Forum Class Session #3 in Romans. September 21, 2003

Mankind's Downward Spiral

The first three chapters of Romans set forth the results which follow inexorably when men retreat from God. By the end of Chapter Three no one on the planet is left out of the analysis. Paul tells us that his message of God's grace and love will answer the deepest of human needs. The book of Romans is very good news for everyone who chooses to be loved and owned by God. This message "is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek." Then Paul announces an all-encompassing statement covering all periods of history and all of mankind. Quoting from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk he says, "...in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.'"

The entire epistle of Romans is filled with big theological words and quite a few technical terms. I have come to believe that most people today, including most church goers have heard these "code words" but do not know what they mean. Part of the problem is that the ability of language to carry meaningful information decreases with time (the Second Law of Thermodynamics at work). Secondly, many fine older words in English are no longer in common use

The following short list of code words, which need to be deciphered for modern man, includes the following Christinese terms:

"go to church," "get saved," "in Jesus' name," "keeping the sabbath," "last days," "latter days," "Lordship salvation," "personal Savior," "preach the gospel," "the flesh," "the Spirit," "the world," angels, anointed, anointing, atonement, backsliding, baptism, baptized, believer, binding Satan, bishop, bless, blessed, born again, called, calling, charity, Christian, Church, covenant, covetousness, creation, deacon, elder, eminent, expiation, faith, fellowship, fornicate, glorified , glory, gospel, grace, heaven, holiness, holy, Holy Ghost revival, immanence, imminent, imminence, imputation, imputed, incarnation, intercession, judgment, justified, Lord and Savior, lust, manifest, manifestation, mercy, minister, ministry, pastor, preacher, precious, prophesy (verb), propitiation, rapture, recompense, redeem, redeem, redeemer, repent, revival, revival service, righteous, sabbath, sanctified, saved, sin, slain in the Spirit, sloth, soul, Spirit-baptized, swear, tithes, transcendence, transgression, translated, trespass, Trinity, unrighteous, witnessing, worship. (Please visit the Christianese Lexicon Web Site).

Step two in understanding New Testament books like Romans is to take advantage of a Greek lexicon or a Bible study aid (such as Blue letter Bible, http://blueletterbible.org) to look up the original Greek words hidden behind trite or archaic words in English which no longer impact us to any great extent.

Concerning the second half of Chapter One, here is how the familiar KJV reads:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (1:18-32)

Let's take this apart a verse at time. I'll use a more modern translation as a start and add some explanations and comments in the footnotes. Then afterwards I'll try and summarize briefly this section of Scripture:

"...the wrath (1) of God is revealed (2) from heaven (3) against all ungodliness (4) and wickedness (5) of men who by their wickedness suppress (6) the truth.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse;

for although they knew God they did not honor him as God (7) or give thanks to him, (8) but they became futile (9) in their thinking and their senseless minds (10) were darkened.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, (11) and exchanged (12) the glory of the incorruptible God for images (13) resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up (14) in the lusts (15) of their hearts to impurity (16), to the dishonoring (17) of their bodies among themselves,

because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie (18) and worshiped (19) and served the creature (20) rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions (21). Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed (22) with passion (23) for one another, men committing shameful (24) acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty (25) for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up

to a base mind (26) and to improper conduct. (27) They were filled with all (kinds of) unrighteousness, (28) fornication (29), wickedness (30), covetousness (31), malice (32). Full of envy (33), murder (34), strife (35), deceit (36), malignity (37), they are gossips (38), backbiters (39), haters of God (40), insolent (41), haughty (42), boastful (43), inventors of evil things (44), disobedient to parents (45), foolish (46), faithless (47), heartless (48), implacable (49), unmerciful (50). Though they know God's decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those (51) who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)

