Fallen humanity then dishonors not only God who created them, but also dishonors their own bodies. The lie about God leads to a lie about ourselves. And if Paul were alive today and looked at the world in which we live, he'd just nod and say, I told you so.
And this is all because fallen creatures have served the creature rather than the creator. In general, it seems we have forgotten the seriousness of sin. And sadly, it's even true sometimes within the church. While the world parades sin in our streets and all over social media, some pulpits have stopped calling for repentance, a turning from sin. The apostle Paul on the other hand, he knew the seriousness of sin and didn't compromise his message.
I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and you're listening to Renewing Your Mind, a daily outreach of Ligonier Ministries. Sin is serious. And of course, we know of those serious sins like murder or homosexuality.
But sin is so serious that we must also be concerned with sins we might consider less like envy or gossip. Here's W. Robert Godfrey as he continues his walkthrough of Romans from his brand new teaching series, Not Ashamed. We've been looking at this introduction to Paul's letter to the Romans.
And part of what we've tried to see as we've looked at it is how tightly constructed it is. Paul is not wasting words. Paul has a clear vision of where he's going and what he wants to accomplish by this letter. And as he's completed the introduction, he's made the point that the gospel reveals God's will for his people, for the salvation of his people. And that's kind of the culmination then of the introduction, the revelation of the gospel. Good news doesn't come automatically.
Good news is not perceived by the natural man. Good news comes only by revelation. And then Paul turns to the second part of this letter, Romans 1 18 through 3 20, which we can call Salvation Needed. So the second section here is Salvation Needed, Romans 1 18 through 3 20. And Paul begins this in a fascinating way where he writes, For the wrath of God is revealed. Paul is making a strong point here. And I think he's making it again with the Romans in mind who have been so concerned about calling sin, sin and promoting holiness and righteousness. Paul is in effect saying, I think to the Romans and to all of us, you don't have any clue how bad sin is until it's revealed to you. The natural man doesn't know the gospel, but the natural man also does not know the wrath of God against sin.
That has to be revealed. And that's where Paul starts here in this first substantial section of the argument he's going to unfold in his letter to the Romans. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. So is Paul soft on sin in any way?
Absolutely not. And this section is really going to talk about in the first place, the seriousness of the problem of sin, the seriousness of the problem of sin. And then the second part of this section, we'll go on to talk about the universality of the problem of sin.
So sin is serious and sin is universal. Now some interpreters as they have come to parts of this section have thought that Paul's line of argument is difficult or they're confused as to exactly what he's saying at certain points. I think as long as we keep Paul's conclusion in mind, we'll be able to follow the direction of his thought.
It's only when interpreters have not really kept the conclusion Paul reaches in this section in mind that they get messed up. And what Paul's conclusion is, there is none righteous, no, not one. There is none righteous, no, not one. And that's where his whole argument is moving because section three is going to be on salvation provided. So since none of us are righteous, someone has to be righteous for us. So this section is a very careful, interestingly elaborated argument about how it is that there is none righteous, no, not one. And he begins then with this very powerful declaration that the wrath of God is revealed, but what does sinful man do with the revelation of God?
He not only ignores it, he suppresses it. That's what Paul says here, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. And one of the arguments Paul's going to make in this section, we'll see as we go along, is that all human beings have access to truth about God. All human beings have access to truth about God. And the reason that truth does not bear any fruit is that they suppress it. They have truth and they reject it.
They insist that it's not the truth. And Paul goes on then to talk about, well, what particularly do they possess? What particularly do all human beings possess from what we call general revelation? You know, systematic theology distinguishes between general revelation that's available to all human beings and special revelation, which is what God gave, for example, to Moses at Sinai. And Paul's argument here is a general revelation argument initially. He doesn't label it that because he's not writing a systematic theology.
This is a pastoral letter, but he's using that category to talk to these Romans. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made.
God has made a world, and that world testifies to his existence. There is a famous statement by Aristotle, who cannot be accused of being a Christian. Aristotle said, out of nothing, nothing comes, which seems so self-evidently true that only people very determined to suppress the truth in unrighteousness could deny it. If there is something, it must have come from somewhere. And Paul is implicitly arguing here that the design of creation points to a designer. The existence of creation points to a creator.
I was recently reading a biography of Tom Stoppard, one of the most interesting and successful English playwrights of the 20th century. And in one of his plays, he has a character say, who can look at a rose and not believe in God? And I pondered that, and I think it's true. How can you hold in your hand a rose with all of its intricacy, all of its beauty, all of its scent, all of its delicacy, and yet its rugged survivability, and not believe there's a creator? Now, of course, lots of people reach exactly that conclusion.
