A SOCIETY THAT ABANDONS TRUTH (THEIR KNOWLEDGE ABOUT GOD) IS IN DANGER OF BEING ABANDONED BY GOD TO GROSS SIN AND IMMORALITY
Examples of Sodom and Gomorrah; Roman Empire; etc. – Look at their manifestation of depravity and the disintegration of their societies.
What is the present state of decadence in the U.S.? How far along are we on this downward spiral?
Thomas Schreiner: The content of verses 24–32, however, indicates that the emphasis of the text has shifted, since now Paul details the consequences of failing to worship and honor God. God gave people over to sexual sin (24), because they abandoned the true God and worshiped idols (25). Therefore, God gave people over to same-sex desires and actions (26–27). . . Sexual sin is a consequence, or outworking, of the rejection of God and a failure to honor him. The fundamental sin isn’t sexual but the failure to worship God. All other sin is a consequence of this one (Käsemann 1980: 47). The fundamental truth of the universe is that God exists and that he should be worshiped and served and his name should be praised (v. 25).
R. Kent Hughes: The logic here is so clear: ﬁrst a suppression of the majestic revelation of God, then a perversion to man-centered idolatry, and ﬁnally a perversion of man himself. “In the end their humanism (man-centeredness) resulted in the dehumanization of each other.” In the end, man lowers himself to a condition below God’s created purpose. As we will see in our next study, man, having rejected the witness of God in creation, goes on to live contrary to the very order of creation.
We have seen something of the “why” of the wrath of God, but our text also tells us something of the “how” of God’s wrath: “God gave them up . . . to impurity.” This terrifying phrase (“God gave them up”) is repeated three times before chapter 1 closes. God avenges himself by allowing the ever-deepening decline of evil men and women. That is what we see today all around us—men and women have slipped to such depths that it would disgrace animals to have such conduct among them. God’s wrath is all around us, and it seems that more wrath (God’s giving people up to sin) is falling daily.
Frank Thielman: The form in which God’s wrath is being revealed against this ongoing rebellion, moreover, is itself just, since it is commensurate with the crime. Just as it was irrational not to conclude from the creation that a powerful, eternal God was its maker and instead to claim in effect that creatures made themselves, so God’s punishment of this rebellion affected the ability of human beings to think clearly about God, his creatures, and how they should relate to one another. They became “futile” in their reasoning powers and “their foolish heart was darkened” (1:21). They called foolishness wisdom (1:22) and traded the truth for a lie (1:25). They refused to give God their stamp of approval, and so God gave them minds that could not distinguish between the worthwhile and the worthless (1:28).
This inability to think in accord with the truth about God, his creation, and the way creatures should relate to one another worked itself out in practical terms in a wide variety of social ills. Paul probably highlighted homoerotic sexual activity because it was such a clear example of human beings, blinded by passion, engaging in activity that was contrary to nature and ended in dishonor and futility. The social ills Paul fires off in rapid succession in 1:29–31, similarly, describe a society that does not function because its individual members are blinded by their own passions and have therefore lost the ability to think clearly and act rationally for the good of the whole. In summary, human beings have suppressed the truth about God; this has led to impiety and unrighteousness; and the unrighteousness is itself the outpouring of God’s wrath in the present on those who richly deserve precisely this punishment (1:18).
I. (:24-25) SEXUAL IMPURITY IS GOD’S JUDGMENT FOR IDOLATR
A. (:24) How Did God Judge Them? Sexual Impurity
“Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them.”
Frank Thielman: The term “therefore” (διό) reaches back to the entire section stretching from 1:19 to 1:23 with its description of why God reveals his wrath against humanity. Now Paul describes how God reveals his wrath, and, again, the focus lies on the fairness of the punishment. Not only does the crime merit punishment, but it merits precisely the punishment God gives. God hands people over to the consequences of their knowing refusal to acknowledge him as God. . .
The expression “to hand someone over to something” was often used in judicial contexts (e.g., Matt 10:17; 20:19; 24:9; Luke 21:12; 24:20; Acts 8:3), and so Paul assumed that the punishment he described here was a judicial punishment. Paul pictures God as a just judge giving to people precisely what they deserve. He could use the terms “lust” (ἐπιθυμία) and “uncleanness” (ἀκαθαρσία) together elsewhere with sexual connotations (Gal 5:16, 19, 24; Eph 4:19, 22; Col 3:5; 1 Thess 4:5, 7), and as 1:26–27 shows they carry those connotations here. . .
The uncleanness to which God has handed over idolatrous human beings is specifically the mutual dishonoring of their bodies. Here, too, the fairness of God’s punishment is clear: just as they have dishonored him, so he has handed them over to their dishonorable conduct toward one another.
