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Thread: A Look at Romans 1:18-32

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    A Look at Romans 1:18-32

    By Dr. J. M. Strawn and oldhermit.

    I. Incline to the Lowest Element, 18-32
    What I want to do in Romans 1:18-32 is two-fold.
    First, I want us to read these verses as if Paul were talking just to us, to our society, to our nation, to our culture. I want us to read these verses as if God is making these accusations directly against us and weigh our current state of affairs against these accusations.

    Second, I want to focus on the disease rather than the symptoms. What I have noticed is that most people who read or teach this segment of chapter one, generally tend to focus on this list of recorded sins, with particular emphasis on the sin of homosexuality, and this is all well and good. It is very important that the types of behaviors be addressed and confronted so, I am certainly not criticizing this approach to these verses but, focusing our attention on these sins does absolutely nothing to address the heart of the issue. All this does is treat the symptoms and leaves the disease untouched and intact.

    All of the sins cataloged in this segment, including the sin of homosexuality are not the problem, they are merely a symptom of a much deeper problem. What I want to do is attack the disease at its nucleus by generalizing to some of the fundamental principles that create these types of behaviors that led to the four stages of terminal social decline.

    “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools and 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.”

    A. In these verses we can generalize first to the fact that the suppression of the human conscience is fundamentally necessary for the reversal of a revealed standard of morality. If you want to separate morality from the minds of people, you must first sear the conscience against all moral standards. And this begins with an assault on revealed standards.

    The reduction of human existence to its lowest element suppresses even the most obvious knowledge of what is right and wrong and it does this through the suppression of the human conscience. Our social conscience has become so badly deteriorated that we are no longer even able to distinguish the difference between male and female in this country. This is one of the most basic and obvious truths of the natural world. Truth does not get much more basic than this.
    1. Paul begins by presenting an epistemology of godlessness and wickedness that is brought about by the rejection of controlled behavior. This is man's refusal to be controlled by the will of God.

    With the rejection of revealed truths, man has chosen to embrace his own conscience as an instrument of truth. “Whatever is right for you is right so let no one judge you for what you do.” This has become the battle cry of the progressive mind. This elevation of human reason and knowledge has become the standard by which man determines what he believes is true. What behavior he believes is acceptable. When the human conscience is not held in check by revealed knowledge, then it becomes an epistemology of its own. What this means is that human reason and experience have become our metric for measuring truth.
    2. Paul also, says that creation stands as a symbol designed to refer the mind of man back to the reality and power of God, 20. Man's observation of the universe is intended to create an awareness of three things.

    Recognition of the attributes of God is so fundamentally important to man's understanding of his place in the universe that God has revealed this information at the most basic level, by placing this evidence within creation itself. The function of the universe then in respect to man is pedagogical. It instructs us about God. Even creation testifies to the reality, power, wisdom, and nature of God, and Paul says this is perceived by the human conscience. That information is discernible by observation of the universe. Since this is true, we need to be very careful about how we guard the human conscience.

    I think this has a lot to say about how parents are to nurture and protect the conscience of their children. The installation of core values is well and good and necessary, but it is no substitute for a trained conscience, because if the conscience does not hold then neither will the core values.
    Cursed is he that does the work of the LORD deceitfully, and cursed is he that keeps back his sword from shedding blood. Jer. 48:10

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    B. We can also generalize here that the suppression of truth creates a terminal condition.

    1. “They became futile in their speculations.”
    Their way of thinking had become the primary problem, but they perceived it as an advantage because they regarded their thinking as wisdom having professed themselves to be wise and….
    2. “Their foolish heart was darkened.” This is the beginning of the descent into depravity.
    Thinking is a God-given capacity. God has created us with the capacity for thought and reason but, this can also be turned into a function against God and against revealed truth as this text clearly demonstrates.

    Human reason is inherently regarded by man as the means to social progress and advancement. Human reason has been championed as the solution to the human condition but, human reason is no substitute for revealed truths. These three verses impress upon us how critical it is to allow our thinking to be influenced by the revelation of God. When our thinking is no longer affected by the word of God, this creates a decline of the human condition. Paul shows that whenever man sets aside the word of God, this will ultimately result in chaos and death. So, this becomes a terminal condition. One fundamental truth stands out. If God is not allowed to impose upon us a revealed standard of behavior, he will most certainly impose his wrath.

