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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Romans Series 4: He Gave Them Over, Rm 1:24ff

Romans 1:24-32 (NASB)

These are the holy, inspired Words of God through Paul the apostle, to the church at Rome.

"24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 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. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 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. 28 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, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them."

I want to begin this week by framing this section in a few different ways in regard to wider considerations.

First, I want to frame the teaching of this section as describing in detail the general thrust of this wider section extending back to verse 18. What we have in this section is a number of repetitions about the dynamics of how God's wrath is revealed on idolatrous and unbelieving mankind because of their idolatry and suppression of the truth.

We learned that man, through idolatrous desires, suppresses the truth of God evident within him and within creation, and that this provokes God's holy and just wrath toward mankind.

The last verse of last week's section was verse 23, which stated how man exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for lesser glories of creation, by worshipping them instead of God.

Now we have a new section beginning with the word, "therefore." This "therefore" is one of result, namely, preceding the result of man having made this terribly dark and sinful exchange. I infer from this, and from the fact that the section from verse 18 to verse 23 described the cause of God's wrath, that what we have before us today is a section describing the nature of God's wrath that is here in view.

So today we will learn something about the nature of God's wrath that was mentioned in verse 18.

Secondly, and following organically out of that discussion, I want to talk about what some people would call the "fallen condition focus" of today's text. I don't usually explicitly tell you that this is what I'm describing when I'm describing it for a certain text, but I think a salient and interesting point is made by discussing it explicitly this time.

The "fallen condition focus" is a concept I learned from the teaching of Bryan Chappell, and it is based on the idea that the expositing of the Word of God is always a redemptive event. That is, whenever the Word of God is opened and explained and taught faithfully to a large group of people, there is salvation happening--both the convicting and regenerating of lost sinners, as well as the strengthening of saints within the hearing. Therefore, every text of the Word of God has power to save, and salvation is always from something. Therefore, it is profitable for the person who is explaining the Word to try and discern what particular aspect of human fallenness a biblical text most directly addresses. So I will be talking about the fallen condition focus of this text in greater detail later. For a preview, I will just say that this text uniquely connects the objective and the subjective aspects of something man needs saving from. That is, there is something outside sinful man that he needs saving from, and there is something inside man that he needs saving from.

Thirdly, I want to show how the gospel of Jesus Christ directly applies to the problems raised by this text. Having studied further the problems from which we all need saving, we will have an even deeper appreciation for what Christ has accomplished for His people on the cross.

So, I begin with the connections with the previous section and the deeper details we are given today.

The text begins, "therefore," and starts to tell us more about God's response to idolatrous and unbelieving mankind.

So what is His response?

Verse 24: "Therefore He gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them."

After restating in verse 25 the reason, or basis, or cause for this divine response, we read again in verse 26,

"For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions..."

Once again, in verse 28, "God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper"

And in the rest of the section, we are given an extensive list of sinful "things which are not proper."


What we mainly learn from this section is that one way the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against ungodliness and unbelief and idolatry is the handing over of sinners to further sin and depravity.

The implications this teaching has is vastly huge, and the questions it raises are difficult, manifold, and beyond the scope of my focus today. However, I will briefly mention a couple of things.

First, this presents to us a picture of God that may be foreign to some of us who have grown up primarily in a sentimentalistic evangelicalism that neglects the transcendent qualities of God--that neglects teaching the absolute sovereignty of God. It gives us a picture of a God who for holy, wise, and mysterious purposes, not only allows evil in the world He created as good, but judiciously hands sinners over to further sin!

We must guard ourselves on this point and affirm that

1. God is holy and perfectly good in all that He does
2. God is sovereign over all things, and no event of history lay outside the control of God
3. Human beings are held responsible for their sin and wicked rebellion; and in fact, this passage strongly emphasizes that what God does is hand over sinners to their own lusts and degrading passions. It is as if for many, God simply says, "Ok; you want as your god the lesser glories of creation? Fine...wallow in that filth to your great delight" and hands them over to do it.

