Wrath of God Against Unrighteousness
By Terry Cheek
March will see us close out chapter one of Romans. Paul continues his focus on the wrath of God against unrighteousness. Let’s open God’s word to Romans 1:26-32.
Romans 1:26-32 “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. (27) Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. (28) And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; (29) being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, (30) backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, (31) undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; (32) who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them”
God has a specific plan for our life. Some, if not most, of that plan is laid out in scripture. For each of us, God’s plan begins with obedience to his law. Not because he says to but because we know it is the right thing to do, and our heart testifies to its truth. The very best we can do will come up short. But understand this. Romans 3:23 tells us everyone has sinned. Romans 6:23 tells us the penalty for our sin is death. Romans 5:8 testifies that Jesus Christ died to forgive sin. And, Romans 10:8-10 inerrantly says to be forgiven for our sins, we must believe and confess that Jesus is Lord. Salvation comes by Grace through Faith only by Jesus Christ.
Our text this month is a continuation of a judicial text. It is one you will not hear preached on television, and sadly it is only preached in churches sincere to God’s Word. I would like to share two things that should be said about Romans 1:26-32. First, Paul addresses the radical corruption of the human race. He sees the sin of homosexual behavior as representing the radical nature of our fall. It is seen here not simply as a sin, nor even as a serious sin or a gross sin, but as the clearest expression of the depths of our perversity against God’s word. Second, As Paul introduces the sin of homosexual behavior, he first mentions females. Throughout human history, man has been the gender that seems most brutish, most without conscience and godliness. The woman has been understood as the fairer sex. Still, when Paul wants to describe the depth of the fall of the human race, he says that even women exchanged the natural use for what is contra naturum, against nature, not simply against culture or social convention. In other words, those who become involved in homosexual practices are not only sinning against God but against the nature of things. Today’s debate about whether homosexual behavior is chosen, acquired, or inherently genetic can be answered in this text. The Word of God says homosexual behavior is not natural. It is against nature as God has created it. When men and women engage in this behavior, there are divinely appointed consequences. A price will be paid when people go that far to defy the law of God. The word due has all but disappeared from our culture and vocabulary, but it has a very rich history in ethics. It goes back to the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle and down through Western civilization, from which justice has been defined not only within the church but also outside the church as giving people what is due them. When people act against God’s law and the law of nature, God gives them their due. Homosexuality is only one sin Paul describes in this section. If we read Paul’s entire list without feeling the pangs of conviction, we are psychopaths.
Paul describes in verse twenty-eight a mind that does not give any attention whatsoever to things that are true, pure, lovely, and just. From Philippians 4:8, we read, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” A debased mind is one where the thoughts are filled with impurities, desires of the flesh, lust, jealousy, and hatred against people. Such a mind is in love with the lie and flees from the truth. Our basic nature as fallen humans does not want to receive the knowledge of God, and when it does penetrate the mind, we do not want to keep it there. We see God’s use of judicial abandonment again. It is as if He is saying, “If you want a mind fixed on debauchery, you can have it.” Human beings rarely have a taste for and a love of hearing the Word of God. Suppose we have any affection in our hearts to hear the things of God. In that case, it is only possible because the Holy Spirit has already rescued us from the condition Paul describes, which is basic to all humanity. If we have the desire to learn the things of God, then something has happened to plant that desire in our hearts. It is frightening to learn at one time, we had the mind of a reprobate and did not want the knowledge of God.
Because they did not want to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind to do those things which are not fitting, being filled with all unrighteousness (vv. 28–29). Just ask people whether they believe man is basically good, and the majority will answer yes. Due to the influence of humanism on our culture, people believe that man is basically good and simple, occasionally makes mistakes. Such thinking leads people to the conclusion they do not need Jesus. However, there is nothing we need more than Jesus. We entertain our imaginations if we say that we are basically good. The people who need to hear the gospel, just like I was at one time, are not merely tainted by unrighteousness; they are filled with unrighteousness, just as I was. That is how Paul describes us in our natural condition. No one is mildly affected by an error, bad habits, or mistakes; man is saturated with unrighteousness.