 I don't know any letter that is more fundamental and foundational than Paul's letter to the Romans. It is unquestionably the greatest of all of Paul's letters and the widest in its scope. It is most intent and penetrating in its insight into the understanding of truth; therefore, it is one of the books of the New Testament that every Christian ought to be thoroughly familiar with. If you haven't mastered the book of Romans and aren't able to think through this book without a Bible before you, then I urge you to set that as your goal. Master the book of Romans -- be so acquainted with it that you can outline it and think of its great themes without a Bible open before you. That requires reading it and studying it and thinking it through in careful detail. I think it is safe to say that Romans probably is the most powerful human document that has ever been penned. -- Ray C. Stedman

Lexicon Notes

1. The wrath (orge) of God is His abiding, settled, strong, and constant anger directed against human evil. Here, the wrath of God is show to be continuously poured forth and "rests" (or "abides") upon those who do evil. This divine resistance towards human evil is actively at work quietly and silently so as to produce the deterioration in quality of life described below. The Old Testament has 20 different words appearing in 600 passages describing the divine anger of God directed against all sin and unholiness. (Different Hebrew words are used for man's anger and hatred). Another Greek word (thumos) is used to describe outbursts of anger, commonly known to us all, which flare up and subside. Both words, orge and thumos, are used in Revelation 16:19 and 19:15 to describe the "fierceness of the wrath" of Almighty God. God's wrath accumulates over time (is "stored up") for coming times of judgment. But here in Romans God's wrath is seen to be continuously expressed.

2. revealed, present tense, that is, "is being revealed" from apokalupto, to reveal, unveil.

3. "heaven" (ouranos) refers to the invisible dimension of the spiritual world which surrounds us and in which we live and move. God is not remote, detached, and uninvolved in our lives--regardless of whether or not we know Him and serve Him. "[God] is not far from each one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28)

4. ungodliness: asebeia, means "without eusebia," godliness. The word means without reverence to God as well as active in opposition to God's purposes.

5. wickedness: adikia, means "not conforming to that which is right"; (a+dike), means, without righteousness, unjust. A comprehensive term for wrong doing. Used of injustice, as of a judge, unrighteousness of heart and life, deeds violating law and justice, acts of unrighteousness.

6. katecho Suppress, hold down, or repress the truth, or hinder it. Lit: "who hold (down) the truth in unrighteousness (adikia)." All men know there is a God, and they also know He is just and righteous. From childhood this knowledge is resisted and buried by each one of us. The social institutions of society work with us in this conspiracy to deny God in all aspects of life.

7. "did not honor" from doxazo, (whence "doxology") to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate, to honour, hold in honour, to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged.

8. "nor were thankful," from eucharisteo, combining eu, "well" and charizomai, "to give freely."

9. Empty or futile speculations or reasonings. (mataioo, "void of result" ) This list include the philosophies of society, much of what is called science, and the governing principles we set for our own lives when we ignore God's standards

10. Literally, "their foolish (asunetos, unintelligent, without understanding, stupid) hearts were darkened (skotizo, "to darken" without understanding."

11. From moraino, (whence, "moron), "to make foolish, to make flat and tasteless," e.g., of salt that has lost its strength and flavor.

12. from allasso, to change, to exchange one thing for another, to transform.

13. eikon, image, whence "icons."

14. paradidomi, "to give into the hands (of another), to deliver up one to custody, to be judged, condemned, punished, scourged, tormented, put to death, to permit or allow," That is, God handed them over to the power of sin. Or, God released the restraints (against evil).

15. Lust is epithumia, strong desire; in this case, a reaching out for pleasure, especially passionate desire for forbidden things (Barclay). Rejection of God means we are open to error yet blinded to what is actually happening to us.

16. impurity, uncleanness: akatharsia means literally "not having been purged or cleansed." Our English word catharsis comes from the Greek root.

17. Dishonor, atimazo, to dishonour, insult, treat with contempt, whether in word, deed or thought.

18. pseudos, Literally, "the lie," not "a" lie. The lie is the widely-held notion men have that they can handle life on their own without God. It is the belief that man is master of his own fate and destiny and is capable of being god of his own life. This was the lie presented to Eve in the garden. Broadly, "whatever is, is not what it seems to be."

19. sebazomai, "to honor religiously," worship. "Worship" is a contraction of "worthship" It indicates respect and honor which is due a Person because of Who He is.