As mysterious as all of this is, and as challenging as it is to some of our usual default conceptions of the biblical God, does it not resonate with what we see in the world? Do we not see so many people full to the brim with wicked desires, entrapped and ensnared apparently beyond recovery in the worldly lusts of their hearts?

We must take sin in our world seriously, and recognize it for what it is. To help us understand its current magnitude, though, we are taught in Romans 1 that it is by reason of a divine decree that many people have fallen into deeper and deeper, baser and baser, and more and more profane ultimate desires, without any to blame but themselves--including not being able to blame God the holy Creator of all men, whose judgments are just and right.

So we learn that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven partially by His handing people over to further sin. We have several other questions to answer about this.

One is glaring, and you probably wondered whether I would address it or not. I will, because Paul does, and I am going through Paul's letter.

Why does Paul focus so much on one particular sinful desire and act of man, namely, homosexuality?

The bare mention of homosexuality will bring to mind many other questions related to homosexuality and the Christian faith. I have tried to answer those in a Kindle ebook 'Gay and Christian?', the rough manuscript of which I would be glad to send to you for free if you are interested.

However, before answering at least this one question, let me say that I believe that this passage does indeed refer to homosexual desire and behavior in general, and not merely to pagan pedophilia in idol-worship as some have taught. To me the parallel mention of the two genders, as well as the terminology of "natural function" versus "unnatural function" obviously mean that Paul is referring to homosexual desire and behavior in general.

So why does Paul zoom in on this particular result of God's handing-over? One reason may be that concepts of marriage, and men's and women's roles, are the foundation of living in the image of God and being charged with the cultural mandate given in Genesis 1 and 2 to dominate the earth and reproduce. Therefore Paul is showing that God, in pouring out His wrath by handing people over to sin, hands them over even to the degree that their most basic human desires and identities are distorted by sin. Another pastor surmises that homosexuality may be God's parable--a demonstration--a dramatization of man's self-glorifying, self-worshiping idolatry. Since homosexuals are sexually attracted to the same sex, it dramatizes man's (and woman's) pre-occupation with self, and the spiritual deadness of which that idolatry consists.

In short, though, I'm not 100% sure why Paul focuses so much on homosexuality here.

One thing we can say, though, is that the apostle Paul continued the Old Testament teaching that homosexual lust and behavior is indeed sinful, and not "another option" or an "excusable natural result of genetics." Whatever the manifold possibilities of the causes of homosexual orientation--physical, nurture, personal choice, divine handing-over, homosexual lust and behavior are not options for Christian who would be faithful to God's Word, walk with Christ, and declare truth in public. It is sin, and as I will discuss more later, Christ is a more-than-capable merciful Savior in this case as well as any.

Also, I do not believe it is only homosexuals in view in verse 28. Experience of the world alone proves that, but the structure of the text also supports that. In this whole section, all the unbelieving idolaters in view have been ones who "did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer." Therefore, while it is true that all sexual sin together is in an especially serious category, or "level" of sin, homosexuals are not singled out as being the most prone to the most severe cases of what is described in verses 28 through 32.

Another question that presents itself here, and leads to the next part of the message today is, "How else is God's wrath revealed?"

We normally think of God's wrath as either the Old Testament descriptions of God's destruction of entire cities, or His hot anger burning against apostate Israel, or of the "lake of fire" and the final judgment.

But here Paul discusses human sinfulness not primarily as the cause for God's judgment--but as if it is God's judgment!

Well, it seems there are complicated things going on here. But let me answer the question as well as I can..."How is God's wrath revealed to us?"

Other than God's handing sinners over to their lusts to their greater dishonor, we see God's wrath in at least four ways:

1. Physical death of normal humans. With only a couple of biblical exceptions, every human dies. This is a part of the penalty for sin which God threatened our original parents with should they sin; and ever since they sinned, every one of their posterity--with minor exceptions--has tasted physical death.

