The Bad News, Part One
© C. O. Bishop 8/7/15 THCF 8/9/15
Romans 1:18-32; 2:1
We began our journey through the Epistle to the Romans a few weeks ago, and saw that the theme of the book is the “Gospel of God’s Grace”. We also saw that the “Good News” of the Gospel is good news, primarily because of the bad news that it addresses. We could see that the only reason, for example, that the Salk vaccine was such good news when it was first developed in the early 1950s, was that the ravages of Polio were such horribly bad news.
The Bad News of the Gospel, in a word, is Sin. We can talk about Sin as a concept. We can examine the origin of Sin, from a biblical perspective. We can bemoan the results of sin in our society…but ultimately, we need to realize that Sin as a principle is the whole source of our problems as a society, and our lostness as a race. Jesus came to free us from that Sin…in every sense. That is the Good News. But we need to understand the Bad News, before the Good News will really be “good news” to us personally. And we need to see it from God’s point of view:
In verse 18, Paul begins a dissertation on the overall slide of the human race into sin and perdition that runs all the way from 1:18 to 3:20. He is not singling out any particular group— by the time he is finished talking, in chapter 3, the whole world is condemned in sin. And he is not being judgmental at all—he is simply stating facts.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
Paul first states that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness. He is not “OK with some sin, but hell on the bad stuff”. God hates all sin. Has it ever occurred to you to wonder why?
Consider a company, in which a serious accident (or several) has occurred, due to equipment operators being under the influence of intoxicants of some sort: We are not surprised when such a company adopts a “zero tolerance” policy toward drug abuse, including alcohol. Or a parent whose child (or children) have been lost to the drug trade…how do you think he or she would feel toward street drugs and those who promote them? We are certainly not surprised when they passionately hate the drugs and those who promote them.
Now, how much worse, when something has killed every single one of your kids, and separated from you those you loved the most? That is where God stands. Adam and Eve died spiritually the moment Adam ate the fruit in the garden…and we all died with them. Jesus said that Satan was “a murderer from the beginning”: Who do you suppose he killed? The answer is: he killed you!
God hates sin, because it has murdered the whole human race. Every sin, no matter how small, is a facet of that death-dealing disease we call Sin. God loves the sinner, but he hates the sin. And He is never confused about that distinction, though we sometimes find it very confusing.
Further, he states that his wrath is revealed against those who “hold” or “suppress” the truth in unrighteousness. When I first read that passage in the King James Version, I thought that perhaps his anger was reserved for those that ‘hold” the truth, in the sense of “having it”, but refuse to respond to it. When I looked up the Greek word I discovered that it means to “hold down” or “hold back”—to suppress. It is not a matter of possessing but not responding to the truth, though that is addressed later…the issue is that our unrighteousness seeks to suppress and shut down the truth of God. The fact of the matter is: we don’t want to hear it.
But There are No Excuses
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:
In verses 19 and 20, Paul states that no one is fully excused, because everyone has, built into them, the awareness of a Creator. He says that much of what can be known of God is revealed “in them”. We learn (sometimes very early…in my case, before I was 8 years old) to turn a blind eye to the evidence in creation (Psalm 19:1-3), and particularly our own construction…(compare Psalm 139:14) and so we turn a deaf ear to the call of God, with the result that some of us (myself once included) arrive at a place where we arrogantly (or bitterly) declare that “there is no God.” But the evidence was there, and still is. In fact, the only reply God has to those who say “there is no God” is that “the fool says in his heart that there is no God” (Psalm 14:1).
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.
Notice, however, that it is in reference to a people who once knew God: it is regarding the whole human race, or a nation, say, that had its beginnings in faith. Not so much an individual, as no one starts off “knowing God” and regresses to being lost: it’s the other way around.
The human race, as a whole, once “knew God”…there was a time when every single human on the planet knew God personally, but not all were in a right relation with him…and it went downhill from there, as history tells us. By the time of Noah, the world was irreparably evil.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
They definitely knew who he was, as the Creator, and they did not glorify him, but turned their backs on him. We profess ourselves to be wise, apart from the wisdom of God. We are sure that we, ourselves, the wonderful human race, can solve all the world’s problems. We even think that if we could get our hands on another planet, orbiting another sun, we could “terra-form” it, thus recreating our own world, and providing a new home for humanity. What incredible arrogance! We can’t even fix the world we live on! Our so-called wisdom is unspeakable foolishness, and, year after year, it is shown to be so with every tragic mistake we make as the human race.
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
As a race, we have turned to idols; we used our imaginations and creative skills to produce images to which we ascribed the attributes of Deity. We made images of men (say, Buddha, for example; ironically, he hated idols, but there are more idols made in his likeness than in that of any other deity), and birds (some of the Egyptian deities, as well as North American Native deities, among many others, had bird attributes), and four-footed beasts (The golden calves, for instance), and creeping things (there are Hindu temples in India dedicated to the worship of rats and serpents.) In today’s world, we have deified Science and computers, and we are sure that together they will save us all. Men like Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and others have become the “priests” of the religion of Science. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a social outcast; not simply misinformed. (That is a characteristic of religion, as opposed to simple facts.)
24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour 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.