They look at a rose and say, isn't it amazing what billions of years of evolution can do for you? But that conclusion really can only be reached, Paul is saying, by a suppression of the truth with which God has surrounded us. And because every human being has the truth of general revelation, every human being is without excuse for not acknowledging God. We often hear in our time, how can God hold people guilty when they haven't received special revelation? Aren't people innocent if they don't have a special revelation? And what Paul is really arguing is, God is a just God.
We'll see this as we go along. God is a just God, and He judges people only on the basis of what they know. But that is not exculpating. That is not leading to a verdict of not guilty, because every human being has enough revelation in nature to be left without excuse, because those who acknowledge God do not acknowledge Him according to the revelation He has given, but they try to recreate Him in some image of their imagination. And that's why Paul goes on to talk about, although they knew God, that's a very interesting statement on his part, they knew God. God's reality is so unavoidable that they knew Him, but suppressed the knowledge of Him, and they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 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. So the general revelation should have lifted man's vision up to the immortal God, to the designing God, to the spiritual God, but instead that testimony to the reality of God caused mankind to identify God with things that are created, and things that are created, whether it be mortal man or birds and animals and creeping things. In the ancient world, one of the puzzles to ancient man was Egyptian religion. Even the Roman and Greek makers of images could not understand how anybody could make images of snakes and crocodiles and worship them, but that's what the Egyptians had done. So even to idolaters, Egyptian idolatry seemed self-evidently impossible, but Paul is using it there as an example of how darkened the human mind became, how lacking in wisdom, how foolish human beings became when they rejected the revelation that they had received, and therefore God gave them up to the impurity of their hearts. Here's the argument of Paul. Idolatry leads to immorality. A denial of God leads to an abuse of fellow humans. Those things are connected.
They are not separated. And Paul then, in talking about the seriousness of sin, talks first about idolatry and then secondly about immorality. And here, in a sense, you can kind of see an expansion on the two tables of the law. The first table of the law are obligations to God. The second table of the law are obligations to our fellow human beings, and that's very much what Paul is talking about here. And fallen humanity then dishonors not only God, who created them, but also dishonors their own bodies. The lie about God leads to a lie about ourselves. And if Paul were alive today and looked at the world in which we live, he'd just nod and say, I told you so.
I told you so. And this is all because fallen creatures have served the creature rather than the Creator. That's kind of the conclusion that Paul reaches.
And then he goes on to illustrate that. Just as he had illustrated the dishonoring of God by idols and taken an extreme example of that, namely worshiping reptiles, so now he talks about the dishonoring of our own bodies, breaking the second table of the law by using an extreme example, namely the example of homosexuality. Well, this passage of Scripture has become very controversial in the world in which we live, and people have actually tried to make Paul say the opposite of what he says.
It is kind of intriguing to watch liberal biblical scholars try to make the Bible say the opposite of what it clearly says, and they really ought to get an award for creativity, but not for interpretation. At the same time, it's also, I think, true that Paul is not holding homosexuality up as the worst possible sin, any more than he was holding the worship of crocodiles up as the worst kind of idolatry. What he's doing is saying it's so obvious that in worshiping a crocodile, you're worshiping a creature rather than the Creator, and now he's saying it's so obvious that you have misunderstood God's purpose for your body if you are practicing homosexuality. What is clearer than that males and females are created for sexual relations with each other, not with their own kind.
Nature testifies that this is true, is what Paul is saying, and that's why homosexuality is held up as such a clear example, and to argue, therefore, that the obvious design of creation in the distinction of males and females can be set aside is another sign of suppressing the truth of a debased mind of those who have turned aside from what is good and right and true. So Paul is holding up as examples of the seriousness of sin these major issues in fallen humanity of idolatry and immorality. But then he goes on because he wants to make the point that this is not just a matter of great sins. Sin is not serious just when sin is a big deal, when very obvious sins are committed, but the revelation of the anger of God against sin is a revelation that God is angry with all sin. In a certain sense, God doesn't prioritize sin. A holy God finds any sin intolerable in the presence of His holiness, and I think that's why Paul has said we have to have a revelation of the anger of God. It never occurs to us that God is as angry as He is because we don't really understand how holy He is or the real significance of His holiness. And so Paul goes on there to talk about all manner, verse 29 of chapter 1 of Romans, they were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy.