20. Creature, ktisis, creation i.e., the thing created; used of individual things, beings, a creature, anything created, the sum or aggregate of things created; an institution or an ordinance.

21. Pathe atimia, behavior which dishonors the body, "passions of dishonor." The word passions here is not epithumia but pathos, which is the more passive word meaning the diseased condition out of which the lusts spring (Barclay). Pathos can mean an affliction of the mind, emotion, passion; a passionate deed, used by the Greeks in either a good or bad sense, but in the NT in a bad sense: depraved passion, vile passions. Atimia: dishonour, ignominy, disgrace.

22. consumed: exekauthesan, literally means "burned out." Obsessive cravings that cannot be satiated, or desires that can never be fulfilled and only increase to produce a wasted, devastated, ruined condition.

23. passion, or lust: orexis means "reaching out" (beyond proper bounds of moral restraint or decency) in order to appropriate something for oneself. This particular Greek word is used here only in the New Testament.

24. aschemosune, unseemly: that is, not suitable, not proper, or unbecoming. Related to disfigurement (Vincent) and contrasted with gracefulness. Connected with nakedness and shame.

25. The penalty "which is due " as a consequence of violating the Divine Law. Older words for homosexuality are "perversion" and "inversion" which imply a twisting or reversing of sexual identity within oneself. All sin has consequences since "the wages of sin is death" but homosexual behavior brings the unique payoff of a confused inner sense of gender identity (RCS).

26. base mind: adokimon literally means a mind that cannot stand the test. Vincent says (noting the play on words in the Greek), "As they did not approve, God gave them up unto a mind disapproved." Used to refer to base metals, to thorns and thistles and to "a mind that can not approve (of God)." (The KJV translates adokimon as "reprobate.")

27. improper conduct, katheko, not fitting. Unbecoming, shameful.

28. porneia, from which we get our common word pornography. The word refers to all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage, especially sex between unmarried persons. Illicit sex is associated with moral uncleanness and impurity of the heart and the affections. Illicit sexual intercourse, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.; sexual intercourse with close relatives; Lev. 18; sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman; Mk. 10:11,12; metaphorically, the worship of idols, and of the defilement of idolatry, as incurred by eating the sacrifices offered to idols.

29. poneria, from the Greek root word meaning "to toil." The word has come to mean active, outgoing, malignant wickedness, as opposed to kind, gracious, serviceable- hence, destructive, injurious evil (Vine). The desire of doing harm to others, to assault, to corrupt the innocence or goodness of others. To drag others down to one's own level of destructive evil (Barclay).

30. covetousness: pleonexia is the desire to have more, always in a bad sense; i.e., wanting more than one needs or more than one can use, craving something another possesses for selfish purposes, etc. Avarice.

31. malice or evil: kakos means defective or evil in character, base; as opposed to fair, advisable, good in character, beneficial, useful (Vine). Malignity. Grasping for money or goods, regardless of honor or honesty; ambition which tramples on others to gain something for oneself; unbridled lust which takes its pleasure where it has no right to take, (Barclay).

32. envy: phthonos means a feeling of displeasure produced by hearing of the gain or prosperity of others, always in the evil sense.

33. murder: phonos means to take the life of another out of hatred. Slaughter.

34. strife: eridos means contentiousness, an argumentative attitude. The contention which is born of envy, ambition; the desire for prestige, place, office, and prominence--coming from a jealous heart, (Barclay).

35. deceit: dolos means crafty, full of guile, ensnaring. The Greek word is used to mean to debase precious metals or adulterate fine wine. The quality of deceit in a man who can no longer operate in a straightforward way but resorts to devious, underhanded ways to get his own way (Barclay).

36. malignity: kakoetheia means malicious disposition, malevolence. An evil disposition that tends to put the worst construction on everything (Vine). To suppose the worst about other people, to place wrong interpretations on innocent actions.

37. whisperers: psithuristes means those who spread secret slander.

38. backbiters: katalalos means to speak against the character of another person, especially when he or she is not present.

