Romans 1:17-32 Bringing Men Low in Hope that They’ll Come to Their Senses

In the last message, we talked about how the Gospel is the righteousness of God.  It’s interesting.  This is so powerful. We don’t think of it like that. We think of the righteousness of God as revealed in Law.  The Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.  In it, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.  On the one hand, it is revealed in God’s record concerning His Son and what He accomplished in His death and resurrection, and how He dealt with our sins righteously.  We’ll see more of that in Romans 3. God Himself is on Trial.  It’s not that only we are on trial. We think about the heavenly court in the light of us being judged. However, when we get to Romans 3 we will see that God Himself is being vindicated.  It’s His own righteousness that’s being put on display and vindicated.  That righteousness is the foundation of His Throne.  It’s the foundation of the kingdom.  It’s the foundation for our trust in the ages to come.  We will know that everything rests on His absolute righteousness. There will never be another question again.  There will not be another rebellion after the New Heavens and the New Earth.  This is not just because we will have been recreated and will be Holy and Righteous as God is righteous, but the questions will have been answered.  We will never wonder.  This History that we are going through for the last 6,000 years has thoroughly explored all of the different ways it could have been done.  All the different kind of kingdoms that could have been established, with a mix of having God on the throne and yet man being still being sinful and mortal, or having God be invisible and yet having human kings and laws, and then human forms of government that existed apart from any acknowledgment of God.  The 20th century was the century of experimentation where everyone got to try their utopia and ended up bringing death to millions of people, (Mao, Stalin, Hitler, and others.) We will never question again because God’s answer is Christ and the Gospel and the work of Christ on the cross.  All righteousness has been fulfilled in Him. 

That righteousness is manifested upon us who believe as we live by faith. We are vindicated before God in the court of heaven.  We are vindicated before the law. We are vindicated before any accusation.  Also, the Christ who is the righteousness of God now indwells us.  Our living by faith is not just a belief that we were forgiven, but that we have been identified with Christ.  We have been crucified with Him and He lives in us. Living by faith is the key to having the righteousness of the law fulfilled in those who believe and walk after the spirit and not after the flesh.  I’m getting ahead and we’ll get into all of this. The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel, which is the description of what God has done for us in Christ, and who Christ is in us. 

Perceiving God’s Wrath Balanced With the Rest of His Virtues

Now we see that the “Wrath of God” is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness in men who withhold (or suppress) the truth in unrighteousness:

Rom 1:18-32  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;  (19)  Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.  (20)  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:  (21)  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.  (22)  Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,  (23)  And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.  (24)  Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves:  (25)  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.  (26)  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:  (27)  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.  (28)  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;  (29)  Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,  (30)  Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,  (31)  Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:  (32)  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.

Oh my gosh! This is one of the most horrendous passages in scripture.  I know people who won’t read the book of Romans because they’ve read chapter 1 and think the whole thing is bad news.  You want to tell them “no, this is the best book! It’s the one that’ll set you free!”  People respond “oh no, I can’t read that book. The words he uses are just too much”.  This is where that comes from.

First of all, let’s consider the wrath of God.  When we hear the word, “wrath”, we think of our human nature.  This nature, as I’ve said is stained with sin.  Anything that we manifest is polluted.  Everything that God manifests, in contrast, is perfectly pure and holy.  All of His virtues are perfectly balanced and intact.  We know that His main virtues are holiness, light, love, and righteousness. The mystics used to talk about this.  But it is based on what the scriptures reveal about what are His most essential elements. 

We know the scripture says that God is love (1 John 4:1)  God is light (1 John 1:5) God is righteous (Daniel 9:4) and God is holy (Ps 99:9)  There are things that God does, and things that God has.  But there are things the scripture says that God is.  He is righteous, He is love, He is light, He is holy.  Whatever He does is in accordance with His own nature.  His own nature is being vindicated.  That’s why I say it’s important to understand that Jesus didn’t just fulfill a law as if someone wrote something down and He went and did it and therefore fulfilled that thing.  Jesus is God in the flesh.  He is the Son of God.  He is the Eternal Life, the resurrection and the life.  That life is righteousness, love, holiness, pure light.  Everything that He does and everything that He has that comes out from him is going to be of that fourfold nature.  This includes His wrath!

