Men are not “basically good”
In this next section, Paul describes the unregenerate person as left to himself. For the
next three chapters, Paul will show us how all men; both Jew and Gentile (anyone who is not a Jew), are lost in their sin condition. Paul writes this book to show that even those who claim to “know” God can neglect him in their daily lives as indicated in vs 21. Depravity is the norm of humanity rather than our being “basically good” as some deems humanity. Sinfulness is rather the default mode of our human spiritual condition and it reveals itself to others as we live our lives in accordance with it. You don’t have to do anything to earn this sinful condition thanks to our ancestor, Adam – we inherited it from him as we will discuss in chapters 5, 6. The hard work comes in to play as we try curbing it (which is impossible from God’s perspective). For example, you don’t have to teach a child to be selfish, it is the result of their inherent sinful natures. Even in primitive cultures, there is the need for village law to curb unacceptable behavior. If we did not have sinful natures, there would be no need for rules, or laws if humans were inherently good. Even the Ten Commandments were to show Israel just how unlike God’s holiness they really were. No one can be righteous like God. That is why God has to forgive us. (picture credit Donell Trostrud)
This section illustrates for us what this looks like, I see a progression of 7 steps to depravity which shows that our societies are not only full of depravity, but our elected leaders approve of those who practice depravity. Thus this section shows what God thinks of them and shows us an aspect of God’s Character which many humans find alarming. In my remix of this section of scripture, I want to lay out for you these 7 steps. You will notice that 3 times God “gives men over” in increasing measure to the hardness of their sinful desires. God will not force himself on anyone. But God will hold them accountable and punish them accordingly. (Italicized comments in parenthesis in the chapter below are mine).
God’s Wrath Against Mankind
The first step is in Rom 1:21 “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. (This first step is not that difficult nor is it a heinous crime. How often do you forget to thank God for things? However, you better beware, because you are on your way. Remember that these people being spoken of “knew God”.)
Second 18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 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. (Suppression of God’s Word in our lives by our thoughts and choices is what typifies today’s society, even in Christian circles. Critics are saying, “How can God’s Word be authoritative truth, how audacious”)?
Third 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (After removing God out of the picture, you have to come up with alternative explanations for the origin and reasons of life and death, purpose of life, and decide what ethics are appropriate lifestyles in society. What is morality? Who is the standard? Nobody knows how morality is explained to come about naturally from non-life.)
Fourth 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (The hardest people to reach with the gospel of Christ are those who have another religion. Jesus came to save those who were lost. That includes everyone. However, only those who know that they are lost will allow themselves to be found. It is hard to fill a cup that is already full.)
Fifth 28 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. 29 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, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Peter says that men “deliberately forget”. Once you get rid of God from the picture, then you set yourself up as a god and live accordingly to please yourself. At this point we see that God gives them over to do all these things. God hardens the heart so that it cannot be saved, like he eventually did to Pharaoh. )
Sixth 32 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 of those who practice them. (Sorry Mr. Justices, Mr. Politicians, Mr. President, as goes society, so goes its leadership. You can’t have godly leaders when the society, from which they come from, is depraved. Your job is to do what your contingency tells you to do. This is why your justices are reinterpreting the constitution by the needs of society.)
Seventh 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 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. (“Shameful”, “unnatural”, “lustful”, “indecent”, “perversion”; these are the words which God describes same sex relationships. Who says that differing sexual orientations are acceptable to God? From this verse, one could say that all STDs are the “due penalty”. They are definitely a consequence for sexual perversion. In our society we concentrate more on removing the consequences of our sin than changing the lifestyle which brings them and prevents them from happening.)
As we ponder God’s character from the above passage, I wonder if God would answer our signature question below in the following way…
Who are you Lord?
I AM the creator of everything, consequently that means I own everything and have the right to demand holiness from my created beings. Only I am worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals. I alone am worthy of worship, for I not only created you in my image but also purchased your lives by my blood.
I AM also the God of Wrath (Holy indignation) against sin. “The soul that sins will die.” “For the wages of sin is death.” “And the dead both great and small were brought before him”. I kicked Satan out of heaven, I kicked Adam and Eve out of My Garden of Eden, and I sent Cain away in punishment. I destroyed the world by a flood and Sodom with fire. I sent the plagues on Egypt and punished the Philistines with Hemorrhoids so that 50,000 died. Don’t think that because I AM a God of love I will not punish sin.
I AM the Holy God and Righteous judge. “My ways are higher than your ways”, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end there of is death.” “The heart is desperately wicked, who can know it?” One day “all will bow the knee and confess that I AM LORD.”
I AM the God who “sees the thoughts and intents of people’s hearts.” “’What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ ” I am there in your mind at the conception of every good and wicked thought or plan. Human justice may supposed to be blind, but I AM NOT. I see and judge the motive of your heart. I will play the secret recording of your life before me.
Watch that first step…
This was a list of steps to depravity. These people knew God. (See Deut 8:11-14 below how God warned his people, of this very thing.) Yet the rest of this chapter talks of their digression into depravity. It all starts with not giving God his rightful place as their God and were not thankful. Thankfulness and acknowledging God is a very simple thing when you put your priorities straight. But when we become our own source of life, and our own personal happiness is all that we live for, then nothing else matters – especially the will of some Deity. The Law of diminishing returns then comes into play in which like drug addiction, it takes more and more depravity to thrill our empty souls.
(Deut 8:11 “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”)
Thankfulness is the key
Thankfulness is key to worship and the key to encouraging others in their faith as we discussed last week. When we recognize who God is to us, and what he has done for us, we have the key to contentment. When we recognize all that we have is from God, we have a weapon against covetousness (always wanting more) which James talks about as the reason for wars and fighting among us. Not only is thankfulness key to victory, 1 Thessalonians 5 says that it is God’s will concerning you and a thankful heart can prevent your slide to depravity. Why do the smallest things seem to have the biggest impact on life?
When we give thanks, we are in essence telling God who he is to us. Like worship, and prayer, we acknowledge his loving gifts to us and his lordship over us. When we become our own god in this life, we will live and use our resources to please ourselves. When God is our God, then we will live for his will and use our resources toward his interests, namely helping others.
Keep thanking God for everything for it is his will for you.
More to come,