Now wait a minute. Envy? Envy? That's a little sin, isn't it? Envy? Some of us got birthday cake and some of us didn't. Are you envious if you didn't get any cake? That's a little thing, isn't it?
We'll forget it by tomorrow. Envy is a little sin. No, Paul is saying in the presence of a holy God there are no little sins. All sin is rebellion against God, and rebellion is rebellion, whether it takes a gross form or a tiny form.
They are full of envy. Murder, okay, now that's more like it. Murder, but now there's a sin.
Strife, well, maybe. Deceit. Well, there's big deceit and little deceit, isn't there? There's your deceit, which is really bad, and my deceit, which is understandable. Maliciousness. They are gossips. Uh-oh. Uh-oh. Now that's really unreasonable.
A little gossip didn't do too many people harm. They're gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, disobedient to parents. Well, now that is the fifth commandment, but still, you know, be reasonable.
We have to reach a measure of independence. Disobedient to parents. Foolish. Faithless. Heartless.
Ruthless. Well, that's quite a list, isn't it? Some of it obviously very serious.
Some of it seeming, by most of our standards, to be relatively minor. And what's Paul's point, sort of jumbling this all together? I think often when we get an apostolic list like this, we kind of read through it quickly and move on. But Paul, I think, wants us to pause over each one of those and say, so how do I measure up with this? And particularly then to reach the conclusion that he does in verse 32, though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things, all of them, any one of them, deserve to die. They not only do them, but give approval to those who practice them.
Paul were alive today. I think he'd say, isn't it interesting that the demand for toleration of homosexuality has morphed in a very short period of time to a demand for the approval of homosexuality? And that's exactly what he's talking here, that those who rebel against God are not content simply to rebel.
They want everyone else's approval of their rebellion against God. But there comes that really shocking statement that all who practice these things deserve to die. Death is the ultimate judgment on sin, and that was the warning given to Adam in the garden, wasn't it?
If you eat of that tree, you will surely die. And death came into the world for mankind after Adam's first sin, and death remains the great testimony to the reality of God's angry judgment on sin. And we can resist thinking about death.
That's what the modern contemporary American culture is very good at. No one dies anymore. They pass away. Do you know the origin of the phrase, pass away? That was a Mary Baker Eddy Christian science way of avoiding having to talk about death. The Christian scientists didn't believe in death, and so people didn't die.
They passed away. The trouble is someone has to pick up the body. Death is very hard to deny, and the horror of death is very hard to deny. And there's nothing sort of in life quite so absolute as the transition from a living body, however weak, to a corpse, and most Americans avoid seeing that.
But here is a great testimony, a testimony as sure as the rose that God exists, to the testimony that God's wrath and punishment of sin exists. And we may live in a world where hospice comes and tells us all that death is just a natural part of life, and this just happens, and you know, it's just the way things are in the animal world. But I think anyone who sees a loved one die has some testimony inside themselves that that's a lie, that that shouldn't happen, that there's something wrong when a death occurs. And I think Paul is appealing to that sense of, you know, we may be indifferent to the death of people we don't know.
Stalin's famous quote, the death of one person is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic. But Paul is saying every death should be a testimony to us, that we live in a world where sin is so serious that God punishes it with this awful outcome. And so here is the seriousness of sin, whether it's revealed in idolatry, blatant rebellion against God the Creator, whether it's revealed in immorality, rebellion against our own nature, or whether it's revealed in any number of little actions that we may take.
Sin against a holy God always deserves death. And Paul surely is showing his credentials as someone who is not soft on sin, and maybe challenging the Romans and challenging us to think, do we take sin seriously enough as the human problem? Well, we'll come back next time and look at Paul beginning to make his case in this section on the universality of sin.
That's a good question from Dr. Godfrey. Do we take sin seriously enough? If someone asked you what's wrong in society today, would you answer education, lack of self-esteem, maybe anxiety?
Well, according to the Apostle Paul, according to the Word of God, the root problem is sin. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind as we spend a week hearing messages from the newly released teaching series through Romans titled Not Ashamed. If you'd like this 23 message series, request your copy at renewingyourmind.org or by calling us at 800 435 4343 with a donation of any amount.
We'll send you the DVD and once your donation is processed, you'll have digital access to both the series and the study guide. So take this journey with Dr. Godfrey through this gospel-filled epistle when you request Not Ashamed at renewingyourmind.org. Sin is serious because it's rebellion against our holy God, but it's also serious because it affects each and every one of us. Without a Savior, we're all in trouble. So be sure to join us as we continue this study in Romans tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
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