When we think of wrath, we think of unrestrained anger where you’re out of control and you’ve really lost it this time.  You got so mad that you just exploded.  Then, out of your wrath comes all kinds of vileness and violence.  That is not the case with God. Everything that God does has love, righteousness, holiness, and light as its ingredient, even His wrath!  God is storing up His wrath, and there will even be those who “Drink of the cup of His wrath poured out without mixture” (Rev 14:10)  However, He is righteousness as He does this. 

Why God Let’s People Go So Far

Romans 1 just seems so awful.  Why does He let men go this far?  It says He delivered them over to these terrible things.  It’s because they are puffed up in their pride and it is only through debasement and humiliation that they’ll ever come to an end of themselves so that there might be a hope that they would be saved by faith.  God desires (genuinely) that everyone would be saved.  His righteousness is revealed in the Gospel – “Peace on earth and goodwill toward men”(Lk 2:14).  God’s intention is that as many people as possible would be saved.  However, men genuinely fell.  The wrath is measured out and revealed from heaven.  The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel, but the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who “hold the truth in unrighteousness.” 

They know the truth, but they suppress it in their unrighteousness.  They can sense the righteousness of God revealed in the Gospel and the wrath of God.  The wrath is against those who don’t believe the Gospel. They are eventually manifested in their actions as being worthy of wrath.  This is for a purpose. God is not just doing this out of anger because He hates someone. Everything is teaching.  Everything is training.  Everything is motivated by love in the hope that some would come to their senses like the prodigal son.  The prodigal son was delivered over after a manner of speaking.  He went down to waste his inheritance on riotous living, and before you know he was “delivered over” and found himself begging for pig slop!  Then he said, “gosh if only I could just be a servant in my father’s house it would be better than this!” 

What happened?  He came to his senses.  It is quite possible to come to your senses, but sometimes you have to “bottom out.”  Interventionists that deal with drug addictions know that sometimes you have to wait for people to “drown”.  Not only that but sometimes it would be better if they would drown a little faster!  There is the example of someone standing by al lifeguard watching someone drown in the lake, and he says to the lifeguard, “why won’t you go save him?” The lifeguard answers, “because he’s still kicking.  As long as he’s still kicking I have to wait or he’ll just drag me down with him. I have to wait until he’s exhausted.  I have to wait until he’s spent and is starting to sink, and then I can go grab his limp body to drag him in to be safe.  Then I can really save him.”  That’s kind of what is working here in Romans chapter 1 from what I understand.

Someone might disagree with me, but if you see the wrath of God, please understand that it is God!  God is love.  God is light.  God is holiness.  God is righteous.  His righteousness is revealed in the Gospel, and His light is revealed in the Son. His holiness is revealed in the blood of Jesus Christ that was offered up to sprinkle us.  His righteousness was vindicated in that he can pass over our sins, righteously, and forgive us because of the work of Christ.  It all comes together in Christ. You have to look at God in the person of Jesus Christ if you are to know Him.

The Fruit of Seeing God in Christ vs. Idolatry

Jesus said, “no one has ever seen the Father except the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father has revealed Him” (John 1:17). God is a mystery.  He is a consuming fire.  He dwells in unapproachable light. You can’t get close to Him except in the Person of Jesus Christ.  He became a Man so that we could understand what the Father is like.  He said, “When you’ve seen Me you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9).  Can you imagine Jesus out of control exploding with wrath, so pissed off He can’t take it anymore and He just cusses you out?  We do know that He is going to come in His wrath and His garments are going to be stained with the blood of His enemies (Isaiah 63:1). That will be the end of an age where all the transgressions have reached their full.  People will have been given absolutely every opportunity, under every circumstance, to repent and to believe the Gospel.  They won’t believe because of the hardness of their heart.  It will grieve God and He will have to wipe the tears off people’s faces after Jesus accomplishes that great work and executes His judgment.  Even that will be according to His nature. Just keep in mind when you see the wrath of God that you temper it with the person of Jesus Christ and what He exhibits of God’s character.