    In this state of affairs, the human conscience was completely disregarded. The conscience was no longer heeded. It was no longer allowed to judge perverse behavior, and as a result, “their foolish heart was darkened.” They were no longer able to recognize or acknowledge truth. They were no longer able to distinguish between right and wrong, between truth and error, between good and evil.

    The very real consequence of this is that human reasoning simply cannot bear the weight of human existence. When our thinking is cut off from the word of God, and we begin to act independently of God, then eventually, realty forces us to the conclusion that human wisdom is simply not strong enough to bear the weight even of our own individual lives. It cannot resolve the stress of situations or circumstances, especially those of an extreme or catastrophic nature, nor can it answer the more profound questions of the human dilemma. What begins to show up then is a collapse of all standards of morality.

    When things go wrong, and society begins to collapse morally, the problem will always be directly linked back to the human mind that has broken itself off from this unity with God. The impact of this on any society will inevitably be the rise of all manner of injustice, violence, depravity, corruption, lawlessness, and every kind of perverted lusts. This is the legacy of such minds and no government policies, or psychology, or misdirected sympathies, or educational programs, nor the judicial system will ever be able to change or reverse this terminal condition. The reason is because the answer is simply beyond man. Why on earth then would the Church seek to embrace the wisdom of the world as a means of resolution, particularly in such areas as conflict resolution.
    3. “Professing to be wise, they became fools.”
    This represents a progressing change of status, they were not always fools. At one time God was acknowledged. Revealed truth was recognized. This departure from the word of God destroyed the unity between God and the mind of man. Man has redefined what it means to be wise. This is human wisdom that is now completely unfettered by the word of God. The idea of restriction imposed by the word of God on human behavior is now seen by man as something that retards social progress and development so we have to get rid of it. The human solution is to simply remove the word of God.

    In the mind of the progressive, human wisdom has set us free from all of these so-called antiquated moral ideas of the past and their demands upon our behavior. The truth is however, that fools in their displacement of the word of God, are not better off, they are not progressive, they are not free, they just believe they are. Does this sound familiar. It should. This is the mind of America today.
    4. Then comes the exchange, 23
    What we see here is the mechanism of idolatry. What we have when we string all of this together is a conscience that is suppressed by human will and emancipated from revealed knowledge. Human reason has become corrupted, and the result was the exchange of “the glory of the incorruptible God... for... the... corruptible.”

    The Spirit is telling us here that the futile and darkened thinking of man has taken unto itself the power to decide what is true independently of the knowledge of God. So, the futile mind elevates the natural to the place of God as they begin to worship created things. These are the people who insist that the God of the Bible is dead, that he is a myth, that he is nothing more than the creation of a per-scientific generation that did not know as much as we do, and that God is simply the product of an unsophisticated and superstitious mind that just does not know any better. Now that the reality of God has been dismissed, full idolatry is instituted, and for only one purpose – to control the minds of the people; and to do that, you first have to lock their minds into lies. Here is how this works.

    a. First, the conscience must be suppressed and separated from the word of God.
    b. Then, thinking must be completely broken away from the reality of God. Thinking is now restricted to natural causation as the ultimate force in the universe.
    c. Then, comes the exchange as man becomes the sole arbitrator of what he believes to be true, right, and good.
    d. Finally, there is the shift into rationalized idolatry whereby man is locked into a set of false representations about absolute reality. Man's perception of reality is no longer allowed to include the unseen world of God, and even the very notion of God is dismissed as mere foolishness.
    Cursed is he that does the work of the LORD deceitfully, and cursed is he that keeps back his sword from shedding blood. Jer. 48:10

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    II. In Verses 24-32, We See that Reduction to the Lowest Element Always Forces the Hand of God.
    Now, what I am going to do first is give you an overview of what is happening in verses 18-32 and then we will examine each of the four stages of decline in their proper order.

    “Therefore, God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is 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 and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 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.”

