When God Gives Up
Boundaries, Action, Consequences
Last week we began our study of the last half of Romans 1. Paul’s purpose of the letter is to explain to us the wonder of God’s grace and the salvation that can be ours through God’s mercy in Christ. However, Paul knows that before we will receive God’s grace we need to see our need for a Savior. He has shown us that there is a knowledge of God that is obvious in nature. Mankind sees this information, but turns instead to worship idols. Consequently, God is justified in His wrath.
It is important to remember that God’s wrath is not like our wrath. When a parent gets angry with a child, they sometimes lose control. Some are abusive, verbally or physically. God’s wrath is not like that. God’s wrath is always just and always an appropriate response to sin.
Let me make three general observations before we examine the text in detail. First, notice that God reveals His wrath at this point by “giving the people over”.
- He gave them over to sinful desires (v. 24)
- He gave them over to shameful lusts (v. 26)
- He gave them over to a depraved mind (v. 28)
Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son? A father provided his youngest son with everything he needed. The boy wanted more. He didn’t want to wait until his father died to receive his inheritance. He wanted it now! The Father did not have to give the son anything. In fact, he could have written him out of the will entirely. That’s not what he did. He gave him the inheritance even though we knew he would squander it. The son left town to “live his life”. He spent the money and ended up living with the pigs. Finally, after much misery, he came home and was welcomed joyfully by his father.
Like the Father in the story, God gives us the freedom that we crave to “do our own thing” even though He knows it will land us in the pigpen. Our punishment, in other words, is to get what we want.
Second, notice that the list seems to be sequential. In other words, He gives them over to sinful desires and then “because of this” He gave them over to shameful lusts and then to the depraved mind. This is a progressive list of decay.
Third, we must remember God is being purposeful. His goal is the same as the Father of the Prodigal. He is hoping that we will see the dangerous consequences of our sin and return to the Lord.
Let’s look at the process more closely.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (1:24,25)
BARRIER ONE: WHEN GOOD THINGS GO BEYOND GOD’S BOUNDARIES
The first consequence of rebellion is good things taken to an extreme. The word used for “sinful desires” can also be translated “lusts”. This same Greek word also is used in translating the word “Covet” in Romans 7 and in the Greek translation of the tenth commandment. When we turn away from God, our ability to restrain our appetites is often lost. The example Paul uses is that of sex.
God created sex making it possible for a husband and wife to know a unique intimacy and pleasure and to enable them to have the capacity to create a family of their own. When these boundaries are ignored, the truth of God is exchanged for a lie. God’s barriers are overruled by our sinful passions. When a person engages in pre-marital sex or is involved in an adulterous relationship, they have taken what is good and corrupted it. They have exchanged the truth of God for the lie that “if it feels good, it is good.” When sex is taken beyond God’s boundaries, we have “left home” like the Prodigal and are heading to the pigpen of God’s judgment.
Paul is using sex as the most prominent example of boundaries that are overruled by our passions. There are other examples we could name,
- When “making a profit” leads to cheating customers
- When “family planning” leads to abortion
- When “appreciation for the human body” turns into pornography
- When the “discipline of our children” becomes abuse
- When “enforcing the law” leads to acts that break the law
- When “providing opportunities for our kids” hampers their spiritual growth and takes them away from worship and Sunday School.
BARRIER TWO: EMBRACING A PERVERTED LIFESTYLE
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 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. (Romans 1:26,27)
John MacArthur rightly points out that when man deserts the Author of nature, he will inevitably abandon the order of nature. The next step in the downward spiral is the pursuit of unnatural relationships. These relationships are a perversion of God’s design. These verses clearly refer to homosexuality.
In your bulletin I have listed several other passages related to this subject. This prohibition is mentioned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, which means that it is a principle that is a timeless principle rather than a social concession.
Because this is a main text prohibiting homosexuality, those who seek to show the Bible does not condemn this behavior have to address this text. They approach it from three different angles.
