SERMON FOR MARCH 29, 1998 FROM ROMANS 1:18-32

 

          We have been studying the first major topic Paul discusses in Romans, the wrath of God which is revealed against the unrighteousness of people.  As Paul seeks to present in Romans the glory of God’s grace in the gospel, it makes sense for him first to tell us the reason why that grace is necessary.  The reason of course is that God’s wrath burns against all unrighteousness.  We have seen that there are two root expressions of unrighteousness from which all the others are derived. Two weeks ago, we saw the most fundamental expression or symptom of the unrighteousness in people is that they “suppress the truth [about God] in unrighteousness.”  God has shown himself through His creation in such a way that makes people accountable to know that He exists and to compel them to worship him.  Yet, the unrighteousness within people causes them to try to blot out God’s existence and the truth about his character.  This explains not only people who claim to be atheists, but also those who worship a counterfeit, tame God, declawed and defanged of his less pleasant attributes.  This expression of unrighteousness leaves people in the dire situation of being highly accountable to know and worship God, but thanks to their unrighteousness they are totally unable and unwilling to do that.

          Last week, we saw another root expression or symptom of this unrighteousness.  We saw that even though people push the true God away, their natural desire to worship forces them to seek other gods.  These are gods which will serve their own fleshly, self-centered desires. These two root expression of  unrighteousness within people are the main causes for the revelation of the wrath of God.  Now that we have seen the WHY of God’s wrath, this morning we will look at the question of HOW God reveals his wrath.  The first verse of this section, verse 18 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men...”  Most of us think of the wrath of God as being predominantly future oriented--the last judgment, hell, etc.  But Paul says the wrath of God is not only a future event, but very much a present reality.  The question which will guide our time this morning is this, “How is the wrath of God against unrighteousness being revealed today?” 

       Let’s read chapter one, verses 22-28.  Paul is speaking of lost people and says, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23and 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.  24Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. 25For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.  26For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27and 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.  28And 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,”

          This section of the text answers the question of HOW God is right now revealing his wrath against unrighteousness.  Paul in verses 24, 26, and 28 gives three ways God is revealing His wrath against sin.  In each of these verses it says that God, in response to unrighteousness in His wrath, “gave them over” to something.  It is this “giving them over” which reveals God’s wrath today.  What does Paul mean here when it says God “gives people over?”  We see the same word used in a similar context in Stephen’s sermon in Acts seven.  Stephen is recounting God’s response to the idolatry of the Jews when they made the golden calf.  He says, “But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies.”  God simply refused to restrain their sin--he “turned way” and he let them go--he “gave them over” to it. 

          Paul’s use of the same word in 1 Corinthians five fleshes out what this means a bit more.  Paul is rebuking the Corinthians because there was a man who was sexually sinning with his step mother and the Corinthians were allowing this sinner to remain in fellowship.  Paul tells them that he, on his apostolic authority has decided (verse 5) to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh.”  This person had been sinning, had been behaving satanically under the protective covering of the church.  Paul says in effect, “I am kicking him out of the church, removing this protective covering and giving him over to the one who he is following, Satan in the hope that the painful consequences will drive him to repentance.”  Paul is simply removing God’s protection from this person.  He is allowing the darkness of this world to take its toll and bring its consequences.  That’s what God does when He, in His wrath gives people over to sin. 

          The wrath of God is revealed today by His refusal to intervene as lost people, in their unrighteousness run after sin.  He refuses to break the power of sin with all of its destructive force in their lives.  He gives them over to it.  I want us to see just how horrible this “giving over” is for a moment and in order to do that, we first need to briefly look from a broad perspective at how tortuous it is to be set free to follow your own sinful inclinations in this dark world.  First, let’s look briefly at the tyranny involved in “being free” to live under the power of sin.  Sin is deceptive.  We know this because sin is governed by Satan and he is “the father of lies.”  We all know from experience that sin is deceptive because it promises what it cannot deliver.  It promises satisfaction and pleasure but it ultimately delivers only emptiness and discontent.  Augustine said, “We are restless until we find our rest in [God].”  Only God can bring ultimate satisfaction and contentment, sin promises it but can’t deliver.  Sin promises freedom from restraint, but it delivers only bondage.  What people think is liberty is pure enslavement.  The sinful, false gods people pursue are addictive and compel people to be obsessive and self destructive.  People never find ultimate satisfaction from their sin and so they never can get enough.   Finally, sin, in its compulsion to push God away, promises escape from God but it instead delivers a continual exposure to God’s wrath.  That’s what God has given people over to and it is horrendous.  Many here today have been trapped in the grip of sin’s deception and know the helplessness and emptiness you feel there.  Maybe you are there today.  If you are, there’s only one hope for you.

