So far the passages I’ve tried to touch on in a single post have been reasonably brief. This one’s a little longer. Don’t tune out or skim over it. Take your time. Read it through. Soak it in and soak in it a bit.
Remember that the last section concluded with Paul’s declaration that he is not ashamed of the good news about Jesus’ Lordship over all the earth. He is bold to declare it, even if it’s risky to do so, because contained in this message is the long awaited revelation from God regarding how he will keep his covenant and once again make his moral excellence available to mankind, bringing us into right relationship with himself.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, 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. 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. 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. 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. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:18–32, ESV)
“For the wrath of God is revealed…” In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed. What’s the default state of affairs apart from that good news. God’s wrath is revealed against unrighteousness. If we don’t share in his righteousness, we will share in his wrath. There is no avoiding this dilemma.
“So they are without excuse.” No one will ever be able to claim they didn’t know. What God has revealed about himself to every single person just through creation is sufficient to leave us before his judgment without defense.
After making this clear, Paul goes on to describe the true nature of the unrighteousness against which God’s wrath has been revealed. What is the true nature of our problem? What is the question for which the gospel is God’s answer?
1. Our thinking is messed up. “The became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie…God gave them up to a debased mind…they were filled with all manner of unrighteousness.” Paul goes on to describe the fruit of this messed up thinking, which includes everything from sexual perversion to covetousness to being disobedient to your parents. This list, this “all manner of unrighteousness”, is the symptom, not the disease. The disease has to do with what has taken place in our minds and hearts.
2. The nature of our messed up thinking is idolatry. These phrases make this clear: “…exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things...they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…they did not see fit to acknowledge God…” What is an idol? An idol is anything or anyone we put in a place in our lives that rightfully belongs to God. An idol is a false source. The long list of sinful behaviors Paul lists is simply an observation of the range of things we can look to besides God as our source. Pleasure. Affirmation from others. Possessions. Self. Control. The list could go on I’m sure, but Paul’s is quite comprehensive.
3. God will let us have what we want. “Therefore God gave them up…” If we want to look elsewhere for that which only God can provide, he will let us. But there will be consequences.
4. This is ultimately about honor. “…For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him…” We have “suppressed the truth”, without excuse we have judged God to be less than he is and looked elsewhere for significance, safety, provision, power. We have looked to self and then oppressed others with our selfishness. By aiming our honor away from God at other things, we have honored the creature rather than the Creator, for these are the only two possible categories. All of humanity is in this condition and we have not only embraced it, but we’ve judged it to be good.
The gospel is God’s answer to this dilemma. How will God, given this awful situation, fulfill his covenant promises regarding redemption and salvation? How will he bring the unrighteous back into a place of right standing with himself? Given that this is the problem, how might we better understand God’s solution? By very definition of the problem, we see that the gospel must be God’s way to reconnect us to himself as our source, to bring us back into a place of honoring him, looking to him, finding in him our all in all. The gospel must provide his way for us to disconnect from self as our source and cut off all the various expressions of selfishness that bring nothing but death into our world.
This is the problem.
Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension are God’s solution. The declaration of Jesus’ Lordship over heaven and earth contains within it God’s provision to bring us home. How? By faith–a faith that trusts Jesus, and follows him through the veil of his flesh, through the cross, putting to death the unrighteousness of a self-sourced life, and emerging on the other side with a brand new life, his life, reconnected to God as our source, with knee and heart and mind bowed to the gospel declaration that Jesus is Lord.