 I’m not talking about Universalism.  I don’t believe everyone is going to get saved, I believe that the wrath of God is really revealed against unrighteousness and ungodliness and we are heirs of wrath by nature when we are born into this world.  Once our conscience starts functioning we start suppressing the truth. A functioning conscience in an unbeliever is just another way for them to lie to themselves!  The conscience accuses them and then their mind develops lies to suppress the voice of their conscience so that they can justify themselves apart from the justification that only Christ can provide.  They want righteousness but they don’t want God’s righteousness. They don’t want blood, they don’t want the Gospel, they don’t want Jesus Christ.  They are holding the truth in unrighteousness and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against this unrighteousness because that which can be “known of God is manifested in them, for God has shown it to them.”

When we preach the gospel to someone, we often come from the weak standpoint of thinking that we need to convince them of something that they don’t know.  We think we need to bring them all this information that they don’t know.  It would be more powerful if we understood that they do know, and what we need to do is awaken their conscience to what they already know, and we can then speak to that which already registers as true in them.  There is already a body of knowledge in mankind innately. They know there is a judgment to come.  They know the wrath of God is revealed against the ungodly and the unrighteous who do certain things.  They know that God is real.  However, they deny it through unrighteousness and suppress the truth.  They know that the invisible things of the creation are clearly seen “being understood by the things that are made.” Even His eternal power and Godhead.  They are without excuse.  They see the oceans.  They see the mountains. They see the design in this universe. They know instinctively! 

Mountains, rivers, oceans, and vastness in space – the reason God gave us such a big seeming universe so that we could understand the dimensions of His virtues.  His mercy is “great unto the heavens” (Ps 57:10).  As far as the “east is from the sins” He’s removed our sins from us (Ps 103:12).  His protection is likened to the mountains (Psalm 125:2).  His thoughts towards us are more than the sands of the seashore (Psalm 139:18).  All these things, on the one hand, are colorful, poetic language.  On the other hand, these dimensions are probably accurate.  He really does have more thoughts towards you than there are sands on the seashore.  

He wants us to understand the vastness of His Being and His thought toward us and His love toward us.  He has given us a “universe of scale” so that we have comparisons.  If we didn’t have a Universe, we couldn’t understand scale.  Consider if He had just created us as blobs of light in a universe that has no space and no time and no matter?  There would be no definition. It would be very difficult for Him to communicate to us in terms of scale.  Scale is a great way to communicate.  We are designed to measure things by observation.  We are beings that live in a universe of dimensions. We look around and see “that’s big, and that’s small, and that’s bigger than that, and that’s longer than that, and that’s higher than that!” We know how to measure because of the universe we live in.  That universe is given so that we can understand comparisons that give us a glimpse of the glory of God.

So, this is how I see “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”.  The scriptures are full of comparisons of scale in order for us to understand the depths of His love and His mercy and His compassion and His righteousness.  We understand the language of scale because of the universe He gave us to live in, and now He can speak of His “great love.” 

If we were just in an orb of light with no dimensions, if He said “Great love” or “small love” it wouldn’t mean anything to us!  Now He can say, “His great love with which He loved us” and “His everlasting love”. We understand time.  Time is slow and long and His love everlasting.  That’s a scale comparison. His love for us outlasts everything!  That helps us know the dimensions of His love so that He can fill it with more detail for us and make it “3D” for us.    I find this kind of meditation very edifying.

Before we were saved, we were these people, who “knew God” but we “glorified Him not as God and weren’t thankful.”  This is really the root of the problem.  The first response to having a universe should be to be thankful.  I’m thankful.  I watch my kid play Minecraft.  He’s got too many chickens in this house where he spawned all these chickens and He has a turtle room, and a bunch of sheep and all of these other animals wandering around this house he made in Minecraft. The processing power for the computer to simulate all of this is making everything slow and jittery, so that as he walks around its really hard to move.  I told him he needs to create a new universe because this one is so full of things that the computer has to keep track of that it has been completely bogged down.  Aren’t you glad that you live in a universe that doesn’t stutter when you walk, and you don’t deal with “lag and latency?” Some of the older people might not understand what I’m talking about. But we live in a “smooth universe” where everything works in a wonderful way, and we should be thankful.  That’s what God would like to restore us to.  That’s actually the fruit of the gospel – thanksgiving. 