          A second element of the horror of being set free to sin involves WHO he is giving lost people over to. When God gives people over to their sin, he is giving them over to a world system governed by Satan.  Jesus in John 14 calls him “the ruler of this world.” His agenda for people according to John 10:10 is to steal from them, kill them and destroy them. Let’s think for a moment about how horrible it is to be free to be governed by Satan.  Before the Fall, God was the loving, nurturing parent who compassionately cared for his children, feeding them with his word and cradling them in his arms.  When his children rebelliously chose to follow unrighteousness, he gave them over to a new parent.  A parent who tightly clutches his children in his arms, but who is bottle feeding them the poison of sin.

          He doesn’t have to force it down their throats.  They have an insatiable appetite, slurping it down as fast as he can feed them.  The more they take in, the more they want.  Their depraved flesh cries out for more and more.  And with each drop of sin they ingest, their soul withers and they more and more become bound to their evil parent who is one drop at a time, stealing their joy, killing their bodies and destroying their soul. When God allows people to pursue their sin, make no mistake about it, he is doing nothing less than allowing them to run right into the open arms of the prince of darkness and the Adversary openly welcomes them.  He is more than content to indulge their insatiable appetite for sin, knowing that every sin eats their soul, dehumanizes them and makes them more and more like him.  When God gives people over to follow their own unrighteousness, it is a horrible thing.  The only thing worse than this aspect of God’s wrath is the other aspect of God’s wrath--the eternal one where He forever pours out his fiery wrath in the furnace of hell.

          That’s a broad look of what God does when, in His wrath He gives people over to their sin.  In our text, Paul gives three specific expressions of this wrath.  In verse 24, it says He “gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.”  In verse 26 it says God gave them over to “shameful lusts” which he spells out as homosexual perversion.  And in verse 28 it says, “He gave them over to a depraved [or worthless] mind.”  These are three specific expressions of the revelation of God’s wrath.  They are not the only three, they are the three which Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit treats here.  This morning we will only have time to look at the first two which I will include under one point because they are closely related.  Here is the first specific answer Paul gives to the question, “How is the wrath of God against unrighteousness being revealed today?  The first expression of God’s wrath is seen in the insatiable desires within people which leads them sexual sin and perversion.  This really addresses the issues Paul brings up in verse 24 where he speaks of “sexual impurity” and in verse 26 where he calls it “shameful lusts.”

          It would be nearly impossible to overstate the pervasiveness of sexual sin and perversion and the wreckage it makes of people and the culture today.  Its everywhere and its spreading like wild fire.  The culture we live in has not only de-stigmatized sexual sin, it has glamorized it.  So called  “sexual liberty” is seen as a personal right and if you are in any way negatively predisposed against it, you are assumed to have the sophistication of a cave man--you are a cultural Neanderthal, a puritanical imbecile whose only motivation is to keep others in the same sex-starved misery and asceticism you foolishly force yourself into.  The reason for this is the culture continually suppresses the truth on the issue of sin and is selfishly sucking away at the lethal bottle of sexual sin and perversion.

          The contrast between the truth of God and the lie of this dark world as it relates to sex couldn’t be more stark.  Sex, as God instituted it is a beautiful and  sacred thing.  In Genesis 2:24, we see that it is God’s means for bringing about a sacred, one flesh union between a man and a woman.  Paul elaborates on Genesis in Ephesians five and says this one flesh union, consummated and reinforced through sexual love, represents the most sublime truths, that Christ is in a profound, intimate union with his covenant people, the church.  God’s plan for sexual love is that it occur within the protection and confines of a covenant relationship, marriage.  God’s plan for sexual love is that it be governed by the principles of self control and mutual submission.  The divine blueprint dictates that the marriage partners are controlled in their sexual relationship by the question, “How can I most fully give myself in ministry to my spouse”, NOT “what will bring ME the most pleasure.” It is selfless because the focus is on the OTHER covenant partner and it is GOD centered because it represents His relationship to the church.  It’s beautiful.

          Sex, within the context of unrighteousness under the lie is just the opposite.  First, lets look at heterosexual sin which Paul calls “impurity” in verse 24.  It is SELF-centered and fleshly.  When it is outside marriage, it is by nature self centered because there is no covenant which compels the partners to stay together. There is this enormously powerful spiritual bonding between two people without the formal spiritual bond of a covenant.  It like having a shot gun with no safety--there are no controls and it will inflict deep and lasting wounds to someone.  The governing principles are not self control and selfless, mutual submission.  They are self-indulgence and selfishness.  This kind of sinful sexual indulgence in NO way models the sacred oneness Christ has with the church.  On the contrary, it mirrors the way the evil one uses people for his own selfish ends and then throws them away, unfulfilled and wasted. 