Unrighteousness is a general term, while Paul wants to get more specific, so he elaborates on the kinds of unrighteousness that fill us as fallen creatures. First is sexual immorality. Elsewhere the apostle writes, in Ephesians 5:3, “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints;”. Polls have reported that fornication and adultery among born-again Christians are not measurably different from that of the unconverted. Truly regenerate Christians do commit these sins, but it should be a radical exception to Christian behavior, not a generally accepted practice. Today people get their behavior cues not from what God says is acceptable but from culture. Some argue that condemning immoral behavior is old-fashioned. Still, that sort of thinking is why we have Christian parents giving their daughters birth-control pills, sending the message that sexual immorality is okay. Paul, however, puts sexual immorality at the top of the list of our corruption. Make no mistake. Sex is a beautiful thing. God designed it and gave it to His people, but He gave a context for it—marriage—, and He is jealous that it be reserved for that context. To sexual immorality, Paul continues with wickedness and covetousness. Covetousness is the sign of someone who does not want God in his thinking. When we covet someone else’s property, prestige, or job, we are saying, “God is not just giving it to that person but not giving it to me.” The minute we are envious and jealous of another, we have removed God from our thinking. Have you heard of the phenomenon called the “emergent church”? One of the gurus of the emergent church boasted that in the last ten years of his preaching, he had never once mentioned the word sin. He has not wanted to destroy people’s identity, self-worth, or ego. I may have mentioned the word sin more times in this study than that man has in his entire lifetime. You cannot read a page of Scripture without dealing with sin. John Calvin had one of the highest views of human beings of any theologian in history, as far as I know. Some think otherwise in light of all Calvin said about man’s total depravity, but the reason Calvin took sin so seriously is that He took people so seriously. The reason God takes sin so seriously is not that He is a bully or a killjoy who does not want us to have any fun. God takes sin seriously because He knows how destructive sin is to this world, our family, and our friends. God has a better idea of what humans are to experience, and in His ultimate plan of redemption, He will banish sin from His world altogether. Paul’s list grows maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and evil-mindedness; they are whisperers. People whisper plans because they cannot speak them aloud. Even in a fallen world, our plans are often so evil that others will reject them, so we whisper. Paul also includes backbiters on the list. Have people talked behind our backs? Have people slandered us? All of us probably scream yes.
The other side of that coin says we must consider how many we have slandered and talked to behind their back. This is not a problem only for the lost. As humans, we are prone to this sort of behavior. Next on Paul’s list are haters of God. Who will admit to that—to hating God? He also adds violent, proud, boasters, and inventors of evil things. As if there were not enough temptations and sins to arouse our vile passions, we like to think up new ones. Years ago, Random House commissioned a book series on the literary classics. Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone was commissioned to write the critical introduction to Augustine’s classic, Confessions. Serling went on to say he did not understand how Confessions had come to be regarded as a classic because Augustine goes into great detail about the remorse he felt as the result of stealing pears from an orchard years before. He had no comprehension of what Augustine had experienced. Sterling went on to say, when I was a kid, I used to go to Nick Green’s orchard and watch Nick harvest rows of grapes. I moved along the rows with a big paper bag, stealing his grapes. I could afford to go to the store and buy the grapes, but it was more fun to steal them. I also stole pears and apples from Nick’s trees. Once, I was caught raiding a neighbor’s garden, pulling up every onion from the onion patch, which made no sense because I did not like onions. I am still paying the price for that; I understand why Augustine was so remorseful. Paul continues by adding to his list of disobedient parents. When young people are disobedient to their parents, they are revealing their natural condition. Paul also includes those who are undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, and unmerciful. Despite the scope of his list, it is only partial. It is merely representative of our corruption. If Paul had listed all the sins that the Bible spells out, he could have filled the entire epistle and then some. He gives us a representation that should be enough to stop every mouth and convict every conscience. I’m sure some will say none of this ever applied to me. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we will know the truth. If we were to write down this list and compare it against today’s newspaper, we would see everything Paul mentions and then some. The worst indictment is not found in this list of crimes against God. It is found at the end of the chapter: those who practice such things deserve death. Paul says that fallen human beings not only do these things, and they know better. God has planted in the mind of every creature made in His image a conscience that can discern the difference between good and evil. People seemingly without a conscience are called sociopaths or psychopaths; they are sick. A normal person—a fallen person whose normal behavior is the abnormality of sin—knows that people who do these things are worthy of death.
It gets worse. Those who do those things also approve of those who practice them. There is honor among thieves. Misery loves company. If we can entice others to join us in our sins, we can eliminate the taboos rather than repent of our guilt. Many have sought and seek today to establish a new ethic. If we are not convinced that Paul is describing how human beings function, we should watch television for the next three months, listen to all the language, and see the lust and immorality. I recall listening on television about a Supreme Court justice nominee. On the program was a woman from one of the organizations that favor abortion. She was concerned that the nominee would take away women’s reproductive rights—the right to kill their unborn baby and to be involved sexually with no concern for the consequences. Rights have been redefined by our culture to mean that everybody has a right to do what they want with impunity. God does not give us that right, but our culture, influenced by Satan, seeks to lessen people’s guilt to gain allies in the revolt against heaven. Thank God that Romans does not end here. The gospel, the good news, is coming. People who do not care about the good news might care if they digest the bad news first and realize what our Savior has done, what He has saved us from, what He has saved us for, and what He has saved us to. We are saved to be conformed to His image, to love the things He loves, and to hate the things He hates.
My time has come and gone. Until we meet again, in print or person, may God bless you is my prayer.
Sproul, R.C. Romans: An Expositional Commentary. Ligonier Ministries. Kindle Edition.
Phillips, John. Exploring Romans: An expository commentary. Kregel publishers
Life Application Study Bible: King James Version. Tyndale
eSword Bible software
Terry is the Executive Director and broadcaster of The Inspiring Word media ministry
You can contact Terry by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Or by visiting www.theinspiringword.org
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