Who Needs the Gospel? They Do!
Explore the Bible Series
September 11, 2005
Lesson Passage: Romans 1: 18-32
Introduction: After a warm salutation to the Roman church, Paul devoted a major portion of his epistle to the subject of sin (Romans 1:18-3:20). Perhaps we might think of the apostle as an accomplished artist. The dark backdrop of sin provides an appropriate setting for the vibrant hues of grace. Justification, for instance, seems more radiant against the black, dismal background of man’s guilt before the Lord of Hosts. These chapters, though difficult to consider, will magnify the glorious work of Christ on the cross and increase the saint’s delight in the eternal, pervasive, and preserving mercies of God in Christ.
I. Introduction to Paul’s Thoughts on the Wrath of God (1:18)
A. The wrath of God: “Wrath” refers to the settled, just disposition of God toward sin. The word does not portray a divine temper tantrum; rather, it reveals God’s hatred for sin and his consistent attitude concerning human rebellion against the divine standard of righteousness.
B. God’s wrath is revealed from heaven: The notion of God’s wrath did not originate with ill-tempered religious leaders striving to control the actions of their congregants, as some might imagine. Paul asserted that this truth was revealed from heaven. Moreover, God’s wrath is not inconsistent with his love; indeed, God’s love informs and prods his wrath. The contemplation and enjoyment of the utter righteousness of God characterizes heaven, and saints and angels delight in the unimpeachable holiness of the Lord. “Revealed” occurs, in this verse, as a present tense; that is, this revelation of the wrath of God is an ongoing phenomenon. The passage does not refer, therefore, to any single revelation of God’s displeasure with sin. Instead, the tense of this verb reveals a persistent, on-going action.
C. The objects of God’s wrath: “…against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…”
1. “against all …”: Paul used a term that means “all kinds.”
2. “ungodliness”: denotes religious perversity, impiety, irreverence
3. “unrighteousness”: broader term than “ungodliness.” Indicates both an internal disposition and external conduct that dishonors God.
4. “who… suppress the truth: The ungodly and unrighteous suppress (hold down, repress, hinder, restrain) the truth.
II. The Grounds of God’s Displeasure with the Ungodly (1: 19-23)
A. God’s self-revelation in Creation (vv. 19-20)
1. God has clearly revealed himself in creation (v. 19): Here, Paul referred to Natural Revelation. God has made himself evident through the glory of the created order (See Psalm 19:1-14).
2. What may be known of God through Natural Revelation (v. 20a): God’s invisible attributes: eternal power and divine nature (the essence of his divinity)
3. The clarity of God’s revelation (v. 20b): Though these attributes of God are “invisible”, the effects of God’s character may be clearly perceived in the Lord’s majestic creative work. The clarity of this revelation renders all men completely inexcusable before God.
B. Rejection of God’s Natural Revelation (vv. 21-23): Paul reflected on the manifestations of mankind’s rejection of God’s evident glory as seen in the creation.
1. “Though they knew him, they did not honor him as God…” (v. 21a): The word “knew” cannot, in this context, describe a saving knowledge of God; rather, it means that mankind has an undeniable awareness of the Creator. Nevertheless, this universal consciousness has no produced humility and appropriate worship.
2. “…did not give thanks…” (v. 21b): Men do not recognize God as the primary source all that is good and blessed in the world.
3. “…they became futile in their thinking…” (v. 21c): Sin has debilitated their minds. Their very thoughts are captive to sin.
4. “…their foolish hearts are darkened…” (v. 21d): For Paul, the heart is the core and center of man’s being. Human volition, desire, and affections arise from the heart. The apostle concluded that foolishness and darkness characterize the human heart.
5. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools…” (v. 22): Sinful men are pretentious and conceited. They mistake intellectual advancement for wisdom.
6. “…and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images…” (v. 23): Men, in their intrinsic idolatry, turn the world upside down. They worship the creature rather than the Creator. The Lord has shaped man in the divine image, but sinful men make themselves gods by fashioning God in the image of man, birds, animals, and reptiles.
III. God’s Judgment on Degenerate Mankind (1:24-32): Curtis Vaughan and Bruce Corley observed that verses 18-23 portray man’s rejection of God, and verses 24-32 describe God’s judicial rejection of man. Three times in this text Paul recited the frightful refrain, “God gave them over…” What is reprobation? It is God’s judicial removal of restraints from the sinful heart. God removes the hedges around his creatures and they naturally ruin themselves in sin’s degradation, corruption and defilement.
A. “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts…” (vv. 24-25): The defilement of the heart invariably leads to the debasement of the body. Sin will always break out from its secret lair and spring boldly into the light. Also, notice the connection between the sinful passions of the flesh and the wickedness of idolatry. Sexual sin and idolatry are twins, emerging from the same source and bearing similar countenance. They may come disguised differently, but they come from the same degenerate womb.
B. “God gave them up to dishonorable passions…” (vv. 26-27): Unrestrained sin leads to human beings turning to shameful and unnatural passions. Homosexuality and pedophilia were common in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures. Indeed, Cranfield pointed out that homosexuality was known among many Semitic people; however, Jewish people, in Paul’s time regarded the practice as reprehensible.
C. “God gave them up to a debased mind…” (vv. 28-32): Sin, unloosed from the restraining mercies of God, provokes the mind to unleash all of its imaginative and creative powers to fill life with gossip, slander, hate, pride, sinful inventiveness, rebellion against authority, foolishness, faithlessness, and ruthless cruelty.
Observations Concerning the Text:
1. This passage should humble even the most strident sinner. Paul, in these verses, describes us all. No one is exempt from the frightful indictments of this passage. Our problems with sin do not arise from environmental or developmental forces. These sinful impulses originate in the heart (See vv. 21 and 24). Any proposed remedy to man’s sin problem must address the heart. May I add, this passage should humble the Lord’s people. We are no different, in our natural condition, that the most defiled sinner. My need for preserving mercies, in this very hour, demonstrates the natural corruption of my heart. O, that Christ might make us all humble saints as we contemplate the sin of the world. If misunderstood, the title of the lesson sends wrong messages. “They” need the gospel, but may I ever know my own desperate need of Christ.
2. This passage should remind us of the deceit of sin. Sin infiltrates and blinds the mind and heart. Great disobedience may characterize a person’s life, but he may have no sensible awareness of his danger. Sin comes disguised in the garb of rationalization, social decency, and outward conformity to cultural standards of proper conduct. It does its insidious work without the sinner’s slightest awareness that he has seared the conscience and grieved the Holy Spirit.
3. This passage should magnify the Savior in our hearts. Great sinners need a great Savior. The problem of sin permeates the very being of man. Man’s disobedient conduct grows from a rebellious disposition. The world needs a Savior who does more than pillory men with legal directives and calls to a self-help agenda. Christ is the sinner’s perfect friend. He paid the sinner’s debt, lifted the sinner’s burden of guilt, cleansed the sinner’s defilement, and purchased the sinner’s pardon. All the transgressions that Paul mentions in this chapter have been thoroughly addressed in the substitutionary death of Christ.