    These verses outline a recipe for the disintegration of society, any society. Paul outlines four stages of decline to which God deliberately and with purpose gave them over.
    · The first stage is the decline of knowledge and wisdom – 18-23.
    This was the abandonment of revelation and the knowledge of God. This was not hidden knowledge. This was knowledge that was accessible to any observer of the natural world. “That which is known about God is evident within them; (Why, because) God made it evident to them. (How?) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, (All of these representing the overall character of God in both his intrinsic qualities and his extended properties) have been clearly seen, (Not only had the character of God been clearly seen, it had also been clearly) understood through what has been made, (This knowledge was perceived by the human mind. Creation is a reflection of the character of God and there is no mistake about what creation reveals to the observer about God to such a degree) that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks”

    This represents a change of status in the epistemology of man, and Paul says man has no excuse for such an epistemological shift. There are only two epistemologies from which man can obtain knowledge – there is the natural world of human experience and there is revelation. Revelation had been abandoned for the epistemology of human experience. Man now regards his experiences as the revealer of truth. This was Eve in the garden of Eden.
    · The second stage is the decline into idolatry – 18-25 – God has been replaced by his own creation. Glory has been transferred by man from God to created things.
    · The third stage is the decline into sexual depravity – 26-28 – This is all sexual depravity, not just homosexuality.
    · The fourth and final stage is the decline into absolute moral collapse – 29-32.
    Here, sexual perversion, along with the perversion of every other human imagination, reaches its zenith. This is yet a deeper stage of depravity that goes beyond just the practice of homosexuality. Society has now descended into such things as bestiality and ALL manor of wickedness. No behavior was forbidden to them. Man recognized no limits of experimentation and as a result, God gave them over to the most extreme perversions of every kind. This is the mind of man that is completely cut off from revealed constraints. No redeeming qualities remain. Man has descended as far as he can go into a depraved state and God has now totally abandoned them to the fate of their choices.

    A. Let's look at these stages of decline in their proper order.

    1. After they had exchanged God for creatures of the earth it says that, “God gave them over....”
    This certainly stands contrary to those who would argue against the idea of free will. We cannot say that God deprives us of our freedom to choose whom we will serve; and God honors whatever choices we make. God does not force a choice upon us, but what we must understand is that choices do have forced consequences.

    If we so strongly desire the lowest element, then the Lord will allow us to seek it. He will not interfere. The Lord's policy is that if you want this kind of life or this kind of society so mush, then you can have it. As a result, people began to experiment with all manner of human experiences that God in his wisdom has forbidden.
    2. Their insistence upon seeking depraved behavior caused God to give them over yet again; This time to sexual impurity. “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” This is a particular type of impurity that directly violates the intended function and purpose of the human body. It is an impurity of the body and the body that is dishonored. This is not necessarily speaking of homosexuality, although it certainly would not exclude it but, the first stage of sexual decline in a society is to remove sexual behavior from its proper place. This changes the context of sexual behavior.

    Man has expanded the acceptable range of sexual behavior to the advancement of sexual experimentation. Marriage is no longer recognized as a boundary for sexual activity. Socially acceptable sexual conduct has now been expanded to include adultery, fornication, illicit sex, sodomy, and prostitution. This behavior is degrading because it abandons the divinely appointed context for sex. This is not the proper place or purpose of sexual conduct. What the Lord calls sexual impurity and degradation, man now calls freedom and enlightenment.
    3. In verse 25 we see yet another exchange – “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”

    a. Abandonment of the word of God is unidirectional. It only travels in one direction – away from God. When people walk away from revealed truths, then all hope is gone. After that, there is an upheaval of the moral standard. What was true has now become a lie, and what was a lie has now become truth. No one knows the difference any more. Without a revealed standard to show man the difference between right and wrong, societies will always choose the wrong. Man will always descend into depravity – ALWAYS! In fact, what we learn here and from other places in scripture such as Genesis 6, and what history confirms for us is that even in the presence of revealed truth, man will still eventually descend into depravity, and historically, it does not usually take long.
    b. They “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”
    At this point, man himself becomes god. Man has now come to believe his own lies. He has resigned himself to a world devoid of absolutes, devoid of revealed truth, devoid of the limiting will of God. As Fredric Nietzsche once wrote, “God is dead and all we have left are values.” These values Nietzsche refers to are those given by man, for man, and that are held by the consensus of man.