First, they argue that this passage is not trying to teach us about sexual ethics, it is teaching us about God’s wrath. That is a true statement, but the fact that this kind of behavior is seen as an expression of God’s wrath clearly shows that God finds the behavior to be sinful.
Second, it is argued that the words “inflamed with lust” indicate that God is condemning the promiscuous homosexual or abusive homosexual, not all homosexuality. They argue that God approves of monogamous and committed homosexuals. The clear teaching of the text is that same sex relationships are against God’s design. They are unnatural.
That term “unnatural” becomes the focus of the third explanation. It is argued that a true homosexual is not doing anything “unnatural” when they get involved in same sex relationships. They conclude Paul must be condemning those who are really heterosexual but engage in homosexual activity. It is suggested that the term unnatural be defined by what feels natural to us. Man does not get to define what is natural any more than he gets to define what is right. God defines what is natural and unnatural. The Bible clearly says that the natural design for a family is for a man to “leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife”.
This last week we saw perversion taken to a new level when the definition of “marriage” was extended to same-sex unions. Those who argue for this practice will say, “Don’t I have a right to be happy too?”
As compassionate people we want others to be happy. However, we must recognize the underlying premise in the question. They assume that a person will be happy in a gay marriage and can’t be happy apart from that legal relationship. Neither is a premise that can be sustained. True happiness comes from the Lord. Any so-called happiness apart from God is shallow and temporary.
Paul says, “Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion”. This is a difficult verse. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what this means. It may refer to the increased risk of sexually transmitted disease, the emptiness that results from abandoning God, or something entirely different. I don’t know and I couldn’t find anyone who did know.
We should point out that this prohibition against homosexuality should also be applied to incest, bestiality, and rape. All of these things are unnatural perversions of God’s design and a sign of God’s rebellion. They all move us closer to life in the pigpen.
In all of this discussion please understand that we are not trying to condemn. We are trying to be faithful. Our stand against homosexuality is based on any hatred of the homosexual, it is based on the belief that God’s Word is true and can alone lead us to the life God desires for us.
As Christians we are not to be hatemongers. No matter how militant the Homosexual community is toward Bible believing Christians, it is still our duty to show love and extend the message of grace. Homosexuality is a sin that has severe social ramifications, but it is not the unforgivable sin. Homosexuals can be made new in Christ. Jesus died for those caught in the grip of homosexuality just like those caught in the grip of other sin. We must show the love of Christ in all circumstances.
STAGE THREE: THE BREAKDOWN OF COMMUNITY
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.
When the boundaries of God are consistently crossed, perversion will soon be embraced. When that happens the community will begin to break down. Truth becomes “relative”. What’s right may be called wrong and what’s wrong may be celebrated and said to make us “free”.
This last week columnist Cal Thomas quoted Bishop Fulton Sheen from back in 1979 when he talked to Congress. He began by asking how a football field was defined, “by it’s boundaries,” he said. He continued, “There are now no boundaries in America. Any rule is potentially viewed as oppressive and any law—whether legal or moral—is up for debate, negotiation and overturning if it impedes a single individual from fulfilling his or her desires.” [HAWK EYE 5/21/04]
The depraved mind no longer submits to God’s standards. Right and wrong are now determined by convenience and preference rather than by the sure marker of God’s Word. When this happens certain behaviors are sure to follow. Paul lists over 20 different behaviors (depending on the version you are reading). Rather than attempt to spend time on each one, notice that they seem to fall into some general categories:
1. How we view God (God-haters, faithless). This society will honor God with their lips but their hearts will be far from Him. God will be systematically removed from the public arena.
2. How we view others (greed, envy, malice, slander, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness). The depraved society views others not as brothers, but as competitors. They view each other as a “means to an end” rather than as people who possess inherent worth and dignity. The value of life is diminished.
3. How we treat each other (murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, disobeying parents). Love, respect and honor are replaced by superficial civility.
4. Issues of Character (depraved, senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless). The corruption runs to the very heart and soul of a person.
When a society turns from God, it begins to disintegrate. The code of the pigpen is the rule: all that matters is getting what I want.