39. haters of God: theostuges means hateful to God. Exceptionally impious and wicked.

40. insolent: hubristes means violent, despiteful. The attitude of a man when he is so proud he defies God, fate, and fortune. Extreme self-confidence. An attitude which takes devilish delight in inflict-ing mental and physical anguish on others (Barclay). One who, uplifted with pride, either heaps insulting language upon others or does them some shameful act of wrong.

41. haughty: huperephanos means showing oneself to be above others or over them; i.e., disdainful, arrogant, proud, the opposite of humble and lowly. "A certain contempt for everyone except oneself" (Barclay). Showing one's self above others, conspicuous above others, despising others or even treating them with contempt.

42. boastful: alazon means "one who wanders about the country," a vagabond, hence an imposter (Vine). The stock word for quacks who sell fake medicines, health foods, remedies, etc. Pretending to be someone who one is not, a braggart. An empty pretender.

43. inventors of evil: epheuretas kakon means to invent, contrive. or seek out new ways of committing evil.

44. disobedient, apeithes, to parents: unpersuadable, obstinate; rejection of the will of God with regard to how one should treat one's parents.

45. foolish: asunetos means without understanding in a moral and spiritual sense. Lacking in spiritual perception or discernment. The man who will not use the mind and brain God has given him (Barclay). Stupid.

46. faithless: asynthetous means covenant-breaking; that is, refusing to honor agreements, pay debts, or keep promises.

47. heartless: astorgous means without natural affection, especially within one's family.

48. implacable: aspondous means "without a libation;" hence, "without a truce." One who cannot be persuaded to enter into an agreement. Unreasonable, treacherous.

49. unmerciful: aneleemon means without mercy. Without pity, placing a low value on human life or another person's distress or rights.

50. decay: phthora means destruction occurring by means of, or because of corruption.

51. suneudokeo, to be pleased together with, to approve together (with others) to be pleased at the same time with, to consent, agree to, to applaud.

Skipping for now most of Romans Chapter 2 and 3--which are lengthy discussions just as important as Chapter One--Paul closes Chapter Three with the following summary.

"...all men...are under the power of sin, as it is written:
'None is righteous, no not one;
no one understands, no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong;
no one does good, not even one.'
'Their throat is an open grave,
they use their tongues to deceive.'
'The venom of asps is under their lips,'
'Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.'
'Their feet are swift to shed blood,
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they do not know.'
'There is no fear of God before their eyes.'"
(Romans 3:9-18)

A Summary: Romans 1:18-32

God actively resists everyone on who lives in opposition to Him. This abiding anger of our Creator causes an exorable deterioration in our quality of life, often marked by an underlying sense of fear and futility, of loneliness and despair, of sorrow and emptiness. Dark shadows fall upon us even in our high points in this world. Shattered hopes and dreams often mark our paths.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Rom 1:18-20 NIV)

Man was made to live in union with God. "Normal humanity" has always been indwelt by God. We can only reach our full design potential when we live in harmony with the One who brought us into being.

It is no light matter to be living in independence of God. Furthermore we all have no excuse. God has built evidence of his existence everywhere in the natural world. Within his He placed a conscience and innate knowledge of right and wrong. We are not free to live as we please in a universe which does not belong to us. Nor was the universe created as our inheritance. Their Heir of all things is Jesus Himself--and those peoples He chooses to share His future with.

Sadly, we wish God did not exist. If we can not succeed in rationalizing Him away, or ignoring Him altogether, we then attempt to redefine what He is like. This leads to our becoming "religious" without even knowing God at all. We humans do not like God as He really He. He is holy and we are not. He is righteous and we are unrighteous. He is self-giving, we are self-centered. He is unchanging and we are full of ambivalence and self-deceit.

We have all inherited the consequences of the rebellion of our first parents in the Garden. They bought into the lie that they could be like God. So we are determined to run our own lives; our American dream is that we can all become whatever we want to be. We become self-made men who worship their creator.