    Because of this type of thinking, God once again “gave them over” to their “degrading / dishonorable / shameful passions.” The standard here for degrading, dishonorable, or shameful is not the opinion of man, it is the assessment of God. God says these things are degrading, dishonorable, and shameful. When man casts aside his conscience regarding these things, then his sense of shame will be cast aside along with it. If we do not register any sense of same regarding what scripture says about our sins, then these verses become meaningless to us. The sense of shame is a human barometer that was given to us by the Lord to tell us how far we have moved away from the will of God. Shame is more than just embarrassment, it is a sense of guilt before God and we have forgotten how to blush.

    Just how deeply has our conscience been seared? Consider the music you listen to, the movies you take in, or what passes for humor to you on television. God has created us with a capacity for shame, and he has created us in this way to prevent us from engaging in such soul-destroying behaviors as these mentioned in out text.

    In order to placate our own conscience, we have determined to separate ourselves from any standard that condemns our behavior. The removal of the word of God as a standard for regulating human behavior is a necessary step that allows us to rationalize and justify our choices. This is how you remove the sense of guilt.
    Cursed is he that does the work of the LORD deceitfully, and cursed is he that keeps back his sword from shedding blood. Jer. 48:10

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    B. The descent into homosexuality, 26-27
    “Their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural. 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.”

    God sees homosexuality as a perversion of the natural, in other words, it is the perversion of a created function. It redefines the meaning of sexuality. This is a departure from the natural place of human sexuality. More than that, homosexuality represents an even greater departure from the truth of God. This is a deeper state of depravity than that of the immorality of the previous verses. Sexual perversion then has a pattern of decline.
    1. First, sexual behavior is removed from the confines of the marriage covenant and extended to those outside of this covenant relationship.
    2. Second, it is then expanded to include homosexual behavior. God says five things here about homosexuality.
    a. It is unnatural
    b. It is indecent / perverted
    c. It is an error in both thought and behavior.
    d. It is improper
    The standard by which these things are defined as improper is of course the mind of God.
    e. God punishes this type of thought and behavior both in this life in the physical body and in eternity.

    3. Third, sexual behavior is then expanded even further to include such things as bestiality. This of course represents the lowest state of sexual decline. It never ceases to amaze me when people, even in the Lord's Church, have become so willing to accept and vigorously defend what God in his righteousness has condemned and assigned to judgment. This has to be the pinnacle of human arrogance.

    C. The fundamental cause of this descent into depravity is that man has taken upon himself the right to reassign meaning to everything in his world.

    1. The meaning of the word of God has been reassigned. The word of God has now become irrelevant to the human context. It is too restrictive, too antiquated, too unreasonable, too impractical, too imposing, too intrusive. This is a far cry from how the Psalmist regards the word of God in Psalms 119.

    a. “Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes! Then I shall not be ashamed when I look upon all Your commandments.” 5-6
    b. “Your testimonies also are my delight; They are my counselors.” 24
    c. “From Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore, I hate every false way.” 104
    d. “Your testimonies are wonderful; Therefore, my soul observes them.” 129
    e. “The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” 160.
    What a contrast of attitudes about the word of God.

    2. The meaning of the natural world has been reassigned. Objects of the natural world have now become venerated objects of worship. God has now been replaced by his own creation.
    3. The meaning of human behavior has been reassigned. Whatever man decides to do, whatever experience he chooses to experiment with, no matter how perverse, is now considered enlightened behavior and regarded as wise and progressive.

    But you see, only God has the right to assign absolute meaning to the universe. Only God has the right to assign absolute meaning to human experience. That function was never given to man. Our place is not to manufacture meaning. Our place is to accept meaning that has already been revealed to us.