Grant Osborne: Why is sexual sin so powerful? The Bible frequently urges believers to avoid sexual sin. Did God, the creator of sex, decide he had made a mistake? Definitely not! God invented sex as a pleasurable part of the unique relationship between women and men, who are made in his image. Like most gifts, sex has proper and improper uses. What was created to be an expression of fidelity, intimacy, comfort, and sheer pleasure can also be the expression of selfishness, betrayal, deception, and manipulation. In its rightful place sex builds self-worth and deepens intimacy. Used wrongfully, it destroys people and relationships, undermining trust and acceptance. Sex is a wonderful gift to be shared by those for whom God designed it.
Because sex is such a powerful and essential part of what it means to be human, it must be treated with great respect. Sexual desires are of such importance that the Bible gives them special attention and counsels more careful restraint and self-control than with any other desire. One of the clearest indicators of a society or person in rebellion against God is the rejection of God’s guidelines for the use of sex.
James Dunn: Paul would see the act of handing over as punitive, but not as spiteful or vengeful. For him it is simply the case that man apart from God regresses to a lower level of animality. God has handed them over in the sense that he has accepted the fact of man’s rebellious desire to be free of God (in terms of Gen 3, to be “as God”), and has let go of the control which restrained them from their baser instincts. The rationale is, presumably, that God does not retain control over those who do not desire it; he who wants to be on his own is granted his wish.
Thomas Constable: The third characteristic of humankind in rebellion against God that Paul identified—after ignorance (v. 21) and idolatry (v. 23)—is impurity (v. 24). Here Paul evidently had natural forms of moral uncleanness in view such as adultery and prostitution. He went on in verses 26-27 to describe even worse immorality, namely, unnatural acts such as homosexuality. “Natural” here means in keeping with how God has designed people, and “unnatural” refers to behavior that is contrary to how God has made us.
B. (:25) How Did They Abandon the Truth? Delusion and Idolatry
- Delusion = Exchanged the Truth of God for a Lie
“For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie,”
Frank Thielman: The verb “exchanged” (μετήλλαξαν) is repeated from 1:23 (ἤλλαξαν), but now with a preposition (μετά) that intensifies its meaning: people completely abandoned the truth God had revealed to them about himself (1:19–20). God revealed the truth about himself as Creator to them, but they knowingly exchanged this truth for a lie—the lie that the images they “revered and served” were actually gods who would respond to their worship with salvation and blessing. This was a common Jewish view of non-Jewish religious practices (e.g., Isa 44:20; Ep Jer 6:8, 34–38, 47; cf. 1 Cor 8:4; 10:19–20; Gal 4:8), but they were also practices to which the Jews themselves had sometimes fallen prey (e.g., Jer 2:26–28). The thought of idolatry was so repulsive to Paul that he utters a common Jewish benediction, praising the Creator in defiance of the idol worship he has just described.
“and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator,
who is blessed forever. Amen.”
Application: How can we tell whether our focus is on God the Creator and heavenly priorities? What would you do with 2 days alone and no responsibility or accountability?
II. (:26-27) HOMOSEXUALITY IS GOD’S JUDGMENT FOR WORSHIPING THE HUMAN BOD
A. (26a, 27b) How Does God Judge Such a Society? Degradation
“For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions;”
“and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
Thomas Schreiner: The context suggests that the “penalty” is not something in addition to same-sex sin. The penalty is rather being handed over to the sin of same-sex relations.
James Dunn: Paul would certainly affirm that the typical association between pagan idolatry and sexual license was no accident: the more base the perception of God, the more base the worship and corresponding conduct appropriate to it (cf. Wisd Sol 14:12).
B. How Did They Abandon the Truth? Homosexuality
- (:26b) Women Rejected Natural Sexual Relations for Unnatural
“for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,”
Not a legitimate sexual orientation, but an unnatural perversion that is living proof of God’s wrath
R. Kent Hughes: Why does Paul single out homosexuality then? Because it is so obviously unnatural, and therefore automatically underlines the extent to which sin takes mankind. Other sins are just as evil, but they are naturally evil. God has emphasized the sin of inversion to show us that inside the unbelieving man is a running sore that indicates a far deeper dimension of the wounds of sinful society.
- (:27a) Men Rejected Natural Sexual Relations for Unnatural
“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”
Thomas Schreiner: It is clear, then, that Paul condemns not just the activity but also same-sex lust, though, of course, such lust translates itself into actions that are shameful.
Frank Thielman: Paul thought that the eternal power and divinity of the Creator were obvious from the physical world and led clearly to the conclusion that people should glorify and thank the Creator (1:20–21). In the same way, Paul probably considered the “natural” character of heterosexual activity to be obvious from the physical anatomy of male and female and from the role of heterosexual intercourse in the production of children.
