Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

“"Therefore God Gave Them Up"”

Categories: Iron sharpens iron

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

(Romans 1.22-23)

The first chapter of Romans lays out the bad news that precedes the good news of the gospel—that those who practice unrighteousness face God’s righteous wrath.  Paul first observes that even the creation itself silently testifies to the power and divinity of its creator, and that humanity, consequently, is obligated to order itself after God’s instructions in keeping with the pattern of obedience.  However, this is not what mankind has done.  Rather than honoring God, he has lifted up imposters and imitations.  He has worshipped idols.  That was bad enough—but did it stop there?

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(Romans 1.24-25)

Their sin was not confined to the apparently external failure to worship God properly.  It swiftly grew to personal degradation and enslavement to various fleshly passions.  That’s not good for anyone!  But did it stop there?

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

(Romans 1.26-27)

They continued down the path of debasement, going even beyond the sinful desires that are common to all, and venturing into behaviors that were even more disordered than before—especially self-defeating and purposeless sexual perversion.  But did it stop there?

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

(Romans 1.28-31)

This is now the third time Paul has said that “God gave them up” to the next degree of depravity.  It’s important to temper this with the understanding that God “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2Pe 3.9).  It’s not that God has signed the death warrants, so to speak, of those who sink this far from moral purity.  As long as life continues, he’s ready to accept them back whenever they choose, as the good father in Jesus’ parable of the lost son.

“I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’” And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.”

(Luke 15.18-22)

Not only was he willing to take his son back into his house, but he had been anxiously waiting and watching for him to return, so that he could celebrate his salvation!  But you’ll notice that the father sent no delegation to find and implore his son to return—let alone compel him to do so!

Returning to the depraved and rejected souls, immersed in all kinds of sin, we see, at last, the endpoint approached by those who travel down this road, which began when they replaced God with an idol.  Paul listed so many categories of sin that they blend together and it’s unclear where one ends and the next begins!  For example, what distinguishes “evil” (Ro 1.29) from “inventors of evil” (v30)?  How is “malice” (v29) different from “maliciousness” (v30)?  In part, we could dissect the language and attempt to carve out territory for each word in this tapestry of sin; but in fact the wording in Greek makes use of so many literary devices (rhyme, alliteration, consonance, and asyndeton) that it’s clear the jumbled nature of the list is part of the point!  Once a person reaches this stage, it’s incredibly difficult to tackle the now multi-faceted problem!  We know this intuitively.  We don’t expect the murderer to draw the line at lying, we don’t expect the sexual predator to be a peacemaker, and we don’t expect the despairing heroin addict to show proper respect to his parents.  One type of sin tends toward more types of sin. 

Where did this all start?  The sin that set them on this path was idolatry.  This seems odd to us, because we rarely see people bowing before images of fake gods.  But Paul elsewhere tells us that “covetousness…is idolatry” (Co 3.5)!  And it’s certainly not the only narrowly defined sin that is simply a form of idolatry.  Anything that replaces God in your heart is an idol!  Do not think that this progression of depravity is beyond your capacity for sin.  Do not gloat over the fate of the wicked who have made it farther down the path of depravity than you yourself have gone, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Ro 3.23).  Instead, soften your heart, and thank God for his mercy.

Jeremy Nettles