    The meaning of these verses is very clear. All human existence, all human experience is answerable to the word of God. This subordinate position seems excessive to those who see the Bible at best as nothing more than a subjective guide to behavior rather than as an absolute. Man insists upon projecting his own meaning onto the word of God, onto the universe, onto his own behavior. The problem with this kind of humanistic approach to experience is that projected meaning by man is always limited, it is always time bound (disregards any notion of an eternal destiny or consequences). It is anthropomorphic (it sees behavior strictly from the vantage point of the human imagination). It is unfailingly prone to error, and is based solely on human subjectivity, which means that meaning has become malleable, it changes from one person to the next. Meaning no longer has an eternal, absolute context. These verses eliminate existentialism as a viable, acceptable approach to human behavior. With subjectivism, there are as many different meanings to any given human experience as there are men to provide them.

    The point is that the meaning of all human experience has already been supplied by God. All that is left to man is the decision of whether he is going to accept revealed meaning or supply his own. One results in blessing, the other results in consequences. One is life sustaining, the other is terminal.
    Cursed is he that does the work of the LORD deceitfully, and cursed is he that keeps back his sword from shedding blood. Jer. 48:10

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    III. The Extreme Reach of the Exchange, 23-32

    A. They exchanged the reality of the unseen God for images. The entire unseen world of God has been dismissed. This is a perversion of the idea of God. God has been redefined. God is no longer perceived as an unseen element. The idea of God is now confined to things that are observable.
    B. They exchanged the truth of God for lies. This is a perversion of the idea of truth. Truth has been redefined. Truth has now been given a strictly human context. Truth is now whatever society wants it to be.
    C. They exchanged natural relations for unnatural relations. This is a perversion of the created use of the body. It is now man rather than God who decides what is natural and unnatural. Sexual perversion of every description robs our body of its most noble purpose, which is to worship and serve the living God.

    These exchanges are deliberate. These are purposeful actions that are calculated to eject God from human thought and thereby eject him from all human affairs. The calculus of the exchange is to claim the freedom to pursue what scripture calls passions. In this, they claimed to be wise but from the Lord's point of view, they were fools.

    These self-proclaimed wise men determined to write their own set of rules, and to redefine what is right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable. What is now unacceptable is anything that resembles a revealed ethic. The world makes such men as these into wise men. Men like these are routinely elevated to the status of social heroes who 'open the eyes of the people to greater truths and greater possibilities.' Washington DC is full of these kinds of people.

    Just like those of our text, our nation and our society, has dedicated itself to this same pattern of descent into self-destruction. We have embraced this same reduction to the lowest element. We have thrown our conscience overboard. Our way of thinking has become a serious problem. We have exchanged the will of God for our own. We have replaced God with the worship of things. Our minds have become so depraved that we now seek out the most absolute base elements of human behavior.

    Sometimes I feel like Isaiah, “I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” We have become guilty both by association and by participation. Our depraved minds have not only produced these depraved behaviors but we have also given a nod of approval to those who commit such things. In verses 29-31 Paul says that such a society,

    1. Has become a wicked people full of evil, greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice, 29.
    2. We have become slanders, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, and disobedient to parents, 30.
    3. We have become senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless, 31. Wow! What an indictment.

    Paul mentions a lot of sins here and not one of them is trivial. All of these behaviors are practices that the Lord says deserve death, and not just to those who do them, but to those who give approval to those “who practice such things.” Be very careful what behaviors you choose to defend. We cannot either by word or by action defend that which God has condemned and expect God not to call us into account for it. Paul is very clear that the depraved mind will not be the instrument of reform. Only the word of God can be that instrument.

    The depraved mind has become institutionalized in our society and verse 18 stipulates that “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” So, here is another revelation of knowledge. Those of Genesis 6, Genesis 19, and the repeated examples of Israel in their departures from God testify that God's wrath against ungodly and unrighteous behavior is a fact of history. There are both temporal and eternal consequences for such as these.

    I think you and I need to confront ourselves with these questions – To what degree has MY mind, MY thinking, MY behavior, been influenced by the world? Where do I presently stand in this descent into the lowest element? These are some very, very sobering words from the apostle Paul.
    Cursed is he that does the work of the LORD deceitfully, and cursed is he that keeps back his sword from shedding blood. Jer. 48:10

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    An excellent read, old hermit, and well worth the time.

    Certainly we see the effects of this today. It put me in mind of 2 Corinthians 6...the entire chapter.

    2 Corinthians 6:17
    Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

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