There was a time when Adam and Eve lived in harmony with God. There are times when the followers of Christ today live in close harmony with the Lord. This harmony is in the heart and the mind. Love takes at least two parties--what goes wrong in a love relationship starts in the well-spring of our emotions. "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of the heart are the issues of life," (Proverbs 4:23)

"And Jesus called the people to him and said to them, 'Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.' Then the disciples came and said to him, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?' He answered, 'Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.' But Peter said to him, 'Explain the parable to us.' And he said, 'Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries (moicheia), fornications (porneiai), thefts, false-witnessing, blasphemies. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.'" (Matthew 15:1-20)

Paul analyzes the collapse of a civilization for us step by step:

For although they knew God they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they clamed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. {Rom 1:21-23 NIV}

The First Commandment is all about a whole-hearted, single-minded devotion to God from which all else flows. When we are properly walking in step with God our natural response to His greatness is reverence, awe, thanksgiving and appreciation. Worship is the first thing which fades when our relationship with God begins to slip away from us.

Substitute and rival loves creep into our lives often with great subtility--a girl friend, a boy friend, the callings of a career, a sense of duty to make something of oneself. These are but forms of spiritual adultery, we have left the love we had at first. Ray Stedman writes,

The apostle explains that it is "the godlessness and the wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness" that cause God's wrath. The tragic aspect of life is caused by the attitudes men have and the subsequent actions that follow. Notice the order of this -- godlessness and then wickedness. The order is never reversed. It is the godless attitude that produces the wicked actions, and that is why the wrath of God is being revealed constantly from heaven against man. What is godlessness? Godlessness isn't necessarily atheism, the belief that God doesn't exist. Godlessness is acting as though he doesn't exist, disregarding God. That attitude is widespread in our society today; it is what we call the "secular" attitude. It doesn't necessarily deny that there is a God, but it never takes any account of him; it doesn't expect him to be active. That is the attitude of godlessness which the apostle speaks of here.

As a result of godlessness, there is unrighteousness or wickedness, selfish and hurtful acts of men toward one another. Why do we act selfishly? Why do we hurt each other? Because we disregard God. That is Paul's analysis. By means of these hurtful and selfish acts, the truth is suppressed. Now that is the problem!

Here we are in a world in which truth from God is breaking out all around us, but we are busy covering it up, hiding it, suppressing it, keeping it from being prominent and dominant in our thinking. That's the picture. Against that attitude of hiding truth, suppressing the truth, the wrath of God burns among the human family. The reason why life has turned tragic in so many cases is because the world is deprived of the truth that is necessary for life and liberty and freedom and godliness, and it is hidden by men and suppressed by them. (Expository Studies in Romans, from Guilt to Glory, Ray C. Stedman, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/romans2/)

To cease worshipping and communicating with God is to ignore Him. Ignoring a person who is supposed to be important in our lives is actually a form of hatred more subtle and more effective than open hostility. When God is ignored, empty fantasizing and substitute thoughts crown into our minds--these are false and darken the mind. God has been replaced by an icon.

If you do not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him on one day a week. There is no such thing known in heaven as Sunday worship unless it is accompanied by Monday worship and Tuesday worship and so on. A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)

When idolatry begins, it begins first with men making images of men. The world is filled with statues, most of them reflecting the images of the ancient Greek and Roman world. These, of course, are merely symbols of ideas that men worship, and we still have such images today. But these images invalidate God; they debase him by substituting something for God and making God seem to be less than what he is. That is what idolatry always does. It is a very destructive force in human affairs. Idolatry begins first with men, then birds (which are at least heavenly), then animals, and finally it ends up with reptiles. Man is at one end and a snake at the other.

Do you think people don't worship images and bow down before idols now? What are movie stars and football heroes? They are dying men and women who are idolized and worshipped in our day. And I, personally, don't believe that it is any accident that we tend to name our cars after animals. We once named them after men: Lincoln, Ford, Chrysler and Dodge. But now we are naming them after animals: Impala, Cougar, Mustang, Pinto, Jaguar, Rabbit, Panther, and there's even a Greyhound bus! It is God's ironic way of forcing men to name what is going on inside. We already have a car called the Cobra. And perhaps we will soon be naming our cars for the python, vipers, and maybe, for the slower models, the crocodile.