2. The brokenness and futility of the created order is more evidence of God's wrath for human sin. See Romans 8:18-25.

3. God reveals in His Word that there will be a final judgment in which all those who are not covered by the blood of Christ will have to answer for their own sins, and the wrath of God will burn against them forever in the "lake of fire," which is indeed a symbol, but one which points to more horrible reality than itself, not less horrible--and includes physical and spiritual torment, not spiritual only.

4. Jesus Christ Himself, on the cross, drank of the full force of the wrath of God for sinners, in their place. So there, when we see the sinless Savior bearing the sins of the world, we see God's wrath revealed.

Even in this section of Romans we are reading today, we see a verse that mentions the death of men. Verse 32: "and although they knew the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death ..."

So this section about God's handing people over to their sinful lusts is not exhaustive of the wrath of God against sinners, but it is one expression of it.

This leads naturally to our second consideration, namely, the objective and subjective aspects of this text's "fallen condition focus."

There are two things people need saving from in this text. One is the objective standing of "condemned" before God in the courtroom of heaven, and the other one is the subjective, personal sinfulness of every human being who ever lived save for Christ.

As I contemplated which one was the main focus in this text, I found that they are too connected in the text to be sharply distinguished in my message.

This is because the objective, condemning wrath of God in this text is indeed the very handing of people over to further personal sinfulness!

So I will not disconnect them now. I will simply say that man needs spiritual rebirth, and spiritual growth in holiness if he would be saved! I will simply say that man also needs a removing of his natural status of "condemned" and having the "wrath of God abiding on him!" And these realities are connected.

Perhaps the best way for me to apply this truth of the connectedness of condemnation with personal rebellion in sinners is to apply the gospel. After all, in the gospel, these realities are connected as well. There is a proper order and structure to them, but they can never be utterly separated.

All of the benefits of the gospel happen in union with Christ.

That is, when we are "regenerated" or "born again" of the Spirit, it is "together with Christ" that we are "made alive" (Ephesians 2:5). When we are justified, it is union with Him by faith (Philippians 3:8-9). In progressive sanctification, it is in Him and in fellowship with Him that we are made more like Him (Philippians 3:10-14). When we are resurrected and glorified, it will be together with Him (2nd Thessalonians 1:10; 1st Corinthians 15:22).

And this gospel is just as much for the person with homosexual desires and behaviors as it is for me, for you, and for every human sinner of every kind and degree.

Through it God promises full forgiveness of sins past, present, and future because Christ has born the penalty in full. Through it God gives new life and healing to sinful hearts--and indeed bodies! This aspect is partial in this life, differs between believers, and will only be perfected in the life to come. But there is a life to come full of blessing for those who are in Christ--for they will finally be made absolutely perfect, restored to the original human image of God and beyond! No more sin, no more temptation, and at long last the full experience of the reality to which sex and marriage and all of life pointed all along: intimate, personal, perfect union with Jesus Christ our Great Savior.

So let us embrace the Bible in all its truth--in all its portrayals of God's holy and just decrees. Let us tremble at His revealed wrath in letting many sinners go their own way, becoming entangled in the enticements of the lusts of this world to their greater destruction in the end. But moreover, let us rejoice with very deep joy and with full assurance of faith in Jesus Christ and His gospel and His salvation that He has wrought for all those who will simply confess that they are indeed in need of a Savior--that they are indeed sinners who need their sentence from the heavenly Judge removed and who need their hearts cleansed, sprinkled with the blood of Christ and the water of the life-giving Spirit.

God is full of wrath and hatred for sin, but He is a God of love, and His disposition is to save sinners. All we must do is come. Just come to Him and believe. Drink of His Spirit. Be satisfied with the flesh and blood of Christ our heavenly Bread. He will forgive and He will cleanse. He will finish it all on the Last Day, yes, so let us worship our Savior and witness to the world of our Savior! Amen.

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