When human beings chose to revere and serve the creature rather than the Creator (1:25) and irrationally failed to glorify and thank God, their reasoning powers became futile and blurry, and they were shown to be foolish (1:21–22). In the same way, Paul considered homoerotic sexual activity to be foolish at an obvious level: it used the human body in a way contrary to its natural design, and it could accomplish nothing. Because of this, those who engaged in it dishonored themselves, and this is the sense in which they received “in themselves” the recompense for their sin. At the level of human relations, this was equivalent to worshiping the creature rather than the Creator (1:25).
Illustration: “You are acting like animals” – but even animals don’t stoop to this level of indecency
III. (:28-32) UNRESTRAINED TOTAL DEPRAVITY IS GOD’S JUDGMENT FOR CASTING OFF THE FEAR OF GO
A. (:28) How Did God Judge Them? Unrestrained Total Depravity —
“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer,
God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,”
Vine: A mind which is reprobate, worthless, useless, is unable to fulfill its natural functions as designed by God; it confuses right and wrong, failing to distinguish what is pleasing to Him from what is displeasing.
B. (:29-32) How Did They Abandon the Truth? Smorgasbord of Sins
- (:29-31) Practice of All Kinds of Sin
“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, unmerciful;”
Grant Osborne: Every Kind of Wickedness
- Evil—What is sinister and vile.Greed—Relentless urge to get more for oneself.
- Depravity—A condition of moral evil.
- Envy—Desire for something possessed by another.
- Murder—Greed, envy, and strife, left unchecked, could lead even to killing another in order to obtain what is desired.
- Strife—Competition, rivalry, bitter conflict.
- Deceit—To trick or mislead by lying.
- Malice—Doing evil despite the good that has been received.
- Gossips—They create problems by rehashing idle talk or rumors concerning others’ private affairs.
- Slanderers—Destroy another’s good reputation.
- God-haters—Not only do they ignore God; some actively hate him and attempt to work against any of his influences.
- Insolent—Arrogant behavior toward those who are not powerful enough to fight back. This particularly refers to a person’s attempt to shame another without mercy.
- Arrogant and boastful—Making claims of superior intelligence or importance.
- Invent ways of doing evil—Trying new kinds of perversions.
- Disobey their parents—When God’s authority is tossed aside as worthless, parental authority cannot be far behind. How unfortunate that the parents, in many cases, had set the example. By ignoring God’s authority, they set the example for the children to ignore parental authority.
- Senseless—Unable to discern spiritual and moral things.
- Faithless—Unfeeling, unkind, harsh, cruel.
- Ruthless—Without pity or compassion; merciless.
Timothy Keller: Romans 1:28-32 is unsettling because, as we’ve already seen, all of us find ourselves there, one way or another. This is not an exhaustive list of the outworkings of idolatry—of not thinking it “worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God” (v 28)—but it is a wide-ranging one. Here we have economic disorder (“greed,” v 29); social disorder (“murder, strife, deceit and malice,” v 29); family breakdown (“they disobey their parents,” v 30); relational breakdown (“senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless,” v 31). This is what theologians call the doctrine of total depravity: while not everything we do is always completely sinful, nothing we do is completely untouched by sin.
- (:32) Celebration of All Kinds of Sin
“and, although they know the ordinance of God, 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.”
You either value God’s light or you ignore it and become your own guide thru life.
Thomas Constable: The final step down in human degradation is people’s promotion of wickedness (v. 32). It is bad to practice these things, but it is even worse to encourage others to practice them.
James Dunn: It is this character of so much of man’s social relations, as deliberate rejection of what is known to be best, as willful rebellion against God’s ordering of things, which Paul reemphasizes with one final flourish. “They not only do such things but give their approval to those who do so too.” Their rejection of God is not merely a spur of the moment, heat of the instant flouting of his authority, but a considered and measured act of defiance. This is an important insight into one aspect of human sinfulness—its character of rebellion against what is known to be right (or best) its act of defiance in the face of known and perilous consequences of the act, its seemingly heroic “I/we will do what I/we will do and damn the outcome!” The miserable list of antisocial behavior (vv 29–31) illustrates just what human wisdom in its vaunted independence from God ends up justifying to itself (it would not be difficult to extend the list with twentieth-century examples). It is such self-delusion which lies at the heart of so much human conduct. And precisely because it is self-delusion, a self-destructive and society-destructive delusion, Paul attacks it so fiercely as the opening argument of his broader indictment.
If we insist on living an immoral life that we know is opposed by God (or if a society does so), we are in danger of God abandoning us
- Illustration: looting during heavy snowstorm manifests how inner depravity manifests itself once restraints are removed.
- Illustration: removing grass from a hillside leads to erosion and a mudslide.
- Illustration: society operates like a Yo-Yo; we drift down and then recover for awhile; the danger is God might cut the string.