These are our gods, aren't they? We worship rockets, planes, guns, bombs, tanks. We worship power, military power, or forces like sex, and money, ambition, and greed; or concepts like comfort, beauty, youth, adventure, life. We've exchanged the glory of the undying God in all his majesty and greatness for images. What are movies but images? What is television -- images of mortal men, birds, animals, and reptiles.

The effect of idolatry upon a society is profound and terrible to contemplate, and that is what we are going to see next week. Paul is going to analyze our society for us as he analyzed the society of the 1st century, and we will find it is exactly the same. We are right where they were. We will see what happens in a society when men everywhere begin to worship men and women, birds and animals, reptiles, and the ideas that these represent.

The amazing thing to me is that this description of the wrath of God is wholly and fully met by the righteousness of God. God's righteousness wipes out his wrath. Wouldn't you think, therefore, that men everywhere would be eager to discover this marvelous gift of the righteousness of God? That is what heals our hurts and corrects our errors and gives a sense of peace and joy and forgiveness to the heart. The wrath of God creates the hurts of life; all the pain and heartache and darkness, the death, the depression, the despair all come from the wrath of God. They are the products of ignoring God, trying to imitate God, and invalidating God in our lives.

Wouldn't you think that men everywhere would long to hear this good news? Yet the wonder of our times and the revelation of the twisted, demoralized, distorted world in which we live is that we cling to our hurts and refuse the healing of God. (Ray C. Stedman, ibid.)

Three times in Romans Chapter One the text says, "God gave them up." Stage One of the breakdown of the social order is an increase in heterosexual immorality.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. (Rom 1:24 NIV)

The first mark of wickedness in a godless society is widespread sexual immorality -- the degrading, or the dishonoring, of the body. Note that the sentence begins with the word therefore. This immorality is a result of the idolatry into which men fall. Idolatry is common in our day. We do not worship idols and images so much anymore, but concepts and ideas are idolized and deified as much as any of the idols of the ancient world. The result of idolatry is widespread sexual immorality. Many people think this account describes all the evil things men do and then says that God, in effect, gives up on the people who do them. They think God washes his hands of them because they are so filthy and dirty. That certainly is not what this account says. But because men run after other gods and refuse the testimony of their own hearts and the world of nature around them, because they run after other gods and do not glorify or thank the true God, God removes his restraints from society so that what is done in secret is allowed to break out into openness and acceptability. That is the mark of the wrath of God at work. The first sign of wickedness in a civilization is that sexual immorality, which is always present in human life, becomes widely accepted.

God allows us to experience the full effects of our attempts to satisfy our hungers and our cravings and our desires without him. He allows us to discover that we don't have the answer. God removes the societal restraints to let these things come to the surface. By that means, He forces us to experience the full effect of what we do. God forces us to harvest the crop we insist on sowing. We like to sow our wild oats, but, when they begin to sprout and the results begin to appear, we want to abandon the field and run to another one, and just keep sowing our wild oats. But God says you cannot do that. You are going to have to live with the results. This is what Paul, earlier in the passage, calls "the wrath of God" at work among us.

You may ask, "Why is it that sex always seems to be singled out as the sign of God's judgment? Why is sexual immorality the first sign of a disintegrating civilization?"

There is a good reason. Many Christians have wrongly concluded that sexual sins are the worst kinds of sin. But that is not true. Sexual sins are not the worst kind of sins ...[the decline] begins with sexual impurity and proceeds to sexual perversity. But the final result, the ultimate climax of the chapter, is not sexual sins, it is the sins of the spirit. Widespread animosity, hatred of the heart -- these are the worst sins.