          Another aspect of the wretchedness of this sin is seen in verse 24.  Paul says part of the wrath of God is seen in “the degrading of their bodies with one another.”

The human body was designed with the sacred purpose to house the very person of God.  The body is sacred, but sexual sin reduces this sacred creation of the most High God to nothing more than a grouping of hormones and glands which tyrannically control and manipulate the rest of the body.  Man, the dwelling place of God becomes nothing more than a sexual playground--a vehicle for the dispensing  of moral filth and personal destruction.  It is a wretched degradation of that which God has created for the most profound, sublime purpose.  The glory of humanity created in God’s image is reduced to the level of dumb animals, driven not by an holy, inner compulsion to glorify God and give themselves in selfless sacrifice to another, but driven only by hormonal, glandular lust which is mistakenly called love.

          In his wrath, God also gives people over to homosexual sin.  Paul calls this “perversion” in verse 27 and the church dare not think of it in any other terms.  First Corinthians 6:9 says, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  Neither the sexually immoral nor idolators nor adulterers not male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders...will inherit the kingdom of God.”   This is a perversion of God’s plan in many ways.  There is no one flesh relationship established.  That can only occur between a man and a woman--it is native to heterosexuality.  It is self centered and there is no covenant.  Some may ask, “what about so called homosexual marriages?

          To say that a homosexual “marriage” is a covenant which links two people together is farcical.  The only Being who can decide what will spiritually bring two people into union is the One who creates the people.  God alone creates the covenants which binds people together and He has created marriage between a male and female and has blessed it.  He has created no such covenant relationship for same sex people. It simply does not exist. Homosexual marriage is a complete fraud--a cheap counterfeit rooted in deception.  It is an evil invention designed to reinforce the lie that homosexual sin is equivalent to the sacred union of a man and a woman within marriage.  Satan wants to make homosexual sin palatable to the broad culture, so he creates an unholy union to give the sin credibility.

          Verses 26-27 say it is an “exchange of natural relations for unnatural ones.”  By that what Paul means is this:  Men and women by nature, that is, by His good design are biologically and reproductively complimentary.  It is natural--according the nature He has established for humanity.  Homosexual activity is unnatural in that men are not biologically and reproductively complimentary with other men and the same is true for women with other women.  You don’t have to be an anatomist to figure this out.  For most of the history of civilization, this has simply been assumed.  Homosexual sin is not only unnatural on a personal level, but on a cultural level as well.  It is contrary to the basic social unit ordained by God and upon which civilization is founded, the family.  People in the past felt this way NOT because (as is often stated) they lived in an archaic, close minded culture, but because they have sensed this intuitively.  It is natural.  Homosexuality is naturally  repulsive to most people.  People have to be “educated” to find this sin even acceptable, much less superior.

          This isn’t a very popular stance today, but this is the clear teaching of Scripture.  It doesn’t give us an excuse to ridicule homosexuals, we are to pray for them and reach out to them. This is not the unforgivable sin and homosexuals can be delivered from their sin by the power of God.  In 1979, Masters and Johnson concluded a five year study and found a 66% success rate in changing homosexual orientation.  And that was clearly done without the power of God, with purely human means!  Homosexuality, as one scholar put it is simply, “a particularly clear example of the extent to which people have fallen from a true knowledge of God.”  It is a blatant example of the effects of suppressing the truth and the wrath of God which comes when that occurs.  The fact that our popular culture now openly embraces this blatantly perverse behavior is a painful reminder that we are near the end of our civilization unless God intervenes.

          That’s only the first expression of God’s wrath as it is revealed today.  What are we doing about it?  Do we see lost people this way--gulping down the poison of sin under the wretched fatherhood of the Prince of evil?  Are we fervently praying for them?  Are we giving them the truth to confront the lies they are sucking in?  Are we inviting them to the evangelistic crusade coming up?  The good news is that God’s wrath is not the only option!  God is full of wrath toward sin, but He is also merciful.  He has broken the power of sin, canceling it through the blood of His Son.  On the cross, Christ drank the poison of sin--he drank it to the dregs...for you...so you don’t have to.  If you have never truly trusted Christ and his death for your deliverance from the wrath of God, if you’ve never repented of your sin do that today.  In Christ alone is escape from bondage and emptiness.  In Christ alone is escape from the wrath of God.  In Christ alone is pleasures for ever and liberty to be holy and without shame.  May God give us grace to look to Him who alone can rescue from darkness and bring us into his glorious light.    

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