This is clearly summarized in the last verses of chapter one: “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.” (v.32) They know the truth, they continue to pursue error, and encourage others to follow them in their folly.
I’m sure it is obvious to you that I believe we are seeing this cycle of disintegration taking place in our own country right before our eyes! What can we do?
First, we must recognize that these things have come upon us because we as a country have turned away from the Lord. The first action step must be prayer. We must ask God to awaken us to our sin and bring a revival of true spiritual discipleship. This revival has nothing to do with attendance at worship (we can increase attendance without ever changing our hearts). The revival we seek involves a new awareness of sin and a fresh cry for God’s mercy, grace, and control in our lives. Getting to that revival may be painful.
In treating cancer, the cancer cells are often attacked by radiation and chemotherapy. The goal is to kill the deadly cells. However, in order to kill the bad cells, many good cells are damaged as well. The result is often sickness, pain and discomfort. For many, the treatment is worse than the disease . . . at least while the treatment is taking place. However, without the treatment, cancer will kill.
It a similar way in order for God to bring revival it may take radical action. It may not be pleasant at first but it is necessary. Understand what you are asking for when you pray for revival. Pray daily for renewal in your life, the life of our church, the Christian community, our country and the world. Pray for “God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Second, We must measure our lives by God’s Word rather than public Opinion. If you look hard enough we can always find someone who will agree with us. If we want to live faithfully we can’t determine our values by what everyone else is saying. It doesn’t matter what Gallup, Oprah, Dr. Phil, or a Federal Judge says. Our standard is the flawless Word of God, and only the Word of God. Proverbs 30:5,6 says, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”
Third, We Must Examine Our Own Lives. It is always easier to pinpoint the problems and sin in the lives of others than to address the sin in our own lives. We must look for places where we have lowered our standards and crossed the line of right and wrong. Christians must lead by their example.
- If you are “living together” apart from marriage, engaged in a homosexual relationship, involved with pornography or involved in an inappropriate relationship (with or without sex) – turn from your sin and live within God’s boundaries.
- If you are ignoring God’s guidance on money, possessions, forgiveness, non-Christian alliances, your relationship to your parents, the discipline of your children, or any other practical wisdom of God’s Word, repent of these things and trust God’s wisdom.
- If you have trouble telling the truth; if you are taking shortcuts on your job; if you refuse to treat others with respect and kindness, you need to repent and follow God’s way.
- If you call yourself a Christian but you are not really following Him . . . you are not really trusting Him. If you aren’t really trusting Him, you aren’t really a believer. Change that today. Stop trying to play God and start trusting what the true God has done for you. Open your heart to His mercy and grace. Receive His Holy Spirit and allow Him to change you from the inside out.
Fourth, we need to Vote Morally. Much of our society votes based on the economy (which is always cyclical), or the promised benefits (what’s in it for me), or the political party of the candidate (my party right or wrong), and sometimes even on the personality or appearance of the candidate. We need to change the way we vote. What a leader believes about moral issues, how they view the things of God, and the character and integrity of the candidate are the most important factors. When we elect leaders who have no character we are unleashing a deadly virus on our society. The leaders we vote for are the same ones who appoint and approve judges. They are the ones who stand as examples to the children. They are in the best position to make significant change . . . one direction or the other. We must look beyond the words, to the heart.
Finally, we must Stand Courageously. It is not our job to call people names. Even when we disagree with the beliefs and actions of others we must relate to them with love. However, we must not compromise the truth. Homosexuality is wrong. Adultery, pornography, and premarital sex are wrong. Gossip, slander, disrespect to parents, deceit and arrogance are all seeds of the devil. It doesn’t matter what the public opinion polls tell us. God has spoken. The line has been drawn. If we are His followers we are called to live by His standards.
God has not called us to be popular. He has called us to live in this world with one eye on the next. He calls us to trust His love and to stand on His Word. We must always remember that the wrath of God is much worse than the wrath of men. All it takes for a society to crumble, is for the godly to do nothing.