There is good reason, however, why God allows heterosexual practices to become publicly detectable. He allows it to show us what is going on in our spiritual lives. It highlights the fact that sex is linked with worship. Any serious reading of the Scriptures will make this crystal clear. Sex is man's longing after worship. Sex, you see, is a desire to possess another body and to be possessed by another. It is a deep-seated craving inherent in every human being

The Scriptures tell us that only God can give that fulfillment. Only God can satisfy that deep sense of longing for complete identity and unity with another person. That is what we call worship. When we worship, we are longing to be possessed of God, and to possess him fully. That is why the highest description of the relationship possible to a believer is found in the words of Jesus in John 15, "You in me, and I in you," (cf, John 14:20). When men think that they are going to find that fulfillment in sex, God, in effect, says to them, "Look, it won't work. But you won't believe that until you try it out." So he removes the restraints and allows immoral sexual practices to become widely accepted, understanding that men indulging in these things will finally find themselves just as dissatisfied, empty and hopeless as they were when they started. Thus they will learn that God is trying to teach them that sex is not the way by which men find fulfillment. This is true even in marriage. Men only find their fulfillment in a relationship to God.

This brings us to the second mark of a godless and wicked society, found in Verses 25-27:

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator, who is forever praised, Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Rom 1:25-27 NIV)

Homosexuality is the second mark of a godless and wicked society. In the first step of this process, bodies were dishonored. In this second step, Paul speaks of shameful lusts arising from inside, desires that are part of the soul of man. The apostle describes the growth of widespread psychological confusion. Notice the irony of this. This is God's silent way of forcing men to demonstrate their sin so they can see what is going on in their lives. Paul says because they have exchanged truth for a lie and exchanged the Creator for created things, God allows them to exchange natural functions for unnatural functions -- to use a man for a woman, and a woman as a man. The restraints are removed, so homosexuality becomes widely accepted in society. In this First Century world in which Paul lived and wrote, homosexuality was a commonplace thing. All the great philosophers extolled it and practiced it, for the most part. Men like Socrates, and other great names of Greece, were homosexuals. Out of the first fifteen Roman emperors, fourteen of them were homosexuals, and some gave themselves blatantly and openly to this vice. This was common in the Roman world, as it is becoming common in our own day. Once again, the restraints are being removed, and these things are thrusting themselves into public view.

The truly awful thing about the rise of homosexuality today is that homosexuals are allowed to believe the lie that this is a biological condition which they cannot help, but to which they should adjust. Even churches are falling into this trap and consenting to this deceit. The papers carried a report this week (December, 1975) that the Santa Clara County Council of Churches accepted into membership the Metropolitan Community Church of San Jose. The arguments reported in the local papers were unbelievable. Pastors stood up and said they could not make a judgment as to whether homosexuality was good or evil. Yet I was encouraged this week by a paper whichwas written by a group of Christians who were homosexuals, but who have been delivered by the grace and the gospel of the Lord Jesus, by the power of Christ in their lives. In order to help those still enmeshed in this vice, they are publishing a paper that makes a forthright plea to those trapped in homosexuality not to believe the lie so widely circulated today, that this is a biological condition and they cannot help themselves. This lie is what holds them in a fatal grip. As long as homosexuals believe that, there is no help for them. But if they understand that homosexuality is a sin, like other sins, that it can be forgiven and they can be delivered and freed from this sin by the power and grace of Jesus Christ, then there is tremendous hope in the midst of their darkness.

Paul speaks of a "due penalty" for this perversion. Anyone who has spent any time with those involved in this unfortunate condition know what this penalty is. It is a loss of their sense of identity, an uncertainty as to their role and place in life. It creates an almost unbearable tension as to who he is, and what he is, and what he or she is here for.This sexual confusion that abounds on every side is an attempt to mar and to defeat God's precise delineation when he made them male and female.

The third and final mark of a godless and wicked culture is given in Verses 28-32.

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. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Rom 1:28-31 NIV)

This is a terrible list of sins, but it is the mark of a civilization that is nearing collapse -- this growing spirit of contemptuous and arrogant disregard for other human beings. In one word, this describes a desire to exploit other people. Godlessness eventually brings us to the place where we will see these things in society.