Paul says that because Man turned his back on the real God of the universe, the Real God has turned Man loose to experience the result of his arrogance. The results are strange, as, to my mind, they seem to have little to do with the spiritual sin…but evidently the immorality of Man is directly linked to the unholiness of Man. Corruption at a spiritual level begets corruption at a physical level, and finally at a social level. He says that the immediate result is that they began to “dishonor their own bodies” between themselves. as a result of their own lusts. The sin nature bears sinful fruit; hardly surprising.
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.
Many people today try to deny that the New Testament condemns homosexual behavior. As you read these verses (24-27), what other interpretation could there possibly be? He is specifically describing homosexual behavior, and declaring it to be one of the direct results of abandoning accountability to God, and worshipping and serving created things instead of their Creator. Please notice that that particular sin is not given a special category: it is simply listed along with all the rest: disobedience to parents, and envy are listed right along with murder and adultery.
The Problem is that We Don’t Like God
Remember that, in the Garden of Eden, God came seeking fellowship with Adam and Eve…and they ran from Him. It was not the other way around.
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:
Don’t use this to try to create a “hierarchy” of sins by which to decide that some sins are really despicable, while others are just “kinda cute”. God does not agree with our estimation of the relative worth of sin. He says his wrath is revealed from Heaven against all unrighteousness.
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.
Paul’s conclusion is that we not only do these things in full knowledge that those who do such things are worthy of death, but we give approval to those who do them. Today we give that approval by making box-office hits of movies glorifying adultery, murder, debate, deceit, disobedience to parents…etc. The fiction section of a library or a bookstore (even a Christian bookstore) is always the most popular, as we prefer fiction to reality…we prefer fiction to truth. There are perhaps 20 would-be fiction writers for every would-be non-fiction writer. And we glorify novelists far above mere journalists and technical writers. It all seems to fit, I think: Jesus said that when Satan speaks a lie, he is speaking his own language, because Satan “is a liar and the father of it.” I am not suggesting that creative writing is wrong. But we are addicted to it.
We, as a race, are addicted to fiction, and, increasingly to fiction that caters to our lusts. Things that were once unmentionable are now common fare: things once fully condemned as grossly pornographic are so widely available that even Christian parents frequently allow their children access to them. I recall hearing a young child of a professing Christian couple gleefully telling of the erotic scene he had viewed the evening before in his parents’ home. And that was nearly thirty years ago. It is far worse now.
We celebrate the authors of such books and screenplays, as well as the actors and producers of the movies. We hail them as great artists. We give approval to those who do the very things God condemns. We encourage others to do the same. Yes…it all seems to fit.
2: 1Therefore 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.
We tend to robe ourselves in the rags of our self-righteousness and reject someone else because of their perceived sin…But God says that in so doing we admit our own guilt: You see, that list he gave us in verses 24-27 is a list of examples of the sin God condemned…not an exhaustive list of things he calls sins. And it is certainly not a hierarchy of sins in some particular order of importance.
Sin always breaks fellowship with God. Hold your finger here in Romans, and turn to Proverbs 6:16-19 (16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.)
Notice it doesn’t list drug abuse or sexual immorality? That isn’t evidence that such things are approved, it simply gives us notice that the things God hates have to do with the sin of the heart…the self-centeredness that makes us arrogant, foolish and violent. That sin is the same source as the sin that drives every other social ill in the world. The wrath of God is upon all of it.
So, what are our options?
- We can deny it all, and say that sin doesn’t even exist—that there is no such thing as right or wrong—that it is only our perceptions and social norms that drive such a concept. But the problem with that is that every single culture in the world recognizes right and wrong, though they disagree wildly about what it means.
- We can deny the importance of sin, and claim that God is such a “sugar-daddy” that He doesn’t condemn sin at all: he just loves everyone so much that we can do anything we want, and we will never face consequences for our decisions. The problem with that is that we all have an inborn sense of justice, as well, which tells us that there should be consequences for bad behavior and reward for good.
- We can admit the existence and importance of sin, and admit the holiness and justice of God, but then suggest that human effort (doing lots and lots of good things to make up for the bad things we have already done) can somehow earn a right standing with God. (Virtually all the world’s religions teach this, by the way.) The problem with this is that we are trying to carry out flawless works with very flawed hearts. Our motives will always be questionable. Everything we touch is tainted by who we are. When I confess that I am a sinner, it does not mean that “I got something on my shoe”…it means that my character is such that I break God’s Law. In fact, even if I am allowed to make the rules myself, I will break them (which is why I gave up on New Year’s resolutions many years ago.)
- The last option is what the Bible teaches: Sin is real, and it matters! God is holy and just, and He will judge sin. And, finally, there is nothing I can do to undo the sins I have already committed. But where does that leave me? It leaves me lost… and needing a Savior.
Then, What is God’s Solution?
That is why Jesus went to the Cross: He provided full payment for all my sins: past, present and future: In fact, if you think a moment, you will realize that when He died for me, all my sins were future. He paid for them all, knowing everything I would ever do; all the ways I would fail him as a Christian, as well as all the vile ways I despised Him, as an atheist, before I was saved. And he says in John 5:24 that all he asks me to do is believe it.
Paul says I have no excuse…and he is right. But, in the next few chapters, he will introduce God’s solution for sin: the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of God’s Grace.
Lord Jesus, help our unbelief: we fail in so many different ways to trust your Grace, and believe your Word. Train us to be your followers, in Jesus’ name.