disapproved of in the past? How does the following story describe America’s change of values, even in our churches? [“A famous experiment was once conducted that involved placing a frog in a kettle of water. If the frog were placed in a pot of boiling water, the frog would immediately jump out so as not to be scalded. Then the frog was placed in the water while it was yet cool. As the frog sat contently in the water, the water was heated one degree at a time. The frog adapted to the gradual changes in temperature until it boiled to death! The church can be likened to that frog. Christians sit nice and comfortably in their churches, while the leadership implements changes devised by the latest “experts” and popular authors. The changes are so subtle and incremental that Christians adapt to each successive round of change until they eventually boil to death in heresy!” http://authentictruth.blogspot.com/2005/07/frog-in-kettle.html]
6. How has this study influenced your view of evangelism?
7. How did this study influence you to live righteously by faith?