"Depraved mind," used here, literally means "an unacceptable mind," a mind that cannot be lived with, that simply will not fit into any kind of civilization or culture or society. A depraved mind destroys, rends, and fragments everything it touches. It is an unacceptable mind, and its public hostility is marked by increasing cruelty and violence. We in the Western world are not escaping either. Every day our newspapers report the skyrocketing rise in senseless vandalism and vicious and unprovoked attack upon innocent and often helpless people. The rise in child abuse is a symptom of this in our society. It culminates, as Paul makes very clear in Verse 32, in an attitude of callous disregard:

Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things, but also approve those who practice them. (Rom 1:32 NIV)

Knowing that harm is coming from their wickedness, nevertheless they attempt to spread it more fully. They invade the field of education; they dominate the media; they seek legal status for their wickedness and defy all attempts at control. As you can well recognize, this is what is going on today.

Thus the Apostle Paul traces the deepening darkness of his own day. And yet it is ours as well. Though this is an honest record, it is also clear that God does not turn his back on man. This account is not a record of what God despises, and thus turns aside with contempt. Man is never treated here as an object of contempt, or as a worm. Rather, God's concern underscores this whole passage. He is at work to try to bring men to their senses, to wake up a civilization as to what is going on in its midst, and to show it how desperately it is in need of deliverance -- which can only come as a gift of righteousness from God's hands.

You may ask, "Why does God give a civilization over to this kind of thing?" He does it because it is only when darkness prevails, and despair and violence are widespread, that men are ready to welcome the light. Remember Isaiah's prediction? "They that dwell in darkness, upon them has the light shined. They that live in the land of deep darkness, unto them a great light has shined," (cf, Isa 9:2). In the 1st century, the world was sunk in the darkness of despair. Idolatry had penetrated the whole world; men had turned from the true God, whom they could have known. Hopelessness and rank despair lay like a heavy blanket upon the earth. (Ray C. Stedman, ibid.)

Are we left without hope by this terrible state of affairs? Will we see at last the wrath of God at work in an evil world and our ongoing rebellion with the inescapable consequences which follow? If so we are ready for the good news of God's full remedy.

"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God"The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."(John 3:16-18, 35-36)

Although the human mind stubbornly resists and resents the suggestion that it is a sick, fallen planet upon which we ride, everything within our consciousness, our innermost spirit, confirms that the voice of God is sounding in this world--the voice of God calling, seeking, beckoning to lost men and women!...

Sacred revelation declares plainly that the inhabitants of the earth are lost. They are lost by a mighty calamitous visitation of woe which came upon them somewhere in that distant past and is still upon them.

But it also reveals a glorious fact--that this lost race has not been given up!

There is a divine voice that continues to call. It is the voice of the Creator, God, and it is entreating them.

Just as the shepherd went everywhere searching for his sheep, just as the woman in the parable went everywhere searching for her coins, so there is a divine search with many variations of the voice that entreats us, calling us back.... A. W. Tozer, Echoes from Eden.

You are invited to sign up and contribute to our Christianese Word Lexicon, http://lexicon.rail.com/phpLexicon/.

Additional Reading:

New Morality or Ancient Foolishness by Ray Stedman, http://ldolphin.org/newmorals.html

Sexuality and Wholeness, by Ray Stedman, http://ldolphin.org/sexrcs.html

Sexual Politics and Moral Absolutes, http://ldolphin.org/SSGen.html

Jesus and the Homosexual, http://ldolphin.org/Homo.shtml

Expository Studies in Romans, by Ray Stedman, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/romans2/

The Letter to the Romans, William Barclay, http://ldolphin.org/barclay/romans.html

James M. Boice, Expositional Commentary on Romans, 4 Vols. Baker Books 1992. $18.50 per volume (plus S&H) from PBC Bookroom.

 


Romans Class Notes:   Index  |  1  | 2  |  3  |  4  | 5  |  6  |   |  8  |  9  | 10  |  11  | 12  | 13  |  14  |  15  |  16  |  17  |  18

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Lambert Dolphin | http://ldolphin.org | lambert@ldolphin.org | 08/22/03