But instead of being thankful, it says here that they became “puffed up and vain in their imaginations and then their foolish heart was darkened.”  This matches what Paul says in Ephesians 4. That darkening of the heart alienates people from the life of God.  They get delivered over to “working all uncleanness of greediness” because they are “beyond feeling.” They lose their sense of their conscience.  The conscience is God’s light shining on you. Everyone has one. That is how we do really know that the universe is real and was created by a God who is real, and that there is wrath against unrighteousness and that there is a judgment to come because our conscience excuses us. 

“Delivered Over” based on our view of God and Ourselves

When our mind is puffed up, and our heart becomes darkened, that light dims and we no longer feel our conscience.  We are “beyond feeling” or “without feeling” and then we go after uncleanness with greediness, which is what it says in Ephesians 4:

Eph 4:17-19  This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,  (18)  Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:  (19)  Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

This is basically the same thing that we’re seeing in Romans 1.  They become “vain in their imaginations” and their foolish heart is “darkened” and they “profess themselves to be wise.”  They come up with all kinds of philosophies to explain the universe.  “It accidentally appeared after exploding out of nothing and we are all part of it, and we’re all made of star pieces and we are God.”  In doing this they become fools.  And here is the foolishness:  They change the glory of the incorruptible God, (and by the way we are not to make an image of Him because He is beyond our ability to understand) and made it into an image like a corruptible man, to birds, beasts and creeping things.  The Pagans developed gods that were lower than God and were of this creation and not only that, were lower than man!  If you worship something that is equal to you or below you, the problem with this is that you become less than what you worship.  It is good that worship a God who is great and so awesome and mighty and wonderful because we are beautifully and wonderfully made by such a Being.  To love yourself has very much to do with how much you treasure and how much do you worship the One that created you? 

If you understand how marvelous He is, and you say “I’m wonderfully made and He made me”.  And you see that you are noble, worthy and holy.  There is a sanctity of life apart from the second birth.  God created you.  You’re special and unique.  You are valuable and honorable.  But when you change the glory of the incorruptible God in the foolishness and darkness of your heart and make it like a corruptible man or lower creatures, you really become a fool. 

The “gods” of the pantheons were totally immoral.  When you read the stories of the Greco-Roman pantheon, you’ve got people castrating their fathers and devouring their mothers and raping people and pillaging.. why?  Because their gods were made in the image of corruptible men.  That actually makes man lower!  Not only is their image of God lower than what it should be, but they themselves become lower because you become less than what you worship.  Exchanging the glory of God for beasts and creeping things (snakes and scorpions, etc.) you are now debasing yourself to the lowest place.  You are debasing humanity and saying that there is nothing special about humanity. 

God created man in His image and gave him dominion over everything (including beasts and creeping things).  But now you’re saying these creatures rule you.  This has a real impact on you, and damages your conscience and heart so that you have lost your ability to feel, you’ve lost your ability to know, you’re completely in your “lostness”.  Not only that, but God, because of your foolishness has to show you what’s happened.  He gives them over to the lusts of uncleanness to “dishonor themselves” with each other. 

When you dishonor your body and go after the lusts of the flesh, you’ve can be “given up” to uncleanness and are becoming like an animal. You can become a slave to every base desire. Not only that but when you’re in this mode, you can’t say “no”.  These desires come and rule over you and you can’t say no to them!  That’s the sad truth of slavery to sin exhibited in a sexually depraved society.  They are slaves to lusts they cannot control and when the lust comes they have to do it, whatever it is.  To whatever degree they’ve been given over to it, they have to respond.  It all has to do with the idols in their heart and the power it exercises over you.  How do you see God and how do you see yourself? If you see yourself as lower than the lowest things on the earth, you’re going to be given over to uncleanness and just be robots following whatever lust impulse comes their way.  You lose your authority.  When you’re that low, God makes sure you’re really brought that low. If you’re low in your concept of Him, you’ll be low in your actions. 

This goes back to changing “the truth of God into a lie”  and “worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator who is blessed forever.” The uncleanness comes from idolatry.  The root of sexual sins and problems with them it’s got to do with your focus who God is what He has done in Christ and knowing the Gospel.  If you know God truly, you’ll come to the Gospel to be cleansed by the blood.  That doesn’t mean you’ll have all your problems solved, you’ll still have flesh.  But God will teach you.  He will bring you back into nobility over time.

“For this cause, God gave them up to vile affections.”  It’s not just uncleanness but vile affections.  Now we’re talking about “women and men changing the natural use” and burning in lusts toward one another. Even reading this is hard.  They receive “in themselves the recompense of their error.” What are they receiving in themselves?  The baseness of their concept of God and themselves. That’s what it really comes down to.  It is a spiritual problem. “Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge God gave them over to a reprobate mind”.  A reprobate mind is a mind that is unable to discern between good and evil and comprehend the truth. 

Rom 1:29-32  Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,  (30)  Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,  (31)  Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:  (32)  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.

This is a culture of awfulness. This is every imagination of the heart being delivered over to evil. They know the judgment of God and that those who do these things are worthy of death.  They do the same thing and have pleasure in those that do them.  And the religious person thinks “yeah, get them God!”  But remember what I said at the beginning of this.  The wrath of God is revealed from heaven and His motive is that people would come to the gospel.  If He delivers people over to this it is so that He can bring them low so that He can show them His compassion.  That is really the intention.  Eventually, there comes a time where there’s going to be more no more time because He has to bring in the kingdom.  We’ll see the judgment of that final generation.  As long as it’s today, salvation is “today” (2 Cor 2:6).

God’s hope is that “today” people will be saved and He needs people to bottom out.  Remember these are people that thought they were wise in their own eyes and thought they were noble and thought they were very smart.  They profess themselves to be wise and became fools.  It came out of an unthankful heart and a heart that didn’t acknowledge who He is but rather chose to go their own way and suppress the truth in unrighteousness and rule God out of the picture and so He delivers them over to these things so that they can become so debased that they’d eventually cry out.  That’s exactly what happened to the Prodigal son.  He needed that experience so that he could taste what the world had for him apart from his father.  He finally got to a point where he said, “it’s got to be better for my father’s servants than being out here!”  That’s what God is hoping to bring people to their senses through extremes. A lot of times revival will come when the culture has gotten so dark.  A lot of times people want the culture to be moral. No, we don’t want the moral to be moral. You want the culture to be darker so that the truth would shine much more brightly.  Against this backdrop of evil that you see listed here, a righteous person who believes the Gospel will shine as a luminary, like in Philippians we are to ‘hold forth the word of life shining as a luminary in a crooked and perverse generation.”  If the generation around you looks about as good as we do, and everyone’s about the same, then the gospel does not shine as brightly.  However when the culture gets dark, then the lampstand shines brightly.  That’s what God is wanting to do – to bring people to the knowledge of the truth. 

If you read a list like Romans 1:17-32, it’s hard not to judge the culture and people and forget about God. What happens?  You become a legalist.  What’s the next thing he’s going to say in Romans 2?  “Rom 2:1  Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. “ So after dealing with this, he’s going to deal with the religious people who think because they know the law they are better than the Gentiles.  But actually, the law exposes their hypocrisy.  They are that much more under the microscope.  This is a progress where he’s first showing the wrath revealed against the gentiles who don’t know God (but they do inwardly), and then against the religious who boast in their supposed knowledge of God, thinking they know God because they have the law and the oracles.  They are all condemned under the law (Gentile or Jew), no matter how bad you think you are, every mouth is going to be shut.  Then, Chapter 3 shows us all of this is so that God’s righteousness in Christ could be revealed in the way He deals with sins, and we all have the need for that to happen.

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